Beyond sicko


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My December visit with ‘lady’


“Agha isn’t here,” Khanum says as soon as I walk in through the door. “I don’t know when he’ll be back.”

Agha is her husband — dead for 35 years and buried in Iran — but she speaks about him as if he were just out running an errand.

“No point waiting around for him,” she tells me with characteristic bluntness. “Go home and do something useful.”

We’re in her room on the third floor of the Ocean Towers Convalescent Home in Santa Monica. Khanum has lived here for nearly 10 years, ever since she broke her hip and had to have it replaced by a young Iranian doctor who called all his female patients “Khanum” (Lady), because they were old, and he meant to show respect — and because this way, he didn’t have to remember their names.

Depending on whom you ask, Khanum is somewhere between 97 and 104 years old. She has bad eyes and trouble walking — what with the hip replacement and all — and she gets tired easily, but she’s otherwise in fine health.

She needs constant care, which she resents wholeheartedly and refuses often. Her mind is in good shape most of the time, but lately her short-term memory has been lapsing for hours at a time. When this happens, she can tell you about all the people she knew and places she had been to in her 20s and 30s, but she won’t recall when she last ate, or what day it is, or what the person she’s been talking to has just said.

She becomes young again, a new bride in her husband’s house, unwavering in her love and her loyalty to him.

“I’m not here to see Agha,” I tell her. “I’ve come to see you.”

I realize she has confused me with one of the many callers who used to knock at her door day or night in Tehran in the years before her husband died. They never called ahead of time, or asked permission to visit, because they knew they would not be welcome: they were either selling something, asking for money, collecting a bribe or hoping to enlist her husband’s support in some decades’ old feud with a family member.

I kiss her on both cheeks and ask how she’s doing.

“Why do you want to know?” she responds, still suspicious.

To my embarrassment, I feel relieved that Khanum hasn’t recognized me yet, that she doesn’t remember how long it has been since my last visit. So we sit — Khanum in her wheelchair, I on the edge of her hospital bed — for a while without speaking. The small television that hangs from the ceiling is tuned to one of the many Farsi-language satellite stations based in Los Angeles. Persian music blares from someone’s radio next door.

It’s only 6 p.m., but the December sky has been dark for nearly an hour.

“No self-respecting woman would be out on the street so late at night,” Khanum chides me.

Ocean Towers is one of many establishments of its kind in Santa Monica — a gray, seven-story box of a building with cement walls and a flat roof, situated, for practical reasons, within a 10-block radius of St. John’s Hospital.

We’re only 12 blocks away from Third Street Promenade with its trendy shops and overly aggressive street performers, but we might as well be in Tehran: There are three Iranian restaurants within walking distance of this building, three grocery stores, an Iranian kosher butcher shop. There is an Iranian bakery around the corner, two hair salons and an electronics store that promises — in big, bold letters painted on the windows — to crush any competitor’s price anywhere.

On the third floor, all the residents are Iranian. So are some of the doctors and nurses, the nutrition experts and physical therapists. The arrangement seems to be as much by design as by coincidence, but it suits everyone just fine. Most of the residents here know each other from the years in Iran — before the revolution forced them out of the country and sent them to a place where youth and beauty are revered above wisdom and tradition; where children are allowed to disobey their parents, or dishonor them by marrying out of their faith, or divorcing their spouses or entrust the care of their elders to strangers in bright purple uniforms who come and go every eight hours.

The visitors, too, know most of the patients. They come often, and bring Iranian food and magazines and candy. They arrive early and leave late, sometimes staying all day with a spouse or a parent because they can’t bear the guilt of what they have done to their loved ones, because they remember what it was like back in Iran, how the elderly were cared for at home, how they used to look down on people in the West — the way they tossed their parents away when they were of no more use, locked them up in nursing homes and forgot where they had put the key.

Dinner is at 5:30 p.m., and after that the latest hold-outs go home. The nurses’ shift changes, and dusk settles onto the bare hallways and narrow beds with plastic mattresses. Then the ghosts come out.

“Do you miss Agha?” I ask Khanum.

When I first started writing, I sat with Khanum for hours at a time, asking questions. I was 21 and on leave of absence from law school. I had no idea what I was going to do with my life, but I knew some stories from Iran, and had begun to write them. They were scattered pieces of people’s lives, bits of conversations I had overheard through the years, rumors that had been whispered too many times and taken on a reality that may or may not have been deserved.

Almost all the stories, however, were about my own family: we were — still are — unusually open, among Iranian Jews, about our past. Others are more guarded, more aware of the consequences of revealing themselves in a society built as much on appearances as on facts, a society where truth will, far from setting you free, most likely close a thousand doors and come back to haunt you for good.

The fab fundraising fifth-grader


Many people took it upon themselves to raise vast sums of money for Israel during the conflict with Lebanon this summer, but how many were still in elementary school?

Ten-year-old Shira Bouskila was. The Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy fifth-grader raised $24,000 for the children of Shlomi, a northern border town of about 5,000 people hit by Katyushas from Lebanon.

Bouskila first learned about Shlomi when she visited the town during a summer 2005 trip with her father, Rabbi Daniel Bouskila of Westwood’s Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel. That same year she and her friends decorated spoons with Israeli flags and sold them to buy Chanukah presents for Shlomi’s children.

“When the war broke out, we were watching Israeli television and Katyushas landed on Shlomi. Shira was quite frightened because she knows the kids, and she wanted to go there and be with them,” Rabbi Bouskila said.

“It’s not the right time,” he told her.

“They were really going through hard times — they were in bomb shelters all summer, and I felt really bad for them,” Shira said.

So Shira decided to raise money for the town instead.

She and her friends made and sold High Holiday cards and solicited donations from her friends, school and synagogue. (The temple held two separate campaigns, which raised about $200,000 each, for Israeli towns in the north and south.) Donations to Shira’s campaign exceeded expectations — instead of sending in $18 dollars, some people sent in $180.

Rather than sending the money directly to Shlomi, Shira wanted to do something special for the kids.

“I really thought about ‘what would I want to do?’ I’m just a kid like any other kid,” Shira said.
She decided to take them to “Festigal,” the December Israeli rock festival for children that features a roundup of Israeli pop stars. The show is the largest stage production in the country, featuring 80 concerts in nine different cities.

In December, Shira went with her father to Israel to throw a party for the Shlomi children, and sponsored 350 third- to fifth-graders for a day at the festival in Haifa. The remainder of the funds will go to sponsoring more “days of fun” for the kids on Tu B’Shevat, Purim and Yom Ha’Atzmaut.

“I’m extremely proud to see a 10-year-old girl have such a strong love for Israel and particularly have a connection to kids and care about their well-being,” said Rabbi Bouskila, who is planning a February trip to Israel with some members of his synagogue.

Shira is happy she could bring joy to the kids of Shlomi, and she said she’s learned a lot about her own life in the process.

“I learned I’m so lucky to have a community that helps me have everything I have,” she said. “I have so much, and the kids that I did this for really aren’t as lucky as I am. I feel more appreciative of everything more now.”

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.

Today’s Task: Be an Angel


We all have daily to-do lists.

So why shouldn’t God?

That’s the premise of Dr. Ron Wolfson’s new book, “God’s To-Do List: 103 Ways to Be an Angel and Do God’s Work on Earth” (Jewish Lights Publishing, 2007).

“God has a to-do list for you,” the book opens. “You are God’s partner. God needs you to continue the ongoing creation of the world.”

Wolfson, the Fingerhut Professor of Education at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles and cofounder of Synagogue 3000, taps into the latest best-selling trend: religious self-help. Like Pastor Rick Warren’s 20-million copy bestseller, “The Purpose Driven Life,” (which Wolfson quotes), “God’s To-Do List” anthropomorphizes the Deity with human properties, like Post-It Notes.

Indeed, the 122-page, soft-cover book features outtakes such as “Be Like God,” “Let God Be Your Role Model,” “Do One Small To-Do Every Day.” It’s broken down into chapters, such as Create, Bless, Rest, Call, Comfort, Care, Repair, Wrestle, Give and Forgive, which ostensibly make up the 103 ways to be an angel.

Wolfson’s other books include “The Spirituality of Welcoming,” “How to Transform Your Congregation Into a Sacred Community,” “A Time to Mourn, A Time to Comfort: A Guide to Jewish Bereavement and Comfort” (all Jewish Lights), and here he uses two seemingly conflicting biblical statements to show how man should operate on earth: “I am but dust and ashes,” (Genesis, 18:27) and “For my sake the world was created,” (Sanhedrin, 37A).

The first is to remind you not to be too proud, that “like all humans, you have little time on this earth, and you will, no question about it, return to dust and ash.”

The second is to remind you, when you’re feeling down, “it makes you feel like the most important person in the world.”

God’s to-do list includes blessing your family, creating new relationships, practicing hearing, inviting newcomers into your neighborhood, performing random acts of kindness, contributing time and money to political organizations, practicing the art of compromise, giving to the needy, forgiving others and yourself — in other words, being a better, more engaged human being. Although Wolfson uses Jewish sources, the book presents “Jewish wisdom for people of all faiths.”

“Everyone has gifts to give and things to do. The world will be a better place because you are in it,” Wolfson writes in the conclusion. “The question is, are you ready to do the to-dos on your God’s to-do list? Are you ready to be an angel?”

Mayor implores people of faith to fight homelessness


“Local communities have to provide services and supportive housing. We can’t be a city that grows in one part and leaves people destitute in another,” Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told a crowd of more than 300 at Leo Baeck Temple on Sunday.

Teachings from the Torah, as well as triumphs on the football field, set the tone for a conference on homelessness, which also included County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky; Ed Edelman, retired county supervisor and special representative for homeless initiatives for the City of Santa Monica; L.A. City Council Member Bill Rosendahl; and a panel of agency leaders, ready to enlist the conference participants in a wide range of activities.

“Homelessness is curable and we must cure it,” Leo Baeck Senior Rabbi Kenneth Chasen said in his welcoming remarks. “Jews know too well the experience of being strangers and outsiders. We have lived in countless places where there were no homes for us.”

More than 90,000 homeless people live in Los Angeles County, about 15,000 of them in downtown’s skid row.

“Los Angeles has the dubious distinction of being America’s homeless capital,” the mayor said, adding that the city is also home to 262,500 millionaires.

The mayor emphasized that homelessness is pervasive throughout the county.

“We have 15 council districts and 87 neighborhood councils, and at the end of the day we have to articulate a common vision…. Every neighborhood has the responsibility to bear the challenge of homelessness,” Villaraigosa said, citing studies showing that contrary to residents’ fears, property values do not fall, nor does crime increase when supportive housing is provided for the previously homeless.

Rosendahl cited a recent survey that had found scores of homeless people in West Los Angeles as well as Venice. Yaroslavky, emphasized that religious communities, which share a vision and passion for social justice can play a key role.

“The county has allocated $100 million for homelessness,” he said. “At one point that was as unlikely as UCLA beating USC in football. For the first time in my career, the political landscape is right for tackling this issue.”

A panel of directors of programs that provide services for the homeless provided the audience with specific programs that could use their services.

Adlai Wertman, the CEO of Chrysalis, which finds jobs for as many as 2,000 homeless people each year, left a career on Wall Street to work with the homeless.

“Why?” he asks. “First and foremost because I’m a Jew. I’m a wannabe rabbi. I spend four or five hours a week studying Torah; it was hard for me to read about the duty of taking care of the poor and the hungry without taking action.”

The New Direction Choir, composed of previously homeless veterans who’ve worked with the New Directions orgainzaton, had earlier provided concrete evidence through song and testimonies to the successes of their programs.

“I am a member of this congregation,” said Toni Reinis, executive director of the New Directions. “So I have to cite something. Our tradition teaches us that the recognition of injustice is not sufficient. Awareness must be followed by action. Real tzedakah is only committed through our acts of righteousness.”

Reinis urged members of the audience to stop by the Veteran’s Village Diner on the grounds of the Veteran’s Administration in West Los Angeles, which serves breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday.

Joel Roberts, the CEO of PATH, People Assisting the Homeless, introduced Mary Erickson of Imagine LA, a group whose goal is to help every faith-based community in Los Angeles to “adopt” one of the city’s 8,000 homeless families for a two year period.

The conference was spearheaded by Ralph Fertig, a professor at the USC School of Social Work. Fertig, who has long been active in the struggle for human and civil rights, joined Leo Baeck two years ago because of its tradition of social justice programming. The ex-Freedom Rider and civil rights lawyer approached the temple’s rabbis in the hope of engaging the congregation in issues of homelessness.

“We decided a conference would be the perfect opportunity to get our members’ sleeves rolled up,” said Rabbi Leah Lewis, who was also a key organizer.

“We though this could be a launching pad for more involvement.”

After the presentations, Edelman and Fertig urged everyone to sign up as volunteers. Their exhortations were echoed by Lewis in her concluding remarks.

“The Chanukah season is our time to re-dedicate ourselves to stand up for what is right,” she said. “The Macabees were not deterred by the enormity of their task. Like the Macabees, we move forward one step at a time. For us at Leo Baeck, partnering with all these agencies is our congregational first step.”

“There is no community or city or region in the country that has dealt successfully with homelessness without the full participation from religious communities of all faiths standing up for community responsibility,” said Torie Osborn, Villaraigosa’s senior adviser on homelessness.

“I’m especially delighted about the religious community coming together with the city and county,” Chasen said as the congregants moved to an adjoining room where tables were covered with snacks, literature and sign-up sheets.

