Become Israel advocates, Netanyahu urges Birthright participants

Israel’s prime minister called on participants in the Birthright Israel program to become advocates to for Israel when they return home.

“I want you to enjoy yourselves, go back to your homeland and tell the truth about Israel. Tell them about a country where you can be free, free to work, free to criticize the government.  A country in which a woman is the Supreme Court Chief Justice, a woman is a general in the military, and a country in which a woman can sit anywhere she wants to,” Benjamin Netanyahu told some 3,000 Birthright participants Wednesday at the Taglit-Birthright Mega Event in Jerusalem.

“The most important battle is the battle for the truth.  And all of you can become an ambassador for Israel. And whether you come here or whether you stay where you are, be proud of your birthright,” he said. “You all come from great countries, but you all come from here.  We all started here many years ago, and we all came back here.”

Major birthright funders Michael Steinhardt and Lynn Schusterman also spoke at the event.

The Birthright program, which provides free ten-day trips to Israel for Jewish adults between the ages of 18 to 26, is entering its 13th year. Nearly 300,000 Jews from 54 countries have participated in the program.

John Paul II and the Jews

For 20 centuries, the Catholic Church has had a turbulent relationship with the Jewish people. Jews were persecuted and held responsible for the death of Jesus, and were often the victims of church-instigated pogroms and anti-Semitic attacks.

With the passing of Pope John Paul II, we have lost the strongest advocate for reconciliation with the Jewish people in the history of the Vatican. This pope was determined to embark on a new course and leave that shameful period behind. From the very beginning of his papacy, when he first visited his native Poland, there were hints that this pope was going to break with tradition and not follow the centuries-old script, with respect to the Jews.

On his 1979 visit to Auschwitz, when he approached the inscriptions bearing the names of the countries whose citizens had been murdered there, he said: “I kneel before all the inscriptions bearing the memory of the victims in their languages…. In particular, I pause … before the inscription in Hebrew. This inscription awakens the memory of the people whose sons and daughters were intended for total extermination…. It is not permissible for anyone to pass by this inscription with indifference…. “

The first time I met the pope was in 1983, when I led a Wiesenthal Center mission to Eastern Europe. There, at a private audience at the Vatican, I expressed my concerns about anti-Semitism and said, “We come here today hoping to hear from you, the beloved spiritual leader of 700 million Christians, a clear and unequivocal message to all that this scourge in all its manifestations violates the basic creed to which all men of faith must aspire.”

Obviously, John Paul II understood that very well, but it is important to place in proper context the considerable obstacles that he had to overcome.

During the height of the Holocaust, when millions of Jews were being gassed, the Vatican found the time to write letters opposing the creation of a Jewish state. On May 4, 1943, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Magaloni informed the British government of the Vatican’s opposition to a Jewish homeland in Palestine. One day later, the Vatican was informed that of the 4 million Jews residing in pre-war Poland, only about 100,000 were still alive.

Six weeks later, on June 22, 1943, the Vatican’s apostolic delegate, Archbishop Cicognani, wrote to then U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull, again detailing its opposition to a Jewish homeland in Palestine and warning him that Catholics the world over would be aroused, and saying, in part:

“It is true that at one time Palestine was inhabited by the Hebrew race, but there is no axiom in history to substantiate the necessity of a people returning to a country they left 19 centuries before…. If a Hebrew home is desired, it would not be too difficult to find a more fitting territory than Palestine.”

To imagine then that 62 years later a Polish Pope would have redefined Vatican thinking regarding the Jewish people is astounding.

