Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS) has rejected accusations that the organization or any member of its staff attempted to shield a known pedophile from law enforcement.
Responding to reports that first appeared on April 10 in the Sydney Morning Herald, a respected Australian newspaper, the 157-year-old L.A.-based social services agency released a statement reaffirming its commitment to following “all mandated reporting laws to the letter.”
The statement also defended its former staff member, Debbie Fox, who until October 2012 was the director of children and family services at JFS, and who also served as director of the Aleinu Family Resource Center, an arm of JFS that serves the local Orthodox community.
“At no time did Aleinu staff ever shield a suspect from local or international law enforcement in any way whatsoever, nor would they ever do so,” JFS’ statement read. “Rather, Aleinu staff follows all mandated reporting laws to the letter, working closely with local law enforcement, without exception.”
The original report in the Herald, just one of a string of stories coming out about abuse within the Australian Jewish community, is connected to the case of a single unnamed alleged Jewish child abuser from Australia who later made his home in Los Angeles. That individual is, according to the Herald, under investigation by detectives in Australia. In 2011, the man’s case was brought to Fox’s attention by an unnamed accuser, who alleged that he had been molested by this individual in Australia.
According to JFS CEO Paul Castro, the alleged victim approached Fox hoping to “find a way to get the powers that be, within the Orthodox community, to pay attention to this individual that she identified as an alleged perpetrator.”
“He didn’t give us particulars, he didn’t give us details,” Castro said of the alleged victim. “He said it was something that occurred many years ago in a different community.”
As a result, Castro said, Fox never opened a file about the case, but she did bring the matter to the attention of a council of Orthodox rabbis that consults with Aleinu on matters where legal action is not possible but where the community’s interests may require that some protective action be taken.
“From our perspective and Debbie’s,” Castro told the Journal, “it was about how to connect the person who was making the allegations and the alleged perpetrator to resources within the Orthodox community.”
Fox contacted the Journal on April 12 but said she could not speak immediately with a reporter. She agreed to be interviewed within the coming days.
Rabbi Avrohom Union, the rabbinic administrator of the Rabbinical Council of California, is a member of Aleinu’s Halachic Advisory Board. Although he could not recall the details of the case, he said he did remember Fox bringing the case to the group’s attention.
But, Union said, as a matter of course, the rabbis on the board were not consulted about whether to report cases where the law clearly required it; Fox, Aleinu staff and JFS as an agency are all mandated reporters under California law.
Rather, Union said, “The matters that were brought to us were where there was no legal remedy, and we considered what additional steps could be taken to provide protection where there was a concern for the community.”
The Herald story, which ran under the headline “Jewish welfare group knows it is sheltering a paedophile,” focused on what JFS and Fox knew and did in 2011 after the unnamed alleged victim warned Fox about the unnamed alleged abuser. The article quoted from e-mails reportedly written by Fox and “obtained from U.S. sources” that suggest Fox was protecting a known abuser.
“I have no idea how anyone found out — but calls are coming daily from many sources,” Fox reportedly wrote in an e-mail that the Herald report claimed Fox had sent to the alleged abuser. “So far, we've been protecting you.''
But according to Nancy Volpert, JFS’ director of public policy and media relations, no one from JFS was contacted by the Sydney Morning Herald either before the publication of the story or since.
“They did not attempt to reach us through any of the media channels or through our main contacts,” Volpert told the Journal on April 12.
Castro said he had spoken with Fox in the days since the Herald’s article was published. In the original article, the Herald reported that “Ms. Fox did not respond to questions,” but Castro said Fox told him that she had not been contacted by any member of the Herald staff either.
Reached by phone in Melbourne, Richard Baker, one of the reporters who wrote the original story for the Herald, told the Journal on Friday that he had sent two emails to Fox's email address at JFS and received no response.
As of Friday morning, Fox was still listed as an active member of the JFS staff; by the afternoon her name and email adddress had been removed from the page.
Asked if JFS had looked at any of Fox’s e-mails dealing with the matter, Castro said that he had not, and was placing trust in Fox’s assertions.
