7 Haiku for Parsha Bo – Sure, let’s put blood on the door.


I
No, Mister Pharaoh
You can not keep the children
as security.

II
First the locusts, then
a darkness, so pitch dark, it
embarrassed the night.

III
Maybe the cattle
in exchange for freedom? No
conditions at all.

IV
It will happen at
midnight, Pharaoh is warned. God
invents Rosh Chodesh.

V
I’d paint anything
on my door if it meant I
could live through the night.

VI
Midnight came and the
firstborn went. There’ll be no time
to let the bread rise.

VII
Remember this day
with nothing leavened and put signs
on your hands and eyes.


Los Angeles poet Rick Lupert created a the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 20 collections of poetry, including “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

Japanese corruption, greed are spilled in ‘Blood’


“Blood,” a new play currently at the Complex on Theatre Row in Hollywood, dramatizes an actual Japanese legal case that unfolded over many years and came to be known as the tainted blood scandal.

Playwright/director Robert Allan Ackerman said his script blends fact and fiction. “The general facts of it are all true,” he said. “Some of the characters are fictionalized. They’re actually condensations of many characters.”

The details of the case are complicated, but, in the end, it was proven that the heads of several Japanese pharmaceutical companies, with the collusion of Japanese government ministers, knowingly imported and sold HIV-contaminated blood products from the United States, all the while assuring the public the products were safe. This continued even after a heating process that killed HIV was developed in 1983 by drug companies in the U.S. 

Some 2,000 Japanese hemophiliacs in need of blood are believed to have contracted AIDS from infected agents during the 1980s.

By 1985, some heated blood products were being imported into Japan; however, the companies apparently wanted to profit from their existing stock of untreated product and continued to sell the tainted materials. They also wanted to develop their own heating process to diminish competition from America. In 1996, a newly appointed Japanese health minister uncovered nine hidden files, which he said were definite proof of the conspiracy. 

Ackerman who worked in Japan intermittently over a 20-year period, said he was there directing a play as the scandal was breaking. He recalled being approached by a Japanese film company that asked if he would be interested in making a movie about the subject. They provided him with extensive research, and he eventually wrote a treatment.

“My friends told me, ‘You’d better not do this. You’re going to get a bullet in your head.’ And so I put the thing away, and I didn’t look at it for years, until just recently, when I thought maybe I could turn it into a theater piece,” he said. “I mentor this Japanese group of actors [the Garage]. And they wanted to do a play, so I said, ‘I have this in my drawer.’ ”

Early in the play, a Jewish-American reporter (Alexa Hamilton) reunites with a Japanese friend (Takuma Anzai), who becomes mysteriously ill and dies. The reporter learns from a Japanese-Korean lawyer (Sohee Park) that her friend was a hemophiliac and regularly injected himself with blood products. She and the lawyer hear about other hemophiliacs in Japan who are dying, and they begin to suspect that blood infected with HIV is the cause. They continue probing, learn from witnesses about the wrongdoing, and eventually encourage AIDS-infected patients to file a lawsuit against five drug companies, the health ministry and the AIDS research committee. 

When the lawsuit begins, the plaintiffs are shielded from view in a tent. They are loath to reveal their identity because of the shame in Japanese culture of having AIDS. Several years into the suit, a teenage plaintiff, who contracted AIDS as a child of about 10, and who wants an apology even more than a financial settlement, takes his boom box out in the street and announces that the government gave him AIDS, thereby making the court case public and attracting a great deal of media attention. The character is based on a real young man who, seemingly miraculously, went from being infected with AIDS to being disease-free. He is now a 40 year-old husband, father and member of the Japanese Parliament.

The musical numbers in the play that feature the government ministers are set to the score of “The Mikado” and contain sharply humorous lyrics. “My idea of making the villains into buffoons and, sort of vaudeville comics, I feel, is a very good choice given what’s going on now in the Republican primary.

“And I think by making them comedic, it reveals their evil without having to write this malicious dialogue that I wouldn’t really know how to write. I was doing it really for theatrical effect.”

Like the reporter in his play, Ackerman is Jewish. Though he said he is not observant, he does feel his heritage, which includes religious grandparents, informs his work.

“I would think my sense of humor — I would think a certain amount of human kindness, if you want to call it that, compassion … has a lot to do with having been brought up Jewish. In most all of my work, I can see that. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt that consciously, but I certainly see it as a theme in all of my work. I’m usually drawn to stories that are about somehow repairing the world — speaking truth to power.”

For information about production dates and tickets, visit plays411.net.

