Shane Gold Burwick and her unborn son died after she developed a blood-clotting condition. Her family, led by Burwick’s mother, Roberta Gold (right), responded by starting a foundation in her name. Her sister, Robyn Fener (left), serves as executive director. Photos courtesy of Robyn Fener

Mother turns grief into raising awareness about blood clots in women


It was supposed to be a joyous time.

Shane Gold Burwick, 31, of Encino, was in the prime of life. She recently had gotten married, had established a successful career licensing wireless content for Sony Pictures and was expecting her first child.

Then, tragedy stuck.

Unbeknownst to Burwick and her family, she had developed a blood-clotting condition called thrombophilia. After a few painful months and an eventual diagnosis, Burwick and her unborn son died in January 2010.

But the story doesn’t end there.

Shane Gold Burwick. Photo courtesy of Robyn Fener

Shane Gold Burwick. Photo courtesy of Robyn Fener

Burwick’s untimely death eventually gave life to a new passion and purpose for her family: educating the public and the medical community about blood-clotting disorders related to contraceptives, pregnancy and post-pregnancy. Led by Burwick’s mother, Roberta Gold, the family launched the Shane Foundation (shanefoundation.org) in October 2013 as a partner of the March of Dimes. Since then, Gold has become a leading expert on blood-clotting disorders affecting women. The foundation also is raising money to fund medical research in Israel that Gold hopes will help prevent women from suffering the same fate as her daughter.

“I felt that if I don’t do something, this anger, if you allow it to be directed inward, it’s extremely destructive on all levels,” Gold said in explaining her decision to start the foundation. “This was my only choice. [This condition] is horrifying, and the deeper I dug, the more horrified I became.”

Gold said that as she pored through medical studies and other information about blood-clotting disorders, she began to realize her daughter’s death was not the anomaly she at first believed. Thousands of other women, she discovered, also had suffered complications from blood clots during pregnancy that, for many, led to premature birth, miscarriage, stillbirth or their own death. In fact, Gold and her family became convinced that Burwick’s death could have been prevented if the medical community had been more knowledgeable about her condition and provided more proactive and effective treatment.

Burwick had shown signs of having a heightened risk for blood clots about 18 months before she conceived, when she survived a life-threatening blood clot in a lung after taking the oral contraceptive Yasmin. Gold believes the contraceptive, which lists blood clots among its possible side effects, initiated Burwick’s blood-clotting disorder. Had Burwick and her doctors been aware of the possible connection between her illness and the drug, Gold believes, her daughter’s subsequent problems could have been identified and treated successfully.

Blood clots are a leading cause of maternal death in the United States, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. A blood clot occurs when blood coagulates into a clump that partially or completely clogs a blood vessel. Blood clots can cause life-threatening damage to vital organs, such as the brain or lungs, and can interfere with the development of the fetus in pregnant women.

About 1 in 5 people in the United States has a blood-clotting disorder, which can be inherited or acquired later in life, according to the March of Dimes. Studies show certain contraceptives significantly increase the risk of blood clots, and pregnancy alone can increase a woman’s risk for blood clots because of changes in hormones and blood composition.

Despite the prevalence of blood-clotting disorders and the potential consequences for women and babies, doctors do not routinely test women to see if they are at risk. Burwick’s sister, Robyn Fener, who is the Shane Foundation’s executive director, said blood tests performed before prescribing contraceptives, during pregnancy or before moving forward with a cesarean section can help prevent blood clot-related tragedies. Doctors also should regularly ask women whether they have a family history of blood clots, she said.

To address these issues, the Shane Foundation has produced written materials on the subject for doctors and patients, and Gold and Fener have spoken to medical organizations around the country.

“The issue for us,” Gold said, “is how are these women going to be identified? How do you know if you’re one of those who should not take Yasmin, who should not take all the fourth-generation contraceptives? And, unfortunately, the only way we know now is when you’re suffering a pulmonary embolism and can’t breathe. And all of these things happened to Shane.”

But tests don’t always succeed in identifying women at risk of blood clots. That’s why the Shane Foundation is raising money to fund research at Hadassah Medical Center in Israel that Gold and Fener hope will lead to a better understanding of who is susceptible and ultimately to better treatment and prevention. They will be launching their fundraising efforts at Sinai Temple on May 16, with an initial goal of $40,000.

In recognition of her expertise, Gold recently was appointed a nationwide patient advocate for the Washington, D.C.-based Council on Patient Safety in Women’s Health Care. She also serves as a member of the California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative at Stanford University, which works to improve maternity care and prevent maternal and fetal deaths.

Gold said she’s beginning to see the foundation’s efforts pay off, with more doctors paying attention to the issue of contraceptive- and pregnancy-related blood clotting. Even so, she believes more public awareness of the problem is needed, a goal the foundation continues to pursue. 

Gold said her work with the Shane Foundation has helped her channel her anger over her daughter’s death in a positive direction.

“Ultimately, there is no path that can be restorative on the levels that we really want, and that’s the worst thing to try to find a way to face,” she said. “We busy ourselves with this other direction, and because we’ve chosen the other direction, we have seen and are seeing tremendous progress.”

The Mensch List: Raising ovarian cancer awareness


Often, when someone is coping with an extraordinary loss, the feelings can be all-encompassing. When Paulinda Schimmel Babbini’s daughter, Robin, died of ovarian cancer at the age of 20, instead of letting the tragic death immobilize her, Babbini made it her mission that no one else should go through what she had.

Babbini is the founder and president of The Ovarian Cancer Circle, a foundation she started in 2010 in memory of her daughter. In 2004, Robin, at age 16, was homecoming queen and co-captain of the cheerleading squad at Pacific Hills High School. That same year she also started complaining of cramps. Doctors brushed it off, saying it was her menstrual cycle. The symptoms persisted, however, and a year later she was diagnosed with stage-three ovarian cancer. Robin underwent a hysterectomy and chemotherapy treatments, and was able to enter into her first year of college at University of California, Santa Barbara. Six months later, the cancer recurred; she lost her tumultuous battle in 2006. 

Since its founding, the nonprofit Ovarian Cancer Circle, which includes 12 members, has raised more than $35,000 to fight ovarian cancer. 

“My focus for starting The Circle is to give ovarian cancer a higher public profile; to support research, educate, heighten awareness to the signs and symptoms of this cancer; and to raise funds for an early-detection test, which does not yet exist,” Babbini said. “So many lives are saved by mammograms, Pap smears and PSA tests [for prostate cancer]. But ovarian cancer is a stealth cancer, almost hidden, with few, and random, symptoms.” They are abdominal pressure, bloating, nausea, indigestion, feeling full but eating less, urinary frequency and constipation, she said. “Knowledge is critically important. I encourage women to pay attention to their bodies, know the symptoms and go to the gynecologist.”

Her group holds fundraisers twice a year and participates in numerous health fairs. They’ve hosted events at Hamburger Mary’s, featuring drag-queen bingo, along with a stand-up show at The Comedy Store in West Hollywood that showcased Sinbad as the headliner. On Feb. 21 at 11:30 a.m., Ovarian Cancer Circle is putting together a luncheon at Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Woodland Hills. The group will donate 100 percent of the proceeds to ovarian cancer research. On the Web site, theovariancancercircle.org, donations can be made by purchasing bracelets, scarves and necklaces in teal, the color designated to represent ovarian cancer, at Robin’s Store. 

Dalia Hayon, a friend, said she admires Paulinda for her strength and giving demeanor. “As a mother and grandmother, I would not have been able to bear the pain. It takes a special person and a mensch to be able to put aside her suffering, [to] be such an advocate for her girl and make sure other people are aware of it and know more about what to expect. She wasn’t expecting to get, but to give. She is a very giving person.”

For her part, Babbini said everything she does is in memory of her daughter. “Robin is my inspiration, motivation and strength. Her spirit inspires me to stay focused and, with steadfast determination, make a difference.”

Synagogue movements team to raise awareness on Iran


Synagogue movements from across the denominational spectrum are jointly calling on American Jews to “make Iran a matter of the highest priority.”

Organizations representing the Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist movements made their pronouncement in a joint statement issued Sept. 4. The statement also outlines “Eight Actions to Stop a Nuclear Iran”— including posting signage at synagogues and bringing up the issue in interfaith dialogue—and urges the U.S. government to increase “economic and diplomatic pressure” against the Iranian regime.

Jewish communal leaders say the statement is part of an effort modeled on the Soviet Jewry campaign to build widespread awareness inside and outside the Jewish community of the threat posed by Iran.

It comes a few days before 350 Jewish leaders are scheduled to visit Washington on Sept. 10 for the National Jewish Leadership Advocacy Day on Iran. Participants are scheduled to meet with members of Congress and administration officials to discuss measures that can be taken to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Signatories on the statement include congregational and rabbinical organizations affiliated with Reconstructionists (the Reconstructionist Jewish Reconstructionist Federation and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association), Reform (the Union for Reform Judaism and Central Conference of American Rabbis), Conservative (the Rabbinical Assembly and United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism), and Orthodox (the Orthodox Union, National Council of Young Israel and Rabbinical Council of America).

Bringing all four religious streams together on such a document “really demonstrates that on an issue of major substance and importance, we can speak with one voice,” said Rabbi Joel Meyers, the executive vice president emeritus of the Rabbinical Assembly, who coordinated the statement.

Meyers was working through the Inter-Agency Task Force on Iran, a group led by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, United Jewish Communities and NCSJ: Advocates on Behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States & Eurasia.

Members of the task force agreed that a common statement on the Iran issue from the religious movements was necessary, Meyers said, adding that putting together the language was accomplished with little disagreement.

“There’s a concern” that this issue “gets lost with everything else going on” from other foreign policy hot spots to domestic issues such as health care and the economy, Meyers said. “We want to keep the issue of the danger of Iran in front of everybody.”

The statement stresses that the United States “must take the lead in increasing economic and diplomatic pressure on the Iranian regime at this time.” It expresses support for President Obama’s “diplomatic initiatives,” but also states that “for too long” the United States has “not taken action” and “not modeled forceful leadership to the rest of the world.”

Among the other eight suggested actions that individuals and Jewish institutions can take to “stop a nuclear Iran” are holding educational forums, contacting elected officials and writing letters to the editor to local publications.

Also on the list is a recommendation that synagogues and other institutions display signs on their property urging the prevention of a nuclear Iran, similar to signs that displayed the names of Soviet refuseniks in the 1970s and 1980s and, more recently, the Save Darfur signs at many shuls.

“We thought that would be helpful in keeping up an awareness level,” Meyers said.

The statement also urges rabbis and others who engage in interfaith dialogue to raise the issue with their partners.

Noting that much of the involvement in Iran activism until now has been concentrated at the leadership level of the community, Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice-chairman of the Conference of Presidents, said that such action will make the issue more visible throughout both the Jewish and non-Jewish communities.

“We want to broaden the base of involvement,” Hoenlein said.

Darfur becomes part of Israeli vocabulary


When 18-year-olds Seraphya Berrin from New York, and Arielle Perlow from Melbourne, Australia, arrived in Israel last fall after spending a week in Poland as part of their B’nei Akiva year abroad program, they were inspired to take action on the world’s current genocide, taking place in the Darfur region of Sudan.

“The trip [to Poland] made me realize that we would be negligent as Jews to our promise of ‘never again’ if we didn’t stand up and do something about it.”

Since February 2003, half a million Sudanese civilians from the Darfur region have been killed by the Khartoum government of Sudan, via proxy Arab terrorists called Janjaweed, as well as by air attacks by the Sudanese army acting in response to rebel attacks on military installations. Journalists have been arrested, the U.N. envoy was forced to leave the country, and Sudanese civilians have been subjected to brutalities including gang rapes and the burning down of homes and religious buildings. More than 3 million have been forced to flee.

Initially, the pair intended to volunteer for existing Israeli efforts; they were shocked to discover that there weren’t any. Just three days after their arrival, on Sept. 17, tens of thousands of people in more than 30 countries around the world were gearing up for Global Day for Darfur, an international rally meant to apply pressure on governments to force the U.N. Security Council to protect the Sudanese civilians. Israel was not on the list.

So, Berrin and Perlow, along with a group of friends from various yeshivas and seminaries across Israel, decided to take matters into their own hands. They planned a last-minute solidarity event, which took place in conjunction with the global efforts, on King George Street in Jerusalem, attracting the participation of some 150 supporters.

Berrin said that during the rally several Israelis approached him to ask, “Who is Darfur?”

“Israelis are rightly so engrossed in their country’s own problems,” Berrin said. “But I believe very strongly that just because we have our own problems at home, that doesn’t mean we can’t help people outside of Israel.”

“I think it’s important for us to keep our domestic home secure, but as Jews it’s important for us to be involved in more global issues,” adds Rachel Kupferman, 18, a student at Yeshiva University in New York, who like Berrin and Perlow is currently on a year program in Israel.

As foreigners in Israel, Berrin said Diaspora Jews like the three of them can play a key role in turning Israel onto global issues.

“In general people from the West are in a special position to do something very positive for Israel,” he said. “We can import some of our positive values and awareness. In this case, we want the average Israeli to know what’s going on in Darfur and to care about it.”

In addition to supporting the citizens of Darfur, the rally’s purpose was to raise awareness in Israel and to encourage activism among Israelis.

“The more people talk about this humanitarian crisis, the faster it will be resolved. As soon as the oppressors don’t think it is in their best interest to continue, they will stop.” Berrin said.

Kupferman is a child of Holocaust survivors, which makes the situation in Darfur resonate all the more vividly for her. “We are not defending the Sudanese government,” she said. “We are defending those who are being persecuted by the Sudanese government.”

Following the success of the rally, the initiators have taken the momentum and founded a full-fledged advocacy group called Hatzilu et Amei Darfur (HAED), which translates to “Save the Nations of Darfur.” It has representatives in yeshivas, seminaries, universities, high schools and youth movements across Israel, and a mailing list of about 400 people that each day rises by 15 to 20 new e-mails, about 75 percent of them in Hebrew.

“Relative to how long we have been up and running, I think we have had a huge impact on the Israeli public,” Kupferman said. “I think we are really making a difference.”

HAED held its second rally in November at Zion Square in Jerusalem, this time attracting some 600-700 people. Speakers included Rabbi Yehuda Gilad of Ma’aleh Gilboa, professor Elihu Richter of Hebrew University and Holocaust researcher Elana Yael.

“All different kinds of Israelis came out — charedi, secular, activists from the right and left wings,” Berrin said. “The turnout really represented the rainbow of Israeli society.”

The group’s efforts did not go unnoticed, particularly not by Eytan Schwartz, winner of the 2004 Israeli reality show “The Ambassador,” and like-minded activist for the citizens of Darfur.

“Seeing these young kids from foreign countries put together this fantastic demonstration was really inspiring,” said Schwartz, who appears on morning shows on Israel’s Channel 2, and who is currently working on his master’s in Middle Eastern studies at Tel Aviv University. “What I was touched by most is that you never see Orthodox people at human rights demonstrations; at least not in Israel. This was an amazingly powerful message.”

While HAED was gathering steam, so, too, were Schwartz’s efforts to establish a coalition of about 10 different organizations in Israel, all dedicated to helping the refugees of Darfur, dubbed the Committee for the Advancement of Refugees of Darfur (CARD).

But unlike HAED, which is aiming to end the genocide, CARD’s primary focus is the Sudanese refugees in Israel. Over the last two years, some 250 refugees from Darfur and southern Sudan have made their way to Israel. When they first started arriving, they were temporarily detained according to Israel’s Law of Entry, since Israel does not grant refugee status to nationals of enemy states. However, the Sudanese nationals were eligible for judicial review, and after a period of months in the Maasiyahu Prison in Ramle, the refugees were released and found their way to kibbutzim and moshavim.

