"It was a true coming together, and you could feel the electricity. We were stronger because we stood united."
Rabbi Daniel Korobkin was describing the Sukkot service at Yavneh Hebrew Academy, five days after Los Angeles city inspectors shocked worshippers by trying to close down their Kol Nidrei services.
On that Friday evening, two inspectors from the Department of Building and Safety appeared in Yavneh's lobby, announced that the congregation had violated their permit by praying after 8 p.m., and ordered everybody to vacate the premises.
The municipal officers left quietly after 15 minutes and the services continued, but the shock waves from the incident quickly spread from the Orthodox community in Hancock Park to the mayor's office and City Council members.
Now pending before the City Council is a motion calling for a thorough investigation of the building and safety department, which "has acknowledged that it planned and conducted the inspection, knowing the action would be on a holy date."
The motion, which is expected to take a few weeks to wend itself through committee and council hearings, was introduced by Councilman Tom LaBonge, whose district includes Hancock Park, and seconded by his colleague Jack Weiss.
The two councilmen and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa paid a visit to Yavneh just before the start of Sukkot to express their condemnation of the incident to the leaders of the academy.
Villaraigosa stressed that the city cannot and will not impose any limitations on religious services, and recalled his own chapel attendance at Catholic schools as a youngster.
In appreciation, Korobkin presented a lulav (palm branch) and etrog (citron) to the three elected officials in honor of the Sukkot holiday.
What directly triggered the Kol Nidrei "religious sting operation," as Korobkin termed it, was a series of phones calls by a neighbor on the residential street where Yavneh stands, alerting city officials to a probable violation, on Yom Kippur, of rules governing the academy's use of its facilities for religious services.
The caller, whom city and Yavneh officials declined to identify, came in for some harsh words by the mayor and in LaBonge's motion, which described the calls as "intolerant and inconsistent with our core values."
Lying at the root of the incident and the subsequent fallout is a bitter, protracted feud between some Hancock Park homeowners and the strictly Orthodox families who have moved in considerable numbers into the upscale neighborhood over the last decade.
Neighbors, including Jewish ones, have attempted to limit the size, parking and hours of operation at Yavneh, as well as the duration of worship services for students and their parents in the residential area.
According to Korobkin, the city withdrew some of the limitations on the religious services a year ago, but a number of Hancock Park homeowners are contesting this action in the courts.
Korobkin said he was pleased by the swift condemnation of the incident by office holders, but promised that the Orthodox community would continue to exert pressure in a number of areas.
One is on the building and safety department, where, he said, "there was a system breakdown, and it has to be fixed."
Another pressure recipient will be LaBonge, who, Korobkin said, has largely taken a hands-off attitude toward the Hancock Park dispute. "He needs to be involved and provide leadership," the rabbi said.
By contrast, Korobkin effusively praised Weiss as "the guardian angel of our [Orthodox] community, who genuinely cares about us. He walks on water, so to say."
Asked by The Journal about his involvement in a matter outside his own district, Weiss, who has announced that he will run for city attorney in 2009, answered, "My job is to stand up for Jewish people anywhere in the community."
-- Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
Congressmembers Slam Moran for 'Jewish Influence' Comment
In a rare joint protest, 15 Jewish members of Congress have condemned a colleague, Rep. James P. Moran (D-Va.), for claiming that "Jewish influence" pushed the United States into war with Iraq.
Los Angeles Democrat Rep. Henry A. Waxman, in a "Dear Jim" letter to Moran, called such assertions "irresponsible and with absolutely no basis in fact."
Among those signing the letter were fellow California representatives Howard Berman, Jane Harman, Tom Lantos and Adam B. Schiff. In the following days, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer also strongly criticized Moran.
Moran got himself into hot water, and not for the first time, in an interview in the September-October issue of Tikkun magazine with editor Rabbi Michael Lerner.
In the article, Moran slammed AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee), claiming the lobbying organization "has pushed this was [in Iraq] from the beginning.... They are so well organized, and their members are extraordinarily powerful --most of them are quite wealthy -- they have been able to exert power."
Back in 2003, Moran expressed himself even more strongly, saying, "If it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be doing this."
In their letter to Moran, Waxman and his colleagues noted that the leading proponents of the war were not Jewish, and that "AIPAC as an organization never took a position on the war" and never lobbied Congress on the issue.
Pelosi endorsed this argument, saying "AIPAC did not lead us into this disastrous war with Iraq. President Bush and Vice President Cheney did."
Moran has not responded personally to the criticism, but in a statement issued by his office he acknowledged that the tone of his remarks had been "unnecessarily harsh" but that he stood by his attack on AIPAC.
The statement added, however, that "AIPAC has not represented mainstream American Jewish opinion" and "anyone attempting to mischaracterize [his] words as targeting the wider Jewish community rather than AIPAC's leadership, is being purposely misleading."
About the only one to rally to Moran's defense has been Tikkun editor Lerner, who termed the reprimand of the congressman "an outrageous attack." In an opinion piece submitted to Jewish newspapers, Lerner accused Moran's critics of conducting "a witch hunt" and misrepresenting his views.
Israel Finance Minister: 'Economy Booming'
How do you make a small fortune in Israel? You start with a large fortune.
That ancient joke is as outdated as tent cities for new immigrants and food rationing, a top Israeli official and a key Los Angeles investor assured local business executives last week (Sept. 19).
Despite the country's political instability and tense security situation, the Israeli economy has a life of its own and is booming, Yarom Ariav, director general of the Finance Ministry, reported during an evening presentation at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.
Even allowing for patriotic enthusiasm, the statistics cited by Ariav were impressive.
For the fifth year in a row, Israel's economy grew by more than 5 percent and is on track to repeat this performance in 2007.
Foreign investors poured $24 billion into the Israeli economy last year, double the figure for 2005.
By the end of May of this year, the government budget scored a surplus of 8.3 billion shekels ($2.1 billion), contrasted to the original forecast of a 18.7 billion shekels ($4.7 billion) deficit (Washington, please note).
The high-tech industry accounts for 70 percent of Israel's growing exports, inflation and unemployment are down and personal income levels are on par with those of France and Germany.
Israel's major weakness lies in poor managerial and marketing skills and the country could benefit from American expertise, Ariav, a veteran economist, told The Journal.
He attributed his country's economic success to the creativity and flexibility of the work force and tight budget discipline by the government.
"If peace ever comes, Israel will develop one of the leading economies in the world," Ariav predicted.
Complementing Ariav's ebullience from the investor's side was Stanley P. Gold, president of Shamrock Holdings, owned by the Roy E. Disney family.
Since its founding in 1978, Shamrock has invested some $1 billion in Israel's traditional industries, hi-tech companies and kibbutz factories and has reaped steady and sizeable profits, Gold said.
"The greatest contribution to Israel we can make is to help build a sound economy," he said. "We can all do good by doing well."
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