Hungarian airline opens low-cost Budapest-Tel Aviv line


The Hungarian airline Wizz Air started operating low-cost regular flights from Budapest to Tel Aviv.

The maiden flight took off on Dec. 6 from Budapest with 175 passengers, Wizz Air said in a statement. Fares are available from $70 and can be booked online.

The first flight featured a fashion show at 30,000 feet with six Russian models strutting in the aisles wearing fairy tale-themed clothes designed by Frau Blau, an Israeli fashion house.

“The idea was to have the first flight bring Israeli culture, via fashion, to Hungary,” said Rebecca Mandel of Bottom Line Consulting, the Tel Aviv-based PR agency that organized the show.

Noaz Bar, director general of Israel’s Ministry of Tourism, said he was confident the new service, which is starting with four flights a week, would increase the number of tourists visiting Israel.

Wizz Air said it plans to start operating a daily flight in June.

According to Chabad Budapest, thousands of Israeli tourists visit Hungary every year. The city has a community of approximately 1,000 Israeli expats and businessmen that divide their time between the two countries.

Make day school affordability a priority


One of the most daunting challenges facing Jewish communities in North America is the high cost of living an Orthodox lifestyle. Particularly in these difficult economic times, when so many are either unemployed or underemployed, the financial demands seem overwhelming.

The No. 1 expense for most traditionally observant families is, of course, tuition. The day school tuition crisis is no longer something that looms on the distant horizon; it has arrived. The Avi Chai Foundation’s most recent census indicates an across-the-board enrollment drop of 3 percent.

Consider a family with four children earning $200,000 a year. Only 3.5 percent of Americans earn more, yet such families are having difficulty paying tuition bills that typically exceed their mortgage obligations.

Our schools are under enormous pressure as they struggle to deliver a high-quality Torah and secular education to our children. The stress factor is filtering down to families; it deteriorates “simchat hachayim” (joy of living) and erodes “shalom bayit” (domestic tranquility).

Most troubling is the alarming number of students who are considering the Hebrew language charter school option. It is a sad state of affairs for the Jewish people if a Jewish education is comprised of nothing more than the study of linguistics and culture. Unfortunately, parents are considering this option for strictly financial considerations.

The tuition problem has been decades in the making, and we are now facing a broken and unsustainable system. Our success in dealing with this issue is going to be crucial in determining what Orthodox Judaism in America will look like in 25 years.

It is of critical necessity that the Jewish community demonstrates creativity in dealing with the complex and multifaceted issues and challenges surrounding this crisis. At the outset we should be honest: Generations of Jews have sacrificed in order to educate their children, and we must be willing to follow suit. This is particularly difficult for our generation; many of us have been blessed with prosperity and grown accustomed to living an upper-middle-class lifestyle.

Our grandparents and parents paid tuition, but they rarely if ever took vacations or purchased new vehicles on a regular basis. They lived in small residences that were far more modest than those we live in today. The economic downturn has created a new financial reality for many of us. As such, we need to rethink our lifestyles and reassess our spending habits.

Beyond this, however, we need additional honesty to face the multifaceted and complex issues of this crisis that have been avoided in attempting to maintain the status quo; any call to arms also must include the general community, lay leaders, rabbinate and even the schools themselves.

Schools can and should be held accountable for out-of-control spending and quality of education. The increasingly high administrative and infrastructure costs, which were evolving well before the economic downturn, must be restrained. There is a dire necessity for readjusting financial priorities and fiscal responsibility; we must now ask this of our schools, administrators and boards of directors.

Different community settings present different needs. Providing day schooling for smaller populations versus larger ones creates diverse challenges and cost considerations. Opening multiple schools in close proximity in the name of differing “hashkafot” (personal religious philosophies) now demands critical re-evaluation by communities and parents. Achdut (unity) is a baseline spiritual necessity that comes with cost benefits and economy of scale.

How do we ensure that sustaining our schools becomes a communal responsibility? For starters, we should strongly urge that the majority of one’s charitable giving be kept in the local community and that the majority of those funds be allocated to local schools. Additionally, we should develop a system of communal educational endowment funds in which people leave a small portion of their estates to the local community to assure its viability beyond their lifetimes.

The Orthodox Union recently expanded its efforts to address the tuition challenge by creating a Task Force on Jewish Education Affordability meant to interface with community leaders, institutions, federations and local schools. We also have enlarged the resources of the OU’s Institute for Public Affairs, which focuses on legislative initiatives on the state and federal levels aimed at assisting day schools. The institute will continue to advocate forcefully for an array of initiatives, including tax credits for scholarship contributions, state support for busing and special education services, along with other opportunities for various legislative breakthroughs toward tuition relief.

