June 28, 2007
Briefs: City Council approves Weiss Iran divestment bill; UC puts Jewish High Holidays on calendar
Weiss' Iran Divestment Measure Approved
The Los Angeles City Council this week directed the city's pension fund to stop investing in foreign companies involved in Iran's defense, energy and nuclear industries. The measure, introduced by Councilman Jack Weiss, is part of a rolling movement across the country to pressure Tehran to halt its nuclear program.
"This is another message to the regime in Tehran that their attempts to obtain nuclear weapons will not be tolerated," Weiss said. "Local and state government will work together to pressure Iran economically to abandon its quest for nuclear weapons and support for terrorism."
A resolution, also introduced by Weiss, was approved expressing support for AB 221, a bill passed by the state Assembly that would require divestment of an estimated $3.4 billion from companies doing business in Iran. The bill has been sent to the Senate.
Earlier this month, Florida became the first state to pass a law requiring divestment. Several other states, including Illinois and New York, are weighing similar legislation.
"The regime in Iran is a virtual ATM for terrorism," Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said in a statement. "This is more than a mere symbolic gesture. This is a vote that will be heard in Tehran."
-- Brad A. Greenberg, Staff Writer
UC Calendar to Accommodate High Holidays
A new University of California policy directive has resolved the conflict Jewish freshmen face between missing move-in days at campus dormitories or foregoing Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur observances.
Move-in days had been slated to fall on Jewish High Holidays in four out of the next five years.
The new policy, announced last week by university President Robert Dynes, directs the 10 UC campuses to pick move-in days that do not conflict with religious holidays. If that proves impossible, campuses must offer alternate days and drop financial penalties for students who miss the official date.
State Assemblyman Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys), who spearheaded the campaign that led to the policy change, hailed the UC announcement.
"We have insisted all along that incoming Jewish freshmen should not be forced to choose between their religion and the important first days of their new college experience," he said.
Levine, 37, and a graduate of UC Riverside, was joined by 60 Jewish organizational and community leaders in Los Angeles in pressing for the change, including heads of the Jewish Federation's Jewish Community Relations Committee, Hillel Council, American Jewish Committee and B'nai B'rith Youth Organization.
UC spokesman Brad Hayward said that the new policy would apply to students of all religious faiths, although Jewish students, because of their large numbers, will be the chief beneficiaries.
According to the Hillel Foundation, about 20,160 Jewish undergraduate and graduate students are enrolled on UC campuses, of whom some 10,700 are at the southern campuses at San Diego, Irvine, Los Angeles, Riverside and Santa Barbara.
UCLA, with 4,500 Jewish students, has the largest such enrollment of any campus, followed with 3,300 at Berkeley.
-- Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
Rabbi Menitoff Returning to Ramat Zion
Last week, the board of the Northridge congregation of Temple Ramat Zion decided to move forward by bringing back a figure from its past. Rabbi Michael Menitoff will replace Rabbi Steven Tucker, whose death in 2005 was ruled a suicide by police.
Menitoff was young and ambitious when he arrived at Ramat Zion in 1973. With long hair and a proto-feminist Conservative attitude, Menitoff led the synagogue for seven years before its board decided not to renew his contract, never publicly explaining the reason for the decision.
Menitoff moved on to a successful career in New England, for a time serving as president of the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis and for 13 years leading the oldest Conservative synagogue in the Boston area. He will rejoin Temple Ramat Zion on Aug. 1, when interim Rabbi Michael Graetz completes his one-year commitment and returns to Israel.
"It sort of is a closing of the circle for us," said Bob Rosen, temple president. "My wife and I joined in '78, and we joined because he was the rabbi."
When Menitoff left in 1980, the synagogue had about 700 member families. It now has 470.
"I see myself coming back with considerably more experience, hopefully with much more maturity and insight, and with no less energy though than I had when I left," said Menitoff, 64, who returned to Los Angeles in September 2005 and joined the faculty of the Academy of Jewish Religion, California, a non-denominational seminary housed at UCLA Hillel.
"Ramat Zion is going through hell this past year since Rabbi Tucker died," said Rabbi Gerald Hanig of Am Hayam in Oxnard, who was Ramat Zion's cantor from 1960 to 1980. "Rabbi Menitoff has the ability to heal those wounds and move the congregation forward."
Wiesenthal Center Honors Librescu, Rabin, Curry and New Line Cinema
Celebrating 30 years fighting racism and anti-Semitism, the Simon Wiesenthal Center last week honored those who have dedicated their lives to fostering peace and helping others. But the annual tribute dinner at the Beverly Hilton, emceed by Larry King, also highlighted the need to continue the good fight.
"Decades after Simon Wiesenthal launched his search on Nazi criminals, the fight against causeless hatred must continue," Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said.
The center presented its Humanitarian Award to the co-chairman and co-CEOs of New Line Cinema, Robert Shaye and Michael Lynne. Additionally, medals of valor were given to the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin; to Holocaust survivor Liviu Librescu, who gave his life in the Virginia Tech massacre to save those of his students; and to NBC News anchor Ann Curry, for her reporting on genocide in Sudan.
"This I will always remember as one of the most significant moments of my life," said Curry, who as a child was "transformed" by the story of those who protected Jews during the Holocaust. "This valor, this courage to risk your family, risk everything to do the right thing -- could I do that? This courage led me to the region of great suffering in Darfur." -- BG
United at the 'Heart'
Paramount Vantage co-sponsored a panel discussion and screening of "A Mighty Heart" -- the film depicting the kidnapping and death of American Jewish journalist Daniel Pearl -- with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and Progressive Christians Uniting (PCU), on June 21.
The panel, "Building Unity and Understanding in Today's World," included the film's producer, Dede Gardner; CAIR's Hussam Ayloush; Jews on First's Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak; PCU's the Rev. Peter Laarman; with Lisa Smithline from Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace moderating.
The panelists agreed on the importance of continuing their dialogue with each other's communities and on reducing the influence from their respective extremists.
Ayloush pointed out that some Muslims feel ashamed when they see co-religionists misuse Islam to justify acts such as those committed against Pearl. But Ayloush says they shouldn't feel ashamed, since "those criminals were not Pakistanis, not Muslims," he said. "They were criminals, period."
Later, Ayloush responded to an audience member's who asked, "Why should we believe CAIR cares about Pearl?"
"CAIR cares not only about Pearl, but every human being, because that is what Islam teaches us," Ayloush said. "As someone who has studied at a Christian church and [has] a lot of Jewish friends, this is exactly what Judaism and Christianity teach, too."
-- Sara Shereen Bakhshian, Contributing Writer