Reps. Howard Berman and Henry Waxman, two of the most influential and senior House members, have endorsed Sen. Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate.
The backing by the Los Angeles-area Democrats adds two more superdelegates to the Obama camp. Even more important in the presidential race is the vouchsafing of Obama's pro-Israel credentials by two of the nation's most prominent Jewish politicians.
Berman (Van Nuys), chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, stressed this point, if indirectly, by declaring that "I spoke with [Obama] about a number of foreign policy issues that most concern me. He assured me that he shares my views."
Waxman (Los Angeles), who chairs the powerful Oversight Committee, focused on domestic issues in his endorsement. "[Sen. Obama] has proved that he has the experience, judgment, integrity and toughness to bring real reform to Washington," he said.
Obama reciprocated the compliments, stating that "Chairmen Waxman and Berman set the standard for leadership and judgment in Congress.... We couldn't ask for two more gifted or dedicated lawmakers to lead this coalition for change."
Waxman, first elected in 1974, and Berman, who won his first seat in 1982, are longtime allies and key political power players in West Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley.
-- Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
Mormons for Israel
Mormons enthusiastically joined Los Angeles' bevy of celebrations for Israel's 60th birthday. On Friday, May 16, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints feted the country at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.
-- Amy Klein, Religion Editor
$30,000 Offered for Info on NoHo Attack
A 59-year-old Orthodox man had just finished observing the Sabbath when he was attacked by two younger men in North Hollywood last month. Both sporting white T-shirts and shaved heads, they allegedly knocked the man to the ground and continued to punch and kick him while calling him a "dirty Jew" and "f—-ing Jew."
The Los Angeles City Council and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) responded Tuesday to the April 12 attack, which occurred about 9 p.m. at the corner of Bessemer Street and Bellaire Avenue, by announcing a $30,000 reward for information leading to the assailants' arrest.
"Hate crimes not only injure the immediate victim, but they terrorize the whole community," said Councilwoman Wendy Greuel, who arranged the council's $25,000 commitment (the ADL offered $5,000). "We must engage all of our resources to stop bigotry before it takes root."
The attack came on the heels of a spate of anti-Semitic incidents that occurred in the West Valley, though in California the number of reported anti-Semitic incidents fell to 186 last year from 204 acts of harassment and vandalism in 2006, according to the ADL.
In January, vandals spray painted swastikas and epithets like "F—- Jews" and "Burn Jews" on the walls outside of four upscale homes in Encino and Tarzana. Firebombs were thrown the following month at The New JCC at Milken in West Hills and at the nearby home of a Jewish family, where a mezuzah was also torn from its doorpost. No one was injured, and there was minimal property damage.
"Perpetrators of hate crimes send a message to their victims -- and everyone else who shares the victim's characteristics -- that we are not welcome or safe," said Amanda Susskind, ADL Pacific Southwest regional director.
Authorities asked anyone with information about the North Hollywood attack to call Los Angeles Police Detective Kimberly Jones-Harris at (818) 623-4016.
-- Brad A. Greenberg, Senior Writer
Ethiopian Israelis in Los Angeles
Smadar Taspai was four years old when her family completed their journey from Ethiopia to Israel. They had walked the Sudanese desert and spent more than two years in a refugee camp. But arriving in Israel wasn't the end of their struggles.
"I don't really remember my absorption. But I can tell you for my parents, it was very hard for them, and it still is," Taspai said Monday by phone from her room at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Beverly Hills. "It is a process."
Now a social worker at the Parents and Children Together (PACT) program in Beit Shemesh, which has received about $2 million in ongoing support from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Taspai had arrived in town the day before with two other women, also Ethiopian immigrants to Israel committed to easing absorption of olim. They were scheduled to remain in Los Angeles through May 26 to speak with Federation committees and donors about the program.
"We're here to share their success with them, tell them the story of where their support actually ends up, what it's doing for the children of Israel," said David Zackon, a representative of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), which developed the PACT model and helps with implementation. "There is no way we could do this without the L.A. Federation."
