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USC Hillel rabbi leaves for PJA, Johnson loses judicial race

June 12, 2008 | 2:33 pm

USC Hillel Rabbi Leaves for PJA

After spending eight years leading USC Hillel, Rabbi Jonathan Klein left last month to work full-time for the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA).

"It just seemed like the right time," Klein said last week. "I've always been really passionate about social justice work, but I've never had a chance to do it professionally."

Having worked part time at PJA since March, Klein joined as a community organizer and the interim development director. The 9-year-old grass-roots organization, best known in Los Angeles for its living-wage campaign for hotel workers, has become a national brand. Founder Daniel Sokatch was tapped in April to be the next CEO of the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco.

Klein's role will be to promote economic justice and will likely involve improving the relationships between PJA and local synagogues. The move came with a pay cut and, Klein said, the reward of daily "doing good things for the world."

"My new position, at least for now, is going to be seen as less prestigious. People aren't going to come to me as the rabbi. But on the other hand, I know that my work is going to be helping in a much more broad sense of the term," he said. "I will, at times, be able to remind Jews what is Jewish about being progressive."

-- Brad A. Greenberg, Senior Writer

Johnson Loses Judicial Race

Bill Johnson, an international corporate lawyer who has advocated limiting U.S. citizenship to non-Hispanic whites and whose run for the Los Angeles County Superior Court bench caused concern in legal, political and activist circles, was handily defeated June 3.

When the polls closed at 8 p.m., 26.1 percent of voters had cast their ballot for Johnson. He was defeated by Superior Court Commissioner James Bianco, who received 73.9 percent of the votes.

Election observers had expected Johnson to lose in the open race, primarily because commissioners typically fare better than lawyers. But some feared that a low turnout coupled with Johnson's affiliation with Ron Paul for President, a campaign that has mobilized small, passionate masses, could result in an upset. And, indeed, voter turnout was only 16.5 percent in the general election, and even smaller in the contest for the 125th judicial office: less than 12 percent.

Little was known about the media-shy Johnson until the Metropolitan News-Enterprise, a legal paper, reported in late April that he unsuccessfully ran twice for Congress and authored "Amendment to the Constitution" under the pseudonym James O. Pace. The 1985 book included what became the 'Pace Amendment," which stated:

"No person shall be a citizen of the United States unless he is a non-Hispanic white of the European race, in whom there is no ascertainable trace of Negro blood, nor more than one-eighth Mongolian, Asian, Asia Minor, Middle Eastern, Semitic, Near Eastern, American Indian, Malay or other non-European or non-white blood, provided that Hispanic whites, defined as anyone with an Hispanic ancestor, may be citizens if, in addition to meeting the aforesaid ascertainable trace and percentage tests, they are in appearance indistinguishable from Americans whose ancestral home is in the British Isles or Northwestern Europe. Only citizens shall have the right and privilege to reside permanently in the United States."

-- BG

Cantor, Shul Celebrate Decades in the Valley

On June 1, Temple B'nai Hayim (TBH), a Conservative synagogue in Sherman Oaks, celebrated its 50th anniversary and honored Cantor Mark Gomberg for 33 years of "cantorial splendor."

It all started when 12 couples and a few Sherman Oaks residents met at the Glen Aire Country Club in 1958. In just two weeks they established a board and a synagogue: Sherman Oaks Conservative Temple.

By December of that year, the congregation had 75 families, led by Rabbi Mayer J. Franklin, and met in the Mormon Temple in Van Nuys, which they converted into a permanent home in 1964. Today, the synagogue, which changed its name in 1969, has 175 member families.

Gomberg said he prides himself on having the opportunity to educate the community's youth through song and prayer, actualizing the event's theme -- L'dor V'Dor, from generation to generation.

"When a congregant asks me for proof that God exists, I tell them the following: 'Temple B'nai Hayim -- that is the proof,'" Gomberg said.

"TBH is the little shul around the corner," said Rabbi Tsafreer Lev, who has been the leader of the synagogue for the last two years, replacing Rabbi Sally Olins. The synagogue has endured, he said, because it is welcoming to all Jews.

"It doesn't matter that it's a Conservative shul, when people come here, it is their shul, too," Lev said.

-- Jina Davidovich, Contributing Writer

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