Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
Should the Shalhevet student newspaper win the National Scholastic Press Association’s Pacemaker award, the student-journalists attending the Fall National High School Journalism Convention in San Antonio will be able to accept the award in person, even though the ceremony is set to take place on Nov. 17, which is Shabbat.
Permission to attend the ceremony came from the rabbinical authorities at the Modern Orthodox private high school, whose newspaper, The Boiling Point, is one of nine finalists competing for nation’s most coveted award for a student newspaper.
“They're sending a Judaic Studies faculty member to help chaperone, and we'll be dressed for Shabbat,” Joelle Keene, The Boiling Point’s faculty adviser, wrote in an email to The Journal on Sept. 28.
The Boiling Point is competing in the category for broadsheets of 17 pages or more. Keene said the plans for the student-journalists that day include Shabbat morning prayers and a festive Sabbath lunch in advance of the award ceremony.
“It should be a day to remember,” Keene wrote.
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September 27, 2012 | 5:24 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
President Barack Obama is expected to win a strong majority of Jewish votes in November, according to a national survey released by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) on Sept. 27.
Out of 1,040American Jews polled earlier this month, 65 percent of them said they were likely to cast ballots for Obama, while only 24 percent said they were likely to vote for his Republican challenger, former Massachusetts’ Governor Mitt Romney.
Of the 10 percent of voters polled who said they were still undecided, the group split along a similar line, with 63 percent leaning toward Obama and 27 percent leaning toward Romney.
Incorporating those undecided voters leaning each way into the overall result for Obama and Romney suggests that the President could win reelection with 71 percent of the Jewish vote.
That’s less than the 78 percent of Jewish votes the President took in 2008, but would still seem to be quite a far cry from the mass exodus of Jewish voters that was predicted by some pundits and partisan groups.
In releasing the results, AJC noted, “a striking divide by denomination.” Orthodox Jews support Romney by a margin of 54 to 40 percent; all other Jews prefer Obama by margins of at least forty percentage points.
When it comes to the issues motivating Jewish voters to vote for either Obama or Romney, the issue driving most Jewish voters is the economy; 90 percent of those surveyed ranked the economy as one of the top three issues they care about when considering whom to vote for.
By contrast, Jewish voters are far less likely to consider the U.S.-Israel relationship in deciding whom to vote for in November. Only 14.8 percent of Jewish voters ranked it as one of their top three issues that would guide them in casting their ballots.
Just because an issue doesn’t rank in the top three that drive most American Jews to vote one way or another, though, doesn’t mean that Jews aren’t concerned about the issue at all.
Only 6.4 percent of Jews ranked “Iran’s Nuclear Program” among their top three vote-driving concerns, but when asked how concerned they were about Iran’s obtaining a nuclear weapon, a majority – 55 percent – said they were very concerned, and an additional 32 percent responded that they were somewhat concerned.
Read the entire survey results here.
September 20, 2012 | 3:37 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
A new survey conducted by American Jewish Committee (AJC) earlier this month shows that 69 percent of Jewish voters in Florida are backing President Barack Obama; 25 percent of respondents said they would support Republican Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney.
The results, which are drawn from AJC’s not-yet-released national poll, confirm a great deal of conventional wisdom. They show that Jewish Democrats vastly outnumber Jewish Republicans, that Florida Jews are going to be casting their votes primarily based on the candidates’ positions on domestic issues like the economy and health care, and that they overwhelmingly trust Democrats more than Republicans when it comes to social issues including abortion rights and the separation of church and state.
The survey also found that 49 percent of respondents strongly disapproved of Romney’s choice of Rep. Paul Ryan (R – Wisc.) as his running mate, compared to 11 percent who strongly disapproved of Vice President Joe Biden.
But how much to infer from the survey’s most closely watched finding – that Obama would win Florida’s Jews 69 - 25 percent if the election had been held in early September – is hard to tell.
The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) put out a press release on Thursday stating that the poll “Hints at Trouble for Obama in Jewish Community.”
On the blog of the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC), meanwhile, the poll was interpreted as showing that the President was “Clearly Ahead Among Florida Jews.”
In dispute here isn’t whether Obama will win among Florida Jews, but how close he’ll be able to come to his 2008 result, when he took 78 percent of Jewish votes nationwide.
“We have seen ample evidence in many recent polls that Pres. Obama will have difficulty reaching the same level of Jewish support that he received in 2008,” Matt Brooks, executive director of RJC, said in the press release, which described the AJC poll as showing the President “would receive just 69 percent of the Jewish vote in Florida.”
The NJDC blog post, which went live before the RJC’s press release was distributed, anticipated and attempted to rebut the RJC’s line of argument.