Calendar: March 4-10


FRI | MARCH 4

DEBAUCHE

This high-energy Russian folk band mixes gypsy punk, klezmer and traditional Ukrainian tunes. Formed in 2008, the New Orleans-based band has become one of the most beloved Russian “mafia” bands touring the United States. With a lively sound, decadent songs from the underground and beautiful burlesque dancing, Debauche won the Big Easy award for Best World Music. 7:30 p.m. $30-$55. The Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica. (310) 434-3200. ” target=”_blank”>pjcenter.com.

SAT | MARCH 5

“BLOOD”

In the early 1980s, nearly 2,000 people died of AIDS after U.S. companies knowingly sold HIV-contaminated blood products to Japan. A musical based on these events, “Blood” tells the story of a Jewish-American reporter in Japan who uncovers the conspiracy to cover up the government-sanctioned sale. It wasn’t until 2000 that three former pharmaceutical executives were sentenced to prison in a landmark decision that raised the standard for corporate accountability in Japan. 8 p.m. $30. Through April 3. The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 960-7745. ” target=”_blank”>pancreatic.org.

UCLA EARLY MUSIC ENSEMBLE CONCERT

The UCLA Early Music Ensemble, under the direction of Emma Stansfield and Elisabeth Le Guin, will put on a concert inspired by the meetings of Islamic, Christian and Jewish civilizations around the Mediterranean. The repertoire will include the music of Arabs, Turks, Iberians, and Northern Europeans through Sephardi songs, Ottoman Court music, Janissary band music and more. 7:30 p.m. Free. RSVP requested. Powell Library at UCLA, 405 Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 825-1938. ” target=”_blank”>nationaldayofunplugging.com.

SUN | MARCH 6

CASDEN CONVERSATION: “THE POWERS AND PERILS OF NAZI PROPAGANDA”

Steven Luckert, curator of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s special exhibition “State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda,” will explore how the Nazis promoted their platform to millions of people through propaganda, via posters, photographs, film and radio. Stephen D. Smith, executive director of USC Shoah Foundation, will moderate the event. 4 p.m. Free. Reservations required at usc.edu/esvp (code: casdenconversations4) or call (213) 740-1744. USC Doheny Memorial Library, Room 240, USC, 3550 Trousdale Parkway, Los Angeles. (213) 740-2924. ” target=”_blank”>km-synagogue.org.

BACH IN THE SUBWAYS

Come enjoy the transcendent music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Dale Henderson will give a performance of the complete Bach Cello Suites as a fundraiser for Bach in the Subways, a movement he founded by performing the music of Bach in the subways of New York in an effort to bring classical music to a wider audience. Last year, thousands of musicians worldwide participated in the movement, playing Bach’s music in public for free to celebrate what would have been his 330th birthday. 4 p.m. $40 presale; $50 at the door. Pico Union Project, 1153 Valencia St., Los Angeles. (818) 760-1077. MON | MARCH 7

“ONCE UPON A FAMILY”

Come enjoy the Los Angeles premiere of “Once Upon a Family.” The unique documentary will offer insightful access to the birth, destruction and rebuilding of Polish Jewry. Rather than offering a simple historical narration, this film aims to increase Jewish pride. 6 p.m. Free. Simon Wisenthal Center, 1399 Roxbury Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 553-9036.

WED | MARCH 9

CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS: “SEPARATE BUT EQUAL?”

What does pluralism at the Western Wall mean? Come learn about the Kotel compromise that created a new prayer space at the Western Wall where women and men can now pray together. The event features Anat Hoffman, chairwoman of Women of the Wall, the reformist group behind the historical change. Joining her will be local rabbis Daniel Bouskila, Laura Geller, Pini Dunner and Adam Kligfeld, as well as Israeli Consul General in Los Angeles David Siegel. Susan Freudenheim, executive editor of the Jewish Journal, will moderate the event. 7:30 p.m. Free. RSVP. Temple Beth Am, 1039 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 368-1661. ” target=”_blank”>csun.edu.

Jamming with the pros at Hamilton High


Kenny G reads Hebrew, knows a thing or two about kabbalah and blows the shofar at shul annually. “Because,” he said, “I am the only one who knows how.”

Looks like Kenny is a model Jew. “We used to be on the road, and Kenny would insist that we celebrate all the Jewish holidays,” recalled Jeff Lorber, renowned keyboardist, composer and record producer. “In 1980 we bought all the food and had a Passover seder in our Holiday Inn hotel room.”

G, in Kenny’s case, is in place of Gorelick. One Kenneth Gorelick, along with musicians Paula Cole, Lorber, Chris Botti, Billy Childs and the horns of Blood, Sweat and Tears, volunteered his talent for an evening of charity at the Academy of Music at Hamilton High School on June 7. The event raised $350,000 for the music magnet school that serves 925 students from 96 ZIP codes in the L.A. area.

