By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
Photo by Larry Hirshowitz
ON A RAINY MORNING LAST WEEK, ABOUT 20 PRICEY L.A. LIBERALS -- among them Norman Lear, Mike Farrell, and philanthropist and all-around macher Stanley Scheinbaum -- gathered for breakfast in the Brentwood living room of Leonard Beerman, the rabbi emeritus of the Leo Baeck Temple, to hear two Israeli army reservists talk about why they won't serve in the Occupied Territories. The guest list was Beerman's, but the refuseniks' hectic one-day schedule (part of a national tour of key U.S. cities to drum up sympathy and support for their movement, Yesh Gvul) was orchestrated by Women in Black, the Los Angeles wing of an international anti-war group modeled after an Israeli-Palestinian women's movement that holds vigils protesting the Israeli occupation.
Nothing could be further from the Israeli macho-man prototype than these two soldiers. Both are ardent patriots who are committed to army service, but refuse to serve in territories they consider unlawfully seized by Israel. Ram Rahat, a founding member of Yesh Gvul, is a rumpled, doe-eyed, Montreal-born accountant with a modest middle-aged belly rising over his chinos, who refused to serve in Lebanon during Israel's unprovoked invasion of that country in 1982. Ishai Sagi, a shy, slight 25-year-old with earnest blue eyes and a whisper of beard on his chin, still believes that the Israeli army is "the most humane and moral army in the world." Yet so ashamed was he of what he witnessed as a conscript and a reservist in the West Bank -- a bored Israeli officer at a roadblock ordered Palestinian cars taken apart, then forced the owners to put them back together; another officer in Tulkarm placed a loaded gun to the head of a Palestinian for talking while waiting in line for a permit to work in Israel -- that by the time Sagi received a standing order in Nablus to shoot any Palestinian, even a 6-year-old who picked up a stone, he asked to be transferred to the Lebanese border. Sagi got 26 days in a military jail for his pains. Every military order he'd given or received, he said, had its own internal logic, but slowly he came to realize it was the logic of an occupying army, not an army of self-defense.
After a few factual questions from an audience who clearly needed little persuading that the cause was worthy, the meeting drew to a close. Norman Lear wrapped the startled Sagi, who would doubtless have gotten a mouthful from Archie Bunker, in a bear hug. Beerman held up a box containing shards of the glass he'd broken under his foot when he got married. Explaining that the broken glass serves to remind Jews, even at a wedding, that they live in a broken world, he expressed a hope against hope that a broken Israel would heal its wounds.
That evening, a group of mostly Israeli members of Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills, where Sagi and Rahat were preparing to speak, burst into their own synagogue just as Progressive Jewish Alliance president Douglas Mirell was wrapping up his opening remarks. (Rabbi Laura Geller was not present.) They took up positions at the back of the sanctuary and held up signs that said, "Ram Rahat and Ishai Sagi have NO courage" (a reference to Courage To Refuse, another selective-refusal movement that grew out of the current Intifada), "Ram Rahat and Ishai Sagi Work for Arafat" and "My son is risking his life in the army so these men could run away." The protesters booed during Rabbi Beerman's introduction, and yelled "Go back to Israel, coward!" when Sagi took the stage. The young reservist kept his cool until the shouting brought his presentation to a halt. Then he called, "Get out of here!" to which the protesters yelled, "You get out of our temple." The rowdiest were escorted out of the shul, but they returned to scream, "Our children should not be exposed to this filth." The soft-spoken Rahat remained calm throughout, picking up his speech between heckles. Later he told Women in Black's Sarah Jacobus that as disruptions go -- army dissenters have been physically attacked in Israel, and in Boston a refusenik had to leave a synagogue under police protection -- this one was on the mild side.
HIDDEN L.A.: A Spider Man Comes to America
TALL, SKINNY AND SHY, VYGANDAS Relys is a young Lithuanian arachnidologist who spent most of Memorial Day weekend in a state of mild shock. He was manning the desk at the first ever Los Angeles Spider Survey -- which means he spent the day taking vials and bottles and cups of spiders out of young children's hands and trying hard to identify the species. He was shocked for a lot of reasons. First, he thought almost nobody would show up with spiders and, instead, hundreds and hundreds did, forming a long line of parents and grade-school kids clutching their specimen containers. He was also shocked at being forced to identify species outside of his lab. "Usually, we have microscopes," he said to one parent who was demanding the identification of a spider curled up at the bottom of a pill bottle; it might be a sack spider or a ground spider and he just couldn't tell, he tried to explain. He only left Vilnius a few months ago and he's just getting to know L.A.'s spider species. "In Lithuania, I could do this with my eyes. Here I have to go through the literature," he said, his hand flipping through an imaginary spider book.