“Unlike HAED, we don’t have our sights set on solving the issues in Sudan; we just want to help the refugees who are in Israel right now,” Schwartz said, adding that their objectives are to raise Israel’s media awareness, fundraise, and find volunteers to make sure the refugees’ immediate needs are looked after.

“We cannot reject these people just because of their nationality,” he said.

“They have escaped genocide and we should be embracing them.”

Reality radio goes kosher


Reality in Israel can be tough, especially for very religious families. In many ultra-Orthodox (Charedi) communities, Torah study for men is more highly valued than work. As for the women, if they are not working to support their husband’s learning or to add to their husband’s often-low income, they are raising children — and many children at that. To top it all off, they can’t escape their financial woes through the secular world’s favorite diversion: the tube.

“In religious communities, especially the Charedi communities, people don’t have televisions at home. Whereas a secular person comes home after work and turns on the TV to watch news, a religious person comes home and turns on the radio,” said Ido Lebovitz, CEO of Radio Kol Chai, Israeli’s most highly rated religious radio station, broadcasting to some 200,000 religious people.

To maintain its edge, Kol Chai has adapted television’s most popular trends to give religious communities, ranging from religious Zionist to Charedi, some kosher entertainment and education all in one. “A Life of Riches and Honor,” the station’s new reality radio show, seeks to assist religious families in overcoming their difficult reality through reality entertainment.

Over the course of 10 weeks, 13 families, representing a cross-section of the religious spectrum, must prove that they can run their households more economically and efficiently than the rest — and that includes paying bills, providing for their children and getting out of the hole.

Every week, the families are given a task related to home and financial management. The first task of the show: Purchase a week’s worth of groceries within a prescribed budget. The commercial teaser for this episode offered the tip: “Don’t go supermarket shopping hungry.”

At the second taping of the episode at the Kol Chai studios in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Bnei Brak, all contestants shared, on air over the phone, their experience overcoming the first challenge.

“We tried to cut and buy only what we need, not just what was within hand’s reach, but to think before buying,” one contestant concluded. “We tried to buy more with less,” said another.

A studio panel of experts from the field of banking, business and household management judge the contestants’ shopping prudence and analyze their savings methods. To help determine the winner, producers compile detailed figures comparing their new spending habits with the old. Listeners at home and the show’s judges vote for the winners based on their ability to cut costs.

At the end of each show, one family is sent back to its poorly managed home. The first-place winner receives 20,000 NIS (about $4,750) worth of electrical appliances — not a bad way to solve at least some troubles.

However, Lebovitz insisted, “the point is not to find a winner but
to increase awareness. The real winners are the hundreds of thousands of people who learn to save.”

Teaching our kids how to give


As a child, I hated having my birthday fall in the middle of December because it meant that no matter when Chanukah began, my birthday gifts were somehow expected to count for Chanukah, too. It just didn’t seem fair that I had to give up some of my gifts because of a glitch in the calendar.

I never told anyone about my frustration, except perhaps a therapist or two along the way. But recently, I heard a story from my friend Rachel about her daughter, Hannah, who also shares the December birthday dilemma that gave me a new insight about birthday gifts and giving.

After Hannah’s third birthday party, Rachel surveyed the room and realized that among the decorations and leftover cake were enough presents to fill a small toy store. And it bothered her that her own child should have so much when there were so many others who have so little. So she came up with a plan that was both ingenious and Jewish-minded to the core.

She told Hannah about all of the children who didn’t have any toys for their birthdays or for Chanukah and asked her what she thought they could do to help. With some “gentle parental maneuvering,” it didn’t take long for Hannah to suggest that she give up a present from the pile on the floor. Hannah chose a Care Bear, a talking doll and a child’s tea set, and together mother and daughter re-wrapped the gifts.

A few days later, Rachel drove Hannah to Jewish Family Service with the presents. When Rachel arrived, she asked a staff person if she would tell Hannah about the families who needed the presents and how much it would mean to the children who received them. A few weeks later when Rachel drove past Jewish Family Service, Hannah looked up in recognition and asked her mom, “Do you think the kids are playing with my Care Bear right now?” Rachel nodded and smiled. It was one of those rare and precious moments when being the parent of a toddler seems like the easiest thing in the world to do.

Tzedakah, or the Jewish commandment to give, has been a quintessential Jewish value since the beginning of time. The Torah teaches: “If there is a needy person among you … you shall not harden your heart or close your hand against him. Rather, you shall open your hand and lend him whatever he is lacking” (Deuteronomy 15:7-8).

Giving tzedakah is one way to achieve tikkun olam, or the Jewish obligation to repair what is broken and lacking in the world. Both affirm our responsibility to give a part of what we have to take care of others who are less fortunate. We do this because Judaism views individual wealth as neither a right nor a privilege but a form of stewardship for which we are charged to care for the world.

Rachel’s family began to put money in a tzedakah box every Friday night before Shabbat and Hannah knew that the box was for the people who didn’t have toys or food or a place to live. When Hannah was 5, she saw pictures of the victims of Hurricane Katrina on television and came running into the kitchen to find Rachel.

“Mommy,” she asked in a worried voice, “don’t we need to give our money to the children in the hurricane?”

Rachel emptied out the tzedakah box and took Hannah to the Jewish Federation with more than $80 in change.

It is difficult, almost impossible, to convey to our children how horrible it is for others who live in poverty, and don’t have families, friends or resources to turn to for help. Not only is the concept foreign to their lives, but it runs counter to contemporary expectations in today’s youth culture of buying more, owning more and having more.

But we can start at an early age like Rachel did with Hannah, by modeling our values and teaching our children the responsibility we have as Jews to care for those in need. And in doing so, we will empower our children with the awareness that they, too, can do something, even at a young age, to make the world a better place.

Amy Hirshberg Lederman is a nationally syndicated columnist, Jewish educator, public speaker and attorney. She can be reached at alederman@cox.net.

How one Boston synagogue met the challenge of the cantor’s sexual abuse


As an attorney representing several victims of sexually predatory Catholic priests, Mark Itzkowitz has witnessed the church’s pedophilia scandal from an almost too-close-for-comfort vantage point.

“Some of the details are absolutely horrifying,” said Itzkowitz, 49, who lives in the Boston area. “I’ve seen things that have made my blood run cold.”

Not long ago, Itzkowitz’s life took a surreal turn when he found himself confronting clergy sexual abuse from a different perspective: The problem had come home to roost in his own synagogue.

Robert Shapiro, the esteemed, longtime cantor of Temple Beth Am, a Conservative synagogue in Randolph, Mass., was accused of repeatedly molesting a mentally challenged congregant, a woman in her late 20s and early 30s when the incidents allegedly occurred between 2001 and 2003.

When the news broke in early February 2003, Beth Am was within days of again renewing the then-70-year-old Shapiro’s contract.

“The people in the synagogue would have followed him to the ends of the earth,” Itzkowitz said. “He had been there longer than the rabbi — more than 20 years.”

Once the shock of the disclosure wore off, Beth Am leaders regrouped and tried to figure out how to manage the situation. That involved not only ensuring that criminal, civil and moral justice would prevail but also preventing the congregation from disintegrating.

In-house guidelines were nonexistent. And attempts to find advice from officials at the Conservative movement’s headquarters were unsuccessful, according to both Itzkowitz, the synagogue board’s attorney, and its rabbi, Loel Weiss.

While Jewish morality is founded on the Torah and other sacred texts, “synagogues aren’t Coca-Cola or IBM churning out specific policies and procedures on right and wrong,” Weiss said. “There is a certain expectation that in a religious institution, people will act properly. But what could have been written on a piece of paper? My mind doesn’t think in those terms.”

Weiss said the little practical information he found that helped guide him through “this hell,” as he put it, was contained in a book about a suburban New Jersey congregation whose rabbi had become involved in a major crime.

“It confirmed my instincts that we needed to give people in the congregation a chance to share their sadness,” Weiss said. “Remember that even before the allegations had been confirmed, people were basically sitting shiva for a longtime cantor who was in many cases a friend of theirs.”

The task faced by Beth Am was daunting: While the case was being investigated internally — and by the police — the rights of the alleged perpetrator and the victim and her family had to be preserved. Meanwhile, the congregation had to be protected. So Shapiro was suspended with pay pending completion of the police investigation.

That probe ultimately revealed that the victim had been assaulted at the synagogue, at Shapiro’s home, in his pool, in a car and elsewhere. Shapiro was allowed to be alone with the woman because he was a trusted friend of her family, who eventually sued Shapiro, as well as Beth Am, Weiss and the former congregation president.

The latter three defendants were dismissed from the suit after the judge determined they could not have known that Shapiro posed a risk, according to news accounts.
Regarding damage control at Beth Am, Itzkowitz said he resolved to do the opposite of what the Catholic Church had done when its priests became embroiled in controversy.

Rather than circling the wagons, stonewalling and failing to acknowledge the community’s anguish, Beth Am officials would be forthcoming, compassionate and responsive, he said.

Since Shapiro had privately tutored many bar and bat mitzvah students, several parents were concerned that their children might also have been victimized. Synagogue representatives were able to assuage their fears, however, noting that there was no evidence of other incidents involving the cantor — at Beth Am or elsewhere.

“This was not a case where somebody passed the buck to us,” Weiss said.

Shapiro originally was charged with seven counts of rape, but as part of a deal with prosecutors, he pleaded guilty in September 2005 to 14 counts of indecent assault and battery on a mentally retarded person. He was sentenced to one year of house arrest and 10 years probation.

Last year, a civil court jury ordered Shapiro to pay $5.2 million to the victim and $750,000 to her parents — an award that will total $8.4 million, including interest, according to the lawyer representing the victim and her family.

“If there is such a thing as a victory in this case,” Itzkowitz said, it is that Beth Am remained intact.

The 400-family synagogue lost no congregants during the ordeal, except the victim and her family.

“And until they come back,” Itzkowitz added, “we haven’t really won.”

An attorney representing the family did not respond to a JTA request for comment, and an attorney representing Shapiro said his client would not comment.

In the wake of the incident, the synagogue has instituted a policy aimed at preventing another one. Beth Am clergy are now prohibited from being alone in the synagogue with any individual, child or adult.

“It’s good in theory,” Weiss said, “but it doesn’t work from a practical standpoint.”

That is one of the many lessons — practical, moral and spiritual — that have been learned in the wake of the Shapiro case.

Weiss and Itzkowitz came away with a renewed sense of affection and admiration for the Beth Am community, which they said responded with courage, restraint and cohesiveness.

But because of his vocation, Itzkowitz encountered the ordeal from a unique perspective. As an attorney, he had already seen his share of lives ruined and houses of worship shattered by sexually predatory clergymen.

And as a result, he offered this sobering advice to any congregation: “Don’t think it can’t happen to you.”

Awareness Center and other blogs draw praise and scorn


There is no unabridged database of rabbinic sexual abusers. But there is the Awareness Center.

It’s not a physical place, but a Baltimore post office box, cellphone number and Web site — ‘ target=’_blank’>unorthodoxjew.com, the ‘ target=’_blank’>Jewishwhistleblower.blogspot.com and Chile’s Jews part of the larger community in Santiago

Run for Her: A new generation of awareness


You might think that getting up at 5 a.m. on a Sunday in November would be an impossible feat for a teenager, but when I arrived to volunteer at the second annual Run for Her 5K/3K Friendship Walk/Run for ovarian cancer awareness and research, I was surprised by the number of kids who came out for such a wonderful cause.

As the participants started arriving, there was such a sense of community. People of all ages came out in support of this cause, and the overall mood of the morning was inspiring. I was amazed at how a seemingly morbid topic could bring out so much joy in a large number of people.

Run for Her was started by a woman named Kelli Sargent as a graduate school project to honor her mother, Nanci, an ovarian cancer survivor. It is designed to raise money for ovarian cancer research, and is sponsored by Cedars-Sinai’s Women’s Cancer Research Institute in Los Angeles.

I volunteered to help that day, because I had never really heard of a fundraiser for ovarian cancer, and I wanted to learn more about the disease. Also, my mother works at Cedars. I knew that the No. 1 cancer affecting women is breast cancer, and I know that much has been accomplished in trying to find a cure. When I found out about Run for Her, and that it was geared toward a lesser-known women’s cancer, I wanted to help.

As soon as I arrived at the race, the volunteer supervisor sent me to staff the start/finish line. My job was to collect the bib tags off of every runner who wanted to be timed. I had to string them together in numerical order as they passed the finish line, and run them to the registration tent to be tallied.

When I was first given this job, I was intimidated because it has a lot of responsibility. But it was also comforting, because the other volunteers were just as enthusiastic and supportive as the runners themselves.

Being given such a significant task made me feel like I was really doing something crucial for the cause. When the race started I was even asked to hold the finish line tape for the first timed male and female runners to complete the race. As I stood there tightly holding one end of the banner, there was an amazing sense of anticipation and excitement when we were notified that the winner was coming.

The excitement didn’t end when the race was over, either. After the race, there was a party celebrating the runners and the Sargent family for all of their hard work and dedication. During the reception, the amount of money that the runners raised was announced. The final number was astounding, more than $300,000, and the total has reached more than $400,000 with additions afterward.

I was shocked that an event could bring in such a large sum of money in only its second year. It really gave me hope that more people would become aware of the threat that ovarian cancer causes to women. The number of kids and teenagers my age at the event also reassured me that we will make sure that even more awareness is raised in the future, so that one day we will have the tools we need to completely eradicate this disease.

For more information, visit at Camp Ramah marks 50 years

Marilyn Harran: A Modern Righteous Gentile


Marilyn Harran

Barri Evins

Alex Baum

Betty Neymark

Eve Marcus

Fran Rosenfield

Marilyn Harran

Noah Bleich

Rebecca Levinson

Yehoram Uziel

Yoram Hassid

As a young assistant professor at New York’s Barnard College in the mid-1970s, historian Marilyn Harran befriended one of the school’s maintenance workers. One day the man asked Harran to look at some of his wife’s artworks.
“Why not?” she remembers thinking.

Unbeknownst to her, his wife was a Holocaust survivor whose charcoal drawings depicted the horrors she had witnessed. A rendering of dead babies’ bodies being stacked like lumber underscored for Harran the Holocaust’s horror and brutality. From that moment on, she made a personal mission of bringing the Shoah to light out of the dark recesses of hidden nightmares. For Harran, who is Protestant, keeping these memories alive is nothing less than a human imperative.

“I want to create a generation that never believes some people are more human than others,” she said.

A diminutive woman with an easy laugh, Harran, now 58, is a professor at Chapman University in Orange, which is affiliated with the Disciples of Christ. Over the past two decades, largely through her efforts, Chapman has come to offer several courses on the Holocaust; it also hosts annual lectures on the subject and even offers a minor in Holocaust history.

In 2000, Chapman opened the Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education and established the Stern Chair in Holocaust Education, which Harran holds.

In April 2005, again at Harran’s instigation, Chapman opened the Sala and Aron Samueli Holocaust Memorial Library. The renowned Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate Eli Wiesel, after two years of coaxing by Harran, attended the library’s dedication ceremony.

With the help of her supporters, Harran “has been able to place awareness of the Holocaust at the center of Chapman’s intellectual life, and, perhaps even more remarkably, as a topic of regular attention and concern in Orange County,” said David N. Myers, a professor of Jewish history and director of the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies.

William Elperin, an attorney and president of the “1939” Club, an organization for Holocaust survivors and descendants that has supported many of Harran’s endeavors, goes even farther in his praise.

