Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
It’s Israel Apartheid Week, when college campuses across America are overtaken by paper-mache walls, cardboard tanks and a whole lot of criticism of the Jewish state. Do you know where the voices speaking up for Israel are?
They’re all over the map.
Tonight, a film called “Israel Inside” is having its premiere at the Writers Guild of America theatre (7000 West 3rd Street, 7pm). The film follows a former Harvard professor who moves back to Israel and explores all that is good about his country.
The film was produced by Rabbi Raphael Shore, formerly of Aish HaTorah and the founder of The Clarion Fund and directed and edited by Wayne Kopping. Judging from the trailer, “Israel Inside” seems like a bright and happy companion piece the Clarion Fund’s earlier films about radical Islam. Think “Start-Up Nation” with a brightly surging soundtrack. Expect a lot of talk about high tech innovation and little about conflict—any conflict.
One day later, a few miles to the West and occupying the opposite end of the pro-Israel spectrum, Uri Zaki, the director of the United States arm of the Israeli human right group B’Tselem, will be speaking to the UCLA chapter of J Street U (Dodd Hall, Room 146 from 4:30-6 PM). According to a flyer for the event, he’ll explain “how human rights violations in the West Bank and Gaza undermine Israel’s democracy and its future.”
Self-described pro-Israel Jews working to support the Jewish state in radically conflicting ways? Maybe Apartheid week isn’t all that different from the rest of the year.
“Israel Inside” is also airing on KVCR at 8:00 pm on Thursday, March 1.
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February 8, 2012 | 3:22 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
Something about the description of the American Phoenix Super PAC made me all but certain that the person behind it had some Jewish connection. It was two things, actually, both included in the Super PAC’s 23-item “statement of purpose”:
2. Ban circumcision before the age of 18 and declare the practice mutilation.
3. Declare Islam a hostile political party, not a religious organization.
An anti-Muslim intactivist pushing the boundaries of election law?
Sure enough, Michael Benjamin of Hialeah, Fla., who founded American Phoenix in order to raise money and independently support candidates who align with his agenda, is half-Jewish.
Benjamin’s Super PAC got the attention of, among others, a writer at Foreign Policy, who pointed out that his “views are a little hard to pin down on the right-left spectrum.”
No kidding. In addition to banning circumcision of boys under 18 (“it’s a choice that should be made by the man and not by his father,” he said), Benjamin’s Super PAC advocates for the revocation or revision of all American free trade agreements, the elimination of toll roads and red light cameras and doing away with pensions for all elected officials.
But he’s most concerned about what he sees as the forces of Islam that are threatening the United States.
“They have already taken over Europe,” Benjamin told me over the phone. “They are already working on the African Americans.”
“Imagine,” he continued,” if one percent of these people become radicalized.”
Benjamin grew up in Iran in a household with one Jewish parent and one Muslim one. He lived in Israel for a few years, and he now runs a company dedicated to providing deep-sea burials. The company reportedly runs the Super PAC, and some have raised questions about whether it’s legal for a corporation, even a nonprofit one, to do so. But at least the connection helps explain the first item on the American Phoenix agenda:
1. Ban cremation as a polluting, energy wasting form of departure and replace it with deep-sea burial in an effort to re-nourish the sea.
The amount of energy it takes to cremate one body, Benjamin said, could power a train from Miami to Jacksonville. And deep-sea burial provides fish and other undersea wildlife with the food they need to survive.
“I’ve seen how fish use the protein,” Benjamin said. “They would use 100 percent of it. Nothing is wasted.”
Benjamin hasn’t raised any money yet, the result, he says, of a concerted attack on his websites by his Islamic enemies.
“It shows you the level of the involvement of these people,” Benjamin said. “It’s easier to hack the pentagon than Gmail.”
February 3, 2012 | 5:35 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
A popular music teacher at Hamilton High School is facing multiple allegations of sexual abuse.
For 17 years, Vance Miller taught in the magnet music academy at the public high school, which is located near the Pico-Robertson neighborhood and attracts many Jewish students. Miller, 59, had been teaching in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) since 1978, and was removed from the classroom in September 2010. He had been named Southern California’s Outstanding Music Educator of the Year earlier that year.