“The remarkable thing is that both Mayor Villaraigosa and Supervisor Yaroslavsky came,” he said. “The city and the county have not always worked together on homelessness. It’s a great sign of successes to come.”

Wanted: someone to help suffering Jews


One day, Rabbi Barbara Speyer went to a Los Angeles-area nursing home to provide emergency chaplaincy services — spiritual comfort and care — to a dying patient. When she arrived, the administrator said to her, “Why do you guys charge for this? This should be voluntary!”
 
Speyer was not on staff with the facility, and her schedule is more than full. She works full time as a chaplain at the Veteran’s Administration Hospital and serves on the Red Cross Disaster Team. She is also a community chaplain with the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, which is the hat she was wearing when she went that day to the nursing home.
 
“When your dishwasher breaks, don’t you call a plumber?” Speyer responded to the administrator. She had driven out to the Valley in Friday morning traffic for a fee that would barely cover the cost of her mileage, and she couldn’t believe the administrator’s attitude, although it was one she had encountered many, many times before.
 
“Why is spiritual counseling something you should give for free?” she said recently. “People feel as Jews, we’re supposed to care for one another. But we have multiple needs in the community, and people do not understand what is involved in maintaining and sustaining a Jewish community.”
 
Indeed, the Jewish community has many needs that require funding, manpower and programming, and they are often called “crises”: There is the Israel crisis, the intermarriage crisis and the disengaged youth crisis.
 

But the one crisis hardly spoken of is the aging crisis: Some 23 percent of the Jewish population nationally is older than 60, compared to 16 percent in the general population, according to the National Jewish Population Survey 2000-2001. In Los Angeles, between 1979 and 1997, (the last survey of Los Angeles’ Jewish population), for example, the number of Jews older than 65 grew from 11.1 percent to 20.4 percent. Put simply, the Jewish community is aging rapidly — and not necessarily healthfully, as medical advances in areas such as chemotherapy and kidney dialysis prolong life spans, while also sometimes adding extra years spent in hospitals, nursing homes, under medical treatment.
 
Who will provide spiritual care for the needy?
 
The crisis, for those involved, like Speyer, who is past president of the National Association of Jewish Chaplains, is not merely physical care — Medicare is a benefit afforded these people — her concern is the huge gap in provisions for another very important kind of sustenance.
 
“There is very little spiritual care being ministered to those who are in need,” she said. “I mean, we all need spiritual care. We have a large society of the elderly who spend their time alone,” either at home or in nursing homes and often not affiliated with any synagogues or religious organizations. “No one is attending to the needs of these people.”
 
“People are becoming more aware that there is more than just the curing process. There’s also the healing process that must go on with a patient and his or her family,” said Cecile Asikoff, national coordinator of the association, the umbrella organization for national and international professional Jewish chaplains, totaling some 300 members. A chaplain is a spiritual counselor who provides guidance, comfort and care to people in institutions — hospitals, nursing homes, prison and the military, and the National Association of Jewish Chaplains sets standards and can qualify Jewish chaplains.

“An important element in the healing process is the spiritual process. The healing process can be helped by confronting the spiritual issues of, ‘Why me, why now?'” Asikoff said.
Which is where the chaplain comes in — or should come in — to offer spiritual guidance and counseling, to sit with the patient and his or her family.
 
“A person is not just his or her disease any more than he or her eye color. The disease is part of who the person is. Part of the pastoral piece is helping people come to terms with very difficult, life-threatening or life-ending conditions, the piece of transitioning from one place in life to another place in life, the elderly, the transitioning piece of hospice, those are all pastoral pieces that are not outside his or her illness or medical condition,” Asikoff said.
 
In 2002, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles published a study, “Services to Jews in Institutions,” originally sparked by the United Way’s elimination of a prison chaplaincy program. The 42-page study was divided into two parts: “Jews in Prisons,” and “Jews in Hospitals and Nursing Homes.” Although the first part sparked the study, the second half was what attracted people’s attention.
 
“There is a significant shortage of trained volunteers, chaplains and others to meet the needs of those in hospitals, nursing homes and hospice. Not enough professionals are entering and remaining in these fields,” the study reported.
 
This is something that people like Asikoff and Speyer know very well: Many elderly and sick Jews need spiritual care and are not receiving it. And there are not enough people who can provide it.
 
The concept of chaplaincy originated among the Christians, though, bikur cholim (visiting the sick) is considered one of the most important mitzvahs in the Torah.
 
Historically, members of a Jewish community and rabbis have attended to sick people. But these days, for many of the unaffiliated sick — and even those who are affiliated — a rabbi’s time is often not sufficient to provide real care.
 
Rabbis often serve vast communities and with those communities come myriad other obligations, like weddings, bar mitzvahs, speeches, functions, counseling and fundraising. Often rabbis have time only to visit the terminally ill and even then not on a regular basis.
 
Still, with equal rights for all religions, the demand has been increasing. Many institutions have begun to seek out Jewish, as well as Christian ones, and, of late, Muslim, Buddhists and many other religions. And the requirements are stringent: A professional chaplain today must be board certified, having completed 1,600 hours of clinical pastoral education working at a hospital or institution.

Congress OKs bill barring military chaplains from mentioning Jesus in official prayers


Congress OKs bill barring military chaplains from mentioning Jesus in official prayers
 
The U.S. Congress rescinded language in Pentagon orders that allowed military chaplains to mention Jesus in official prayers. Controversy over including similar language in the Defense Authorization Act, a critical spending bill, dogged attempts to pull the bill out of a Senate-House conference committee before Congress recessed for midterm elections.
 
The conferees ultimately decided to strike the language and order the Pentagon to rescind its earlier instructions. Mikey Weinstein, a former U.S. Air Force officer who led the battle to remove the language, applauded the decision.”We welcome the opportunity Congress has afforded to discuss the appropriate role of religion and chaplains in the military,” Weinstein, who is Jewish, said last week in a statement issued by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which he founded. “The passage of this bill will be a victory for those of us who have been fighting so assiduously to protect both the rights of the men and women in our armed forces and the United States Constitution.”
 

Austrian extremists gain in elections
 
Two far-right parties with a history of anti-Jewish rhetoric made gains in Austrian elections. National elections held over the weekend saw a 50 percent rise since 2002 elections in the percentage of votes for the Freedom Party and the Alliance for Austria’s Future. Members of both parties have expressed antipathy toward Israel and are known for their campaigns against Muslims living in Austria.
 
The left-leaning Social Democrats won the election with nearly 36 percent of the vote, followed by the center-right People’s Party with 34 percent. The Freedom Party came in third with 11 percent, and the Alliance for Austria’s Future, run by right-wing extremist Jorg Haider, received 4 percent of the vote. The Social Democrats and People’s Party are expected to form a governing coalition.
 
Federal legislation Includes grant for Federation model elderly care program
 
A Jewish federation model to facilitate care for the elderly in their home communities will be included in federal grant legislation. The United Jewish Communities, the umbrella body for North American federations, launched the “Aging in Place” initiative in 2002, helping 40 communities in 25 states obtain federal dollars for naturally occurring retirement communities.The model was featured in a U.S. Senate hearing this year to consider re-authorization of the Older Americans Act. As a result, a federal grant program for the retirement communities is included in language agreed to by House-Senate conferees.
 
Swiss stage pro-Israel rally
 
Approximately 3,000 demonstrators held a pro-Israel rally in the Swiss capital. Saturday’s rally in Bern called for the Swiss government to support Israel’s right to exist and show solidarity with the Jewish state’s fight against terrorism. Twenty organizations signed a resolution urging the government to refuse negotiations with terrorist groups that reject the existence of the Israeli state.
 

British House of Lords member faces probe by party over Israel lobby remarks
 
A member of Britain’s House of Lords will be investigated by her party for comments about the “pro-Israel lobby.” Liberal Democrat Party members have announced that Baroness Jenny Tonge’s position in the party will be reviewed in response to her public remarks.
 
In a speech that recently aired on BBC Radio, Tonge said, “The pro-Israeli lobby has got its [financial] grips on the Western world. I think they’ve probably got a certain grip on our party.”
 
More than 20 of her peers in the House of Lords wrote a letter to the Times condemning Tonge’s comments, stating, “Baroness Tonge evoked a classic anti-Jewish conspiracy theory,” and that her language “as a member of the House of Lords, was irresponsible and inappropriate.”
 
In early 2004, she was fired from her position as Liberal Democrat spokeswoman on international development for saying she could understand why a Palestinian would become a suicide bomber and also that she would consider becoming one were she a Palestinian.
 
Remains of Czech Jewish graveyard found
 
Evidence of a medieval Jewish cemetery was discovered in the Czech Republic.Researchers from a preservationist organization in the city of Pilsen say they found documents in the city archive revealing details of what they believe was one of the largest Jewish cemeteries in Czech lands in the 14th century.
 
The cemetery’s existence was already known, said archaeologist Radek Siroky of the West Bohemian Institute for Heritage Conservation and Documentation, but the new documents reveal more specifics about its location.
 
He said that only excavations, approved by religious authorities, could provide more details about the cemetery’s size and the nature of the Jewish community there.
 
Briefs courtesy of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Measure ‘R’ contains curious ‘reform’


On November’s ballot, tucked among the local measures affecting only Los Angeles, is curious Measure R, a plan by the Los Angeles City Council to provide each of the 15 council
members an extra $570,000 in pay, by my own estimate roughly $1.25 million in subsidized health care per person for life and an extra pension windfall per person worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Council President Eric Garcetti, as chair of the city Elections Committee, assigned the measure the letter “R” for “reform.” But critics — including retired Department of Neighborhood Empowerment chief Greg Nelson, city ethics commissioner and journalist Bill Boyarsky and the editorial boards of the Los Angeles Daily News and Los Angeles Times — call it something else: a sneaky way to loosen the accountability of our public officials.

And here’s the kicker: The “proof” that purports to demonstrate the measure’s effectiveness? It doesn’t exist.

On the ballot, Measure R will be described by proponents as a law that improves term limits and city ethics rules. Many voters will assume it’s a good idea, since it’s backed by the League of Women Voters and Chamber of Commerce.

In truth, Measure R wipes out the limit of eight years, allowing our existing crop of 15 council members — and all subsequent ones — to stay in office 12 years. (Voters can try ousting them earlier, but the history of such efforts is not encouraging.)

Measure R did not arise from citizens. In fact, polls show that Angelenos oppose efforts to soften term limits. Nor would voters seek to hand each of our current council members an additional $1 million to $2 million in pay and perks.

Only history will tell the tale of how Measure R really came to be. What is known, however, is this: It was proposed in vague outline by the chamber and league on a Friday. The council — which can take months just deciding the color of recycling bins — backed it the following Tuesday.

I’ve seen a lot of self-interested moves by politicians. One was the clever move in 1990 by the City Council, also peddled as “reform,” to forever tie their pay raises to those of Superior Court judges. As a result, every time overworked judges get a pay raise, so do the 15 council members. That’s why they earn $149,000, the highest-paid council members by far in a major U.S. city. (New York City, a far costlier place to live, pays its council members $90,000; San Francisco, another more expensive city in which to live, pays $91,000).

Although Measure R is touted as ethics reform, City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo and Ethics Commissioner Boyarsky — who is also a columnist for The Jewish Journal — have said it actually helps lobbyists cover their tracks.

Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce board member Ron Gastelum defended Measure R to me, saying the chamber and league proposed it because “it takes a council member the entire first term to really learn the business of the city,” and council members start running for other offices during their second term.

According to Gastelum, “after closely examining all these factors, we had to conclude that an additional term is needed.”

Except no “examination” happened. In an interview, Gastelum told me that neither the chamber nor league studied the achievements of legislative bodies limited to eight years, vs. those with 12. Moreover, they did not contact other cities or regions, nor did they define what “effectiveness” is.

Over the summer, league past president Cindy O’Connor admitted to the Tarzana Neighborhood Council that the league set up Measure R as “a carrot and stick.”

The carrot, she said, was their claim of an ethics crackdown. The stick, she said, was the unpopular term limits extension which could never pass alone.

Nelson says, “Measure R is really horrifying, because if you are lobbyist and you work on a contingency and don’t get paid until the issue you’re working on is over, you don’t, under this ‘reform,’ have to report that you are lobbying on the issue. So they are invisible! This is what Boyarsky and Delgadillo found unconscionable.”

Boyarsky, who cannot criticize Measure R because he is on the Ethics Commission, has nevertheless voiced extreme displeasure that it arose from backroom dealing and waters down city ethics laws.

“When I found out it eases regulations on lobbyists, I started asking all these questions of our [commission] staff,” he told me. “But that was all I could do. I am prohibited from criticizing ballot measures. My only consolation is I believe it’s going to lose.”

Would the City Council be more effective given 12 years instead of eight?
Nelson, who spent decades as an aide to fiery former Councilman Joel Wachs, says no.

“I realized it didn’t matter how much time council members have in office, the day I got this call from the Los Angeles Times,” he told me. About 15 years ago, before term limits, the newspaper asked Nelson to name the most important things the council had achieved that year.

“I couldn’t think of a single thing to put on a list for them,” he recalls. “The lesson is, given more time, the council is no more effective and no more interested in the big issues. I saw it firsthand.”

