Tragedy in Santa Barbara
The Jewish communities of Santa Barbara and Isla Vista continue to cope with the tragedy of an apparent vehicular manslaughter which left four people dead and a fifth critically injured last Friday night. University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) Hillel's Rabbi Stephen Cohen was called to Cottage Hospital in nearby Goleta to consult with the Levy family, whose daughter Ruth was killed and whose son Albert was critically injured. Also killed in the crash were Elie Israel, a friend of the Levys visiting from San Francisco, and UCSB students Christopher Divis and Nicholas Bourdakis.
The community remembered the victims of the tragic collision with a tree-planting ceremony on Wednesday afternoon at Isla Vista's Acorn Park, near the site of the collision. At press time, Santa Barbara City College student Ruth Levy was to be laid to rest in a ceremony at Goleta Cemetery on Thursday at 2 p.m. A ceremony in remembrance of the victims was planned for 4 p.m. that day in Storke Plaza on the UCSB campus. Cohen has counseled a number of students distraught over the incident, while many others have visited counselors provided by the university. -- Mike Levy, Staff Writer
California Holocaust Act Stands
Holocaust victims and their families in California have won an important legal victory with an appeals court ruling upholding the constitutionality of the state's Holocaust Victim Insurance Relief Act.
The decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower district court ruling, which had held that the California relief act violated the foreign affairs and commerce powers of the federal government.
Passed by the California legislature in 1999, the relief act requires insurance companies to make full disclosure of policies issued in Europe between 1920 and 1945.
However, the appeals court left in place a preliminary injunction empowering a lower court to determine whether the act violated the due process rights of the insurance companies.
There are some 20,000 Holocaust survivors in California, according to state Attorney General Bill Lockyer, who had filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case.
California Insurance Commissioner Harry Low hailed the appeals court's decision and expressed the hope that the insurance companies would provide the required information to survivors and to the families of those who perished in the Holocaust. -- by Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
Reaching Out, Helping Out
The Valley Alliance raised more than ;$1.6 million on Feb. 25, Super Sunday, exceeding last year's total by $100,000.
Co-chair Michael Robbins of West Hills (who shared the chairing responsibilities with Nancy Parris-Moskowitz and Marcy Howard) attributed the Valley Alliance's success to improved efforts at getting the word out, particularly among area synagogues.
"A lot of our gifts are smaller, but we're better organized and have more volunteers than ever, so if we can contact more people, we'll make up for it," Robbins said.
Local teens in particular came out in force to volunteer on the phones and with various mitzvah projects. One teen, Joshua Eisenberg, 13, raised $14,000 from phone calls. The teen program has its own steering committee, the Jewish Community Youth Campaign (JCYC), led by Donnie Cohen-Cutler, 18, a senior at Calabasas High School and founder of the youth group at Congregation Or Ami. The JCYC board spends an entire year planning outreach and providing training in fundraising techniques for youth groups all over the Southland. Cohen-Cutler said the best part of planning Super Sunday for him was breaking down the barriers between Jewish teens.
Teen unity is just one extra benefit of the annual event. Amy Gross, regional director of the Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS), pointed out another, saying sometimes the calls for assistance worked in reverse.
"There's always a few cases where volunteers make a call and the person on the other end bursts into tears and tells them of a problem they are having in their family," Gross explained. "So it ends up being a great way to reach people who need help but who haven't thought to call a Jewish agency."
Of course, the biggest beneficiaries of Super Sunday are the agencies themselves.
Ronda Wilkin, director of the West Valley Jewish Community Center, said the center never could have built the new Sports & Youth Complex or kept up with the growing demand for services without financial assistance from Federation.
"The reality is, we would have to charge a lot more for all of our programs if not for the help we get from the Federation," Wilkin said. -- By Wendy J. Madnick, Valley Editor