L.A. temple fends off Lewinsky inquiries

LOS ANGELES — Sinai Temple is not averse to publicity, but the Conservative West Los Angeles synagogue would just as soon do without the onslaught of media inquiries that have kept its telephones ringing off the hook.

The full court press was launched by reporters desperate for any details even remotely connected to the alleged White House sex scandal, after word leaked out that Monica Lewinsky's family belonged to the upscale synagogue.

Lewinsky, the 24-year-old former White House intern, is at the center of the furor that has become the No. 1 media topic worldwide.

Her father, Dr. Bernard S. Lewinsky, and her mother, Marcia, joined Sinai Temple in 1976, and Monica and her younger brother, Michael, attended the temple's religious school.

A former education director of the school, who asked not to be identified, remembers Monica Lewinsky as "a lovely, nice kid," and believes that she celebrated her bat mitzvah at the temple.

Jan Zakowski, the president of the congregation, could not confirm the bat mitzvah, saying that the temple's records on such events are generally not retained beyond three years.

Lewinsky's father divorced Marcia, a sometime author and freelance journalist who now uses the name Marcia Lewis, about 10 years ago. Now married to his second wife, Barbara, Bernard Lewinsky has kept his Sinai Temple membership current.

He is apparently not involved in temple activities or in the Jewish community in general. Among a dozen Sinai officers and longtime members contacted, none could recall meeting him.

Bernard Lewinsky is an oncologist who lives in the upscale West Los Angeles neighborhood of Brentwood. His medical career began with a residency at Mount Zion Hospital in San Francisco, where he grew up and where Monica Lewinsky was born. The doctor and his parents were longtime members of Congregation Beth Sholom. His mother still lives in San Francisco.

Bernard Lewinsky is affiliated with the Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital and UCLA Medical Center, and maintains private offices in Sherman Oaks and West Hills, two San Fernando Valley communities in suburban Los Angeles.

At this point, the synagogue's staff and lay leaders would rather not talk about the Lewinskys at all, citing the family's right to privacy.

For instance, Rivka Shaked, a Sinai teacher for 31 years, said that even if she could recollect Monica as a student, she wouldn't talk about her.

"I won't add one iota to this kind of scandal," Shaked said. "I focus on the good qualities of people."

Commenting on the alleged affair, the former White House intern's attorney, William Ginsburg, told Yediot Achronot that his client does not want to see Clinton forced from office, in part because she believes he is good for Israel,

"We are fans of President Clinton and admire his positions and policies concerning Israel. Clinton is very positive toward Israel and the Jews, and Monica and I are Jews," the lawyer was quoted as saying.

Lewinsky attended two colleges, one in California and the other in Portland, Ore. At Santa Monica College, Hillel adviser Shelly Rothschild said that Lewinsky apparently never participated in Jewish student activities. At Lewis and Clark College, where Lewinsky received an undergraduate degree in psychology in 1995, no one answered the phone at the Jewish Student Union.

Lewinsky grew up in an affluent family that lived in a $1.6 million home, and she attended Beverly Hills High School, made famous by the TV show "Beverly Hills 90210." She then transferred to Bel Air Prep, an exclusive private school from which she graduated in 1991.

An insight into the family's lifestyle is provided in court records of the parents' divorce proceedings, unearthed by the Santa Monica Outlook.

"I and the children have never had to worry about the cost of anything that was reasonably desired," the mother testified. She related how the family traveled first class, spent $20,000 a year on vacations, ate at the finest restaurants, and housed a new Cadillac and a new Mercedes-Benz in the garage.

In addition, she said, "We have always provided the children with extensive extracurricular lessons and tutoring to satisfy any desires that either they or we may have."

Monica Lewinsky showed her support for the Democratic Party in 1996, when she donated $250 to its coffers. Her mother contributed $1,000 to the Democratic National Committee the same year.

Tom Tugend

JTA Los Angeles correspondent