Twenty years after our first meeting, on Dec. 3, 2003, together with a small delegation of center trustees, I returned to the Vatican for another private audience, this time to present the pope with the Wiesenthal Center’s highest honor, our Humanitarian Award. On that occasion, I recapped his remarkable accomplishments:

“As a youngster, you played goalie on the Jewish soccer team in Wadowice … in 1937, concerned about the safety of Ginka Beer, a Jewish student on her way to Palestine, you personally escorted her to the railroad station … in 1963, you were one of the major supporters of Nostra Aetate, the historic Vatican document which rejected the collective responsibility of the Jewish people for the crucifixion … in 1986, you were the first pope to ever visit a synagogue … the first to recognize the State of Israel … the first to issue a document that seeks forgiveness for members of the church for wrongdoing committed against the Jewish people throughout history and to apologize for Catholics who failed to help Jews during the Nazi period … the first to visit a concentration camp and to institute an official observance of Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Vatican….”

I did not always agree with the pope, especially when he nominated Pius XII for sainthood or when he met with then Austrian President Kurt Waldheim. But one thing is clear: In the 2,000-year history of the papacy, no previous occupant of the throne of St. Peter has had such an interest in seeking reconciliation with the Jewish people.

With his passing, the world has lost a great moral leader and a righteous man, and the Jewish people have lost their staunchest advocate in the history of the church.

Rabbi Marvin Hier is the founder of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center and Museum of Tolerance.

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Preteen Advocate Educates Nation About Diabetes

At first glance, Emma Klatman’s summer vacation sounds like that of a typical 11 year old. She attended summer camp and traveled to Washington, D.C. Instead of merely a participant at camp, however, Klatman was a featured speaker. And in our nation’s capitol, she came not to sightsee but to lobby legislators.

Klatman serves as the American Diabetes Association’s (ADA) 2003-2004 national youth advocate. Her duties entail promoting research and public policies relating to diabetes, and visiting diabetes summer camps to involve other children in the fight against the disease.

“Emma acts as an ambassador on behalf of all children with diabetes,” said Stewart Perry, chair of the ADA’s National Government Relations and Advocacy Committee. “She puts a face on diabetes in children.”

Perry accompanied Klatman on her recent legislative visits in Washington, D.C., where she urged Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and aides to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Rep. Diane Watson (D-Culver City) to increase funding for research and to insure that diabetes medications be covered under Medicare.

Adapting to her new role like a pro, Klatman presented her case to a supportive Feinstein as the senator walked from her office to a hearing.

“People don’t want to talk to kids when they’re in a hurry, but she did,” Klatman said.

Klatman’s interest in acting (she also attended the Youth Academy for Performing Arts this summer) and a natural poise gives her the confidence to lobby effectively. In one instance, she pulled out her “finger stick” and pricked her finger to show what it’s like to check blood sugar — a constant necessity for those with diabetes.

Visiting diabetes summer camps for children in Illinois, Missouri and Wisconsin, Klatman told the young campers that they can also be advocates, whether by helping other children understand how to manage their disease or by contacting a legislator about important issues. She said this enables children to “gain self-esteem and think that you really make a difference.”

Perry said that youth advocates like Klatman can be more effective than adults in showing children that they “can live a normal, happy, healthy life with diabetes if they take care of themselves.” Her example, he said, shows “this is what you’re capable of — what you can aspire to be.”

Klatman was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 7. She is one of the more than 13,000 American children annually diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes (previously known as juvenile diabetes), which involves a failure by the body to produce insulin. With overweight and inactivity increasing among U.S. children, more cases of Type 2 diabetes are now being seen in children and adolescents. In the past, Type 2 diabetes was considered an adult disease.

Prior to her diagnosis, Klatman experienced symptoms typical of diabetes — she was drinking and urinating frequently, felt constantly hungry and often fatigued. It was at a Purim celebration at Temple Beth Am that her parents realized something was seriously wrong. Her father, Chris Klatman, recalled noticing that Emma appeared peaked, and assuming that she needed something to eat. He bought her more hamantashen and soda, which only served to further elevate her blood sugar. A trip to the doctor quickly confirmed diabetes, and Emma’s life changed from that day forward.

