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Workmen’s Circle celebrates 100 years; Progressives fight for what’s Left

by Danielle Berrin

January 24, 2008 | 7:00 pm

Edward Asner delivering the keynote address at the Workmen's Circle Centennial Gala

Edward Asner delivering the keynote address at the Workmen's Circle Centennial Gala

Workmen's Circle Celebrates 100

It's not every centenarian who can celebrate his birthday with full-throated songs and Yiddish jokes, but the Workmen's Circle/Arbeter Ring did just that in marking its 100th anniversary year in California with high good humor, leavened with a bit of nostalgia.

Performers and speakers intermingled Yiddish with English at the centennial gala and awards celebration on Jan. 9 at the Skirball Cultural Center.

There were gags about davening parrots, a parody on health care debates to the tune of "California, Here I Come," rousing songs by the Voices of Conscience and Mit Gezang choruses, a raft of standup routines and closing duets by Yale Strom and Elizabeth Schwartz.

Among the honorees were KPFK-FM's "Access Unlimited" program on people with disabilities, and Ruth Judkowitz and Eric A. Gordon, "chairmentsh" and director, respectively, of the Workmen's Circle Southern California district.

It was left to veteran actor Ed Asner, a Workmen's Circle member himself, to honor the group's history as a pioneer fighter for union, housing, health care and education rights. He concluded with a stemwinder lauding the politics of the left, a term rarely heard in polite conversation these days.

"What a pitiful society we have become in losing so many ideals of the left," Asner said. "But these ideals of a community in which no one is excluded from the human family will never die. If they seem dead at times, they will be born again.

-- Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Push to Make Social Justice a Priority Righteous Indignation
And speaking of the left, the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA), American Jewish World Service, Jewish Funds for Justice and other forward-looking organizations recently celebrated the new anthology, "Righteous Indignation: A Jewish Call for Justice," at the home of PJA President Daniel Sokatch.

Part call to action, part campaign initiative, the book and its authors want to reclaim the concept tikkun olam (repair the world) to include social justice, as well as social action. The highbrow team of Jewish activists, intellectuals, religious and lay leaders who contributed to the book are gearing up for a vigorous foray into campaign politics, hoping to make social justice a religious priority in the '08 election.

On the Righteous Indignation Project Web site, co-editor Rabbi Or N. Rose recognizes that "in an era in which the religious right has monopolized the national morality debate, it is critical that religious progressives -- Jews and others -- articulate alternative visions of faith and public life."

A formidable group of 70 or so crowded Sokatch's Westwood home, sipping wine and talking politics at a salon-style gathering, where "small talk" was about changing the world. The implied paradigm shift is this: Feeding the hungry is nice and all, but more pressing is asking ourselves why people are starving to begin with.

"Community service is not enough. We need gemilut chasadim [acts of lovingkindness] and structural change," said Margie Klein, co-editor, along with Rose and Jo Ellen Green Kaiser.

Rabbi Sharon Brous, who co-authored an essay with Sokatch, warmly introduced three contributors: Dr. Adam Rubin, Rabbi Elliot Dorff and Sokatch, who bandied caveats pertaining to the Iraq War, stem cell research and civil rights. Sokatch implored a turn toward restorative -- not retributive -- justice, so that all human beings are treated with dignity.

Talk was urgent, political and philosophical. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was quoted. The voice of social justice was heard, and the event concluded with Jewish prayer.

Before the soldiers of peace set out into the night, Klein asked the crowd to commit to three things: Read the book, get involved and, if you can, help fund the growing movement.

Maybe there's hope for our broken world yet.

SCENE AND HEARD...

Alex Fullman
Going for the Gold: Alex Fullman (photo), 17-year-old student at Harvard-Westlake School, won four gold medals and two silver as a member of the U.S. swim team at the Pan American Maccabi games, which took place last month in Buenos Aires. He is the son of Sandra Kossacoff and Dr. Howard Fullman who, along with his brother, Casey Fullman, attended the December 2007 games.

Banking On Jobs: Apparently the Los Angeles banking industry has one of the highest turnover rates of any job market in the country. Enter Les Biller, former COO of Wells Fargo Bank and the Biller Family Foundation, who, along with a consortium of brand-name banks, created JVS Bankworks, a free career training program to prepare people for entry into the banking industry.

On Jan. 16, they held their graduation ceremony at the Expo Center. Thus far, retention rates are high: Over 80 percent of graduates get hired and 79 percent are still around to move up the ladder six months later. For more information, visit http://www.jvsla.org.

Margy Feldman
It's a New Day: The state Assembly declared Jan. 14 Big Brothers Big Sisters Day in recognition of the organization's positive impact on the lives of 10,000 children through its 26 statewide agencies. Margy Feldman, president of Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles and the 2008-2009 president of the California BBBS State Association, was present to receive the award.

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