Posted by Susan Freudenheim
If 10 million gathered for the Rally to Restore Sanity on the mall in Washington, D.C., as Jon Stewart proclaimed (really, probably more like a few hundred thousand), then there were at least 1 million in Los Angeles’ MacArthur Park on Saturday (or maybe more like 2,000) all watching a very big-screen TV.
How do you get thousands to come to an urban park for a non-protest TV-watching gathering on a Saturday morning at 9 a.m.? Facebook; the love of comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert; a growing desire to change the discourse and the human need to be in the right place—even if you don’t have enough money to go to the right place. It was a virtual rally.
It was a rally watching a rally. Washington roared, we roared, too. They laughed, we laughed. We were them. Only we had the lure of Langer’s Deli just a block away.
What marked our crowd was – nothing in particular. And this in itself was kind of interesting – and not particularly L.A.-like. It was diverse—every race, every age, every hair color. Some of it not even colored. Purple, green, and very long, very white hair, plus a guy with a black wig and Mr. Spock ears, carrying a sign that said, simply, “Logic.” Not everyone was pretty – this was not a Hollywood crowd. But everyone was relaxed, mellow. Sane. And paying close attention to the TV.
Story continues after the jump.
Video by Jay Firestone and Jeffrey Hensiek
Despite the diversity, there was unity in the camaraderie. If someone with a big sign walked in front of the screen and blocked the view, no one yelled “Down in Front,” but instead gently tapped a shoulder. Manners were at a premium.
A group of four students told me they’d come from Loyola Marymount University, to volunteer on the Green Team. Which meant they’d be getting class credit for community service for sticking around to clean up after the event. “But we don’t expect to have much to do,” one offered. “It’s not a very messy crowd.”
What was probably the most fun were the signs: “I’m not really a sign kind of guy,” one man’s read. “Will be sane for $$,” said another. A touch of hostility in this one: “Hey Tea Party, Shouldn’t You All be in FEMA Internment camps By Now?” (You tell me, what did that mean?)
In May 2007, this same park was the site of a May Day pro-immigration rally that broke into a riot, with police beating protestors and even some journalists. On this day, there was no police presence, and the security detail was concerned only that no one jump up on the empty stage of the Leavitt Pavilion, an outdoor performance venue that was host to the rally.
After the show, a group of random people in dead-people costumes ran out and started line-dancing to a recording of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” Tomorrow is Halloween, and a bit of “Flash mob” pre-ordained and slightly rehearsed pageantry seemed in order for L.A. It looked like a somewhat motley audition line for the afterworld. An un-fitting end to a somewhat silly day, that was only a little bit inspirational, if well-meaning.
Blue skies, perfect weather, mellow crowds, aging hippies standling alongside much younger hipsters, everyone with a Facebook page that brought them here. It was the new age of Sanity. What a thought.
More coverage on the Rally to Restore Sanity:
Washington, D.C. - Sanity rally: Now that we are all friends, what do we do?
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October 30, 2010 | 9:14 am
Posted by JewishJournal.com
Two explosive-stuffed packages sent from Yemen and addressed to two Chicago-area synagogues look like the work of al Qaida or its affiliate al Qaeda, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said on Saturday.
Two packages containing explosives — sent to Chicago addresses — were intercepted in London and Dubai, United Arab Emirates, late Thursday.
According to a report in the Chicago Tribune, authorities did not release addresses, but a source familiar with the investigation said the targeted congregations were in the East Rogers Park and Lakeview neighborhoods.
The source indicated that the targeted Jewish congregation in Lakeview may have been using the facilities of a Unitarian church.
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The Rev. Adam Robersmith, who works at the Second Unitarian Church in Lakeview, said the Jewish Congregation Or Chadash last used the church facilities for its worship services several years ago. The congregation — which serves gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Jews — has since moved to Edgewater, where it shares space with Emanuel Congregation.
Rabbi Michael Zedek of Emanuel Congregation said Or Chadash has been sharing space in its building for about seven years. He said an official in Chicago’s Jewish community called him late Friday afternoon about the suspicious packages allegedly bound for the city.
“(The official) said, ‘I’ve got some good news and some bad news,’” Zedek said. “‘The good news is that your congregation was not one (of the targets); the bad news is that Or Chadash was.’”
Zedek said he immediately sent the rabbi of Or Chadash an e-mail. The two spoke over the phone and then addressed their congregations later Friday, said Zedek.
Robin Sampliner, immediate past president of Or Chadash, said she was stunned when she heard the news. Sampliner said Or Chadash has about 100 members.
“I heard that the packages were intended for Chicago, but it didn’t even occur to me that our small congregation would be a target,” she said….