Jill Stewart is a syndicated political columnist. Her website is

How YOU Can Help Israel; Electronic Devices


How YOU Can Help Israel

Kids in Los Angeles can send letters to kids in Israel by e-mailing elka1@jdc.org.il. The letters will be printed out and inserted into “care packages” that are beng sent out to families in shelters in Northern Israel. When you send an e-mail, include your name, age and address.

  • In addition to expressing support, you can write about whatever it is that you, as kids, like to talk about.

  • Ask that the children e-mail or mail you back.
  • It is important that spelling and grammar are correct (have an adult or older sibling read it first), otherwise it can be difficult for the Israeli children to understand.

Remember: Tikkun olam comes in all shapes and sizes.

Kein v’ Lo: Electronic Devices

This section of the page is a way for you as kids to sound off about an issue. This month’s Kein v’ Lo (yes and no) is about personal electronic devices. Are kids spending too much time on iPods, PSPs and cellphones?

The Kein Side:

  • The obesity rate among children is growing because many are sitting down (or standing still), playing games on their PSPs and texting their friends via their phones and not getting enough exercise.

  • A lot of kids listen to their iPods all the time — even in public — and are not learning to how to interact with people. The headphone volume could also cause many of them to have hearing problems.

The Lo Side:

  • Kids are learning to be technologically savvy — skills that are very important for doing homework and will later be used to get good jobs.

  • By texting their friends and talking on cellphones, kids are socializing all the time. Playing games on PSPs keeps minds sharp because players have to constantly think. Some teachers even use iPod podcasts (streaming video or audio) as learning tools for class.

Discuss your opinions in your classroom or around your dining table with your family. We aren’t saying which is right and which is wrong. We want to know what you think. Send your thoughts to Kids@jewishjournal.com with Kein v’Lo in the subject line.

Pages & Picks

Shabbat candles you don’t have to light? A shofar you can drop and it won’t break? A pyramid that you can build without breaking a sweat? Impossible you say! Not so with Joel Stern’s “Jewish Holidays Origami” (Dover Publications, $5.95). In addition to the step-by-step craftmaking, the book includes background on eight holidays — as well as on the objects for that holiday. And because the crafts come in beginner, intermediate and advanced levels, younger kids can make a siddur, while the older ones create a Torah scroll. And the best part? No messy glue — although parents might want to check to see that kids’ report cards don’t turn into a paper hamantaschen.

Advice and Reality Face a Moment of Truth in Israel


“Just don’t take the bus.”

As I left on a trip to Israel a couple months ago, this was the advice I got from everyone. Even then, a time of relative peace, the
ersatz front-page pictures of terror-torn Israeli commuter buses surrounded by wounded people being moved to ambulances were still too fresh. Suicide bombers, not rockets, were foremost in our minds. And we all know that suicide bombers target buses and cafes — public places where innocent people gather.

So as I took off in late spring, leaving behind my young daughter and husband, I thought about this simple panacea — “Avoiding buses and cafes, how hard is that?” Did I expect to see buses blowing up all around me as I stayed safely on the sidewalks? Not really. But traveling to a land that has been beset by terrorists carries with it added anxieties, so why take chances?

Then I arrived in Jerusalem.

My first instinct in any new city is to mingle. I like to walk the streets, stop into ordinary shops — grocery stores and electronic shops, not just the Judaica stores or Dead Sea skin care outlets for tourists. I like to take public transportation.

My instincts set in. I wanted to see what it is like to live in Jerusalem. So first thing, instead of a taxi, I took a shared cab from the airport to my hotel — an amazing ride where everyone made friends during our 40 minutes together. A psychologist from San Diego was chatting with an ecologist who split her time among Israel, the United States and Latin America. The clearly religious were giving advice to the traveling bohemians. Lively chatter among complete strangers filled the minivan, and when I arrived at my hotel without the exact fare — upsetting the cab driver — someone I’d never met before paid my part without a question.

“Just being in Israel replenishes my soul,” the woman who’d just spent $10 on me told me as I took off gratefully with her card so I could send her money back.
It was dusk, and darkness was falling over the city. I asked at the hotel’s front desk whether it was all right to walk in the neighborhood to find a place to eat; the manager assured me it was. Out I went, jet-lagged but invigorated, into the heart of Jerusalem. And even at 9 p.m., many many people — young and old — were walking everywhere. I was especially struck by the women alone on the streets. I’m used to Los Angeles, where first, no one walks, and second, no one walks alone. At night, Jerusalem seemed so safe.

I saw buses drive by filled with commuters. I wondered.

A mini town square, Ben Yehuda lies at the heart of the tourist district and at the heart of where young Israelis hang out. In the course of the 10 days I was in Israel, I went there many times — for a falafel on my first night, to shop for souvenirs on another, for a late-night dinner after Shabbat. For several blocks the street is cordoned off from cars, like Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade, so vendors and performers fill the public spaces.

It was an easy walk from my hotel.

The question of the bus came up really only on my third day in Israel. I’d made a commitment to meet a friend in Tel Aviv, and I was not about to pay $60 to $70 each way to take a taxi there. I rose early on Sunday morning, a regular workday in Israel, and set off for the bus station, where I’d been told I could catch a gesher — a shared cab or minivan available to all, much like the one I’d taken from the airport. I walked to the bus station, a longer hike than I’d expected, because I wanted to get a glimpse of a different part of Jerusalem, particularly the regular, working-class neighborhoods.

Getting where you want to go is easy, because everyone helps anyone asking directions, even when you speak only English. However, having misjudged the distance, I made my way to the bus station with little time to spare. And then I couldn’t find where the geshers were stationed. And no one knew enough English to know what I was asking about. I was really in Israel now. Suddenly, I was in line to go through the metal detectors to enter the terminal, and once inside, even with my limited Hebrew, I could easily see that a bus was leaving for Tel Aviv in just a few moments.

I stepped up to the ticket line. Flashes of my daughter went through my mind. I pushed away thoughts of the final blackout scene in the Oscar-nominated Palestinian film “Paradise Now.” I accused myself of being ridiculous and went up and bought my ticket — $3.50 for a ride from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv on the bus. Door 15 the ticket seller told me.

I was taking the bus.

Not so easy, I soon saw. So was everyone else. The bus hadn’t arrived and dozens — maybe even a hundred — Israelis were pushing toward the doorway to be first in line. The danger now, I realized, was getting crushed. My New York bus instincts began to take over. My Los Angeles freeway driver gusto came into play, too. I was going to get on that bus.

As it turned out, I did. One of the last to get a seat, I sat next to a gun-toting soldier returning to his base who had two cellphones ringing constantly, which he could only answer after removing his iPod earphones, which were already projecting loud enough for me to share his music. In the aisle next to us, a mother with her two young girls sat on the floor. The bus was packed with what looked like workaday commuters. We arrived in Tel Aviv on time and without incident.

When I was returning to Jerusalem later that day, my friend escorted me to the gesher, and I sort of regretted getting the help. I e-mailed my husband that night that I’d done exactly what everyone told me not to do and was none the worse for wear. He was shocked. I was proud. It was such a simple thing.

Maybe, sometimes, overcoming your fears and joining in is an accomplishment. I say this as many of my friends are considering whether to travel to Israel right now. Maybe it’s important to go, now more than ever. To be with the Israelis who are continuing their daily lives there, despite the threats. Maybe sometimes taking the bus is the best way to go.

Visit to Ethiopia Changes His Life


In 2004, John Fishel went to Ethiopia as part of a delegation of American Federation leaders. The experience changed his life.

The president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, along with five members of the UJA Federation of New York, visited shantytowns filled with Ethiopians waiting in squalor for the chance to make aliyah — to immigrate to Israel.

Fishel and the delegation saw families living in one-room, windowless huts without electricity or running water, and, if lucky, eating one meal a day. Looking at the desperate faces of the Falash Mura — Ethiopians who have ties to Jews either through relatives or their own ancestry — Fishel vowed that he would do something.

Africa has long captivated Fishel, who has a degree from the University of Michigan in anthropology. He had visited about 20 African countries, including Nigeria, Liberia and Senegal. However, nothing made as indelible impression on him as that first mission to Ethiopia, which tapped into Fishel’s commitment to Jewish people worldwide.

After that trip, the United Jewish Communities (UJC), the umbrella organization representing 156 federations and 400 independent Jewish organizations across North America, asked Fishel to co-chair a task force to suggest ways federations could help the estimated 15,000 to 20,000 Falash Mura remaining in Ethiopia. Among the group’s recommendations: The UJC should lobby for the acceleration of aliyah and improve health care and other services for the Ethiopian Jews as they wait to immigrate to Israel.

It was partly at Fishel’s instigation that the UJC recently launched Operation Promise, an ambitious campaign that hopes to raise $160 million over the next three years, with $100 million for Ethiopia and $60 million to help Jews in the former Soviet Union. The L.A. Federation has pledged to raise $8.5 million for the campaign over the next three years.

“John has given real leadership to the issue of Ethiopian Jewry,” said Barry Shrage, president of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, who earlier this year went to Ethiopia with Fishel and 100 American Jewish federation members. “He’s always been the first one to speak up and stir the conscience of the federation movement.”

On that trip, Fishel’s second to Ethiopia, the federation contingent accompanied nearly 150 Jewish Ethiopian olim, or immigrants, as they made the emotional journey by plane from Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, to Ben Gurion Airport in Israel.

“John is a very compassionate person and was very moved by what he saw,” said Susan Stern, a fellow mission participant and chairman of the board of the UJA Federation of New York.

Fishel intends to stir other consciences as well. At every opportunity, he said, he has brought the issue of Ethiopian Jewry to the attention of Israeli leaders, from midlevel bureaucrats to prime ministers, including Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert.

“I see Jewish issues as global in scope,” Fishel said. “I think Jews are all responsible for one another, whether in Ethiopia or Russia or Argentina or in the Jewish state.”–MB

 

We Must Treat Others With Kindness


I often give young people advice on dating, occasionally without their asking. I tell young women not to judge a man by his car, since you will not end up living with the car but with the man who drives it. I advise men, when they take a woman to a restaurant, to sit facing the wall, so their attention will be fixed upon the woman, not everyone who walks into the room.

But my most common bit of advice to men and women alike is this: Don’t pay attention to how your date treats you alone — see how he treats the waiter, how she acts toward the busboy, the valet who brings you car. That is the test of character: How do you act toward the one who is not connected to you. How do you treat those whom you do not have to treat well?

Rabbi Reuven Kimmelman told me a wonderful story about the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Apparently, the Rebbe once had a meeting with Sen. [Daniel] Moynihan. After the senator asked him for his support, the Rebbe said, “Now I have something to ask you.”

Moynihan, used to the requests of constituents, smiled and asked the Rebbe what he could do for him.

“Well” he said, “there is a population of people in New York who are good people, law abiding, good families, who do not really understand the system. I think they are not being treated as well as they should be. I want you, senator,” concluded the Rebbe, “to make sure you take care of the Chinese.”

That story illustrates a central part of the Exodus lesson — that when someone is oppressed, there is a Jewish responsibility to care. This is true in society and in our own lives.

The Haggadah tells us “you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Here is the interesting thing — because we were strangers, we are supposed to learn not how the Israelites should have acted, but — how the Egyptians should have acted. We are supposed to learn how not to oppress others. Don’t treat others the way we were treated.

The term stranger is mentioned some 36 times in the Torah. It is a central category. The Jewish philosopher Hermann Cohen beautifully wrote that in the idea of the stranger, Judaism was born. We are to care for those who are in our power. When you have power over another, you also have responsibility toward them.

Rabbi Israel Salanter saw a serving maid carrying two pails of water on her shoulders to provide water for the ritual washing before dinner. When dinner was ready, he performed ritual washing with a tiny sprinkling of water. When asked why he was so sparse, Rabbi Salanter explained: “One must not be generous with a mitzvah on another person’s shoulders.”

We know what it is to be a stranger: the insecurity, the fear. The stranger is on a tightrope and does not control the wind. So there is a question about Passover that we must, as Jews, ask ourselves:

What if you were an Egyptian? How would you have treated the Israelites? Would you have been cruel because you could be? Or would you have been kind, even though you did not need to?

For at the seder, many of us were the Egyptians.

Of course, we did not enslave someone else. But most of us were served. We had “help.”

Were we kind? How many of us kept housekeepers, maids, others up very late at our seders with no consideration for them, their children, their schedule?

How many of us paid them extra for that work? How many pay less than minimum wage because the person we are employing is an illegal and therefore has no choice? How many of us, in fact, performed the mitzvah on somebody else’s shoulders?

After all, we can do what we like; if we are angry, we can yell. If we are annoyed, we can be snappish, abusive, angry.

When a housekeeper has a sick child, do we encourage her to go take care of her child or is taking care of my child more important than taking care of her own? The Talmud teaches that Israel is “rachamim b’nei rachamim” — merciful people, and the children of merciful people. So at the seder, at our dinner tables, are we Israelites or are we Egyptians?

In the past month, I have asked around, spoken with nannies, housekeepers and people who run placement agencies. I have heard of terrible doings in our community, of Jews — Jews! — who have taken workers’ passports so they cannot leave the country, of those who have hit their employees, screamed at them mercilessly, refused to give them vacations — in other words, acted like Egyptians.

Remember, we have been strangers. We know the fear, the anguish, the impotence. We know what it is to be subject to other people’s emotions, customs, moods. The callous person exploits that fear; the Israelite calms it.

