Jewish Journal


July 10, 2003



Family Service Cuts Staff, Programs

In an attempt to balance its budget, Jewish Family Service (JFS) has scaled back counseling and other programs that serve some of the region's most vulnerable people.

JFS slashed three part-time positions at both its Conejo Valley and Metro West centers July 1 as part of a cost-cutting measure that eliminated the equivalent of seven of the agency's 421 full-time positions.

As a result of the staff reductions, the Conejo Valley facility will no longer offer seminars at synagogues on such subjects as treating depression or caring for aging parents. At Metro West, which serves Mid-Wilshire and Westside residents, the cuts will mean longer waits to see therapists, said Paul Castro, JFS executive director.

With its funding stagnating and health insurance and worker's compensation premiums skyrocketing, JFS also has had to reduce some of its pro bono work. Whereas the agency used to oversee, for free, about 100 indigent senior citizen's finances and estate at the behest of a loved one, JFS will now only get involved on a "case-by-case" basis, Castro said.

The situation at JFS and other nonprofits could worsen considerably if the Legislature passes a budget with deep cuts. Castro also worries that local municipal funding could dry up. About $9 million of the agency's $25 million budget comes directly or indirectly from government sources.

"I've been in nonprofits for over 25 years, and this is probably the worst it's been since Proposition 13," Castro said. -- Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

Matzah Ball Rolls Across Religious Lines

The scene was the entrance to the imposing new Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles on a rainy day.

It was Good Friday, one of the holiest days on the Catholic Church calendar and also the second day of Passover.

Outside sat a 37-year-old man, unshaven and unwashed, nearing the end of a weeklong protest vigil and fast and holding a sign reading, "You Can't Hide the Truth From God."

He was Detective Manuel Vega, a decorated Oxnard police officer and ex-Marine, who had been sexually molested as an altar boy by his priest and had formed SNAP -- The Survivor Network of Those Abused by Priests.

Along came Jonathan Raven, a Jewish senior official in the state attorney general's office, who had met Vega during the course of his work. He was carrying a hot bowl of matzah ball soup and some matzah for Vega, who hadn't had anything but "a lot of water and a little bread" for close to a week.

Vega was touched but puzzled by the strange offerings, and asked, "What's this matzah?"

"Well, it's a like eating a wafer while taking communion," Raven reassured him. "Anyhow, Christ's Last Supper was a Passover dinner."

The matzah ball soup had its legendary healing effect on Vega.

"That's the most nourishing meal I ever had," he said. "I had been lightheaded and lethargic, but it really energized me."

"You know," Vega mused, "isn't it strange that a Jew would bring matzah ball soup to an agonizing Catholic on Christ's Crucifixion day?" -- Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Sabans Donate $100 Million

Billionaire television mogul Haim Saban, a citizen of Israel and the United States, is aiding institutions in both countries through $100 million in donations and pledges.

Saban and his wife, Cheryl, announced in mid-June that the largest chunk, $40 million, will go to Childrens Hospital Los Angeles for research in cancer and gene therapy and in neuroscience.

The local Jewish Community Foundation will receive $3 million.

In Israel, the couple has committed $5.2 million to Beit Halochem to provide long-term physical and psychological rehabilitation for disabled veterans and victims of terror in the Negev area. An additional $1.6 million will provide university scholarships for Israeli combat veterans.

The Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva will get $5 million in matching funds to help build a children's hospital. Shai Waxman-Abramson, program director for the Saban Family Foundation, said that when she and Cheryl Saban recently visited Soroka, "We found six kids to a room meant for two. They desperately need help."

An additional $25,000 is earmarked for ELI, the Israel Association for Child Protection.

Saban, 58, was born in Egypt, raised in a Tel Aviv slum and served as sergeant major in the Israeli army before striking out to make his fortune abroad.

He scored his first phenomenal success by repackaging a Japanese action show into the children's TV hit, "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers," and later joined media mogul Rupert Murdoch as co-owner of Fox Family Worldwide, Inc., which was sold to Disney.

Saban has given and raised millions for the Democratic Party and its candidates in the United States and for liberal-centrist politicians, such as Ehud Barak, in Israel.

The Forbes list of 400 richest Americans pegs Saban's wealth at $1.7 billion.

Other beneficiaries of the $100 million package are the newly established Saban Center for Middle East Policy in Washington, D.C., ($13 million), Motion Picture Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills ($10 million) and the William J. Clinton Library Foundation ($5 million).

Saban said that he and his wife, one of the city's reigning power hostesses, decided to make their gifts public to inspire others among the Los Angeles and Hollywood super-rich by their example.

"It gives us naches to help," Cheryl Saban said. -- TT

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