Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
On July 23, at the end of a day of fundraisers, Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney sat down for dinner in Bel Air with about 75 members of the local Jewish community who reportedly paid $50,000 per couple to dine with the former Massachusetts governor.
Not that Romney ate anything.
“He doesn’t eat,” said Fred Sands, who attended three of the Romney fundraisers in Southern California that day and hosted the dinner at his home in Bel Air. “At the lunch in Malibu, he had some gazpacho.”
Sands said the Jewish community fundraiser brought in $1.5 million; the Romney campaign said the day’s total take was about $10 million, according to The Huffington Post.
Sands, who describes himself as “very conservative,” supported Texas Governor Rick Perry in the Republican primary. He is singularly dedicated to preventing President Barack Obama from being reelected, and has since come around on Romney.
“He’s gotten much better as a speaker,” Sands told The Journal on Tuesday. “He’s very passionate and focused – an impressive man.”
Romney started the day with a morning breakfast in Irvine where, according to The Huffington Post, he offered a measured (if somewhat oblique) response to the mass shooting in Colorado over the weekend, saying that in “a time of trauma and trial,” Americans should act locally.
Romney himself is about to go global, though, set to visit England, Israel and Poland over the next week.
Accordingly, Romney devoted part of his remarks at the Jewish community fundraising event to declare his commitment to the U.S.-Israel relationship, and to accuse the President of not doing enough for Israel during his first term.
“He [Romney] said he doesn’t think this President really is focused on Israel,” Sands said. “He hasn’t been there since he was President.”
According to Sands, Romney said he was looking forward to meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; the two worked together at a consulting firm in the 1970s.
Even on the eve of his trip overseas, however, the central thrust of Romney’s Presidential campaign – that he, if elected, would be friendlier to business than Obama has been – was very much in evidence at his Southern California appearances.
At an appearance in Costa Mesa on Monday morning, Romney sat with a group of CEOs in front of a backdrop with the words “We Did Build It!” a reference to a comment made by Obama earlier this month in which the President said the words “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”
Romney and his allies have focused their attention solely on those words, paying no attention to the context in which they were delivered. Speaking in Roanoke, Va., on July 13, Obama pointed to what government has done to help many businesses thrive, including building infrastructure like roads and bridges, investing in teachers and the education system and sponsoring research that has led to technological advances, including the Internet.
The Associated Press said Romney and his allies were taking the comment “wildly out of context.”
Still, Sands felt the remark was indicative of Obama’s general ideological stance. “I think it was who he is,” Sands said. “He was tired, and he spoke from his heart.”
Those who arrived at Sands’s home for the Romney fundraising dinner on Monday would have had to walk past another poster referencing Obama’s comment. Hanging in the entry hall of his home, Sands said, was a poster that read, “You didn’t build that,” which included a photo of the President sitting with his feet up.
(One such image – featuring a picture of Steve Jobs introducing the iPod—could be found on an online message board.)
“I built a huge company,” said Sands, who is the chairman of a firm that acquires and redevelops under-performing regional malls and large shopping centers and also runs a private equity fund that occasionally buys troubled businesses and companies. “I never got any help from the government.”
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July 22, 2012 | 11:41 am
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
The International Olympic Committee president stood firm in his refusal to hold a minute of silence at the opening ceremony of the London Olympics in memory of the Israeli athletes killed at the Munich Olympics 40 years ago, the Associated Press reported.
Despite an online petition signed by more than 100,000 people and a statement by President Barack Obama saying that he supports a public remembrance of the Israeli athletes who were killed by Palestinian terrorists in 1972, IOC President Jacques Rogge told the Associated Press that, “the opening ceremony is an atmosphere that is not fit to remember such a tragic incident.”
Rogge said the IOC would honor the athletes elsewhere and at other times, including at a reception in London during the games on Aug. 6, and a ceremony to take place in September at the military airfield in Germany where the Israeli athletes were killed.
That the IOC is participating in any remembrances of the Israeli athletes, who have come to be known as “The Munich 11,” could be seen as a degree of progress, given the IOC’s absence at a similar ceremony that took place in 1984, when Los Angeles hosted the games.