A few names at the event: Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss; Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chair Zev Yaroslavsky; 14-time Grammy Award-winner David Foster; and Bobby Colomby, founder of the rock band Blood, Sweat and Tears.

A long list of Jewish men at the Hamilton High event opened up and grew excited to tell about their roots.

Colomby recalled growing up in New York “without trauma or difficulty” with parents who were Holocaust survivors. Of the eight Blood, Sweat and Tears band members in 1967, he said, five were Jewish.

Norm Pattiz, founder and chairman of radio giant Westwood One and donor to both the Hamilton event and the Norman J. Pattiz Concert Hall at Hamilton High, recalled attending the high school back in the 1950s when it had an all-Jewish student body. Lorber spoke of the Jewish value of fostering the arts in children, recalling his own childhood surrounded by music.

But amid the crowd it was Kenny G, minus the Gorelick, who was most comfortable speaking about his Judaism. Cascading curls and all, Kenny played at the benefit like a proper pied piper, finessing the crowd in the aisles of the auditorium.

The event, featuring remarkable performances by Hamilton’s own jazz vocal and instrumental acts, ended with a grand finale performance featuring, among others, Cole on vocals, Kenny G and Botti on wind instruments, the Blood, Sweat, and Tears horn section, and Lorber on piano.

This is not your ordinary high school.

Sacramento PBS TV affiliate won’t run anti-Semitism documentary


David Hosley thinks a scene in which a group of devious Jews slash the throat of a young boy in a ritual slaughter to cull his blood for Passover matzah is not the type of thing that should be shown on television.

Yitzhak Santis thinks it’s exactly what we should be seeing. Santis is the director of Middle Eastern affairs for the San Francisco-based Jewish Community Relations Council.

But Hosley is the general manager of a TV station, the PBS affiliate KVIE in Sacramento. So his word goes.

Hosley passed on running the documentary, “Anti-Semitism in the 21st Century: The Resurgence,” which most Public Broadcasting stations ran in early January, including Los Angeles’ KCET, which ran it on Jan. 8. The film, narrated by Judy Woodruff, provides a history of the hatred of Jews in the Christian West and Muslim East, accompanied by historical cartoons depicting the Jew as “Christ killer,” bloodsucker, ravisher of virgins and plotter of world domination.

Hosley defended his decision, which he said was a difficult one and came only after input from a board of station employees, professors and local religious leaders, including a rabbi, imam and Christian ministers.

“I am interested in the topic, but I’m looking for a program that lives up to its title and is well made,” said Hosley, a documentary filmmaker himself and the station’s general manager for the past eight years.

Hosley said the film, produced by Andrew Goldberg, was journalistically problematic. He claimed that its rapid cuts and interviews with unseen, off-screen questioners left it unclear if the young Arabs being questioned were stating their heartfelt opinions or repeating stories they’d heard. He also complained that the film spent far too long revisiting the history of European anti-Semitism in the 20th century. As for the ritual slaughter scene — an excerpt from a Syrian TV drama — he and his panel felt it was blunt, gory and the message could have been made without the depiction of a boy’s throat being slashed.

Hosley said his panel told him the film would do “more harm than good” for the relationships among Sacramento’s various religious groups.

“I’m very familiar with this program and I couldn’t disagree more,” said Santis of Hosley’s argument. “If you really want to understand the incitement that is being made in Arab and Muslim media, the fact that it is so dramatic and gruesome really demonstrates the level of demonization of Jews that’s going on. I have a copy of that [clip] and I’ve shown it to audiences here and people do close their eyes and I have heard gasps.

“I use it as a wake-up call,” Santis said. “This is using 21st century technology to perpetuate the blood libel and people should be made aware of that.”

Along with a bevy of letters both supporting and denouncing the documentary, PBS ombudsman Michael Getler wrote a largely supportive entry on behalf of “Anti-Semitism” on the PBS Web site.

“This struck me as just the thing Public TV ought to be doing,” he wrote in a Thursday, Jan. 11 posting on PBS.org. “It is unlikely that any diverse audience will ever say that you got this subject just right, but producers need to take a shot at it. Its value, I thought, was in explaining the evolution of anti-Semitism, the original Christian and European role and the differences with Islam, and in exposing to American audiences the kind of hate-filled imagery about Jews that is broadcast and publicly stated in many Arab countries that Americans are unaware of and that the American media rarely captures and broadcasts if they see it.”

Hosley said he that it was far from a rebellious act to not run the documentary, as each national program offered is presented at the discretion of the individual affiliate. Hosley estimates he’s rejected more than 100 hours of nonrequired programming over the past year. And of the roughly 50 largest PBS affiliates, 18 did not run “Anti-Semitism” in the time slot PBS central had earmarked for it, if at all.