Five percent of the Florida Jewish voters in the AJC survey were undecided on whom to support in the Presidential contest, leading the NJDC blogger to conclude that since “there are (generally) no undecided voters on Eelction Day,” a better number to use would be the poll’s result without the undecided voters. Such a sample yields an Obama win by a margin of 73-26 percent among Florida Jews.
Drawn from a sample of 254 Jewish voters in this hotly contested swing state, the AJC survey was circulated without one crucial piece of information: its margin of error. Without that piece of data, it’s hard to say how much meaning to attribute to the apparent nine-point (or six-point, if the NJDC’s argument is convincing) drop from Obama’s 2008 result.
Thanks to $6.5 million from wealthy Jewish Republicans, including casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, the RJC is making a strong push for Jewish votes in Florida, one of a few key swing states that could decide the election.
But even if the RJC’s effort can help peel off some number of Jewish voters who supported Obama in 2008, a number of recent polls show Obama leading Romney nationally by margins ranging between 1 and 8 points.
September 20, 2012 | 12:36 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
For weeks, the warnings on Freeway signs have been advising motorists about the second weekend-long closure of the 405 Freeway on Sept. 29-30. But for observant Jews living in Los Angeles, there’s a separate hassle looming a few days earlier, and the warnings have been announced in dire tones and bold, red capital letters on the Los Angeles Community Eruv Web site.
“[T]here will be NO ERUV ON YOM KIPPUR THIS YEAR,” the text on the site reads. “The construction cannot be halted for us.”
Because Yom Kippur, which begins at sundown on Sept. 25, falls on a weekday when construction crews will be working on the expansion of the 405 Freeway, the Los Angeles eruv, a massive symbolic enclosure that allows observant Jews throughout most of the city to carry objects in public spaces almost every single Shabbat, will not be in operation.
The Day of Atonement may be the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, but as far as the prohibition on certain work-like activities goes, Yom Kippur is very much like an ordinary Sabbath, which means that carrying objects from a privately owned space to a public one is prohibited without an eruv.
And while fasting Jews won’t need to carry, say, bottles of wine or pans of kugel down the block for lunch next week, there are bound to be inconveniences, particularly for families with young children. Strollers, which may only be used with an eruv, will be prohibited this Yom Kippur, which could strand some parents at home this holiday.
If “Yom Kippurgeddon” was unavoidable, what’s notable about the eruv’s downing is how rarely it happens.
“We’ve been up for 10 years; we’ve ben down for two Shabboses [Sabbaths],” Howard Witkin, the L.A. eruv’s administrator, said. “We’ve got a pretty good track record.”
That record is even more impressive, considering just how much work has been going on each week to keep the eruv’s Western “wall” intact while construction has been going on. The L.A. eruv has a 40-mile circumference, most of which is made up of solid freeway walls in fences; along that entire circuit, there is no break wider than eight inches.
The section under construction, the 10-mile stretch of the 405 between the 10 and 101 Freeways, presents a difficulty, but with the cooperation of the contractor, Witkin said, most weekends haven’t presented a problem.
“There’s a trench right now that they’re putting in, on Sepulveda,” Witkin said. That trench, which is being built to facilitate drainage, leaves a 12- or 13-foot break in the wall, enough of a gap to render the entire eruv unkosher.
To keep the eruv in operation, Witkin explained, the eruv administrators have worked with the contractor, Kiewit, to ensure that such gaps are filled with “movable walls” made of “poles and some really flexible chicken wire” that are put in place by workers to eliminate those gaps.
“They play with scheduling of work,” Witkin said. “They just don’t use those areas on Saturdays. To ask them to do that in the middle of the week, on a working Wednesday, is just impossible.”
Dealing with the construction, however, has brought with it an increase in cost. The budget for the eruv in previous years, Witkin said, was about $80,000; this year, the costs have gone up to around $100,000. That expense is paid by members of orthodox synagogues across the city, whose members currently pay $56 per family year to support the eruv.
Witkin said he hoped the costs would go back down next year, once the 405 construction is completed.
Witkin was comfortable discussing the precise procedure of putting up temporary fencing – it takes about seven minutes, involves steel zip-ties and is done on an as-needed basis by (mostly non-Jewish) construction workers – but he didn’t want to weigh in on the intricacies of what is and is not permitted on Yom Kippur without an eruv.
“Talk to your local rav [rabbi] and have him tell you how you’re supposed to handle it,” he said.
September 15, 2012 | 10:30 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
A group of activists affiliated with the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions, or B.D.S. movement, which seeks to pressure Israel in various ways, publicly opposed the renewal of a bus contract between the city of Los Angeles and a company whose corporate parent does business in the West Bank.
