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Jewish Journal

The Circuit

by Michael Aushenker

March 22, 2001 | 7:00 pm

Don't Believe the Hype

Media be warned -- skewed reportage of Middle East stability is being actively countered by Jews and Arabs alike.

The Israel Ministry of Tourism and the Jordan Tourism Board of North America co-sponsored a dinner event pitched to sell the charms of Israel and Jordan as must-see destinations. The two bureaus set out to quell any qualms among travel agents about sending tourists to visit the region. And judging by the turnout -- more than 500 travel agents packed the Regent Beverly Wilshire's ballroom -- the travel industry was eager to understand how best to sell the Middle East in light of the recent violence.

Israel Ministry of Tourism Western USA Director Rami Levy told his audience that what Israel faces is "an image problem, not a security problem," adding, "We are victims of CNN and other media in the region."

Speaking of CNN, talk show host Larry King was supposed to make the event but couldn't, so he videotaped a special message from the backyard of his Beverly Hills home. With Levy by his side, King announced that he will be visiting Israel this fall, and he urged those in the audience to do the same. Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles President John Fishel also videotaped a testimonial on behalf of Israel, speaking favorably of a recent Federation-sponsored mission. Among the 170 community leaders on that solidarity trip was Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive vice president of the Federation-based Board of Rabbis of Southern California, who said from the podium, "I never felt as embraced as on this recent trip."

According to Malia Asfour, director of Jordan Tourism Board of North America, Israel and Jordan have been working together to promote mutual tourism since the two countries brokered peace in October 1994. Dozens of workshops have already been held in places such as New York, New Jersey, Chicago, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Seattle, and Portland, Ore.

"It's such a natural extension of one another," Asfour told the Circuit, adding that the violence has had a ripple effect. "All the countries in the region are affected. What tourism does is break down barriers, the misperceptions," she said.

Asfour opened her presentation by asking those in the audience who have never visited Jordan to stand up. When most people in the room rose to their feet, she facetiously chided them: "You're all being punished, and now you have to stand through the rest of my presentation."

Asfour reinforced the Israeli-Jordanian partnership theme and sang the praises of Jordanian destinations such as Jerash and Mount Nebo, from which Moses saw the Promised Land. She said only 1,500 tourists a day are allowed into the ancient sandstone-carved city of Petra, in order to preserve the site.

Levy, speaking of his visit to Petra a few years ago as the guest of King Hussein of Jordan, told the audience of how they shared a helicopter ride over the city. Levy called it "one of the most exciting moments of my life."

In spite of the strife during the last months of 2000, Israeli tourism last year was twice that of 1993. And the United States' West Coast, including California's 1.5 million Jews (one of Israeli tourism's biggest markets), played a large part in making Israel a vibrant, beautiful travel destination, Levy added.

"Go see for yourself," he said.

For more information on travel to Israel, call the Israeli Ministry of Tourism at (323) 658-7463 or visit www.goisrael.com. For more information on travel to Jordan, call 1-877-SeeJordan or go to www.seejordan.org .

Music and New Media Unite

The Music/Entertainment and Hi-Tech divisions of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles will hold a panel discussion titled "Convergence: Myth or Reality?" on Wed., March 28, at Federation's 6505 Wilshire Blvd. headquarters. The panel will include representatives of various dot-com businesses and will be moderated by Ted Cohen, vice president of New Media for EMI Recorded Music. For more information, call Michelle Becker at (323) 761-8231 or register online at www.jewishla.org/events/convergence.html.

Off the Beaten Path

Recently, Girl Scouts of America Brownies Elizabeth Benjamin, 7, and Benina Stern, 6, detoured off the camping trail to pay a visit to The Jewish Journal's offices. And the girls of Troop 414 didn't arrive empty-handed. Their gift basket -- which included yummy boxes of Aloha Chips, Lemon Drops and Apple Cinnamon cookies -- was so generous, it took both Elizabeth and Benina to present it to our bowled-over General Manager Kimber Sax. Chaperoned by their respective mommies, Vivean Benjamin and Gail Stern, Elizabeth and Benina witnessed The Journal's behind-the-scenes operation, asking perceptive questions about every facet of the newspaper-making process.

The Circuit asked the Brownies which of the Jewish holidays they enjoy the most.

"Purim, because you get to dress up," Benina said.

We also asked the Westwood Charter first-graders a few questions about the Girl Scout life and learned that Elizabeth loves "getting new try-its [merit badges], because we try something new."

For more information on Girl Scouts of America, contact the Angeles Girl Scout Council at (323) 933-4700.

Conference Call

Malcolm Katz, executive director of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, joined 150 members of the North American Association of Synagogue Executives at their annual conference. Katz chaired the Los Angeles Host Committee for the convention, which this year was based at the Radisson Valley Center Hotel in Sherman Oaks.

Festival of Lots ...of Children!

Another Jewish holiday came and went. And as usual, it did not escape the notice of Aliza Narbone and the Eretz Cultural Center Junior Congregation.

Narbone, director and creator of the Junior Congregation (featuring children ages 7 to 13), led her group in a Purim celebration of the spirit of "V'shinantam L'vanecha" that featured learning prayers and preparing mishloach manot. Students, including Malka Zedgh, 9, performed songs such as "Hava Nagila."

"Most of these children don't attend Hebrew schools," Narbone told the Circuit. "That is why it is important to encourage them to attend Shabbat services. They are our future leaders in our Jewish communities."

For more information on the Eretz Cultural Center Junior Congregation, call (818) 342-9303

Enter Liberman

Assembly Speaker Robert Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) has appointed Adi Liberman of Encino to the Holocaust Era Insurance Claims Oversight Committee. Liberman is past president of Second Generation of Los Angeles and serves on the Valley Jewish Community Relations Committee.

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