In place of “Anti-Semitism” Hosley ran a documentary about America’s oil dependence and the nation’s relationship with oil-producing nations.

Laura’s Smile


Laura Benichou was born on June 9, 1998, with a hole in her heart. This hole probably saved her life, because she was also born without her main pulmonary artery.

The blood had to go somewhere, so it went through the hole. Her condition would take too long to explain, but one result was the lowering of the oxygen level in her blood to 75 percent and below (normal is 99 percent to 100 percent), which meant that her body had to compensate by producing more red blood cells. This in turn thickened her blood and caused other complications, like periodic brain seizures.

The first major seizure happened before she was a year old. To save her life, the top cardiac team at a major hospital in Los Angeles performed an 11-hour operation that implanted small “pipes and faucets” to help normalize the blood flow between her heart and lungs. This didn’t get the results they wanted, so a few weeks later they went back in to implant larger devices. Laura was not responding well to post-surgery care, which created more complications and led to another operation. After six months and three major operations, Laura was a year and a half old when she returned home.

Laura has never spoken a word, but she can coo, laugh, sigh and cry. At her best, she has taken steps with the help of a walker. She has a thin body with a smallish, sweet face framed by dark-brown hair. She gets 24-hour home care, with three rotating nurses monitoring her breathing and other vital signs.

One of those nurses says that Laura expresses a wide range of “appropriate” emotions, from happiness to surprise to crying for attention. Her favorite movie is “Mary Poppins,” and her favorite TV show is “Hannah Montana.” She likes toys that move, and she has a fondness for anything slapstick.

Oh yeah, and she loves to smile.

It’s that spontaneous smile, which I saw firsthand on a recent visit to her family’s handsome high-ceilinged apartment in West Hollywood, that her mother says “hypnotizes everyone who meets her.”

I think the smile has also helped her family fight to keep her alive. While she was in the hospital for six months, her parents took turns to be with her at all times. Her brother, a very cool-looking 16-year-old who’s a starter on his high school basketball team, is very protective of her and seems to have a knack for making her laugh.

Her mother, Veronique, a thin and perfectly put-together French Moroccan Jew in her early 40s, has become a walking medical handbook. During my late-afternoon visit, while she was serving mint tea in elegant china, she took several hours to calmly answer all my questions regarding their ordeal, and Laura’s medical history, even drawing a diagram to explain one of the surgeries.

Veronique says she “stopped living” when the doctors told her the news about Laura. At the time, she had a thriving international trading business. Her husband Richard, an intense, darkly handsome, French Algerian Jew who is a member of the Pinto shul on Pico Boulevard, ran a successful garment business. They were also going through a major renovation of their home near the Sunset Strip, which they were preparing for the new baby.

It didn’t take long for the house (which they have since sold) and their businesses to take a back seat to Laura. Veronique herself was in a “coma of denial” for the first few months, but once she got out of it, she became quietly unstoppable — whether fighting in court against insurance companies (so far, she has prevailed at the key hearings) or doing constant research on the Internet to make sure that everything medically possible is being done for her daughter.

And God knows she’s done it all, medically and otherwise. She recalls now, with a tinge of disappointment, how vulnerable she was to faith healers of all kinds. She especially remembers the woman mystic from Israel, who spent three days rubbing different oils on her daughter while chanting special prayers. Veronique knew then that because they were people of means, there would be no shortage of miracle workers knocking on their door. But she was too vulnerable to turn them away.

Meanwhile, she was knocking on the doors of emergency rooms at all times of the day and night, whenever Laura had a seizure or some other complication. After a few years, she got so frustrated with the service and long waits that she started a company called SOS Medlink, which coordinates a network of doctors who make house calls (I’ve used the service myself, and if I had a say on the Messiah, I’d nominate a doctor who makes house calls). She is currently looking for partners to expand the business nationally, in the hope that it will help provide for Laura’s future care. Her husband has also gone back to work.

Right now, they’re both hoping for a medical success. They don’t like the option of doing nothing, because Laura’s condition hasn’t gotten any better, which leaves her at risk of another seizure (Veronique won’t elaborate). At the same time, though, an “out of the box” operation to repair Laura’s heart is also delicate. So they’re torn between two risky options.

Veronique and her husband will soon make a decision. In the last few days, they have met with a prominent surgeon, and they are exploring a “middle of the road” option that will hopefully do a little repair of the heart and buy them some more time.

In the meantime, they will continue to care for Laura around the clock, take her to parties and to visit family around town, and enjoy one thing that can always fill the hole in their own hearts.

Her smile.

There’s a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on over Power Plate


Remember those machines from the 1950s that used to jiggle a person’s fat in an attempt to rid the body of cellulite?

