Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
After Sami Rahamim’s father, Reuven Rahamim, was killed in a workplace shooting in Minneapolis on Sept. 27, the 17-year-old high school senior began going to synagogue early every morning to say the Mourner’s Kaddish.
He has also become an advocate for stricter gun regulations in Minnesota, spending many days at the Minnesota state Capitol, as well as speaking at churches and synagogues, according to the Huffington Post.
Tomorrow evening, when the President delivers his State of the Union address, Rahamim will be in the gallery of the House of Representatives along with at least 16 other people affected by gun violence, part of an effort by gun control advocates in Congress to urge their colleagues to pass “common-sense gun law reforms.”
“Sami suffered a tragic loss. Yet he has stepped forward to make a difference in our community and our nation and I am proud to have him as my guest at the State of the Union,” said Rep. Keith Ellison (D – Minn.), in a statement.
Ellison, who is the first Muslim elected to Congress, Rep. Jim Langevin (D – R.I.), who was paralyzed as a teenager after being shot, and three other Representatives succeeded in persuading at least a dozen of their colleagues to invite victims of gun violence and family members of shooting victims to the speech tomorrow evening.
Three Jewish Freshmen in Congress, Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D - Long Beach), Rep. Brad Schneider (D - Ill.) and Rep. Lois Frankel (D - Fla.), are among those who have invited victims or family members of victims to join them as their guests.
Joshua Stepakoff, who was six years old in 1999 when he was shot by a white supremacist at the North Valley Jewish Community Center, will attend as the guest of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D – Calif.).
“Josh is a remarkable young man whose life was forever changed by a senseless act of mass gun violence,” Feinstein said in a statement. “It is important for members of Congress to see the faces behind these tragedies of gun violence.”
The gunman wounded five people at the JCC, including Stepakoff, who is now 20. He fired 70 rounds using a semiautomatic weapon, the sale of which had been prohibited in 1994 when Congress passed the Federal Assault Weapons Ban. That ban expired in 2004; last month, Feinstein, who sponsored the original legislation, introduced a new bill that would ban the sale and manufacture of assault weapons.
The effort to introduce new gun control legislation has proceeded at a furious clip since the shooting of 20 young children at a school in Newtown, Conn. Rahamim learned how to lobby last summer by participating in a program run by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, according to the Huffington Post, and has been putting that knowledge to use in his fight for gun law reform.
He participated in a round-table discussion with President Obama earlier this month and flew to New York to speak with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who started a group of mayors dedicated to curbing gun violence, which kills 33 Americans every day.
“My father lived the American Dream, but he died the American nightmare,” Rahamim wrote in an article for The Daily Beast, in which he urged Congress to pass the President’s proposals.
Some of the President’s proposals -- including banning high-capacity magazines that hold more than 10 bullets and instituting a universal background check for all gun purchases – will require action from Congress, something that gun control advocates acknowledge may be difficult to achieve.
For evidence of how much resistance there will be to new gun control legislation, one need only look to who another Representative has invited as his guest on Tuesday. Rep. Steve Stockman (R - Tex.) has invited Ted Nugent, the rock star and board member of the National Rifle Association, according to the New York Times.
5.15.13 at 4:51 pm | Attorney Ron Galperin is unhappy with Los Angeles. . .
4.25.13 at 12:28 pm | When Jesse Gabriel, an alumnus from the Jewish. . .
4.16.13 at 9:49 pm | “The appeal to violence and to extreme violence. . .
4.11.13 at 9:26 pm | Differences between the two veteran politicians. . .
4.10.13 at 10:29 pm | (Post includes a link to video of a one-hour. . .
4.4.13 at 11:35 pm | This time, he's off to Turkey.
5.15.13 at 4:51 pm | Attorney Ron Galperin is unhappy with Los Angeles. . . (752)
4.16.13 at 9:49 pm | “The appeal to violence and to extreme violence. . . (30)
4.10.13 at 10:29 pm | (Post includes a link to video of a one-hour. . . (28)
November 7, 2012 | 2:10 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
On Election Day, President Barack Obama won reelection with 50 percent of the national popular vote. In the Jewish community, support for the President was much greater – about 69 or 70 percent of American Jews, according to two exit polls of Jewish voters released on Nov. 7.
