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Community Briefs

The Community Brief, news from around California, los angeles,United States.

February 12, 2004 | 7:00 pm

Board of Rabbis Supports Grocery Strike

In support for the striking and locked-out grocery workers, the Board of Rabbis of Southern California has called on supermarket companies to agree to binding arbitration to end the dispute.

The board, which represents more than 270 rabbis from all branches of Judaism, has also asked community Jews to boycott Vons, Pavilions, Albertsons and Ralphs until the strike ends.

"In accordance with Jewish tradition, we are obligated to concern ourselves with the fate of the workers and their ability to earn just wages and benefits sufficient to support themselves and their dependents," the organization said in a statement.

The board's action comes as the strike enters its fifth month. The strike has left many of the 70,000 idled workers without healthcare and struggling to survive on small weekly stipends from the union. Grocery companies, led by Vons' and Pavilions' parent firm Safeway, have lost hundreds of millions of dollars since the strike began Oct. 11 as many consumers have refused to cross picket lines.

The grocery firms want to scale back health benefits and start new workers at lower wages in the face of nonunion Wal-Mart's entry into the Southland's supermarket sweepstakes. Union representatives counter that the proposed cutbacks go too far.

Jews, like other Americans, no longer support organized labor as they once did. Although more liberal than most other ethnic groups, Jews have become slightly more conservative as their affluence has grown, experts said. Nationwide, union membership is way off, having dropped to 13.2 percent of the labor force in 2002 from 20.1 percent in 1983, according to U.S. government statistics. -- Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

Peace Activists Gather at Tikkun Conference

"To be pro-Israel it is necessary also to be pro-Palestinian," Tikkun magazine founder Rabbi Michael Lerner told peace activists at the magazine's regional conference, held Feb. 8 at Temple Isaiah in West Los Angeles.

About 80 Jewish peace activists attended the afternoon-long subscriber gathering, where the rabbi spoke about the Geneva accord peace plan and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"Both sides are filled with decent human beings who have screwed up over and over again; two different groups of people, each interpreting the other through the framework of their own history," he said.

Lerner placed criticism of Israel alongside the antiwar movement's embrace of far-left anti-Semitic and anti-Israel rhetoric.

"There's a special hatred that's going on even though the criticisms are true criticisms," he said. "The fact that there is an anti-Semitism issue here doesn't mean that Israel isn't wrong. Just because you're a victim doesn't mean that you also didn't play some role."

Actor Ed Asner said Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza fuel hatred of Jews specifically and Americans generally throughout the Islamic world.

"Militant anti-Semitism and militant anti-Americanism in over 1 billion people," he told the Tikkun crowd. "There's gonna be hell to pay."

Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, said that some Arabs and Israelis wrongly want to cut each other off.

"The perception is Muslims should not deal with Zionists, Zionists should not deal with Muslims," he said, adding, "You shouldn't expect Muslims to become Zionists. That is not going to happen." -- David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Russian Seniors Worried Over JFS Cuts

Citing financial difficulties, Jewish Family Service (JFS) has threatened to end a 10-year-old Santa Monica-based program that provides social services, entertainment and fellowship to more than 150 elderly Jews from the former Soviet Union. The agency's action has sparked a firestorm of protest from worried seniors, who have started a petition drive to save the Russian Outreach Program from the budget ax.

"The more we have this program, the less we think about our arthritis, pain and other bad stuff," said Rita Chernovsky, a 61-year-old Russian immigrant from Santa Monica. "These meetings every two weeks mean so much to us. We get music. We get culture. Everybody looks forward to this."

In response to the groundswell of concern, JFS Associate Executive Director Vivian Sauer said she planned to meet Monday, Feb. 16, with some program participants to come to "some kind of arrangement that will work both for the agency and the people we're serving."

Sauer, who declined to elaborate, said JFS has yet to take a final decision on the program's fate.

On Jan. 15, JFS Santa Monica Director Marlene Singer allegedly told group members that the agency could no longer afford to fund the outreach program, which she said cost JFS $20,000 annually, according to several eyewitnesses. Seniors reacted with disbelief, some even questioning whether Singer had overstated the size of JFS' contribution, they said. Singer did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Rachel Flaum, a retired 74-year-old Latvian immigrant, said the program has been a lifeline to her. Through it, she has made close friends, attended the ballet and symphony, and learned about Jewish history and other subjects from the many guest speakers who have attended meetings over the years. She worries that her efforts to save the embattled program might fall short.

"It's very, very painful that they want to cancel this," she said. "It makes a big difference in our lives." -- MB

Register to Vote

The last day to register to vote for the March 2 Presidential Primary Election is Feb. 17. To ensure that your registration card is received on time to vote in the March election, you should obtain a form at your local post office, library or local County Elections Office. Or download the National Voter Registration Form from www.ss.ca.gov. The form must be postmarked by Feb. 17 in order for you to be registered and eligible to vote in the March election. -- Staff Report

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