We know that being rich doesn’t make you good. Being rich just makes you rich. In some ways it is harder — because wealth gives one latitude to be unkind. A rich person can speak to employees in ways one would never otherwise speak to another. But to do so stains our souls and dishonors God. And to do so in our home is that much worse.

In 1966, an 11-year-old black boy moved with his family to a white neighborhood in Washington. Sitting with his two brothers and sisters on the front step of his house, he waited to see how they would be greeted. They were not greeted. All the fearful stories this boy had heard about whites hating blacks seemed to be coming true.

He thought, “I knew we would not be welcome here. I knew we would not be liked here. I knew we would have no friends here. I knew we should not have moved here.”

As he was thinking those thoughts, a white woman coming home from work passed by on the other side of the road. She turned to the children and with a broad smile said, “Welcome!” Disappearing into the house, she emerged minutes later with a tray laden with drinks and cream cheese and jelly sandwiches, which she brought over to the children, making them feel at home. That moment — the young man wrote later — changed his life. It made him realize that some Americans could be blind to racial and class differences.

The young man was Stephen Carter, now a law professor at Yale, and he recounts this story in his book, “Civility.” The tale is retold in Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ new book, “To Heal a Fractured World.” The woman was named Sara Kestenbaum, and she was a religious Jew.

What Sara Kestenbaum did was what our tradition calls a Kiddush Hashem, a sanctification of God’s name. The opposite is a Hillul Hashem, a desecration of God’s name.

The children of the people who work in our homes and in our streets will be the professors, the doctors, the teachers, the mayors. What will they learn about the Jewish community? What will they remember of how we treated their mothers and fathers at a vulnerable time? Will they remember our conduct as a Kiddush Hashem? Will they understand that the Jewish community remembers what it is to be a stranger?

Kiddush Hashem is when we act in such a way as to reflect credit on the Jewish community among non-Jews. It is a Hillul Hashem to be unkind to someone in your power.

We were strangers in a strange land — not once, not twice, but hundreds, thousands of times. Often we met with cruelty — but sometimes we met with kindness. We remember those who were kind.

Others will remember if we were kind to them. It is not enough to observe the ritual of Passover and not embody the spirit. It is not enough to have a Shabbat table laden with the work of others. When we open the door, we should open the heart to those who are already in our community and in our homes. Let us demonstrate that we indeed are merciful people, the children of merciful people.

The Talmud insists that one who is not merciful does not deserve the name of Israel. In our homes and in our lives, let us deserve the name of Israel and the blessings of God.

David Wolpe is senior rabbi of Sinai Temple. This article is adapted from a sermon delivered on the first day of Passover, April 13, 2006. You may hear this sermon, as well as Rabbi Wolpe’s other sermons, online at sinaitemple.org. For a story on the 100th anniversary of Sinai Temple, please click here.

 

Life More Ordinary


I recently visited a congregant in the hospital and was surprised to find a doctor crying in the hallway. I told her I was a rabbi and asked if I could help. The doctor immediately apologized for her tears.

“It’s been a hard week,” she said, “I’ll be OK.”

She told me she had just presented a terminal cancer diagnosis to a woman in her early 40s. I felt for this doctor, and for her patient, but I also felt pleased at what I saw — a doctor who cries.

Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, author of the books “Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories that Heal” (Riverhead, 1996) and “My Grandfather’s Blessings: Stories of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging” (Riverhead, 2000) tells the story of how, as a young intern, she had been reprimanded by her chief resident for crying with a young couple whose baby had just died. Her supervisor told her she had let them down.

“They needed you to be strong,” he told her.

Now a teacher of physicians herself, Remen remains true to her initial impulse and teaches that crying with patients can be an appropriate response, saying, “You can burn out doing ‘meaningful’ work, if you lose the meaning.”

In this week’s double Torah portion, Tazria-Metzorah (Leviticus 13, in particular), God instructs Moses and Aaron on the role of priests when people take ill. The priests play diagnostician. They do not try to cure the sick, but they do examine people stricken with strange skin eruptions. The text — with more than enough description of skin ailments — is a little too graphic for some people. It also often seems irrelevant, as it describes practices no longer done by a priesthood that has long since faded from Jewish life.

But this portion also focuses attention on people who are not well. In order for the priest to evaluate what ails the people who are ill, he must get near to them, probably even touch them. And the priests see those who are ill more than once; they return days later to determine whether the person has recovered.

The daily tasks of the priests described elsewhere in the Torah consist primarily of animal sacrifice and temple caretaking, suggesting that priests are usually apart from the rest of the Israelites. So it is remarkable, and instructive, to imagine the priests — a part of the community — attending to the ill, taking note of those in need. Imagine Aaron, the high priest, coming to see the weak in the midst of the Israelites. Imagine a priest taking the time to speak with the afflicted among the people. Imagine the priest being the one to escort an afflicted person back into the community, declaring them free from contagion and assisting them in offering a sacrifice to God upon their recovery. Simple gestures perhaps, but imagine how welcome they would be to someone who had suffered physical pain and the worry that they might bring illness to others. Imagine how they might have restored someone’s sense of self-worth or desire to remain alive.

This past week saw another Yom HaShoah V’HaGevurah, the day of commemoration for the Holocaust and for Acts of Courage. When the Israeli Knesset years ago chose the 27th of Nissan for this annual day of commemoration, they did so amid controversy. Some would have preferred the anniversary of the start of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, but that landed (by Nazi plan) on the first day of Passover. Still, the Warsaw Ghetto and its heroes surely figured in the minds of those who selected the week following Passover for this memorial day – the uprising itself lasted almost a month.

Irena Klepfisz, whose parents managed to get her out of the ghetto and whose father died a hero in the Warsaw Ghetto, said in 1988, on the 45th anniversary of the uprising: “What we grieve for is not the loss of a grand vision, but rather the loss of common things, events and gestures…. Ordinariness is the most precious thing we struggle for, what the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto fought for. Not noble causes or abstract theories. But the right to go on living with a sense of purpose and a sense of self-worth — an ordinary life.”

How poignant to read her words this week as we read of the priests tending to the ill — not focused on the grander work of the Temple or the sacrifices that took place at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.

As we read in Leviticus of the extraordinary lives of the priests, tenders of the sacred flame, preservers of the religion as it was then, I like to think also about the sense of purpose God gave them in commanding them to offer simple gestures of concern and care; I like to think about the meaningfulness they might have found in their ordinariness and in their tears.

Lisa A. Edwards is rabbi of Beth Chayim Chadashim in Los Angeles, and is also currently teaching Bible at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

 

Throw a Party With a Purpose


“I’ll call your bet and raise you two,” the sequin-clad woman said.

“Go for it,” I said, only to see my winnings swept up moments later by a poker-faced dealer.

“You may have won this round,” I told my chip-hauling opponent. “But just wait until after the Motzi!”

Having one son rounding the final stretch of his bar mitzvah year and another warming up in the bullpen, I’ve been privy of late to many a post-game celebration that would have Moses rolling over in his grave: everything from casino get-ups that could rival Caesar’s Palace to midriff-baring Britney Spears clones (in her prepregnancy form) beckoning guests to the dance floor.

How did this happen? How did the guests who came to witness our child take part in a multimillennium-old Jewish tradition end up playing limbo draped in glow necklaces and feather boas? How did our resolve to remain focused on what really mattered evolve into a safari-themed ballroom and five cases of leopard-skin-print kippahs?

The answer is not difficult: We got lost. Lost in intense societal pressure to follow up our kid’s Judaic rite of passage with a killer party. Lost in a sea of products at the local bar mitzvah expo with no apparent link to the Jewish religion. Lost in our child’s insistence that she’s “only been looking forward to having a safari-themed bat mitzvah for her whole entire life!”

It’s not that glitz, glamour and secular themes at b’nai mitzvah are inherently problematic, like in the soon-to-be-released one-upsmanship film, “Keeping Up With the Steins,” but when they’re inadequately balanced with Jewish values we can be left with an empty shell of a party that undermines the entire point of these meaningful milestones.

“The way we choose to celebrate sends a message to our child,” said Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin, author of “Putting God on the Guest List: How to Reclaim the Spiritual Meaning of Your Child’s Bar or Bat Mitzvah” (Jewish Lights Publishing, 1998) “It’s not fair to leave our values at the front door.”

Here are some practical ways to help ensure the spiritual core of your child’s big day doesn’t melt away faster than the custom designed ice sculptures at the Kiddush luncheon:

At the Service

Include the whole mishpacha. Whether reading from the Torah or leading songs and prayers, when the whole gang gets involved, the experience becomes exponentially more meaningful.

“A bar or bat mitzvah should be a spiritual, passionate journey for the entire family,” said Rabbi Analia Bortz of Atlanta’s Congregation Or Hadash.

Link the generations. When my son’s bar mitzvah tallit was made, we had a piece of each grandfather’s tallit sewn in, so he was literally wrapped in the traditions of his forefathers as he read from the Torah.

Give them a lift. Praying and partying need not be mutually exclusive. Why not get the celebration started right away?

“Just as we lift the Torah, we lift the child,” said Rabbi Bortz, who gives b’nai mitzvah kids the option of being raised in a chair after reading from the Torah while congregants sing a hearty round of “Siman Tov, Mazel Tov.”

Share the spotlight. When Salkin’s son celebrated his big day recently, he symbolically shared his bar mitzvah with kids from New Orleans who were unable to celebrate their b’nai mitzvah due to Hurricane Katrina.

Shower them with sweetness. Celebrating the sweetness of the Torah by throwing candy (preferably the soft gummy kind) at the star of the show is a festive and fun tradition.

At the Party

Put tzedakah center stage. Rather than spending hundreds of dollars on throwaway centerpieces, build your tables’ focal points from donatable items. And you needn’t bail on your party theme to do so! My sports-obsessed son’s centerpieces were built from sporting goods and supplies that he later delivered to a camp for sick children.

Dinner, dancing and donating. Help your child pick a charitable cause of special interest to him or her — or one that incorporates the theme of your party — and set up a collection station at the big event. Guests at a safari bat mitzvah for example, might be asked to bring supplies for a local animal shelter or make a monetary contribution to the zoo.

Feed the human spirit. Becoming an adult in the eyes of the Jewish religion entails a social conscience. Salkin recommends that kids donate 3 percent of their bar or bat mitzvah money to MAZON-A Response to Jewish Hunger.

Hire a party planner. When someone else is taking care of the nitty-gritty details it’s easier to stay focused on what’s really important.

Think futuristically. If during your planning process, you feel the need to snap yourself back into focus, picture your child years from now thinking back on her big day. Do you want her to remember a posh party that could have easily doubled as a Sweet 16 or a spiritual journey that paved the way toward a committed Jewish adulthood?

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PASSOVER: Try to Avoid Asking the Fifth Question


While there are only four questions posed in the haggadah, most seders struggle with the unasked fifth question, “When are we going to eat?” It is asked, not only by hungry children, but also by adults who feel disconnected to the rituals of their ancestors. As if reenacting the hurried way in which the Israelites left Egypt with Pharaoh’s army bearing down upon them, families today rush through the seder. While they are supposed to be reenacting the Exodus through the rituals of the haggadah, instead, unbeknownst to them, they emphasize the hurried nature of the experience. Whether due to hunger or boredom, Jewish families are fast-forwarding to the food and neglecting the command to “see themselves as if they left Egypt.”

I remember my own childhood seders, when eating prior to the motzee (blessing) over the matzah was strictly forbidden. How could a 7-year-old sit for an hour or more in a seder that was largely done by rote and in Hebrew? I was able to remain focused only because I was mesmerized by my zayde (and slightly terrified by the glare he would give if any of his grandchildren got out of order). If I would dare reach for a carrot or any other food item on the table, an adult hand, like one of the Divine plagues unleashed against the Egyptians, would quickly respond with a light slap on my hand. My family did not know about the rabbinic rule stipulating that after reciting the blessing over the karpas (parsley or any green) at the beginning of the seder that any food grown from the ground may be eaten. With great wisdom the ancient rabbis created this rule in order to avoid the fifth question. Therefore, at our seders today we put carrots and celery on the table for people to eat after the parsley.

Once the question of hunger has been resolved, then the issue of boredom can be addressed. Abbreviating the haggadah is fine, if relevance is found in other ways. Ask your own questions, like “Why is it important to remember the Exodus?” and “When do we feel enslaved in our own lives?” as a means of making the seder relevant. Why are questions so important? Because they reflect interest and concern. We ask questions when we care about things. To make the seder relevant, we must ask our own questions and let the answers (there should be no singular answer) give us new meaning.

Reducing the need for the dreaded fifth question beforehand makes us more relaxed until it’s time for the bountiful food, family inside jokes and the rest of a warm and celebratory evening. The seder guests become sated, coffee is served, conversation is plentiful until the announcement, “It is time for the second half of the seder.” During my childhood seders, we never had to make the announcement, because at some point after the meal my uncle would walk a couple of steps over to the couch and take a nap. Some time later (I have no idea whether it was 15 minutes or an hour) when he would wake up, we all knew it was time for the second half of the seder.

Through classes and discussion groups I have discovered that many families do not complete the seder. “Is there really a second half to the seder?” I am asked. But how is this possible? Without the second half, there are only two cups of wine, no afikomen and no opening of the door for Elijah. Without the second half of the seder, there is no completion — there is no hope. So how can families fulfill these second-half rituals? Don’t serve dessert until the very end.