These days, a more sophisticated generation of those machines, which vibrate the entire body, is claiming it can do a lot more than eliminate cellulite.

Proponents say whole body vibration can increase muscle strength and flexibility, fight osteoporosis, improve balance and posture, increase circulation and reduce pain.

But skeptics say the claims are highly exaggerated, and that the machines might actually be dangerous. They want consumers to exercise caution if they’re going to use them.

Unlike those old-fashioned machines, the new technology relies on more aggressive vibration to stimulate muscles. One of the most popular, the Power Plate, features a vibrating platform that oscillates 30 to 50 times per second. Each time, it stimulates the nervous system and creates a reflex in the body that causes the muscles to contract.

Recent news reports say celebrities like Madonna and Heidi Klum are using it in their workouts, and the Power Plate Web site lists dozens of college and professional sports teams as using vibration training in their regimens, too.

“You’re getting a lot more muscular activity,” said Dennis Sall, a chiropractor in Mount Sinai, N.Y., who began using the Power Plate to train his patients about a year ago. “This is a great way to jump start the metabolism.”

Ultimately, he said, that causes the body to burn more calories.

Dr. Geoffrey Westrich, associate professor of orthopedic surgery at the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan, said that’s true.

“There’s no doubt that the muscles are contracting, and you’re burning calories and strengthening muscles at the same time,” he said.

However, he thinks it needs a lot more research to back up the claims that the machine can do a lot more than just build muscle.

A quick glance at the “applications” portion of the Power Plate Web site indicates that the device can play a significant role in anti-aging, sports performance and rehabilitation. One section seems to imply that it can be used to treat everything from emphysema to multiple sclerosis to whiplash.

According to Scott Hopson, director of research, education and training for Power Plate USA, dozens of studies using Power Plate have been published in peer review journals, including the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, the American Journal of Geriatrics Society and Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.

“It’s very effective for improving balance, strength and preventing the muscle and bone loss that comes with multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, fibromyalgia and cerebral palsy,” he said. “One of the biggest secondary impairments of degenerative diseases is loss of muscle fibers and the ability to use them.

Vibration is a great for fighting against that.”

Hopson added that studies have shown that vibration can increase blood flow to muscle, tendon and ligament tissues and stimulate the release of hormones that are needed for healing damaged tissues.

But Westrich said it’s not the quantity but the quality of the research that concerns him.

“If you go to their Web site and look at all their studies, there is not very good science behind it,” he said. “I found only a few randomized prospective studies. There is some basic science studies about vibration … but a lot of it has nothing to do with their particular device.”

For example, many of the studies on osteoporosis, which are cited in Power Plate’s information packet, were conducted by Clinton T. Rubin, a professor in the department of biomedical engineering at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Rubin, furious that his studies are being used by the company, said, “I’ve never studied the Power Plate at all, and the vibration magnitude we used was 50 times lower than what they are using.”

Rubin works with a different company that also makes a vibration machine but one that uses much less intensity. He said his research shows that minimal vibration can stimulate bone growth, but he said, “Power Plate misuses that.”

“I’m furious that what Power Plate is doing is dangerous to people,” Rubin said. “It’s dangerous because there is a huge scientific body of evidence that high vibration magnitudes can cause lower back pain, circulation disorders, hearing loss, balance problems and vision problems.”

Dr. Jeffrey Fine recently ordered two Power Plates for two hospitals that he works at.

“Physical medicine rehab is a specialty where we apply different types of physical energy for physiologic benefit,” he said. “We considered this a newly identified modality to treat a variety of different medical conditions.”

Currently, Fine is looking into how the Power Plate will help patients with impaired sensation from diabetic neuropathy. He pointed to studies conducted at Harvard University that demonstrated how other devices that incorporate vibration technology have proven useful in stimulating multiple joints and ultimately improving balance and gait problems.

Westrich still isn’t convinced vibration technology is for everybody. For one thing, he’s not sure how useful it would be to treat osteoporosis in his elderly patients.

“I’m not sure they can tolerate being vibrated like a piece of Jell-O,” he said.

Debbe Geiger is a freelance writer specializing in health and science.

The Ultimate Enigma


Zot chukat haTorah begins this week’s parsha, telling us that the subject of the Red Heifer is the chok of the Torah. A chok is a law that is simply incomprehensible. It makes no sense to us whatsoever.

When I tell you that a person who had become ritually defiled by close contact with a human corpse could purify himself by counting seven days, and on days three and seven have the ashes of a red heifer sprinkled on him, you’ll understand what I mean.

There is logic to honoring one’s parents. There is a rationale for not stealing or murdering. But for purification in a ruddy, bovine shower, why would God ask such a thing of us?

