Community leaders are among those charging the Jewish-ownedSummit Hotel Rodeo Drive with mistreating its workers, while otherscome to his defense
By Naomi Pfefferman, Senior Writer
Last week, three Jewish leaders stood in front ofthe upscale Summit Hotel Rodeo Drive, surrounded by televisioncameras and some 75 hotel workers.
Rick Chertoff of the Jewish Labor Committee, LosAngeles, Rabbi Marvin Gross of Union Station Foundation, Pasadena,and West Hollywood City Councilman Paul Koretz had called the Feb. 11press conference to announce their 10-page report on alleged laborabuses at the hotel. The abuses, they charged, have occurred sinceEfrem Harkham, a major Jewish philanthropist, bought the 86-roomhotel 2 1/2 years ago.
Harkham, 41, an Orthodox Jew, was born in Israel,grew up in Australia and moved to Los Angeles in the late 1970s. Withhis older brother, Uri, he founded the Jonathan Martin Fashion Group,a high-end fashion manufacturer whose 1995 sales topped $100 million.Efrem now operates the Summit Rodeo and the Summit Bel Air, anon-union hotel, and his family owns commercial and residentialproperties throughout Los Angeles County.
Seven years ago, Efrem and Uri Harkham donatedmore than $1 million to expand the Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy.Efrem sits on the board of the Jewish Television Network, contributesto organizations such as the Orthodox Union and Chabad, and hostsmyriad charitable events at his hotels.
But those who called the press conference painteda different picture of the philanthropist, as workers picketed, wavedsigns and chanted, "Harkham, Harkham, you can't hide, even on RodeoDrive."
The fact-finding report charges that Harkham hasconducted an "aggressive campaign against workers and their union"since the union contract expired a year and a half ago. The reportalleges that 37 of the hotel's some 90 employees have been fired, themajority of them union supporters, including a man who was terminatedafter taking a month off to visit his dying mother. Managementallegedly spied on union activists; held intimidating,"captive-audience" meetings with employees; tried to bribe workers tooppose the union; and suspended others without pay.
"The attitude of the company toward its workers isintolerable," concludes the report, whose recommendations areendorsed by the Southern California Board of Rabbis, and more than adozen Jewish leaders.
Left to right, Rev. Daniel Clark, First Presbyterian Churchof North Hollywood; Maria Elena Durazo, Local 11 president; RickChertoff, Rabbi Marvin Gross, Paul Koretz.
Harkham, for his part, did not speak to committeemembers, on the advice of his attorney. He did tell The JewishJournal that the majority of the workers who appeared at the pressconference were not even his employees.
"The charge that we have mistreated our workers isabsolute nonsense. We care very much about our employees," saidHarkham, who has filed an application with the city of Beverly Hillsfor a proposed Summit Rodeo renovation in excess of $5million.
As for the 37 fired workers, many did not haveproper work permits, according to Harkham's attorney, Foster Tepper.The hotel had received a warning notice from the Social SecurityAdministration and had given employees ample time to come up withvalid work permits or Social Security numbers. Those who failed tocomply had to be terminated lest the hotel be fined $50 per employeeper day. The worker who allegedly visited his dying mother, saidTepper, never produced the attending physician's statement, asrequired by law.
Management, said the attorney, did not bribe orspy on employees or hold them in captive-audience meetings. Theworkers who were suspended without pay had participated in noisydemonstrations in the hotel lobby, shouting union slogans at guests,Tepper said.
Harkham said: "We're negotiating with the union,but we don't like the fact that they're pressuring us, and we won'tsuccumb to pressure. We'll negotiate, but we'll have to make [thisbusiness] economically viable if we're going to survive, and businesscomes first."
The press conference was not the first time Jewishofficials have expressed concern for union workers in recent months.Last fall, several rabbis held a press conference on behalf ofemployees facing a decertification election at the Miramar SheratonHotel in Santa Monica. Groups such as the Jewish Labor Committee, theAmerican Jewish Congress and the UAHC convened the Los Angeles JewishCommission on Sweatshops.
The Summit Rodeo involvement began last summer,when Chertoff received a telephone call from officials of Local 11 ofthe Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union. The union was ata stalemate with Harkham, the officials said, and could Jewishleaders help?
