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Community Briefs

by Jewish Journal Staff

October 10, 2002 | 8:00 pm

Glendale Discusses Future of Swastika Lampposts

The green cast-iron lampposts that light the streets of Glendale illuminate a controversy that will not go away. All 930 of the street lights are decorated at their bases with a band made up of swastikas. The swastikas on the lampposts are level and face counterclockwise. The swastika used by the Nazis is slanted and clockwise.

The swastika as used on the Glendale lampposts has been used as a good luck symbol in Asian and Native American cultures for millennia, and the lampposts themselves, installed between 1924 and 1926, pre-date the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany.

The issue of removing or covering up the swastikas has been raised numerous times in Glendale, and on Oct. 1 the Glendale City Council again took up consideration of the matter. At the suggestion of Mayor Rafi Manoukian, the council discussed options including replacing the lampposts, which would cost nearly $3 million. The council also discussed covering up the band of swastikas. But historical preservationists argued against changing the ornate, nearly 80-year-old lampposts. In the end, the city council decided to continue the educational approach the city has taken in the past, responding to complaints with information about the long history of the swastika symbol.

As Glendale City Attorney Scott Howard wrote in his August 1995 report to the council on the subject: "With the exception of one individual, all those whom we have had contact regarding the issue, once educated, believe it is either a nonissue or completely understand that you do not, and cannot, eradicate history by tearing up ancient Navajo rugs, destroying Indian pottery, asking the Buddhists, Hindus or others to forego their cultural icon and removing all references to the symbol wherever it may appear, and in whatever form it might take."

Rabbi Jonathan Biatch, who came to Temple Sinai of Glendale in July of this year and had not before dealt with the matter of the lampposts, said, "The rabbinic reaction is one which takes the feelings of residents into consideration. If they [the lampposts] evoke pain in the citizens of the city, they [the City Council] need to take that pain into consideration,." Biatch added. "I would be in favor of any educational campaign that looks at the totality" of meanings of the swastika symbol.

-- Mike Levy, Staff Writer

Recluse Leaves Millions to IDF, Hadassah and Technion

Israel's military and two private institutions will share $5 million left by an apparently penniless recluse, despite counterclaims by the man's relatives in California and Israel.

Orange County Superior Court Judge James P. Gray ruled Monday that Simon Lechtuz was of sound mind when he bequeathed $1 million each to the Israeli army, navy and air force, as well as to the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and to the Hadassah Medical Center.

Lechtuz was unmarried and childless when he died two years ago at age 88, but his nieces and nephews claimed that the Israeli government conned a confused Lechtuz out of the money by promising that he would be buried in an Israeli cemetery.

In fact, when Lechtuz died, Orange County officials were unable to locate any next of kin and buried him in a local, secular cemetery.

When the American and Israeli relatives ultimately learned of his death, they raised $15,000 to have his body exhumed and reburied in a Haifa cemetery.

Lechtuz spent the last 15 years of his life at the Leisure World retirement community in Laguna Hills, and to his neighbors appeared destitute, disheveled and eccentric, frequently rummaging through trash containers.

A native of Poland, Lechtuz apparently amassed his fortune over decades by bartering and trading leftover flour sacks and steel drums, investing the proceeds in real estate and municipal bonds.

In his decision, Gray ruled that the promised burial in Israel was not a condition of Lechtuz's bequest and that "he simply was not interested in leaving any of his money to his nieces and nephews."

Gray added that "Mr. Lechtuz was quoted as saying, 'I'm not close to relatives. They didn't do anything for me; let them earn it themselves.'"

Attorney Charles H. Kanter, representing Israel and its consulate general in Los Angeles, said that Lechtuz was buried by the Orange County public administrator before the State of Israel even knew he had died, according to the Los Angeles Times. -- Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Jewish Community Foundation Gives Grants to 18 Organizations

The Jewish Community Foundation (JCF) of Los Angeles has recognized 18 new and innovative Jewish community programs with grants totalling $427,070. The JCF, a partner with The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, is the charitable gift-planning agency for the greater Los Angeles Jewish community, and has sponsored grants for more than a decade; these awards represent one portion of more than $1 million in Foundation Legacy Grants to area nonprofits approved for 2002.

"Given the many stresses under which Americans, both Jewish and non-Jews alike, have been living in the last year, We're especially excited to recognize these leading-edge efforts designed to enrich and improve our quality of life here in Southern California," said Marvin I. Schotland, JCF president and CEO.

Grant recipients include the Hallelu concert on Oct. 20 (see cover story), two programs at the Zimmer Children's Museum that teach youngsters about culture and diversity, Chai Lifeline West Coast (see page 18), Jewish Federation programs, the Bureau of Education of Greater Los Angeles, Brandeis-Bardin Institute, the Los Angeles Hillel Council, the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, the Israeli-Christian Nexus and the University of Judaism.

Established in 1954, the JCF is the largest central clearinghouse for Jewish philanthropists in Southern California, with assets of more than $362 million

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