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."Yet Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman said if the News Corp. allegations prove true, Regan stepped over the line by employing an age-old anti-Semitic canard that Jews conspire against non-Jews.
"Whatever her dispute with HarperCollins, the Jewishness of her critics had absolutely no relevance to the matter at hand," he said.
Fields told the AP that he was alarmed by Foxman's remarks and found them "quite harmful to the Jewish cause. And I feel free to say that because I am Jewish," he said.
The attorney said his client had used the phrase "cabal" during her conversation with Jackson, but denies the News Corp. allegation that she said "Jewish cabal."
Regan, a onetime National Enquirer reporter and former consultant with PocketBooks, was reportedly fired by fax at 4 p.m. Friday and ordered by security guards bearing boxes to leave the Century City offices of ReganBooks while Murdoch's News Corp. held its annual holiday party in New York.
"This came completely out of the blue," a HarperCollins executive told The Times. "She was completely taken by surprise."
ReganBooks, which Murdoch created in 1994, has built its reputation on celebrity tell-alls and political books. In 2005, Regan moved her HarperCollins imprint to Los Angeles to be closer to its Hollywood subjects.
Aside from the recent O.J. Simpson debacle, Regan was also taking heat for a Mickey Mantle biographical novel told in the voice of the Yankee slugger, which would recount unverifiable tales of sexual promiscuity. Regan and Jackson were discussing the book, "7: The Mickey Mantle Novel," when the alleged anti-Semitic comments were made.
The division has since been reassigned to HarperCollins General Books Group and longtime editorial director Cal Morgan is taking over for Regan. In a brief statement on Dec. 16, Friedman said decisions about the ReganBooks name and its unpublished works "would be addressed at the appropriate time."
An unnamed publishing industry source told the Los Angeles Times that Regan, who hosts a Sirius Satellite Radio talk show on Wednesdays, has started preliminary talks with television networks for a possible job.
-- Adam Wills, Associate Editor
Orthodox Union opens West Coast conclave
It's smackdown time as two local luminaries face off in a debate on Sunday at the Orthodox Union's 16th annual West Coast Convention.
Radio host and personality Dennis Prager will debate Simon Weisenthal Center's Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein on "The Tension in Jewish Life: Preserving the Past and Innovating for the Future," which is also the theme of the conference that opened Thursday and runs through Dec 26. The convention's keynote speaker, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, of Israel, will also address the topic.
The conference will send various speakers to synagogues around the city and Valley. On Dec. 23, they will screen "The Lonely Man of Faith: The Life and Legacy of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik," a 100-minute documentary by Los Angeles-born Ethan Isenberg (not yet released in theaters). Another highlight of the conference will be a one-day training session on Dec. 25 for kiruv or outreach.
"That has become the clarion call for the OU and NSCY," said Rabbi Alan Kalinsky, West Coast director of the Orthodox Union. The organization has culled speakers from various religious organizations expert in the outreach field, such as Aish HaTorah, Chabad and the Association of Jewish Outreach Professionals.
"There are many laypeople who would love to be invited and open up their homes [to nonreligious people], but they're not sure how to go about doing it and what they can and cannot do," Kalinsky said.
The OU has long been involved in outreach in high schools and, as of late, on college campuses with its Jewish Learning Initiative program, sending a young religious couple to college campuses. However, it now wants to turn its attention to the adult world.
"Our effort in kiruv is to reach out to fellow Jews and inspire them and encourage them, and hopefully bring them closer to our faith -- to a life of commitment, to identification as Jews," Kalinsky said.
-- Amy Klein, Religion Editor
29 complete synagogue leaders course
The Board of Rabbis of Southern California this month graduated 29 members of the Los Angeles Synagogue Leadership Institute (SLI), a 13-month program training future synagogue leaders of all denominations. With about a dozen participating synagogues, SLI aims to develop leaders through textual study, leadership theory and hands-on leadership skills.
Some of the topics studied included values-centered planning, membership and retention issues, financing and fundraising and creating a sacred community -- which includes "the ability to encounter other parts of the religious community that you might otherwise never meet and never think of encountering," said Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of the Modern Orthodox synagogue, B'nai David-Judea.
"To bring contact with different sections of religious community to produce something that is greater than its parts -- this is what religious leadership is all about," he said. "There are few opportunities where we can sit together as members of [the] Jewish community in the broader sense of the word, where we can plan together as leaders of the future," L.A. Jewish Federation President John Fishel said.
"It's been quite a 13 months," said Cecilia Quigley, one of the participants. Talking about the character of leadership, the importance of vision and the evolution of the congregation has helped her to become more of a leader, she said.
"This part of this journey these last 13 months has helped me understand what's important for me and for our synagogue and what's important for our community," Quigley said.