Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, a key figure in Los Angeles civic and ecumenical relations for the last 16 years, has been appointed national director for interreligious affairs by the American Jewish Committee (AJC).
As director of AJC's Los Angeles chapter and Western region since 1990, Greenebaum has worked closely with leaders of the city's varied ethnic and religious communities to further mutual respect and understanding.
He plans to project the same skills and goals on the national scene in his new post, succeeding David Elcott, who has joined the Israel Policy Forum as executive director.
"I realize now more than ever how strongly religion affects American society," Greenebaum said.
Greenebaum played another crucial role when Mayor Richard Riordan appointed him president of the Los Angeles Police Commission in 1993, in the wake of the previous year's riots, sparked by the acquittal of police officers involved in the Rodney King beating.
"I think that my appointment to the Police Commission and my work there helped alleviate a sense among African Americans that Jews didn't care any longer about their community," he said. "I also believe that we have established a tremendous relationship with the Latino community over the years."
In a different arena, Greenebaum and his chapter have spearheaded Jewish communal relations with some 45 countries represented by consulates in Los Angeles. In recognition of this work, he was recently awarded the National Order of Merit by the French government.
Greenebaum, 57, will retain his family residence in Los Angeles and expects to spend one week each month in New York.
Among highlights of his California tenure, Greenebaum recalled taking several delegations of Protestant and Catholic leaders to Israel and the 2003 AJC mission to Salt Lake City to meet with top Mormon leaders.
"Gary is a wonderful judge of people," said Sherry A. Weinman, president of the Los Angeles AJC chapter. "He knows exactly when to lead with his rabbinical side and when with his statesman side."
Debbie Smith Saidoff, who serves on the national AJC board of governors, praised Greenebaum's sensitivity in dealing with representatives of other faiths.
"Gary is a multidimensional leader of great insight, but he is never afraid to speak truth to power," she said.
In his new position, Greenebaum will work closely with Jerusalem-based Rabbi David Rosen, AJC's international director of interreligious affairs.
-- Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
Survival of Jews in Iran is a paradox, panel shows
On Oct. 20, the Women of Vision chapter of the Iranian Jewish Women's Organization, presented a panel discussion on "The Jews of Iran: Will This 2,700-Year-Old Community Survive?" to a standing-room-only crowd at the Museum of Tolerance.
At present, 25,000 Jews live in Iran, 15,000 of them in Tehran, making Iran's Jewish population the second largest in the Middle East, outside of Israel. In the years following the 1979 revolution, approximately 75 percent of the Iranian Jewish population fled the country, some to New York but many more to Los Angeles, which now boasts the largest Iranian Jewish population in the world.
Speakers at the conference included Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the Iranian American Jewish Federation, as well as Hamid Sabi, former chairman of the Iranian Jewish Centre in London. They were joined by Tel Aviv University professors Meir Litvak, an expert in Shi'ii and radical Islamic movements, and David Menashri, director of the Tel Aviv University's Center for Iranian Studies; television producer and poet Roya Hakakian, author of "Journey From the Land of No" (Crown), about growing up as a Jewish teenager in post-revolutionary Iran; Shirin Taleh, a relatively recent immigrant to Los Angeles from Tehran, where she was a Jewish preschool and kindergarten schoolteacher; and Israel Radio personality Menashe Amir, who hosts a regular program listened to by Iranians the world over. The panel was moderated by Sharon Baradaran, a professor in UCLA's Israel studies department.
The conference presented a complex look at the recent history of Jews in Iran. Amir made clear that over the last century, the condition of Jews in Iran had gone from bad to better (under the shah) to worse, prompting Baradaran to ask whether the better times under the shah were more of an aberration than had been thought.
Hakakian and Sabi both spoke of the role of Jews in the revolution and post-revolutionary period, time of great intellectual ferment and hope. Hakakian, in particular, still hopes a democracy will emerge in Iran, and she is encouraged by reports that average Iranians are losing interest in Iranian government-produced Palestinian propaganda and are showing interest in Israel.
By contrast, Litvak was vocal in pointing out that Iran only tolerates Jews living under Muslim rule -- not as people living in an independent state. Iran has become the world leader in Holocaust denial, Litvak explained, as part of a political strategy to undermine support for Israel's existence.
The panelists agreed that today's Iran presents a paradox. In many ways, as Hakakian, Sabi and Taleh made clear, life for Jews in some ways has never been better. They are a "protected minority," allowed to drink wine for their rituals, while Muslims are not allowed alcohol; Jews may allow men and women to mix, while Muslims cannot. Nonetheless, Jews are barred from government jobs, and under Muslim laws, their rights in criminal and civil courts are not equal to other Iranian citizens.
Iranian Muslims consider Jews "filthy" and impure. Yet Jews in Iran have the right to passports and to travel abroad and could leave if they choose.
Litvak suggested that Iran's Jews have little future living as a minority in Iran and will not likely be able to improve their place in society. Kermanian recommended that the remaining Jews of Iran leave as soon as possible, in case conditions should change.
Menashri suggested that all Iranian Jews should move to Israel, while Hakakian argued that Iran's Jews should remain and will flourish under a future regime. Taleh believes that there always will be a Jewish Iran, as long as parents teach their children about Judaism.
-- Tom Teicholz, Contributing Writer