Dr. Evan Zahn performs surgery on a patient. Photo courtesy of Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute.

Dr. Evan Zahn at Cedars-Sinai continues to innovate for infants with heart defects


The large desk inside Dr. Evan Zahn’s Cedars-Sinai Medical Center office overlooking Beverly Boulevard has a 3-D printed model of a human chest, revealing veins, arteries and, of course, a human heart — the primary focus of his work for more than 30 years.

“It’s a model of an actual patient,” he said.

Zahn, 57, showed how a small metal device could be inserted into the heart through a catheter that would unsheathe once inside, replace a faulty pulmonary valve and improve blood flow.

“It can last 10 or 15 years, and maybe we just put in another valve then, kind of like a Russian [nesting] doll,” he said. “We can save many patients open-heart surgery.”

One patient he helped save was Jimmy Kimmel’s infant son, Billy, whose heart defect was first diagnosed at Cedars-Sinai. In an emotional monologue on his late-night show in May, Kimmel thanked Zahn by name and used the episode to argue for making the same high-quality medical care available for all Americans.

A native of Long Island, N.Y., Zahn has been the director of pediatric cardiology at Cedars-Sinai’s Heart Institute since 2012. He’s one of the world’s pre-eminent experts at treating structural heart problems with minimally invasive procedures, particularly in children.

During a nearly 20-year stint as chief of cardiology at Miami Children’s Hospital in Florida before coming to Cedars-Sinai, Zahn rose to prominence, performing the world’s first nonsurgical tricuspid valve replacement via catheter on a 9-year-old boy.

Five years ago, it seemed like the right time for Zahn to take on a new professional challenge offered by Cedars-Sinai. He, his wife and four children moved from Miami to Pacific Palisades, where they’ve become members at Kehillat Israel, a Reconstructionist temple. He’s an avid runner and cyclist.

“I love it here,” he said. “When people ask me about the traffic in Los Angeles, I say there’s a reason so many people want to live here.”

Zahn was lured to Cedars-Sinai to head up a new Congenital Heart Disease Program and develop more minimally invasive treatments.

“Cedars is a household name, a widely respected place for treating heart disease,” he said. “There’s tremendous support here for doing new, creative and innovative things. I don’t think there’s a place anywhere that rivals this institution for that.”

One of the main attractions for Zahn in coming to Cedars-Sinai was the prospect of forming a congenital heart disease program in an adult medical center. Children’s hospitals, by nature of their charters, can’t treat patients over the age of 18. In many cases, Zahn had patients born with heart defects requiring lifelong medical attention and complex procedures age out of his care.

“I was having to send my patients away, and I hated it, but not half as much as they hated it,” he said. “So, one of the things that really drew me here was being able to take care of patients who need a lifetime of care at one institution with one singular team, from fetal diagnosis until old age.”

Cheryl Davis, 48, a lighting artist at Walt Disney Animation Studios in Burbank, is one of Zahn’s adult patients. She was diagnosed with a severe pulmonary valve regurgitation, or leaky valve, as a 9-year-old. Leaks in the pulmonary valve allow blood to flow back into the heart chamber before it gets to the lungs for oxygen.

Davis had open-heart surgery as a child to correct it but still had complications throughout adulthood, including a murmur and fatigue. After consulting numerous cardiologists, she was referred to Zahn. In late August, he performed a valve replacement on Davis, just as he demonstrated on the model in his office. She was back at work a few weeks later.

“I’m still taking things a little slow, but I don’t feel my murmur and my heart feels normal for the first time in my life,” she said. “[Zahn] has been amazing. On top everything, he’s just a really nice man and one of the most humble people I’ve ever met.”

Still, Zahn’s primary focus at Cedars-Sinai has been treating newborns, particularly premature babies, with structural heart problems. He estimated that as many as 15,000 premature babies are born each year with life-threatening congenital heart defects. These are babies born up to four months early that sometimes weigh as little as 1 pound and fit in a cupped adult hand. Zahn said doctors currently have two main treatment options, which work less than half the time and have significant side effects or complications linked to severe outcomes like blindness, deafness and mental disability.

At Cedars-Sinai, Zahn has made great strides in this area, dedicating time to research and development with colleagues and outside biomedical engineers. So far, he has treated 40 premature babies using a catheter to insert a small metal clamp that plugs harmful blood flow to a baby’s lungs, which causes disease in lungs, bowels and the brain.

“For premature babies, no one does that,” he said. “No one has gone into their hearts via catheterization.”