“She is the person most responsible for transforming Orange County from a Holocaust denial center to a Holocaust education center,” Elperin said.

Sitting in her Chapman office surrounded by books and a photo of Wiesel, her hero, Harran said she spends about 100 hours per week on Holocaust-related activities. She teaches three classes on the subject, arranges for guest lecturers and oversees her students’ work on an ambitious survivor project she hopes will lead to publication of a book detailing survivors’ experiences. She also participated in the publication of “The Holocaust Chronicle: A History in Words and Pictures,” which has sold 200,000 copies.

Looking forward, Harran dreams of establishing a visiting scholars’ program at the university and growing the Holocaust library’s small collection, although raising the needed money might prove difficult, she said, given her distaste for fundraising.

Harran admits her “obsession” with the Holocaust has taken a toll on her personal life, but she believes it’s a small price to pay. She hopes that maintaining a focus on the Holocaust might encourage students and others to speak up against present-day atrocities in Darfur and elsewhere.

Still, she wonders whether she has done enough.

“I hope I’ve made a contribution,” Harran said.

Rebecca Levinson: Born to Be a Volunteer


Rebecca Levinson

Barri Evins

Alex Baum

Betty Neymark

Eve Marcus

Fran Rosenfield

Marilyn Harran

Noah Bleich

Rebecca Levinson

Yehoram Uziel

Yoram Hassid

Rebecca Levinson grew up always doing things for the community.

“This is what you do,” the 17-year-old junior at North Hollywood’s Oakwood School, said matter of factly.

Just recently Levinson, who goes by Becca, joined PEP/LA, the Peer Education Project of Los Angeles dealing with HIV/AIDS. She has been trained to lead informal discussions with other teenagers on ways to avoid risk-taking sexual behaviors. Already Levinson has spoken at Children of the Night, an organization dedicated to helping child prostitutes.

In addition, for a second year, Levinson is mentoring Francisco, currently a fifth-grader at North Hollywood’s Monlux Elementary School. She meets with him weekly, tutoring him in whatever subjects he needs help.

“He is super-duper cute and obsessed with magnets,” Levinson said.

And last summer she spent a month in El Salvador through Putney Student Travel Global Awareness in Action program. She traveled with 15 other teenagers to San Salvador, where the group learned about the country’s history as well as immigration, globalization and other issues.

They then traveled Santa Marta, a small town on the Honduras border, where they lived in a communal home and assisted the local residents. Levinson, who chose to look into economy and gender issues, worked in a women’s bakery every day, baking bread and talking with the workers. Additionally, she did some AIDS outreach education.

“It was a great experience,” she said. “It taught me how one country’s decisions affect the world.”

Volunteering is in her blood. Her father, David Levinson, is the founder of Big Sunday, which began in 1999 as Temple Israel of Hollywood’s Mitzvah Day and evolved into an annual citywide day of volunteering, now co-sponsored by the mayor. Last year’s event had 30,000 volunteer participants.

This past Big Sunday, Rebecca Levinson manned the clothing market at the Figueroa Street School carnival, which was actually a schoolwide fair and community service day coordinated her mother, Ellie Herman. Levinson’s job was procuring and selling clothes for a minimal amount.

“It was more stressful than I thought it would be,” she said. “Only about five people spoke English.”
While Levinson’s activities seem disparate, she explained the connection.

“They are all interactive. It is necessary for both people to gain something,” she said.

An exception, however, is the American Cancer Society Relay for Life event she organized last year at Walter Reed Middle School.

“A lot of people in my family have had cancer, and I felt an obligation,” she explained. She will facilitate the event again this year, hoping to broaden the turnout.

Levinson’s other major interest is drawing, which she hopes to combine with her passion for social justice. “There are a lot of different ways to communicate with people that interest me,” she said.

As for her future, she wants to become fluent in Spanish. She’s also developed an interest in economics as well as international relations after her summer in El Salvador.

“We’ve been dragging the kids along ever since they can remember, whether to nursing homes to sing or to furnish apartments for the homeless,” David Levinson said. “But Rebecca has found her own path and knows where she can be most useful.”

A Festival of Lights — lite


How many Jews does it take to change a lightbulb?

Here’s a hint: Sing this song by Deborah Kornfield to the tune of “I Have a Little Dreidel”:

I have a brand new lightbulb,
It’s a miracle you see;
It lights the room completely,
Using half the energy.
Oh compact fluorescent lightbulb.
I really have to kvell;
It’s just so energy efficient.
And it saves you gelt as well.

The question is, in fact, the name of a campaign launched by the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL). Humorous title and cute lyrics aside, COEJL is on a serious mission to heighten ecoconsciousness in a Jewish context, and this initiative focuses on — you guessed it — energy-efficient lightbulbs.

COEJL’s Web site describes its three-pronged approach of “engaging the Jewish community in awareness, advocacy and concrete action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote energy conservation and sustainable legislation,” in order to “change how American Jewry responds to … daunting environmental problems.”

This all sounds good, but why, you may be wondering, is this a Jewish issue?
God said this to Adam: “See My works, how good and praiseworthy they are? And all that I have created, I made for you. [But] be mindful that you do not spoil and destroy My world — for if you spoil it, there is no one after you to repair it” (Midrash Kohelet Rabbah 7:13).

And, COEJL argues, Jewish values such as tikkun olam and tzedek should be extended to include not just people but other animals and plants.

OK, you’ve conceded. It is Jewish. But is this really about Chanukah?

Well, what about the Festival of Lights? About making resources last longer than we thought they could? Like for eight nights, perhaps?

High-efficiency lightbulbs actually last eight times longer than regular lightbulbs. Imagine that. And speaking of the number eight, see COEJL’s list of eight actions in eight days as a simple and concrete way to bring some ecoconsciousness into your Chanukah holiday practice.

So, you might be left wondering, just how many Jews does it take to change a lightbulb? As many as possible. As of the writing of this article, more than 20,000 energy-efficient lightbulbs have been sold through COEJL, saving 8,250 tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

So, as you nosh on your latkes this Chanukah, be a modern-day Maccabee — take action against global warming and environmental degradation.

Rachel Kantrowitz is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles.

Group hopes Gaucher becomes household name


When Michael Margolis was 4, his doctor took his parents aside and told them he had a rare disorder called Type I Gaucher Disease. The disease, which strikes Ashkenazi Jews seven times more often than the general population, is a genetic disorder that robs patients of an enzyme that prevents a buildup of fatty tissues in the body. Victims develop a swollen spleen and liver, anemia-related chronic fatigue and debilitating bone pain.

In severe cases, the patient’s spleen sometimes swells so much that patient looks pregnant. Because the condition was considered incurable and untreatable until the early 1990s, Margolis and his family were told that all they could do was ignore it and hope for the best.

Doing so became harder as time went on. In their early 20s, Type I Gaucher (pronounced “go-shay”) patients typically start to go through “bone crises,” in which a buildup of fatty tissues blocks blood flow to the bones. The bones then die over a period of weeks in a gangrene-like process, leaving the patient in debilitating pain. Left untreated for a long time, patients develop weak skeletons and often need both hips replaced. They may also need their spleens removed to stop the progressively larger swelling of the organ that characterizes the disease.

All of that was happening to Margolis, who is 58 now and a television producer living in Valley Village. By 1991, when the FDA approved an enzyme replacement therapy for Type I Gaucher Disease he was only in his 40s, but he was looking at a future that included hip replacements, spleen removal and a weakened skeleton.

“If I had gone on without treatment … I’d have been in pretty sad shape right now,” Margolis, said recently. “I hate to see other people go through the same process needlessly.”

Margolis is on a mission to make sure no one does. Inspired by the success of the early-1980s campaign to raise awareness of Tay-Sachs Disease, he formed the Jewish-Associated Disease Action Committee (JADAC) this spring. The organization’s mission: To raise awareness in the Jewish community of Gaucher and other Jewish-associated genetic diseases, and to make them household names.

The committee’s first strike came last spring, when Margolis, whose professional credits include the 1990s reality show, “Crusaders,” used his professional chops as a TV producer to make an informational DVD about Gaucher Disease called, “A Message to Elijah.” Narrated by Elliot Gould, the DVD introduces new Gaucher patients to three Los Angeles-area patients who are living active, full lives with the disease. It has already reached 7,000 people, Margolis said, and JADAC plans to produce such a DVD for every Jewish-associated genetic disease. They list 15 such diseases on their Web site (Arnold stops at Jewish Home for Aging; Cal GOP says ad campaign worked; North Valley JCC shooting la

It happened one weekend … at the Sisterhood


“Something happens,” I was told across the “first timers” table Nov. 2 at BJ’s Restaurant in Woodland Hills. “When these women get together. I can’t explain it, but
something happens.”

The get-together was the 46th annual Biennial Assembly of the Women of Reform Judaism’s (WRJ) Pacific District (that’s the West Coast, plus Hawaii, Alaska and Vancouver). The woman talking to me was Sylvia Rose of University Synagogue in Los Angeles. She had a name badge around her neck that displayed a ribbon sporting a plethora of colored stickers — YES Fund (Youth, Education, Service), WUPJ (World Union of Progressive Judaism), JBI (Jewish Braille Institute) — symbolizing some of the myriad programs sponsored by the sisterhoods of WRJ. By the end of that weekend at the Woodland Hills Hilton, Rose would be inducted as one of six vice presidents for 2006-2008.

I looked around the party room 40 of us had taken over for the evening at a preassembly function. I was without question the youngest in the room (if you exclude the wait staff). At 28, I was the youngest person at the conference; as co-vice president of membership for my sisterhood, Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks, I am the youngest woman on our board.

While my peers might have been spending their weekend partying, going to see “Borat” or enjoying a day at the beach, I was learning Torah, voting on policy changes and teaching women twice my age how to increase their sisterhood’s membership.

And I loved every minute of it!

I kept hearing over and over again that this “wasn’t your mother’s sisterhood” (of course, every time I heard that, I looked at the next table where my grandmother — the “e-mail chair” and former president of our sisterhood — was sitting).

I joined my sisterhood five years ago, after attending a sukkah party with my grandmother. Like most women who shared their experiences at the assembly, I started small — I volunteered my time on a committee. I was involved in a Jewish sorority in college and saw sisterhood as the next step up — minus the keggers, rush week and homecoming. So I went to some meetings, which led to more meetings, and today I co-chair that committee.

The women whom I now consider my good friends at first thought of me as “Char’s granddaughter from Chicago.” Now she’s known as “Shoshana’s grandma.”

The face of sisterhood is changing, yet a stigma remains. For all of the efforts of these articulate, intelligent, hard-working women, the word “sisterhood” still brings up images of old ladies wearing aprons as they set up the Shabbat Kiddush. It probably doesn’t help to point out to my contemporaries that all of the district officers inducted at the meeting were my mother’s age or older.

When I suggest joining sisterhood to my friends, who are in their 20s and 30s, they tell me they’ll join sisterhood “later” — and they come up with a slew of reasons why they don’t want to join now. But I’ve never been one to take no for an answer.

Complaint: I don’t have anything in common with these women.
Answer: How do you know unless you meet them? Our youngest member is 15; she and her mother are good friends of mine. Our oldest member is 95; she’s also a friend of mine.

Complaint: How will I meet guys my age hanging out at a sisterhood?
Answer: Um, hello. These women are mothers and grandmothers who have Jewish sons, grandsons and nephews.

Complaint: The programs are so boring. I don’t want to just sit around listening to speakers.
Answer: So join and change it. Our sisterhood has a group of young mothers of children in preschool and religious school who recently sponsored a bra fitting at Nordstrom before the store opened to shoppers — and brought in an OB/GYN to talk about breast cancer awareness.

Complaint: I don’t have time to be involved.
Answer: Really? Well can you make a phone call, fold an invitation or send out an e-mail? Bet you can.

Sisterhood is not for everyone: People who can’t stand other people won’t like it. But that’s about it.

These women offer an arm when you’ve twisted your ankle and a shoulder to cry on when you get bad news. They bring food when you can’t leave the house and tell jokes when you need a good laugh. They’ll argue with you when you want a good fight and support you 100 percent when you feel that no one else will. They raise money to send rabbis to school and to send Jewish kids to Jewish camps; they help the infrastructure of their synagogues and that of synagogues around the world.

WRJ is also the predominant sponsor of the new Women’s Torah Commentary that is being published next year (I saw a preview of the Chayei Sarah segment, and it looks awesome).

By Saturday, I wore an small Torah pin I had purchased at the “Faire and Share,” in support of the YES Fund. But I’m very proud that I join the ranks of those name-badge-wearing sisters who came before me.

Sylvia was right: These women get together and something happens. But I can’t really describe it either — I guess it is something you’ll have to see for yourself.

FYI: We’re taking over San Diego in December 2007.

Interfaith dialogue continues locally despite Hathout brouhaha; Sukkot huts inspires home building


Interfaith dialogue continues locally despite Hathout brouhaha
 
After the brouhaha surrounding Maher Hathout, the Muslim spokesman who received a human relations prize last month amid protests by some Jewish groups, the state of interfaith relations in Los Angeles may appear to be at a low point.
 
But in fact, that is not the case, as evidenced last week, when Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Bahá’í­s and more gathered at Sinai Temple for a dinner honoring Rabbi Paul Dubin, one of the founders of the Interreligious Council of Southern California.Interfaith dialogue is “at a high point,” said Dubin, 81, seated at a small, round table during the evening’s cocktail hour. “Fifty years ago, interfaith relations really consisted of (conversations between) Christians and Jews. Today, we have more than 10 faith groups in this Interreligious Council,” said Dubin, who helped create the council nearly 40 years ago.
 
Nearby, two Hindu monks wrapped in orange cloth, representing “the fire of the spirit,” huddled together. A Catholic priest, dressed in black with the traditional white collar, greeted a Buddhist in a brown robe and jade prayer beads.
 
A Sikh wearing a white gown and turban surveyed the room with satisfaction. “People need to see us like this more — doing things together,” she said.
 
During dinner, Jihad Turk, vice president of the Interreligious Council, sat beside a Holocaust survivor, discussing ways to deal with extremist elements within religious communities. “My father is Palestinian, and my name is Jihad,” Turk said. Nevertheless, he has come to realize that “Islam and Judiasm share so much in common. We truly are close kin.”

At another table, in between bites of salmon, sweet potato and asparagus, an Episcopal priest was talking about a trip he had taken to Israel with Jews, Christians and Muslims. Across from him, the Rev. Albert Cohen, a delegate to the council who represents Protestant churches, explained why the board decided to honor Dubin.
 
“We wanted to have a dinner, and we wanted to build it around the person we loved the most,” Cohen said. “Rabbi Dubin relates to everybody.”
 
“In our religion,” chimed in Dr. Jerome Lipin, a Jewish pediatrician, “we’d call him a mensch.”
 
As dessert arrived, Rabbi Elliot Dorff, rector of the University of Judaism, gave the keynote address.
 
“If we believe each of our religions is true, then how is it that all the other religions aren’t false?” he asked.
 
Dorff suggested a few ways we might believe in our own religion without negating others.
 
Humans are not omniscient, so we can recognize that our own knowledge is limited, he said. Also, if we all were intended to have the same views, then we would have been created the same. The fact that each of us is unique suggests that every one of us has an element of the sacred within.
 
Next, Dubin took the spotlight.
 
“I want to tell you why I have felt so strongly about participating in interfaith meetings and dialogues,” Dubin said. “It can be summed up in one word: pluralism. By pluralism, I mean not the toleration of another faith — I hate that word, ‘toleration’ — I mean respect and acceptance.”
 
After a standing ovation, the Rev. Gwynne Guibord, president of the Interreligious Council, announced, “Our time has ended. Go in peace.”
 
