Originally published 26 September 1997
Moskowitz, who shakes Jerusalem politics to its roots, also dominates a tiny
Latino enclave in California. It's the beginning of his money pipeline to
the Holy City.
HAWAIIAN GARDENS, CALIFORNIA Francelia Morales, a
36-year-old Mexican immigrant living in a roach-infested apartment with mildewed
walls, has been thinking a lot about the crisis in the Middle East lately.
feel a link to the Palestinians I never knew before." she said as she sat
with her husband and three children amid the cardboard storage boxes. childrens
toys and English-language instruction video cassettes that crowd her small
Her neighbor from just a few doors down feels similarly.
feel like I understand what the Palestinians are going through." nodded Arturo
Perez. Its the same thing like what we are going through here."
16 other families in this row of clapboard apartment units set on a narrow
asphalt alleyway outside Los Angeles the Morales and Perez families have
received 30-day eviction notices from their landlord, Dr. Irving I. Moskowitz,
the controversial right-wing Jerusalem developer who emerged last week at
the center of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. But unlike most of them, the
Morales and Perez families, and three others, are defying him.
find another apartment when they give us the relocation money we deserve
under the law said Emilio Gomez, one of the other holdouts. Like his comrades,
Gomez rejected the $600 Moskowitzs son-in-Paw offered each family when he
came around last June with their eviction notices. if they left within three
But most of the other families have left without a fight because
they also work for Moskowitz as "volunteers" at the not-for-profit Bingo
Club he operates. Its vast parking lot starts just opposite their asphalt
alleyway. And until their eviction, the sporadic tips they made from the
winners among the hundreds who flock there nightly helped pay the $500-per-month
rent Moskowitz charged them for the ramshackle apartments. The units were
cited this month by the Los Angeles County Department merit of Health Services
for numerous health code violations.
"They told us we have to move
because if we didnt we would be fired." said one of those who left, a young
woman whose family is now living with two other ousted families in a three-bedroom
apartment nearby. The modest house. which rents for $1,000 a month, shelters
14 adults and children. Still fearing trouble, the woman asked that her name
not be used.
Moskowitz is the diminutive 69-year-old physician from
Miami whose housing developments for Jews in sensitive, heavily populated
Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem have caused an international uproar.
Repeated messages left for Moskowitzs local representative, attorney Beryl
Weiner, were not returned.
But to an important degree, his Bingo Cub
and other activities in this tiny, cash-poor city of 14,000 the small-est
incorporated municipality in California have provided much revenue for his
Mideast real estate ventures. And though his powder-keg development activities
in Jerusalem may dwarf his operations here in import, the two remain deeply
intertwined, as Morales and Perez have only recently, to their surprise,
Pipeline To Jerusalem
Owned by the Irving I. Moskowitz
Foundation. a nonprofit organization established in 1968, the Hawaiian Gardens
Bingo Club has taken in some $30 mil-lion a year in tax-free gross revenue
and helps to finance some of the Mideasts most controversial land ventures.
Last week saw soft- spoken, private U.S. citizen negotiating with the prime
minister of Israel over Ras al-Amud, the hotspot he owns in the middle of
an Arab neighborhood in East Jerusalem and funds out of his own pocket.
backed down only partially when Benjamin Netanyahu pleaded with him to forego
his plans to move Jews into a housing complex there. Moskowitz reportedly
has been a major financial backer of Netanyahu Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert
and Avigdor Kahalani, Israels internal security minister. He also funds yeshivas
and groups asserting the right of Jews to live anywhere in Israel.
many criticize Moskowitz for interfering in the volatile Mideast peace process.
his supporters. particularly in the Orthodox community. praise his efforts
to reclaim all of Jerusalem for Jews. "Hes a champion. a hero in my eyes,
" says Dr. Joseph Frager, president of the American Friends of Ateret Cohanim,
which supports Jewish land purchases in Jerusalem.
"Im doing the natural thing for a Jew." Moskowitz told the Los Angeles Times last year, trying to "save our nation."
1994 the last year for which tax returns could be obtained, the foundation.
which gets its bingo license from Hawaiian Gardens. sank $264.000 into the
community while sending $2.4 million to various causes Moskowitz backs in
Israel. (Moskowitz has reportedly poured some $18 million in all to right-wing
causes in Israel.) The most prominent of these recipients was Ateret Cohanim.
a Jerusalem yeshiva with a declared goal of buying up properties in the Arab
sections of the Old City, evicting the Arab residents and moving in Jews.
Moskowitz gave it $576,000 that year.
Still, there is no question
that since 1994 Moskowitz has significantly boosted contributions to numerous
Hawaiian Garden charities, ranging from a local food pantry to the Hawaiian
Gardens Little League. In fact. through its grants to two other foundations
Moskowitz has set up, the Moskowitz Foundation funded this year more than
half of Hawaiian Gardens city government budget. covering basic municipal
services like police and recreation.
As for the huge sums of tax-free
money he took from Hawaiian Gardens and sent to the Middle East, she said,
"We had no idea. We just thought he had a commitment to religious organizations.
It was after the prime minister [Yitzchak Rabin] was killed that we began
to put two and two together.
"Its so similar, he doesnt live here,
either. And he does what he does in both places with all this money we give
him, with our bingo license.
That bingo license was awarded to Moskowitz
in 1988 after its previous holder left town under threat of indictment A
physician who says he lost 120 relatives in the Holocaust. Moskowitz made
his fortune after earning his medical degree at the University of Wisconsin
by starting a chain of for-profit hospitals in Southern California in the
1960s. The successful doctor struck most folks as a fatherly figure with
good business sense. His Moskowitz Foundation, already established. also
seemed a ready-made vehicle for the legal requirements of bingo in California.
state law, only not-for-profit foundations may be given such licenses, on
the principle that bingo clubs are meant as fund-raising devices for local
charitable enterprises, such as churches or schools. Many operate only a
few days a week for limited hours.