I’ll be honest with you. I don’t know. But neither did King Solomon, the wisest of men. It seems that this is part of the definition of a chok, that its raison d’etre remains a mystery.

There are many chukim that defy a logical explanation — keeping kosher, not wearing a garment made of wool and linen and yes, ritual impurity. We can’t ask the question, “Why do we observe them?” The only correct answer is that we observe these mitzvot because God told us to — period.

But because Judaism does not subscribe to blind faith, we must follow up with a second question. Not why, but what. What benefit is there to us by observing this law? How does keeping this commandment make our life richer, infuse our existence with a greater sense of purpose, expand our understanding of the truths of this world?

When we ask “what” regarding the laws governing the Red Heifer, we will understand why this mitzvah is singled out as the paradigmatic chok, the mother of all chukim, if you will. We will also see how intensely relevant an incomprehensible set of laws that haven’t been practiced in thousands of years can be.

Spiritual impurity, tumah, is brought about by different circumstances. For example, one becomes impure, tamay, from close contact with a dead animal. One also becomes tamay if he/she contracts tzaraas, the spiritual equivalent of leprosy. These forms of tumah can be removed simply by immersing in a mikvah, a ritual bath. However, if a person comes in close contact with a human being who has passed away, the level of impurity is much more severe, and the purification process becomes much more involved, requiring mikvah immersion and the Red Heifer concoction.

The difference in the severity of the tumah can be found in the source, or the impetus, of the impurity. Emotionally and psychologically, what does a person experience when they see a dead animal or a body racked by disease? They experience a sense of revulsion and disgust at the decaying organism. They may be sickened and repelled by the diseased tissue overtaking what was once a strong and healthy body. When we chance upon a squirrel that has been run over in the street, we don’t mourn the squirrel. We are grossed out from the blood and the guts, and we just want to get away from it.

Contrast that to the experience of the death of a human being. True, a corpse is not pleasant to behold, but that is not the focus of our emotional/psychological experience. It is so much more. It is the realization that in all of the universe, the deceased was unique. The person had individual talents, a singular purpose no longer to be fulfilled.

Inside every human being lies unlimited potential, and death means that it is lost forever. This most severe form of impurity stems from the recognition that every life has infinite value; that every person truly is an entire world.

The story is told that the Romanian dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, paid a visit to Anwar Sadat shortly before the Yom Kippur War and advised him not to go to war with Israel. Sadat responded by handing him a copy of the publication, Maariv. The cover had a picture of a young man in uniform who was killed and was being mourned by an entire nation. Sadat said that such a people won’t endure a long war if to them, each dead person is important and precious.

As I write this, myself and fellow Jews all over the world, are praying and beseeching God for the safe return of another young man in uniform, Gilad Shalit. To us, he is not just another soldier. He is a unique and precious individual whose loss, God forbid, would be the paradigm of that which doesn’t make sense. Zot chukat haTorah. That a precious life can just be snuffed out is the most illogical and unintelligible chok of the Torah.

Through the parsha of the Red Heifer, we learn to value not just life, but every life. That is why we don’t lump all victims of terror together, but each one has a picture and a name, because each one represents an unimaginable loss. That is why every Shabbat, we pray for the return of the Israeli MIAs. Not to care about the fate of each and every one of them is incomprehensible to us. Yes Sadat, you were right. Every individual is precious and important to us, and every loss a sickening tragedy.

But you were wrong, too. Appreciating the worth of each individual has not weakened us. It is what has given us the strength to keep going. Death may never make sense to us, but the greatness and grandeur of life does. And as incomprehensible as it may seem to you, we choose life.

We hope and pray that very soon, the rest of the world will, too.

Steven Weil is rabbi of Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills.

 

Lift The Ban on Gay Blood Donors


When students arrived at Milken Community High School on the morning of Jan. 10, they were confronted by a large banner reading: “Did you know homosexual males cannot give blood?”

That was the start of a student-led Equal Blood Campaign to press the FDA to lift its blanket ban on all gay blood donors.

Day One of the campaign sparked some initial shock. The ban came as news to many, and the campaign rapidly gathered more and more supporters. In addition to posters around campus, the school’s bulletin, which is read daily in small advisory groups, featured campaign related statistics and facts.

The FDA developed its initial policy regarding gay men in 1983 because at that time there was no technology to screen blood for the HIV virus, which was then known as GRID (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency). Since the ’80s, the disease GRID has been renamed AIDS and is seen as an epidemic affecting millions of people of all ethnicities and sexual orientations.

Yet today, in 2006, when all donated blood is tested for the HIV virus, the policy remains the same — excluding homosexual males from donating blood.