Chertoff promptly put together a five-memberfact-finding committee, including Rabbis Aaron Kriegel of Temple NerMa'arav and Steven Carr-Reuben of Kehillat Israel, vice president ofthe Board of Rabbis. The Jewish leaders reviewed documents and metwith union representatives and with some 30 present and past hotelworkers. When Harkham repeatedly declined to meet with the leaders,they held the press conference to "put pressure on him to at leastsit down and talk," Carr-Reuben said.
Harkham's supporters, including leaders of theOrthodox Union, were quick to defend him after the press conference."Efrem Harkham is a generous, caring person; he is not a man whowould mistreat his employees," said Rabbi Menachem Gottesman, dean ofthe Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy.
"I think the press conference was very unfair andone-sided," said Beth Jacob Congregation's Rabbi Abner Weiss,Harkham's congregational rabbi and the immediate past president ofthe Board of Rabbis. "Efrem is a man who has been very good to theJewish community and who enjoys a very good reputation." Weiss saidthat he would have spoken out against the report, before the Board ofRabbis, if he had known how it would be used. Should anyone try todistribute the report at his synagogue, he will make a publicstatement on Harkham's behalf, he said.
The committee members, meanwhile, are planning todistribute the report to 300 synagogues and Jewish organizationsthroughout Los Angeles. They said that their goal is to get Harkhamto dialogue with employees and their union.
Harkham sees it differently. "This is a campaignto malign me and the hotel," he said.
The new Point Of View Diner exhibit atthe Simon Wiesenthal Center
With an Oscar-contending film, a new high-tech exhibitand plans for a museum in Israel, the center is abuzz with activity
By Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
These are heady days for the Simon WiesenthalCenter. On the same day that its latest documentary film wasnominated for an Academy Award, the center's Museum of Tolerancestarted reinventing itself by opening a new high-tech exhibit.
Coming in April will be the première of thecenter's new film, which will be a highlight of Israel's 50thbirthday celebration, and a meeting that may launch the creation of aMuseum of Tolerance in Jerusalem.
As icing on the cake, the Wiesenthal Center isjoining the Jewish Federation in sponsoring Los Angeles' glamorousSalute to Israel, signaling, perhaps, a new era of cooperationbetween the feisty, independent center and the umbrella Jewishcommunity organization.
During a rapid-fire interview, Rabbi Marvin Hier,founder and dean of the 21-year old Wiesenthal Center, ticked off theitems on his full plate.
"The Long Way Home," chronicling the fate ofHolocaust survivors in the immediate postwar years and theirdesperate attempts to reach the Jewish homeland, has been picked asone of five documentary features in the Oscar race.
Director-writer Mark Jonathan Harris andco-producers Richard Trank and Hier had no time for celebrations,because the same team is rushing to complete "If You Will It."
The two-hour film, designated as the anniversaryyear's official documentary by the international Israel 50 JubileeCommittee, will take "a candid look at Israel's first five decadesthrough the eyes of her people," says Hier.
The world première will be on April 27 inJerusalem, followed by special screenings on April 30 at the MotionPicture Academy in Los Angeles, on May 5 at the Kennedy Center inWashington, and on May 19 at the Radio City Music Hall in NewYork.
On the same day as the Academy Award announcement,the Museum of Tolerance marked its fifth anniversary by unveiling itsPoint of View Diner, a $1.4 million multimedia and interactiveexhibit. The project is a faithful replica of a 1950s diner, withcounter stools and red booths, each with its individual jukebox,updated as video monitors.
Patrons and students view two different scenarios-- one probing the boundary between free speech and hate speech, theother exploring moral choices and attitudes following a fataldrunken-driving accident.
After each presentation, viewers can askpre-programmed questions of the film's characters, and then votetheir personal reactions, which are instantly tabulated anddisplayed. Both scenarios convey the immediacy and graphic impact ofa television newscast.
The POV Diner is one step in revising and updatingthe Museum of Tolerance. At the present pace, "interactive technologychanges completely every four to five years, and we are re-evaluatingand expanding our exhibits accordingly," says Hier.