That year, city officials, leaders of the Jewish community and members of the Israeli Olympic delegation attended a memorial ceremony at Los Angeles’s City Hall. No IOC officials attended that ceremony, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times from 1984. The commemorative plaque unveiled at that ceremony, which now hangs at the Coliseum, was initially displayed at City Hall because the IOC refused to allow it to be hung at the Coliseum while the games were going on.
For more on Los Angeles’s efforts in 1984 to remember the Munich 11, click here.
July 19, 2012 | 9:34 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
Though they may not seem like much at first glance, the copse of trees that stands at the top of a hill in Pan Pacific Park is actually a legacy of the summer Olympic games held in Los Angeles in 1984.
More specifically, the scruffy trees were one of the ways the city of Los Angeles and its Jewish community remembered the Israeli athletes killed by Palestinian terrorists at the Munich Olympic games in 1972, even as officials from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) prevented that memory from being invoked during the games in Los Angeles.
The trees are a variety known in California as the purple-leafed plum, but two of them have no leaves at all. Five appear to have been planted very recently; of those, four are flanked by tall wooden posts that ensure no lawnmower or young child accidentally bumps up against a tree, which could damage their underdeveloped roots.
But the plaque embedded in the ground among the trees is as clear as the day it was affixed there:
THESE TREES STAND AS A MEMORIAL TO
THE ELEVEN ATHLETES WHO WERE
MURDERED DURING THE XXTH OLYMPIAD
Ignored by visitors and all but forgotten by the city’s Jewish community, the trees were dedicated on June 24, 1984. The IOC did not publicly remember the murdered Israeli athletes during the Los Angeles games, and today, 28 years later, the IOC is still resisting efforts to have an official memorial at the games for the athletes who have come to be known as “The Munich 11.”
An online petition requesting the IOC dedicate a minute of silence to the murdered Israeli athletes at the opening ceremony of the upcoming London Olympic games this year has garnered more than 100,000 signatures. The IOC president refused the request earlier this month, according to the New York Times.
Since then, President Barack Obama said on July 19 that he supports the request for a minute of silence to acknowledge the tragedy, which took place 40 years ago. Sportscaster Bob Costas told The Hollywood Reporter that if the IOC did not observe a minute of silence, he would dedicate a minute of silence himself, on the air.
The petition was launched by Ankie Spitzer and Ilana Romano, two widows of Israeli athletes killed in 1972, together with the JCC Rockland in New York State. It is only the latest effort by the families of the slain athletes to have a public moment of silence in their relatives’ memories at the Olympic games.
Spitzer began her efforts in advance of the 1976 games in Montreal, according to JTA, and assumed that the IOC would commemorate the murders in some way. Spitzer and Romano traveled to Montreal, where the Jewish community staged a memorial in a synagogue, which was attended by more than 5,000 people. No mention was made of the slain athletes at the Olympics, however.
“Ilana and I kept waiting for the moment when they would still do something,” Spitzer told JTA. “And we were very, very disappointed.”
Eight years later, when Los Angeles hosted the summer games, the IOC’s stance had not changed. According to an article that appeared in The Los Angeles Times on Aug 2, 1984, Mayor Tom Bradley and the local organizers of the Olympic games held a ceremony at Los Angeles City Hall where a large bronze plaque remembering the Israeli athletes was unveiled.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who was a Los Angeles City Councilman in 1984, attended the ceremony. According to The Times, 25 Israeli athletes and officials were also present, as were members of the L.A. Jewish community.
“It was a big ceremony, and I kept asking myself why is it here?” Yaroslavsky recalled. “Why isn’t it at the Coliseum?”
The IOC, Yaroslavsky said, had rejected the idea of placing the plaque in the Los Angeles Coliseum’s Court of Honor during the games. It has since be placed there, alongside other commemorative plaques.
No IOC members attended the City Hall ceremony, according to the article in The Times.
Yaroslavsky said that the IOC’s refusal to allow for a minute of silence to be observed at this summer’s games in London is part of a pattern for the organization, going back 40 years. In Munich, after a day of mourning the Israeli athletes, the Olympic games resumed at the insistence of then-IOC President Avery Brundage.
“There’s something about the IOC that has never sat well with me, going back to the 1972 terrorist action in Munich,” Yaroslavsky said.
