Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
A few weeks ago, I was driving down the 710 and talking with an old colleague about the person I was en route to interview. My subject was Josh Lowenthal, the self-styled black sheep of his Long Beach family.
See, Josh has done well: he attended Cornell, lived in Israel and started and sold a few telecom businesses. But he remains the only member of the Lowenthal tribe to not hold elected office. His father, Alan, is a state senator; mother, Bonnie, is a Long Beach Councilwoman, as is his sister-in-law, Suja. And her husband, Josh’s brother Dan, is a Superior Court Judge.
“What’s the angle?” my friend asked.
“Well,” I quipped, “I’m pitching the profile as a microcosm of Jewish world dominance.”
This of course was not my approach, though I’ve written a lot about Jewish power and political involvement (never as insightfully as J.J. Goldberg) and about that century-old canard of a Jewish plan to takeover the world. Instead here I focused on the reasons Josh has yet to follow in his family’s footsteps and why he eventually will.
Lowenthal, 38, grew up in a progressive Jewish family, the kind of home that sang Bob Dylan songs on Shabbat. His parents, now divorced, both taught psychology at Cal State Long Beach and were active in the community. On returning home in the afternoon from public school, he’d encounter community meetings in his living room, often organized by his mother to address homeless issues.
“There is a deeply felt sense of tikkun olam [heal the world] that is based in that family in ways that I wish all families would emulate,” said Assemblyman Mike Feuer, whose then-L.A. City Council staff Josh Lowenthal joined after returning from Israel in the mid-‘90s. “It may not be always exclusively stated, though it is evident in the way they live, but one mission in life is to reach out and help other people. It is more than a political imperative for that family. For the Lowenthals it is a moral imperative.”
The clearest example of this in Josh Lowenthal’s life can be found in a social service building with an industrial faÃ§ade in the Port of Long Beach. The Long Beach Multi-Service Center is provided by the city to 14 agencies, including Goodwill, the Long Beach Rescue Shelter and Children Today. Here the homeless come to shower, do their laundry, check their voicemail, meet with social workers or, particularly in the case of children, simply get off the street.
Last month, Children Today served 762 children. Six weeks to 6 years old, they met from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. with caregivers who help them cope with losses as seemingly trivial, though not insignificant, as their toys and as traumatic as a family member.
“It’s day care with a therapeutic component,” said Dora Jacildo, the charity’s executive director.
Children Today started in 1997, and Lowenthal joined the board four years later. It provided a channel for Lowenthal, who by the end of the dot-com boom was doing quite well, to give back to the people he thought needed the most help.
The toddlers parrot their teacher as he walks in and out of their classroom on a recent visit. Lowenthal wears a gray pinstripe suit and light-blue shirt, his beard trim and his prematurely gray hair gelled and spiked. He speaks as proudly of Children Today—the only homeless program accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children—as he does of the telecommunication companies he started or his nightclub, Sachi.
“For him, it’s a world of promise. And he looks for vehicles to bring that promise to fruition,” said his mother. “He experienced so much support as a youngster growing up in Long Beach, and I think he is trying his hardest to give back.”
And if Ellis isn’t recalled, this certainly won’t be the last time Josh Lowenthal is mentioned as a political candidate.
“I don’t have to be an elected official,” he hastened. “I really believe there are two types of elected officials: There are those who want to do something and those who want to be something. I really want to do something—and will, whether elected of not.”
(Image: The District Weekly)
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March 27, 2008 | 2:44 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Purim is like the Jewish Mardi Gras, complete with altar-ego antics and binge drinking. My VideoJew colleague, Jay Firestone, who has proven quite the formidable Scrabulous opponent, brings you up to speed in this video on “The Purim Hangover.”
March 27, 2008 | 10:58 am
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Now I don’t believe science will prove God doesn’t exist, but the Higgs boson is a hypothetical particle that would help explain how massless elementary particles create matter. Dubbed the “God particle,” scientists have been clamoring to discover it for the past few years.
“The Higgs boson is interesting because it is the only reasonable explanation we have for the origin of mass,” says Dave Rainwater, a researcher at FermiLab. “Without the Higgs, all fundamental particles would be massless, and the universe would be very different. The weak nuclear forces wouldn’t be weak at all, for instance, so the elemental composition of the cosmos would be radically different, stars would shine differently, and we probably wouldn’t exist.”
The best experimental data on the Higgs boson so far comes from experiments done with the LEP collider at CERN, near Geneva, in 2000. Results indicated that the Higgs particle was too heavy to be detected by the collider and that it probably had a mass of 114 billion electron-volts (GeV). The Tevatron is expected to be able to spot the Higgs in a couple of years, if it is not heavier than 170 GeV to 180 GeV.