Now in the planning stage is a "Crime andPunishment" exhibit, in which three parallel "juries" will renderverdicts on scenarios dealing with such issues as terrorism orfamine.
The museum's core exhibit on the Holocaust willremain, but the visual contents will change. For instance, a new filmportrays the roles and attitudes of "ordinary people" in Germany andoccupied Europe during Hitler's reign.
Looking far beyond Los Angeles, the WiesenthalCanter's board of trustees will meet in Israel on April 30 to vote onan ambitious and controversial project to build a Museum of Tolerancein Jerusalem. The actual vote is to determine whether the center willpurchase a plot of land in the Mount Scopus area, near the HyattRegency Hotel, as the site for the museum, and launch a fund-raisingcampaign for the estimated $35 million-plus cost for the building andexhibits.
Hier acknowledges that the reaction of Yad Vashemto his plans has been somewhat less than enthusiastic, but he hasassured officials of the famed Holocaust memorial that his proposedmuseum will not focus on the Nazi era.
Rather, Hier says, the emphasis will be onteaching kavot ha'briot, or respect for mankind, in the context ofthe main confrontational flash points facing Israeli society. Obviousexamples are the often acrimonious divisions between the ferventlyOrthodox and secular segments of Israeli society, or between thecontrasting visions of "hawks" and "doves" on Israel's future.
The idea for the Jerusalem museum was firstbroached by then Mayor Teddy Kollek and has the warm support of thepresent municipal leadership, says Hier.
If the project gets the green light, Hierestimates that it will take one year to raise the necessary funds andan additional two years for the building phase.
Turning back home, the Wiesenthal Center and theJewish Federation, in a surprising major collaborative effort, havejoined forces to present the premier event in Los Angeles'celebration of Israel's 50th anniversary of statehood.
The April 14 extravaganza at the Shrine Auditoriumwill be headlined by screen star Kevin Costner and will be broadcastacross the world the following evening by the CBS-TV network.
In a nice understatement, Hier acknowledges thathis upstart center "had some problems with the Federation in thebeginning," but relations are now cordial.
He credits much of the change to Herb Gelfand, thecurrent Federation president, who is also a major contributor andlongtime trustee of the Wiesenthal Center.
Yaakov Neeman meets with Los Angeles rabbis and layleaders and discusses his committee's compromise plan
By Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
Israeli Finance Minister Yaakov Neeman and LosAngeles rabbis and lay leaders met on Wednesday morning and agreed todisagree -- but with respect.
Neeman, on the tail end of a five-day mission tofive cities, was in town, trying to persuade American Jews that hiscommission's compromise plan to resolve the thorny issue ofconversions in Israel is both just and feasible.
His report calls for the establishment of a jointOrthodox-Conservative-Reform institute to prepare candidates inIsrael for conversion, but with Orthodox rabbis performing the ritualceremony.
The plan has been accepted, with some reluctance,by Conservative and Reform negotiators in Jerusalem. However, theOrthodox chief rabbinate has given no sign of accepting the idea of ajoint institute, and, absent that, most Israeli commentators believethat the plan will never become reality.
During a hurried press conference following hismeeting with the Southern California Board of Rabbis, Neemanpredicted that the media prognostications of failure would prove tobe wrong.
He said that he had tried to clear up"misconceptions" about his plan while, at the same time, attacking"the clear political motivation of rabbis of all extremes, whocontinue to fight and inflame the Jewish nation." Neeman did notidentify the "extremes."
Lawrence Goldmark, president of the Board ofRabbis and, like most of those in attendance, a Reform rabbi, saidthat while the tone of the closed meeting had been civil andrespectful, Neeman's remarks "did not receive a standingovation."
Goldmark noted that the concept of religiouspluralism was largely foreign to Israelis, but that his and theConservative movements were hunkering down for a long struggle toachieve equality with the Orthodox rabbinate.
"We are not throwing in the towel," hesaid.
Herb Gelfand, president of the Jewish Federationof Greater Los Angeles, which hosted the meeting, saw some hope inthe diminishing fears of an "imminent catastrophe" in relationsbetween Israel and American Jewry over the religious issue.
The Federation leadership had clearly voiced itsconcerns to Israeli leaders, said Gelfand, but the local community'soriginal outrage had lessened, to the benefit of the Federation'sfund-raising campaign.
