The Los Angelenos in this year's just-released Forward 50 list include an Orthodox rabbi who suggested that Israelis should be able to decide the fate of Jerusalem, a rabbi who led efforts to fight Proposition 8 and a Westlake School for Girls graduate who this year was an Olympic-gold-medal swimmer.
The Forward 50, a list of Jewish movers and shakers published annually by The Jewish Forward, is heavy this year on Jews involved in politics, particularly in President-elect Barack Obama's successful campaign and developing the new administration. Three of the top five standouts are Rahm Emanuel, Obama's new chief of staff; Penny Pritzker, his national campaign finance officer; and Sarah Silverman, whose video for The Great Schlep encouraged Jews, young and old, to vote for Obama. (The other two members of the top five are kosher activist Rabbi Morris Allen and Jeremy Ben-Ami, executive director of the dovish lobby J Street.)
"Jews played an outsized role in the presidential election campaign, and, by the looks of it, will continue to do so in the new Obama administration," Forward Editor Jane Eisner said in a statement. "This was also the year the kosher meat industry faced its greatest legal, consumer and ethical challenges and in the process exposed major lapses in the U.S. justice and immigration systems, prompting rabbis of all denominations to examine the moral dimension of a central Jewish tenet."
Those honored from Los Angeles, in addition to Silverman, are: Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of B'nai David-Judea, who last fall wrote an op-ed for this paper that broke an Orthodox taboo and said Israel should have the independent freedom to negotiate over Jerusalem; Rabbi Denise Eger, founding rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami, a Reform synagogue in West Hollywood, and a leading activist against Proposition 8; U.S. Olympic gold-medalist Dara Torres, who at 41 stole the show in the Water Cube from everyone but Michael Phelps; U.S. Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys), who became chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee after the death of Holocaust survivor Tom Lantos; and, for the third time in six years, Daniel Sokatch, who served as founding executive director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance and left Los Angeles this summer to lead the San Francisco Jewish community.
-- Brad A. Greenberg, Senior Writer
Faith Groups Petition Supreme Court, Challenge Prop. 8
On Nov. 17, the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) joined a coalition of Christian organizations in filing a petition asking the California Supreme Court to invalidate Proposition 8, the statewide ban on same-sex marriage.
The petition argues that the controversial ballot measure threatens the U.S. guarantee of equal protection, and was too dramatic a revision of the state Constitution to be passed by voters without Legislature approval.
"The Progressive Jewish Alliance is proud to join with our friends in the Christian community who likewise recognize that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere," PJA President Douglas Mirell said in a statement. "We hope our petition will remind the court and other faith communities of the dangers posed when a minority group ... is deprived of equal protection by a simple majority vote. If Proposition 8 is allowed to take effect, there is nothing to stop voters from writing religious, racial or ethnic discrimination into California's Constitution through the next statewide ballot initiative."
Other signatories of the petition included the California Council of Churches, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations. The PJA is the only Jewish organization to take part.
-- Rachel Heller, Contributing Writer
Jewish Free Loan Establishes Housing Fund
The Jewish Free Loan Association (JFLA) has received a $100,000 donation from the Annenberg Foundation to establish a housing loan fund that will offer $3,000 interest-free loans to individuals struggling to pay their mortgage.
The fund is a direct response to the home foreclosure crisis, which, thanks to risky lending and the subprime mortgage meltdown, led to a majority of California homes sold last month being bank-owned.
"Given the current housing climate, it was critical that JFLA establish a fund that can meet the growing needs of our community," said Mark Meltzer, executive director and CEO.
The housing loan fund will complement JFLA's emergency loan program, which has provided $3,000 loans to help renters avoid eviction or cover a security deposit and has assisted homeowners with utility bills and emergency repairs.
JFLA has seen a surge in emergency loan applicants this year. The nonprofit plans to raise another $750,000 during the next three years through foundation grants and individual contribution and to increase the average housing loan to $5,000 within the next few years.
Loans are available to people of all faiths. For more information on loan programs or procedures, visit the JFLA Web site at www.jfla.org or call (323) 761-8830.
Resource Guide for Elderly Visitors Available
The Older Adult Task Force is offering a free, quick reference for families who need advice about how to best accommodate older relatives throughout this holiday season.
OATF, a coalition of approximately 40 social service agencies in Santa Monica and West Los Angeles, says the guide contains information about social and health services, housing, transportation and financial assistance. Specifically, it highlights commonly asked questions and concerns and then "provides a listing of agencies with their phone numbers that can assist in addressing the relevant issues."
The coalition has distributed the guide to relevant organizations, libraries, pharmacies, churches and recreation centers. To have a copy of the guide mailed to you, call (310) 394-9871, ext. 411, or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. A downloadable version of the guide is available at http://www.smpl.org/pdf/quickreferenceguide.pdf.
-- Lilly Fowler, Contributing Writer
Archdiocese, ADL Partner to Educate Teachers
California's Catholic school educators will be better armed to field questions about anti-Semitism in the classroom, thanks to a three-day conference sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
The "Bearing Witness" program delved into the theological and political roots of anti-Semitism, as well as the methods for teaching certain delicate subjects in schools: anti-Semitism, the Holocaust and the historical relationship between Jews and Christians. The Rev. Dennis McManus, associate professor of theology at Georgetown University, and Rabbi Eliot Dorff, professor of philosophy at American Jewish University, were among the speakers.
The conference, held Oct. 28-30, culminated with a special Shabbat dinner that included participants, program alumni and ADL leaders. The program is now in its sixth year and has reached more than 1,300 schoolteachers.