December 2, 2004
Clinton Shoah Honor
Former President Bill Clinton will be honored Feb. 17 at the Shoah Visual History Foundation's annual Ambassadors for Humanity dinner.
Filmmaker and Shoah founding chairman Steven Spielberg said in a Nov. 30th statement, "President Clinton's leadership around the world in the struggle against racial, ethnic, and religious bigotry accords perfectly with the Shoah Foundation's mission and makes him an ideal recipient of our annual award. He has led by example and inspired others to give of themselves to build a better future."
President Clinton supported the foundation since it was created in 1994 and he visited its offices two years ago.
Last January, the Shoah foundation gave its Ambassador for Humanity honor to Creative Artists Agency president Richard Lovett. Cable channel TNT is sponsoring the ambassadors dinner for the second year; TNT's executive vice president and COO is Steve Koonin, an Atlanta Jewish community leader.
- David Finnigan, Contributing Writer
Sharansky Visits School
"If you hear of even one Jew in trouble, you must defend him," Natan Sharansky told middle school students Nov. 29 on his tour of the only Jewish school he is visiting in Los Angeles.
"While I was in prison, I only had a few Jewish songs I remembered that I sang," he said. "I played chess in my head. I didn't even have a board, but thank God, I knew how to play."
The world-famous dissident told students at Yavneh Hebrew Academy how he was freed from 13 years of prison in the former Soviet Union, after being convicted of treason because he had applied for an exit visa to Israel in 1973.
"We protested, just a few of us," Sharansky related. "Then it grew."
"You ask, how did we protest, and how did we win?" he continued. "I was released, and many others like me, from the Siberian gulag because all the Jews were united."
"They all defended us," Sharansky explained. "Your mothers and fathers and others like them helped us to be free, and now, 150 million former Soviets are free. So you see, one Jew can set everyone free."
"It starts with a Jewish school," Israel's current minister for Jerusalem and Diaspora affairs told the students. "You can grow as good Jews, proud Jews, and as Zionists. Judaism and Israel are the source of our strength."
Later that day, Sharansky told trustees in a private reception at the school why he had eagerly agreed to speak to the students: "I love the idea of Diaspora schools."
At age 25, I began studying Hebrew in an underground school. Jewish schools give the power and freedom to grow as Jews connected to their people and to Israel. We must teach our children to be proud of their heritage."
As part of a Caravan for Democracy, Sharansky is also presenting a series of lectures on U.S. college campuses. On Tuesday, Nov. 30, Sharansky spoke at UCLA spoke of the "alarming" trend of Jewish students who would prefer to remain silent and not defend Israel, and even worse.
"I hear the statistics are close to 90 percent of students here in America who are scared to identify themselves as Jews," he said.
Sharansky told of a culture of anti-Semitism that has been allowed to flourish on college campuses, using small but focused sums of money.
While Jews have donated much larger sums of money for things like computer centers – which is very nice, he said – they have not used the money to resist what he termed "the demonization of Israel" on campuses.
It is the obligation of the Jewish community to watch the atmosphere on U.S. campuses, Sharansky said.
He advised Jewish high schools to "prepare their students to debate these issues and defend their people and themselves." – Tamar Sofer, Contributing Writer
Delegation Presses for End to Hotel Contract Dispute
Jewish leaders and activists descended unannounced on the Century Plaza Hotel Nov. 23 to press for a resolution of the dispute between nine area hotels – the Plaza included – and the UNITE HERE, Local 11, the hotel workers union.
The group, which included Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg (D-Los Angeles); Assemblyman Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood); members of the Progressive Jewish Alliance, Workmen's Circle, Sholem Community and the Leo Baeck Temple Social Action Committee, were quickly ushered into a meeting with Greg Clarke, the Plaza's controller.
In solidarity with the workers, the Jewish delegation delivered a letter to management from 39 rabbis, stating in part: "As Jewish community leaders, we believe strongly in our tradition's mandate to treat workers with respect – and take seriously our responsibility – to support the doing of justice."
Clarke emphasized that hotel management is most concerned with defeating the union's request for a two-year contract, which would allow it to band together with other unions nationwide to negotiate with the international hotel chains.
But with the contract length issue unresolved, management has begun charging a fee on the workers' health-care plan, which the delegation spent much of the meeting discussing.
Several Plaza workers who spoke with the delegation earlier that afternoon also complained of disrespect at work, including management's photographing of their mistakes on the job, as an impediment to a contract.
Goldberg was concerned that the negotiations are being spearheaded by the international hotel corporations, rather than local managers.
"We don't see people we trust taking leadership positions to get this resolved," Goldberg said in the meeting.
Other delegation members decried the punitive nature of the health-care fee hikes. Clarke maintained, "It's not a major issue for us."
Of the nine hotels involved in the long-running dispute – Millennium Biltmore, Westin Bonaventure, Hyatt Regency, Wilshire Grand, Regent Beverly Wilshire, Century Plaza, St. Regis, Hyatt West Hollywood and Sheraton Universal – the Plaza has traditionally been very popular among the Jewish community for events.
On Nov. 11, the union called for a boycott on the nine hotels, which the delegation promised to honor.
Goldberg said after the meeting that it would remind management that a concerned Jewish community is supporting the workers' rights.
"There's always an aftermath to a boycott," Goldberg added, "and this hotel relies on our business." – Idan Ivri, Contributing Writer