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Community Briefs

January 15, 2004 | 7:00 pm

Jury Still Out on Hawaiian Gardens

The California Gambling Commission has delayed voting on Dr. Irving Moskowitz's permanent license request so commissioners can examine extensive public comments on the Hawaiian Gardens Casino card club, which Moskowitz partly uses to fund West Bank settlers.

Commissioner Arlo Smith closed the Jan. 9 hearing by saying the three-member commission would make "a further evaluation of all the comments here" and review Moskowitz's license request at a February hearing still to be determined.

Opponents have waged a long battle against the retired Long Beach doctor who became a bingo/casino impresario and single-handedly changed poor, tiny Hawaiian Gardens in southeast Los Angeles County. The "character" portion of an applicant's license is what opponents attack by asking commissioners to connect Moskowitz using part of his gambling proceeds to buy East Jerusalem land for Jewish settlers.

"They need to follow the money," said the Rev. Chris Ponnett of St. Camillus Pastoral Care Center.

Like the commission's Moskowitz-dominated Dec. 18 hearing in downtown Los Angeles, at the Jan. 9 hearing, 28 people spoke for and against a permanent license for the Hawaiian Gardens Casino card club, which is now running on a temporary license. Opponents included a Fresno philosophy professor and Jewish peace activist and actor Ed Asner, who said to commissioners, "We strongly question that this is a good character."

Moskowitz's supporters included the reclusive doctor's son, David, who is also a doctor. He said the opponents' tactics were, "exceptionally distasteful ... lies, innuendo and libel at my parents."

Beryl Weiner, Moskowitz's personal attorney for 31 years, ignored both sides' harsher comments and addressed each criticism of the license application, saying that more than six years of state probes have pronounced Moskowitz's operations clean.

Weiner said the once-poor Hawaiian Gardens city government now has surplus funds thanks to gambling and that opponents want, "a third bite at the apple," by asking commissioners to hold up the permanent casino license by injecting Israel into the debate.

"Those political issues have nothing whatsoever to do with this gambling application license," he said. -- David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Wiesenthal Goes After Bombers

Turkey will support a worldwide campaign by the Simon Wiesenthal Center to classify suicide bombing as a "crime against humanity."

The assurance was given Monday by Minister of Parliament Egemen Bagis at a meeting in Ankara attended by Foreign Minister Abdallah Gul and senior officials of the Wiesenthal Center.

Gul and Bagis, who also serves as foreign policy adviser to Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, said that the recent bombings of synagogues and British institutions in Istanbul represented a new phase in international terrorism.

At the meeting, the Wiesenthal Center's associate dean, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, and Dr. Shimon Samuels, director for international liaison, also raised the issues of peace in the Middle East and anti-Semitism in the Muslim world.

Cooper noted that designating suicide bombing as a crime against humanity would give the global community a new weapon against the sponsors and inciters of international terrorism.

The two Wiesenthal Center officials thanked Turkey for urging Syrian President Bashar Assad to negotiate with Israel and for condemning a recent anti-Semitic tirade by the Malaysian prime minister.

On Sunday, Cooper and Samuels prayed in Istanbul with Turkey's Chief Rabbi Itzak Haleva at his synagogue, partially destroyed in the suicide bombing. -- Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Jewish History Live

The fourth annual West Valley Winter Kallah, an adult education lecture series, is bringing Jewish history to life -- a la "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" -- as famous Jewish thinkers (played by West Valley rabbis) address modern issues of faith from a historical perspective.

The three-week series, titled "Communicating With God in 5764/2004," is being taught by Reform, Conservative and Orthodox rabbis at Shomrei Torah Synagogue in West Hills. The word kallah means bride, but it was also used to represent a time when rabbis from different regions studied together.

The first installment on Monday, Jan. 12, "Prayers and Jewish Rituals," brought together the Baal Shem Tov (Rabbi Richard Camras of Shomrei Torah Synagogue), the 18th-century founder of Chasidic Judaism; the Vilna Gaon (Rabbi Yakov Vann of the Calabasas Shul), the 18th-century father of the modern yeshiva system; and Glueckel of Hameln (Rabbi Sheryl Nosan Blank of Temple Beth Torah), a 17th-century German diarist who married at age 14, to mull over the challenges of prayer and ritual observance in daily life from a spiritual, intellectual and survivalist perspective. Rabbi Stewart Vogel of Temple Aliyah moderated the discussion.

"It coalesced really beautifully," Camras said.