The petition for a minute of silence in London, posted on the Web site Change.org, is not the only effort being undertaken by the JCC Rockland to remember the 11 athletes. In September 2011, the JCC unveiled what it describes as “the first memorial sculpture in the United States in honor of the Munich 11.”
As for the trees in Pan Pacific Park, according to the plaque, the L.A. chapter of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) was responsible for their planting. JNF staff members interviewed for this article couldn’t find any information about the trees in their records, but an article that appeared in The Los Angeles Times on June 21, 1984, days before the trees were planted, included a quote from Sanford Deutsch, the president of the JNF’s local chapter at the time.
“Planting of trees is the symbol of continuity of life through the ages and the rebirth of the land,” Deutsch told The Times. “We shall always remember these heroes for their sacrifice.”
Attempts to contact Deutsch on Thursday were not successful.
Today, although there are 11 purple-leafed plum trees near the plaque, only nine of them are part of the memorial grove, according to Leon Boroditsky, a tree surgeon with the Los Angeles City Department of Recreation and Parks’s forestry division. (The two oldest and largest trees—which stand apart from the others by, separated by an asphalt walking path—predate the memorial.) Though the trees can live as long as 150 years, a few of the original trees have died out, Boroditsky said. With help from volunteers associated with the nonprofit group Tree People, the department is replacing the missing trees: Three new trees were planted a few years ago, Boroditsky said, and volunteers planted another new tree last April. Still, two are missing.
“Being a tree in a park is a difficult life,” Boroditsky said, “Not as difficult as a street tree, but it definitely has its challenges, with kids and dogs and soccer players.”
He said he plans to replace the last two trees in the fall, when the weather is better suited for planting.
“We think groves like this are important,” Boroditsky said, “and we want to maintain them to the best of our ability. But our staffing is really low.”
But for now, all eyes are on London. Steve Gold, a former president of the JCC Rockland who chaired the petition campaign, didn’t rule out the possibility that the IOC might change its mind about holding a minute of silence in London this year.
“I believe in miracles,” he said.
Should the IOC stand firm, though, Gold said the London games would not mark the end of Spitzer and Romano’s quest to have the 11 Israeli athletes remembered at the Olympics.
“If the opening ceremony comes and goes without a minute of silence, we’re not stopping,” he said. “We’re going to continue until there’s a minute of silence. There’s a summer games every four years.”
July 19, 2012 | 12:01 am
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
Hundreds of thousands of mourners reportedly attended the funeral of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv in Jerusalem on July 18, and across the world, people remembered the eminent Orthodox rabbi who died on Wednedsay at the age of 102.
Rabbi Gershon Bess, the spiritual leader of Kehilas Yaakov in Los Angeles, said he would visit Elyashiv at least once a year, to consult with him on matters of Jewish jurisprudence.
“This is a person that one could ask any halachic question on any topic and get a well-researched answer based on Talmudic and later Responsa,” Bess said on Wednesday. “I don’t believe that there is anyone else in the world at this point now who is able to replace him.”
“Even the greatest rabbinical authorities in the United States would show extreme deference to anything he [Elyashiv] would say,” Bess said. “Nobody but Rabbi Moshe Feinstein was considered as a final decisor on so many issues.”
No plans for a Los Angeles-based memorial have been discussed, Bess said, but he speculated that some kind of public remembrance might take place in the city at some point in the coming days or weeks.
July 11, 2012 | 2:59 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
With Republican leaders predicting a massive shift of Jewish voters away from President Barack Obama this November, a new study shows just how reliably Democratic Jewish voters are.
The study, conducted by Democratic pollsters Mark Mellman and Aaron Strauss with University of Florida professor Kenneth Wald, analyzed exit poll data from 1972-2008 and found that Jews vote for Democrats in far higher numbers than the rest of the electorate. Furthermore, most Jews (57 percent in 2008) identify as Democrats, and many identify as liberals – 45 percent in 2008, far higher than the overall rate among Americans, 22 percent of whom identified as liberals in a Gallup poll taken that year.
The new study (pdf), which was released by the Solomon Project, a nonpartisan nonprofit, comes after months of speculation about the decline in Jewish support for Obama. It also found that Obama only received 74 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008, not the 78 percent that was found by a survey of only Jewish voters and that has been oft-repeated by both supporters and opponents of the President.