Zahn said he has a 90 percent success rate so far. No one has died, and babies he treated three years ago now look like other kids their age. In the remaining 10 percent of cases, he said additional conventional surgery was required. 

“There have been other people who have done other work in other countries, and some of that was very useful, but ultimately, I think the solution came from here,” he said.

Zahn almost feels guilty about how much personal satisfaction he gets out of saving lives.

“It’s almost a selfish thing that I do,” he said. “I get so much joy out of knowing that a baby, who without immediate medical care won’t survive, will be fine because I’ve seen their course so many times. Now that I’ve done this for nearly three decades, I’ve seen these babies grow up to play T-ball, play high school sports, get married and have kids. It’s remarkably gratifying.”

Cedars-Sinai is working with an industry partner to develop a clamp device uniquely designed for premature babies with heart problems and to get federal approval for it. The device, Zahn said, will be a self-expanding plug, fashioned to fit inside a catheter and made out of a metal called nitinol, or nickel titanium. The device used in the initial 40 cases was designed for other purposes.

Zahn, who recently spoke to a colleague in Japan whose hospital just treated its first premature baby, said he is confident that his efforts at Cedars-Sinai will have wide-reaching impact.

“We think we can make a big difference around the world with this,” he said. “It’s a very in-need population, and there’s not a lot made in general for premature babies. They don’t vote. They don’t get the attention they need. We think this is going to be a game changer.”

Prostate cancer patient Art Tostado, with Isabella Spar, rang the New Beginning Bell at Cedars-Sinai on Aug. 17. The bell was donated by Spar as part of her bat mitzvah project. Photo by Bill Pollard/Cedars-Sinai

Bell-ringing mitzvah project brings hope to cancer patients


In the waiting room of the Radiation Oncology Department at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, a New Beginning Bell is mounted on the wall. It’s attached to a plaque inscribed with a poem:

Ring this bell
Three times well
Its toll will clearly say
My treatment’s done
My course is run
And now I’m on my way.

It tolls loudly two or three times every day as doctors, nurses and fellow patients applaud individuals completing their treatments. And it’s there because of 13-year-old Isabella Spar and her bat mitzvah project.

So far, Spar has raised $5,000 via sales of charm bracelets and chokers she makes and sells on her website, projectbell.org, to finance bells for any cancer treatment center that wants one. Seven bells have been donated so far, including the one at Cedars-Sinai, which was installed in April, and there’s money for five more. But fundraising will continue, Spar said.

She got the idea when her mother, Wendy Jeshion, underwent radiation treatment for a benign brain tumor at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and rang a bell at its completion.

“It was an incredible feeling. It brought everyone together,” Spar said. “They had these bracelets there, but they got worn out easily and my mom asked me to make her a new one. So I made one with a bell and charms on it. And then I made more for friends and family.”

Then, she thought, it would be a great idea for her bat mitzvah project. “I wanted to do something big, not just donate but be part of it,” said Spar, who lives in Westchester County, N.Y., and became a bat mitzvah on April 29. She said that relatives, friends and congregation members wore her jewelry at the ceremony.

“It made me feel proud that I did something special and so happy that I could share that happiness with other people,” she said.

“I’ve always tried to help people,” she added. “After going through this with my mom and knowing I’ve helped so many more people like her is amazing.”

According to her mother, Isabella has always been “that kind of a kid.”

“When she heard there was a big earthquake when she was 5 years old, she emptied her piggy bank and donated every cent. Words cannot describe how proud I am,” Jeshion said.

Isabella Spar and her mother, Wendy Jeshion Photo by Bill Pollard/Cedars-Sinai

A pediatric gastroenterologist, Jeshion was diagnosed with a noncancerous tumor in 2015 and was advised to have surgery and radiation to stop its growth, which could cause blindness. But a month later, she was hit in the head by a baseball, suffering facial damage and a concussion, which rendered the tumor inoperable.

Jeshion consulted many doctors, including Dr. Behrooz Hakimian at Cedars-Sinai, who recommended a 28-day course of radiation over nearly six weeks. Ultimately, she had the treatment in Boston because it was closer to her New York home.

She acknowledged that it has been a difficult time for her family, “but to turn a tough two years into something so beautiful is as good as it gets. Following my treatment, my father bought me a bell, and every morning I ring it when I wake up. It provides a feeling of hope,” she said.

Hakimian said those who ring Cedars’ bell feel the same. “It’s like running a marathon, seeing the finish line and then crossing it. They feel some achievement and other people in the waiting room know their time will come. Positivity is so important in the healing process,” he said. “And this gives them a bit of closure so they can move on to the next step in their lives.”