I want to preface this suggestion with an acknowledgement that it is contrary to the traditional Jewish law to eat dessert after partaking of the afikomen. But for families who do not usually complete the rituals of the seder, I would rather they embrace my suggestion. It has become clear to me that most seders fall apart over coffee and cake. Just as the national anthem indicates for many people the beginning of a ball game, dessert means that it is time to go home. With the coffee cup empty and only crumbs remaining on the dessert plate, people begin to think about the next day.

Excuses begin to be offered: “The children need to wake up for school tomorrow” (I would love for children to tell their parents that Passover should be a day off from school), “I have a busy day tomorrow.” Before the haggadot can be brought out again, coats are on, lips are puckered and another Exodus begins. Therefore, finish the meal, clean up some of the plates and then just as they are expecting dessert, bring out the haggadot again. Be gentle with them the first time — perhaps only 15 minutes. But you can do enough in 15 minutes; eat the afikomen, open the door and welcome Elijah, drink two more cups of wine and even sing a couple of songs at the end of the seder. Finally, bring out the coffee and dessert and enjoy the end of an evening that is no longer rushed. Who knows, perhaps they will enjoy the second half so much that, within a couple of years, dessert can be put back in its proper place.

One of my favorite rituals actually occurs during the second half of the seder. Unbeknownst to many Jews, the Cup of Elijah is supposed to remain empty until the fourth cup of wine (see your haggadah). Rather than just pouring wine from the bottle for the Cup of Elijah, it is our custom to pass the Cup of Elijah around the table and each participant pours some wine from their cup into Elijah’s. We open the door each year at Passover with the hope the Elijah will come to announce the coming of a messianic era, a time when wars will cease, hunger will be nonexistent and peace will reign. But we are partners with God in creating this perfect world. So this year, pass around the Cup of Elijah, ask each person to pour a little bit from their cup and as they do, to think about how they will help to bring about the messianic era. What acts of kindness will they perform, how will they save the environment and in what ways will they contribute to the betterment of humanity? How do we acknowledge and thank God for the blessings of life? By engaging in tikkun olam — the perfecting of His world. The full Cup of Elijah represents the Divine-human partnership and serves as a reminder of what ultimately the Exodus should mean to us.

What should be the goal of your Passover seder this year? Make it more meaningful than last year. Ask more questions to show that you care. Challenge more people to reflect on the lessons of the Exodus. Help expedite the coming of Elijah. When your seder is more than just a rushed meal you can truly feel as if you were redeemed from Egypt.

Rabbi Stewart L. Vogel is spiritual leader of Temple Aliyah.

 

Center’s Studies Aid Care for Frail Elderly


Rose Sino sits in her wheelchair as lunch is placed before her. Her son offers her a forkful of cheese blintz, which Sino quickly chews before accepting another bite.

While this scene might appear routine, its significance is not lost on her son, David Swartz, or her caregivers at the Jewish Home for the Aging of Greater Los Angeles (JHA). Sino, 88, is a resident of JHA’s Goldenberg-Ziman Special Care Center, a facility that serves elderly residents with dementia. Five years ago, Sino lost all interest in eating and required a feeding tube to get sufficient nutrition.

For Sino and many other frail, elderly nursing home residents, lack of appetite is a common problem, one which can lead to a rapid decline in health, said Dr. John Schnelle, director of the Anna and Harry Borun Center for Gerontological Research.

Weight-loss prevention is one of the principal areas of investigation at the Borun Center, a joint venture between JHA and UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine. Housed on the JHA campus in Reseda, the center was established in 1989 to identify and test nonmedical measures that could improve daily care and quality of life for nursing home residents. Given that the number of people 85 years or older is expected to almost double in 25 years, the center’s research is of growing interest to the government, private industry and the public.

While the Borun Center utilizes JHA to test and pilot numerous interventions, it also conducts research at facilities throughout the country. In addition to preventing weight loss, current projects focus on preventing mobility decline, detecting pain, preventing pressure ulcers and managing incontinence.

The center has used research findings to develop protocols, available on its Web site, for use by nursing homes. The strategies focus on everyday routines, rather than on medical interventions.

“Once a person is frail enough to enter a long-term care facility, they’re usually taking five to six medications,” Schnelle said. “They are less inclined to do surgical or pharmacological interventions. What they want is for their pain to be managed and their incontinence taken care of and for staff to treat them in a reasonable way.”

The Borun Center is currently working with the federal government’s Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services to improve methods of evaluating nursing home care. Current methods don’t always provide the most reliable information, according to Schnelle. Not only are the elderly less likely to complain, he said, but the phrasing of questions can influence their responses.

“Asking, ‘Are you satisfied with how often you are taken to the bathroom?’ will typically generate a yes response, even if that is not the case,” he explained. “Asking, ‘How many times would you like to be helped to go to the bathroom?’ and ‘How many times are you taken to the bathroom?’ is more likely to reveal the discrepancy between what residents want and what they get,” he noted.

Schnelle said that most nursing homes are understaffed and that in the typical facility, residents are taken to the bathroom only once a day. (He also said that, in all measures the center looks at, JHA exceeded all other facilities studied.)

The Borun Center’s nutrition and weight-loss study at JHA identifies strategies to prevent the decrease in eating and fluid intake common to nursing home residents. Schnelle cited depression and appetite change as two principal causes.

“Food doesn’t taste as good, and they simply don’t care as much about it as they once did…. But you can reverse the decline if meal time becomes social.”

Sino’s improved eating came about not because of a change in her food, but in how it was presented and served. Using Borun Center study results, JHA’s Special Care Center systematically incorporated eight measures — including greeting residents by name and providing verbal encouragement — which had been shown to boost caloric intake among certain residents by about 300 calories a day.

“At some facilities, a food tray is placed in front of the resident, and that’s it,” said Susan Leitch, community manager for the Goldenberg-Ziman Building.

In her facility, servers take plates off the serving tray and place them, restaurant style, before the residents. Containers are opened and meat is cut for those who require assistance. Residents are greeted by name and offered substitutions for foods they dislike.

Nursing aides and other staff sit with residents or stop by their tables with encouragement. “Try this. This is good,” one says. “I know you like chocolate,” says another as she presents a bowl of ice cream to a resident.

In addition, snacks are incorporated into activities as a way to boost caloric intake, and family members are encouraged to bring treats that they know their relative enjoys. Sino, for example, ate the pieces of chocolate her son offered her, even when she was still using the feeding tube. He credits the chocolate with renewing her interest in eating.

Not surprisingly, the interventions identified by the Borun Center require greater staff time. That means higher costs.

Molly Forrest, JHA’s CEO, acknowledged that those costs present a challenge. Approximately 80 percent of JHA residents are on Medi-Cal, and the reimbursement received does not cover the expenses incurred.

“Quality is a costly item,” Forrest said. “The needs are so great, and those needs can only be met by the hands of a caregiver.”

Schnelle suspects these interventions also prevent hospitalization and prolong life. But even if they did not improve clinical outcomes, he believes improving quality of life for the frail elderly is justified from a moral point of view.

“I think we have to be very clear about the staffing requirements needed to provide good care and let people make choices,” he said.

For David Swartz, the choice is clear. Sitting with his mother at lunchtime, he beams. By the time she’s done, only one tiny bite of blintz remains on her plate.

For more information, visit www.borun.medsch.ucla.edu.

 

Home Pampering Easy as 1, 2, Ahhhhh


No one deserves a spa experience more than you do. Just picture it — warm tubs scented with essential oils, invigorating body scrubs, refreshing botanical blend face masks smoothed on in soothing circular massaging motions and misty showers with luscious gels.

Sound divine? You bet. Millions of people are embracing the spa experience — taking what was formerly an exclusive pleasure of the rich and famous and turning it into a health and wellness phenomenon.

Millions of spa-goers must be on to something. But why limit all that good stuff to the precious times you can book at a spa? Why not have a spa experience whenever you choose?

It’s easier than you think to have sensual and sensational spa experiences in your own home, on your own time.

Create an Inviting Environment for the Senses

“The first step is to create an environment for your spa experience,” said Susan Kirsch, owner of Kirsch Cosmetic Clinic and Spa in Toronto, Canada. “Remember to incorporate all of your senses.”

Since water is an important part of most treatments, the bathroom is a good place to create your home spa, Kirsch said. All it takes is a little imagination.

A really simple way to transform any regular bathroom, she said, is to soften the lights.

“Have a dimmer installed on the light switch,” Kirsch said. “Just dim the lights and light some candles to turn an everyday bathroom into something that looks a bit more special.”

If a warm, bubbling bath is your idea of heaven, consider having a hot tub installed in your backyard, on your deck or inside your house. Currently, more than 5 million households now own a hot tub and by the end of this year, roughly 400,000 Americans are expected to purchase a hot tub for their homes, according to a recent study by the National Spa and Pool Institute in Alexandria, Va.

“Some people think a hot tub is a luxury item. I think it’s a necessity,” Andrea Martone said. “And my husband and daughters feel the same way. It’s much better to relax and de-stress in a hot tub after dinner than to sit in front of the television set. Sometimes we use it together. We light candles and chat. And sometimes I use it by myself — to meditate or just go to another place in my mind.”

Prices on hot tubs, according to the National Spa and Pool Institute, range from between $2,500 to more than $10,000 (plus installation costs). The average price is about $5,500.

Just as certain sounds can unsettle us, other sounds can help us achieve a sense of calm. Kirsch likes to use music that’s soothing and relaxing at her spa and during her at-home spa treatments — “something that’s appropriate for a healing environment,” she said.

She says she often plays the music of singer Enya.

“Choose whatever works for you,” she said.

For Martone, it’s the splashing sounds of water.

“I’ve got little waterfall fountains all over my house,” Martone said. “They bring a sense of calm to whatever room they’re in. My daughter even has one in her room for doing homework.”

Martone is a New York City publicist and co-founder of Spa-Daze, a company that provides professional spa treatments and services for groups of four or more in the setting of your choice — including your home.

Martone also suggests burning essential oils to set a relaxing tone for an at-home spa experience. She recommends using a 50/50 mix of your favorite essential oils and water for a scent that’s noticeable but not overpowering.

“Different scents can help create different moods,” she said. “For example, lavender is very calming to the senses and nice to burn at night before going to sleep. And oils like eucalyptus and peppermint are soothing — especially if you’re ill — and can help you breathe easier.”

Choose Your Products

If you are a spa devotee, you may already be one step closer to recreating your spa experience at home. Many spas sell the products they use in their treatments — facial masks, exfoliates, bath and shower gels, lotions and more. At Kirsch Cosmetic Clinic and Spa, staff members will custom mix body scrubs and other beauty potions for guests. So if you’ve had a particularly divine professional treatment, buy the product to use at home. You can conjure up your fond memory of that experience as relaxation therapy.

When shopping for new products for your home spa, buy in small quantities — especially if you have sensitive skin, said Carrie Pierce of Ecco Bella Botanicals of Wayne, N.J. Ecco Bella, which means “behold beauty” in Italian, is a line of natural, gentle-to-the-skin cosmetics and skin care products that use medicinal-grade essential oils.

“It’s important to have the luxury of trying a new product or scent without making a huge and perhaps costly commitment,” she said.

For that reason, Ecco Bella offers smaller, lower-priced “try me” sizes of their scented bath and shower gels, lotions, parfums and fizz therapy bath marbles.

It’s important to find scents formulated to enhance the experience you’re trying to create in your home spa, Pierce said.

Then revel in them. For example, lemon verbena has a reputation as a mood-lifting, feel-good scent. And vanilla reputedly has an aphrodisiac-like effect on men — “second only to the scent of pumpkin pie,” Pierce said.

“Layering your selected scent by using a gel, lotion — maybe spraying a little parfum on your pillow — is a luxurious way to take care of yourself and to take your spa experience with you,” she said.

Formulate a Plan

Don’t try to do too much all at once, Kirsch advised.

“Remember, your primary goal is to feel relaxed and pampered,” she said.

For a simple and luxurious home spa experience Kirsch recommends the following head-to-toe regime.

You can begin one of two ways — either by covering your head with a towel and lightly steaming your face over a basin filled with boiling water or by gently swabbing your face with a warm, damp towel.

“Your choice,” Kirsch said. “If you want to go the simple route, the warm, damp towel works just fine.”

The next step is to exfoliate — or slough off — dead skin cells.

“The skin has a natural turnover of cells. When you exfoliate, you just help that natural process along,” Kirsch said.

When choosing a product, remember exfoliates generally come in two forms — gel and grain.

“The gel form is less invasive and may be good to start out with,” Kirsch said.

Apply in circular massaging motions with your fingertips. Leave the exfoliate on until it feels tacky and almost dry. Then slough it off with the flat part of your fingers. Rinse with water.

Next, apply a mask in the same circular massaging motions.

“It’s important to choose one that’s formulated for your skin type,” Kirsch said. For example, if your skin is dry, you’ll want to use a hydrating mask.

While the mask does it’s magic, draw a warm bath.

“Put a drop or two of essential oils in the water,” Kirsch said. “Soak for a while in the bath, then exfoliate with a body scrub. Try using a loofah mitt and massage in circular motions.”

Then rinse and be careful getting out of the tub since it will be slippery. Apply a moisturizing body lotion.

It’s important to wait 48 hours after shaving or waxing before using a body scrub and don’t use it on any areas that have cuts or nicks.

Remove your mask by rinsing with lukewarm water. Apply a moisturizer using circular massaging motions — and don’t forget your neck.