The guests dispersed into the halls of the temple. Some visitors peeked into rooms, hoping to get a glimpse of the main sanctuary.

“This is quite the place,” one said on his way out into the chilly night.
 
— Sarah Price Brown, Contributing Writer
 
Sukkot huts inspires home building for homeless
 
While many Los Angeles Jews commemorated the second day of Sukkot by eating outside in their temporary dwelling created just for the holiday, Wilshire Boulevard Temple members took the edict of the holiday even further.
 
On Oct. 8, some 300 members — adults and children — at the temple’s two locations partnered with Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles to help build real dwellings for low-income families.
 
Adults helped build housing frames, which will be used in the homes of “partner” or low-income families. The children sewed 400 pillows and made 400 welcome home signs. The congregants put together 800 outreach kits for PATH (People Assisting the Homeless) and they fed 140 families at the temple’s food pantry.
 
“The Festival of Sukkot commemorates the temporary shelter Jewish ancestors lived in during their years of wandering in the desert and represents the building of shelter,” said Rabbi Stephen Julius Stein of Wilshire Boulevard Temple in a press release. This first-time partnership between Wilshire Boulevard Temple and Habitat “helps to raise awareness and support of the need for affordable housing for local families.”
 
Habitat strives to eliminate poverty housing through advocacy, education and partnership with families in need to build simple, decent, affordable housing. Since 1990, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles has built more than 180 homes, transforming the lives of hundreds of individuals. In the fall of 2007, the organization will host the Jimmy Carter Work Project, Habitat for Humanity International’s preeminent event. The project will bring Carter, his wife, Rosalynn, and thousands of volunteers from around the world to Los Angeles to help build or renovate 100 homes.
 
“It was a very productive day as regards to Tikkun Olam at Wilshire Boulevard Temple,” Stein said.
 
For more information, visit www.habitatla.org.
 
— Amy Klein, Religion Editor

Shop for a breast cancer cure
 
With Breast Cancer Awareness Month in full swing, M”&”Ms, KitchenAid appliances and Coach key chains have consumers seeing pink. Mattel has launched a new Pink Ribbon Barbie as a way for adults to talk with kids about the disease. Dyson is featuring a limited-edition pink vacuum cleaner and Seagate has jumped on the Susan G. Komen Foundation bandwagon with a pink external 6 gigabyte hard drive.
 
Locally, the newly opened Nordstrom at Westfield Topanga will feature Fit for the Cure, a special bra-fitting event on Oct. 21. Wacoal will donate $2 every time someone gets fit for a bra, as well as an additional $2 for each Wacoal, DKNY Underwear or Donna Karan Intimates bra purchased during the event. Also, Vons and Pavilions stores are hoping to help generate $6 million as part of Safeway’s fifth annual Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign, with proceeds from sales of pink ribbon pins and pink wristbands at checkstands going to services for patients and research. The grocers will also donate funds from purchases of specially marked products, and are making a free download of Melissa Etheridge’s song, “I Run for Life,” available to its customers.
 
Other retailers running special sales promotions include Aveda, Lady Foot Locker, Payless ShoeSource, Target and Bed Bath & Beyond.
 
— Adam Wills, Associate Editor

Letters to the Editor 07-07-06


Converts
As a convert to Judaism, I was reassured to read your series of articles on those like me who chose to become Jews (“Did It Stick?” June 2). A lapsed Catholic with many Jewish friends growing up on Long Island, early on I was attracted to the ethics and worldly focus of Judaism. Following a course of study at Temple Emanuel in New York City, I converted in 1967, and my first wife and I raised our three children in the Jewish tradition.

In 1992, on the eve of her bat mitzvah, my youngest daughter asked if I would be bar mitzvahed with her. That glorious day came to pass at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, with Rabbi Harvey Fields observing that in the 130-year history of the temple, there was no record of a father and daughter having a b’nai mitzvah. At the party afterward, when Tessa and I greeted everyone, I said that I had checked around the room, and I was the only person who had had a first holy communion and a bar mitzvah.

In my life in Los Angeles with my wife, Wendy, inspired by Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller at UCLA and through my work with the Progressive Jewish Alliance, enriched by interfaith activities, Judaism has strengthened and complemented my struggle for civil liberties, human rights, peace and justice.

Stephen F. Rohde
Los Angeles

Kosher
From reputation and general veneration, I had always believed Rabbi Jacob Pressman to be an intelligent and reliable community leader. Reading his foolish letter June 16 convinced me I was wrong on all counts (“But Is It Kosher?” June 9).

Pressman would have us believe that there is some Orthodox cabal controlling the purse strings of the literally hundreds of kashrut supervising agencies; that a group of black-hatted, white-bearded rebbes control the bank accounts and policies of these “for profit” groups — this is America after all — shades of the protocols! And all that has to be done to properly fund day schools is to divert these funds to cover the schools’ budgets, how simple and how asinine and misleading. Shame on you Rabbi Pressman. You do know better!

Growing up in Los Angeles I know that neither Pressman nor his Conservative (and Reform) colleagues contributed one whit to kashrut observance in this city. There were no restaurants or widespread bakery products available while he was in his prime, so he has nothing to say.

As regards high and truly unbearable tuition rates in our city, there is a simple solution, one that both the secular rabbinate and The Jewish Journal oppose — vouchers. I and my fellow community members pay thousands in taxes to fund a public school system that we choose not to use. Can’t we get some credit?

Howard Weiss
Los Angeles

I enjoyed reading Rob Eshman’s article that detailed the controversy that followed People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) with the Orthodox Union over kosher slaughter practices, and AgriProcessors’ questionable treatment of its own workers. Most interesting to me was the latter part of the article, which tried to discuss the nature of kashrut.

The article quotes scholar Meir Soloveichik as calling the nature of kashrut “mysterious and obvious … the Bible insists that it be perfectly clear to the non-Jew that the Torah-observant Israelite lives a life that reminds him constantly of his unique relationship with God.” In other words, it is to let the non-Jew know that we are special and follow laws meant to “set us apart and elevate our souls.”

Then in the last breath of the article, Eshman recommends that “the kosher label should not just imply the humane, responsible treatment of animals and the just treatment of food industry workers, it should certify it.”

In other words, kosher should mean that universal standards of humane treatment are being met, standards that any reasonable person would want.

So, which is it? Do we follow kashrut to set ourselves apart from the rest of the world or to encourage the rest of the world to join with us? It can’t be both.

Les Amer
Los Angeles

Finkelstein Syndrome
Roz Rothstein’s article on the anti-Semitic Jew, [Norman] Finkelstein, highlights a major lapse in common knowledge about Jewish history (“Beware the Finklestein Syndrome,” June 9). While every effort is made to inform the world about the Holocaust, very little information is disseminated about the history of lies and hate against the Jews, or its relationship to the Holocaust. I have seen history books that devote two pages to Anne Frank but fail to mention that Jews were patriotic Germans and no threat to Germany.

Theobald of Cambridge, a 12th century apostate to Catholicism, created the “blood libel” which has lasted to this day and caused thousands of Jewish deaths. If there was general awareness of the history of hatred against the Jews, then when people hear a Finkelstein, they can wonder, is he a whistleblower or a modern-day Theobald?

Those who wish to spread vicious lies against Jews today do not convert to another religion; their venom is more credible when they remain Jews, especially if they can claim to be from a family of survivors.

Ronnie Lampert
Los Angeles

DaVinci Code
Enjoyed your articles on “The DaVinci Code,” (May 19), but only the first three gospels of the New Testament (Mathew, Mark and Luke) are synoptic gospels. They are synoptic because they are similar to each other and different from the writings of the fourth gospel of John.

Brett Thompson
via e-mail

John Fishel
While the article titled, “A Private Man,” about John Fishel that ran May 26 was informative, it did not highlight one of Fishel’s key strengths.

Expert after expert has declared that a vital dynamic causing growth and change in 21st century Jewish life is directly proportional to the successful rise of entrepreneurial, Jewish, social venture startups. Jewish Los Angeles has spawned more of these new and creative organizations that address the myriad interests and needs such a diverse population requires than any other area outside of New York.

A great deal of these initiatives are being adapted and re-created in cities across the country, such as new spiritual communities, organizations that decry global genocide and serve the special needs of Jewish children among many others. Fishel has consistently taken the position that new organizations can and should arise and that their existence alone adds immeasurable value.

This is not true in most places. I believe the prolific number of creative ventures attest to the success of this position and must be noted.

Rhoda Uziel
Executive Director
Professional Leaders Project

 

Jewish World Watch Eyes National Stage


Janice Kamenir-Reznik wasn’t sure where Darfur was on the map when she heard a Rosh Hashanah sermon at Valley Beth Shalom some 18 months ago.

During his sermon, Rabbi Harold Schulweis told the congregation that “Never Again” applies not only to the Holocaust but requires Jews to speak out and act against genocides anywhere, especially in Darfur, and urged formation of a new organization, Jewish World Watch.

Characteristically, Schulweis immediately followed preaching with action and asked Kamenir-Reznik to serve in a volunteer capacity as co-founder, president and CEO of the nascent organization.

The 54-year-old Encino lawyer, mother of three and veteran problem solver, has since learned much about Darfur, and she has shared her knowledge to help mobilize a vital segment of the Jewish community, especially young students, to transform awareness into tikkun olam, or repairing the world.

As of now, the 3-year-old Darfur genocide is no longer unknown, but its horrors continue. Currently spreading from the Sudan to neighboring Chad, it has claimed 400,000 civilian dead and 4 million refugees, accompanied by mass rapes of women and starvation among children.

The problems are staggering, but adopting the biblical injunction, “Do Not Stand Idly By,” Jewish World Watch has mobilized synagogues and schools, launched an effective divestment from Sudan campaign, and is now starting to ship solar cookers to a refugee camp.

The solar cooker concept is an elegantly simple response to a terrifying fact of life facing 20,000 people, almost all women and young girls, in the Iridimi refugee camp in eastern Chad.

While foraging for scarce firewood for basic cooking and water purification, the women and girls are at constant risk of gang rapes by roving bands of Arab militiamen. However, these dangerous excursions and the resultant atrocities can be circumvented through the use of simple, inexpensive sun-powered cookers made of cardboard and aluminum foil — donated by Jewish World Watch — that can be easily assembled by the refugees.

The cookers have proven their worth in other African countries, and Jewish World Watch, spearheading the Coalition to End Gang Rape in Darfur, aims to send 6,000 of the devices to families in the Iridimi camp.

Another front in Jewish World Watch’s three-pronged campaign of education, advocacy and financial support is to persuade public institutions to divest themselves of holdings in recalcitrant companies doing business with the Sudanese government.

Kamenir-Resnik, addressing the University of California regents before they approved such a divestment, said that in general the Jewish community opposed such a tactic, because of its misuse against Israel.

But in order to counter the Darfur genocide, she said, “The divestment tool is not only morally appropriate, but is, indeed, a moral imperative.”

Among the most persuasive advocates of this cause was a four-person delegation of 12-year olds from the Temple Israel of Hollywood Day School, who testified last week before the Los Angeles City Council.

Their appearance was the culmination of a year-long project, inspired by Jewish World Watch, in which 16 sixth-graders studied the issues and raised nearly $900 through bake sales, washing cars and sale of green Jewish World Watch wristbands at a Purim carnival, said Orley Denman, their teacher.

Natan Reches, one of the four student reps, described his participation as “a life-changing experience,” and the L.A. City Council followed through by voting unanimously to divest funds held by the state employee and teacher retirement systems.

By now, 43 Los Angeles-area synagogues, ranging from Reconstructionist to Orthodox, and with a combined membership of nearly 200,000, are members of Jewish World Watch, with Temple Israel’s Rachel Andres as a main sparkplug. They have raised $500,000, mostly in small denominations, of which the bulk has gone toward the building of two medical clinics and construction of water wells.

Recently the local American Jewish Committee chapter, ignoring organizational turf, collected $7,500 at a luncheon for the Jewish World Watch effort.

Education was the first emphasis of the Jewish World Watch founders and remains a top priority. Some 50 volunteer speakers have fanned out to high schools, summer camps and synagogues, with impressive results.

For instance, at Calabasas High School, the Armenian Club raised more than $2,000 by selling self-designed T-shirts, and senior Samantha Finkelstein has spread the word by talking to large assemblies at 10 other high schools.

Although now focusing on Darfur, Jewish World Watch holds to its original mission statement: “To combat genocide and other egregious violations of human rights around the world.”

Jewish World Watch is now hiring its first executive director and is evaluating future directions: Whether to expand from its Los Angeles base and go nationwide, and whether to address itself to other genocides and human rights violations, without neglecting its Darfur mission.

Amid considerable acclaim for Jewish World Watch’s work, there have been some critical questions. Some come from “insular Jews,” as Kamenir-Reznik calls them, who ask why they should give to non-Jewish causes, and, in any case, “nobody helped us during the Holocaust.”

Since the main perpetrators in Darfur are Arab Muslims killing black African Muslims, some skeptics wonder whether there might be a political, pro-Israel subtext to Jewish World Watch’s concern, and whether the black survivors will be subsequently “grateful” for Jewish help.

Perhaps the best answer is given by Schulweis, who told a recent press conference about Jewish World Watch’s work: “I’ve been a rabbi for 50 years and have never seen such a response, especially among young students,” he said. “Some people say about the Darfur genocide that it’s an internal matter, that reports have been exaggerated. These are the same excuses we heard during the Holocaust.

“There is always an alternative to passive complicity. If we now turn aside, that would be our deepest humiliation,” he said.

For more information, call (818) 501-1836, e-mail info@jewishworldwatch.org, or visit www.jewishworldwatch.org.

 

Iranian Colored Band Report Discredited


When the renowned exiled Iranian journalist Amir Taheri reported in a Canadian newspaper last week that Iran had just passed a law requiring Jews to wear yellow bands on their clothing, the world reacted with shock. The story, which also outlined required colored bands for Christians and Zoroastrians, was immediately picked up by major newspapers in Israel, and the word spread quickly. The purpose of the law according to Taheri’s article, was to set a standard dress code for Muslims and also for Iranian Muslims “to easily recognize non-Muslims so that they can avoid shaking hands with them by mistake and thus becoming najis [unclean]”.

The story seemed credible, given that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been making anti-Semitic and anti-Israel proclamations for months. But, as it turned out, Taheri was wrong. No such law had been passed.

Nevertheless, Taheri’s report set in motion a media frenzy, with checks and balances of rumor control that illustrate how on edge — and careful — the Iranian exile community is these days. Local Iranian Jewish leaders were bombarded with requests for comments from the international media on the reported legislation, but they held back from responding until they had received solid confirmation from their sources in Iran.

“To the best of my knowledge the final version of the law does not demand any identifying marks by the religious minority groups,” Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the Los Angeles-based Iranian American Jewish Federation said in a press release. “I am not aware of what was said by whom, but it is possible that some ideas might have been thrown around.”

Kermanian also said that while Iran’s Islamic officials have in the past put out ideas in the media to gauge international reaction, there was no specific information about this instance.

The report stemmed from new legislation geared to making women in Iran dress more conservatively and avoid Western fashions, Iranian legislator Emad Afroogh Afroogh who sponsored the Islamic Dress Code bill told the Associated Press on Friday. Allegations that new rules affecting religious minorities were not part of the new regulations, he said.

“It’s a sheer lie. The rumors about this are worthless,” Afroogh said. “There is no mention of religious minorities and their clothing in the bill.”

Morris Motamed, the Jewish representative in the Iranian Parliament also denied the existence of any bills designed to segregate Jews in the country with special insignia on their clothes.