One meeting participant, Hillel Rabbi ChaimSeidler-Feller, who identifies with Modern Orthodoxy, described theNeeman plan as "the only game in town, and we must play it."
Seidler-Feller said he sensed that traditionalistsat the meeting of some 60 rabbis and lay leaders were well pleasedwith the Neeman presentation.
Liberal rabbis, he reported, greeted the samearguments with a sense of unease, and were disturbed by Neeman's useof such phrases as "American Jewry was facing the FinalSolution."
Israeli Consul General Yoram Ben Ze'evpart-icipated in the meeting and press conference.
By Beverly Gray
On the face of it, Temple Emanuel seems to besitting pretty. The Beverly Hills Reform congregation, now 60 yearsold, boasts 950 member families. Its respected day school, home to320 children, is celebrating its 25th year of existence. Senior RabbiLaura Geller, who made headlines in the Jewish press four years agowhen she became the first woman to head a major U.S. metropolitancongregation, has earned widespread affection and respect.
All well and good, but Geller, upon assuming hernew post, recognized that there was work to be done. Temple Emanuelwas made up of separate constituencies (the day school families, thereligious school families, empty-nesters, and so forth) that didn'talways see eye to eye. And for many members, the spiritual aspects ofJudaism had little personal meaning. In tackling these issues, RabbiGeller has turned to the Experiment in Congregational Education, theeight-year-old national effort by Hebrew Union College to help Reformtemples enact creative and meaningful change.
The goal of the ECE is not merely to promote adulteducation. The program, said Geller, regards learning "as a path tocreative community and spirituality across the generations."
On February 28 and March 1, Emanuel will presentits second annual inter-generational theater production. This year'smusical play, "The Colors of Tradition," features a large castranging in age from five to (approximately) 85. Temple member MarilynWeiss, who appeared with her family in last year's play, acknowledgesits value in teaching people from across the congregation "to sharethe experience of each other's Jewish life." She's especially pleasedthat this year's presentation draws together kids and seniors in anatmosphere of mutual appreciation. Also crossing generational linesis the "Mitzvah Memories" oral history project that has beengenerated through Emanuel's pioneering artist-in- residenceprogram.
Creative change in the area of worship has been aharder sell. A bi-monthly alternative minyan that focuses on textstudy is slowly gaining in popularity (see page 22), though Gellerhas discovered that most congregants come to shul for comfort (whichtends to mean replicating what they had as children). Anotherinnovation: each bar or bat mitzvah-age teen is paired with a madrichruchani (spiritual advisor) who helps the youngster grapple with hisor her Torah portion while also serving as a Jewish role model.Currently, most of these advisors are members of Emanuel's teachingstaff, but the aim is to train congregants to step into the madrichrole. Ultimately Geller hopes to see the forging of long-termintergenerational relationships within the temple community, based ona respect for study as a way to connect with God.
Everyone involved with ECE at Temple Emanuelagrees that the job is far from over. Religious school principalCheri Ellowitz Silver, who as ECE coordinator presides over meetingsof a sometimes contentious task force, notes that many of its membersare understandably impatient with the slow-moving ECE self-assessmentprocess because they're eager to forge ahead. Geller counselspatience: "This is a work in progress, it really is. There are littleflashes of light. After a while the flashes will come together tomake a menorah."
More on Web Week
I'm not sure who decides these things, but theword is that February 22 through 27 has been proclaimed Jewish WebWeek. So it seemed apt to take a look at an unlikely Jewish source onthe Internet. In all the hoopla over the opening of the Getty Center,no one seems to have noticed that the Getty-sponsored L.A. CultureNet has its own Jewish connection.
Seems that the Getty Information Institute hascreated the Culture Net website to disseminate news of local artisticand cultural happenings . Getty calls this website "a community placeto improve and strengthen where we live." Web- surfers who check outwww.lacn.org will find a daily calendar of cultural events and afar-reaching listing of museums and cultural institutions, includingthe Pauline Hirsch Gallery of the Jewish Federation and the SkirballCultural Center.
