Posted by Ryan Torok
On Oct. 30, people will march at the National Mall in Washington D.C. at the beckoning of “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart; Stephen Colbert of the “Colbert Report,” will host “Keep Fear Alive,” a counter-rally; and satellite rallies will occur in dozens of other cities, including Los Angeles.
The L.A. rally organizers hope comedians, speakers and a large LED screen, for attendees to watch a live feed of events from D.C, will draw the crowds.
So far, over 3,000 joined the Facebook event page for the L.A. rally.
Initial plans to hold the rally in Pershing Square, a park in downtown L.A., fell through, due to a scheduling conflict, said Andrea Epstein, a spokesperson for the L.A. City Department of Recreation and Parks, which, in addition to Pershing, runs approximately 400 facilities.
The department staff said they offered to help the L.A. rally organizers find another venue, but the rally organizers declined assistance, Epstein said.
The event organizers - Amy Lee and Ashley Wright - were not available for comment. A post on the Facebook page for the L.A. rally explains that while Pershing Square is out, another venue will be found as soon as possible.
$16,000 is needed in funding. The current donation total is $4,860, according to a Wednesday update on the Facebook page.
L.A. resident Linda Kasoff donated to the cause. “I feel like this event represents me… it encourages a healthy discourse, a more respectful civilized way of expressing ourselves publicly and unifying that I think we need,” she said.
The event, she added, doesn’t feel political. “It feels like a peace event or an anti-war protest where people come together and express what’s important, as opposed to a political event. Sounds very kumbaya when I say it like that, but that’s how I feel.”
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October 13, 2010 | 6:08 pm
Posted By Elissa Barrett and Robin Podolsky, Progressive Jewish Alliance
Part 2 in a 4-part series on Jewish values and California’s ballot propositions brought to you by the Progressive Jewish Alliance
On Friday, October 8, 2010, after 100 days of legislative stalemate, California passed another budget full of cuts to vital government programs combined with new tax breaks. Governor Schwarzenegger then used his veto power to cut an additional $956 million in services for former welfare recipients who need child care services to stay at work, AIDS patients and the mentally disabled. The Governor’s political calculus is clear: It is better to leave public services in tatters than impose higher taxes on corporations reaping record profits in the midst of the Great Recession.
California voters: Does this budget reflect your values and priorities? Or do you think there is a way to support business, protect the safety net and invest in our future? Can we do good and also do well?
Judaism has a clear answer to this question: God encourages prosperity and also requires us to use our good fortune for the good of all. In this week’s Torah portion, Lech L’cha, we learn that Abraham has been so successful that he enters Canaan “cabaid” – heavy with wealth (Gen. 13:2); yet, he affirms his worthiness to inhabit the Promised Land by distributing his resources amongst his dependants. Abraham ensures that the gap between the rich and the poor in his own community does not grow too wide. The same cannot be said for the Kings of Canaan, who lose their land, wealth and freedom. As Rabbi Eliezer teaches in Midrash Rabah, these Kings are “[t]he wicked [who] have drawn the sword and bent the bow to cast down the poor and needy” (citing Psalm 37:4). Or, as the great 18th century commentator Rabbi Yonatan Eibeschutz taught, “To the righteous, wealth is a greater test than poverty.”
Thus, Judaism strikes a balance: to achieve wealth can be admirable, but to use that wealth justly and for the common good is righteous.
Californians will be asked to strike their own balance when they vote on Proposition 24. Because the gap between rich and poor has reached its highest in eighty-one years, the need for action is great. Proposition 24 seeks to repeal corporate tax breaks exacted during the 2008 budget stalemate by legislators who were desperate to save California’s disintegrating safety net and economic empowerment programs and who were forced, by California’s arcane budget process to vote for the corporate giveaway.
As with Proposition 23, the special interests opposing Proposition 24 argue that any regulatory or tax burdens placed on corporations during the recession will force companies to flee the state and take their job creating potential with them. This argument ignores the fact that corporate income tax payments as a percentage of corporate profits have fallen by nearly half since 1981. It also sidesteps the fact that key industries such as tourism and hospitality, oil production and agriculture cannot “flee” from the uniquely Californian resources that make their profits possible.