If all else fails, the Large Hadron Collider being built at CERN, scheduled to go online in 2007, is designed to guarantee discovery of the Higgs. With a 27-kilometer-circumference tunnel, the LHC will collide protons at seven times the energy levels of the Tevatron.
And the payoff for whoever discovers the Higgs boson? Nothing less than a Nobel Prize. “Its discovery would be one of the crowning achievements of modern science, and validate decades of intense research,” says John Conway, a professor at Rutgers University.
“We believe that the Higgs is the key to unlocking the mystery of the elementary particles: the quarks and the leptons. The standard model does not give us the answers to many questions: Why are there three ‘generations’ of matter particles? Why do they have the masses and electric charges that they do? The Higgs is believed to be related to the mechanism by which the matter particles get their mass, but there is no good theory yet as to why different particles have different masses.”
In other words, scientists believe the Higgs holds the key to our existence and the answer to God’s too. In anticipation of the Large Hadron Collider experiment, which did not occur last year but is planned for this summer, Newsweek spoke with theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg, who has a skeptical view of the need for religion but assures that the discovery of the Higgs will not bring an end to faith.
After this experiment, will we have a final theory of how the universe was created?
It is possible that this experiment will give theoretical physicists a brilliant new idea that will explain all the particles and all the forces that we know and bring everything together in a beautiful mathematically consistent theory. But it is very unlikely that a final theory will come just from this experiment. If had to bet, I would bet it won’t be that easy.
As we come closer to developing an ultimate theory of the universe, how will this impact religion?
As science explains more and more, there is less and less need for religious explanations. Originally, in the history of human beings, everything was mysterious. Fire, rain, birth, death, all seemed to require the action of some kind of divine being. As time has passed, we have explained more and more in a purely naturalistic way. This doesn’t contradict religion, but it does takes away one of the original motivations for religion.
You’ve said that Darwin’s theory of natural selection was the biggest step in this direction. What about the possible findings in particle physics?
I don’t think that discoveries in elementary particle physics in themselves are likely to have anything like the impact of Darwin’s theory. After all, I don’t know of any religious people who say that the breaking of the symmetry between the weak and the electromagnetic interactions requires divine intervention. Discovering the Higgs boson, confirming the theory of electroweak symmetry breaking, is not going to upset people’s religion.
March 26, 2008 | 7:06 am
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
We are now firmly into March Madness, with the Sweet Sixteen beginning tomorrow, and that means three things: decreased work productivity, a deep run by the Bruins and a lovable Jewish coach known best for his high-flying persona and his creamsicle-orange sports coat. I’m not a Tennessee fan, but I do like Bruce Pearl (pictured in less clothes than usual), even if he does have a penchant for hugging women my age. He received this favorable profile in The Washington Post:
He is the grandson of an Austrian Jew who came to America in the 1920s and lost scores of relatives in the Holocaust. He was reared conservatively by his parents, Barbara and Bernie Pearlmutter, a salesman who shortened the name to Pearl for convenience sake, in Boston in the racially charged 1970s. He learned to think hard about right and wrong on social issues such as forced busing, to appreciate the ethnic mix of Boston from Southie to the North End, and to defend his faith with his fists.
“I grew up watching kids swing at each other because their skin was a different color,” he says.
Pearl was a three-sport star at Sharon High who consciously set out to counter stereotypes. “And of course there was something stereotypically not tough about being Jewish,” he says. He resented it when the annual athletic banquets would begin with “In Christ’s name we pray.” It made him feel discounted, excluded. God was with him, too, he told himself. When his friends crossed themselves, he made the Star of David.
When he was a senior, he was playing first base one afternoon when a base runner called him a “Jew Boy.” Pearl tapped his glove, signaling the pitcher to throw to first. When the ball slapped into Pearl’s mitt, he whirled, smacked it into the runner’s face and started swinging. “I went to dukes,” he says. He was tossed from the game.
He had his choice of local colleges, but he specifically chose Boston College because it was the best sports school in town, and because he wanted to prove a Jewish student could make it at a Catholic university.
“I wanted kids to meet someone who was Jewish, and have them say, ‘Gosh, you don’t look Jewish, or act Jewish,’ ” he says. “I wanted to talk about religion, to have those discussions.”
When Pearl took his team on tour of Europe last summer, he scheduled a stop at the Terezin concentration camp. As they toured the site, he told his players, “They killed 6 million of us 50 years ago ‘cause of how we prayed.”