PACT started in Beersheva in 1998 and has since spread to 14 cities; the Beit Shemesh program was launched in 2006. The programs are fully integrated into their municipalities, providing a convergence between the local government, JDC and the international Jewish community supporting a specific program. They combine after-school activities with cultural learning, health services, social services and family counseling.
"Cultural challenges do exist. You are taking people from a Third World, agricultural country to a modern Western, developed, urban society. Some people have no idea what electricity is or what an educational or health system is," said Stella Valter, Beit Shemesh deputy mayor and chair of its PACT steering committee.
"PACT is a response to that need in the sense that we are trying to tackle a problem in early childhood," she said. "And our research shows that if you don't tackle it in the first six years, it is likely you will never close that gap. So we've got to work to give them literacy, to give them development skills, to give them language skills."
Congregation Marks Same-Sex Marriage Ruling by State Supreme Court
The air in Beth Chayim Chadashim (BCC) crackled with joy during the evening Shabbat service on May 16. The historic ruling in the California Supreme Court the day before cleared the way for many couples at Los Angeles' first lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered shul to marry starting mid-June.The decision, a 3-4 ruling in a what is considered a conservative court, is the latest and possibly final result of a case begun four years ago by Robin Tyler, who is Jewish, and her partner, Diane Olson, who were denied a marriage license at the Beverly Hills Courthouse on Feb. 12, 2004.
On that same date in 2004, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom allowed gay couples to wed. Prior to the state Supreme Court ordering the city to stop issuing licenses on March 11, 2004, many Los Angeles couples made the trek north to tie the knot.
At Friday's service, two of those couples were invited forward to light the Sabbath candles. Pam Postrel and Mindy Blum described the scene in San Francisco as a madhouse, especially since the courthouse was completely unprepared for the huge rush of people.
The couple have two children, Matt, 9, and Eve,12.
"They were almost as excited as us," Postrel said.
Same-sex marriage opponents have already started gathering the nearly 700,000 signatures needed to place a measure on November's ballot to amend the California Constitution to define marriage as solely between one man and one woman. Proposition 22, which was overturned by the court's ruling, defined the only valid and state recognized marriage as being "between a man and a woman."
The proposition had been approved by 61 percent of voters in 2000.
Tyler points to Massachusetts' legalization of same-sex marriage as an example for California.
"It showed the world's not going to end," she said. "Once it happens, it takes away the fear of us."
Among couples at BCC planning to marry soon, many said they would forgo wedding registries and gifts in favor of donations to equalityforall.com, which will help to fight a proposed constitutional amendment planned for the November ballot.
-- Alex Collins-Shotwell, Contributing Writer
Creative Arts Temple Holds Hollywood Canteen Veterans Family Barbecue
More than 500 U.S. war veterans gathered at the West L.A. Veterans Administration's courtyard for a Hollywood Canteen Veterans Family Barbecue served by celebrity guests, including James Caan, Valerie Harper and Vicki Roberts on May 18. The original Hollywood Canteen was created by actress Bette Davis and musician Jules Stein in the 1940s to provide servicemen a space where they could dance, dine and be entertained before shipping off.
This year's pre-Memorial Day barbecue, hosted by the Creative Arts Temple of Beverly Hills, recreated the atmosphere of the Hollywood Canteen by entertaining veterans with performances by the band, Allstars, featuring Deanna Johnston.
Rabbi Jerry Ram Cutler and his wife, Jeff, of the Creative Arts Temple, teamed up with several veterans organizations, including the VA, to put on the event with food provided by Joann Roth-Oseary's catering company, Someone's in the Kitchen. Dancing to live pop and funk music, performers draped in sparkling red, white and blue uniforms and on stilts dispersed balloon animals to excited children of the veterans.
Veterans enthusiastically flocked toward Caan, who made a special appearance to mingle with attendees during the barbecue.
"It was so effortless for me to come here today, when others had to work so hard to get here," he said of participating in the afternoon festivities.
"God bless all you guys and gals," he said, addressing the crowd, "I wish I had the guts, youth and energy to help out."
-- Celia Soudry, Contributing Writer