Today, she wears an insulin pump, a blue plastic device that resembles a slightly oversized pager, which is attached to a tube under her skin. The pump automatically administers insulin throughout the day and Klatman presses a button to inject additional insulin based on the food she consumes. She must check her blood sugar levels at least six times a day by pricking her finger and placing a drop of blood in a small device called a glucose meter. Like all people with diabetes, Klatman must keep tight control of blood sugar levels since low levels (hypoglycemia) can lead to loss of consciousness and high levels (hyperglycemia) can eventually cause kidney, nerve, blood vessel and eye damage.

“Sometimes I get so mad that I have to test 10 times a day and I’m not like most kids…. I have something to worry about and they don’t,” Klatman said.

But she said the process has become routine, and even generates admiration among her peers.

Klatman is quite matter-of-fact about her disease and her ability to accomplish her goals. With her youth advocate duties involving monthly travel, she said, “I’ll have to work twice as hard with school, but I’m capable.”

In some ways, Klatman’s illness seems to take a greater toll on her parents, who believe research — particularly stem cell research — may hold the key to the cure for this and other diseases. Until then, her mother, Carol Eisner, noted, “As parents, we’re never relaxed. We really deal with life with Emma test by test.”

While Emma said she can eat anything, her mother elaborates that “eating is never, ever the same…. It’s like keeping strictly kosher: Every single bite that goes into your mouth has thought behind it. For every morsel [you need to ask]: How many carbohydrates does this have and how many units of insulin do I have to give myself for this?”

Because of the frequent need for diabetics to monitor blood sugar levels, one of the ADA’s top priorities involves insuring that children with diabetes be allowed to check glucose levels and inject insulin where and when they need to at school, rather than being forced to walk a distance to the nurse’s office or another isolated location.

Perry talks about other barriers children with diabetes may encounter in schools. “They’ve been told they can’t play football. They can’t be cheerleaders. They can’t go on field trips,” she said. “We want kids with diabetes to be treated no differently than any other kid — not segregated and not discriminated against.”

Emma reflected on what having diabetes means to her.

“I don’t like to refer to myself as a diabetic. I refer to myself as someone with diabetes. It’s something that [requires me to do] more in my life. But I’m still Emma.”

For more information on diabetes, e-mail  or call 1-800-342-2383.

The Sabra Seduction

It was an offer I could refuse — but only for a short time. Yaniv was his name, and his sweet entreaty epitomized the dating habits of the macho, cocky Israeli man (can you say caveman with a cell phone and Chanel sunglasses?). He cunningly wanted to prepare hot cocoa for me in his apartment.

Actually, in his room.

More accurately, on his bed.

I declined, but was coaxed into this little setup before the week was out.

As an Israeli whose life was split between Israel and America in the familial and environmental sense, I have the pleasure of viewing both worlds as a foreigner and native. When it comes to Israeli men vs. American men, I am a big advocate of my Mediterranean-blooded counterparts.

Israeli men seem to have confidence imbedded in their DNA. Maybe it’s from the army, or perhaps it’s the carpe diem syndrome. Maybe it’s outright self-destructiveness. Either way, Israeli guys know how to approach a woman and make her feel like God has descended upon her.

I attribute this approach to an unfair advantage Israeli men have over their American counterparts when it comes to courting Israeli women (can you really call hot cocoa on his bed courting?). Let’s face it, when people have the same life experiences — dealing with an aggressive public, terror attacks, army service, chocolate milk in a plastic bag — they can more easily relate to one another. So Israeli men already have a pretty good idea of the background of their potential prey.

This knowledge inevitably detracts from the taunting image of the unapproachable, mysterious woman on a pedestal, at least somewhat, and results in a boosted sense of chutzpah.

But Israeli men’s confidence is a quality that proves enticing to at least some of those being pursued. If you believe in yourself, others will believe in you — if by nothing more than mere trickery. Every woman loves a man who knows what he’s doing, and Israeli men, even if they don’t know what they’re doing, will never admit it. They approach a woman like they approach the toilet — with conviction and purpose. Women, even new age feminists, can appreciate this quality.