Use pumice to smooth away hard or rough spots and calluses on your toes, heels and the bottoms of your feet. Apply a moisturizer.

“Give your regular moisturizer an enriching boost by breaking open a Vitamin E capsule and mixing it into the lotion,” Kirsch said.

The final step in your at home spa experience, Kirsch said, is to climb into your bed, nestle under the comfy covers and listen to music for a while.

“You should feel totally rejuvenated and stress free,” she said.

And if for some reason you don’t, you can try again — and again — until you get the hang of it. In this case, there’s absolutely no harm in trying.

“These lovely things you can do at home for yourself can really elevate the quality of your life,” Pierce said. “They can make a woman feel sexy, cherished, valued, calm and better able to cope. They allow you to embrace yourself.”

Beth Gilbert is a New York-based writer.

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

 

Ways to Care for a Parent Who Didn’t


Some 10 million older Americans need some kind of assistance to get through every day. Family members (mostly grown children) provide about 80 percent of that help. Lots of those adult children welcome the opportunity to give back to their parents a portion of the love and care they received as a child.

But what happens when an abusive or absent parent, now well along in years, turns to his or her adult child for help? How in the world do you care for an elderly mother or father who showed you no love, compassion or understanding when you were young?

A sense of moral obligation and love motivate many people to take care of such neglectful parents, but no law says that you must provide financial, emotional or physical assistance to a parent. Whatever you choose to do, it’s wise to be clear about expectations.

Providing care in the hopes of finally getting a parent’s approval or love may be a set-up for disappointment.

If you find yourself in this predicament, it’s more useful to attempt to understand the roots of your resentment, heal your old hurts and move toward forgiveness and acceptance.

Because angry feelings are far less painful than hurt feelings, many of us turn childhood disappointment, rejection, abandonment, humiliation, betrayal and abuse into angry resentment. Figuring out exactly what it was that hurt you so much when you were a child is the first step in letting go of the anger that stands between you and your elderly parent.

If you can answer “yes” to any of the following questions, your resentment and anger are providing a “reward” you can do without:

• Do I believe that by staying angry I am maintaining my principals and standards (thus not condoning what my parent did or did not do in the past)?

• Do I think that I must receive amends (apologies, special considerations) to compensate for the wrong I suffered and to stop feeling resentful?

• Does holding on to my resentment make me feel morally superior to my parent?

• Do I think I will be free of anger when my parent shows guilt?

• Do I think that anger is my only way to punish him or her?

• Do I believe that “letting go” of my anger means I am weak?

Admitting to yourself why you are holding on to resentment is courageous. It is also good for your health and the health of your other relationships.

A heart-to-heart talk with your elderly parent may lead to new understanding for both of you. Or perhaps it will help you finally realize that nothing will change, no matter what you do. The following are some guidelines for your attempts at finishing unfinished business and letting go of anger:

• Approach your parent with the understanding that you don’t know everything, and your elder probably had very limited power to do better at the time.

• Voice your hurt instead of your anger. It may feel safer to express anger instead of hurt, but anger is usually met with a heated, defensive response.

• Once you show your tender spots, you become more vulnerable. So make it short.

• Don’t expect a sea change. Rejoice in the smallest acknowledgement of wrongdoing, even if it’s only half-hearted.

• Acknowledge that the two of you will forever disagree on certain issues.

• Don’t regret that you didn’t or couldn’t express exactly what you wanted.

Anticipating or hoping that your older person will react to you positively will throw up a barrier to the good feeling you’re longing for. Approach your elder with a positive upbeat attitude — but don’t expect him or her to respond in the same way. Suspend your current viewpoints about your elder. No doubt your elder has had heartbreak, trauma and disappointment, too.

Try to insert yourself into your parent’s experience, imagining what he or she felt, feared or thought in the past. Being able to do this, even a little bit, helps increase empathy. Every situation is different, but empathy (the ability to appreciate another person’s suffering) is one doozy of a place to start. Whether it works is less important than the fact that you tried. The healing process begins when you make the attempt.

Repairing the deep-seated hurts and anger between an elderly parent and grown child can occur as the end of life approaches, but it doesn’t always happen. On the brighter side, the experience of forgiving a parent — and expressing long-buried questions and feelings — may be one of the most satisfying experiences of your life.

Letting go of years of anger and underlying hurt takes time. The following steps can help speed the process:

• Share your feelings with a support group. You’ll likely be surprised that others have similar experiences.

• See a professional counselor.

• Share your thoughts with someone you know is understanding and a good listener.

• Seek religious guidance.

• Try to understand what shaped your parent to behave as he or she did. Inviting the opinions and viewpoints of others can give you a fresh perspective.

• And finally, don’t expect anything to change. Just hope for it.

Should the words “forgive me” or “I’m proud of you” not come as you hoped, you can say to yourself and your parent, “I regret that we have had our problems.”

It’s true and it’s tender, and most of all, it’s nonblaming — a fact that may open up possibilities in the days to come.

Dr. Rachelle Zukerman, a Fulbright scholar and gerontologist, is the author of the 2003 book, “Eldercare for Dummies.”

Israeli Government Gets on With It


Israel is resigning itself to politics without Ariel Sharon.

Shock gripped the Jewish state last week when Sharon was hospitalized with a massive stroke, turning to fears for the worst when he underwent repeated surgery.

Doctors said it could take time to ascertain whether Sharon had suffered cognitive damage or permanent paralysis on the left side of his body from the Jan. 4 stroke. At press time, it also was not certain that Sharon would recuperate at all — his condition was such that it could deteriorate at any moment.

Still, a prognosis took shape whereby Sharon could survive but in a form of forced retirement. Sharon’s chief surgeon, Dr. Jose Cohen, said this week that Sharon had a “very high” chance of surviving.

“He is a very strong man, and he is getting the best care,” the Jerusalem Post quoted Cohen as saying. “He will not continue to be prime minister, but maybe he will be able to understand and to speak.”

As the prime minister lay in a post-operative coma Sunday, his temporary replacement, acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, chaired the weekly Cabinet meeting.

“We hope that the prime minister will recover, gain strength and with God’s help will return to run the government of Israel and lead the State of Israel,” Olmert said.

While noting that doctors’ reports from Jerusalem’s Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center at Ein Kerem had given a “glimmer of hope” as to Sharon’s chances of recuperating, Olmert said matters of state were as robust as ever.

“We will continue to fulfill Arik’s will and to run things as he wished,” he said, using Sharon’s nickname. “Israeli democracy is strong, and all of the systems are working in a stable, serious and responsible manner. This is just as it should be and how it shall continue.”

With general elections looming on March 28, the 60-year-old Olmert has his hands full. But he received an early show of support with a weekend phone call from U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

There was also an internal reprieve from the Likud Party, which decided against resigning from the government, reversing a decision made before Sharon suffered his stroke last week.

“Now is not the time for such moves,” Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, one of four Cabinet members from the Likud, told Army Radio.

A Channel 10 television survey issued after Sharon was stricken predicted that his new centrist party, Kadima, would take 40 of the Knesset’s 120 seats in the election if it is led by Olmert. But analysts suggested the showing reflected short-term public sympathy.

The political correspondent for the newspaper Ha’aretz, Aluf Benn, recalled the aftermath of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination in 1995, when opinion polls showed his successor, Shimon Peres, as a clear favorite for re-election. In the end, Benjamin Netanyahu defeated Peres by the slimmest of margins.

“Instead of presenting himself as pressing ahead with Rabin’s path, Peres made the mistake of insisting that he was an autonomous candidate,” Benn said, suggesting Olmert, the former mayor of Jerusalem, was wise to portray himself as a reluctant stand-in for Sharon.

Yet the Channel 10 survey found that Peres, should he lead Kadima, would perform better than Olmert, taking 42 Knesset seats.

Though Peres quit the Labor Party last year to back Sharon, he has yet to formally join Kadima. But he voiced support for Olmert, who advanced the idea of a unilateral Israeli pullout from occupied Gaza prior to Sharon’s public embrace of the strategy.

“He supported the policies of Mr. Sharon and even occasionally was ahead of him,” Peres told Britain’s Sky Television. “The policies for peace, the continuation of the policies of Sharon, will have my full support.”

 

Agencies Join to Aid Special-Needs Kids


Sally Weber never felt so alone.

Nearly three decades ago, she learned her daughter had a severe language disorder that hindered her development. Besides dealing with the shock of having a child with special needs, Weber found little solace in the local Jewish community that had hitherto had given her so much joy.

At the time, Southland temples and institutions offered no Jewish camps, day schools or programming for special-needs children and their families. In Jewish circles, as in society at large, children with developmental disorders such as autism, Asperger’s syndrome and cerebral palsy were often seen as burdens to bear, rather than as joys to celebrate.

“I was completely isolated,” said Weber, now director of Jewish Family Service’s Jewish Community Programs. “There was no place to go as a parent.”

Thanks to her and two other Jewish communal professionals with special-needs children of their own, local Jewish families grappling with similar issues now have somewhere to turn for help.

In November, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles brought together seven other agencies, including, the Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Los Angeles, the Jewish Free Loan Association and Etta Israel Center, to create Hamercaz, a central resource for Jewish families raising special-needs children under 22.

The brainchild of Weber and Michelle Wolf, The Federation’s assistant director of planning and allocations — whose 11-year-old son has cerebral palsy — Hamercaz, or the center, offers a variety of services through its partner agencies, ranging from interest-free loans for diagnostic testing to support groups for overwhelmed parents to Shabbat dinners for children with special needs.

“Before the creation of Hamercaz, a person would have to make several phone calls or talk to friends of friends of friends to get what they needed,” said Wolf, who along with Weber, works part time on the Hamercaz project. “Now, you can get it all in one place.”

To access available services, parents can call the toll-free number, (866) 287-8030, and discuss their situation with Hamercaz’s program coordinator Amy Bryman. A licensed social worker, Bryman makes referrals to partner and other service agencies and later follows up with a phone call. In the program’s first six weeks, she received 30 calls from parents.

“It makes me feel good to see parents getting help with their newly diagnosed children,” said Bryman, the mother of a 6-year-old son with autism.

Some of the partner agencies and the services offered include:

  • Jewish Free Loan offers interest-free loans up to $10,000 to help finance diagnostic tests, therapy and treatment for children with autism and other special needs.
  • Jewish Family Service has a program that sends trained volunteers into the homes of families with special-needs children to perform any number of tasks, including taking children to the park to give parents a respite.
  • The Bureau of Jewish Education refers parents to Jewish schools that can accommodate their children’s needs. The bureau also holds lectures throughout the year addressing such topics as autism and how to get proper diagnostic testing.
  • The appearance of Hamercaz comes at a time when autism and other developmental disorders appear on the rise. Locally, an estimated 6,000 Jewish families in greater Los Angeles have children with developmental or severe learning disabilities, according to Jewish groups. Nationally, one in 166 newborns has autism, the Autism Society of America said. Based on statistics from the U.S. Department of Education and other government agencies, autism is growing at a rate of 10 percent to 17 percent a year, the Autism Society added.

Autism is a complex developmental disability that affects the normal functioning of the brain. People with autism typically have problems with verbal communication, social interaction and play activities.

Hamercaz got its start with the help of a $48,700 grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles. That money has allowed the center to hire Bryman for 15 hours a week and has also paid for a media campaign.

Support from Rabbi Mark Diamond has also helped get the word out. The executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California recently sent letters out to the group’s 270 member rabbis, encouraging them to promote Hamercaz to their congregations.

“Sadly, for too many years, families were told, ‘Your child can’t get a Jewish education. Sorry, your child can’t go to a Jewish day school,'” said Diamond, who has worked with children with special needs for more than 25 years. “I think it’s a sacred mandate of the Jewish community to take care of our own, and that means taking care of each and every one of our children.”

On April 2, The Federation will host a fair for Jewish parents of children with special needs at the New Jewish Community Center at Milken in West Hills from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Representatives of all partner agencies will be in attendance. For more information on the event or Hamercaz, contact Michelle Wolf at MWolf@JewishLA.org.

 

Senior Moments – Great-Grand Marshal


As I walked through the grounds at the Jewish Home for the Aging (JHA), I noticed a man in a wheelchair reading a magazine. It was called “Life Extension.”

I had to laugh. Someone must have strategically placed this magazine, like a prop, for the interview I was about to conduct. Talk about life extension! My subject, Sylvia Harmatz, could be the poster child. She’s 107 years old.

And for the sixth year in a row, Harmatz will be grand marshal of the Dec. 4 Walk of Ages, a 5K walk/run to raise funds for the JHA’s vital services.

She called JHA “a haven for people who have nowhere’s else to stay, like me. I sometimes wonder how in the world can they like so many people? They are so good to everyone!”

Since so many people seem interested in living forever, Harmatz is, of course, repeatedly asked: “What’s your secret?”

She smiles sweetly, showing great patience: “I don’t know.”

She doesn’t eat meat, but she does like candy, “because I need something to replace the meat.”

I told her my 14-year-old son would like that strategy. She laughed.

We sat a moment, and then Harmatz said, “You know, my husband lived to 104.”

In fact, Sylvia and Louis Harmatz were married for 80 years.

“He was very much in love with me,” she told me, with a smile.

I said maybe it was love, not a special diet, that contributed to their longevity.

“I think so,” Harmatz agreed. “We were very close. He wanted to be with me all the time. He never walked with me that he didn’t hold my hand. He was afraid I was going to run away from him, because I always walked so fast!”