Art Tostado, a 71-year-old prostate cancer patient who is retired from the motion picture laboratory business, rang the bell last month as Isabella, her sister Alexa, 11, their father, Jeff Spar, and Jeshion witnessed the personal milestone.

“It meant everything to me,” Tostado said. “I’ve done some research about bells and their importance through the centuries. They call people off to new journeys, which this is.

“In this day and age, with all this technology, a bell is still being used to get us through this. It’s very emotional.”

“I cry every time I watch somebody else ring the bell because I know how much they and their families have gone through,” Jeshion said, through tears. “It gives them hope, strength and something to strive for.”

In the spirit of tikkun olam, Isabella said she is trying to do her part to heal the world.

“There’s so much going on in the world right now and it makes me feel really good to know that I made a difference in some way,” she said, “and that doing a little bit made the world a better place.”

Orly Star Setareh (far right), a dance specialist, leads VBS students in dance at The Music Center. Photo courtesy of the Music Center.

Moving and Shaking: VBS students dance, ADL honors law enforcement, new leadership at LAMOTH


About 40 Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) Day School fifth-graders were among the 18,000 elementary school students who participated in the 47th annual Blue Ribbon Children’s Festival, a free arts education initiative held Feb. 28 at The Music Center in downtown Los Angeles.

Nancy Herbst, director of general studies at the day school, was among the adults accompanying the VBS students, who attended a performance by the Ailey II dance company in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion before they performed a synchronized dance inspired by Ailey II in The Music Center plaza.

Blue Ribbon is the self-described “premier women’s support organization of The Music Center.”


The Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Helene & Joseph Sherwood Prize for Combating Hate luncheon and awards ceremony was held March 14 at the Skirball Cultural Center.

The event honored law enforcement officials who have played a role in fighting hate in Southern California.

Among the honorees were Riverside County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Yadira Perez, who helped apprehend an arsonist responsible for setting a mosque ablaze in Coachella in December 2015, and Cindy Cipriani, senior management counsel and director of community outreach in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California, who “has dedicated her life’s work to advancing the values of unity and understanding with humility and compassion,” the ADL statement said.

Perez recalled her decision to pursue the arsonist after spotting him while off-duty: “At that point,” she said, “I felt the risk to public safety outweighed the risk of me catching him.”

LAPD and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives investigators and L.A. city attorneys, who were honored for their takedown of a white supremacist gang in the San Fernando Valley, come together with Joseph Sherwood (seated, front row) and his son, Howard (crouching, far right) at the Anti-Defamation League’s Helene & Joseph Sherwood Prize for Combating Hate luncheon and awards event.

LAPD and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives investigators and L.A. city attorneys, who were honored for their takedown of a white supremacist gang in the San Fernando Valley, come together with Joseph Sherwood (seated, front row) and his son, Howard (crouching, far right) at the Anti-Defamation League’s Helene & Joseph Sherwood Prize for Combating Hate luncheon and awards event.

The fire at the mosque was seen as a vengeful reaction to the killing of 14 people and wounding of 22 earlier that month at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino by perpetrators who claimed terrorist allegiances.

In addition, the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Division, its Orange County Resident Agency, the Orange County Intelligence Assessment Center and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California were honored as a group for thwarting “two Anaheim individuals planning to travel to Syria and fight for ISIS,” the ADL said. One of the individuals had planned to fly from Los Angeles to Tel Aviv to join terrorist fighters in the Middle East.

The event’s additional group honoree was the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ L.A. field division, the L.A. City Attorney’s Office and the Los Angeles Police Department’s Major Crimes Division, which were honored for removing a “stronghold of San Fernando Valley Peckerwoods, a white supremacist gang,” the ADL said.

The more than 250 attendees included Ayelet Feiman, an L.A. city attorney prosecutor who was honored with the Sherwood Prize in 2013 for her efforts on a case involving swastikas drawn in maple syrup outside the home of a Jewish family in Northridge; Joseph Sherwood and his son, Howard; ADL Regional Director Amanda Susskind; L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell and others.

The event also celebrated Joseph Sherwood’s 100th birthday, on March 12.

The Sherwood family launched the prize in 1996 as a way to bring attention to the positive contributions of law enforcement.


From left: Former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Michael Tuchin, Richard Pachulski and Patricia Glaser attend the American Friends of Hebrew University Torch of Learning Award Dinner, which honored Tuchin and Pachulski. Photo courtesy of AFHU.