“Such a plan has never been proposed or discussed in the parliament,” Motamed said. “Such news, which appeared abroad, is an insult to religious minorities here.”

Rumors of anti-Semitic laws in Iran have disturbed local Iranian Jews who have been increasingly concerned for the safety of roughly 25,000 Jews still living in Iran since Ahmadinejad denied the existence of the Holocaust and called for Israel to “wiped off the map” late last year.

“The mere fact that such possibilities are considered to be plausible is a reflection of the sad state of affairs of the religious minority groups in Iran,” Kermanian said in his press release.

According to a 2004 report prepared by Frank Nikbakht, a local Iranian Jewish activist who tracks anti-Semitism in Iran, the Jewish community lives in constant fear for its security amid threats from militant Islamic factions in the country. Since 1979, at least 14 Jews were murdered or assassinated by the regime’s agents, 11 Jews have disappeared after being arrested, at least two Jews died while in custody and 11 Jews have been officially executed by the regime. In 1999, Feizollah Mekhoubad, a 78-year-old cantor of the popular Yousefabad synagogue in Tehran, was the last Jew to be officially executed by the regime, stated the report.

In 2000, the local Iranian Jewish community was at the forefront of an international human rights campaign to save the lives of 13 Jews in Shiraz. They were facing imminent execution after being arrested on trumped-up charges of spying for Israel and the United States. Ultimately, the Shiraz Jews were not executed but sentenced to prison terms and have since been released.

Both Jews and Muslims of Iranian origins living in Southern California have been closely collaborating to raise public awareness of Ahmadinejad’s comments. Nearly 2,000 Iranians of various faiths gathered at a pro-Israel rally in Westwood last November to condemn Ahmadinejad’s calls for Israel’s destruction.

“We wanted to show the world that we are against such comments made by Mr. Ahmadinejad and that his comments are not representative of the Iranian people,” said Assadollah Morovati, owner of KRSI “Radio Sedaye Iran,” a Persian language satellite radio station based in Beverly Hills that broadcasts news around the world. “Iranians are not the type to want the destruction of another people. We respect the Jewish people and only wish success for the State of Israel.”

 

Wandering Jew – A Relief to Laugh


As master of ceremonies of “Middle East Comic Relief 2,” Peter the Persian, a stout Iranian American comic who moonlights as a labor attorney, says of the comedians performing on a recent evening, “We’ve screened all these Middle Easterners. We’ve cleared them out. They’re all Jewish friendly.”

That gets a roar from the mixed crowd.

“Most of them are Jewish friendly.”

Another roar.

“Some of them are Jewish friendly.”

Peter the Persian is certainly one of the friendly ones at the Levantine Cultural Center in Culver City, an organization dedicated to fostering cultural awareness among all Middle Easterners. And this is a friendly house, even if it’s located on a dead-end street amidst desolate warehouses and almost no street lighting. It’s the kind of street Bugsy Siegel might have once used for silencing a rival hood.

Inside this cavernous barn with Persian rugs draped like curtains over the back walls of the elevated stage, there are no mobsters or secret cells from what we can tell. There are just ordinary citizens, but that doesn’t stop the host, Jordan Elgrably, a svelte man in a black shirt, from saying, “All those who are working here for Homeland Security, please raise your hand.”

No one here is from Homeland Security, but there are “all kinds of creatures” at this event, as Peter the Persian says.

A few rows in front there is a middle-aged man with a 5 o’clock shadow, who wears an unusual furry cap. It looks a little like the Siberian beaver caps once fancied by Mikhail Gorbachev, except it’s not quite as furry and mixes black and white hues.

“What do you call that cap?”

“It’s a Karakul,” says the man with the stubble. “From Kashmir.”

His female companion wears another exotic hat.

“It’s a Manali,” the man says.

“Is that in Indonesia?”

“Manali, India,” she says. “In the Himalayas.”

Elsewhere, a man holds a glossy Iranian American magazine called Namak; he has opened it to a two-page spread with the headline, “God & Allah Need to Talk.”

“Any Muslims here tonight?” Elgrably asks.

Only one person, a grinning young man, raises his hand.

“You can drink,” he’s told.

The rest of the crowd, several hundred from a glance, settles in as Peter the Persian introduces the first comedian, a 30-something woman of Syrian descent named Helen Maalik, who has come from New York to appear tonight.

Though Maalik is Syrian American, and this evening’s entertainment is billed as a post-Sept. 11 satire, she focuses initially not on the Middle East or national security concerns but rather on dating.

Wearing jeans and a faded yellow and green striped shirt, the attractive, petite Maalik says that she doesn’t have much sympathy for women who complain about not getting dates.

“Put out,” she says in a voice that suggests a whine and a smidgen of urban anomie. “Do it, especially on a first date.”

Continuing her riff on dating, she relates the tale of a young woman who complains about a homeless man asking her out–“Those guys come with a lot of baggage.”

Maalik says in that whiny voice, “Stop it. We all have it. His is just plastic.”

Then she switches to ethnic concerns. “I’m 100 percent Arab, not 50 percent Arab and 50 percent normal,” she says, but people often tell the light-skinned Maalik that she looks Jewish. “I don’t mind looking Jewish. I have no problems at airports.”

The crowd breaks up at that joke, as it does when she says, “My husband is Indian Muslim, I’m an Arab. So we’re on the FBI list twice.”

She leaves to much applause, after which Peter the Persian introduces Sanjay Shah, an Indian comic from Los Angeles, and then Nasry Malak, an Egyptian American who, like Maalik, hails from New York.

“I’ve never done stand-up comedy in an airplane hangar before,” says Malak, who resembles Johnny Mathis not only in his smooth good looks but also in his velvety voice.

A political comedian, Malak jokes about how his family has decided to “turn his father in” to the authorities. Not that his father has done anything wrong, but it would be a patriotic act.

Then he says that “the homeless of America should not be smarter than the president of America. Bush might be the dumbest man in the world.”

Upon reflection, he adds, “Sometimes I think Bush might be the smartest man in the world. He’s messed up this country so badly that immigrants don’t want to come here anymore.”

As Malak leaves the stage and intermission arrives, Peter the Persian ascends the platform and then asks us all to say “Bush.” He extends the U like it’s two or three O’s. Everyone says, “Booosh.”

At the break, a woman tells Peter the Persian that he looks Jewish. Putting down his Pilsner Urquell beer, Peter, for once at a loss for words, says, “I am … I am … nothing.” Then he adds, “I am a populist.”

I tell Peter that I must leave. It’s 10 p.m.

“I’m not offended,” he says in a slight deadpan and hands me his business card.

“He’s really brilliant,” says another woman, who tells me that the best acts are coming after intermission.

“What about the premise of Albert Brooks’ new movie? Obviously, there’s comedy in the Muslim world,” I say.

Laughing but with a bit of regret in his voice, Peter says, “This is not that world. They’re not laughing over there.”

On Saturday, Feb. 25, at 8 p.m., the Levantine Cultural Center will host “An Evening of Palestinian Literature and Music”; Elias Khoury will present his novel, “Gate of the Sun,” along with a concert of Palestinian music and song with the Naser Musa Ensemble. 5920 Blackwelder St., Culver City, (310) 559-5544.

How Green Is My Shul?


For 75-year-old Temple Beth Israel of Highland Park and Eagle Rock, it was the need to re-landscape that steered the synagogue in an ecological direction. The status quo was 8,000 square feet of unwatered, weed-ridden and rarely mowed grass, along with three palm trees, two citrus trees and a 20-foot-high cactus.

One initial plan to “go green” was all too literal. A congregant in the 40-person, unaffiliated Conservative shul suggested replacing the lawn with pebbles and painting them green.

But temple member Jerry Schneider, long interested in sustainable landscaping, prevailed with a plan to retain the trees, while also planting water-conserving native shrubs that require little irrigation and upkeep.

Congregation Brith Shalom in Bellaire, Texas: Jonathan Kleinman, left, and Jarrett Taxman collect recycling
At Congregation Brith Shalom in Bellaire, Texas, seventh-grader Jonathan Kleinman, left, and sixth-grader Jarrett Taxman collects recycling.

It was an effort perfectly in keeping with the evolving concept of Tu b’Shevat.

The holiday, whose name literally translates as the “15th day of the month of Shevat,” begins at sundown on Feb. 12. It’s known as the New Year of the Trees. A minor holiday with no prescribed mitzvot, it is often celebrated by planting trees locally or in Israel or by participating in a kabbalist-inspired seder.

But more recently, it has become a Jewish Earth Day, raising congregants’ spiritual consciousness, while concentrating on the physical benefits of installing energy-efficient lightbulbs; planting native, sustainable landscaping, and setting up recycling bins.

At Temple Beth Israel, the planting project, which is being done in phases with funding and physical assistance from a Jewish environmental group, has transformed congregants’ preconceived notions of drab native plants.

“We’re bringing a message that you can reap all the benefits of low-maintenance, low-water [landscape] and still get beauty — blossoms, colors, textures and smells,” Schneider said.

Different forms of what happened at Beth Israel are being replicated at synagogues all over, with projects taking place indoors and out. The connection of these efforts both to Tu b’Shevat and to a deep and traditional Jewish respect for nature is being increasingly acknowledged and promulgated.

When Rabbi Leah Lewis conducts the Tu b’Shevat seder at Leo Baeck Temple this year, congregants will learn about the special qualities of figs, olives and walnuts. They will also learn about the Jewish mandate to be stewards of the earth and, new this year, the congregational mandate to be stewards of their own synagogue.

“People are ready for it,” said Lewis, explaining that in only four months, the Reform temple with 710 families has created a 10-member Green Team and scheduled an environmental audit to evaluate energy-saving opportunities.

The effort to make synagogues eco-friendly, or green, can perhaps be traced back to November 1978, when Rabbi Everett Gendler, the father of Jewish environmentalism, climbed on the icy roof of Temple Emanuel in Lowell, Mass., to install solar panels to fuel the ner tamid, or eternal light, in the temple’s sanctuary.

“We plugged it almost directly into the sun,” said Gendler, now the temple’s rabbi emeritus.

Gendler claimed that the idea came to him one autumn day, when he realized that the ner tamid, when it was fueled by olive oil, a renewable resource, was truly perpetual. But powered by electricity, with its sometimes finite and questionable sources, the flame had lost some connection with its symbolism.

While synagogues did not immediately follow Gendler’s example, in the years following, a number of individual congregations began addressing environmental concerns. Most notable was Temple Emanuel, a Reform synagogue in Kensington, Md., which has been at the environmental forefront since 1989. Early on, it formed its own Green Shalom Committee to integrate environmental precepts into its physical structure and spiritual practices.

But ecological efforts by the organized Jewish community were sparse until after the U.N. Conference on Environment and Development, also known as Earth Summit, convened in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

The following year, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) was created to educate the Jewish community and mobilize it to carry out a Jewish response to pressing environmental issues, such as pollution, energy conservation, climate change and biological diversity.

Over the years, COEJL has organized campaigns that reach outward, such as initiatives to protect endangered species and to protect forests. Recently, however, it has embarked on a project closer to home. Greening Synagogues, in conjunction with GreenFaith, New Jersey’s interfaith environmental coalition, launched its pilot program in fall 2004 with four New Jersey synagogues.

At Agudath Israel in Caldwell, one of the participating synagogues, the number of environmental activists has mushroomed from three or four to 45 committed Green Team members, according to Program Director Randi Brokman.

The Conservative synagogue is planning to rebuild its entire facility, breaking ground next June and incorporating many energy-saving plans. In the meantime, the membership, consisting of 900 families, has managed to reduce disposable waste by 30 percent to 50 percent, primarily through recycling and reducing the use of paper and plastic goods.

“We have put environmental issues more in the consciousness of congregants,” Brokman said. “That’s the goal.”

That’s COEJL’s initial goal also. “But ultimately, we want this to filter down into homes,” said Barbara Lerman-Golomb, COEJL’s associate executive director. “We want this to become second nature to anyone involved in the project, to feel that it’s the ethical, moral and Jewish thing to do.”

That’s also the goal for CoejlSC, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life of Southern California, an independent affiliate of the COEJL. Founded in 1999, CoejlSC began its own Green Sanctuaries program around 2001, in conjunction with the Interfaith Environmental Council and 16 pilot congregations, more than half of them Jewish.

Stewardship of the environment, advocated by many Jewish texts, stems from the concept of bal taschit, which cautions against waste. This first appears in Deuteronomy 20:19, which prohibits the destruction of fruit trees in wartime.

But for many synagogues, greening is not just about fulfilling a spiritual mandate. Depending on size and building usage, a synagogue can save from $10,000 to $40,000 in energy costs through conservation practices, said Lee Wallach, co-founder of CoejlSC.

“The $40,000 is extreme, but that’s what Sinai Temple [in Westwood] is on the road to saving — without installing solar,” Wallach said. “That’s just changing out lightbulbs; installing energy-saving products, such as window tinting, and regulating electricity use.”

The first step is usually creating a Green Team, but that generally doesn’t happen unless one person — congregant, clergy or staff person — is ecologically passionate. At Congregation B’rith Shalom, a Conservative synagogue with 400 families in Bellaire, Texas, religious school principal Joy Rosenberg began raising the congregation’s consciousness when she arrived two years ago.

With the clergy and congregation’s support, she launched a paper recycling program last fall, contracting with a recycling company and eliciting the support of the 125 religious school students in preschool through 12th grade. In the first two months, the synagogue collected 6,649 pounds of paper.

At Congregation Ahavath Beth Israel in Boise, Idaho, it is Rabbi Dan Fink who “nags” his 190-family Reform congregation into ecological awareness.

Under the leadership of Fink, who co-authored “Let the Earth Teach You Torah” (Shomrei Adamah, 1992), Ahavath Beth Israel took recycling to an extreme. Needing to move to a larger site, it recycled its 108-year-old Moorish-style landmark shul, hoisting the 60-ton building on to a truck in October 2003 and moving it three miles to the new location.

In addition to preserving the building and its materials, Fink said, congregants re-engineered the entire infrastructure “so we now have much more energy-efficient heating, cooling and lighting.”

Ecological accountability has also been in the forefront of Temple Israel of Hollywood’s plans for its $20 million-plus campus expansion and renovation. The synagogue is selecting an architect who will be charged with incorporating such sustainable elements as natural lighting, solar heating panels and the right kind of insulation.

“This is a high value for us,” said John Rosove, senior rabbi.

Environmental activism is most commonly associated with politically liberal congregations. For most Orthodox synagogues, environmental activism is comparatively new. Canfei Nesharim (the wings of eagles), the first and perhaps only Orthodox environmental organization, was launched on Tu b’Shevat 2003.

While still at the concept stage, according to Executive Director Evonne Marzouk, the volunteer organization is dedicated to educating Orthodox Jews about protecting the environment from a halachic, or legal, perspective and recently published “Compendium of Sources in Halacha and the Environment,” available on Canfei Nesharim’s Web site.

Among Orthodox congregations reacting favorably to Canfei Nesharim’s message is B’nai David-Judea Congregation in Los Angeles, which is moving discussion about environmental issues from back to front burner, said Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky.

“While Canfei Nesharim’s emphasis is on study, I would like B’nai David’s emphasis to be on action,” said Kanefsky, who is especially concerned about the impact of “carbon footprints,” referring to the effect that human activities have on the environment, measured in units of carbon dioxide.

Within traditional sources, perhaps the most compelling argument for preserving the environment, quoted by Marzouk and others, is a Midrash in Ecclesiastes Rabbah (7:13). It talks of how when God first created human beings, He showed them around the Garden of Eden and then warned, “Take care not to corrupt and destroy my world, for if you do, there will be no one to repair it after you.”