In what is perhaps its most significant conclusion, the study found that American Jewish voting in presidential elections can be divided into two distinct eras:
In the first period, from 1972 through 1988, Republican candidates for president attracted between 31 percent and 37 percent of the Jewish vote. In the second period, from 1992 through 2008, the GOP share of the Jewish vote dropped to between 15 percent and 23 percent.
The trend becomes starker still when votes for third-party candidates are excluded. Considering only the Jewish Americans who voted for one of the two major party’s presidential candidates, Republicans got between 31 and 46 percent of Jewish votes in that first period and between 16 and 24 percent in the second one.
What changed, the pollsters conclude, is that the Republican party, “became more strongly influenced by the religious right during the early 1990s.” As “Republican candidates at all levels increasingly aligned themselves with the evangelical community,” they write, Jews and mainline Protestants headed elsewhere.
Will Jews buck this decades-long trend of supporting the Democratic presidential candidate support this year?
In a word: no.
The most recent Gallup poll shows Obama taking 64 percent of Jewish registered voters to Republican Mitt Romney’s 29 percent, according to Politico. Obama’s number is 10 points lower than the 74 percent of Jews who voted for him in 2008, but it’s still in the range of Jews who have voted Democratic in the earlier era, between 1972 and 1988.
Still, as my colleague Shmuel Rosner wrote in a recent blog post, even if this tiny fraction of the American electorate (there are about 6 million Jews in America) won’t have much of an impact on the presidential election in November, “Jews are news.”
And as this study shows, that news happens to be of the “Dog Bites Man” variety.
July 6, 2012 | 3:00 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
In the wake of a German court’s ruling in June that declared nonconsensual religious circumcision to be inflicting “bodily harm” on boys, Rabbi Marvin Hier and Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center have called on German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other leaders in the Bundestag to pass legislation declaring the practice legal in Germany.
Circumcision is a central rite for both Jews and Muslims, and the court’s decision provoked criticism from religious and political leaders both in Germany and beyond.
In their letter dated July 5, Hier and Cooper urged Merkel to condemn the ruling and “take immediate legislative steps to guarantee the right of Jews and Muslims to continue to practice their age-old core tradition of circumcision.”
The current controversy began when the District Court of Cologne ruled in a case involving a four-year-old Muslim boy who was taken by his parents to a hospital days after his ritual circumcision. The court acquitted the doctor, but ruled that in the future, doctors who carry out circumcisions should be punished, and declared that circumcision “even when done properly by a doctor with the permission of the parents, should be considered as bodily harm if it is carried out on a boy unable to give his own consent,” The Guardian reported.
The decision was met with immediate criticism from Jews and Muslims in Germany and beyond. German politicians and Christian leaders in the country also criticized the decision as infringing upon religious freedom and parental rights. The court’s decision rejected such claims, however, ruling that, “the fundamental right of the child to bodily integrity outweighs the fundamental rights of the parents.”
Many of the arguments on both sides of this debate will look familiar to anyone who followed the path of an anti-circumcision measure that initially qualified for inclusion on ballots in San Francisco in 2011.
In much the same way as the proposed San Francisco law would have only applied to men under age 18, a law professor involved in the debate over the legal status of religious circumcision in Germany told Reuters that the court’s decision was not an effort to ban religious circumcision, but to prohibit the surgery from being performed on anyone too young to give consent.
Such declarations are unlikely to mollify the concerns of Jews, who traditionally circumcise their sons on the eighth day of life.
By urging the German government to take action legislatively, Hier and Cooper are advocating for one strategy that was employed in 2011 by American lawmakers who passed a law in Sacramento and introduced another in Washington, D.C., that would have stopped the proposed anti-circumcision ballot measure from spreading beyond San Francisco. (The 2011 ballot measure was ultimately struck from the ballot after a court decided that a preexisting California law prohibited cities from regulating such procedures.)
Pointing to news reports that the Jewish Hospital in Berlin had stopped performing circumcisions, even though the Cologne court’s decision might not apply in the German capital, Cooper said that a law could put an end to the newly murky legal status of circumcision.
“One way to clarify this very important social issue is to pass a piece of legislation that specifically says circumcision is legal,” Cooper told The Journal in an interview. “We turn to Chancellor Merkel, really as the most important politician in Germany, to get her to exercise political leadership.”