Yet the Israeli brand of macho can sometimes go overboard. Sometimes, and quite often, the Israeli man is considered too cocky and overconfident, an incorrigible flirt and womanizer. Israeli men offer deals — “You come here and I will pamper you with chocolate.” It seems archaic, even primitive, but that kind of confidence can really melt away at a woman’s reserves.

Confidence, unfortunately, is not a word I would use to describe American men. Their approach is subtle; they are over-intellectualized and fearful of trespassing on the female sense of liberty. They want to make a woman feel as an equal. If I wanted to feel like an equal, I would date women.

The beauty in a female-male relationship is that your femininity or masculinity is enhanced by the mere presence of something so different than yourself. American men seem to have forgotten this, and with it their manliness has atrophied.

I like American men because they are the product of an over-analytical society, and sometimes this comes in handy. They are willing to change their opinions. Nothing is ever black and white. They don’t eat meat. They are sensitive to racial equality. They cook and clean.

Yaniv is a carnivorous lug who can’t get enough of his Iraqi mother’s cooking. To him, everything is simpler than how I make it seem. He turns my poetry into prose.

Me: “I feel like I am floating off the air with no one to help me come down.”

Him: “You’re just lonely.”

Me: “I had this image of pierced holes in my back.”

Him: “You were just scared.”

When he brings down my elaborate metaphors to three-word sentences, everything seems clarified. He is almost always right.

To American women, Israeli men are gruff, too adventurous and too set in their ways to accommodate those who don’t know how to not take them seriously. Israeli women, on the other hand, know how to manage.

Israeli women are a breed of their own, too. Strongminded, highly opinionated, no BS and, for the most part, pragmatic. I have an Israeli friend who is dating an American man and her chief complaint is, almost always, “He’s not hard enough.” I translate that on several levels — emotionally, intellectually and, well….

Ultimately, it’s more a matter of personality than anything else. A relationship with either an American or an Israeli both require the common denominator that unites us all and transcends any national barriers — love.

As for Yaniv, the big lug has become quite a sweet guy, no doubt because of my good influences and perhaps his “Americanization.” And by the way, he’s graduated from hot cocoa to latte.

Eulogies:Rabbi Stanley F. Chyet

Rabbi Stanley F. Chyet, professor emeritus of American Jewish history at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) campus since 1976, and assistant to the president and secretary to the board of trustees of the Skirball Cultural Center since 1981, died at the age of 71 at his home in Sherman Oaks on Oct. 19, 2002, after a two-year battle with cancer.

Chyet was regarded internationally as a preeminent scholar of American Jewish history and a translator of 20th century Israeli poetry. He was a passionate advocate of social justice and a gifted poet.

Born in April 2, 1931 in Revere, Mass., Chyet attended Boston Latin School and was a member of the first graduating class of Brandeis University. He was ordained as a rabbi at HUC-JIR in 1957. In 1960, he earned both his doctorate and his appointment to the faculty of HUC-JIR.

From 1960 to 1978, Chyet served as associate director of the American Jewish Archives and editor of the Journal of the American Jewish Archives. From 1978 to 1997, he served as professor and director of the Edgar F. Magnin School of Graduate Studies in Los Angeles.

In the early 1980s, he helped forge the vision for the Skirball Cultural Center. Chyet’s wisdom, warmth and passion for American Jewish history helped shape every aspect of the Skirball. The Skirball’s core exhibition, "Visions and Values: Jewish Life from Antiquity to America," is to a major degree the product of his scholarship and teaching brilliance, particularly sections that examine the immigration experience and Jewish life in America, according to Skirball officials

Chyet’s writings include a number of books, studies, encyclopedia articles, translations and reviews on various aspects of the modern and American Jewish experience. His translations of contemporary Hebrew poems have appeared in numerous publications and he has published hundreds of articles in scholarly journals.