…A possible East Rogers Park target could not be verified. Some directories of synagogues in Chicago still list two in the neighborhood. But the last operating synagogue in East Rogers Park closed in 2002.
Intelligence sources say that the Saudis were instrumental in intercepting the packages—a fact that reveals the tisted, complicated relationships that make up the war on terror.
October 29, 2010 | 1:17 pm
Posted by Orit Arfa
In August I profiled the Berger and Cirt families as part of an article on the growing rate of aliyah to Israel from Los Angeles. On July 26, the first direct LA group aliyah flight of Nefesh B’Nefesh and the Jewish Agency left LAX, a milestone in the history of LA aliyah, demonstrating increased demand in express aliyah service from Los Angeles to Ben Gurion.
I caught up with the Cirt family when I was in Israel last month and also spoke with the Bergers over the phone to see how their adjustment was progressing. They describe two different aliyah experiences, one filled with major frustrations and the other filled with minor frustrations tempered with a wonderful welcome. Ironically, it seems the native Israeli had more trouble adjusting to Israel than the pure-bred Americans.
Steven Cirt always wanted to make aliyah, while his wife Anat, who moved to LA from Israel about nine years ago, warmed-up to the idea mostly for the sake of her family. With an autistic son, she realized her family network in Israel and the education system would better suit the family’s needs.
The Cirts opted not to go on the group charter flights offered by Nefesh Be’Nefesh, the Jerusalem-based organization that works with the Jewish Agency to streamline the aliyah process. In Israel they settled at Anat’s mother’s apartment in the Tel Aviv suburb of Givatayim. While considered an upper-middle class neighborhood, Givatayim consists largely of square apartment buildings squished together. It is a very Israeli city, with hardly any English spoken on the streets.
Anat’s mother lives a few houses down from my grandmother, so I paid the a visit.
This living room of Anat’s mother’s apartment was crowded with boxes, her husband‘s dirt bikes, and tons of laundry, folded and hanging. The kids sleep on mattresses on the floor. It’s clear the feng shui isn’t conducive to relaxation.
“Since we came here we’re just running, running, running,” Anat said, her youngest sleeping next to me on the sofa. “It’s okay. We knew it would be like that, but what about more a welcome?”
The problems began with their flight. Anat originally wanted to fly separately from her husband so he could stay behind and close up LA shop, but at the last minute she found out that, as a “toshav chozer” (returning citizen), she couldn’t get the free flight afforded new immigrants unless they flew as a family. They re-arranged their tickets to come together.
Her major complaints relate to bureaucracy and misinformation. The health insurance benefits outlined before their trip at the aliyah fair in Los Angeles didn’t match what they received upon landing, mostly because as a toshav chozer Anat had financial obligations to National Insurance she was told would be cleared.
“I was so upset,” she said, especially since she expected better treatment to a family of olim. Her heavy-set mother, sitting on the recliner, nods in the background.
The Bergers, on the other hand, who chose to settle in Beit Shemesh, a city known for its high concentration of American olim, describe a very warm welcome. They rented a five bedroom apartment remotely and landed only with their suitcases. Their lift came later.
“The people here are so wonderful,” Avi Berger said. “When we first got here they had already prepared food. They had mattresses for us, tables, chairs. They took care of our meals. We’re in a great community, very nice and giving.”
Each new family to the neighborhood is set up with a “buddy” family to help them navigate Israeli bureaucracy. “They all know what we’ve gone through because they’ve gone through it themselves.“
Sure, Berger said there were frustrations in the beginning: a flat tire and difficultly understanding utilities bills.
“There are moments we say we wished there were things we had that we had in the States,” Avi said. “We miss Target, certain food items that are hard to come buy or prices are exorbitant. There are certain compromises you make to make it work.”
But they didn’t compromise on the most important thing.
“The kids are happy,” Avi said. “They don’t know what they’re doing in school really because they can’t speak the language, but they’re in ulpan [Hebrew language school] and they made lots of friends….They’re playing with the neighbors and other kids and they have a sense of freedom here they didn’t have in the States which is something quite important to them and us as well.”
He added that they eat better (and more), they hardly watch television, and they spend a lot of time playing outdoors.
Unlike the Cirts, the Bergers processed initial paperwork immediately upon landing with the LA group flight and left with the clerk offering them water bottles to battle the scorching heat. The Cirts went independently to the Ministry of Immigration and Absorption to process their aliyah benefits, only to be told to come back after making an appointment. Steven Cirt describes the Russian-Israeli clerk as abrasive and unclear. “It really turned me off,” he said.