Coming in the wake of another veteran teacher’s dismissal from Miramonte Elementary School after being charged with multiple counts of lewd conduct, LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy told the Los Angeles Times that the district could commence dismissal proceedings against Miller as early as next week.
But for the lawyer representing two of Miller’s alleged victims, the district’s response is too late, and insufficient.
“Why has the school not reached out to potential victims, to parents to inform them?” asked Anthony De Marco, a lawyer who specializes in civil litigation of abuse cases. “That to me astonishing.”
De Marco represents two adult men who were students of Miller’s in the 1990s, both of whom allege the teacher sexually abused them over an extended period. Both allege that Miller began by giving them hugs, kisses on the lips and massages, and later escalated their relationship into a sexual one.
De Marco filed a lawsuit (pdf) on behalf of one client in April 2011 naming Miller and LAUSD as defendants, seeking damages for negligence and sexual battery. In November 2011, De Marco filed a claim for damages (pdf) against LAUSD on behalf of a second former student of Miller’s, and said he expects to file a lawsuit in that case soon.
In the lawsuit the first client alleges that Miller brought him to his home. The second client alleges the music teacher took him to the YMCA in Westwood where they would work out together and occasionally shower naked together. De Marco, who has interviewed many former students of Miller’s and heard stories corroborating those his clients have told, said the teacher also took students to his church, Knox Presbyterian.
Still, De Marco pointed out, it wasn’t until the story about Miller appeared in media reports that the began to move toward dismissal.
“The school district has known about my clients’ complaints since July 2010,” De Marco said in an interview on February 3, “and they have known that there are multiple others for a full year.”
According to KPCC, when Miller was removed from his classroom in 2010, he was not placed on administrative leave, and “[p]arents weren’t told why the head of the orchestra was gone and a substitute was in his place.”
Attempts to contact members of the LAUSD School Board on Friday were unsuccessful.
February 3, 2012 | 3:35 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
Unlike Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who is coyly flirting with a run for a Congressional seat in New Jersey, Jewish comedienne Roseanne Barr appears to be “quite serious” in her quest to be the Green Party’s nominee for President of the United States.
She’s running on a platform that is anti-war, pro-hemp, pro-women and anti-bull____.
Many wonder if Barr, who sang Hatikvah on camera last year because Jewish Journal Arts and Entertainment Editor Naomi Pfefferman asked her to, might just be doing it for the publicity. After all, she did just sell a pilot to NBC.
“This could just be a preshow blitz for her,” a Republican campaign strategist told the Christian Science Monitor. “After all, the big reward for aspiring politicians these days is not a slot on the ticket, but a TV show. Just look at Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin.”
Barr is no fan of Palin’s—see “ten million bitches march”—but she might conceivably be taking a page out of that politician-turned-reality-TV-star’s handbook. After all, when Barr first outlined her platform on her website in 2010, she said she would also run this year for prime minister of Israel. On the “green tea party ticket.”
Again: Barr says she’s 100 percent serious.
“I will barnstorm American living rooms,” Barr said in a candidate questionnaire submitted to the Green Party, the Associated Press reports. “Mainstream media will be unable to ignore me, but more importantly they will be unable to overlook the needs of average Americans in the run-up to the 2012 election.”
February 2, 2012 | 10:57 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
This Sunday, with millions watching around the world, it won’t be tough to find a TV tuned to the Super Bowl between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots. But for Giants fans in Los Angeles looking for a raucous and supportive crowd, O’Briens Irish Pub in Santa Monica is the place to be, and that’s largely thanks to the efforts of Steven Ohsie.
“KTLA came and filmed a bunch of segments on Monday morning,” said Ohsie, a pathologist who was born in New Jersey and has been a Giants fan all his life. Since that report earlier this week, the pub’s phone has been ringing non-stop.
“It’s going to be beyond packed,” Ohsie said.
In 2007, Ohsie wasn’t looking to start a club for Giants fans; he was just looking for a place to watch Giants games that weren’t being shown on local television. But after some research, he found that Pats fans had Sonny McClean’s in Santa Monica, groups of Cincinatti Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers fans gathered at Barney’s Beanery on the Third Street Promenade, and supporters of the G-Men had nowhere to gather.