He served on the executive boards of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and Cincinnati’s Yavneh Day School and was involved with the Association for Jewish Studies, the American Jewish Historical Society, the Labor Zionist Alliance, the Jewish Publication Society of America, Americans for Peace Now, the NAACP and Amnesty International. He also served as chaplain in the United States Army Reserve.

He is survived by his wife, Geraldine; son, Michael; and daughter, Susan.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the John Wayne Cancer Institute, St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica or the Skirball Cultural Center.

The Mayor’s Eyes and Ears

Jennifer Stein wears two hats at City Hall. You could say one of them is a kippah.

The recent Stanford University grad, 23, is the South Valley Area director in Mayor James Hahn’s Office of the Neighborhood Advocate. She is also Hahn’s liaison to the Jewish community.

The Neighborhood Advocate position features a well-defined set of responsibilities. Stein meets with homeowners’ organizations, chambers of commerce and community members from South San Fernando Valley neighborhoods like Sherman Oaks, where she lives, and Encino, where she grew up. She explains and offers advice on the city’s various constituent services, and represents neighborhood concerns to the mayor.

The Jewish liaison job comes with responsibilities of a similar vein, but not nearly so well-defined. Who, after all, represents Los Angeles Jews? What are Jewish concerns?

Stein says she has been in touch with Jewish Federation President John Fishel, and also works closely with The Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance. “I’d like to bring more of L.A.’s Jewish community into contact with the mayor’s office,” she says.

Karen Wagener, 55, who served as Jewish liaison under Mayor Richard Riordan from 1999 to 2001, describes the responsibilities of the position as “the eyes and ears” of the mayor in the community, by talking to the mayor about issues relevant to the community and conveying the mayor’s concerns to the community. For example, Wagener helped a Valley community obtain an eruv; she also helped The Federation deal with some zoning problems.

Hope Warschaw, a Jewish community activist and former Hahn campaign worker, described the liaison job in simpler terms. It’s someone “with a name and a face that you can call with a wide range of concerns — traffic problems in front of a synagogue, getting the mayor to a solidarity rally,” she said. “Mainly, it’s a face.” Warschaw described Stein as “very enthusiastic — she will always get you the answers you need.”

Stein’s qualifications for her City Hall jobs stem more from her lifelong political experience than from her Jewish background. Though she recalls attending synagogue services as a child at Wilshire Boulevard Temple and later at Stephen S. Weiss Temple, “I didn’t really get involved with my Jewish heritage until college,” she says.

When she arrived at Stanford, one of the first things she did was to stop by Hillel. “Some of the first people I really bonded with were the Jewish students, and that really began my Jewish connection,” she says.

Politically, however, Stein has been connected all her life. Her father, real estate developer Ted Stein, has been heavily involved in local politics for decades; he once even ran for city attorney — against Jennifer’s current boss, Hahn. After losing that election to the future mayor, Ted Stein has served the city on various commissions, including a stint as president of the Harbor Commission and his current post on the Airport Commission.

Jennifer’s mother, Ellen Stein, is serving her second term as president of the Board of Public Works. Jennifer Stein notes, “I was raised around politics all my life. I remember as a child going to victory parties for city council members. I guess I caught the bug there. There’s nothing better than trying to make your community better.”

Stein’s most important concern as Jewish liaison, she says, is ensuring the free flow of communication and comfort of the community. “Sometimes people feel frustrated that they have no one to turn to in their government,” she says. “I want to make sure that members of the Jewish community always feel comfortable in Los Angeles.”

After only two months in her new position, Stein says she is still working on establishing contacts, especially now, following her recent move from downtown City Hall to Van Nuys offices.

“I’m working right now on doing my own outreach, but the Jewish community — not just leaders, but any people with concerns about the city — should feel free to contact this administration.”

Questions or concerns of the Jewish community may be
addressed to Jennifer Stein at (818) 756-7924, or .