Anat is disappointed with the guidance she received from Nefesh B’Nefesh, saying no one called or visited, although, Steven said “we could have taken more advantage of them.”
The Bergers had a different experience. “ From the moment we got off the plane until the cab when we got off [NBN was] there for us,“ Avi said. Nefesh B’Nefesh set up a supermarket tour and other events at their Jerusalem offices.
But there have been some positive highlights for the Cirts. They loved the High Holidays in Israel and witnessing the kids on their bikes on Yom Kippur. Steven, a CNC machinist, has found many people willing to help him find a job. Even the convenient store owner down the street helped him set up an interview at a friend’s company in an industrial park, and Steven’s optimistic he’ll find a job soon. The children are happy in school, especially her autistic son. At the time of the interview, they were looking forward to their move to their rental apartment in Ramat Gan.
“We’re going to make it,” Anat said. “We’ll make it work out.”
Avi and Shani Berger are still working on their Hebrew at ulpan. Once his Hebrew improves, Avi, a media buyer, will look for a job.
“It’s a different way of life here,“ he said. “It’s a hard life, not everything I simple. The amenities are not necessarily here, but if you make those choices and you’re willing to deal with it, it’s a wonderful experience.”
October 26, 2010 | 11:31 am
Posted By Elissa Barrett and Robin Podolsky, Progressive Jewish Alliance
This is the third piece of a weekly series in which the Progressive Jewish Alliance looks at the propositions on this year’s California ballot in light of the weekly Torah portion.
We, the people of California, are dizzy with déjà vu. Each year, our state government passes a budget that cuts public spending and gives tax breaks to corporations. Each year, polls such as the recent study by the Pew Center on the States, reveal that a majority of Californians would approve increased taxes if the money was used efficiently to bolster education, health and human services. A related poll by the Public Policy Institute of California shows that voters also believe corporations do not pay their fair share. Yet, each year we end up with a budget that drastically cuts public spending and that holds taxes neutral or decreases them.
Why can’t the people of California get what we want?
Every year, the majority of legislators submit thoughtful proposals that balance public services with fair contributions – that is, taxes – from people and businesses that can afford them. Every year, a minority of legislators holds up the process and extracts concessions from public services and reduces the percentage of profits that their corporate sponsors must contribute. This is because, when it comes to the California budget, a two-thirds rather than a simple majority vote is needed.
This brings us to this week’s Torah portion, Va’eira. Va’eira recounts the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, which is best known for how it is mistakenly cited, as a condemnation of homosexuality. Its true relevance lies in its condemnation of selfishness. Jewish commentators observe: “Some say, ‘Mine is mine and yours is yours.’ This is an ordinary trait. But some say, this is a trait of Sodom.” (Pirkei Avot 5:12.) “Pride, fullness of bread, and careless ease was in her… neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy (Ezek. XVI, 49),” teaches Rabbi Eleazer in Midrash Rabah. These cities sought to bar travel through their land and thereby avoid sharing their wealth with the less fortunate. (Sanhedrin 109a.) As an allegory for modern times, this story teaches us that a society without social solidarity destroys itself.
We are reminded of these texts now, as our state faces a grave crisis and, with the election, gives us a chance to take some steps toward repair. This year, in California, we have a chance to change the way our budget is decided.
Proposition 25 would allow the state budget to be passed by a simple majority of both houses of the legislature instead of the two-thirds vote that is now required. In addition, the measure requires the permanent forfeiture of all legislator salaries and living expenses for every day the budget is overdue. Right now, those payments are merely suspended until the budget passes.
Proposition 26, on the other hand, would amend California’s Constitution so that certain regulatory fees would be redefined as taxes. This means that changes to those fees would require approval by a two-thirds supermajority either in the legislature or through the ballot box. Government pays for important programs like state parks, health inspections, recycling, and roads for new subdivisions. As private citizens and business people, we pay these fees when we enter a state park, own a restaurant, buy a beverage or develop real estate. Other fees help clean up oil spills or offset the adverse affects of tobacco use. Repeal of these fees would cost $1 billion a year.
From the Talmud, we learn that, in Sodom: “A certain maiden gave some bread to a poor man, [hiding it] in a pitcher. When the matter became known, they daubed her with honey and placed her on the parapet of the wall, and the bees came and consumed her.” (Sanhedrin 109b.) As our rabbis teach, that was the last straw for God. That was why Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed.
Propositions 25 and 26 force us to face serious questions about how we, the people of California, think our state should be run, about what are value are:
Are we willing to change the rules of the game? Are we willing to stop demanding sacrifices from the public and those who serve her without appropriate sacrifices from the corporations that continue to reap record profits during this recession? Are we willing force a more balanced and ethical approach to our budget?
