February 9, 2006
Gold Train Delivers to Local Agency
The Hungarian Gold Train has finally pulled into the station, figuratively speaking, bearing $67,536 for Jewish Family Service (JFS) of Los Angeles.
In the chaotic days following the end of World War II in Europe, 24 freight cars loaded with boxes of jewelry, cutlery, thousands of wedding rings, art works and other personal property taken by German and Hungarian Nazis from Hungary's Jewry were discovered stranded in Austria by American troops.
As was the custom in those days, GIs and officers "liberated" some of the valuables. In due course, Washington settled a class-action suit last year and allotted $25 million as compensation.
Rather than attempting the near impossible task of tracking down the original owners 60 years later, the Claims Conference, as steward for the money, has decided to distribute it among needy Hungarian survivors throughout the world.
An initial down payment of $4.2 million has been allotted to 27 social service agencies in seven countries, including the JFS grant.
The local agency is currently assisting 45 Hungarian survivors and, in line with the grant mandate, is forming an advisory committee among them. Lisa Brooks, JFS communications director, said the money would probably be used for the survivors' ongoing medical needs.
The largest of the initial allocations is going to survivor agencies in Israel and Hungary. The remaining $21 million will be distributed over the next five years, according to the Claims Conference.
In addition, the U.S. government has earmarked another $500,000 to create an archive related to the Gold Train and the Nazi looting of Hungarian Jewry for educational and scholarly purposes. -- Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
Jewish Alliance Joins Drive to Improve Life in LAX Area
Five years ago, 30 soaring glass and steel columns, shimmering in ever-changing hues of blues, pinks, oranges and yellows, were installed at the entrance to Los Angeles International Airport. As time passed, the lighting became erratic -- colors didn't change properly and some lights failed. Last month, the entire system was closed for repairs.
But even when they worked, the glowing pylons did nothing to improve a surrounding area that remains plagued by poverty and high crime rates. That deeper problem is the subject of a broad-based coalition spearheaded by religious and community leaders who announced a "Campaign for a New Century." As a first step, the group is circulating a petition that calls "on city and industry leaders to join us in formulating a plan for a new century."
Citing a report prepared by the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, coalition leaders assert that while the 13 major hotels on Century Boulevard have among the highest occupancy rates and the largest concentration of rooms in Los Angeles County, their approximately 3,500 workers earn far less than their counterparts in the region. The effects of these low wages can be seen in the high rates of poverty, crime and overcrowding in the neighboring communities of Lennox, Inglewood and Hawthorne, where many of these workers live, according to the report.
"We in the Jewish Community understand both the importance and complexity of community," said Catherine Schneider, assistant director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA). "The people who live and work in the Century Corridor are trying to build a healthy community.
"This campaign is not just about wages. It's not just about health care," she continued. "It's about living in a beautiful place. PJA joins this effort to create a gateway to Los Angeles that we can all be proud of."
For more information, visit www.newcenturycoalition.org. -- Naomi Glauberman, Contributing Writer
ADL Report Links Southland Skinheads to Drugs, Guns
Southern California is home to a small but volatile stew of racist skinheads involved with guns and drugs, according to a report released by the Anti-Defamation League.
"There's so much of this going on in Southern California," said Amanda Susskind, the ADL's Pacific Southwest regional director. "It's equally hateful toward Jews, African Americans, Hispanics."
The ADL's national Racist Skinhead Project has identified 110 racist and neo-Nazi skinhead groups, many of them new, in outlying areas, such as the Inland Empire and Los Angeles County's Antelope Valley.
While such locales may seem remote to a Jewish community heavily concentrated in the Conejo Valley, the San Fernando Valley's southern suburbs and on the Westside, individual skinheads have committed crimes in Canyon Country, Simi Valley and Chatsworth. A small gang called the San Fernando Valley Skins has been seen at high schools. The ADL report noted that its members appear "closely allied" with the Nazi-imitating National Socialist Movement.
In total, the number of active, racist skinheads in the region is less than 1,000, Susskind said. Last year, the neo-Nazi group, Volksfront, created an all-California chapter in San Bernardino County. Orange County's Public Enemy No. 1 Skins has about 300 members and is allegedly involved with methamphetamine sales.
"We track organizations that have an ideological conviction and translate that to action," said ADL investigative researcher Joanna Mendelsohn.
The ADL described another group, the Nazi Low Riders, as "a strange amalgam of street gang, racist skinhead group and racist prison gang" involved with armed robbery and drug dealing.
In the mid-1990s, Nazi Low-Riders successfully were prosecuted on felony weapons charges in a federal probe by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives (ATF). While the number of Nazi Low Riders has since declined, "you've got dozens of other groups out there that have filled the void," said John A. Torres, special agent in charge of the ATF's Los Angeles field division.
Whether it's Bloods, Crips or neo-Nazis, "the common denominator is their propensity to firearms," Torres told The Jewish Journal.
The ADL report highlighted the March 2005 arrest in San Bernardino County of a Southern California Skinhead group member on several charges, including one involving a stolen handgun.
Similarly, ATF raids on skinhead hideouts in the Antelope Valley have turned up an abundance of guns and Nazi memorabilia. "Signs and pictures -- it's right there, hand-in-hand with the firearms," Torres said. -- David Finnigan, Contributing Writer
Chaplains Foundation Honors Schulweis, Interfaith Group
An Israel-Palestinian interfaith group and Rabbi Harold Schulweis were honored last weekend aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach for reaching out to other religions.
The honors came from The Immortal Chaplains Foundation, created in memory of the four U.S. military chaplains -- two Protestant, one Jewish and one Catholic -- who drowned together after giving their life preservers to soldiers on a sinking troopship on Feb. 3, 1943. Organizers said the foundation uses the chaplains' self-sacrifice as an example to honor others for altruistic, interfaith deeds.
Schulweis and the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous created by him have spent two decades honoring non-Jews who rescued Jews in the Holocaust. In recent years, the longtime rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom has spoken out against the genocide in Sudan's Darfur region, another outreach prompting The Immortal Chaplains' honor.
"From their point of view, it was an appreciation of somebody to emphasize the need for goodness," Schulweis said in an interview. "You had here people of different faiths and backgrounds who had found so much in each other, so much in each other to love and to appreciate."
The other honoree at the Feb. 5 ceremony was Yehuda Stolov and his Jerusalem-based Interfaith Encounter Association, which has had more than a dozen dialogues, retreats and other interactions between Jews, Christians, Muslims and Druze in the Holy Land.
"For me, the main thing is the recognition of our work and the possibility to leverage it to get more awareness to what we're doing and get more funding," said Stolov in an interview. He was scheduled to speak this week in Southern California about his interfaith work. -- DF