The old “trust the market” argument begins to sound suspect in light of the evidence. A recent study by the Bureau of Economic Analysis found that, despite government tax giveaways, U.S. corporations are sitting on $1.6 trillion in cash reserves, double their total market capitalization before the current economic crisis. The California Budget Project reports that the multi-national corporations who benefit most heavily from the 2008 tax breaks that Proposition 24 seeks to repeal made more than $65 billion last year, yet they laid off 100,000 workers. Tellingly, hardcore lobbying by banks and the California Chamber of Commerce killed a bill from San Francisco-based state senator Leland Yee last month that would have held corporations that receive tax breaks accountable for promised job creation.
Meanwhile, the tax breaks themselves come with their own price tag. Without sufficient revenue, state government is being forced to cut billions from education, healthcare and welfare-to-work programs. This is not only economically foolish but it creates social burdens that will cost billions. The elimination of a CalWORK’s program to help parents afford childcare when they transition from welfare to work will affect 55,000 children and disproportionately impact single moms, the very people hit hardest by the recession.
The principle here is that economies are social and that no one really “goes it alone.” For the most part, we do not harvest everything we eat, raise the sheep whose wool keeps us warm, pave our own roads, teach our own children, purify our own water, or make the scientific discoveries that keep us in good health. Any one of those tasks depends on a web of economic relationships—on a civilization—that allows each of us to thrive at a high enough level to develop talents through which some of us, by hard work and by luck, get rich. This principle underlies concepts of both philanthropic giving and progressive taxation.
Whether we are affluent or poor, we are safer in a world in which our neighbors have enough hope and investment in society that they do not turn into predators to survive. We are safer when public health systems are in good order and the sick are not walking untreated among us. We are best prepared to compete in a global economy when our workforce is educated for the technology of today and tomorrow. Our lives are brighter and more vivid when we are surrounded by art and music, created by those who have the ability not merely those who have the access. To live in such a world means that each of us pays our fair share.
The Torah teaches us this value repeatedly, providing fair business practices (just weights and measures), communal set-asides for the widow, orphan and the stranger, and the commandment to leave the corners of the fields unharvested so that the poor can feed themselves in times of scarcity (pe’ah). And Abraham – whose righteousness was tested by his wealth rather than by his poverty – understood that each of us contributes our bounty so that help will be there for us in our time of need. That is the social contract that has helped keep the Jewish people alive for thousands of years.
This fall, Proposition 24 will be a test for how highly Californians value that social contract and of whether they are willing to use the ballot box to enforce it. We hope, like Abraham, they make the righteous choice.
Elissa Barrett is the Executive Director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance. Robin Podolsky is a rabbinic student at the Academy for Jewish Religion/CA and served as press secretary to former State Senator Sheila Kuehl.
PJA’s voting recommendations on all the California propositions are available online.
October 8, 2010 | 1:10 pm
Posted by Tom Tugend
UCLA (The University of California, Los Angeles) formally inaugurated its Center for Israel Studies, the first of its kind on the West Coast, with speeches, songs and a generous buffet of Middle Eastern delicacies on Wednesday evening (10/5).
The buffet, along with a $5 million endowment for the center, were provided by Younes and Soraya Nazarian, the Iranian-Jewish immigrant couple in whose honor the center is named.
Despite heavy rains, some 250 invited supporters, academicians and members of the Iranian community crowded into a large tent adjoining the campus residence of UCLA Chancellor and Mrs. Gene Block.
The need for the Israel Center, one of three such endowed and named academic units in the United States, was most succinctly expressed by Sherry Lansing, former head of the 20th Century Fox and Paramount studios.
Lansing, who is also a Regent of the University of California and member of the center’s advisory board, observed, “The Israel I love, the creative, intellectual, self-critical nation, is not the one I see in the news.
“Almost all of the 10 University of California campuses have experienced anti-Israel actions, and the only way to change that is through education,” she added. “We will be a model for all UC campuses and beyond.”