If the answer is yes, we must pass Prop 25 and reject Prop 26.
October 25, 2010 | 1:29 pm
Posted by Tom Tugend
Jean-Luc Godard, the controversial French-Swiss film director, will not come to Los Angeles to accept an honorary Oscar, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced Monday (Oct. 25).
The news elicited little surprise in Hollywood and came exactly two months after the Academy’s invitation to Godard kicked off a lively discussion about the New Wave auteur’s alleged anti-Semitism and acknowledged anti-Israel record.
The charges were first examined by The Journal in an Oct. 8 cover story, and then by the Forward. The Zionist Organization of America and other critics demanded that the award be withdrawn.
Godard was to have been honored at the Academy’s Governors Awards dinner on Nov. 13, but he let the Academy hanging for two months whether he would attend. Though an early admirer of Hollywood films, in recent decades Godard has freely expressed his contempt for the movie capital and has harshly attacked director Steven Spielberg.
The Academy’s statement announcing Godard’s non-attendance, tried to make the best of an embarrassing situation.
“Following a two-month cordial exchange of correspondence with Academy president Tom Sherak, Jean-Luc Godard has regretfully notified Sherak that he will not be able to attend the [award dinner],” the statement opened and continued:
”’He reiterated his thanks for the award,’ reported Sherak, ‘and also sent his good wishes to the other individuals being honored the same night – Kevin Brownlow, Francis Ford Coppola and Eli Wallach – who he refers to as the three other musketeers.’
“The Nov. 13 ceremony will pay tribute to Godard through film clips and commentary by his admirers. The award will be accepted on Godard’s behalf by the Academy and, following the event, the Academy will arrange for the Oscar statuette to be delivered to him in Switzerland.”
October 21, 2010 | 5:22 pm
Posted by Orit Arfa
“I’m not a temple Jew, I’m not a ritual Jew, I don’t follow the holidays, but I am a Jew from the tip of my toes to the top of what remains of my hair,” actor Richard Dreyfuss announced to the applause at the International Ballroom of the Beverly Hills Hilton where the Gala Awards Dinner of the 25th Anniversary Israel Film Festival took place on October 20. “I have a pride that I am a member of a group of people who have astonished the world in such a consistent way and who has given more gifts to mankind than anyone else.”
The event brought together leaders in the American-Israeli entertainment community, friends of the honorees, and the filmmakers being represented at the Israel Film Festival, being held at Laemmle theaters in the Los Angeles area through November 4.Comedian and actor Elon Gold emceed, and IFF Founder and Executive Director Meir Fenigstein made opening remarks.
Longtime UCLA Hillel Director Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller presented Dreyfuss with the Career Achievement Award for a career spanning five decades. He is best remembered for his roles in such films as American Graffiti, Jaws and Mr. Holland’s Opus, but Seidler-Feller Dreyfuss also acknowledged his political activism and dedication to ethical values and social justice. A self-professed agnostic, Dreyfuss announced to a room full of American and Israeli Jews, that he’s “willing to be surprised.”
Sylvester “Sly” Stallone introduced blockbuster action film producer and Co-Chairman and CEO of Nu Umage/Millenium Films, Avi Lerner, as the man who “put his money where my mouth is.” Their working relationship dates back to Lerner’s production of the Rambo franchise and continued with the recent release of the box office hit The Expendables, also starring Dolph Lundgren, the the Swedish action film star who played the Russian fighter in Rocky IV and who was also on hand to honor his film mentor.
The Israeli-born Lerner accepted the Lifetime Achievement Award in his unmistakable Israeli accent, saying:, “My mother always told me if someone gives something for free, take it,” although Lerner has been a longtime supporter of the Israel Film Festival. He concluded with a message on behalf of the release of Israel’s captured soldier, Gilad Shalit.
Actor Topher Grace introduced CEO of Relativity Media, Ryan Kavanaugh, who described their friendship as a bond that grew out of a conversation about the (tall shiksa) girlfriends they inadvertently shared. The sought-after producer confided how some people might mistake him for an Irishman because of his red, spiky hair, but the grandson of Holocaust survivors is a very proud Jew and supporter of Israel, with the crux of his speech dedicated to listing the numerous achievements of Israel in science and education.
Titanic and Avatar producer and COO of Lightstorm Entertainment, Jon Landau, accepted the Visionary Award, presented by Co-Chairman Fox Filmed Entertainment Jim Gianopulos. Landau credited his Jewish identity to inspiring him towards film greatness.
“It meant more than where you went to temple, but how you lived your life.”