"Faces of L.A.," one of the most ambitiousfeatures of the site, introduces nineteen prominent L.A. culturalorganizations that are working in partnership with the Getty. Thisincludes our own Museum of Tolerance. In addition, the Museum ofTolerance was chosen to help coordinate an experimental "on-lineexhibition," called "In Our Own Backyard: Resisting Nazi Propagandain Southern California, 1933-1945."
A warning: the site, inaugurated in April 1997, isstill very much under construction. Still, it's nice to know that theGetty, in its quest to explore Los Angeles as an artistic andcultural center, has by no means overlooked the contributions of theJewish community.
The Cost of Education
The high cost of Jewish education has been on manypeople's minds of late. A timely debate on the subject will bepresented Thursday evening, March 5, at 7:30 p.m., as part of SinaiTemple's Newsmaker Forum Series. Scheduled speakers include: JohnFishel, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation Council ofLos Angeles; Dr. Gil Graff, executive director of the Bureau ofJewish Education; Dr. Jerry Friedman, President of Shalhevet HighSchool, and Dr. Bruce Powell, president of the Milken Community HighSchool. The Journal's managing editor, Rob Eshman, will serve asmoderator.
According to Dorothy Salkin, vice president ofprogramming at Sinai Temple, "This topic is, and should be, of thegreatest concern to people of all ages, because what we do aboutJewish education will affect generations to come." Among the issuesthat should come under discussion: Why isn't an American educationenough? Does a Jewish education justify its financial cost in thelong-term? What role should a synagogue community play in helpingfamilies who can't afford the expense of a Jewish education? Are wesending our children to the right place for the wrong reasons?
Good questions, all. Passions run high on thisall-important subject and the debate promises to be lively.
Beverly Gray writes about education from SantaMonica. She can be contacted at email@example.com.
All rights reserved by author
S. Monica Chabad Honors Levitansky
Our sages teach that honor evades the person whopursues it; and, alternately, honor finds the person who shies awayfrom it.
That probably explains why Chaye DevorahLevitansky was the honoree at the Feb. 4 benefit for Chabad of SantaMonica. Levitansky, who moved to "S. Monica" 26 years ago with herhusband, Avrohom, had to have her arm twisted nearly till it hurtbefore she relented. "Honors are falshe [phony, in Yiddish]," shesaid. Levitansky stipulated that she would only enter the spotlightif people who took out ads in the tribute journal in her honor alsoagreed to adopt a new mitzvah, or at least improve on the practice ofa mitzvah they already did.
When the Levitanskys first opened the Chabad Housein Santa Monica, in 1973, at the request of the late LubavitcherRebbe, Rabbi Levitansky often had to fish Jewish men out of theliquor store across the street to make a minyan. The once-Jewishwasteland near the beach was filled with hidden Jews, many refugeesfrom gurus and other alternative spiritual mentors. Somehow, whilebearing and rearing 14 children, Chaye Devorah Levitansky also foundtime to begin a successful summer day camp, which has run everysummer since; track down and visit Jewish patients at Santa MonicaHospital and nearby convalescent homes on Friday afternoons; hostcommunity seders and Shabbat and holiday meals for dozens at asitting.
A few years ago, a new Chabad opened, this time ontrendy Montana Avenue. This neighboring Chabad is simply an outgrowthof the Levitanskys' work, says Rivka Rabinowitz, the rebbetzin ofChabad on Montana and once Chaye Devorah's second-gradestudent.
"I adore her. She's completely unflappable,"Rabinowitz says. "Chaye Devorah has 14 children, and I have neverheard her raise her voice. She's never lost sight of what's real,and, to her, what's real is doing another mitzvah."
More recently, Levitansky successfully lobbiedSanta Monica Place Mall for permission to do children's programsbefore major Jewish holidays. Last Chanukah, she had the childrenpressing olives into oil, and making menorahs from wood bases andbullet casings (courtesy of the Santa Monica PoliceDepartment).
It's a bittersweet success for the Levitanskys tohave touched many hundreds of lives. As they have learned and grownin Jewish observance, most of their protégés have movedon to more "Jewish" areas, such as Fairfax, New York and, of courseJerusalem. That explains why the tribute ads for Chaye Devorah camefrom all over the world, from people whom she has fed, cheered,taught or inspired.
