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Community Briefs

May 20, 2004 | 8:00 pm

Shefa Fund Assists South L.A.

The Philadelphia-based Jewish charity Shefa Fund has started its first major West Coast philanthropic work this spring with the "Los Angeles TZEDEC Initiative," which supports low-income loans for homeowners in poor neighborhoods. The Jewish charity has given $500,000 to local banks making low-income homeowner loans, predominantly in low-income South Los Angeles.

Financial institutions Broadway Federal Bank, Clearinghouse CDFI and Los Angeles Neighborhood Housing Services will share Shefa's $500,000 community reinvestment funds, with the initiative's donors including film producers Douglas Wick and Lucy Fisher and The Annenberg Foundation. It has taken Shefa's West Coast office in Santa Monica about three years to gain bank regulators' approval to donate funds specifically for the loan.

"We are putting forward our half-shekel," said Shefa founder and president Jeffrey Derko at a recent South L.A. event launching the TZEDEC Initiative with supporters including Shefa board chair Deborah Fleischaker, New Mexico deputy secretary of economic development. -- David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Lantos' Claims Anger Austrians

Austrian diplomats in Los Angeles and Washington have taken issue with an indictment of their country by Rep. Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo) by asserting that Austria's attitude toward its Nazi past has changed drastically in the past 15 years.

In an address at the Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration in Los Angeles last month, the Hungarian-born Lantos declared, "I am tired of being told that Austria was the first victim of Hitler, when in fact Austria was the first ally of Hitler."

Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor serving in Congress, added, "I look forward to the day, not far in the future, when the Austrian government ... will follow suit with the Hungarian government and say 'Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa' [Through my fault, through my most grievous fault,]" the Los Angeles Times reported.

In a subsequent letter to Lantos, Eva Nowotny, Austria's ambassador to the United States, responded to the "harsh criticism" by transmitting a speech by former Austrian Chancellor Franz Vranitzky to his parliament in 1991.

In it, wrote Nowotny, "He acknowledged guilt and responsibility for the atrocities committed by Austrian citizens during the Holocaust, a speech which has changed Austria's official position forever."

Austrian Consul General Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal in Los Angeles, who was present when Lantos spoke, conceded that the congressman's criticism was to the point until about 15 years ago. He even credited Lantos for accelerating the turnaround.

"I was born in 1957, and when I went to school we learned nothing about the Holocaust," he said. "But now, all schools have a mandatory three years of Holocaust education."

Relations between Austria on the one hand, and Israel and the Jewish community on the other, have been strained a few times during the post-war era. Much acrimony revolved around the figure of Kurt Waldheim, secretary-general of the United Nations and later president of Austria, who was barred from the United States for his activities as a Nazi army officer during World War II. More recently, participation of the far-right Freedom Party, led by Joerg Haider, in the Austrian coalition government prompted Israel to recall its ambassador from Vienna.

On the plus side, Launsky-Tieffenthal cited a long list of actions by his government since the early 1990s, including various restitution funds to Holocaust victims, criminal laws targeting neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers and close cooperation with Jewish organizations in Austria and the United States.

David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, observed that "Austria has lagged far behind Germany, which has acknowledged responsibility for the Holocaust and maintains a special relationship with Israel. But in recent years, Austria has confronted its past and the country has had an impeccable record in aiding Jewish refugees, particularly from the Soviet Union, to reach Israel," Harris said.

Lantos spokeswoman said that "Congressman Lantos has been in touch with the Austrian embassy directly. He prefers not to speak with an envoy through a journalist." -- Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Free Financial Series

The Jewish Community Foundation (JCF) will kick off a free monthly educational series May 25 covering charitable planning topics aimed at professional financial advisers. Organized in honor of the foundation's 50th anniversary, the breakfast seminars will be offered monthly throughout 2004 at both the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills and the Courtyard by Marriot in Sherman Oaks. Top experts will lead such topics as "Estate and Charitable Planning For Artists, Writers and Composers" and "Stocks and Charitable Planning." JCF manages assets of $475 million and distributed more than $42 million in grants in 2003. For more information about the series, call (323) 761-8707. -- Adam Wills, Associate Editor

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