Shortly before the team reconvened on campus this fall, Pearl’s daughter Leah celebrated her bat mitzvah, and Pearl invited his players. He beams as he tells the story of how warm it made him feel to gaze through the crowd at the Heska Amuna synagogue and see his players towering over the heads of the guests, some of the Vols 6 feet 9 or taller.
“Here came these talk, dark, handsome men, all wearing yarmulkes,” Pearl says delightedly. Then he adds his favorite detail: how he heard some of the players greeting the other well-wishers.
“They were going, ‘Shalom, y’all.’ “
(Hat tip: GetReligion)
March 25, 2008 | 9:26 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
I have an article in this week’s Jewish Journal about the $10 million Cheryl and Haim Saban pledged this month to the Los Angeles Free Clinic, where Cheryl was a patient 25 years ago, a few years before she married the man behind “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.” While writing that article, I came across this 15-month-old piece from Ari Shavit, one of Ha’aretz’ great writers, about the family’s Christmas tree and Haim’s journey from Egyptian ghetto to Beverly Hills billionaire.
As the gaping guest walks by the neatly trimmed lawn and the wooden wheel of the imaginary water mill and the windows of the chateau, a heavy door opens for him, beyond which a gigantic Christmas tree sparkles and shines with its decorations. In the long stone corridors that lead to the wood-paneled guest room, the familiar songs of Naomi Shemer play softly: Whatever you wish, let it be. Whatever you wish, let it be.
Saban himself enters a few minutes later. He is somewhat excited. He didn’t really want to be interviewed, but decided there was no choice. At the weekend he will convene the Saban Forum for the third time, and the gathering obliges public relations. Since he lost the hold he had in the White House through his good friends Bill and Hillary Clinton, the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution and the Saban Forum have become his levers of influence on political Washington and on Jerusalem. (For the sake of proper disclosure: The author of this article was invited to lecture at the Saban Forum.)
n recent years, the ability of the colorful Israeli-American billionaire to bring together Ariel Sharon and Bill Clinton, Shimon Peres and Henry Kissinger, Tzipi Livni and Condoleezza Rice has become one of the achievements of which he is proud. During the two years in which his personal fortune grew from $2.2 billion to $2.8 billion (according to Forbes), Saban succeeded in adding to the list of power centers he controls this prestigious annual gathering of senior Israeli and American figures for a joint dialogue.
Does Haim Saban understand the suspicions that his large and well-connected fortune arouses in Israel? Does he see the problematic character of the relations between big capital and government? Even before he sits down in his armchair, Saban goes on the attack.
My favorite part is the headline, which seems to have no place in the text: “You made it big, you jerk.”
As for the Christmas tree, Cheryl is Christian; they’re raising their kids as Jews.
March 25, 2008 | 2:37 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
You’ve probably noticed that blogging has been fairly weak the past week. There is a reason for that, and it’s that I’ve been in and out of town and, it seems, too frenetically reporting or writing to thoughtfully blather.
Not that I am going to pick that up again quite yet, but here is an interesting excerpt from Slate of editor Jacob Weisberg’s new book “The Bush Tragedy” that focuses on the religious politics of our 43rd president:
If Bush’s theology is free of content, his application of it to politics is sophisticated and artful. Evangelical politics is a subject on which he has exercised his intellect, and perhaps the only one on which he qualifies as an expert. Bush began his study in 1985 on behalf of his father’s effort to become president. George H.W. Bush regarded televangelists like Pat Robertson as snake handlers and swindlers. Reflecting his parents’ attitude, Neil Bush referred to evangelical Christians in a speech for his father in Iowa as “cockroaches” issuing “from the baseboards of the Bible-belt.” For their part, the evangelicals felt no affinity for Bush Sr. They found his patrician background off-putting and suspected the sincerity of his conversion to the pro-life cause.
To help him with this problem, Bush Sr. brought in Doug Wead as his evangelical adviser and liaison. Wead had been involved in a group called Mercy Corps International, doing missionary relief work in Ethiopia and Cambodia, and gave inspirational speeches at Amway meetings. He was also a prolific memo writer. The most important of his memos is a 161-page document he wrote in the summer of 1985 and a long follow-up to it known as “The Red Memo.” Wead argued for “an effective, discreet evangelical strategy” to counter Jack Kemp, who had been courting the evangelicals for a decade, and Pat Robertson, whom he accurately predicted would run in the 1988 primaries. Wead compiled a long dossier on the evangelical “targets” he saw as most important for Bush. (“If Falwell is privately reassured from time to time of the Vice President’s personal friendship, he will be less likely to demand the limelight,” he wrote.) Wead made a chart rating nearly 200 leaders for various factors, including their influence within the movement, their influence outside of it, and their potential impact within early caucus and primary states. Billy Graham received the highest total score, 315, followed by Robert Schuller, 237; Jerry Falwell, 236; and Jim Bakker, 232.
