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Community Briefs

May 5, 2005 | 8:00 pm

Yellow Star's Powerful Makeover

The dreaded yellow Star of David, which the Nazis forced Jews to wear as a badge of humiliation, is getting a makeover.

In an interesting twist, two Jewish activists hope to denude the yellow star of its anti-Jewish connotations and make it a symbol of pride. Dr. Joel Geiderman, a board member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and University of Judaism professor Michael Berenbaum, former project director for the museum, have manufactured 5,000 yellow-and-white Star of David pins with the Hebrew word Shoah emblazoned across them. The Southern California residents want Jews and non-Jews to don the pins on Yom HaShoah, the day of remembrance for Holocaust victims -- which started at sundown on May 5 -- to make a statement of solidarity with those who perished and suffered. "We're claiming the symbol and infusing it with pride and not shame or stigmatization," Berenbaum said.

The pair eventually hope to create a nonprofit foundation to promote and raise money for large-scale manufacturing and distribution of the pins, which they hope will generate discussion about the victims of the Holocaust. Contributions of about $6,000 in seed money underwrote the first batch of pins, they said.

For Geiderman, a professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, the pins serve as sort of a tribute to his late mother, who passed away less than two years ago. A Czech Jew, she survived three concentration camps, including Auschwitz. Geiderman said his maternal grandparents and two uncles weren't as lucky.

"My mother is a Holocaust survivor, and I think this is something I can do to help make sure people never forget what happened and to memorialize the victims," he said.

For more information, e-mail Geiderman at jgeiderman@sbcglobal.net. -- Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

LAPD, ADL Investigate Hate Mail

The Los Angeles Police Department, FBI and U.S. Postal Inspection Service are investigating a series of hate mail sent to Southland Jews. A number of large manila envelopes that appear to have been mailed out randomly to Jewish institutions, such as Studio City's Congregation Beth Meir and Temple Shalom in Ontario, and home addresses of people with traditionally Jewish last names. On the front and back of the stamped envelopes were racist and anti-Semitic statements such as, "Jew Murderers," and "Die Jews, Die."

A retired local government employee in Sherman Oaks said the envelope he received earlier this month had the words, "Jewish child molester" and "The only good Jew is a dead Jew" written on the envelope. The man, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Journal that he did not open the envelope but instead gave it to the LAPD.

Similarly, a retired Westside teacher received a manila envelope more than a month ago with the words, "Jew Killers" written in large letters on the outside.

"I sent it to ADL," said the woman, who also asked to remain anonymous. "I never opened it."

The mailings seemed to have died down since the ADL's press release last month.

"We've only had a handful more complaints," said Amanda Susskind, ADL's Pacific Southwest regional director. "It's possible that this particular kind of thing had run its course."

Those who received the envelopes said the writings did contain a specific threat to them. Police confirmed they are investigating the mailings but that the investigation is in its middle stage and that no arrests have been made. There are also questions as to whether mailing out anti-Semitic mail is a crime.

"You have a right to hate as long as you don't harm anyone," said former federal prosecutor Laurie Levenson, a Loyola Law School professor. "You have to make an actual threat.... This may be a hate incident, but not a h ate crime." -- David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Milken Crowns Its 'Idol'

And the new idol is ... David Ashkenazi! Well, at least at Milken Community High School, and at least in the "Milken Idol" public-speaking competition. The contest for ninth- through 12-graders was designed to help students develop the critical skill of public speaking and feel more comfortable in front of large audiences, according to Richard Greene, Milken speech coach.

The students wrote and delivered

90-second speeches, ranging from Ashkenazi's interpretation of "Never Again" and applying that lesson to the situation in Sudan, to how teachers and parents should value youngsters' individuality and soul, not just the grades on their math tests.

The other winners were: Chanel Halimi (second place), Lena August (third place) and Jeremy Ullman and Adam Handwerker (tied for fourth place).

For more information on Milken go to www.milken.

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