At a meeting of the Los Angeles City Council transportation committee on Sept. 12, members of the Dump Veolia LA Coalition urged the committee members to oppose renewal of a contract with Veolia Transportation to operate DASH shuttle bus services in the Downtown and Mid-City areas.
“The basic message was that there are other companies bidding for this contract and we don’t believe that Veolia lives up to our city’s standards,” Estee Chandler, the Los Angeles organizer for Jewish Voice for Peace, told The Journal a few days after the hearing. “We feel that rewarding a company that is willing to enforce racist policies and run a segregated bus line reflects poorly on Los Angeles.”
By “racist policies,” Chandler was referring in part to the West Bank roads that are open to Jews but are inaccessible to the Palestinians who live in the area. Buses operated by French multinational Veolia TransDev run from Jerusalem to Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The company also had a role in building the Jerusalem tram line, which it now operates, and operates a waste facility in the West Bank.
Chandler said that about 50 people affiliated with the anti-Veolia coalition attended the meeting, and 33 were permitted to speak. The committee was not swayed by the BDS activists’ pleas, however. Councilmen Paul Koretz, Jose Huizar and Tom Labonge voted unanimously to recommend the five-year, $160 million contract to operate the DASH bus service in Los Angeles be awarded to Veolia.
Representatives from the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles were present at the hearing to urge committee members not to pay heed to the Dump Veolia Coalition.
Catherine Schneider, the senior vice president for community engagement at Federation, said that the Israel Action Network, a joint project of the Jewish Federations of North American and Jewish Council for Public Affairs, had helped alert Federation to the BDS effort.
Together with lay leaders from Federation’s community engagement committee, Schneider drafted a letter signed by eight local Jewish organizations. At the hearing, each speaker was allotted one minute; Schneider and three members of the community engagement committee used their time to read the letter into the record, each one picking up where the last left off.
“[W]hile we have no position on whether or not Veolia Transportation should be awarded the Downtown DASH contract,” the letter stated, “we are strongly opposed to the [Dump Veolia Coalition’s] misguided effort to entangle the City in a complex territorial dispute that can only be resolved through direct negotiations between the parties.”
The letter further also noted that heeding the protesters demands to drop Veolia might be illegal.
“Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions are not helpful for our city, not helpful for the advancement of peace, and the City Council's obligation is to pick the best vendor,” Schneider said. “Our main point here is that this was and should be about what’s best for the City of Los Angeles.”
Koretz, who chaired the meeting on Wednesday, at which he acknowledged that he is a supporter of Israel, agreed that the question wasn’t about Israel, but about L.A. The city, Koretz said in a statement emailed to the Journal, has “very specific laws about city contracting, especially regarding what is and isn’t to be considered.”
Koretz said the committee “took very much into account that staff strongly recommended Veolia Transportation due to its safety record and procedures and customer track record.”
BDS activists in Europe have been more successful in their efforts to get cities to drop contracts with Veolia than their counterparts in the United States have been, according to Marsha Steinberg, an independent Jewish activist who helped organize the Dump Veolia L.A. Coalition.
The matter has been placed on the consent calendar for the Sept. 19 meeting of the full City Council. No time will be specifically allocated to discuss the matter. Nevertheless, Steinberg said, BDS activists plan to attend the hearing.
September 11, 2012 | 2:20 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
Sheldon Adelson’s pledge to spend $100 million this year trying to elect a Republican President may have been eye-popping, but it’s not as large as the tax cut the billionaire casino mogul could reap should Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney be elected this November.
The potential windfall could add up to $2 billion over a four-year presidential term, according to a new report from the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
That report, published today, adds up the impact of the lower tax rates proposed by Romney on Adelson’s various income streams, including executive compensation, corporate dividends, capital gains and corporate earnings.
Adding those numbers up yields a $2.3 billion tax advantage for Adelson under a Romney-style tax code.
The real monetary advantage of a Romney tax plan might not accrue to Adelson himself, but rather to his heirs.
“All of these figures are dwarfed by the potential tax windfall that Adelson’s family would receive from Gov. Romney’s estate tax plan,” writes report author Seth Hanlon, director of fiscal reform at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Estate taxes – “death taxes” in Republican parlance – have existed since 1916. Adelson’s net worth is estimated at $19.7 billion; the difference between what his heirs would inherit under Obama’s proposed estate tax plan and Romney’s total abolition of the estate tax is $8.9 billion, or 89 times what Adelson has pledged to spend on political giving this year.
The Center for American Progress Action Fund is the sister organization of the Center for American Progress, a nine-year-old resarch and advocacy organization founded by alumni of the Clinton Administration. Both organizations share the same overall progressive outlook, but the action fund is, under U.S. tax law, allowed to engage in direct lobbying activites in ways that the Center for American Progress cannot.
Click here (pdf) to read the report.