Unbeknownst to Wead, Vice President Bush gave the Red memo to his oldest son. After George Jr. pronounced it sound, George Sr. closely followed much of its advice. For instance, Wead recommended that the vice president read the first chapter of Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, a book that had become a popular evangelical device for winning converts. “Evangelicals believe that this book is so effective that they will automatically assume that if the Vice President has read it, he will agree with it,” Wead wrote. Vice President Bush made sure that religious figures saw a well-worn copy on top of a stack of books in his office when they visited the White House and cited Lewis’ condemnation of the sin of pride as one of the reasons “we haven’t been inclined to go around proclaiming that we are Christians.” He also took Wead’s advice on how to answer the born-again question; in courting the National Religious Broadcasters with three speeches in three years; in inviting Falwell, James Dobson, and others to the White House; in cooperating with a cover story in the Christian Herald, the largest-circulation evangelical magazine at the time; and in producing a volume for the Christian book market.
George W. Bush became the campaign’s semiofficial liaison to the evangelical community in March 1987. “Wead, I’m taking you over,” he said at their first meeting, over Mexican food in Corpus Christi, telling him to ignore Lee Atwater, whom Wead had been reporting to. Wead recalls how anxious George W. was in political conversations with his dad. “He was a nervous wreck,” Wead told me. “He wanted his father to be proud of him.” Wead also recalled the son’s expressions of his own political interest. The campaign had prepared state-by-state analysis of the primary electorate in advance of Super Tuesday in 1988. “When he got the one on Texas, his eyes just bugged out,” Wead remembered. “This is just great! I can become governor of Texas just with the evangelical vote.”
The crucible of the campaign forged a close relationship between the two men. Wead, whom George W. called “Weadie,” says the candidate’s son spent an inordinate amount of time talking about sex. But he was so anxious to avoid any whiff or rumor of infidelity that he asked Wead to stay in his hotel room one night when he thought a young woman working on the campaign might knock on his door. “I tried to read to him from the Bible, because by that time he was sending me these signals,” Wead told me. “But he wasn’t interested. He just rolled over and went to sleep.”
Having Wead put him to bed was a way to advertise his marital fidelity, and to reinforce a distinction with his father, who was facing rumors about the Big A. Wead said Bush also liked having him around as an alternative to the company of drinking buddies from his pre-conversion period. But Bush resisted religious overtures as firmly as sexual ones. “He has absolutely zero interest in anything theologicalânothing,” Wead said. “We spent hours talking about sex â¦ who on the campaign was doing what to whomâbut nothing about God. And I tried many, many times.”
March 24, 2008 | 9:22 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
It’s March Madness, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the greatest player in college basketball history. So check him out on “The Colbert Report,” in search of Hitler’s booty. (Warning: It’s actually not that funny.)
March 23, 2008 | 12:49 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
VATICAN CITY - Italy’s most prominent Muslim, an iconoclastic writer who condemned Islamic extremism and defended Israel, converted to Catholicism Saturday in a baptism by the pope at a Vatican Easter service.
An Egyptian-born, non-practicing Muslim who is married to a Catholic, Magdi Allam infuriated some Muslims with his books and columns in the newspaper Corriere della Sera newspaper, where he is a deputy editor. He titled one book “Long Live Israel.”
As a choir sang, Pope Benedict XVI poured holy water over Allam’s head and said a brief prayer in Latin.
“We no longer stand alongside or in opposition to one another,” Benedict said in a homily reflecting on the meaning of baptism. “Thus faith is a force for peace and reconciliation in the world: distances between people are overcome, in the Lord we have become close.”
He did not speak to the press Saturday and his newspaper said it had no information about his conversion.
Allam said in the interview that he had made a pilgrimage to Mecca, as is required of all Muslims, with his deeply religious mother in 1991, although he was not otherwise observant.
“I was never practicing,” he was quoted as saying. “I never prayed five times a day, facing Mecca. I never fasted during Ramadan.”
Allam also explained his decision to title a recent book “Viva Israele” by saying he wrote it after he received death threats from Hamas.
“Having been condemned to death, I have reflected a long time on the value of life. And I discovered that behind the origin of the ideology of hatred, violence and death is the discrimination against Israel. Everyone has the right to exist except for the Jewish state and its inhabitants,” he said. “Today, Israel is the paradigm of the right to life.”
Read the rest here.