“At this point, we have not done that,” Castro said. “Debbie is a long-standing employee with a tremendous reputation for ethics.”
For more on this developing story, visit jewishjournal.com.
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April 11, 2013 | 12:00 pm
Posted by JewishJournal.com
Tonight, April 11 at 7 pm, you can tune into KABC-7 for a live broadcast of the Los Angeles Mayoral Debate from American Jewish University.
KABC is hosting the debate along with AJU, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, and it will take place on the AJU's Bel Air campus.
City Controller Wendy Greuel will face off against City Council Member Eric Garcetti in their first debate since the mayoral primary. The two have been trading barbs over the past week over education and budget, even challenging each other to impromptu debates.
The debate will cover the candidate's positions on the budget, education, traffic and other pressing issues. What's with the Jewish aspect? No, the candidates will not be pressed on their stand on kosher versus glatt kosher. But the 600,000-strong Jewish community of LA, long an active and integral part of the city's cultural and civic life, cares deeply about making LA the best city it can be. Thus, a debate.
The debate moderator will be KABC-7's Mark Brown, who will be joined by a panel of journalists: Adrienne Alpert (KABC7), Rob Eshman (Jewish Journal) and Gabrielle Tessier (Univision Los Angeles)
Dr. Robert Wexler, President of AJU, will welcome the audience and explain the evening's format.
Tune in or set your TiVO, or both: April 11, 7 pm, KABC-7.
Our profiles of each candidate are here:
April 5, 2013 | 2:26 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Francky Perez is a Moroccan-born singer whose songs have topped French charts. Just today he released via YouTube an English version of his French rap song "N'oubliez Jamais"-- Never Forget-- a rap song about... the Holocaust. In the Digital Age, Perez's song-- catchy, short, backed by strong images and a passionate delivery-- might just be the way a new generation of computer-obsessed kids first learns about the Shoah. That's what Perez is hoping, anyway. And his last YouTube video for a FRench charity garnered 1.6 million viewers and counting... so he may indeed be on to something.
I called Perez at his current home in Los Angeles to ask about the English-language "Never Forget."
The project began, he said, after a visit last year to the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum and memorial in Jerusalem. There Perez saw the image of a young boy in a concentration camp.
"I looked at the kid and he looked exactly like my second son. I had a shock. I needed to do something that expressed what I was feelingt, and I'm someone who uses rap music for therapy."
It took Perez six months to write and produce the music video. Most of the shooting took place in paris, where he used real streets to recreate the roundups that took place there.
Perez himself did not lose family in the Holocaust.
"I am Sephardic," he explained. "But sometimes when I talk to other Jews, I feel they think that being sephardic we don't feel this hell they went through. That's not true. Being Sephardic, I feel this is in my genes as much as an Ashkenazi. I suffer for my people, I feel it in my genes the same pain and suffering, not like the people who went through it, but like all Jews now."
Perez hopes a rap video will educate people in ways books and documentaries can't.
"I want this to go beyond the Jewish community, especially to teenagers," he said. " They learn by heart rap lyrics. Maybe this is the right vector to reach the young generation, through a rap song."
His hope is that educational organzations will help him distribute it to young people, either in DVDs or online.
"I hope its totally respectful to the memory," Perez said.
Watch it. It is.
March 29, 2013 | 11:50 am
Posted by Ryan Torok
Dan Kanter, Justin Bieber’s musical director and guitarist, visited Auschwitz-Birkenau on March 25, during Bieber’s 2013 “European Believe Tour” stop in Poland.
International March of the Living—an annual educational program that brings students from all over world to Poland in order for them to study the history of the Holocaust—arranged the trip for Kanter, who is Jewish.
“It’s been very intense and emotional today,” Kanter, 31, said, after walking the three-kilometer distance separating death camp Auschwitz and satellite extermination camp Birkenau.
On the evening of March 25, following Kanter’s visit to the camps, Kanter joined teen heartthrob and pop star Bieber onstage for a concert in Poland.
