L.A. Student Killed in N.Y.
Avner Abensour, the 26-year-old nephew of Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz, founder of Jews for Judaism, was found stabbed to death Monday night in front of a Brooklyn grocery store. Abensour, a Pico-Robertson native with a wife and 1-year-old son, had been in New York for the last five years studying at a Brooklyn kollel. He was last seen at 8:30 p.m. staggering in a Midwood neighborhood street before collapsing in front of 1500 Coney Island Ave. in Brooklyn around 8:40 p.m. Abensour was stabbed twice in the back, and a knife was found a half-block away. Police have no motive for the killing, but said it could have been a botched robbery attempt after finding his wallet still on him. They are also investigating the possibility that the killing was a hate crime.
"He was such a sweet boy, very gentle," said Kravitz, who notified the family of Abensour's death. "That was the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my life."
Abensour was taken to Maimonides Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead on arrival, a police spokesman said. At the yeshiva where Abensour studied, Heshy Mandel, 23, a friend of the victim, told a New York Times reporter that Abensour was "a real sweet guy. He's not the type of guy to pick a fight. There's not a chance in the world he would've done anything to provoke anybody."
Mandel told The Times that Abensour wanted to be a rabbi and was a very dedicated talmudic scholar. "He was very into his religious studies," Mandel said. "He was always there to help somebody with anything."
Abensour's family will accompany his body for burial in Israel and will return to sit shiva in New York, Kravitz told The Journal. -- Adam Wills, Associate Editor
NCSY Building Graffitied
The National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY) building on Pico Boulevard was graffitied last Friday with the words "Free Palestine." The words were written next to a poster depicting pictures of victims of terror in Israel. The graffiti was removed later that same day.
"We were offended by the insinuation that the taking of innocent lives could be connected to the Palestinian people's goal of an independent state," said Rabbi Steven Burg, the West Coast director of NCSY. "At NCSY we teach our students to respect all mankind and to believe in freedom and peace. It is unfortunate that select others cannot respect us in the same manner." -- Staff Report
ADL's Foxman Visits West Coast
After months of conflict, West Coast lay leaders and staff of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) finally had their opportunity to face-off with National Director Abraham Foxman at meetings held the week of March 11-17. Foxman and his group (Caryl Stern, COO; Peter Willner, director of development; Ann Tourk, director of field operations; Glen Tobias, national chairman; and Mel Salberg, past chairman) held several meetings spread out over four days, including a meeting with the Santa Barbara staff and lay leaders, a breakfast meeting with the Salvin Young Leadership group and a meeting with the regional board and lay leaders on Wednesday night, March 13. It was the first time Foxman had visited Los Angeles following the controversial dismissal of West Coast Regional Director David Lehrer last December. Foxman declined to comment for this article. More than 100 ADL members, including the regional board, attended the March 13 meeting, which several attendees characterized as contentious at best.
"The only apology [Foxman] gave, was to apologize if anybody's feelings were hurt," said one member, who asked to remain anonymous. The source said that while some people bought into the program that was presented, many people remained angry. "I know a lot of people who are already withholding donations but it is very hard to walk away when you've devoted time and money to this organization," the source said.
Alissa Duel of the Salvin group said she hoped the plan presented by the New York office -- which included participation from lay leaders in choosing Lehrer's replacement and way to improve East Coast-West Coast communication -- may finally put ADL devotees' fears to rest.
"If those two things get done and lay leaders are confident they will have a voice in future decisions, that would assure me that they heard what we've been trying to say," Duel said. "Abe brought up a good point, that there is much work that needs to be done. But there is also the bigger picture [of the organization]. The means cannot justify the ends; the process cannot be overlooked." -- Wendy Madnick, Contributing Writer
Mideast Panel Angers Wiesenthal Center
The Simon Wiesenthal Center has criticized the Association of American Geographers (AAG) for scheduling a panel on the Middle East with "an overt and odious political agenda" at its annual meeting. Wiesenthal Center officials objected to three papers, whose abstracts indicate they are "designed not for serious discourse but to debase the State of Israel and Zionism." The AAG, which is based in Washington and has 6,500 members, is holding its annual meeting at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel through Saturday, March 23.
In a letter of protest, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean, and Aaron Breitbart, senior researcher of the Wiesenthal Center, urged the AAG "to stick to its mandate of advancement of geography and cancel the Israel bashing."
In response to the controversy, AAG Executive Director Ronald F. Abler told The Chronicle of Higher Education that his organization does not screen or reject papers submitted by any of its members. "Our view is that higher purposes were best served by an open market place of ideas, and that means we suffer occasional fools, and we have geniuses, too," he said. Abler added that he expected some protests at the AAG meeting. -- Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
Temple Akiba Hosts Debate
Culver City's Temple Akiba hosted more than 100 people on March 10 for "Is an Israeli-Palestinian Peace Treaty Possible?" A spirited debate took place between David Pine, western regional director of Americans for Peace Now, and Jerry Blume, spokesperson for Americans for a Safe Israel.
The audience at the Reform temple, most over the age of 50, expressed anger over suicide bombings, and disappointment with both Yasser Arafat and Ariel Sharon. While both advocates strongly support Israel, they presented different solutions to the current crisis.
"Jews argue," concluded Rabbi Allen S. Maller, moderator of the moderated the debate. "That's what we do best." -- Eric H. Roth, Contributing Writer n
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean, and Aaron Breitbart, senior researcher of the Wiesenthal Center, cited three presentations, presentation by Mohameden Ould-Mey of Indiana State University on "Zionism is Back to Square One: From the Jewish Question in Europe to the Israeli Problem in the Arab World," in a letter to AAG President Janice J. Monk.
Cooper noted that, "The term 'Jewish Question'' is deplorable in itself. It was the ugly term used by the Nazis to describe the mere existence of Jews in Europe. Its current usage vis-à-vis the Middle East and Israel is frightening, with Ould-Mey calling for the 'de-Zionization of the state of Israel'' and pondering the beginning of the end of the state of Israel as we know it."
In response to the controversy, Ronald F. Abler, AAG executive director told The Chronicle of Higher Education that because of earlier complaints about the Middle East session, he had reviewed the abstract of Ould-Mey's paper.
"I decided that here were things in the abstract that I could see that some people would find inflammatory or offensive, but I did not see sufficient cause or even a strong case for departing from our position that we provide the forum, and what people say is their business," Abler said.
The Wiesenthal Center also took exception to a paper on "Blaming the Victim: Representation of the Palestinian Intifada in Selected Daily Newspapers in North America" by Ghazi Falah of the University of Akron, which "is clearly political, with little, if any, connection to geography," Cooper said.
A third paper, by Jonathan Lu of the University of Northern Iowa, titled "Arab-Israeli Conflicts: A Biblical Solution," proposed that the stated solution would depend, in part, "on the willingness of the Israelis to obey the commands of their God."
In their letter of protest, Cooper and Breitbart questioned "what expertise allows Mr. Lu to offer such a presumptuous opinion on Jewish law or its observance by Israelis."