The two polls – one conducted for the Republican Jewish Coalition, the other for the progressive “pro-Israel pro-Peace” organization J Street – may have found similar levels of Jewish support for Obama this year, but the conclusions each sponsoring organization drew from the results could scarcely have been more different.
“There was essentially no net movement in the Jewish-American voting bloc above and beyond the movement that took place among other voters,” J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami said on a conference call with reporters on Wednesday.
RJC Executive Director Matthew Brooks, meanwhile, said he saw in the election results evidence of the Republican party’s making “unambiguous inroads” in the Jewish community.
“The bottom-line takeaway from these results is that these are very significant,” Brooks said on a separate conference call on Wednesday. “In terms of moving the needle in the Jewish community, it’s consistent with what the Republican Jewish Coalition has been saying.”
What explains the difference between these two conclusions? It’s all about context.
For the RJC, whose pollster found Obama had gotten 69 percent of Jewish votes, putting this year’s election results in the context of Jewish votes for Republicans in past Presidential contests reveals a trend of Republicans steadily gaining market share among American Jews.
Since 1992, when then-incumbent President George H. W. Bush took 11 percent of Jewish votes, the percentage of Jews voting for Republican presidential candidates has risen in all but one cycle – 2008. That year, Obama took 78 percent of the Jewish vote, according to national exit polls, and Brooks boasted that Jewish support for Republican nominee Mitt Romney in 2012 was “almost 50 percent” higher than what the 2008 Republican nominee John McCain had.
J Street’s national poll found Obama had the support of 70 percent of Jewish voters, and pollster Jim Gerstein compared that number to a closer analysis of the 2008 result that showed Obama was elected the first time with slightly less Jewish support than initially believed -- 74 percent, rather than 78 percent. A four-point drop among Jews this year – from 74 percent to 70 percent – was consistent with the drop in support for the President seen among many other groups of voters, Gerstein said.
Both polls also attempted to determine the degree to which a candidate’s position on Israel swayed Jewish votes, and by asking different questions, came up with very divergent conclusions about which direction their groups needed to move.
J Street’s pollster offered Jewish voters a choice of issues that concern them, and found that Jews across the country cast their ballots based primarily on concerns about the economy and health care, and that Israel only cracked the top-two in 10 percent of cases. Other poll results led the group to conclude that the President has a mandate to pursue a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The RJC’s pollster, Arthur Finkelstein, asked all respondents “how important issues concerning Israel” were in making their decision, and found that 77 percent of Jews considered Israel to be either important or very important. Brooks said that finding showed that, “The Israel issue is important and it does cut in the Jewish community.”
By one measure – the number of candidates who won and lost – the election last night was discouraging for the RJC. Candidates across the country backed by the RJC – Florida Congressional candidate Adam Hasner, Ohio Senate candidate Josh Mandel and Hawaii Senate candidate Linda Lingle – were all unsuccessful in their campaigns, as were Congressional candidates Rabbi Shmuley Boteach in New Jersey and Randy Altschuler in New York.
J Street’s Ben-Ami, meanwhile, said that of the 71 candidates backed by his group’s affiliated PAC that supports candidates who are in favor of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, 70 had either won election or were leading in races where the final results weren’t yet known. Ben-Ami called that record “an incredibly important demonstration of political support for candidates who espouse a ‘pro-Israel, pro-Peace’ set of positions.”
In terms of the Presidential race, the RJC argued that the $8 million it spent on ad campaigns and other forms of messaging targeting Jewish voters had an impact, and that the rest of the party needed to adopt some of its methods.
“What’s important now is that other Republicans learn from what the RJC did and grow their vote with other key groups,” said Ari Fleischer, a former White House press secretary who worked closely with the RJC in its efforts to move Jewish voters into the GOP’s column leading up to yesterday’s election. “You have to go into their communities, ask for their votes, take people seriously and respect them.”
And the voters who need to be taken most seriously aren’t American Jews, who make up just two percent of the population. Latinos, whose support for Obama this year helped propel him to a second term, are the votes Republicans need to win.
To do that, Gerstein, the J Street pollster, said that Republicans will need to rethink some of the policy positions adopted by Romney this year – particularly his promoting a policy of “self-deportation” for Latinos. That – combined with a perception that the GOP is hostile to Latinos – drove that group into Obama’s camp.
As for whether any shift among Jews to the Republican party could sway future elections, Gerstein was skeptical.
“We’re talking about a population that’s two percent of the country,” he said.
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.