At the event, one of her grown daughters recalledher mother's indefatigable energy toward spreading Yiddishkayt --Sunday family outings were often to Palisades Park, offering smilesand a starter kit of Shabbat candles to strangers.
"The truth that behind every great man is an evengreater woman was never truer than the case of my parents," she said."And that's no slight to my father!"
Chaye Devorah Levitansky reluctantly accepted heraward from the women of S. Monica Chabad at the Bel Air Summit Hotelin a room packed with admirers. Not surprisingly, she vowed never toallow external honors to trap her again -- she's simply too busypursuing her next mitzvah. -- Judy Gruen, Contributing Writer
Rah-Rah, Ben-Gurion U
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev is the youngestof Israel's institutions of higher learning, and its president,Professor Avishay Braverman, conveyed the feisty spirit of theBeersheba-based university when he addressed local supportersrecently.
"The brightest students and the best faculty arejoining BGU," he said. "In some ways, we [Israelis] have gotten toofat, too successful, too egocentric...we need a new sense of mission,and that sense is found, not in Tel Aviv, not in Jerusalem, but inBeersheba."
In a rapid-fire delivery, Braverman touched on arange of topics.
- On the population density of Israel and urbanization of its farmland: "We're getting to the point where everybody drives a car but nobody moves."
- On the Palestinian economy: "There is no future for Beersheba if Gaza is not prosperous."
- On Israeli-Palestinian relations: "Everyone knows there will be partition. Netanyahu knows it. The real questions are the boundaries and security arrangements."
One of the more intriguing upcoming events at BGUwill be a conference in December to mark the 20th anniversary of theCamp David accord. The occasion will reunite such Camp David veteransas Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ezer Weizman, and Shimon Peres. -- TomTugend, Contributing Editor
UJ Names Geber MBA Director
Dr. Beryl A.Geber, Ph.D., has recently joined the University of Judaism's facultyand administration, assuming the role of director of the school's MBAprogram.
Geber holds impressive academic credentials. Analumna of the University of Cape Town, where she graduated summa cumlaude with a master's in social anthropology, Geber received herdoctorate in social psychology from the London School of Economics.As an associate professor in social psychology at the LSE for manyyears, she turned to group interaction, developmental psychology andattitudinal studies for much of her research. She is the author ofseveral books and many articles and has also worked for a number oforganizations in Europe and the United States.
Geber has vast experience in both the commercialand nonprofit sectors. For example, she was most recently vicepresident for planning and marketing for a real estate developmentcorporation.
Finally, she enjoys wide experience andfamiliarity with the Los Angeles Jewish community, mainly inleadership roles. She has worked with the Aviva Center, Big Sistersof Los Angeles, the Jewish Federation and the United Way. At present,she chairs the Strategic Planning Committee of the Los Angeles CountyChildren's Planning Council and is the chairperson of the USC Schoolof Social Work. -- Staff Report
Holzman Joins Pitzer
After more than 20 years with the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Alice F.Holzman has left to join Pitzer College as its new vice president forcollege advancement.
Most recently, she had served as the Federation'sdirector of special projects and programs, as well as seniorassistant to Executive Vice President John Fishel. In 1995, sheworked with major gifts contributors to develop new sources of funds;before that, she had assumed the position of interim director of theFederation's entire fund-raising effort, developing strategies forthe citywide campaign.
Other responsibilities included the directorshipof the Federation's Women's Department, the recruitment and trainingof 5,000 volunteers, the supervision of a campaign staff of 30professionals and 16 support workers, and overseeing a campaigncabinet of more than 50 people.
At Pitzer, one of the Claremont colleges, shereports directly to President Marilyn Chapin Massey. As a senioradministrator of the college, she will manage all fund-raisingactivities and alumni relations; play a primary role in the college'sstrategic planning process; and, along with the president, act as aprincipal liaison with the board of trustees, donors, alumni andvolunteers. -- Staff Report
Rita Reznikoff Dies, Will Be Honored
Rita Reznikoff, who died on Feb. 17 after a longbattle with cancer, was to be honored by the Women's Department ofthe Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance at the annual "It Takes aWoman..." luncheon on Feb. 26. At her family's request, the eventwill go on as scheduled in celebration of Reznikoff's life.