The need to partner with Jewish federations and philanthropic organizations is obvious. The OU will continue to urge their leadership to recognize that Jewish continuity can only be assured through Jewish education. To encourage this response, the OU will accept applications for challenge grants starting this fall. Grants will be awarded to inventive, cutting-edge or novel paradigms that can be implemented, replicated and have broad communal support.

More than 200,000 students are attending Jewish day schools in America, but that number unfortunately is beginning to shrink. Yeshivat Rambam in Baltimore and the Moshe Aaron Yeshiva High School in New Jersey recently closed their doors.

The American Jewish community is perched on a financial precipice. We at the OU—and all those who care about the future of American Orthodoxy—must continue to make day school affordability a priority.

(Dr. Simcha Katz is president of the Orthodox Union.)

Israeli plan set to provide more affordable housing


The Israel Lands Administration Council has approved a plan to offer more affordable housing to some Israelis.

The plan, which comes after four weeks of protests throughout Israel calling for affordable housing, would provide discounts to developers building more affordable housing units. It also would give precedence to those who served in the army or national service, which would hurt the haredi Orthodox and Arab sectors, according to reports.

In the past, preference for less expensive housing was given to families with more than three children, which disproportionately helped the haredim.

The plan also calls for building student housing.

Affordable ways to visit Israel


The price of a standard 10-day Israel trip can be expensive, averaging about $3,000 per person, according to Israel’s Tourism Ministry. But there are a number of programs that can get you to Israel at a reduced price or free, as long as you meet certain criteria.

Aish JerusalemFellowships (goisrael.org) features single-sex study trips with scholarships available to reduce program costs from $2,000 to about $500. Women-only trips include JEWEL (19-30) and GEM (30 and older); men-only trips aimed at current college students and those under 30 include the Alpha Epsilon Pi Jerusalem Road Trip (jerusalemroadtrip.com) and Essentials, a beginner study program for ages 18-29.

American PhysiciansFellowship (apfmed.org) works with Taglit-Birthright Israel to send medical and nursing students — or college seniors with a letter of acceptance to a medical or nursing school — to train at Israel Defense Forces and civilian medical facilities. Students must be under age 26 as of May 31.

BBYO Passport (passport.bbyo.org) offers the 10-day Israel Family Journey, a Jewish heritage tour designed for adults and families of all backgrounds. All meals are kosher, and there are no bus-based tours on Shabbat. The base price is $1,750 per person, airfare and one meal not included. Group rates are available. Membership or prior affiliation with BBYO is not necessary.

GoSephardic (gosephardic.com), an Aish HaTorah program, offers three-week educational trips for 18- to 26-year-old Sephardim. Trips cost $2,000, including airfare, with departures from Los Angeles or New York.

Hasbara Fellowships (israelactivism.com) brings college students with at least two semesters remaining to Israel to study information relevant to becoming a campus activist. Fellows work with Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and are required to run at least one campus campaign.

Livnot (livnot.com) trips provide a glimpse into Judaism through community service, lectures and hikes. The three-week program, aimed at adults 18 to 30, costs $1,000, not including airfare.

MASA (masaisrael.org) offers various semester- or year-long trips for college students (18-30) who want to study in Israel. The programs — more than 150 — vary in duration and cost. Depending on the program, grants and scholarships may be available to help defray the expense; a few cover the entire trip.

Taglit-BirthrightIsrael (birthrightisrael.com) offers free 10-day trips to Israel for Jewish adults 18 to 26 (those turning 27 prior to May 1 are ineligible) who have neither traveled to Israel before on a peer educational trip or study program nor have lived in Israel beyond the age of 12. Birthright enforces strict security measures; participants are not allowed to go off on their own at any time. The program places an emphasis on peer experiences, and many participants develop long-term friendships and continue on with other Birthright initiatives after their trip. Oranim (israelfree.com) offers a similar 10-day trip for Jews 18 to 30, as well as a five-month work-experience program in the hotel industry or a five-month volunteer program.

Volunteers for Israel(vfi-usa.org) works with Sar-El to place American volunteers on Israel Defense Forces bases for two or three weeks to relieve reservists. Volunteers work on the base Sundays through Thursdays. VFI pays for meals, uniforms and housing during the workweek, but participants pay their own way Fridays and Saturdays.

