November 15, 2007
Meet some extraordinary givers
It was Naty Saidoff's son, Josh, who inspired him to become active in Jewish causes.
When Josh attended Stanford seven years ago, he told his father there was no Jewish activism on behalf of Israel in Northern California.
"He made me aware of the fact that our Jewish existence is very tenuous; that in Europe we already lost the hearts and minds of students, but in America, the battle [for support of Israel] still remains to be fought on campus," said Naty Saidoff, 53, who was born in Israel and founded Capital Foresight Investment, a real estate holding company and hedge fund.
The younger Saidoff, born to an Israeli father and American mother, became the president of the Stanford Israel Alliance, which identifies itself as "a pro-peace, pro-Israel advocacy group."
"His involvement inspired me, and his awareness made me be aware how few we are and how there is no other person that's going to do the job. There's no magical Jewish organization that will fill in. Unless he did it, unless I did it, unless a friend did it, there would be nobody to pick up the slack."
Today Naty Saidoff sits on the board of StandWithUs, the international pro-Israel advocacy group, and the national board of governors of The American Jewish Committee, as well as the newly formed Israeli Leadership Club, which gathers top Israeli business leaders to encourage the Israeli community in Los Angeles to become more active in Israel advocacy.
"Once I got involved I found it so fulfilling that I saw it incumbent upon myself to inspire others," Saidoff said. It's a selfish act on his part, he said. "I get to see the most interesting things, I get to meet the most special, wisest, most devoted people, and see the best side they have.... It expands your horizon, betters your quality of life, gives you a sense of purpose, personal growth." He is asking his Israeli community to be self-serving by serving others. "Because ultimately, they will get back much more than they will give."
-- Amy Klein, Religion Editor
Dr. Daniel Lieber
If Islamic radicals can teach their kids how to hate Jews, why can't we teach other kids to love Jews and Israel? This was the question posed by medical oncologist Dr. Daniel Lieber, who came up with the idea of reaching out to Catholic high school students, especially those who'd had little or no interaction with Jews and little knowledge of the modern and democratic state of Israel.
Lieber's idea spawned the Holy Land Democracy Project, a collaborative venture between the Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC) of The Jewish Federation and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Lieber, 55, chairs the project and personally contributes up to $20,000 each year.
Now in its fourth year, the project, headed by JCRC Associate Director Elaine Albert with Rabbi Hal Greenwald as assistant director, selects six to eight Catholic teachers and administrators annually to receive 12 hours of training, after which they travel to Israel with Jewish leaders and educators for 10 intensive days of sightseeing and learning. They then return to teach a five-hour course to their ninth- through 12th- graders.
To date, more than 6,500 students in Southern California have benefited from the program, which is rapidly expanding to other parts of California. For next spring's trip, the program has already received applications from 30 Catholic high school teachers, the highest number ever. "We are trying to take as many as is appropriate and raise the money," Lieber said.
Meanwhile, Lieber is working with American Jewish Committee to roll out the program nationwide.
The land of Israel that the teachers experience, and later convey to their students, is not the war-torn and controversial country seen on newscasts and in newspapers. Rather, they are introduced to a tiny nation in the center of the Middle East that is dedicated to a modern and democratic way of life, with freedom of religion, freedom of speech and a free political process.
In his Santa Monica-based practice as a medical oncologist, Lieber works in Catholic hospitals and partners with Catholic colleagues, with whom he is comfortable engaging in theological and political discussions.
He believes that the Catholic high school students, who will become tomorrow's business and political leaders, are capable of learning the same respect and tolerance toward Israel and Israelis, who, they discover, have issues and aspirations similar to theirs. Lieber was raised in a committed, pro-Israel Jewish family in Los Angeles. He now lives in West Los Angeles with his wife, Enid, a non-practicing attorney. They have three children: Sarah, 22; Dena, 17; and David, 12.
While he was growing up, Lieber always wondered what he would have done to help the European Jews during World War II. After Sept. 11, sensing that Jews were once again in peril, he didn't want to regret not having taken action.
Lieber has accompanied the Catholic educators on two of the four trips to Israel and is impressed by how "good, serious and ethical" they are. He is also impressed with the students, especially with the loving ways in which they speak of Israel in their "Many Faces of Israel" art, essay and poetry projects. The students were honored this year at the annual culminating ceremony on June 20 at the Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral.
"It makes you feel there is a bright future," Lieber says.
For more information on the Holy Land Democracy Project, contact Elaine Albert at EAlbert@JewishLA.org or (323) 761-8154.
-- Jane Ulman, Contributing Editor
Soon after Marilyn Ziering and her husband, Sigi, moved from the East Coast to Los Angeles in the 1960s, she was sitting in a synagogue and listening as the names of various donors were called out for their support of Israel. She recalls thinking "I wish there will be a time when I can do that too."
She pledged to herself that if someday she were to become rich enough, she would give away her money.