Here are the Web sites of some Jewish environmental organizations:

www.coejl.org
www.coejlsc.org
www.canfeinesharim.org
www.uscj.org/pacsw

 

Many With Gaucher Unaware of Disease


When Jewish New Yorker Joan La Belle, now 70-something, was in her mid-20s, she began to experience scary symptoms, suggesting a serious health problem: “I felt exhausted, had rough menstrual periods with very heavy bleeding and terrible nose bleeds.”

She also suffered substantial hemorrhaging in childbirth, she said in a recent telephone interview from Minneapolis, where she has been a longtime resident.

Hemorrhaging and an enlarged spleen — another of her symptoms — are often misdiagnosed as leukemia, and bone pain is often mistaken for arthritis, so La Belle said that she really didn’t know the actual cause of her symptoms for years.

Finally, 15 or 20 years ago, a Jewish physician filling in for her regular internist correctly recognized her enlarged spleen as an indicator of Gaucher (pronounced go-SHAY) disease, to which Jews are especially susceptible.

Gaucher is sufficiently rare that many doctors weren’t and still aren’t aware of it. And when LaBelle was diagnosed, “they were just doing research, and there was not a glimmer of hope” for a treatment, she said

But then, medical researchers produced the enzyme regimen that LaBelle needed, and for the last 12 or 13 years, she has received regular infusions that have dramatically improved her life, she said. These enzyme treatments completely control her symptoms, LaBelle reported.

“Prior to the [enzyme therapy], I used to have hemorrhaging and my hemoglobin was very low,” she said. “But, now it’s normal.”

LaBelle receives intravenous infusions of the latest formulation of the enzyme, called Cerezyme, at a local Minneapolis hospital every other week. It takes 60 to 75 minutes, she said. The length of time per patient varies, depending on the number of units a patient needs.

LaBelle said “every couple of months” she has a “bone crisis,” which is an event of intense pain that occurs because of a sudden lack of oxygen in an area where Gaucher-affected cells have interfered with normal blood flow. The episode can last for hours or days. She said she treats the pain with medication.

Based on statistical probability, half of the Gaucher patients at the Lysosomal Diseases Treatment Center at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin should be of Ashkenazi (Central and Eastern European) Jewish heritage.

In fact, however, only one of the eight Gaucher patients, though not Jewish, believes he has Ashkenazi ancestry. The reason could be the lack of knowledge about the disease, said genetic counselor Amy White, who works at the Lysosomal Diseases Treatment Center.

This means that many people who are at risk or suffering have not been diagnosed or treated. The disease is not thought to be life threatening, but it’s chronic and painful and doctors frequently mistake the symptoms for something else. However, even when it’s recognized, treatment remains extremely expensive.

The undiagnosed cases are probably due to “a lack of awareness among both medical and lay communities,” according to the National Gaucher Foundation (NGF).

So this year for the first time, the NGF designated a “National Gaucher Disease Awareness Month” in the hope of educating health-care providers and the public about the importance of recognizing the signs and symptoms of the disease. The results of this effort, which took place in September, are not conclusive, but researchers and advocates especially wanted to reach the Jewish community, where this often painful and debilitating — but highly treatable — disease is most prevalent.

According to the National Gaucher Foundation, Gaucher disease occurs when a person inherits a mutated gene from both parents, but if the person inherits a mutated gene from one parent and a normal gene from the other parent, he or she will not have the disease but may be a carrier. A carrier may pass the gene on to the next generation, depending on the genetic makeup of the person he or she marries.

White said that the Lysosomal Treatment Center has a lot to offer Gaucher patients, in addition to the life-changing Cerezyme infusions. Despite being located in Children’s Hospital, the genetics center, headed by Dr. William J. Rhead, chief of the generics department, does not limit its services to children.

“We see any individual or family who has a genetic condition,” White said. “We provide an initial evaluation and make recommendations as to specialists in Gaucher disease.”

The center also provides semiannual or annual evaluations of the course of a patient’s disease, as well as its treatment. It takes X-rays, does bone MRIs and CTs of the liver and spleen and conducts specialized blood tests for Gaucher Disease markers. These tell a patient how the disease is progressing and whether the Cerezyme dosage is adequate.

In addition, the center provides genetic counseling to couples contemplating pregnancy, as well as to expectant parents. It also counsels patients and their families on the psychosocial aspects of the disease.

The genetics center can assist Gaucher patients with medical insurance issues, an important service because of the cost of Cerezyme.

A version of this article was first published in the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle.

 

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The Circuit


QUEENS OF SHEBA

Boutiques lined the halls leading to the dining room at the Four Seasons recently, where a crowd shopped before the Women of Achievement Awards event at the Friends of Sheba luncheon. This year’s awards honored two distinguished community leaders: Dr. Ellen Klapper and Janice Kamenir-Reznik.

Klapper is a physician and co-director of transfusion medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. She is also an associate clinical professor of pathology at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine.

Kamenir-Reznik is an attorney specializing in environmental real estate law for the firm of Reznik & Reznik. She serves in a variety of Jewish community leadership roles.

Serving as mistress of ceremonies was the Rhea Kohan, comedy writer, raconteur and author of everyone’s favorite girlfriend tome, “Save Me a Seat.” A special tribute, the Queen of Sheba Award, was presented to Beverly Cohen for her devoted service as president of the Women of Sheba for five years. Making the presentation in song were luncheon co-chairs Judy Shapiro and DeeDee Sussman.

Event proceeds will help fund the Center for Newborn Screening at Sheba Medical Center, which will test every baby born in Israel (approximately 150,000 annually) for more than 20 genetic diseases. Major gifts for the project come from special donors to the Sponsor-a-Child Campaign.

Professor Mordechai Shani, director general emeritus of Sheba Medical Center, the largest, most comprehensive hospital in the Middle East., reported on the progress of the newborn screening fundraising at the hospital.

For information about Friends of Sheba, call associate director Pam Blattner at (310) 843-0100.

PRO-CHOICE BACKERS

The Bel Air home of Bronya and Andrew Galef was filled with NARAL Pro Choice America supporters and stars recently, when the group held a fundraiser and awareness evening to support efforts to retain women’s right to choose.

Reacting to the appointment of John Roberts to the Supreme Court, Christine Lahti, Diane English, Amy Madigan and Ed Harris joined community activists to solicit funding and spread the word about protecting women’s rights.

Award-winning journalist and best-selling author of “The Price of Motherhood,” Anne Crittenden, addressed the small but involved group. She vowed to continue the battle to keep pro-choice an option for women.

Amy Everitt, state director of NARAL Pro Choice California, urged the attendees to vote against Proposition 73, which, if passed, would require a physician to notify a parent or guardian 48 hours before performing an abortion on a female younger than 18. It exempts young women who obtain a judicial waiver or face a medical emergency.

“This is an end run to abolish an existing law, which will greatly weaken Roe v. Wade,” Everitt said.

A PLACE CALLED HOME

Philanthropist Dawn Ostroff, Grammy Award-winning recording artist LL Cool J and private investor Bruce Newberg were honored by A Place Called Home (APCH), the groundbreaking youth enrichment center for at-risk kids in South Central Los Angeles, at its 12th annual Gala for the Children on Oct. 25, at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

Ostroff, the president of UPN, was honored with the Humanitarian Award presented by supermodel and television talk-show host, Tyra Banks.

Newberg received the Angel of the Children Award, and LL Cool J was presented with the Children’s Inspiration Award.

“These are three individuals whose generosity has really helped make a difference in the lives of at-risk youth,” said Robert Israel, gala chair and head of the board of APCH, which was founded by Debrah Constance in 1993. “LL Cool J, Dawn Ostroff and Bruce Newberg continually strive to impact the community and its children.”

Ostroff is responsible for all creative aspects of UPN’s operations and has been listed among the 100 most powerful women in entertainment by The Hollywood Reporter for two consecutive years. Prior to her position at UPN, Ostroff served as president of development for 20th Century Fox, and under her leadership, she raised Lifetime, the sixth-highest-rated cable television network, to No. 1 in primetime.

In addition, she has devoted herself to numerous philanthropic organizations, such as the American Jewish Committee, which brings international relief to victims of hate and bias.

Newberg and his wife, Nancy, established the Bruce and Nancy Newberg Fund, administered by the Jewish Community Foundation for charitable giving. He serves on the boards of the Independent School Alliance for Minority Affairs, Phase One, and A Place Called Home.

A MUSICAL SEASON

“Seasons of Songs” celebrated Cantor Ilan Davidson’s 10th anniversary at Temple Beth El in San Pedro. The evening featured Jewish music, opera and Broadway tunes.

Participating were the cantor and his friends. Dr. Noreen Green, musical director of the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony, led the Kohelet Choir and Orchestra in the anniversary celebration. Joining them were Cantor Sam Radwine of Ner Tamid, Palos Verdes; Cantor Patti Linsky of Temple Ahavat Shalom, Northridge; and Cantor Jonathan Grant of Temple Bat Yahm, Newport Beach.

 

Milken Teens Live, Learn on Skid Row


 

Keep passing. Keep passing.”

It’s 6 a.m. on a Monday morning in March, and students from Milken Community High School, wearing hairnets, plastic aprons and gloves, are dishing out hot cereal, sugar, applesauce, milk and a muffin assembly-line style onto blue trays.

“We’re a well-oiled machine,” says 11th-grader Ethan Stern, the last student in line, who — with a smile and a “good morning” — hands a tray to each of the 130 males living at the Union Rescue Mission on Los Angeles’ Skid Row.

The 22 Milken juniors and seniors, who arrived the previous afternoon with several teachers and administrators, are spending two days and nights at the Union Rescue Mission, sleeping in bedrooms on a locked floor reserved for volunteers. They are taking part in the mission’s Urban Experience Program, a 52-hour hands-on community service project in which they live and work at the mission to learn about the complexities of hunger and homelessness.

“We have to leave our comfortable communities to see how the rest of Los Angeles lives,” says Wendy Ordower, community service coordinator at Milken, a transdenominational Jewish day school in the Sepulveda Pass. “Like at Yom Kippur, we need to be disturbed.”

Breakfast continues till 10 a.m., during which time the students bus dishes and wipe down tables, serve another 350 women and children and, after a short break to eat their own breakfast, fill trays for another 200 men.

The students spend the majority of their time serving food, with the mission providing an average of 2,200 meals daily. They also work in the warehouse filling boxes with hygiene supplies and candies, part of the mission’s Easter outreach of 3,500 packages to be distributed to local homeless and low-income Angelenos. Additionally, they tour the facility, chat and play basketball with the residents, create a mural to leave at the mission and meet as a group to reflect on their experiences.

“I had a stereotypical view of the homeless,” says 12th-grader Tannis Mann. “These are real people, and there are real reasons why they are here.”

In the evenings, the students listen to participants’ stories in the Christian Life Discipleship Program, a one-year residential program that graduates about 100 men annually, providing them with the recovery, educational and work skills needed to rebuild their lives.

They hear from Aaron, a former Catholic seminarian, who had “a little alcohol problem” and Michael, a CPA who moved to Los Angeles only to be immediately mugged and robbed of everything. They also listen to Robert, a former gang leader and prison inmate, who tells them, “Learn to make the good decisions because I made the bad ones when I thought I was cool.”

All the students pay close attention to their words.

“If I see someone on the street, I won’t see them in the same way again,” acknowledges 12th-grader Leticia Grosz.

The teens learn that the reasons for homelessness go beyond addiction to include poverty, lack of affordable housing, low-paying jobs, mental illness, unemployment and prison release. They learn there are about 80,000 homeless in L.A. County but just slightly more than 18,500 beds. They also discover that women and children are the fastest-growing homeless population segment nationwide.

Some of those women live in the shelter, part of a six-month program called Second Step, designed to get them back into permanent housing and jobs. Others who come to the Mission for meals are homeless or reside in daily rate hotels or single-room apartments in the Skid Row area.

The Union Rescue Mission, a nonprofit, privately funded, faith-based organization, was founded in 1891. Now housed in a five-story, 225,000 square-foot facility completed in 1994, it provides an array of emergency and long-term services to the poor and homeless, including food, shelter (797 emergency and transitional beds), clothing, medical and dental treatment, recovery programs, counseling, education, job training and legal assistance.

Some former residents now work for the mission.

Irvin “Pepi” Jones, who runs the evening dining room shift, tells the students, “Ten years ago I was in that line [of homeless men]. I used to push a cart and eat out of the trash.”

The students are moved by what they see and hear.

“These people have so much faith and love for God. They have such purpose in life,” says 11th-grader Alli Rudy.

That is the kind of impact Jewish studies teacher Rabbi Ruth Sohn wants from the program.

“I hope that the kids have a greater awareness of how poverty, drug addiction and prison can destroy lives but that they also feel empowered by what kinds of possibilities exist to turn your life around,” Sohn says.

The program also reminds the students of the role they can play in changing Los Angeles’ urban landscape.

“There’s such incredible work you can do,” says 12-grader Sophie Bibas. “It’s not an option; it’s an obligation.”

As the students board the bus at the end of the 52 hours, student Karin Alpert, speaking for many in the group, says, “For sure I’m doing this again next year.”

 

Israel Criticism Must Be Well-Founded


 

What are the limits for criticizing Israel? Many condemn the Jewish community’s refusal to listen to harsh criticism, while others object to the aggressiveness of the attacks against the Jewish state. Both sides claim to express themselves only on grounds of their “love” and concern for Israel.

It is essential to distinguish between constructive and destructive criticism. In order to do so, it may be useful to take an example from everyday life. Once in a while, in every community — be it a family, be it friends or colleagues — someone may make a mistake. Should we confront that person or not, and if so, in which way? In Jewish tradition, it isn’t merely permissible, but imperative to reprimand one’s fellow Jew if he or she has committed a wrongdoing: “Thou shalt surely rebuke thy neighbor and not bear sin because of him” (Leviticus 19:17).

This stems from the sense of solidarity and mutual responsibility that binds the Jewish community.

In order for criticism to have a positive impact, three preconditions are essential:

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• It must be based on verifiable evidence.

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• The critic must take into consideration the context under which the offensive act took place and try to understand the total picture.

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• The critic must understand that nobody can be held responsible for an action for which there was no reasonable alternative.

These conditions apply within the Jewish community as well as in our relationship to the State of Israel. We resemble an extended family feeling responsible for one another. Any deliberation about our faults must be conducted within the community. Only well-founded, balanced, and sympathetic criticism can have a positive effect.

Criticism that does not comply with these conditions may turn dangerously destructive.

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• When censure is based on distorted or false information, it is malicious and defamatory. The Jenin “massacre” is an example. Newspapers the world over reported on Jenin as an “atrocious war crime,” a refugee camp that became a slaughterhouse. They reported thousands of killed. In reality, as confirmed by the United Nations, a total of 52 Palestinians were killed, a majority of whom were armed terrorists. On the other hand, what generally went unreported was that 23 Israelis were sacrificed in ground combat — a tactic chosen to minimize civilian casualties among the Palestinians.

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• To ignore the circumstances surrounding a complex situation and to rip it out of context are both immoral and reckless. It is outrageous to fault Israel for not allowing Palestinian ambulances unrestricted access at checkpoints — while failing to note that these Red Cross vehicles are often used to smuggle terrorists and weapons into Israel.

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• Criticism that is blatantly biased and based on a double standard in assessing political and military situations must be rejected. For instance, the United Nations Plenary passed 322 resolutions against Israel — and not a single one against any Arab state.

Far from constructive criticism, the above examples constitute a destructive campaign of slander and defamation against Israel. It is totally irrational that irresponsible “critics” are often invited to publicize their opinions through articles in Jewish publications and by speaking about Israel in Jewish communities. Any efficient effort to create awareness of what truly occurs is rendered ineffective from the start.