This was not the first time that Kanter, who became Bieber’s guitarist after performing with him on a popular Canadian TV show in 2009, has demonstrated his Jewish identity while working for Bieber. In April 2011, Kanter performed a Jimi Hendrix-style rendition of Hatikvah before Bieber stepped onstage to perform at Tel Aviv’s Hayarkon Park. And “Justin Beiber’s Musical Father Figure, Dan Kanter,” a 2011 story in the Journal, describes how Kanter is the reason that Bieber, a devout Christian, says the “The Shema” before every concert.
March 21, 2013 | 5:24 pm
Posted by Ryan Torok
University of Southern California student Samuel Levine has died in an accident while on spring break in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico He was 22.
"Our deepest sympathies are with Sam’s parents and family members," said Steve A. Kay, dean of the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, in a statement.
Levine, a junior majoring in psychology, died on March 12. He fell from the balcony of his hotel room while on vacation with other USC students and members of his fraternity, Sigma Chi, according to CBS Los Angeles.
In 2012, Levine worked as a student marketer for USC baseball’s program and as an intern at several companies, including Wasserman Media Group and Lineage Interactive, which are sports and entertainment marketing agencies.according to his LinkedIn profile.
Sports, apparently, played a big part in Levine's life: in 2009, he was hired to coach the freshman and sophomore boys basketball team at Oak Park High School, where he graduated from and where he was a star player, according to a 2009 article from The Acorn.
Synagogues from the Oak Park area—which falls in Ventura County but is adjacent to Agoura Hills—heard about Levine’s death, but the Journal has yet to determine which synagogue Levine’s family are members of, assuming they are members of one.
March 21, 2013 | 4:04 pm
Posted by Ryan Torok
The sudden death of Porter Ranch 14-year-old Aria Doherty has had an impact on the Temple Ahavat Shalom (TAS) community. On March 19, middle school and high school students who knew Doherty, who died one day earlier after huffing cleaning supplies, gathered at Ahavat Shalom in Northridge to process their loss.
Doherty’s parents said Doherty, an eighth-grade student at Alfred B. Nobel Middle School in Northridge, went into cardiac arrest after inhaling a can of computer duster, according to a report from CBS Los Angeles.
Doherty was not Jewish and not a member of TAS, but many high school students whose families are members of TAS were classmates with Doherty at Nobel, according to Rabbi Barry Lutz of TAS.
TAS decided to reach out and offer support to these kids, Lutz said.
“We sent out an email to all parents and posted on all our Facebook pages saying that we were aware that this happened and thought it was very important they bring their kids to school so that they can be together, be here as a community, so we could respond to the grief we knew they were feeling and deal with the trauma that we knew many of them were certainly experiencing,” Lutz said.
Approximately 150 students—some from TAS high school religious program and some not—visited the synagogue on Tuesday night and participated in grief counseling with a Los Angeles Unified School district social worker and with a psychologist and took part in a discussion with residents of Beit T’Shuvah, a Culver City rehabilitation clinic.
Doherty’s mother, Carolyn, was among those who went to the synagogue on Tuesday, joined by Doherty’s older sister. Carolyn’s relationship with Ahavat Shalom stems from her having helped with the choreography of the synagogue’s Purim shpiel.
Lutz did not know Doherty, who was active in Nobel's drama department, but she attended b'nai mitzvahs of her peers from TAS. Fanny Arana, a TAS high school teacher and the theater arts director at Nobel Middle School, broke the news to TAS staff about Doherty's death.
March 21, 2013 | 11:17 am
Posted by Rob Eshman
Soaring rhetoric mixed with hard truths and tough love in President Barack Obama's major address today to thousands of young Israelis in Jerusalem. Below, for the time-challenged, we've selected the 10 best, must-read passages.
1. THE FUTURE IS IN YOUR HANDS
That is why I believe that Israel is rooted not just in history and tradition, but also in a simple and profound idea: the idea that people deserve to be free in a land of their own.