Decked out in a streimel and belting out "If I Were a Rich Man" as a niggun, Camras' theatrics became the focal point of an evening that brought the various denominations together to learn and laugh.

When Vogel addressed the Baal Shem Tov's hat choice -- "Big heads require big hats" -- Nosan Blank brought down the house when she replied in character, "It's not always about size."

Originally funded by the Jewish Community Foundation, the Winter Kallah is now under the auspices of the West Valley Rabbinic Task Force. This year's sponsoring Winter Kallah synagogues include Congregation Or Ami, Temple Aliyah, Temple Judea, Valley Beth Shalom, Shomrei Torah Synagogue, Temple Beth Haverim, Temple Ramat Zion and Temple Beth Torah.

While the Calabasas Shul doesn't endorse the entire program, Vann participated in the Jan. 12 event since the evening was devoted to interpreting historical perspectives and did not address the differences between the participating religious movements.

"They're very sensitive to my needs," Vann said, "and I'm sensitive to theirs."

The next two West Valley Winter Kallah include "Developing a Relationship With God," on Jan. 19 and "Reconciling Faith and Tragedy" on Jan. 26, with a Ma'ariv service before each. $12. 7:30 p.m. For more information, call (818) 346-0811. -- Adam Wills, Associate Editor

Sinai Temple Jubilant Over Wolpe's Return

Rabbi David Wolpe returned briefly to his Sinai Temple pulpit Jan. 9, with the Westwood congregation giving him a loud standing ovation after his two-month absence due to a seizure.

"I missed you, too," said Wolpe before much of the congregation danced to mark his return. "I was gone for a couple of months. I am fortunately, by all the doctors' accounts, cured."

The senior Sinai rabbi since 1997, Wolpe suffered a seizure on Oct. 23, with a brain lesion later removed during surgery. Since then, he has been recovering away from Sinai but made the Jan. 9 Shabbat service appearance on the same night as Sinai's popular Friday Night Live monthly singles gathering. Wolpe said his Tuesday night Sinai class on mysticism will resume in late February. A Sinai events guide lists him as being part of a Feb. 1 dialogue on Jewish ethics and liberal individualism and he is also slated to attend Sinai's mid-March family weekend at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute.

"The first thing that I want to say that I did not learn -- is about how you have to hold every moment of life precious, because you can't," Wolpe said in a 14-minute sermon. "And people who tell you that you must hold every minute of life precious? I say, puncture their tires; and you will discover that it is impossible to wipe out the entire range of human emotion, some of which involves annoyance and anger and dismissal and ignorance and all those other things that people do. They just do."

Wolpe also said that being hospitalized made him appreciate how, when King David was dying, the first and second chapters of the Book of Kings refer to him in very different ways.

"'King David was old.' 'David was dying,'" said Wolpe, quoting the scripture. "There are certain moments in your life that you cannot face as a king, or as a businessman or as a beauty or as a millionaire or as a rabbi. You just face them as, "'David' -- It's in those moments that you can find someone else. As long as you are all those other things, you're not you.... I was not Rabbi Wolpe on any of my hospital records or my hospital door, any of it. I didn't want people walking by and seeing 'Rabbi Wolpe' on my door. -- DF

Religious Educators Gather in Westwood

About 700 Jewish schoolteachers, administrators and parents are expected to attend the Jan. 18 Religious School Educators Conference at Sinai Temple in Westwood, with the annual gathering for the first time including parents, school board members and other lay leaders.

"Jewish leadership really is a partnership between the synagogue, the school, the family and the home," said David Ackerman, educational services director at the Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Los Angeles, the conference sponsor.

The projected attendance of 700 is a jump from the 550 at last year's Conservative/Reform school conference, with this increase due to the new lay attendees. Conservative and Reform education staffs attend the conference to focus on after-school, supplemental Jewish education, while Ackerman told The Journal that the bureau's December conference for Orthodox day school staff was attended by 900-1,000 educators. A March conference for non-Orthodox day school staff should attract 600 people.

Sunday's keynote speaker will be Los Angeles ethicist Michael Josephson, whose "Character Counts" commentaries are part of the conference theme, "Character Counts: Practice What You Teach."

Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Encino's Conservative Valley Beth Shalom is the luncheon speaker. The morning lay leader seminars will discuss Jewish school vision and school board dynamics and the 40 afternoon workshops for school professionals cover topics such as improved parent teacher communication, Israel, building Jewish values through stories and Jewish roots in Iraq. -- DF

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