Included in the center’s curriculum are courses in Israeli politics, law, economics, film, theater, environmental policy and the early history of Zionism, said Prof. Arieh Saposnik, the center’s incoming director.
In addition, the center will offer students and the general public a wide range of speakers, conferences and artistic performances.
The center’s research projects will reflect the fact that “In many ways, Israel stands at the nexus of central issues in a range of academic disciplines, helping to shed light on modern nationalism, politics, environmentalism and a wide range of other contemporary topics,” Saposnik said.
The final speaker was Younes Nazarian, who left Iran for Israel in 1948 to fight in the War for Independence. “In Israel,” he said, “I was treated like a full citizen for the first time.”
He established successful enterprises in both Israel and Iran, but left his native country for good following the Islamic revolution.
Arriving almost penniless in Los Angeles in 1979, with his wife and four young children, Nazarian built a large fortune through various manufacturing, technology and real estate enterprises.
After mentioning his debt to Israel, which “helped make me who I am today,” Nazarian said he wanted “to use my own experience in life to make a difference for my family and for my two adopted countries, Israel and the United States.”
He paid special tribute to his youngest daughter, Sharon Baradaran, a UCLA adjunct professor in political science, who heads the family foundation and was instrumental in establishing UCLA’s Israel Studies Program, which led to the establishment of the center.
Entertainment and music were provided by Yuval Ron and his ensemble.
For information on supporting and participating in the Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies, phone (310) 825-9646 or visit www.international,ucla.edu/Israel.
October 7, 2010 | 10:35 am
Posted by Elissa Barrett and David Levitus
Part 1 in a 4-part series examining the California Ballot Initiatives from a Jewish lens.
At the One Nation rally in Washington, D.C. on October 2, 2010, Marian Wright Edelman said that the primary lesson of Noah’s Ark is simply this: “Don’t miss the boat.” Edelman’s observation is particularly relevant to the questions posed by Proposition 23, the California initiative designed to defeat state-based climate change reform.
Last month, more than 14 million people were displaced by floods in Pakistan, fires burned in Russia as temperatures soared , and the media paid tribute to the lives and promise lost in Hurricane Katrina. As in Noah’s time, we live perilously—our existence on this fragile planet threatened by the shifting and intensifying weather patterns that accompany climate change. But imagine. Imagine you knew exactly what you could do to prepare and protect your family, community, country, and world from climate change. Imagine there was a blueprint for survival. What would you do?
In this week’s parsha, we learn that Noah had a blueprint. Forewarned of the Flood, he planned ahead and began building an Ark to God’s precise specifications. The entire 120 years it took to construct the Ark, Rashi tells us, represented an open invitation for humanity to turn away from acts of corruption and dishonest gain toward righteousness, compassion and justice. It has been more than 120 years since the start of the Industrial Revolution, long years of ill-gotten gains and time enough to create our own blueprint for redemption.
That is why so many of us rejoiced at the passage of California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, known as AB 32. AB 32 contains precise specifications needed to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, such as a trading system for emission permits, decreases in the carbon intensity of gasoline, and orders for utilities to generate more electricity from solar and other renewable sources. AB 32 has inspired a leading-edge “clean tech” industry that encompasses 12,000 companies, 500,000 jobs, and billions of dollars of private investment. In the last two years alone, the burgeoning green economy has been California’s single largest source of job creation.
Given the gridlock in Washington, DC over federal climate change legislation, state action seems the surest way of building our Ark and inspiring others to do the same. And given the urgent need for action, one might question why anyone would want to delay that effort. Yet, that is exactly what we have in Proposition 23, an initiative on the November 2010 ballot that would delay implementation of AB 32 until California’s unemployment rate drops to 5.5% for a full year, something that has happened only three times in the last thirty five years.
It comes as no surprise that out-of-state oil companies such as Valero, Tesoro, and Koch Industries are backing Proposition 23. The New Yorker describes the Koch Brothers as believers in “drastically lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy, and much less oversight of industry—especially environmental regulation.” The University of Massachusetts at Amherst named Koch Industries one of the top ten air polluters in the nation and Greenpeace identified the company as a “kingpin of climate science denial.” By funding efforts such as Proposition 23, Koch Industries and its corporate allies have sought to keep Americans addicted to dirty, costly, and dangerous fossil fuels.