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• In the context of legitimate criticism, any fair-minded person must remember that despite the many decades of Arab aggression and intransigence, starting before the birth of the state and continuing until the intifada, Israel has always sought peace and coexistence with its neighbors. She has demonstrated abundant readiness to make sacrifices for peace — dating back to the League of Nations declaration endorsing a Jewish settlement in all of Palestine and the 1947 Partition Plan, and up to Ehud Barak’s and Ariel Sharon’s proposals. The futility of such efforts is patently reflected in remarks by Yasser Arafat, so highly praised after his death, who declared some time after the signing of the Oslo agreement in Stockholm in 1996: “We plan to erase the State of Israel and to establish a purely Palestinian state. We will make the lives of the Jews intolerable through psychological warfare and a population explosion…. The Palestinians will take over all of Palestine including Jerusalem.”

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• Surrounded by a sea of 22 Arab states, all governed by dictatorial potentates, Israel maintains, under difficult circumstances, democratic institutions, including freedom of the press. Thanks to this freedom, critics of Israel are allowed to freely and unrestrictedly disseminate their often-outrageous views — something that would be unthinkable in any Arab state.

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• In the midst of the anarchy of the Middle East, where human rights are routinely violated by the governments themselves, Israel has developed a universally recognized justice system, to which all Arabs can bring their cases at any time and which deals without prejudice with all their humanitarian issues.

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• Tiny Israel (600,000 Jewish inhabitants in 1948!) absorbed, under the most difficult circumstances, millions of refugees and integrated them, economically, culturally and socially. Within the past years alone, it has absorbed more than 1 million immigrants from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union. Yet, most of the Palestinian refuges of 1948 are still stuck in abominable conditions, because politicians use them as pawns while billions of dollars in aid money for them is diverted for other purposes.

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• Holding constructive peace talks with the Palestinians is extremely difficult — inasmuch as they deny that Israel has any rights in the Holy Land. They ignore the thousands-years-old intimate bond between the Jewish people and its homeland, they deny the Holocaust and they reject even Israel’s historical ties to Jerusalem. In contrast, the majority of Israelis accept the demands of the Palestinian Arabs and are ready to help them establish an independent state — despite the fact that a “Palestinian” state basically exists already in Jordan, which was formed on 77 percent of what was defined as Palestine under the British Mandate and whose population is mainly Palestinian.

The above facts must not be overlooked in any discussion about Israel if one is to obtain an accurate (and not distorted) picture of the Middle East situation. The mere idea that the facts mentioned are taken for granted speaks volumes about the value system of the State of Israel, values which the Jewish state struggles to maintain even under the most difficult circumstances.

Arthur Cohn is the Academy Award-winning producer of numerous films, including “The Garden of Finzi-Continis” and “One Day in September.” He lives Basel, Switzerland.

 

Charity, Going Once, Going Twice…


 

Artist Joanie Rosenthal will exhibit her latest piece at an unexpected place: eBay.

Rosenthal, a New Jersey artist who has drawn illustrations for Time, U.S. News & World Report and The New York Times Magazine and created book covers for Scholastic, Penguin Putnam and other publishing companies, has decorated a metal tzedakah box as part of a fundraising campaign for the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey.

The eBay auction comes as Jewish groups increasingly turn to online auctions as a way to raise money: This week, the Jewish Community Centers Association of North America announced a new agreement with an Internet company that will make it easier for JCCs in North America to use online auctions for fundraising.

Rosenthal was inspired by the simplicity of the plain, round metal box she was given.

“When I saw the tzedakah box, I appreciated how beautiful it was, standing on its own,” she said.

When deciding how to decorate the box, Rosenthal reflected on her roles as an artist and a volunteer.

“Artists don’t always know why they are creating, they just do,” she said. “No one knows if they’re going to find a gallery to show their work — they might not, but it doesn’t matter, they still create. The same is true of tzedakah. Everyone knows the concrete reasons for doing volunteer work, but they don’t always know why they decide to do it. No one’s going to give them an award, they just keep going.”

Rosenthal saw her project as a way to involve the next generation in the process of giving. Using a metallic paint, she drew the Hebrew word tzedakah on her box.

As part of the greater United Jewish Communities’ mission to encourage “generous living,” cylindrical metal tzedakah boxes were distributed to various federations, with no specific instructions for their use. The Central New Jersey Federation had a novel idea. It distributed the boxes to local artists and asked them to decorate them.

All the artists involved in the project donated their time and materials. Federation representative Naomi Lipstein said that the campaign has not set a financial goal.

“It is very much about raising awareness,” she said. “We are just trying to highlight the federation in general, and how we make a difference in day-to-day life.”

Bidding on the tzedakah boxes begins Thursday morning, March 17, on www.eBay.com, and a launch party will be held that afternoon. Bidding will last for one week, and the minimum bid for each box has been set at $118. — Jordana Rothstein, Jewish Telegraphic Agency

 

Elder Rage: What I Know Now


For 11 years. I begged my obstinate elderly father to allow a caregiver to help him with my ailing mother, but he adamantly insisted on taking care of her himself. Every caregiver I hired to help him said, “Jacqueline, I just can’t work with your father — his temper is impossible to handle. I don’t think you’ll be able to get him to accept help until he’s on his knees himself.”

My father had always been 90 percent wonderful, but that raging temper was a doozy. He had never turned his temper on me before, but I’d never gone against his wishes either. When my mother nearly died from my father’s inability to care for her, I had to step in and risk his wrath to save her life — having no idea that in the process it would nearly cost me my own.

Jekyll & Hyde

I spent months nursing my mother back to “health,” while my father, who was nice to me one minute, would get mad about some trivial thing and throw me out of the house the next. I was stunned to see him get so upset over the most ridiculous things, even running the washing machine could cause a tizzy, and there was no way to reason with him. It was so heart wrenching to have my once-adoring father turn against me.

I took my father to his doctor and was astonished that he could act completely normal when he needed to. I couldn’t believe it when the doctor looked at me like I was the crazy one. Much later I found out that my father had told her not to listen to anything I said, because all I wanted was his money. (Boy do I wish he had some.)

My father had never laid a hand on me my whole life, but one day he choked me for adding HBO to his cable package, even though he had eagerly consented to it just a few days before. Terrified and devastated, I frantically called the police who took him to a psychiatric hospital for evaluation. I was stunned when they quickly released him, saying they couldn’t find anything wrong with him. Similar incidents occurred four times.

I couldn’t leave him alone with my mother, because she’d surely die from his inability to care for her. I couldn’t get the doctors to believe me, because he was always so normal in front of them. I couldn’t get medication to calm him, and even when I did, he refused to take it and flushed it down the toilet. I couldn’t get him to accept a caregiver, and even when I did, no one would put up with him for very long. I couldn’t place my mother in a nursing home — he’d just take her out. I couldn’t put him in a home — he didn’t qualify. They both refused any mention of assisted living and, legally, I couldn’t force them. I became trapped at my parents’ home for nearly a year trying to solve the endless crisis — crying rivers daily, and infuriated with an unsympathetic medical system that wasn’t helping me appropriately.

What’s Wrong?

You don’t need a doctorate to know something is wrong, but you do need a doctor who can diagnose and treat it properly. Finally, I stumbled upon a compassionate geriatric dementia specialist who performed a battery of blood, neurological and memory tests, along with PET scans. He ruled out the numerous reversible dementias, and then you should have seen my face drop when he diagnosed stage-one Alzheimer’s in both of my parents — something that all of their other doctors missed entirely.

What I’d been coping with was the beginning of dementia, which is intermittent and appears to come and go. My father was still socially adjusted to never show his “Hyde” side to anyone outside the family. Even with the beginning of dementia, it was amazing that he could still be extremely manipulative and crafty.

Alzheimer’s is just one type of dementia, and there’s no stopping the progression nor is there yet a cure. However, if identified early, there are medications that can slow the progression and keep a person in stage one longer and delay full-time care.

In addition to slowing the dementia process, the doctor also prescribed anti-depressants, which made a huge difference in my parents’ moods. My father also received anti-aggression medication, which smoothed out his damaged impulse control. Once their brain chemistries were properly balanced, I was better able to implement behavioral techniques to manage the changing behaviors. Then, I was finally able to get my father to accept a caregiver, and with the use of adult day health care for them, and a support group for me, everything finally started to fall into place.

One out of every 10 persons by the age of 65 gets Alzheimer’s, and nearly one out of every two by age 85. Had I been shown the “10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s,” I would have realized a year earlier what was happening. If this rings true for you about someone you love, I urge you to reach out for help sooner than later.


Ten Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s

1. Recent memory loss that affects job skills

2. Difficulty performing familiar tasks

3. Problems with language

4. Disorientation of time and place

5. Poor or decreased judgment

6. Problems with abstract thinking

7. Misplacing things

8. Changes in mood or behavior

9. Changes in personality

10. Loss of initiative

Jacqueline Marcell is an author, radio host, national speaker and advocate
for eldercare awareness and reform. She wrote “Elder Rage, or Take My Father…
Please! How to Survive Caring For Aging Parents” (Impressive Press, 2001). Visit

Is Tomato Sauce a Vegetable?


"I hate this healthy food. It’s tasteless and disgusting," says Gabe, my 17-year-old son.

He’s protesting the culinary revolution taking place in our kitchen. The white rice that is now brown, the white bread that is now whole wheat and the Cheetos that have morphed into Lite Cheddar Puffs.

But the most egregious of the new foods, in Gabe’s view, are the soy meatballs, which, breaking every rule for developing a trustworthy parent-child relationship, I try to pass off as turkey, hiding them under a pile of spaghetti.

He takes a bite and runs to the sink, where he spits out the offending mouthful.

"What is this?" he demands. "Why can’t we have normal foods?"

Yes, normal foods. To Gabe, who has never eaten a fruit or vegetable in his life, unless you count tomato sauce and onions, these are french fries, bagels, sodas and pizzas. Foods that have contributed, the surgeon general says, to tripling the number of overweight adolescents over the last two decades to 14 percent of all 13- to 19-year-olds.

My husband Larry and I don’t want to add to these statistics. Nor do we want to contribute to the $238 billion already spent annually, according to the American Obesity Association, for weight-related conditions.

It’s a tough "re-education" process. But one not unfamiliar to Judaism, which gives us the concept of shmirat haguf, the obligation to guard one’s physical health. As Maimonides says, "One must avoid that which harms the body and accustom oneself to that which is healthful and helps the body become stronger." Or, as we used to say in the ’60s: "You are what you eat."

The laws of kashrut assist in fulfilling this obligation, not, as some people assume, by ensuring that the foods we consume are hygienically safe but rather by elevating the act of eating to a spiritual realm. And even those of us who don’t keep strictly kosher (though we vegetarians are practically there), as Jews, ideally, we have a reverence for life and an awareness of pure and impure foods.

"You shall not eat anything abhorrent," the Torah (Deuteronomy 14:3) tells us. And while the Torah is referring to camels, rabbits, badgers and pigs, I would today include foods that that are high in fat and sugar and low in nutritional value. Foods that have been injected with hormones and antibiotics or treated with pesticides. Foods with a shelf life longer than the average life span.

"The more you can eat foods in their original state and the less they are messed with, the better," my friend Debby says. "But try telling that to any red-blooded American adolescent."

We get mixed messages in the United States, the land of overabundance and overindulgence, where, according to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 100 million Americans are overweight. Yet another 32.9 million Americans, including 11.7 million children, live below the poverty line, often facing barren cupboards at the end of the month when paychecks and Food Stamps run dry.

But this is the United States, where the abhorrent has become the obscene; where food is grabbed, gobbled and guzzled on the run; where single servings are super-sized; and where advertisers hawk green and purple ketchup, neon blue "funky" fries and pizza that magically (read chemically) changes colors.

Judaism gives us no mixed messages, however. Judaism teaches us, unequivocally, that the act of eating is holy: that we must be thankful for our food, that we must be reverent toward life, and that we must feed the hungry.

But to complicate matters, Judaism also gives us, save for the fast days, no occasion in which we don’t eat. In fact, Judaism practically mandates specific holiday foods. What is Shabbat, for example, without noodle kugel? Or Chanukah without latkes, Purim without hamentashen or Shavuot without blintzes? And try making a low-fat, healthier version of these favorites, as I did with noodle kugel.

"No offense, Mom," says Danny, 13, "but this isn’t very good."

Nevertheless, Larry and I continue to battle our kids’ propensity for junk food, reinforced by peer pressure and scores of food-related advertisements, all with unhealthy messages, that bombard them on a daily basis. And we receive no shortage of well-intentioned advice.

"Eat more protein," my pediatrician recommends.

"Eat five or six mini meals a day," a nutritionist advises.

"Eat carrots," my grandmother used to say.

But there are no easy answers — only temptations, good intentions, bad eating days and difficult choices. And those days when drive-though fast food is the best we parents can manage.

And, of course, there is the issue of balance.

"Why does everything have to be healthy, healthy, healthy?" asks Jeremy, 15. "Why don’t you ever have a double scoop of ice cream and a caramel Frappuccino? Live it up and be happy."

Jane Ulman lives in Encino and has four sons.

Jewish Writing: A Renaissance Awaits


What is Jewish writing, and what is a Jewish writer? The question has so many answers that it has almost become tedious.

Those who have ventured into the literary world know that if even a page of their work touches upon anything remotely Jewish, they will be sentenced to a lifetime of sitting on panels during which they will be asked the question, "Do you consider yourself a Jewish writer?"

In fact, it could be said that in America today, we have a new definition of a Jewish writer: A Jewish writer is one who is asked to participate in a panel during which she will be asked the question, "Do you consider yourself a Jewish writer?"

It may be a joke, but this reality reflects a certain consensus about what Jewish literature in America has become. The truth is that "Jewish writing" now refers to any work in which either the writer or the characters are Jewish or both. That’s pretty much it. You can write a story that has no connection whatsoever to Judaism or anything in Jewish culture, but if it’s about someone named Goldberg who once ate a bagel — poof, you have become a Jewish writer.

But today, as we mark 350 years of Jewish life in America, and as we celebrate the 100th birthday of Isaac Bashevis Singer, it is worth taking a look behind us to see what Jewish writing used to be, and what it might still become.

A century ago, Jewish writers didn’t go around wondering whether they were Jewish writers, not because they were more "traditional" — far from it. But even with all of their doubts about their heritage, the vast majority of these writers were Jewish writers for one very specific reason: They were writing in a Jewish language — Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino, Judeo-Arabic or any number of others.

In fact, the only way to say "Jewish writer" in Yiddish is to say "Yiddish writer." The word for the language and the identity is the same, and the intentional confusion between them reveals the enormity of what language once meant to a Jewish writer’s identity.

It wasn’t just that these writers’ words were written in Hebrew letters. It was that everything about the way the words were used was somehow layered upon 4,000 years’ worth of stories that were also written in Hebrew letters.

When you know that your audience is familiar with the Torah, metaphors and references from the Torah are the ones you use, just as English-language writers today might make references to movies or TV.

A Yiddish writer like Sholem Aleichem could describe an insurance fire by saying a character was "lighting Sabbath candles in the middle of the week" and could be confident that all of his readers would get the joke. Isaac Bashevis Singer could title a novel "Der Baal-Teshuvah" (literally "the Master of Return") and be certain that all of his readers knew exactly the sort of religious conversion he was talking about — a very particular "return" to Jewish life that the "translated" English title, "The Penitent," simply cannot capture.