Only you can determine what kind of democracy you will have. But remember that as you make these decisions, you will define not simply the future of your relationship with the Palestinians – you will define the future of Israel as well.
2. A WARNING TO SYRIA'S ASSAD
The fact that Hizbollah's ally – the Assad regime – has stockpiles of chemical weapons only heightens the urgency. We will continue to cooperate closely to guard against that danger. And I have made it clear to Bashar al-Assad and all who follow his orders: we will not tolerate the use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people or the transfer of these weapons to terrorists. The world is watching, and we will hold you accountable.
3. A MESSAGE TO IRAN
Strong and principled diplomacy is the best way to ensure that the Iranian government forsakes nuclear weapons. Moreover, peace is far more preferable to war, and the inevitable costs – and unintended consequences – that would come with it. Because of the cooperation between our governments, we know that there remains time to pursue a diplomatic resolution. That is what America will do – with clear eyes – working with a world that is united, and with the sense of urgency that is required.
But Iran must know this time is not unlimited. And I have made the position of the United States of America clear: Iran must not get a nuclear weapon. This is not a danger that can be contained. As President, I have said to the world that all options are on the table for achieving our objectives. America will do what we must to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.
4. "YOU ARE NOT ALONE"
Today, I want to tell you – particularly the young people – that so long as there is a United States of America, Ah-tem lo lah-vahd. [You are not alone.]
5. PUT YOURSELF IN THEIR SHOES
But the Palestinian people's right to self-determination and justice must also be recognized. Put yourself in their shoes – look at the world through their eyes. It is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of her own, and lives with the presence of a foreign army that controls the movements of her parents every single day. It is not just when settler violence against Palestinians goes unpunished. It is not right to prevent Palestinians from farming their lands; to restrict a student's ability to move around the West Bank; or to displace Palestinian families from their home. Neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer. Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land.
Of course, Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with anyone who is dedicated to its destruction. But while I know you have had differences with the Palestinian Authority, I believe that you do have a true partner in President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad. Over the last few years, they have built institutions and maintained security on the West Bank in ways that few would have imagined a decade ago. So many Palestinians – including young people – have rejected violence as a means of achieving their aspirations.
6. PEACE IS POSSIBLE
Which leads to my third point: peace is possible. I know it doesn't seem that way. There will always be a reason to avoid risk, and there's a cost for failure. There will always be extremists who provide an excuse to not act. And there is something exhausting about endless talks about talks; the daily controversies, and grinding status quo.
7. TIME FOR THE ARABS TO GROW UP
Arab States must adapt to a world that has changed. The days when they could condemn Israel to distract their people from a lack of opportunity are over. Now is the time for the Arab World to take steps toward normalized relations with Israel. Meanwhile, Palestinians must recognize that Israel will be a Jewish state, and that Israelis have the right to insist upon their security. Israelis must recognize that continued settlement activity is counterproductive to the cause of peace, and that an independent Palestine must be viable– that real borders will have to be drawn.
8. ON ISRAELI ACCOMPLISHMENT
Through talent and hard work, Israelis have put this small country at the forefront of the global economy. Israelis understand the value of education, and have produced 10 Nobel laureates. Israelis understand the power of invention, and your universities educate engineers and inventors. That spirit has led to economic growth and human progress: solar power and electric cars; bandages and prosthetic limbs that save lives; stem cell research and new drugs that treat disease; cell phones and computer technology that change the way we live. If people want to see the future of the world economy, they should look at Tel Aviv: home to hundreds of start-ups and research centers. And Israelis are so active on social media that every day seemed to bring a different Facebook campaign about where I should give this speech.
9. THE ARABS WANT TO BE LIKE YOU
One of the great ironies of what is happening in the broader region is that so much of what people are yearning for – education and entrepreneurship; the ability to start a business without paying a bribe, to connect to the global economy – those things can be found in Israel. This should be a hub for thriving regional trade, and an engine of opportunity. And this is already a center for innovation that helps power the global economy. I believe that all of that potential for prosperity can be enhanced with greater security, and a lasting peace.
