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September 20, 2007

Briefs: New chairman at Jewish Federation, AskMusa reaches out to Muslims

http://www.jewishjournal.com/community_briefs/article/briefs_new_chairman_at_jewish_federation_askmusa_reaches_out_to_muslims

Federation to Tap Gold as Next Board Chair

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles' board was expected to approve on Thursday, Sept. 20, the selection of Stanley P. Gold as its next chair. Gold, the president of Shamrock Holdings and chairman of the board of trustees at USC, would replace real estate financier Michael Koss, whose two-year term expires early next year.

Gold, 65, a former chair of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion's board of governors who has volunteered throughout the Jewish community, could not be reached for comment by press time.

"He's been involved for many years, and we would be very excited to have him as the chairman," Federation spokeswoman Deborah Dragon said.

A man who calls Beverly Hills home but has made his mark across town, Gold was instrumental in the 1984 takeover of the Walt Disney Co. that gave control of the company to Roy E. Disney and placed Michael Eisner in charge. Two decades later, Gold and Disney forced Eisner out and resigned as company directors. Today, as president of Burbank-based Shamrock, Gold has moved the investment company owned by Roy E. Disney and family to be one of the biggest U.S. investors in Israel; this week he was scheduled to speak at the Beverly Hilton alongside the director general of Israel's Ministry of Finance.

As chairman, Gold would help appoint committee chairs and set The Federation's agenda. He told the nominating committee, led by former Chair Harriet Hochman, that he wanted to focus on three issues: expanding programs that connect the Diaspora with Israel; fostering stronger community relations, particular with Latinos; and increasing leadership training.

-- Brad A. Greenberg, Staff Writer

Holocaust Museum Lease Delayed by City-State Snafu

The Los Angeles City Council's approval this summer to lease a section of Pan Pacific Park to the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMH) was supposed to be the last major hurdle in the museum's half-century quest to build a permanent home. And museum officials were told that after the approval all that would remain before the 50-year lease could be signed was a formality: Getting the state to transfer the title for the 30-plus-acre property to the city.

But three months have passed, and reports are that little progress has been made.

"My understanding was it should have been resolved within a matter of minutes," said E. Randol Schoenberg, museum president. "That's what they were saying to us a year ago. They said once they signed off on the lease, we'd be able to move forward. But they signed off on the lease, and now it's been months, not minutes."

At issue is the ownership of the park's land. It was purchased by the state for about $3 million in 1978 and was operated by Los Angeles County as a regional park when it opened in the mid-1980s. But in the early '90s, the county was short on cash and considered closing the park, adjacent to what is now The Grove in Mid-City, so the city Department of Recreation and Parks took over maintenance.

Shortly after, former state Sen. David Roberti introduced a bill that authorized the state to transfer title to the city or enter into a lease at below market value. But that transfer has yet to be made, and LAMH can't sign its dollar-per-year lease with the city until it has.

Officials at both the City Attorney's Office and the California Department of General Services said they are working toward a resolution.

"There are no 'issues' surrounding Pan Pacific Park," General Services spokeswoman Liz Gransee responded by e-mail to a reporter's inquiry about the delay. "The state is in negotiations with the city of L.A., and both parties are working for an amiable solution."

The favored solution, city officials said, would be for the state to rent the property to the city with the option to buy the property at any point and apply its rent toward the purchase. That would enable the city to sublet to the museum, an effort unanimously supported by the City Council in June.

"It is a worthy supplement to the other important institutions and museums that we have in Los Angeles," said City Councilman Jack Weiss, who represents the heavily Jewish district neighboring Pan Pacific Park. "It is not a substitute, but an important supplement."

Designed by architect Hagy Belzberg, the 15,000-square-foot museum would be mostly submerged beneath the existing six black granite columns of the Holocaust Martyrs Monument, and would rise up to 10 feet above ground at its highest point. Before construction begins -- planned for Yom HaShoah next May -- the museum needs to raise about $10 million of the $20 million needed for the project.

"At this point I am dead in the water with fundraising," said Mark A. Rothman, the museum's executive director. "It is extraordinarily frustrating. Donors who have pledged money and have checks in their hands are saying, 'At this point, I just want to wait until the lease is signed. I want to make sure this is a done deal.'"

-- BG

Wiesenthal Center Web Site Explains Jews to Islamic World

AskMusa.org, a new Web site to explain Judaism and Jews to the Islamic world in its own languages, has been launched by the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

"We have no choice but to engage Muslims in the online marketplace of ideas," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the center's associate dean, who initiated the project.

The emphasis of AskMusa, which means Ask Moses in Arabic, is to describe the concepts and practices of Judaism, and present occasional testimony by Holocaust survivors, rather than engage in political arguments, said Cooper in a phone interview.

The site formally went online on Sept. 12, marked by a ceremony at the Wiesenthal Center's New York Museum of Tolerance, attended by Jewish, Christian and Muslim dignitaries. Besides Arabic and English, the site's languages include Farsi (Iran), Urdu (Pakistan) and Bahasa (Indonesia).

A key feature is a question-and-answer forum, which, in the first few days, elicited such queries from Indonesia as "Why do Jews claim to be the chosen people?" and "Islam has 99 names for Allah, so how do Jews describe God?"

Cooper, who has testified before Congress on cyberspace propaganda, conceived his idea while participating in a recent conference on religious tolerance in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, and after frequent meetings with imams and other Muslim leaders.

"I was struck by how little even well-educated Muslims knew about the basics of Judaism," Cooper said. "I was asked if Jews ever pray and what the Torah has to say about the Koran. I had to explain that the Torah preceded the Koran by thousands of years."

In Muslim countries, "it is the young elite that is Internet savvy and it is fed a steady diet of anti-Jewish defamation," Cooper said. "We have to counter such lies and it is a huge error to assume that all Muslims, especially those who take their religion seriously, swallow the official line."

So far, no Islamic country has attempted to block AskMusa, Cooper said.

-- Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor



New Torah Ark Unveiled at Nessah Synagogue

On Rosh Hashanah, more than 1,000 Iranian Jews at Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills cheered the unveiling of a new hand-carved wooden hechal (Torah ark), which was recently completed after a year of construction. Nessah board member Abraham Shofet funded and organized the project and said it is a replica of one in Amsterdam constructed in 1675.

"We chose to copy the design of the Portuguese Synagogue, because we wanted to find a hechal that was most suitable for the classical type architecture that matches our synagogue's building," said Shofet, brother of Nessah's Rabbi David Shofet and son of the late Hacham Yedidia Shofet, spiritual leader of the Jews in Iran for nearly six decades.

Also on hand for the event was Nathan Moked, general secretary of the Portuguese Synagogue. "I would like to see a kind of exchange between our community in Amsterdam and the Iranian Jews here at Nessah, now that we have something in common that connects us," he said.

Shofet said additional Nessah members donated the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments above the ark, as well as other features. Plans will begin after the High Holy Days for construction of a tevah, a secondary bimah at the center of the main sanctuary, which also will be modeled after one in the Portuguese Synagogue.

-- Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer



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