Tending Everyone Else’s Garden

by Arlene Peck

The link to Judaism here is fading.

There was a time when I used to feel a burning desire to write about the injustice that I felt was done to Israel. However, I’ve noticed that I’m not doing that so much anymore, and I find myself turning the pages in the Los Angeles biased newspapers reading the latest about wild-child Britney Spears’ melt-down, her pregnant teen sister Jamey, or who is up for an award in their latest movie. Oh, it still bothers me when I read about the latest “activist,” never terrorist, who lobbed in the daily “homemade bomb” into Israel. I don’t like it when the savages, who never waver in their desire to destroy the Jewish state, are still referred to as “peace partners” or “extremists.”

Yet, I’m tired of watching the scene and shaking my head in amazement and disgust at how two men, Ehud Olmert and George Bush, both of whom have no credibility with their constituents or concern for their countries, make decisions that have the potential to destroy the Jewish state. I used to wonder why the people living there weren’t rioting, or at least marching by the millions on a weekly basis in protest against the obvious incompetents now running the country. But then, I also used to wonder when Israel became a banana republic, when it changed to the point that when Condoleezza Rice snaps her anti-Semitic fingers and shouts, “Jump!” Israel’s prime minister says, “How high?”

Closer to home, I remember when I first became discouraged. I had the brainstorm that, since I have a celebrity television talk show, I would start an organization called Hollywood Stars Against Terrorism. I even called a couple of meetings at my home and had some strong supporters of Israel, such as Bridgette Gabriel and Wafa Sultan, in attendance, along with several stars and community leaders. The only invitees who didn’t respond were those at the Israeli consulate. I called their office three or four times and asked for a copy of the list they had of those celebs who might have cooperated with them during the Lebanon War. No response. Needless to say, they never attended any of our three meetings to give us the much needed input or help. Eventually, the new regime came in; however, the moment had passed. I figured: If they weren’t interested, then why should I make myself crazy?

Now, however, I’m changing my thinking. I reached the realization that the strong ties to Israel are losing their strength because the link to Judaism here is fading.

Last year, I received a call from the Federation asking me for money. One of the first “selling points” of the solicitor was, “Let me tell you about our inner city program.” Then she went on to relate how they are helping the poor Latino and Black children in the crime-ridden areas. Lovely.

Around the same time, I had just attended a fabulous charity dinner at the Beverly Hills Hilton given by one of our local billionaires. Most of the well-heeled men in attendance were Jewish and many were real estate developers. Together, they raised over a million dollars that night to support a community center mostly used by poor Latinos in a suburban area.

Massive amounts of money are being given by wealthy Jews to the opera, symphony, art and similar cultural organizations; much to selected universities, often with a name on a building; and much to medical activities. Some money goes toward meeting the needs of the poor, minorities or the disadvantaged. All in the name of advancing society. Nothing wrong on the surface. Yet, the contributions by these wealthy philanthropists toward Jewish causes are only a small percentage of the total, usually in a single-digit percentage.

Out here, I see so many wealthy Jewish men whose names are constantly in the papers for their philanthropic deeds. But rarely do they have anything to do with Jewish causes. The same goes for wealthy patrons of other faiths. The difference? They never give to Jewish organizations. The bottom line? Only Jews give to Jewish causes, but never on the scale needed to meet the requirements of these same organizations. The Jewish Federations even have programs for Hispanics to leave charity hospitals with a layette or for Black children to attend camp. I’d love to see a group of Black preachers take a bus-load of Jewish day school kids… anywhere.

Jewish day schools and community centers are closing at an alarming rate because of lack of funds; yet, where are the Hilton dinners and benefits for them? Out here, everyone has a cause. I’m regularly invited to events to save the whales or dolphins, and there is even an organization to save the ferrets.

My daughter came home yesterday in tears because the synagogue-sponsored school that her two-year-old, Ivy, attends is closing. B’nai Tikvah Nursery School, affiliated with Congregation Tikvat Jacob, voted to shut their doors at the end of the school year. Why? Because there are no funds to continue.

A few months ago, when she began going to the school, I was leery that she was too young. However, it wasn’t long afterwards that I began to change my mind, when I realized that, unfortunately, this was the refuge where my grand-baby was acquiring her Jewish education. The amazing thing was that out of the thirty or so children who attend this school, a third of them are Hispanic, Black or Asian. Yet, every Shabbat, these precious babies would share in the experience of having Sabbath services.

I’ve watched the beauty of the rabbi and cantor coming to take part in leading the babies in making the Sabbath a fun time and, most importantly, a memorable one for these children. This has become the core of my granddaughter’s early Jewish education. The non-children are benefiting just as much. I sat with tears in my eyes as I watched the beauty of these babies lighting the candles and saying their prayers over the challahs. Yet, to the rabbi and board members of Tikvat Jacob, the doors to the school, and to the important early Jewish education and love of Israel, are being slammed shut.

Obviously, it’s not important enough or trendy enough like the dog refuges to capture the attention of the money people to set aside the funds to keep these smaller independent schools going. The neighborhood schools don’t have the funding or the wealthy members like those in Beverly Hills to write a check for seventy-five thousand dollars for a grant.

And, for some reason, the wealthy men who sponsor the benefits for the poor and deprived residents from across the border don’t see the need to keep the synagogue schools open.

We wonder why the love of Israel isn’t as strong as it ought to be; strong enough to fight against corrupt and incompetent leadership. Maybe it begins at the three-year-old level. And maybe it’s time the Jewish organizations and Federations cut back on their bloated salaries and inner city programs, and reiterate that their name is the Jewish Federation.

My momma used to tell me, “Those who weed everybody else’s garden, get weeds in their own.” She was right.

Arlene Peck, an internationally syndicated columnist and television talk show hostess (“WOW! It’s Arlene Peck”), is a weekly commentator on ShalomTV and a guest commentator on the Middle East for radio station KABC. Listed as one of the 100 most influential Jewish women, Arlene has been featured in magazines such as Lifestyles, where she was described as “Politicallly Incorrect and Loving it.”

January 10, 2008 | Comments »

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