The campaign ended with a bang when on the day of the blood drive, Jan. 12, more than 250 students and faculty sported stickers reading: “I don’t discriminate against blood.”

The petition to the FDA was signed by 270 people — almost half of the high school student body. It is important to understand that the nature of the Equal Blood Campaign was in no way against the blood drive. The campaign in fact was in association with the blood drive.

Students decided to support the Equal Blood Campaign because they agreed that the FDA policy is outdated and reveals the stigma that AIDS is a “gay disease,” and until this policy changes, the dangerous assumption that all homosexuals have the HIV virus will remain. In addition, we feel that the FDA is ruling out a source of potentially life-saving donated blood.

Blood products in short supply, and many favor lifting the ban. According to the FDA, an estimated 62,300 homosexuals would donate blood if the ban was lifted.

The FDA policy arises out of a fear of passing on infected blood. Of the 12 million units of donated blood each year, 10 HIV infected units slip through, accounting for two to three cases of donor transmitted HIV infections per year.

The main reason that HIV positive blood slips through is because there is a window of up to three months after a person contracts HIV where the virus is not always detected.

But while banning gay men, even those in long-term monogamous relationships, the policy says nothing about heterosexual men and women who have unprotected sex with multiple sex partners and who have unknown HIV status (rigorous questionnaires at blood donor sites do take these factors into account).

We feel even if not completely abolishing the gay ban, the FDA should change the policy from banning all men who have had sex with men, to banning any person who has had unprotected sex with any person within the past three months. Not only would this weed out promiscuous and more likely infected individuals from giving blood, but it gives the opportunity for gay men having safe sex to give blood.

In its most recent evaluation of the issue, the FDA narrowly voted to maintain the ban on blood donations from homosexual men. The vote was 7-6 to maintain the ban, which states that any man who has had sex with another man since 1977 may not donate blood.

I, along with my campaign co-leader, Amanda Meimin, truly feel the Milken Equal Blood Campaign — one of the first of its kind in a high school — was a success. We turned heads and not only changed views but also helped people to find a view. Ultimately we would like to see other schools adopt the Equal Blood Campaign and we’d like to see the FDA change its policy.

The past has taught us that we can generate tolerance through destroying generalizations. Our battle begins with the stereotype that AIDS is a “gay disease.” We want to make people understand that just because they may not be gay, the issue still pertains to them. Discrimination exists everywhere and has touched everyone at one point or another. The Milken Equal Blood Campaign is about raising awareness, making change, and empowering youth to make their peers aware of homophobia in our society.

Lisa Hurwitz is a sophomore at Milken Community High School. To get involved in the Equal Blood Campaign, contact her at lhurwitz@mchs.mchschool.org.

Transplant Recipient Will Parade Success


Like many native Angelenos, Ilene Feder has never been to the annual Rose Parade in Pasadena. However, the Studio City resident not only will be attending the New Year’s day festivities on Monday, Jan. 2, for the 118th Rose Parade, but will have a vantage point few get to experience: She’ll be riding on a float.

Feder is one of 23 individuals from throughout the country who will ride on the Donate Life Rose Parade Float, representing organ and tissue recipients, living organ donors and donor family members. The float’s theme is “Life Transformed.”

In 1995, Feder, then a 40-year-old international flight attendant, led a healthy, active lifestyle that included skiing, running and scuba diving. Following a routine checkup that showed elevated liver enzyme levels, she was diagnosed with a rare blood disease.

The condition caused a clot in the artery that supplied blood to her liver. Feder underwent surgery to bypass the blockage, but within nine months, it was clear that her liver was shutting down.

When her doctor told her that she would need a liver transplant, “I flipped out,” Feder said. “But the support that I had from the transplant community and from my family saved me. I got heaps and heaps of information that I didn’t get from my doctors.”

Now Feder, who received a donated liver in August 1996, reaches out to others who are awaiting or have received a transplant. She helped start local chapters of the Transplant Recipient International Organization (TRIO) in Westlake Village and Sherman Oaks and became an ambassador for OneLegacy, the transplant network serving the greater Los Angeles area. She has also spoken at various synagogues and organizations to promote organ donor awareness.

Although Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Judaism sanction — and in fact advocate — organ donation, Feder believes that some may retain misconceptions about Judaism’s view.

“People think you need to be buried whole, but it’s a mitzvah to donate an organ,” Feder said. “It makes me feel good that my religion backs my convictions.”

Feder’s transplant has enabled her to resume an active lifestyle. Although she has less stamina than she had before getting sick, she has since traveled to such locales as Israel and China. She’s also attended the Transplant Winter Olympics. And, of course, she’s getting ready for her role on Jan. 2.

