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Jewish Journal

Briefs

by Tom Tugend

February 17, 2005 | 7:00 pm

$10 Million Offered for Information on Missing Flier

Israeli emissary Uri Chen of the Born to Freedom Foundation visited Los Angeles last month, not to ask for money but to offer $10 million.

The money has been put up as a reward to anyone "providing proven and reliable information" on the whereabouts or fate of Israeli Air Force officer Ron Arad. Arad's plane was hit over Lebanon in 1986, and the then 28-year-old navigator was captured by Amal, an Iranian-backed Shiite group.

The last contact with him was in September 1987. Since then, there have been occasional reports that Arad was being passed from one Iranian-backed terrorist group to another, or that he was being held in an Iranian prison.

"Israel has unsuccessfully exerted every diplomatic and military effort to find and free Arad," Chen said. "We are working on the assumption that he is still alive, and the $10 million offer may be our last chance."

Arad, who will be 47 in May, was married shortly before his capture and has a 19-year-old daughter, Yuval.

Chen, a former official in the prime minister's office, is CEO of the foundation, which, he said, has collected the money through a government grant and private donations in Israel.

The Born to Freedom Foundation has set up an office and Web site, which can process tips and leads in English, Arabic, Farsi and Russian. Since launching the campaign in December, the foundation has received about 1,000 calls and e-mails, which analysts are now examining.

"We take each tip seriously and are leaving no stone unturned," Chen said.

He has placed ads in international publications and aired commercials on television networks and has had surprising success in dealing with the Arab media.

"We have been interviewed by Hezbollah TV and Al-Jazeera and have had large newspaper ads in Egypt and Lebanon," Chen reported.

By contrast, his requests for commercial airtime were rejected by CNN as "too political" and by the BBC and Eurosport network without explanation.

While in Los Angeles, Chen met with Jewish and Muslim leaders of the large Iranian expatriate community here and with managers of about 10 Farsi-language television and radio stations with large audiences in Iran.

The foundation is focusing on Arad but intends to also investigate the fates of other Israeli soldiers and airmen missing in action.

"It is written in Jeremiah that 'the sons shall return to their own border,'" Chen said. "That is not just a slogan, that is our flag."

For additional information, visit www.10million.org. – Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Courts Act on Two Cases Involving Nazi-Looted Art

In two closely watched cases on Nazi-looted art, actress Elizabeth Taylor has retained a prized Vincent van Gogh painting, while in another case, descendants of Holocaust-era German Jews advanced their claims to works by Pablo Picasso and Camille Pissarro.

At stake in the Taylor case is Van Gogh's "View of the Asylum and Chapel at Saint-Remy," which the actress bought 41 years ago for $257,000, but which is now believed to be worth between $10-$15 million.

Her ownership has been contested by Canadian attorney Andrew Orkin, who claims that the painting had been confiscated by the Hitler regime from his great-grandmother, Margarete Mauthner, then a Berlin resident who later emigrated to South Africa.

In a decision announced Feb. 8, U.S. District Court Judge Gary Klausner in Los Angeles ruled against Orkin, because the applicable statute of limitations had been exceeded.

Orkin said he had been advised not to comment on the case, but his attorney, Tom Hamilton, issued a statement claiming judicial errors and announcing a possible appeal.

The second case has been met with even greater interest in the legal and art worlds, because of a ruling that an art dealer or gallery owner can be sued for his proceeds in selling Nazi-looted paintings.

Although the case involves two different families and two different paintings, the pleadings were combined, because they involved the same art dealer and identical issues, said Los Angeles attorney E. Randol Schoenberg. The art dealer is Stephen Hahn, a gallery owner formerly in New York and now in Santa Barbara.

According to court records, in 1975 Hahn sold Picasso's "Femme en Blanc" (Woman in White) to Marilyn Alsdorf, a private Chicago collector.