That is what Jewish writing was: not a subject but a language. Specifically, it was a language built on the foundations of a world where writing was a sacred act, where the easy diluting of the profane with the sacred was not an act of rebellion but a side effect of a deep intimacy with holiness.

Today in America, virtually none of our Jewish writers are writing in Jewish languages. They are writing in English. And they are writing for an audience whose familiarity with Jewish culture can no longer be assumed.

So are we doomed to 350 more years of writing about people named Goldberg eating bagels? Surprisingly, the answer is no. Jewish writers today have the power to change the way their audiences read — and when I say writers, I don’t mean just big-name novelists, but everyone, including writers for local Jewish newspapers.

If it sounds impossible, it has happened before. In 1897, journalist Abraham Cahan founded a Yiddish newspaper in New York City, The Forward, with a very specific goal: to turn the thousands of Jewish immigrants descending upon New York into Americans. Everything about the newspaper served this purpose. The advice column, A Bintl Briv (A Bundle of Letters), for instance, with the alluring melodrama of readers’ letters, was largely aimed at tutoring clueless immigrants in the American way of life. But the real way Cahan transformed his Jewish readers into Americans was more subtle: by changing the language of the paper itself. English words and syntax were mixed into the text at every opportunity.

Of course, American Jews’ Yiddish, including that of the reporters, was naturally influenced by English at the time. But the editors, ostensibly running a Yiddish publication, clearly made no effort to apply copy editing standards when thousands of Englishisms appeared in print. The heavy dose of English served the paper’s goal of converting Yiddish speakers into English speakers. It succeeded all too well. Within a generation, readership evaporated.

Is it possible to reverse the work of Cahan? That is, to turn English into a Jewish language, to invert the attempt to turn Jews into Americans into a new process — to turn Americans into Jews?

I think the possibility is there. But how?

Jewish languages always incorporate Hebrew. By that I don’t only mean the Hebrew alphabet or even just Hebrew words, but rather references to Hebrew literature and particularly, the vast legacy of the Hebrew Bible and the commentaries built upon it. Imagine if Jewish literature in English could bring back to life the Jewish linguistic tradition of the prooftext — the endless echo chamber of ideas that allows even a simple idea to reverberate with centuries of meaning.

This isn’t nearly as difficult or obscure as it sounds. I was once asked to write an article for a Jewish magazine about Jewish teenagers in public high schools and their connection to Jewish life. After some investigation, I determined that most didn’t have one. But they were intrigued whenever the subject came up; many wanted to know more but had no clue where to look. Stuck with what seemed to be a nonstory (and a deadline), I considered that these teenagers were mostly fourth-generation Americans — and then I thought of the four sons of the haggadah.

These teenagers’ great-grandparents had come to America with a knowledge of Judaism, which their grandparents, the second sons, had consciously rejected. Their parents, the third sons, had a simple awareness of the potential of Jewish life, but these teenagers had become the sons who did not even know how to ask. Suddenly, the story made sense, and the article appeared with the title, "The Fourth Son."

That’s a recognizable enough reference; probably even the most secular Jewish reader has been to a seder once or twice. But what about all of the writers who don’t have the background to dig deeper?

For those with passion, I will make a recommendation that has probably never been made in an English-language Jewish paper before: Read the Torah. I say this not to impose religion on Jewish writers but rather to alert them to the enormous cultural resources awaiting them. There are stories, characters and turns of phrase in the vast gold mine we have inherited that resonate with almost any situation a writer could possibly invent.

Unfortunately, Jewish history tends to repeat. As each generation passes, another new one is born in the wilderness, standing at Sinai whether they like it or not. We’ve seen many Pharaohs, many Hamans and we have thousands of years of writing to draw from whenever we find ourselves needing to write about them again. And when we include the vast resources of post-biblical works like the Talmud, the riches only expand.

Rabbi Tarfon’s description of the world could apply to any writer, Jewish or otherwise: "The day is short and the task is huge and the workers are lazy and the reward is great and the boss is insistent."

The reward is indeed great. Imagine if this connection to the past really was a part of secular American Jewish writing. The writing would deepen but so would the audience, as each echo of language became gradually more familiar until a common cultural vocabulary was restored. Writing that draws on such a legacy has the potential not only to inform but to enrich, to enliven, to nourish, to revive the dead.

In recent years, I and many others have come to rely more on Jewish writing in all its forms — novels, newspapers, Internet, everything — to discover what our community is thinking and caring about, especially today, when Jewish communities around the world have fallen under siege.

But at 350 years old, ours is one of the few that hasn’t. And if one looks at the enormous revival of interest and passion among young people today, it becomes clear that we are sitting on the edge of an American Jewish renaissance.

All of us, writers and readers, have the power to make it happen. As a famous Jewish writer once wrote: "If not now, when?"

Dara Horn’s first novel, "In the Image" (W.W. Norton), received a 2003 National Jewish Book Award. She lives in New York City.

Are Sex Abuse Guidelines Working?


A lengthy battle over how the Reform movement should handle a charge of sexual misconduct against a California rabbi is coming to a head.

On June 20, the board of trustees of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), the movement’s rabbinical arm, is expected to decide whether to uphold its earlier reprimand of Rabbi Michael Mayersohn or to censure him, a more serious step, which the conference’s Committee on Ethics and Appeals initially had recommended.

The issue stems from a May 2002 complaint by Chavah Hogue of Huntington Beach, who alleged that Mayersohn tried to seduce her during a closed-door marital counseling session while he was the rabbi at Temple Beth David in Westminster.

Mayersohn, who has since left his congregation and now is a full-time pastoral counselor, vehemently denies the charge.

The California case returns the spotlight to rabbinic ethics policies in the wake of several high-profile cases of sexual abuse in the Jewish community, as well as the well-publicized scandals of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.

Perhaps the most prominent Jewish scandal in recent years involved Rabbi Baruch Lanner, an Orthodox day school principal in New Jersey, who was convicted and jailed in 2002 for sexually abusing teenage girls and women and physically abusing boys as an official of the National Conference of Synagogue Youth.

A report for the youth group’s parent organization, the Orthodox Union, found that Lanner’s superiors did not act forcefully enough to intervene after receiving complaints about his behavior.

"The Lanner case and what happened with the Catholic priesthood raised the awareness of the public, and gave the public the sense that we should not ignore it if a member of the clergy is doing something wrong," said Rabbi Joel Meyers, executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly.

Hogue, 44, who was raised in an Anglo-Catholic home, said she discovered Jewish roots in her family and joined the Reform congregation in 1999, changing her name to Chavah from Lori and converting along with her daughter in a Conservative ceremony a year after joining the Reform temple.

Her husband did not convert. Hogue said she chose a Conservative conversion to ensure that her young daughter would be accepted by most Jews in America when it comes time to marry.

In a telephone interview, Hogue alleged that Mayersohn began "hitting on me" some eight months after she joined the temple, trying to kiss her, hug her or touch her inappropriately.

Hogue was experiencing marital problems involving interfaith issues, and at the rabbi’s suggestion began attending pastoral counseling sessions alone with him, she said. After asking about her sex life in their first session, the rabbi "groped me and kissed me and tried to convince me to have sex with him" in a second meeting, she said. Hogue refused.

In May 2002, Hogue filed a formal sexual misconduct complaint to the CCAR’s Committee on Ethics and Appeals, which handles such charges. Her complaint against Mayersohn alleged "sexual boundary violations."

Mayersohn, 52, has flatly denied all of the allegations to Reform movement officials, and he reiterated his denials.

"There was absolutely nothing inappropriate about our relationship and there was nothing, from my end, that was sexual about it," he said. "Nothing that she alleges happened in those meetings happened. Unfortunately, like all rabbis who meet with people behind closed doors, I am vulnerable to people’s fabrications."

The rabbi also maintained that it was Hogue who initiated the pastoral counseling sessions, which he said he conducted with many congregants.

Though Mayerson said he sometimes touched congregants in public in a "warm, friendly" manner, Hogue "confused" his gestures for something else.

She "mistook my rabbinic concerns for her well interest" for "romantic or sexual interest," he said.

He also told the ethics panel that he took pre-emptive action against Hogue’s "misperceptions," notifying the temple board and CCAR of her assertions soon after their counseling sessions.

After the three-member ethics committee’s investigating team looked into the case, the panel in June 2003 said in a report to Gold that Hogue’s charge "cannot be clearly confirmed or denied," but that it was "troubling to dismiss her experience here as having been entirely imagined."

Although the panel could not prove Mayersohn was guilty of any ethical lapse, it maintained that "there is an indication of a rabbi in need of some kind of support and/or training."

The panel found there was sufficient evidence Mayersohn had "exercised poor judgment" in his dealings with Hogue and in August voted to censure him. That was less than the gravest possible penalties — expulsion or suspension — but more serious than a letter of reprimand.

Under the Reform code of ethics, a reprimand remains the least serious form of punishment. It takes the form of a private letter to the rabbi involved.

By being censured, Mayersohn was required to undergo psychological evaluation, therapy and counseling for teshuvah (repentance).

If a censured rabbi fails to fulfill such orders or additional problems surface, the CCAR could recommend that they be removed from some or all of their professional duties.

In a letter notifying Hogue of the censure, the ethics panel’s chair, Rabbi Rosalind Gold of Reston, Va., said Mayersohn had the right to appeal to the rabbinic conference’s board of trustees.

Yet the full board overturns such decisions only "when the proper process of adjudication has not been followed; I do not believe there is any ground for such an appeal in this case," she wrote at the time.

Mayersohn stepped down from his pulpit that same month, after giving his temple a required six-month notification. He said the action against him and his leaving "have nothing to do with each other," but that after 13 years in the pulpit, he wanted to be a full-time pastoral counselor.

Mayersohn also appealed the censure, a move that forestalled any of its requirements, and in January 2004, Gold wrote Hogue that the CCAR’s board had reduced the penalty to a reprimand.

Ultimately, neither Mayersohn nor Hogue was happy with how the seven-month investigation was handled.

"I understand the difficulty of their task, but I do believe either flaws in the system or mistakes in the process have resulted in injury to me," Mayersohn said.

For her part, Hogue said, "They were dragging their feet and taking as long as possible to conduct this case."

Gold, CCAR President Rabbi Janet Marder and other conference members declined to discuss the case, citing confidentiality policies.

Meanwhile, the full CCAR board acknowledged that in deciding to overturn the censure, it ignored a rule in the movement’s rabbinical ethics code, forcing this month’s second hearing on the matter.

Under the code, the board, before deciding on a complaint, is supposed to allow both the person making the charge and the rabbi involved to make their case, but this time only Mayersohn was invited to give his input beforehand.

Ultimately, Hogue maintains the CCAR was "falling down in their sacred duty to protect those who come to them for help."

"I felt they were not giving my case the importance it deserved," she said.

Rabbi Paul Menitoff, the group’s executive vice president, defended the way the rabbinic conference handles complaints about members.

"Anybody who looks at our process and how it has been implemented over the years would be hard-pressed to say it’s not serious," Menitoff said.

In a typical year, the rabbinic conference fields five to six complaints of rabbinic sexual misconduct, he said, and the charges are found worthy of some action "more often than not."

But he and other officials would not discuss the details of those cases.

Rabbi Arthur Gross Schaefer, a professor of law at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles who advocated for tougher Reform ethics rules and who helped shape the current guidelines in the mid-1990s, said the movement was among the first streams to get tough on rabbinic sexual misbehavior.

Now Schaefer hopes the movement will mandate more classes on sexual misconduct issues for rabbis and seminary students to prevent further abuse.

Q & A With Robby Berman


Robby Berman was a journalist living in Israel writing about organ donation when he came across some alarming facts: Out of 200 people who were declared brain-stem dead in a given year, only 70 families agreed to organ donation — giving Israel the lowest percentage of organ donors in the Western world. So while 130 Israelis in that year were buried with viable organs, 114 died waiting to receive organs. The No. 1 reason that both religious and secular Israelis gave for not donating organs was that halacha (Jewish law) forbids it — a common misconception rooted in superstitions and a misconstruing of halacha. That information was enough to make Berman, 37, quit his writing job to found and direct the Halachic Organ Donor Society (HODS). Created in December 2001, the organization has reached more than 8,000 people worldwide.

The Jewish Journal: This issue has been in the news since 20-year-old Alisa Flatow was killed in a terrorist attack in Gaza in 1995 and her family donated her organs. Have you seen a turnaround in the superstitions or a change in the numbers?

Robby Berman: Alisa Flatow was the first blip on the radar of Orthodox Jewish consciousness that perhaps organ donation was supported by halacha. But that blip went off the screen as fast as it went on. J.J. Greenberg’s donation last year was also noted by the public [Greenberg was killed in Israel after his bicycle was struck by a truck that ran a red light], but there has been no long-term change in our educational programming about this critical issue. I will lecture and spend an hour explaining how the Torah supports organ donation and they say, “Yes, yes, yes,” and then they walk out and say, “….Still, I think Jews don’t do that.”

JJ: Have you been successful in turning that around?

RB: We’ve had some incredible successes and also some failures. We have recruited dozens of Orthodox rabbis and over 1,000 laypeople who have registered for the HODS organ donor card. We have distributed 10,000 educational brochures in English and 5,000 in Hebrew. Overall awareness of this issue is growing. There also has been an increase over the past two years in organ donation from Orthodox Jews.

Where I haven’t been successful is in cultivating the necessary resources to take this project to the next level. Major funds are needed to embark on an educational advertising campaign in the major Jewish population centers — New York, L.A., Chicago, Florida — but that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and I have not been able to raise that.

JJ: The difficulty in raising funds may be related to what holds people back from dealing with organ donation — the unwillingness to confront issues of death and dying.

RB: Right. Who wants to talk about dying? There are all those emotional issues attached. I think to a large extent people hide behind the skirt of halacha and use it as an excuse. We try to educate those who are truly concerned about halacha and for those that use it as an excuse, HODS hopefully takes away their excuse.

JJ: What are the halachic issues involved?

RB: Most rabbis will agree that to donate organs from a dead person is a mitzvah. The Torah has three prohibitions concerning a cadaver: You can’t mutilate, get benefit from or delay burial of a body, but all rabbis agree that to save a life you can do those things.

The legitimate halachic issue is defining when a person is considered dead. There are rabbis, such as Reb Elyashiv in Jerusalem, who believe that as long as a person’s heart is still beating — such as someone who is brain-stem dead on a respirator — the person is alive. He does not allow donation from a brain-stem dead person because he believes the person is alive and you would be killing him. Others, such as the chief rabbinate of Israel and Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, hold that brain-stem death is halachically death and therefore not only could you donate organs, but you should.

JJ: Do HODS donor cards reflect those halachic issues?

RB: Ours is the only donor card in the world that allows people to choose between these two options. One can indicate the willingness to donate either after brain-stem death or, alternatively, after irreversible cessation of heartbeat. [From a medical perspective the latter option is not optimal because once the heart stops beating certain organs become less viable for transplant.]

JJ: What strategies have you found effective in breaking down the emotional obstacles?

RB: When we stop talking in abstract numbers and start showing faces and real people. Our Web site shows 22-year-old L.A. resident Ariel Avrech, who died this year waiting for a lung transplant. We show a number of Orthodox Jews who died in accidents and had their organs donated…. And, more importantly, we have pictures of people whose lives were saved by receiving organs. These people would be dead if not for organ donation. That has a powerful pull on people.

Robby Berman will speak Saturday, March 20, 10:30 a.m.
at Kehillat Yavneh, 5353 W. Third Street, and 11:15 a.m. at Shaarei Tefila, 7269
Beverly Blvd. To register for a HODS organ donor card or to access more
information, go to www.hods.org  or call (212) 213-5087.