But if the abortive attempt to outlaw underage male circumcision in a California city provoked strong reactions last year, the current controversy over the court’s binding ruling is stoking passions to an particularly intense degree specifically because it is taking place in Germany.
Calling the ruling “a frontal attack on religious freedom,” Cooper said that laws prohibiting circumcision, like similar legislation prohibiting ritual Jewish slaughter in certain European countries, were “an invitation for Jews to leave.”
“Hell will freeze over before the Jewish people will look for moral leadership from anyone in Germany about how we should exercise our religion,” Cooper said.
June 18, 2012 | 4:38 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
Most people learned Apple was unveiling a new version of its operating system, iOS 6, and abandoning the Google mapping software used in earlier versions when Apple CEO Tim Cook made the official announcement on June 11.
But for the cadre of observers who watch the world’s most valuable company’s every move very, very closely, those and other bits of Apple-related news were first reported as much as one month earlier, courtesy of Mark Gurman, an 18-year-old Jewish Angeleno who graduated from Milken Community High School this spring.
Gurman is senior editor for the Web site 9to5Mac.com and in the month leading up to Apple’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference (WWDC), he correctly reported seven separate pieces of news that ended up being announced at that annual event, held earlier this month in San Francisco.
In addition to being first to tip readers off about the new iOS and the change in mapping software, Gurman also reported – accurately, again—that the “Retina” display screen Apple has been using in iPhones since 2010 and iPads since March 2012 would soon be coming to the company’s laptops. Gurman also reported, on June 4, that Siri, the voice assistant first made available on iPhones in late 2011, would be added to iPads equipped with the new operating system. Cook also confirmed that piece of information in his keynote address at WWDC one week later.
Gurman, who is headed to University of Michigan in the fall, may not have written for the Milken paper while he was a student (he was on the Milken Knights robotics team in 9th and 10th grades), but he sounded like a seasoned journalist when he declined to reveal anything about where he gets his information.
“I like to stay away from discussing anything to do with information sourcing,” Gurman wrote in an email to the Journal.
Gurman did mention having seen a demonstration of a siddur (prayer book) app for iPad at WWDC, created by an Orthodox developer and equipped with “novel features” that would allow it to be used without being touched on the Sabbath.
His recent success in cracking open the hermetic world of Apple notwithstanding, Gurman isn’t looking to make a career in journalism. He’s planning to study informatics and computer science at Michigan, and is hoping to transfer to the business school after his first year. And he said he wouldn’t be averse to making the jump from reporter on the outside to Cupertino insider.
“I’d love to work at Apple,” Gurman said.
June 7, 2012 | 12:04 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
Just hours after an in-depth Jewish Journal article about Alan Abrams, a rabbi-for-hire who was working as a chaplain when accused of stealing a 96-year-old’s wheelchair, was posted online on June 6, Abrams announced on his blog that he was “tak[ing] leave from the Rabbinate for an unspecified time.”
Abrams, whose extensive history of criminal and civil actions against him was reported by The Journal, explained on his blog that his decision to suspend his rabbinic practice was inspired by a desire to spend more time with his family.
“[F]ulfilling my lifelong dream of serving G-d and the Community as a Rabbi took me away from [my family], if not physically (which it did), but certainly spiritually and emotionally,” Abrams wrote in a post on June 6. The text was also posted on Abrams’ professional website, RabbiAbrams.org.
Abrams, 50, first began calling himself a rabbi in 2009, while he was living in Phoenix, Ariz. He claims to have been ordained privately in Jerusalem, but did not provide the Journal with evidence of this.
Abrams did offer evidence of a certificate of ordination from The Rabbinical Seminary International, a New York-based distance learning program for nondenominational rabbis. The head of that school said Abrams had stolen the certificate, after paying his tuition with a check for $5,000 that bounced.
In 1993, Abrams’ pled no contest to charges of practicing veterinary medicine without a license in Los Angeles and was sentenced to six months in jail. A 2009 case of passing bad checks in Arizona remains open.
As of this morning, Abrams’ website for Mobile Rabbinical Chaplaincy Services, the nonprofit he started in 2011 to support his work with patients and residents in hospitals, nursing homes and other locations, was still accessible online.