March 27, 2003
UCLA Hosts Conference on Italian Jews
When Guido Fink was growing up in Ferrara in the late 1930s, the northern Italian city had 1,000 Jews and a German synagogue -- where his grandfather served as cantor -- an Italian one, a Spanish one and a fourth owned by a private family.
After a pogrom in the city on Nov. 15, 1943, the young boy and his mother went into hiding on a farm and survived the Holocaust, which claimed his father and 14 other relatives.
Today, Fink represents the Italian government as director of the Italian Cultural Institute, located in Westwood, during a leave of absence as professor of English and American literature at the University of Florence. The animated scholar accepted a four-year assignment at the institute, partially because he missed UCLA, where he had spent a year in the 1960s, and partially because "I asked myself what it means to be Jewish."
He frequently drops in at Valley Beth Shalom, welcomes many Jewish patrons at the institute's varied cultural events, and hopes to co- sponsor a program with the Israeli consulate.
To his considerable amazement, his son, Enrico, after teaching astrophysics at Cornell, gave it all up and became a professional klezmer musician. Currently, he is featured on the Italian stage in "Fiddler on the Roof," in which the dialogue is in Italian and the songs in Yiddish.
As an Italian Jew, "I am not an outsider," said Guido Fink, "but when I see an anti-war rally in Italy and notice signs equating Israelis with Nazis, it makes the situation difficult."
Currently, he is readying for a scholarly conference on April 4, 6 and 7 on "Acculturation and Its Discontents: The Jews of Italy from Early Modern to Modern Times." Sponsored by UCLA, Clark Library and the Italian Cultural Institute, speakers from Europe, Israel and North America will examine the "complex process of Jewish interaction with non-Jewish Italians," focusing on the 16th to 19th centuries.
Advance registration is required and closes March 28. For information on registration, fees and location, call (310) 206-8552. -- Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
CAMERA Puts Anti-Israel Bias in Focus
"National Public Radio [NPR] has an Israel problem," said Andrea Levin, executive director of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting (CAMERA), to a crowd of 100 people at Sinai Temple on Sunday, March 23. "While the network continually emphasizes what a superior, enlightened and distinctive news source it is, in fact NPR is one of the most unremittingly skewed, shoddy, and unresponsive outlets we've ever encountered."
NPR was only one of the media outlets under fire at CAMERA's annual Los Angeles conference, where various journalists and media experts from around the country addressed concerns and provided guidance for combating anti-Israel bias.
Throughout the conference, speakers offered explanations for the prevalence of skewed reporting.
"In most cases it's probably not anti-Semitism. In most cases it's probably a tendency of the press to root for the perceived underdog," said Dr. Alex Safian, adding that ignorance, successful Palestinian propaganda and a lack of vigilance by the Israeli government toward fighting media bias, are also factors.
Jeff Jacoby, a columnist for the Boston Globe, blamed physical intimidation.
"Journalists don't have to fear that the Israeli government is going to punish them or kill them if they don't print exactly what the Israelis want to hear," Jacoby said. "But that wasn't true for journalists covering the PLO in the 1980s and it's not true for journalists covering the PLO now."
Levin gave examples of the current work that CAMERA volunteers and staff are doing to combat the problem, including writing letters and Op-Eds; speaking out on radio and giving feedback on television to producers, hosts and reporters; suggesting story ideas; and encouraging balanced reports and challenging false reports.
We are positive because we see progress as a possibility of more progress," Levin said. -- Rachel Brand, Staff Writer
Conservative Rabbinical Assembly Comes to L.A.
More than 300 Conservative rabbis from around the world will gather at the Sheraton Universal hotel next week for the annual Rabbinic Assembly (RA)convention to explore such issues as the war and how it affects Israel, the message of Conservative Judaism and how God fits into the rabbinate.
"The day to day rabbinate can be pretty highly stressful, and you need a few days with colleagues to discuss ideas, to talk about what works in your place and doesn't, find out what works for others and to learn from each other and get strength from each other," said Rabbi Steven Tucker of Ramat Zion in Northridge, who is chairing the convention. "I think it makes us better rabbis and ultimately better Jews."
Rabbi Joel Rembaum of Temple Beth Am will receive an award from Israel Bonds, and Rabbi Elliot Dorff, rector at the University of Judaism, will be honored by the Jewish Theological Seminary and the Masorti movement in Israel for distinguished service.
While the schedule includes some study sessions on human sexuality, there are no major sessions where the question of homosexuality will be examined, despite the fact that the movement is currently engaged in a high-profile discussion over whether to ordain gay rabbis or perform same-sex commitment ceremonies.
Tucker said that RA executive vice president Rabbi Joel Meyers believed that the question should remain within the private and scholarly realm of the law committee, where it is currently on the agenda and is expected to be resolved next year.
"We are not putting our heads in the sand. We know it's a big issue and a hot-button issue," Tucker said. "Our leadership has decided there is nothing effective we can do with it at the convention, so we're leaving it for the law committee to handle."
Sessions and plenaries are open to registered rabbis only. A fair featuring Israeli vendors and publishers is open to the public, Wednesday from 2-10 p.m. at the Universal Sheraton, 333 Universal Terrace, Universal City. For more information, call Shira Dicker at 917-403-3989. -- Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Religion Editor