Beyond sicko


Because this was happening a short taxi ride from the White House, I half expected someone from Dick Cheney’s office to burst in at any moment, grab the
microphone and proclaim the conference kaput, dissolved like an inconvenient parliament.

“I think this may be the best day of my life,” Dr. Julie Gerberding, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said at the opening of the 2008 Leaders-to-Leaders Conference she convened last week, along with the country’s state and county public health officials. The agenda: To build a bottom-up coalition to change how America deals with health, to shift our focus from health care to healthiness and to the bigger social factors that determine our national healthiness.

Over two days, I heard so many encouraging ideas from the conference stage that didn’t reflexively demonize public policy-making as nanny-statism that, well, as I said, the whole thing left me looking nervously over my shoulder for political-correctness enforcers from The Cato Institute or The Heritage Foundation.

As one speaker after another pointed out, America today ranks first among industrial nations in terms of how much we spend on health care, but last in terms of how healthy we are as a country. Pick any national metric of healthiness — life expectancy, infant mortality, birth weight, chronic diseases incidence — and America’s comparative performance is in the cellar. It’s true even when you adjust for European populations’ relative homogeneity: if you only count white Americans, we are still the low man on the healthiness totem pole.

We Americans spend more than 90 percent of our health dollars on health care (on doctors, hospitals, insurance, machines, pharmaceuticals and the like), but it turns out that only 10 percent of how healthy we are as a nation is determined by what those health care dollars buy.

How can that be? What could possibly determine whether America is among the industrial world’s healthiest nations, if not the thing we’re all clamoring for: universal heath insurance? The answer — and this isn’t a political opinion, it’s an epidemiological finding — lies in the social determinants of our physical condition. Determinants like income, class, education, racism, the availability of public transportation, land-use policy, environmental policy, participation in the political process and a host of other factors that don’t depend on our genetic makeup or our propensity to take personal responsibility for diet and exercise. Determinants that flow not from luck or individual choices, but from laws, regulations and priorities set at all levels of government and in the private sector as well. (If you want an alarming eyeful about this, check out the new California Newsreel documentary “Unnatural Causes.”)

The way we currently think about health in America — about health care, that is — is completely understandable. We all want access to the best possible health care for our parents, our kids and ourselves, and we want it to be affordable, and we want plenty of choices. What’s astonishing is that even if we covered all the uninsured’s health care, we would still likely rank at the bottom of industrial countries for healthiness. The major causes of our country’s healthiness or unhealthiness are all upstream of the things that send us to doctors and hospitals and pharmacies. The causes are poverty, and stress, and the amount of control and autonomy we have at our jobs, and whether there are showers there, and what they put in the vending machines. The causes are access to early childhood education, and to day care, and whether schools are built near asthma-breeding freeways. They are whether your neighborhood offers public libraries and public transportation and walking trails, or public dumps and liquor stores and fast food franchises.

“I had a colonoscopy the other week,” the CDC’s Dr. Gerberding told the 400 public health officials, business leaders and nonprofits she was hoping would sign on to a “healthiest nation alliance.” “Actually,” she added, “I was billed for two colonoscopies, though I’m sure I only had one.”

Clearly she’s not unaware of the madness of our present health care system. No one facing a family medical crisis wants anything but the best possible treatment at that moment. No one should lack access to quality health care. But prevention is even more important to the country as a whole than treatment is, and the free market alone hasn’t and won’t deliver the level of prevention we need.

To me, the underlying reason America has fallen so far behind in the healthiest nation race is the exhausted dogmas that have dominated public discourse for something like 30 years — Horatio Algerism, social Darwinism, the magic of the marketplace, deregulation is good, government is bad, pull yourself up by your own bootstraps and devil take the hindmost.

We now know what America looks like when those kinds of ideas rule, and not only in the health sector. I’m glad that, at long last, public officials are finding their voice to express politically transgressive thoughts, like the idea that income inequity and racism are bad for America’s healthiness.

I just hope that the Ayn Rand Society doesn’t get on their case.

Marty Kaplan is director of the USC Annenberg School’s Norman Lear Center, where some work is supported by the CDC. His column appears weekly in this space. He can be reached at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

The Fastest Therapy in the West


First there was speed dating. Now, there’s speed healing.

Welcome to The Ten Minute Method, a new form of condensed counseling offered by a Chatsworth therapist that promises to be both fast and affordable at $18 a session.