But Moskowitz turned his into something
else altogether: the largest-grossing bingo club in the state. Open 363 days
a year its closed on Dec. 25 and 26 the Bingo Club draws hundreds every night
from all over the area for what its management bills proudly as "the fastest
game in town."
Smoke-Filled Bingo Hall
First you see the sign,
a palm tree logo next to the words that say simply The Bingo Club. Then you
see the cars turn-ing in from the bland ribbon of a highway that cuts through
the one square mile of Hawaiian Gardens in the blink of an eye.
inside, the cigarette smoke is over-whelming, totally enveloping the No Smoking
sign hanging over one of fine tables. Standing up front, the caller barks
out new numbers in a relentless monotone, and with shouts of "Bingo" coming
quickly, a new game starts every three minutes or so. Customers at long rows
of tables in the large room slap down a dollar for every new game, which
is snapped up by the so-called volunteers such as those who lived in the
nearby apartment row. These volunteers also pass out new game sheets.
law strictly limits the number of actual employees bingo clubs may hire,
based on the principle that they are local and nonprofit in character. The
question of these low-income workers actual status is now under state and
In the meantime, however, the games continue.
The take from each one appears to average about $500 Winners receive $250,
which is shared if there is more than one. And there are 120 to 200 games
per night. That means a house take of some $30,000 to $50,000 a night.
one could believe this not-for-profit was grossing $30 million a year." said
Nelson Oliva. a former Hawaiian Gardens city manager who began to study the
Dream Of Higher Profits
If Moskowitz succeeds
in getting his for-profit card club off the ground, that enterprise is expected
to pull in some $100 million per year. And Hawaiian Gardens, a postage stamp-sized
island of poverty and high crime surrounded by affluent Los Angeles suburbs
with gated communities, has been salivating at the thought of the jobs and
revenue the card club could bring.
Moskowitzs generous contributions
to keep the city afloat these last few years has certainly helped smooth
the way. as have his large campaign contributions to various elected officials
and referenda on the card club. During the November 95 voter referendum on
approving his card club, for example a vote required by law Moskowitz spent
nearly $600,000 to fight off opponents, winning the ballot with less than
1,000 votes. spending almost $600 per vote.
There were no expensive
TV buys to make in this tiny town; according to the measures opponents, much
of the money simply went to putting scores of people on the payroll of his
pro-casino campaign group, thereby winning their loyalty and that of their
often low-income families.
According to some, Moskowitz has also deployed
his bingo charity fund grants with a readiness to reward and punish civic
activists according to their support for his project
for Youth Development, for example, was initiated by Moskowitz with a grand
flourish in 1993 as a multi-service social agency offering counseling, parenting
and literacy classes, computer train ing and more to a town sorely in need
of it. But according to its board mennl~rs. when the center insisted on staving
neutral in the casino referendum, Moskowitzs attorney made no secret of his
anger. Soon after, Moskowitzs support was stopped.
"He was very derogatory,"
said Ray Rosas. the coalitions executive director, speaking of Weiner. "Hed
use foul language. calling me an a, saying, who the hell are you?"
Moskowitz has used his clout to obtain what critics consider a giveaway deal on the terms of the proposed casino itself.
half-price sale was not in and of itself necessarily bad, said Oliva. Hawaiian
Gardens city manager at the time. The 10-acre parcel adjoining his Bingo
Club was a piece of real estate the citys redevelopment agency felt was not
being put to productive use by the jumble of shops there.
to Oliva, who negotiated the deal. Moskowitz received such good terms because
he told the city he planned to bring not a casino to the site but a Wal-Mart-sized
food market. The deal given to him was based on the earnings that he could
expect from such an enterprise. not the huge profits that come with casinos.
To this day, Oliva believes the deal had every appearance of being genuine.
Lupe Cabrera, today the mayor of Hawaiian Gardens and then a council member
who voted to approve it, said, - "That was a pretext. [We] always knew it
was going to be a casino, even though no one would admit it."
the old business tenants forced off the property have yet to be paid promised
relocation or lost business costs, despite Moskowitzs commitment in the agreement
to share the costs with the city and despite court orders instructing the
city, at least, to do so.
"We were just totally ruined," said David
Downen, a Suzuki motorcycle dealer forced off the site he and his father
had been at since 1958. He and his wife, Marion, are still waiting for much
of his compensation. "They [Moskowitz and the city] took my business against
my will and made me their involuntary lender," he said.
case, more than $200,000 worth of equipment being stored by a meat market
on its old site was taken by Moskowitz employees.
It was two years
later, after the purported food market deal fell through, that Moskowitz
openly called for a casino on his property, and sponsored a voter referendum
to get it approved. If the casino were approved, he told voters, the revenue
generated would ensure that the citys popular. newly formed police force
would never want for funds. That alone would cover the citys single largest
But though he touted it repeatedly in his campaign literature,
this commitment was not put in the referendum measure. And this week, with
Moskowitzs personal charity to the force halted, the cash-strapped city will
vote to disband the force.
"He double-crossed us," said Cabrera. the
mayor. referring to clauses in the property agreement he said Moskowitz had
violated. Others believe, however, that one way or another, Moskowitz will
move to save his long-nurtured investment in a bigger. more prosperous gaming
establishment if only for the sake of Jerusalem.
"Wouldnt you like
to own a city?" asked Fred Woocher, an attorney for the main local group
that opposed the deal with Moskowitz itz. "And not just a city with a bingo
club. but a gaming ordinance passed by the voters making your city one of
only five to be able to do this?"
Copyright 1997 The Jewish Week. For education and discussion only. Not for commercial use.