The Mormon Church has removed the name of the late Simon Wiesenthal from its international genealogical index, avoiding a new dispute over accusations that the Church conducts vicarious baptisms for the deceased of other faiths.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints took the action after a strong public protest by Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, named in honor of the famed Nazi hunter.
However, a Mormon spokesman expressed his surprise that the Wiesenthal Center had not contacted the church directly before issuing a press statement on the matter.
In his statement, Hier said that "We are astounded and dismayed that after assurances and promises by the Mormon Church, that Mr. Wiesenthal's life and memory, along with so many other Jews, would be trampled and disregarded.
"Mr. Wiesenthal proudly lived as a Jew, died as a Jew ... and at his request was buried in the state of Israel. It is sacrilegious for the Mormon faith to desecrate his memory by suggesting that Jews on their own are not worthy enough to receive God's eternal blessing," Hier added.
The issue has been a sore point with Jewish organizations, after it was learned in the early 1990s that some 380,000 Holocaust victims had been placed in the Mormon genealogical database as a step toward posthumous baptism.
Bruce Olsen, the Mormon Church's chief spokesman as press secretary to the First Presidency, said Tuesday that following Hier's request, "no Church ordinance was performed for Simon Wiesenthal and his name was immediately removed from the International Genealogical Index."
In 1995, Church officials signed an agreement with Jewish organizations to remove the name of Holocaust victims from its database.
Olsen noted that since then, the Church has maintained excellent relations with the Wiesenthal Center and other Jewish institutions, and that he was surprised to first learn about Hier's concern when contacted by journalists.
Mark Paredes, director of the Church's Jewish Relations in Southern California, emphasized that Church policy provides that its members can submit only the names of their own ancestors for posthumous baptism.
"Those who submitted the name of Mr. Wiesenthal or Holocaust victims represented a few misguided members, who certainly do not represent the Church as a whole," Paredes said.
Hier was traveling and could not be reached for comment at press time.
-- Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
Philanthropist funds series on composers suppressed by Nazis
Marilyn Ziering, a Los Angeles Opera board member and a Los Angeles-based philanthropist, has announced that she will donate $3.25 million of her own money and an additional $750,000 she raised to fund the L.A. Opera's multiyear series of concerts on composers whose works were suppressed by the Nazis during the Holocaust.
The project, known as "Recovered Voices," will kick off with two concerts in March at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, featuring the work of Alexander Zemlinsky, Kurt Weill, Viktor Ullmann, Franz Schreker, Walter Braunfels and Erich Wolfgang Korngold.
The Nazis created "a great breach in the continuity of music when this music was suppressed and denied," Ziering said. So forgotten are a number of these composers that Ziering, who grew up listening to Verdi, Puccini and Mozart, admitted that "some of the composers I had never heard of nor heard their works before."
The philanthropist's late husband survived work camps, ghettoes and concentration camps, and she said she is making the donation at this time because L.A. Opera Music Director James Conlon "has a passion to do this." Conlon, a Catholic, will conduct the concerts, which will continue through 2010.
-- Robert David Jaffee, Contributing Writer
L.A. City Council approves declaration on immigrants rights
The Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved on Dec. 13 a pro-immigrants' rights declaration conceived by the local Anti-Defamation League (ADL).
The so-called "Declaration of Los Angeles" calls for the humane treatment of undocumented immigrants; denounces xenophobia, especially against Latino immigrants; and encourages law enforcement agencies and courts to adhere to the highest ethical standards when dealing with issues surrounding the deportation and detention of immigrants. The document also criticizes vigilante citizen groups for creating an atmosphere of fear that raises the potential for violence against undocumented immigrants.
"At this particularly volatile time in our country's history, we find it of the utmost importance to unite against hatred and victimization aimed at many people who migrate to this country," said Amanda Susskind, director of the ADL's Pacific Southwest Region, in a statement.
The ADL and 17 partner groups, including the Progressive Jewish Alliance, Bet Tzedek Legal Services, the ACLU of Southern California and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, plan to lobby the California Legislature to approve the declaration during its 2007 session.
-- Marc Ballon, Senior Writer
Publisher of planned O.J. book allegedly fired over anti-Semitic comments
The decision to fire Judith Regan, the Los Angeles-based publisher behind the controversial O.J. Simpson "If I Did It" book and television deal, came after News Corp. head Rupert Murdoch learned of comments she made to a company lawyer on Dec. 15 that were deemed anti-Semitic.
On Monday, a News Corp. spokesman released notes taken by attorney Mark Jackson to the Associated Press that detailed his conversation with the publisher of ReganBooks, an imprint of News Corp.'s HarperCollins. During the conversation, according to the AP report, Regan told Jackson, who is Jewish: "Of all people, Jews should know about ganging up, finding common enemies, and telling the big lie."
Jackson's notes describe Regan using the term "Jewish cabal," to describe a group that included himself, literary agent Esther Newberg, HarperCollins executive editor David Hirshey, and Jane Friedman, HarperCollins president and chief executive, who reported details of the conversation to Murdoch.
Regan's attorney, Bert Fields, plans to file a lawsuit against HarperCollins for dismissing Regan, claiming breach of contract, according to The New York Times. Referring to the alleged comments, Field reportedly said: "They were looking for an excuse to fire her, and they fired her, and called it anti-Semitic. It ain't anti-Semitic."
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