The proponents of Proposition 23 say the measure is necessary to protect jobs and working people. But is that the truth? In California, climate change is contributing to rising sea levels, intensifying droughts, wildfires and rapidly melting snowpacks – all of which necessitate costly government action. Wide swings in energy prices create uncertainty for businesses, which may discourage additional hiring. And without government regulations, working families will encounter higher energy prices and remain vulnerable to the health consequences of exposure to fossil fuels, consequences especially acute for those living in poor neighborhoods adjacent to ports and freeways.
Perhaps that is why the coalition against Proposition 23 includes such an unprecedented spectrum of allies, including business, labor, public health, environmental, transportation and religious groups, including many Jewish organizations, such as the Progressive Jewish Alliance, the Religious Action Center, the American Jewish Committee and social justice-oriented synagogues throughout the state.
The change we need will not materialize overnight, but if we—like Noah—keep building our Ark, decade after decade, our children and our children’s children will reap the benefits of a greener world in which prosperity is more widely shared. Without AB 32, our emission of greenhouse gases will continue to disrupt ecosystems around the world, including our own. We who consume a disproportionate percentage of the Earth’s resources must therefore begin to repair the damage and vote no on Proposition 23.
Anything less and we certainly will have missed the boat.
Elissa D. Barrett is the Executive Director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance and a leader in the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable. David Levitus is a member of PJA’s LA Regional Council, a PJA Jeremiah Fellowship alumnus, and a Ph.D. candidate in History at the University of Southern California. PJA’s voting recommendations on all the California propositions are available here.
October 5, 2010 | 10:48 pm
Posted by Tom Tugend
For a volume in preparation in Europe on Nazi-looted Judaica and ongoing restitution efforts, a search is being undertaken to determine the current status of ceremonial objects distributed to synagogues, museum, and libraries in the United States from 1950-1952 by the Jewish Cultural Reconstruction, Inc. The JCR, was the organization empowered by the United States State Department to identify and then distribute “heirless” Jewish property after World War II. When the objects were distributed by the JCR, small round discs were attached to them with the initials of the organization in English on one side and Hebrew on the other. For synagogues, it is hoped that these ceremonial objects as they may have been identified as restituted objects when they were received and are perhaps included in Holocaust remembrance services or programs. If you are aware of any of these ceremonial objects please contact Dr. Grace Cohen Grossman, Senior Curator of the Skirball Museum in Los Angeles email@example.com
October 2, 2010 | 3:39 pm
Posted by Tom Tugend
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has vetoed a bill that would have required companies bidding for a piece of the state’s lucrative high-speed rail contract to disclose their roles in transporting Jews to Nazi concentration camps.
The legislation, which overwhelmingly passed the state’s assembly and senate, did not name a specific company. However, the bill’s chief sponsor, Democratic Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, made it clear that the main target was the French national railway SNCF, or Societe Nationale du Chemins de Fer Francais.
In vetoing the Holocaust Survivors Responsibility Act on Thursday night (9/30), Schwarzenegger said he sympathized with victims of the Nazi deportations, but that the legislation “needlessly places the state in a position of acknowledging the activities of companies during that time.”
SNCF is now expected to bid for a major role in the $45 billion project, which is expected to zip passengers by 2020 from Los Angeles to San Francisco and Sacramento at speeds of 220 miles per hour.
Blumenfield had charged earlier that SNCF had profited from its wartime collaboration, had never admitted its actions, disclosed its record, or be held accountable to victims.
In their defense, SNCF officials asserted that the French railway system was under German control during most of the war and that the Nazis executed about 800 railroad workers and deported another 1,200 for disobeying orders.
Following Schwarzenegger’s veto, the railroad company released a statement that “The atrocities committed by Nazi Germany during WWII were so horrific that we can never forget, nor should we. That’s why SCNF will continue its commitment to complete transparency of its WWII history, and will voluntarily comply , and even exceed, the requirements [the bill] would have mandated.”
Blumenfield pledged that he would hold SCNF officials to their promise.