You may be thinking: 10 minutes? That’s just long enough to rearrange the throw pillows on the couch, pick at your cuticles as you fixate on a poorly framed Matisse print and hear, “We have to end now,” as your shrink eyes the clock on the end table. Not so, according to Richard Posalski, a licensed clinical social worker and marriage, family and child counselor who invented The Ten Minute Method.

“When people know they only have ten minutes, they’re prepared to crystallize what’s going on with them in a straightforward manner,” says Posalski. “In conventional therapy, roughly 75 percent of the time can be just venting and never getting to the problem.”

After 30 years in the business — Posalski was a social worker for the Jewish Big Brothers of Los Angeles and a member of the field faculty of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion before going into private practice — he says less “clutter and confusion” helps him use his intuition to get “right to the heart of the matter.” The therapist describes his counseling style as “Jewish pragmatic.”

So far, he’s conducted about 80 10-minute sessions and has helped patients with a wide range of problems, from one woman’s question about how to handle her sister’s holiday visit, to a mom’s inability to let go of anger at her son’s little league coach. Sessions, both in person and over the phone, deal with “everyday” issues, the type of concerns people are always approaching Posalski with at parties, as in: “This dip is great. By the way, have you ever treated anyone deathly afraid of flying?” Being approached at social events only reminds the counselor that most people have at least one question they’d love to ask a professional.

“There are all kinds of people that want help but would never get into therapy. Either it’s too time-consuming or too expensive, or maybe for the average person, the notion of having their psyche probed is a deterrent,” he explains.

If the idea of a 10-minute therapy session calls to mind those massage therapists who set up chairs at holiday office parties or in front of the health food store, that’s no coincidence. In fact, that’s how the counselor got the idea, watching a masseur set up his chair in the lobby of a local bed and breakfast. He thought, with limited time and resources wouldn’t a talk be as good as a rub?

“I just want to help people feel better,” he says. “And you don’t have to feel crazy to take advantage of a therapist.”

Posalski’s Web site is www.The10minutemethod.com. He can be reached for appointments at (818) 773-9988.

 

Preschool Project Strives to Educate All


King Solomon was known to have coined the expression, “Educate the child accordingly so that when he grows old, he will not leave.” In other words, take advantage of the child’s education as soon as possible.

In modern times, this admonition certainly applies to preschool, and it’s something that my day care school, the Bilowit Learning Center, based in the Lomita-Torrance area, has always taken as a mission.

It’s why we were one of 600 preschools to apply for funding from Los Angeles Universal Preschool (LAUP), a new nonprofit that seeks to establish or to advance affordable high quality prekindergarten education to public and private schools in Los Angeles County. LAUP’s goal is to make preschool universally accessible to every 4-year-old in Los Angeles County. With money from Proposition 10, LAUP funds and expands preschool programs.

Bilowit Learning Center was one of the lucky first 100 schools selected last spring in a countywide lottery as a LAUP school, receiving more than $100,000 in funding.

That good fortune was just the beginning of a process. With the LAUP funding, we hired a new special educator to direct our program, added two new teachers and redesigned the preschool classes with new activity centers.

We then advertised “Preschool for Free — How Can It be?” and left our number to call. Children were admitted on a sliding scale, so that all who were interested could attend. Who would believe that in a few months, the number of preschoolers attending our school would double to more than 40, thanks to the LAUP program?

Through this process, parents of children from all nationalities and ethnic backgrounds had the opportunity to see a Jewish school for the first time, often meeting a rabbi for the first time or learning from peers why some people wear yarmulkes. They saw that, yes, people with different religions, beliefs and backgrounds can get along, working side by side. All this in a safe and sound environment. Prejudices disappear and children learn trust.

In accordance with LAUP guidelines and our desire to provide an opportunity for children of all backgrounds to learn together, we provide secular education to the preschoolers for the half-day program. For the Jewish preschoolers, we offer an additional hour for Jewish studies.

My hope is that the transition from a preschool with such an environment will help children assimilate positively, by helping them live American ideals. We may be different, but we are all the same.

Everything starts with education. If we educate the very young in their most impressionable years, we may succeed in making progress toward the many challenges that lie before us. After all, it is much easier to plant a tree correctly than to reshape it in its maturity.

As the LAUP program increases, the great mosaic is drawn, each child adding beauty and trust. You should visit a LAUP preschool program and see the miracles it performs.

Rabbi Eli Hecht is vice president of the Rabbinical Alliance of America and past-president of the Rabbinical Council of California. He is the director of Chabad of South Bay in Lomita, which houses a synagogue, day school, nursery school and chaplaincy programs.