The couple, who met at a dance in Brooklyn, married in 1921. They continued to love dancing and had a chance to waltz together after they moved to the JHA in 1994.

“We were always together,” Harmatz recalled. “He used to get up at night and cover me [with a blanket], to make sure I wouldn’t catch a cold. He took care of me. And I don’t know why, because I was always very strong and independent. I guess he noticed that I needed to be taken care of. When he passed away, I reassured him that I wouldn’t be long, that I’d be coming to meet him soon. But it hasn’t been that way.”

Harmatz laughed, but looked a little sad.

Born in Hungary in 1898, her earliest memories are of her father, a rabbi.

“He took me everywhere with him,” she said. “And I remember him teaching the children who couldn’t speak Hungarian, so they could learn too. I loved to sit and listen to him.”

Harmatz had her fourth birthday on board the ship to America.

Life was hard in this new country, says Harmatz, but she has fond memories of her parents’ relationship.

“My mother was very beautiful and they were very much in love. I used to know when they were going to have relations because [my father] used to leave his yarmulke on the bed.” Harmatz said with a laugh. “He was telling my mother, ‘Don’t forget, I’ll be there tonight!'”

Her father died at 42, leaving his wife with nine children. Harmatz started working at 13 to help out, then went to night school to become a nurse.

After marriage, she became a homemaker, raising the couple’s two daughters. There are now five grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren, and four great-great-grandchildren.

In 1935, Sylvia and Louis decided to come West, and settled in Hollywood. “I used to go downtown for seven cents on the Red Car!” Harmatz said.

Her political involvement as an avid Democrat goes at least as far back as Franklin Roosevelt. “Politics was my piece de resistance!” said Harmatz, who would go door-to-door seeking donations. “I knocked at a door once and [asked for] a dollar. The woman says, ‘No I’m a Republican.’ So I said, ‘You don’t have to apologize to me, all you have to do is change your affiliation!'”

One thing that pleases Harmatz about being the grand marshal is riding in a convertible. In fact, last year when it rained on the parade, someone suggested they put up the top, but Harmatz wanted it left down.

“I’m not a fussy person, but I do like a red convertible,” she said, laughing. I asked her if red is her favorite color. “Yes, I like red. In fact, I’m going to be buried in a red dress with polka dots.”

Harmatz has been interviewed by CNN, local newspapers and radio stations. I asked if she likes being a celebrity.

“It’s not important to me,” she said. “I like it because it’s helping the Home. I want the Home to have everything they need. They asked me, ‘What do you want for all your trouble?’ I said, ‘I want a little plaque that says: You too can be involved.'”

For registration and sponsorship for Walk of Ages VI, call (818) 774-3100 or visit www.walkofages.kintera.org.

Ellie Kahn is a freelance writer, owner of Living Legacies Family and Organizational Histories and producer of “Meet Me at Brooklyn & Soto.” She can be reached at ekzmail@adelphia.net and www.livinglegaciesfamilyhistories.com.

 

A Local Witness to Darfur Tragedy


John Fishel has seen hell, and he wants to share his impressions with the Jewish community.

The president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles recently visited refugee camps in the African country of Chad to bear witness to the pain and suffering of more than 250,000 victims of genocide from neighboring Sudan. During the five-day, mid-October trip, Fishel, along with four other American Jewish leaders, watched doctors, relief workers and others help the refugees from Sudan’s Darfur region begin the long, difficult process of putting shattered lives back together.

Fishel said he was stuck by the physical isolation of the refugee camps and the refugees’ abject poverty. Fishel also wondered where all the grown men were. The answer: Many had fallen victim to the atrocities. And then there were the children. Fishel, a social worker by training, said he worries about the long-term effects on children who witness all the murder, rape and destruction wrought by a Sudanese government-backed militia known as the Janjaweed.

A primary goal of the trip was to lay the groundwork for Fishel and his colleagues to speak out loudly to their constituents. Fishel was accompanied by Ruth Messinger, president of the American Jewish World Service (AJWS); Rabbi Rick Jacobs of Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, N.Y.; Rabbi David Stern of Temple Emanu-El in Dallas; and Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism.

In an Oct. 27 teleconference call with community leaders who went to Africa, Fishel said he plans to raise awareness in the local Jewish community: “Having had this first-hand experience to visit the region and see the work on the ground, I’d like to go out and meet with opinion leaders in our community and give them my personal impressions about what’s going on and why it’s our obligation to get involved.”

Coming on the heels of Asia’s devastating tsunami and the Gulf Coast’s Hurricane Katrina, Fishel said he realizes many Jews, like other Americans, might feel tapped out and suffer from donor fatigue. Still, Fishel said, the historical experience of the Jews makes them likely to respond to humanitarian appeals once they learn about the horrors in Sudan.

“As a people who were victims of the worst genocide of the 20th century, the Holocaust, we do have an obligation to speak out when we see a genocide happening anywhere in the world,” Fishel said.

A more assertive response from the U.S. government also would help, Messinger said. She urged Jews and Jewish groups to lobby the government to increase humanitarian aid and also to better support African Union troops who are trying to restore order in Darfur. Messinger’s organization, the AJWS, which sponsored the trip, dedicates itself to alleviating poverty, hunger and disease around the world.

“Genocide is only stopped when people are indignant, organized at the grass-roots level and urging government to intervene,” she said.

AJWS has raised and distributed $700,000 for projects in Darfur and Chad, with much of the money going to support international relief agencies. In addition to the refugees in Chad, nearly 2 million displaced persons remain in Sudan. Refugees in both countries need better medical care, more food and assistance in the reunification of their families.

“The bottom line is … the Jewish community needs to do more,” Jacobs said.

 

Juvenile Offenders Taste Teshuvah


The slightly built, 13-year-old Latino boy sitting in the Starbucks near downtown Los Angeles didn’t know much about teshuvah, the Jewish notion of repentance.

But it lies at the heart of L.A.’s Jewish Community Justice Project, and it kept this scared kid with the tremulous smile from a likely stint in juvenile boot camp for throwing rocks at a police car.

Instead of going before a judge, the boy was brought face-to-face with the policeman whose car he’d damaged, and in a two-hour meeting facilitated by two trained mediators, he had to tell the cop he was sorry.

Then he had to pledge to make restitution by working a set number of hours for his parents and a local gardening firm to pay $200 for a new car window.

“I felt nervous in that room,” the boy admitted. “I told him I was stupid, and not thinking about what I was doing at that moment. He was kind, he was a good person. He told me to thank my parents for raising me.”

It was the first time the boy had worked for money, and his mother said he was tempted to keep the first $50 he made.

“But I told him, ‘You have to take care of your responsibilities first,'” she said.

The Jewish Community Justice Project is a partner of the Centinela Valley Juvenile Diversion Project, which has been running a victim-offender restitution program in Los Angeles since 1992.

Four years ago, the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles funded the joint project between Centinela and two L.A.-based Jewish groups, the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) and Beit T’Shuvah, a Jewish recovery program.

According to the agreement, the PJA trains volunteers to mediate in cases forwarded by local law enforcement and juvenile courts. There currently are almost 60 Jewish volunteer mediators.

“The alliance with PJA has been so exciting because they’ve recruited motivated, dedicated volunteers,” said Steve Goldsmith, Centinela’s executive director. “The religious component, the education of teshuvah, really keeps the people motivated.”

The mediation project is based on the legal concept of restorative justice, according to which offenders must take personal responsibility for their crimes and make restitution directly to those they have offended.

Participants say it dovetails neatly with the Talmudic notion of teshuvah, which specifies that one must seek forgiveness from those one has wronged before asking God’s forgiveness, something Jews are meant to do every year between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

“Part of teshuvah is attending to what one did, and turning to the person who was hurt or offended to see whether you can come back to an open relationship with that person and their family,” said Rabbi Richard Levy, director of the School of Rabbinic Studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles.

Levy helped create the Jewish part of the curriculum — eight hours of Jewish text study on justice and forgiveness — for the volunteer training program.

Daniel Sokatch, director of the PJA, said he brought his organization into the program in 2002, when Los Angeles became the nation’s murder capital.

“We realized that most of the murders were in the 310 area code, home to most of the Jews who don’t live in the Valley,” Sokatch said.

The most affected neighborhoods weren’t those where many Jews live, Sokatch said, but “it’s still our city, and in the words of Jeremiah, you must work for the welfare of the city where you live and there find your own well-being.”

Cases involving murder aren’t eligible for mediation. Most of the what comes to Centinela involves petty theft, vandalism, bullying and similar crimes.

One of the hardest parts of the program is making sure that appropriate cases are referred to them. There were 45,000 youths arrested last year in Los Angeles, Goldsmith said, yet Centinela received only 600 to 700 referrals.

To address that problem, Sokatch said, the next volunteer training program in early 2006 will include a separate, less-intensive track for volunteers, who will learn how to schmooze intake cops, “visit them every week, bring doughnuts and coffee and review the docket with them” to ensure that fewer juvenile offenders slip through the cracks.

Jordan Susman, a former television writer and filmmaker, was in Sokatch’s first group of volunteer mediators.

“I felt that’s what a Jewish organization should do,” said Susman, who is now a third-year law student. “It appeals to my Jewish point of view. The juvenile justice system is beyond broken — once you’re in the system, you learn how to be a better criminal. This is about breaking that cycle.”

Keren Markuze, a documentary television writer, has mediated about a dozen cases since her training last year.

“Jewish law is very big on giving people chances,” she said. “Let’s do everything we can to make sure the punishment is appropriate, especially when we talk about children.”

Jewish law also takes intention into consideration when looking at crime, Markuze noted. She described one case she mediated in which a boy stole pants, a shirt and shoes from a department store.

During the mediation, the boy confessed in tears that his mother was laid off and couldn’t afford to buy him a new school uniform, and he was tired of being humiliated by the other kids at school for his clothes.

“That’s an issue of economic justice,” Markuze proclaimed. “Of course, he had to learn that stealing is not a solution, but for him to end up in the conventional justice system would have been tragic.”

Restorative justice programs exist in many cities around the world, according to several Web sites devoted to the topic. And it’s not about feeling sorry for kids — statistics show that such programs work.

According to the Center for Restorative Justice and Mediation at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul, recidivism rates are lower following mediation than following traditional punishment. Approximately 80 percent of young offenders who participated in mediation complete their restitution to their victims, compared to just 58 percent of offenders who were ordered to do restitution by the courts, but who did not sit face-to-face with those they had wronged.

“When you go to court, you’re not sitting across from your victim, forced to look them in the eye and hear what they have to say to you,” Markuze said. “It’s very powerful.”

Susman said he has his young offenders “do the math” to figure out the number of jobs lost because of crimes like theirs every year in Los Angeles. When they realize it’s their parents and friends who are losing those jobs, it “really affects them,” he said.

In the L.A. mediation project, Goldsmith said, about 70 percent of juvenile offenders complete their restitution pledges. He pointed to a study done by California’s Supreme Court that found the re-arrest rate was half that of young criminals who did not go through mediation.

“It helps divert kids from the court system, and it actually shows a pretty good success rate of keeping kids out,” said Michael Nash, presiding judge of L.A. County Juvenile Court. “Not every kid needs to be brought into the court system if there’s another way they can be

held accountable, make restitution to the victim and develop a sense of responsibility.”

The mediators take away something from it as well. For Susman, who said he and his wife are “always looking for ways to incorporate more Judaism” into their lives, acting as a court mediator “is where my Judaism is expressed existentially through the actions I do.”

Markuze said she often “feels ambivalent” after a mediation, “because there’s so much more we as a society could be doing.”

Sometimes she feels the juveniles “aren’t really contrite.” But overall, she said, “I feel good I’ve given someone a chance to make amends.”

The next volunteer mediator training session will be held in the spring. For information, contact www.pjalliance.org.

 

Feeling Squeeze of Long-Distance Care


Passion to Help Sick Spawns Wider Effort


When Lori Marx-Rubiner underwent a bilateral mastectomy two years ago, she lost the use of her arms for a few weeks. She couldn’t brush her teeth, let alone tackle cooking dinner or driving her son to school.

The Adat Ari El community came to her rescue, bringing approximately 60 meals and even transporting her son home from school. She said the help made what could have been a depressing experience into a “transformative” one.

“My passion became to help others through their illnesses,” Marx-Rubiner explained.

That passion culminated Oct. 24 at a conference she helped organize to train people on how to help the ill and disadvantaged. Hope Abandoned, Hope Redeemed: Training Volunteers for the Mitzvah of Bikur Cholim at UCLA Hillel taught 180 volunteers about bikur cholim, or visiting the sick.

Many local synagogues and Jewish organizations focus on one positive commandment, usually something that involves tikkun olam, healing the world in Hebrew. So why healing the sick and why now?

“There is a significant shortage of trained volunteers, chaplains and others to meet the needs of those in hospitals, nursing homes and hospices,” according to a 2002 survey of all the hospitals, nursing homes, assisted-living facilities and prisons in Southern California.

At least 20 percent of the Jewish community is over the age of 65, 10 percent live in residential care facilities and 4 percent have permanent disabilities, according to the study, “Services to Jews in Institutions.” The 108-page report, written by The Jewish Federation’s planning and allocations department and the Southern California Board of Rabbis, spurred the organizations to create the conference.