October 21, 2010 | 2:43 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
Voters are becoming increasingly opposed to Proposition 23, the ballot measure that would suspend California’s 2006 global warming law until unemployment drops. Today, hoping to tip the balance even further, a group of religious leaders from across the state encouraged Californians to reject Prop 23 on Election Day.
“Texas oil companies should not be trying to influence air quality standards in California,” said Rev. Canon Sally Bingham, president of California Interfaith Power and Light, the group that organized today’s statement. She was referring to Texas-based oil refiners Valero Energy and Tesoro, which have contributed a combined $8 million to the Yes on 23 campaign. “Attacking California’s clean air laws will result in more children with asthma and more premature deaths due to air pollution,” Bingham said.
Supporters of Prop 23 call it the “California Jobs Initiative.” Opponents call it the “Dirty Energy Proposition.” If approved, Prop 23 would suspend California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB 32) until the state unemployment level stays below 5.5 percent for a full year. AB 32 requires California to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.
Rabbi Jonathan Klein, executive director of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE) and one of three rabbis to sign onto today’s statement, questioned the economic justification for the ballot measure. “We have to lay seeds for the future, and Prop 23 is essentially cutting that future off at the knees,” Klein said. “This is not at all a ‘jobs initiative.’ It really should be labeled a ‘future-jobs-killer initiative.’”
In August, the most recent month for which statistics were available, the California unemployment rate was 12.4 percent, higher than the national rate of 9.5 percent. The state unemployment rate was last at 5.5 percent in Sep. 2007. In the past 20 years, the two stretches of low unemployment (at or below 5.5 percent) coincided with periods of rapid unsustainable economic growth: the dot-com bubble (Feb. 1999 to Jul. 2001) and the housing bubble (Apr. 2005 to Sep. 2007).
Prop 23 has begun to lose support among voters. A recent poll showed that 48 percent of likely voters would vote against it, while 37 percent said they will vote for it, the Los Angeles Times reported. Until late September, voters had been evenly split. The influx of money to the campaign against Prop 23—particularly large contributions coming from Bill Gates, Google co-founder Sergey Brin and others in Silicon Valley—may have helped to move voter opinion.
Those who oppose Prop 23 constantly remind voters that the proposition’s main backers are out-of-state oil companies. “Does anyone really believe that these companies, out of the goodness of their black oil hearts, are spending millions and millions of dollars to protect jobs?” California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was quoted as saying in the Washington Post. “This is like Eva Braun writing a kosher cookbook. It’s not about jobs at all, ladies and gentlemen. It’s about their ability to pollute and thus protect their profits.”
Still, voters are divided, and they’re not the only ones. The Los Angeles Business Journal recently reported differences of opinion on Prop 23 among local chambers of commerce. The chambers that include alternative energy companies—the companies that generate the kinds of green jobs that AB 32 was designed to create—oppose the idea of delaying the greenhouse gas-reduction law. The groups that include manufacturers support Prop 23’s suspension of the law.
The division in the business community seems to have been reflected in the responses to the proposition from the two Republicans running in California’s biggest races this fall. Republican Senate candidate Carly Fiorina initially put off making her position on Prop 23 public; in her one debate with Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer, she refused to answer a question about the measure. She came out in favor of the proposition two days later. And when gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman weighed in on the issue, she attempted to chart a middle ground, opposing Prop 23’s open-ended suspension of AB 32 while simultaneously planning to suspend AB 32 for at least one year to allow the state’s economy time to recover.
CLUE’s Klein said that any suspension of the greenhouse gas law was ill-advised. We really don’t have any time to waste,” Klein said. “If we allow for a delay in AB 32’s enforcement, we are really going to choke ourselves.”
“Either we’re going to save this planet, or we’re going to throw it away,” said Rev. Albert G. Cohen, executive director of the Southern California Ecumenical Council. “It’s about the future and we have a chance to make a strong statement by defeating Proposition 23.”
October 18, 2010 | 3:59 pm
Posted by Ryan Torok
West Coast Matisyahu fans will have to travel cross-country to see the Chasidic reggae star on his just-announced “Festival of Light” tour.
The all-East Coast tour, an “annual Hanukkah celebration,” according to music site Jambase.com, only goes as far west as Baltimore, MA, taking place between Nov. 29 and Dec. 5.
On Nov. 13, though, local Matisyahu fans/curious folk who want to see him live will have their chance. He performs at the Luckman Fine Arts Complex California State University, Los Angeles. The Jewish Journal sponsors the show, along with KCRW, the Alliance Francaise de Pasadena and the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles.
For more information about the “Festival of Light” tour and the upcoming L.A. concert, visit matisyahuworld.com/tour.