Among her accomplishments, she served as ValleyAlliance president, Women's Division president, chair of the YoungWomen's Division of the United Jewish Fund, and president of theValley Beth Shalom board of trustees.
The luncheon is slated for 11:30 a.m. at theWarner Center Marriott, 21850 Oxnard St., Woodland Hills. Forinformation, call (818) 587-3221. -- Staff Report
Sinai to Fete UJ's Lieber
Sinai Temple'sMen's Club will present Dr. David Lieber, president emeritus of theUniversity of Judaism, with the Burning Bush Award on Wednesday,March 4. The award, to be presented in conjunction with the PacificSouthwest Region of the Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs, is inrecognition of Lieber's history of distinguished service anddedication to the community.
Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple and UJ PresidentDr. Robert Wexler will honor their colleague at the gala "RedYarmulke" event, which will feature a musical tribute produced byAryell Cohen. Cantors Meir Finkelstein and David Silverstein willperform.
Lieber received his bachelor's degree from theCollege of the City of New York in 1944. In 1947, he was awarded amaster's from Columbia University. The following year, Lieberreceived a Bachelor of Hebrew Letters from the Jewish TheologicalSeminary and was ordained a rabbi. Lieber then served as a chaplainin the U.S. Air Force from 1951 to 1953. He also served as thespiritual leader of Sinai Temple from 1950 to 1954.
In addition to his role as the UJ's presidentemeritus, Lieber presently serves as president of the RabbinicalAssembly, the international body of Conservative rabbis. -- MichaelAushenker
Naphtali Lau-Lavie has many stories totell.
As a Holocaust survivor, former Mossad operative,and former Israeli diplomat, Lau-Lavie has experienced firsthand thedramatic sweep of modern Jewish history. But he did not come to theLos Angeles last week to engage audiences with his accounts of thepeace negotiations between Israel and Egypt, or the the relationshipbetween Israel and the Diaspora, which he has chronicled in his book,"Balaam's Prophecy" (Cornwall, 1998).
Lau-Lavie came to the U.S. to speak about his newmission: Jewish restitution.
"My goal is to find out what happened to Jewishproperties illegally confiscated," said Lau-Lavie, now vice-chairmanof the Executive of the World Restitution Organization based inIsrael. Lau-Lavie spoke about Jewish restitution at the SimonWiesenthal Center and the Jewish Federation.
Lau-Lavie is currently conducting negotiationswith the local and state governments of countries such as Poland,Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Belarus, Ukraine, Romania, Hungary andthe Czech Republic to procure the claim of ownership of over 17,000properties of the buildings that made up the homes, stores,synagogues, schools, and yeshivas of the Jews before theHolocaust.
The World Jewish Restitution Organization has madesome progress.
Romania, Hungary and Slovakia are in the processof returning ownership of some 7,000 properties to the Jewishcommunities in those countries.
Many local governments, however, are not willingto give up ownership of the buildings, which they have sinceconverted into schools, libraries, discotheques, and moviehouses.
Many government officicials tell Lau-Lavie thatthey are not responsible for rectifying the injustices made toprevious owners of the properties. Some claim that the cost ofrenovations and taxes made on the properties would supplant the costof the old property.
The World Jewish Restitution Organization stillpersists in the name of human rights and justice. The organization istrying to mobilize political support to cause the governments of theEastern and Central European countries to relent.
A memorandum from both houses of Congress was sentto the Eastern and Central European governments and anotherresolution is endorsed by the Parliament of Europe expressing theneed for restitution.
"Jewish communities can approach legislatures andgovernment officials to get interested in the issue of restitutingJewish properties," Lau-Lavie said.
Restitution is more than just a matter of humanrights, he added.
"It's very important not to let the Holocaustchapter pass without some reward," said Lau-Lavie.
"We are unable to bring back to life those whodied, but at least [we can bring back] what Jewish people leftbehind."
Lau-Lavie is not referring to material assets,which he said have never motivated his actions, but to the richJewish heritage that resonates in the buildings of the once vibrantJewish communities in Central and Eastern Europe where Lau-Laviebegan his own life's journey. -- Orit Arfa, ContributingWriter