Beverly Hills Mayor Jimmy Delshad announced plans last Friday to introduce a city measure later this month that will require city employee pension funds to divest several million dollars in investments with companies doing business with Iran.
"I have a fiduciary duty to our city employees to protect their pensions by not having investments in countries like Iran that could be attacked," said Delshad, an Iranian Jew. "I also wanted to send a message to the people of Iran that we support Democracy for them."
On July 12, Beverly Hills City Council voted to support California Assembly Bill 221, which would require state pension funds to divest an estimated $24 billion in investments from more than 280 companies doing business with Iran. The bill has received wide support from local Iranians of various faiths and was unanimously approved by the California State Assembly in early June. State officials who introduced the bill said they expect it will be signed into law by September.
Beverly Hills becomes only the second city in the United States to propose Iran Divestment legislation after the L.A. City Council approved a similar Iran Divestment measure late last month.
-- Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer
Survivors' Pensions Overwhelmingly Denied
The Nazi nightmare ended 62 years ago, but one special class of Holocaust survivors, in Los Angeles and throughout the world, is still battling German bureaucracy over pension payments.
The survivors gained some valuable allies last week when influential Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) and 19 other Congress members petitioned the German government on their behalf.
Another branch of the United States government added its support last week when Christian Kennedy, the State Department's special envoy for Holocaust issues, told the Claims Conference that the pension issue represented the top priority for his office.
Affected are survivors, now in their 80s and 90s, who worked for German companies or agencies in World War II ghettos, but, at least during certain periods and in certain locations, they were not slave or forced laborers.
Instead, they were so-called "voluntary," often skilled workers, who received some kind of payment, in money, food or other goods, for their labors.
Under a German law passed in 1997, and liberalized in 2002, such voluntary workers are entitled to the same social security pension benefits as ordinary German workers.
However, this seemingly generous law has proven, in practice, to be pretty much of a bureaucratic dead end. According to documents Waxman wrote to the German minister of labor and social affairs, 94 percent of some 70,000 applications filed have been rejected by the German social security system or by German courts.
According to attorney Lisa Hoffman of Bet Tzedek, who counsels Holocaust survivors in the Los Angeles area, rejections are based on often inconsistent and contradictory criteria, inability of former ghetto workers to furnish required documents, and, somewhat ironically, insufficient proof that survivors were "voluntary" rather than forced laborers.
For instance, said Hoffman, while many Jewish youngsters under 14 worked in the ghettos, German law forbids employment for anyone under that age. Therefore, all applications for survivors who were in the under-age group are rejected.
Hoffman, who joined Bet Tzedek recently, said that the free legal aid agency has filed applications for some 150 survivors in the Los Angeles area, and that about 95 percent have been rejected.
Only six or seven requests for benefits have been granted and an equal number of court appeals are pending.
"Many of the survivors are at the poverty level and badly need the money, but some have lost all hope and have simply given up," said Hoffman.
For the few who succeed, payments vary in the same way as American social security benefits. Monthly payments range from $63 to $770, and may also carry substantial retroactive payments.
Hoffman can be contacted by calling Bet Tzedek at (323) 939-0506.
-- Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
Geiger Leaves Venice Shul
Rabbi Ben Geiger is leaving Pacific Jewish Center (PJC) in Venice Beach at the end of July. Geiger, who led the Orthodox "shul on the beach" for four years, announced that he is moving to New York's Queens Jewish Center, a synagogue with 250 families.
"It's a bittersweet leave," he said. "This is a tremendous opportunity -- it's a larger community. On the other hand, we feel connected to everyone here."
Geiger leaves behind a synagogue with legal battles still pending over its construction last year of an eruv, an unbroken symbolic border -- typically a high-test transparent filament -- that allows observant families to carry basic necessities and push baby strollers beyond the confines of their homes on the Sabbath.
Earlier this month, the California Coastal Commission voted to uphold a permit granted to PJC in the spring, rejecting an environmental group's appeal contending that the line would harm birds on prime beachfront.
But the legal battle over the eruv continues. Two environmental groups, The Marina Peninsula Neighborhood Association and the Coastal Law Enforcement Action Network (CLEAN) sued the Coastal Commission in December (the synagogue is named as an interested party). The next hearing is set for September.
-- Amy Klein, Religion Editor
Polish Priest's Remarks Decried
The Simon Wiesenthal Center has launched a petition drive urging Pope Benedict XVI and the Roman Catholic hierarchy to dismiss a Polish priest described as "Josef Goebbels in a collar."
During a lecture, the priest, the Rev. Tadeusz Rydzyk, allegedly denounced Polish President Lech Kaczynski as "a fraudster, who is in the pocket of the Jewish lobby ... you know what this is about, Poland giving [the Jews] $65 billion. They will come to you and say, 'Give me your coat. Take off your trousers. Give me your shoes.'"
The remarks were part of an attack by Rydzyk on a Polish agreement to compensate Jews for property confiscated by the post-war Communist regime.The controversial priest founded the influential Radio Maryja station and other media outlets that frequently disseminate anti-Semitic statements.
In a letter to the pope and other church leaders, Rabbi Marvin Hier, founding dean of the Wiesenthal Center, likened Rydzyk to Nazi propaganda minister Goebbels, noting that "Once again, anti-Semitism has been injected into the mix of making the Jews, yet again, the scapegoats of another political crisis."
Pointing to the strides made over the last decades to improve Catholic-Jewish relations, Hier added, "It is inconceivable that Father Rydzyk be allowed to use his radio pulpit as a means of inciting people to bigotry and hatred ... it is the Church that must discipline him."
The Wiesenthal Center reported that on the first day the petition was posted on its Web site www.wiesenthal.com, 10,000 people had affixed their signatures.
Local Iranian Jews Supporting Israel Bonds Investments
A hundred enthusiastic local Iranian Jews met at the Bel Air home of Mahnaz and Kambiz Hekmat last week to buy Israel Bonds and to pledge to spread the word about the bonds to Southern California's Iranian Jewish community.
Attendees purchased several hundred thousand dollars worth of the securities and agreed to promote the Israel bonds concept, which is new to local Iranian Jews.
Leor Ziv, the Israel Bonds Executive Director for the Western Region, said that while Iranian Jews have only begun purchasing bonds in the last three years, the community's purchase now total in the millions.
"It has been beyond my wildest imagination how supportive the Iranian Jewish community has become in Israel Bonds," said Ziv. Beverly Hills Mayor Jimmy Delshad and Consul General of Israel Ehud Danoch -- also at the gathering -- pitched investment in Israel through bonds.
"When I worked at the Ministry of Finance, we received reports from the government accountant every year and I can tell you that the $1.2 billion we received from Israel Bonds was a tremendous help to Israel's economy," said Danoch.