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COMMUNITY BRIEFS: Law suit Filed Against Wiesenthal Center, Camps Respond to Flu Symptoms

by JewishJournal.com

July 23, 2009 | 1:41 am

Homeowners File Suit Against Wiesenthal Center Expansion

Neighboring homeowners to the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance, who have been battling a proposed expansion of the museum for the past two years, have filed a lawsuit in Superior Court seeking to force the Los Angeles City Council to reverse its previous approval of the project.

In a 22-page brief, lawyers for HOME (Homeowners Opposed to Museum Expansion) charged that the expansion would violate state environmental quality standards, ignore previous violations and remove a 100-foot sound barrier between the museum and adjoining homes.

The most emotional objections are to a planned banquet hall for private functions of up to 800 people, which would be allowed to stay open until 11 p.m. or midnight, causing noise and traffic problems.

However, attorney Arthur Pugsley stated in his petition that “We are not opposed to a modest, bona fide museum expansion.”

Susan Burden, the Wiesenthal Center’s chief financial and administrative officer, responded in a statement, which said in part, “Since it opened 15 years ago, the museum has worked diligently with neighbors to respond to any concerns that arise.

“Now that our expansion plan has been unanimously approved by the City Planning Commission and the Los Angeles City Council, we will continue to work with the community on any issues that remain. The museum substantially revised its original plan and made a great many compromises in response to neighborhood comments.

“We are very disappointed that a lawsuit has been filed by a few disgruntled people and that we will have to expend resources to defend our approval, which would be better used to support our programs. However, we intend to vigorously defend our approval in court.”

The Wiesenthal Center and its Yeshiva University of Los Angeles (YULA) Boys High School are named as “Real Parties in Interest” in the suit, but the primary defendant is the city council, which will be represented by the city attorney’s office.

Frank Matelgan, spokesman for newly elected City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, said he could not comment at this time because his office had not yet received the complaint.

Friction between the Wiesenthal Center and its neighbors in North Beverlywood is long-standing, going back to the initial hearings on the YULA plans in 1977, and for the Museum of Tolerance in 1986.

Relations had been relatively stable for eight years, but heated up again when the Wiesenthal Center announced the current expansion plans in the fall of 2007.

The Museum of Tolerance is located within the 5th City Council District, represented for the past eight years by Jack Weiss, who was considered a strong ally of the institution.

Paul Koretz, who succeeded Weiss, has just assumed office, but there is little doubt that he will play an important role in the future as the dispute enters a new phase.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor


Camps Respond to Flu Symptoms

Halfway through the summer, area Jewish sleepover summer camps are still feeling the effects of this summer’s unusually contagious flu season.

During its current three-week session, Camp Alonim in Simi Valley has sent home 160 campers (out of 414) because they displayed influenza-like symptoms. This is a drastically higher number than the 10 children sent home during Alonim’s first session in late June. The wave of sick campers peaked on Sunday, July 12, and since then there has been a steady decrease in children with 99.5-degree temperatures (or above), the marker for those who need to be sent home for at least seven days’ recovery.

Camp Ramah in Ojai has sent 80 of its 900 campers and staff home since opening its doors to campers in June. Its first session ended on July 20. Only 29 of those had confirmed cases of influenza.

The Wilshire Boulevard Temple Camps have been impacted as well, and although camp director Doug Lynn would not confirm how many, he said “a number of kids were sent home in the first session.” He said just one camper has exhibited flu-like symptoms in the camps’ second session, which began on June 15.

While not all campers with influenza were confirmed to have H1N1 (swine flu), Alonim sent an e-mail to parents informing them that the extreme caution in sending kids home stemmed from the fact that the flu they encountered is so contagious.

All camps are following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines and allowing children to return to camp seven days after first exhibiting symptoms, or one day after the fever subsides, whichever is longer. Ramah said it has had a 95 percent return rate. 

Alonim’s executive director, Jordana Flores, said the camp’s first wave of those who left is just returning to camp this week. “We are making a concerted effort to welcome them back with bunk programs and announcements and signs, so we’re really making an effort to make sure that it is a smooth transition.”

Reimbursement of tuition for missed days varies by camp. Hess Kramer and Alonim have a prorated refund policy — Alonim gives a refund for every day the child has missed, even if they choose not to return. Ramah does not issue refunds, because it offers tuition insurance.

Two other Jewish camps, Camp Gilboa and JCA Shalom, both say they have not had any campers with symptoms. According to Gilboa camp director Jacob Proud, “Statistically it is the same as any summer.” Children are suffering from the usual stomachaches, pink eye and fevers that go away after re-hydration.

Precautions are nevertheless being taken to protect campers. JCA Shalom cancelled a community-wide Shabbat service on July 17 to preempt possible exposure from visitors. Ramah also cancelled its visitor’s day and replaced it with a campers’ fun day, complete with a petting zoo.

— Laura Stampler, Contributing Writer


County Supervisor Antonovich Protests 2010 Wagner ‘Ring Festival L.A.’

At a meeting of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Michael D. Antonovich objected to Los Angeles Opera’s long-planned 2010 “Ring Festival L.A.” because of its celebration of the composer Richard Wagner.

Antonovich, who represents the 5th District, including much of northern Los Angeles County, said in a statement prior to the meeting: “To specifically honor and glorify the man whose music and racist anti-Semitic writings inspired Hitler and became the de facto soundtrack for the Holocaust in a countywide festival is an affront to those who have suffered or have been impacted by the horrors of Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist Worker Party.”

His motion was turned down in a vote of 3 to 1, with Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas absent from the voting.

Set to take place between April and June 2010, and include all four parts of Wagner’s 19th century “The Ring of the Nibelung” for the first time in Los Angeles, the “Ring Festival L.A.” is scheduled to include a partnership with 75 other cultural and educational institutions throughout Los Angeles, with symposia and special exhibitions discussing the cycles’ importance. It is expected to attract tourists from around the world.

Antonovich’s office told The Journal that it had received many objections from people to the Wagner festival. The Jewish position on the composer is not one-sided, however.

In a cover story for The Journal titled “Why Wagner’s Music Deserves a Second Chance” (Feb. 19, 2009), attorney E. Randol Schoenberg, who is president of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust and a board member of the LA Opera, argued that the composer’s work deserves an airing and reevaluation by the Jewish community.

LA Opera’s Web site acknowledges that Wagner is “rightly reviled as having been an anti-Semite,” but adds “it is the Company’s belief that opera has value not only as musical and theatrical entertainment, but as a way to gain important historical insight and to explore moral issues.” Seminars will be held throughout the festival, including discussions of Wagner’s anti-Semitism.

— Laura Stampler, Contributing Writer

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