“I’m practicing my Princess Di wave,” she said. “I’ve got it down.”

The Rose Parade, with the theme, “It’s Magical,” will take place on Monday, Jan. 2, at 8 a.m. and will air on several local TV stations.

On Tuesday, Jan. 10, the Santa Ana/Tustin group of Hadassah of Long Beach/Orange County will host “Pikuah Nefesh — to Save a Life,” a program discussing the Jewish view of organ and tissue donation. The event will feature Rabbi Ken Millhander of Temple Beth Tikvah in Fullerton; Sharon Zepel, mother of a teenage donor; and organ recipient Lynda Trachtman. For event location and more information, call (714) 545-7162.

The Clot to Kill Jesus


In what is likely the ultimate “Cold Case File,” a researcher in Haifa may have figured out the cause of Jesus’ death.

Professor Benjamin Brenner, a Technion Medical School and Rambam Medical Center hematology expert, said the problem was not blood loss, but a blood clot that likely traveled to Jesus’ lungs.

“That Jesus was put on the cross on Friday before noontime and died only three to six hours later leads me to believe he did not die from crucifixion and blood loss alone,” Brenner said. The blood clot, or pulmonary embolism, “would be a common result from the physical and psychological adversity Jesus underwent during his final day.”

Brenner relied on descriptions of the events of Jesus’ death from the Christian Bible as well as Jewish and Roman sources. His findings were published last week in the online edition of the Journal of Thrombosis and Haemostasis.

Brenner believes that Jesus’ Jewish heritage may have provided additional, inherited risk factors that made him more susceptible to blood clots. Two clot-related genetic mutations, “Factor V Leiden” and “Prothrombin 20120,” are common in Israel, especially in the Galilee, the boyhood home of Jesus, according to Christian tradition.

Matters concerning Jesus’ death have been a source of interest and speculation for centuries, and modern times ushered in modern theories. In 1986, The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) considered whether Jesus died of a blood clot, but concluded his death was due to blood loss. However, Brenner said that medical science’s understanding of blood clots has since advanced dramatically.

Pulmonary embolisms occur when an artery in the lung becomes blocked, typically by one or more blood clots that have traveled to the lungs from another part of the body. The clots often originate in the legs, but can also form in veins in the arms, for example, or on the right side of the heart.

Some of Jesus’ symptoms may have a familiar modern ring: dehydration, severe physical and emotional stress and prolonged immobilization. It’s what can and does occasionally happen today to unlucky passengers on long plane flights, especially in this no-frills era. Also at risk are others who remain inactive for long periods of time, like those confined to bed and people who have had surgery, a stroke or heart attack. Each year about 30,000 Americans die from pulmonary embolisms.

Brenner hopes his research will raise public awareness about this largely preventable disease. Treatments include medication to break up clots or prevent new clots from forming. On long plane flights, it also helps to move around the cabin.

What You Can Do


GIVE

In times of tragedy and disaster, blood supplies oftenrun critically low. Giving blood is an incredible mitzvah, and one which costsyou only time. Call 1-800-GIVELIFE (1-800-448 3543); if the number is busy, theRed Cross requests that you please keep calling so that you can schedule anappointment at your local blood donation center. You can also try Cedars-SinaiMedical Center (blood donations). — (310) 423-5346.

Undoubtedly, much financial help will be required toassist the individuals, families and institutions affected by the recentattacks. We will provide information about where monetary donations can bedirected as soon as such information is available. Check www.jewishjournal.comfor updates.

The Victims of Terror Fund set up by The JewishFederation of Greater Los Angeles will provide financial support for crisiscounseling and other needs to victims of recent terrorist attacks in the UnitedStates.

Donations made payable to:

The Jewish Federation
Victims of Terror Fund
6505 Wilshire Blvd. Suite 1000,
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(323) 761-8207
www.jewishla.org

BE SAFE

United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism

provides security guidelines for Jewish institutions, which are especially relevant during the High Holy Day season. http://uscj.org/item104_681.html

TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF

For emergency assistance or information, call:
The Jewish Federation (City Office)
(323) 761-8000
The Jewish Federation (Valley Office)
(818) 464-3200
Jewish Family Services (City Office)
(323) 761-8800
Jewish Family Services (Valley Office)
(818) 464-3333
Board of Rabbis of Southern California
(323) 761-8600

PRAY

Individually, or with your family or community, reciteprayers.

It is customary in Jewish tradition to recite Psalms inresponse to tragedy or in a time of fear and concern. Choose Psalms that aremeaningful to you, or try Psalm 23.

Bring your community together: organize a prayer vigil,reciting Psalms and other readings, and a sharing of thoughts and feelings.

JewzNewz.com contributed to this report.