In 2002, Thomas Bennigson, a University of California law student who lives Oakland, tracked down the painting's provenance, which showed that the Picasso had belonged to his grandmother, Carlota Landsberg of Berlin, before being taken forcibly by the Nazis.

In 1976, Hahn sold Pissarro's "Rue de Saint Honore Apres Midi, Effet de Pluie" to Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen, whose family allegedly had close ties to Hitler. Recently, Claude Cassirer of San Diego spotted a picture of the painting in a catalog of the Thyssen collection.

Cassirer's grandmother, Lilly Neubauer-Cassirer, of a German-Jewish family, had been forced to sell the Pissarro for a fraction of its value under Nazi pressure.

In her ruling, Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Denise deBellefeuille found that the use of a "constructive trust" on the sale proceeds of the two paintings was a proper remedy, when a person earns compensation from the sale of property belonging to another.

Schoenberg noted that "this is the first time, that I know of, that someone has tried to sue downstream to recover from a dealer who sold Nazi-looted paintings."

However, he acknowledged that many Nazi-looted art cases represented a "Solomonic problem," pitting heirs of the original owners against someone who might have purchased the painting later in good faith.

"But you can't cut the painting in half," he said, "So under American law, the original owner gets back the property." – TT

Center Seeks End to Warning on Israel Travel

The Simon Wiesenthal Center is urging the U.S. State Department to remove its warning on travel to Israel, in light of the improving security situation in the country.

In a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the center's associate dean, wrote that besides the economic effect on the Israel's tourism industry, the travel warning has led some U.S. insurance companies to deny coverage to Americans who frequently travel to Israel.

Cooper added that "now is the time to encourage Americans of all faiths to visit the holy sights in Israel, for students to take advantage of schools of higher learning and for families and friends to reconnect after years of fear and frustration." – TT

Milken Student Earns Science Contest Honor

Josh Skrzypek's explanation of plasma physics sounds like an excerpt from a doctorate dissertation. It's no wonder that the Milken Community High School senior was recently chosen as one of the 300 semifinalists in the Intel Science Talent Search (Intel STS), America's oldest and most highly regarded precollege science competition. The honor, which until 1998 was sponsored by Westinghouse, is often referred to as the "junior Nobel prize."

"I enjoy the discovery of different things," said Skrzypek, 17. "Even if it's something that somebody already knows, figuring it out for myself is an incredible high."

The Pacific Palisades resident has been figuring things out for himself at the UCLA plasma physics research lab for high school students, where he has worked and studied since his ninth-grade year at Milken. Skrzypek's lab experiences set the groundwork for his Intel competition entry, a report detailing his discoveries in launching radio waves into plasma (a gas).

Skrzypek's access to college-level research is linked to the Mitchell Academy of Science and Technology, Milken's unique science education program. In Skrzypek's junior year at Milken, the academy created the Science Research Institute, a three-year science research elective that prepares students to publish science research at graduate school levels and prepare for prestigious competitions.

Headed by science chairman Roger Kassebaum, the academy allows students to work in an intern capacity with research scientists at university and industry locations.

While Skrzypek was not enrolled in the program (it didn't exist when he was an underclassman), Kassebaum allowed the motivated student to incorporate elements of the institute into his studies, which led to his Intel STS entry.

Skrzypek plans to study physics in college and hopes to become a university physics professor.

"It's a big thrill when a concept just clicks, but what's even more invigorating for me is to be able to teach it," the young scientist said.

He is already getting some mentor experience by helping a new generation of plasma physics students in the UCLA lab.

While the competition is over, Skrzypek is far from finished with his research and is already planning a follow-up experiment to his Intel project as he decides where he will attend college next year.

Over the past six decades, Intel STS alumni have received more than 100 of the worlds' most coveted science and math honors, including Nobel Prizes, national Medals of Science and MacArthur Foundation Fellowships. – Sharon Schatz Rosenthal, Contributing Writer

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