10. TIKKUN OLAM
We bear that history on our shoulders, and we carry it in our hearts. Today, as we face the twilight of Israel's founding generation, you – the young people of Israel – must now claim the future. It falls to you to write the next chapter in the story of this great nation.
As the President of a country that you can count on as your greatest friend, I am confident that you can help us find the promise in the days that lie ahead. And as a man who has been inspired in my own life by that timeless calling within the Jewish experience – tikkun olam [REPAIRING THE WORLD]-- I am hopeful that we can draw upon what's best in ourselves to meet the challenges that will come; to win the battles for peace in the wake of so much war; and to do the work of repairing this world. May God bless you, and may God bless Israel and the United States of America. Toda raba. (Thank you.)
March 21, 2013 | 9:51 am
Posted by Rob Eshman
If Daily Beast/Newsweek launched a Top Jewish Editors List, my friend Ami Eden would surely be way up there. But the editor-in-chief of JTA is just a bit off in his comments on the annual Top Rabbis List that Daily Beast puts out.
In his blog post today on that list, he refers to the March 15 Jewish Journal cover story, “Is the rabbis list legit?,” and summarizes the flaws our writer Danielle Berrin uncovered in the execution and, as many critics said, the very idea of such a list.
But Eden then offers an unwarranted and gratuitous knock against Berrin.
“All valid points,” he writes of the concerns Berrin’s sources raised. “But… I think we’re losing sight of the bigger picture — Tina Brown publishes an annual top rabbis list. How cool is that? (If Berrin had thought of it, the L.A. Jewish Journal would be doing it every year!).”
Two things: As Berrin clearly established, this is not in any convincing way “Tina Brown’s” list or Newsweek’s — it is the creation of people outside those organizations, who then planted it at Newsweek (which was taken over by Brown’s Daily Beast). Newsweek lent the list its brand and journalistic credibility, without doing any actual vetting. In other words, it saw a chance for attention and traffic without doing the actual work.
List creator Jay Sanderson, now President of the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles, put it this way to Berrin: “When I see ads that say, ‘Newsweek’s number whatever rabbi,’ it makes me laugh. It makes me feel like, ‘I guess I’m Newsweek,’ because Newsweek didn’t vet this list.”
As utterly exciting as the prospect may seem to Tina Brown fans (I’m more of an Arianna guy myself), I suspect her entire thought process behind posting the list was, “Sure, traffic, whatever.”
Second point, which is really the thrust of this blog post: Eden’s swipe at Danielle Berrin. “(If Berrin had thought of it, the L.A. Jewish Journal would be doing it every year!)”
I’m not sure why Am would demean a serious piece of journalism as sour grapes, but he is simply wrong on the facts.
The fact is, when Sanderson left his position as CEO of Jewish Television Network, where he created the Top Rabbis List, he offered it to the Jewish Journal. I thought about it for two seconds and said we’re not interested. As much as I like traffic and buzz, I really do believe the list ultimately demeans the rabbinate and hurts rabbis. I didn’t see a way to do it that was credible.
(As for Danielle Berrin’s ideas, she has no problem coming up with several great ones each week. )
The Forward, under another Top Jewish Editor Jane Eisner, has gotten closer with its new 36 Most Inspiring Rabbis, which it just released this week. That list is compiled from nominations by readers. The stories are well-researched and well-written, and worth your time.
Even then, “Most Inspiring?” If there’s a Jew who doesn’t believe his or her rabbi is inspiring, it’s time for another rabbi. If you don’t believe your rabbi is the number 1 for you, keep looking.
The Jewish Journal does do an annual list, but it’s not ranking rabbis. Each December we compile The Mensch List, ten unheralded people in our community who give tirelessly, creatively and often thanklessly of themselves to improve the lives of others. This year the Los Angeles City Council honored our “Mensch List” for its service to the city. We even got a cool plaque, at taxpayer expense.
If only Tina Brown had thought of that.
You can read Danielle Berrin's full investigation into the Newsweek Top Rabbis List here.
Follow Rob Eshman on Twitter @foodaism.