Bikur cholim is first alluded to in the Bible when Abraham has a circumcision and three men visit him. Commentators say that the men are actually angels to help him through his convalescence.

While there are other communal organizations that assist sick people — like conference co-sponsors Chai Lifeline, which provides services to families with children who have chronic illnesses, and the already existing Bikur Cholim, which helps provide health services to sick people — this is the first interdenominational, communitywide effort to recruit volunteers for the Bikur Cholim. The conference aimed to show that the mitzvah is a grass-roots affair, which involves all members of the community, young and old alike.

Sponsored by 14 community organizations, the conference expanded the traditional definition of visiting the sick in hospitals to include caring for people with disabilities, chronic or mental illnesses, the elderly and those living alone, as well as drug addicts and prison inmates. The “Institutions” study found that there are approximately 800 Los Angeles Jews in prisons throughout California.

“A lot of people think that the mitzvah of visiting the sick is a mitzvah that is incumbent on rabbis and chaplains,” said Michelle Wolf, assistant director of planning and allocations for The Federation, who organized the conference with Marx-Rubiner. “But it’s a mitzvah that is incumbent on all Jews, the same as giving tzedakah [charitable giving], but it is one that a lot of people don’t usually do and don’t feel comfortable with.”

The conference also kicked off Circles of Support, an initiative to create synagogue committees to coordinate with the sick and help them with their needs, ranging from meals to child care to helping out in the house.

“Some patients are embarrassed to come forth and seek help — some chaplains told us that some people don’t want their congregational rabbi contacted,” Wolf said. “Part of what we are trying to do is create a climate where it is OK to say you are sick and to have a healing process. There is a Jewish tradition that says that every visitor takes a away 1/60 of a person’s illness, and there all kinds of studies that have shown the more community and spiritual support you have, the easier the healing process.”

So far, five synagogues have started Circles of Support. They are Adat Ari El, Beth Chayim Chadashim, Beth Shir Sholom, Leo Baeck and the Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue.

The 20 sessions at Sunday’s conference focused on aiding volunteers to be strong enough to help the sick.

“To be able to very warmly and graciously open ourselves up to patients takes time and practice,” said Susan Corwin, Mitzvah Corps chair at University Synagogue. She attended the conference to find how to inspire and reinvigorate the volunteers of University’s bikur cholim committee, which was started this summer.

“One of the first congregants I went to visit said, ‘Who are you?’ and I said, ‘I am here representing University Synagogue, and I am here because we care about you,'” Corwin said.

“Where’s the rabbi?” the patient responded.

When Corwin explained she was a member of the congregation and had brought a gift bag, the patient softened.

At the conference, Corwin learned that a volunteer should be sensitive to the patient. She said she was particularly moved by a “creating rituals” activity in the workshop, in which leader Harriet Rosen held a ball of yarn, then asked participants to think of a thought or blessing for bikur cholim. Rosen then threw the ball to them while keeping hold of a strand of yarn. Eventually the yarn formed a web across the room of all the thoughts and blessings.

“I learned that when you walk into a room doing bikur cholim, you are not just walking into the hospital room of the patient, but to the web of relationships that the patient has and that you have,” Corwin said. “The impact is so different on each one of us, and the blueprint to help the patients is inside of all of us.”

For more information on bikur cholim or how a synagogue can form a Circle of Support, call (323) 761-8348.

Community Braces for Flu Shot Scarcity


 

Michael Gabai is on a quest.

The owner and administrator of Ayres Residential Care Home has spent the last two weeks calling physicians, senior centers, grocery stores and pharmacies in search of flu shots for about half of the 18 residents in his facilities who have been unable to get one. Gabai was finally able to secure a reservation for his oldest resident, a 96-year-old, to get vaccinated at a grocery store about 10 miles away.

“We’re scrambling to get it done, Gabai said. “We know how easily [flu] can turn into pneumonia for our elderly clients.”

With the flu vaccine shortage becoming a national — and political — crisis, people working with seniors, like Gabai, are the most troubled.

“Flu is always a concern,” said Molly Forrest, director of the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging (JHA). Vaccinations are normally given to all of JHA’s residents and frontline caregivers willing to be inoculated, she said. However, JHA has not yet received its supply of vaccines from the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, which has promised to deliver them late this month or early in November. Flu season generally spans from November to March, and affects between 10 percent to 20 percent of Americans.

During the 2003-2004 flu season, there were 1,600 deaths from influenza and pneumonia in Los Angeles County, according to the Center for Disease Control. Also, over the last five years, nearly 90 percent of all deaths from flu andpneumonia were among those 65 or older.

Forrest believes they will get adequate amounts of vaccine to cover the residents, but thinks they might need to seek additional doses for frontline staff.

During her nine-year tenure, Forrest said that JHA had not experienced any serious flu outbreaks. When cases have arisen, they have isolated individual buildings or patients in order to contain the spread of the disease.

Jewish Family Service’s (JFS) Valley Storefront and West Hollywood Senior Center had to cancel scheduled flu shot clinics when the Red Cross failed to deliver vaccines as promised, said Lisa Brooks, one of the agency’s directors.

“We’re waiting to see if more supplies become available,” she said. Directors of JFS’s senior centers are in close contact with sources of the vaccine to find out when that might be.

Additional flu shots might soon be forthcoming from drug manufacturer Aventis Pasteur. The majority of its 22.4 million doses, which were promised but not yet shipped to customers, will be routed to entities designated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as priorities. In addition to seniors, those considered most at-risk of developing potentially life-threatening complications from the flu include children under 2 years old (the vaccine is not recommended for babies younger than 6 months old), individuals with chronic medical conditions and pregnant women. According to United Press International, CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding said the agency is mapping areas where the vaccine has been sent and those where it is needed and also tracking flu cases by county to quickly identify flu hot spots.

The flu shot shortage does not seem to trouble early childhood educators.

“I don’t think at this time anyone is particularly panicking,” said Betty Zeisl, director of public relations and communications for the Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE), who noted that at a meeting of early childhood center directors last week “the subject didn’t come up.” (While BJE facilities must conform to federal, state and local guidelines, protocols for dealing with illness are determined by each individual center.)

“I don’t think [the shortage] is going to affect us,” said Angie Bass, director of the early childhood center at Temple Beth Am, who believes that sensationalized media reports are needlessly scaring parents. Bass said that the school maintains routine health precautions such as undergoing regular cleaning, a hand-washing policy for staff and students and a practice of sending children home if they need to wipe their noses more than three times in a 15-minute period.

Bass said that “if it really looked like a real epidemic and not just media hype,” she would send home a letter informing parents and include advice from pediatricians. Thus far, however, none of the pediatricians she has consulted have expressed concern.

“As soon as the pediatricians are worried, then I’ll worry,” she said.

“I think it is a potential problem,” said Dr. Carol Berkowitz, professor of clinical pediatrics at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance and president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “We never know how serious a flu season we will have.”

At the same time, she said that last year was the first year that vaccination was suggested for healthy children between 6 and 24 months.

“Flu vaccine has never been recommended for healthy children over the age of 2 years,” she added.

Berkowitz and others emphasize the importance of following CDC recommendations to help prevent flu. These include avoiding close contact with people who are sick, staying home from work or school if you are sick, covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth and washing your hands frequently. Certain prescription antiviral medications (oseltamivir, rimantadine and amantadine) can either prevent the flu or lessen its symptoms if taken promptly after exposure to the virus — or soon after symptoms begin. Symptoms may include fever, headache, chills, body aches, dry cough, stuffy nose and sore throat.

Unfortunately, even if individuals take precautions, they cannot control the habits of others. As the JHA’s Forrest notes, this is especially true for the most vulnerable populations.

“The very young and very old, who get help from other people, are incredibly at risk because they depend on someone else’s hygiene,” she said.

 

Russian Community Fundraises for Israel


When obstetrician-gynecologist Ludmila Bess and her husband, a civil engineer, immigrated to the United States from Russia in 1977, they came with only $600 in their pockets. Like many others who arrived from the former Soviet Union with few or no financial resources “our goal was to survive,” Bess said.
Now established with a successful Los Angeles medical practice, Bess’ goals — like those of many of her contemporaries — have turned outward. She is chairing the Saving Lives gala on Oct. 17 to raise funds for the pediatric trauma unit of Tel Aviv’s Sourasky Medical Center.
The event is a collaboration among the Russian-speaking community, the American Russian Medical and Dental Association, the business community and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. Taking place at the Hilton at Universal City, the gala will feature singer and actor Theodore Bikel, opera star Susana Poretsky and singer and cantor Svetlana Portnyansky.
While the event boasts the trappings of long-established philanthropic groups (hors d’oeuvres have been donated by Wolfgang Puck and his associate Bella Lantzman, for example), these efforts mark a relatively new direction for the Russian Jewish community.
“Originally, Russian immigrants, when they came to the United States, were mostly takers, not givers,” said event co-chair Eugene Levin, founder of the Russian-language Panorama Media Group. “There was no such tradition of giving in the former Soviet Union. Mostly, people depended on the state.”
While numerous agencies such as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) and Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles continue to help newly arrived Russian immigrants with resettlement, many in the community have lived in the United States close to two decades or longer. They have overcome cultural and language barriers, and attained professional and financial security. So their attention has turned to fundraising and outreach efforts for their community. Such entities include the Association of Soviet Jewish Immigrants, a Federation affiliate and the umbrella organization for agencies serving the Russian Jewish community, and the West Hollywood Russian Community Center, which aids new immigrants with practical necessities, information, referral and advocacy.
Now, efforts reach beyond their own community to others in need. It started slowly, with participation in the United Jewish Fund’s Super Sunday and two parlor meetings that generated funds for causes in Israel.
In 2002, Bess and her colleague, Dr. Yelena Vaynerov, decided that, as physicians, they wanted to generate support for medical care in Israel. Bess and others met with Federation President John Fishel about their idea. Initially, he suggested more parlor meetings. “We told him, ‘We want to have a big gala. We want people to feel together,'” Bess recalled. “And he told us, ‘I will do my best to make this event happen and be an A-plus.'”
With Federation support, the group held its first gala in January of last year, raising more than $250,000 toward the purchase of equipment for the trauma unit of Sourasky Medical Center. The hospital has provided front-line care for victims of terror attacks, including the 2001 Dolphinarium bombing that claimed the lives of more than a dozen Soviet-born teens outside a Tel Aviv disco.
Bess says that raising funds for a worthy cause was only one of her goals. She also wanted to increase community cohesiveness and change attitudes about giving.
“We wanted to show our community that it’s [a greater] pleasure to donate than to be a recipient,” she said.
Last year’s gala seemed to accomplish those goals. Besides attracting more than 650 attendees, the event generated support from across the community, with donations as small as $5 and as large as $10,000. Bess remembered being touched when a 75-year-old patient, living on government pension, presented her with a $300 check despite the patient’s limited income.
This year, organizers hope to accommodate more attendees and raise $300,000. The event honors Sourasky Medical Center’s Director General, Dr. Gabriel I. Barbash; Dr. Leonid and Natalie Glosman, one of the first couples to mobilize the Los Angeles Russian Jewish community in support of Israeli and American causes; Anita Hirsh, former co-chair of the Commission on Soviet Jewry and, with her late husband, Stanley, a supporter of major projects in the United States and abroad; Dr. Gabriel Rubanenko, supporter of numerous Israeli philanthropies; and Barbara Yaroslavsky, who along with her husband, L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, has been an advocate of Soviet Jewry for more than 30 years.
Event co-chair Helen Levin, wife of Eugene, and director of the West Hollywood Russian Community Center, notes that the community at large — and, indeed, the nation — has begun to reap the benefits of supporting Soviet Jewry.
“You haven’t been fighting for us for nothing,” she said. “Now we are paying back to the United States.”
She added, “I always say to my clients [at the West Hollywood Russian Community Center], ‘Yes, there are problems here, as everywhere. But there is no better place…. So we better do something useful and positive for this country.'”
The Saving Lives gala begins at 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 17 at the Hilton Universal in Universal City. For more information, call (323) 761-8345 or visit www.savinglives2004.com. n

L.A. Resident Loses Family in Bus Bombing


Aviel Atash was the entire world for his mother, Rachel. A developmentally delayed woman who married at the age of 39, Rachel never thought she would have children, and Aviel was like a dream, said her brother, Los Angeles resident Yoram Partush.

But that dream exploded last week when the 31′ 2-year-old was killed by a suicide bomber on a Beersheba bus.

Rachel is expected to be in the hospital for several weeks recovering from serious burns and shrapnel wounds, said Partush, who has a son the same age as Aviel.

Rachel remembers everything about that day — the bombers head that landed right next to her, the words “say goodbye for me” uttered by a dying woman, the people who rushed in to rescue her and her son, who was alive immediately after the blast.

The loss is especially difficult for Rachel’s parents, who were responsible for Aviel’s daily care. Moroccan Jews who raised 13 children in Beersheba, the couple lost a son three years ago in a work-related accident; 22 years ago, their daughter was murdered.

“When I heard the news of the bombing I didn’t want to think about it; we’ve had too much tragedy to bring another one like this,” said Partush, a member of Congregation B’nai David-Judea who has lived in Los Angeles for six years. “But it caught us. You never know when it’s going to come.”

A memorial fund for Aviel Atash has been set up to help cover the help Rachel will need when she gets out of the hospital. Donations can be made to Congregation B’nai David- Judea, 8906 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles CA, 90035, with “Atash Memorial Fund” in the memo line.