What started with a mass email to addresses culled from a Giants fan website later migrated to meetup.com. Here’s how Ohsie describes the group (and himself) on its home page, www.giantsfansinla.com:
We are the largest New York Giants fan group west of the Delaware River. We meet every Sunday (and sometimes Monday Night) to watch Big Blue lay waste to their opponents. Our current home is O’Brien’s Irish Pub, 2226 Wilshire Blvd between 22nd and 23rd street, Santa Monica, CA 90403. You can recognize me by my Aaron Ross jersey and the Giants kipa (Jewish skullcap) on my head.
Yup, in addition to being a die-hard Giants fan since he was around 10 years old, Ohsie is Jewish. He’s Sabbath-observant, too—he is a lay leader of an early-Shabbat-morning minyan at Beth Jacob, a Modern Orthodox synagogue near Pico-Robertson—so when the Giants play on Saturdays, as they did against the Jets on Christmas Eve this season, Ohsie fires up his DVR on Friday afternoon and waits until after sunset on Saturday to watch.
Although he does harbor a few concerns about whether the Giants might “lay an egg” when they take the biggest stage in sports this Sunday, Ohsie is pretty confident in his team’s ability to put up points.
“I’m not so worried about their offense,” he said. “The Giants have enough receivers that I think one of them will be open enough.”
The Giants’ biggest challenge, Ohsie said, will be to put pressure on Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady and shut down his two tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. “New England’s tight ends are a step above every other team’s,” he said.
When it comes to fostering fan experiences for out-of-towners, Ohsie is an evangelist. I first met him while sitting in the stands at Dodger Stadium. He was wearing a blue hat with two orange Hebrew letters on it—mem-tzadi, which spells “Mets”—and tzitzit peeking out from beneath his replica Mets Jersey.
When he heard a few transplanted New Yorkers cheering when a Dodger batter went down swinging, he immediately approached with a business card in his outstretched hand. He has also organized a group of Mets fans to watch games on Sundays during baseball season, and the group makes an annual pilgrimage to Chavez Ravine to root against the home team. But with the Mets being, well, the Mets, Ohsie said that more people are showing up for football.
That wasn’t the case in the latter half of the New York Football Giants’ 2007-08 season, though. Ohsie was a medical resident at the time, and while the first few games brought out about a dozen or so guys, the numbers dwindled as the weeks passed.
But any Giants fan—or Patriots fan, for that matter—remembers exactly how that season turned out. The two teams played against each other in the last game of the regular season, a memorable match-up that ended when the Patriots staged a fourth-quarter comeback that helped seal their perfect 16-0 record.
Despite the loss, the Giants qualified for the playoffs as a Wild Card. Ohsie and his fellow fans were together—the meeting spot was Rick’s Tavern On Main in Santa Monica back then—to watch Big Blue beat the higher-ranked Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A television crew from Fox 11 was on hand, and the next week, when the Giants faced the Dallas Cowboys, that bar was stuffed with fans.
“Everyone had seen it,” Ohsie said. When the Giants beat Dallas (a victory so unexpected it provoked this early Hitler-rant) the TV cameras came back to Rick’s for the NFC Championship Game, which saw the Giants beat the Green Bay Packers, setting up a rematch with the Patriots in the Super Bowl.
That was when the Giants brought New England’s perfect season to a stunning end. According to the website, there were 59 people at Rick’s for the 2008 Super Bowl. Ohsie wasn’t one of them. He bought a ticket from a guy in the Valley the week before the game, and headed to Arizona. He later learned he could’ve done better buying one in the parking lot at the last minute, but still felt the money was well spent.
“I was at the game and you could see that Tyree was open,” Ohsie said, recalling the incredible “helmet catch” by Giants Wide Receiver David Tyree that set up the last-minute game-winning touchdown.
This time around, Ohsie is saving his pennies (“I’ve been to Indianapolis before; I don’t need to see it again”) and heading for O’Brien’s. The doors open at 11 am, and the first 80 or so people who arrive will get in on a first-come, first-served basis.
Of course, for those who’ve been watching the Giants at O’Brien’s with Ohsie, week-in, week-out, for the last three years, certain arrangements have been made.
“I do have a seat saved for me, yes,” Ohsie said.