From left: Former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Michael Tuchin, Richard Pachulski and Patricia Glaser attend the American Friends of Hebrew University Torch of Learning Award Dinner, which honored Tuchin and Pachulski. Photo courtesy of AFHU.

The March 1 American Friends of Hebrew University (AFHU) Harvey L. Silbert Torch of Learning Award Dinner at the Beverly Hilton honored Richard Pachulski, a corporate restructuring attorney, and Michael L. Tuchin, a founding member and co-manager of Klee, Tuchin, Bogdanoff & Stern.

Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens, who often writes about events pertaining to Israel and has spoken out against President Donald Trump despite being a conservative, was the guest speaker. He discussed what makes America great, noting the disproportionate number of Nobel Prize winners who are Americans, many of whom are immigrants. Additionally, he said HU, with its diverse student population of Arab, secular and religious students, embodies what is best about Israel.

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who is described by an AFHU press release as “the honorees’ longtime friend,” presented Pachulski and Tuchin with their awards.

The event raised $1.2 million for the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Faculty of Law.

Attendees included Patricia Glaser, event chair and the AFHU western region vice chair; Michael Karayanni, dean of the Hebrew University Faculty of Law; Richard Ziman, vice chairman of the AFHU board of directors; and Brindell Gottlieb, president of AFHU’s western region.

AFHU raises awareness of and support for Hebrew University of Jerusalem.


From left: Cedars-Sinai Dr. Shlomo Melmed, Isabelle Szneer and Cedars-Sinai Dr. Charles Simmons commemorate Szneer’s donation to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Photo courtesy of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

From left: Cedars-Sinai Dr. Shlomo Melmed, Isabelle Szneer and Cedars-Sinai Dr. Charles Simmons commemorate Szneer’s donation to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Photo courtesy of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

The family of the late Leopold Szneer, a German-Jewish Holocaust survivor and former Congregation Mogen David cantor, has provided a $250,000 gift to the Cedars-Sinai Pediatric Inflammatory Bowel Disease program.

A dedication and luncheon to celebrate the donation, given in Szneer’s memory and in the memory of the 1.5 million children who perished during the Holocaust, was held Jan. 17 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Szneer, who died in 2016, was imprisoned in Dachau during the Shoah, fled on the Kindertransport to Belgium in 1938 and experienced numerous challenges before immigrating to Los Angeles in the 1950s.

He went on to serve as a cantor, his longtime dream, at Congregation Mogen David in Pico-Robertson, for more than 20 years.

Isabelle Szneer, his wife since 1947 and also a Holocaust survivor, provided the gift in her husband’s memory. “He was a much loved man in the city,” she said.

Attendees at the event included Congregation Mogen David Rabbi Gabriel Elias; Dr. Shlomo Melmed, executive vice president of academic affairs at Cedars-Sinai; and Dr. Charles Simmons, chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Cedars-Sinai.


Beth Kean

Beth Kean

The Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH), which describes itself as the oldest survivor-founded Holocaust museum in the country, has named Beth Kean its executive director and Paul Nussbaum its president, according to a March 14 announcement.

Kean, who became the museum’s president in January 2016, had also been serving as interim executive director since November, following the departure of the museum’s previous executive director, Samara Hutman. Nussbaum previously served as the museum’s treasurer. Jamie Rosenblood, a current board member at LAMOTH and museum docent who has a background in finance, is succeeding Nussbaum in that role. 

Paul Nussbaum

Paul Nussbaum

The leadership transition is part of “an unprecedented five-year plan to expand [the museum’s] mission of teaching the dangers of genocide and promoting empathy, tolerance and understanding through history, shared knowledge, and personal experience,” the announcement says.

Kean, the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, has been involved in various leadership roles on the museum’s board for more than a decade. Her husband, Jon, is a filmmaker whose work includes the documentary films “Swimming in Auschwitz” and “After Auschwitz.”

“The relevance and urgency of our mission has never been more critical than it is in today’s environment,” Kean said in the announcement. “We are creating a strategic plan that will ensure that we continue to provide free educational programming, opportunities for dialogue with Holocaust survivors, and substantially grow our audience while teaching them the relevance of becoming stewards of this important history.”

The museum expects to draw more than 60,000 visitors in 2017, an increase from the 48,000 visitors it had in 2016, according to the announcement.

In the announcement, Nussbaum, the son of Holocaust survivors, expressed optimism about the museum’s continued success.

“We’re aware that we’ve become one of the most cherished cultural assets not only in Los Angeles but in the country,” Nussbaum said. “Our intent now is to establish a roadmap to guide LAMOTH on its journey toward continued growth and awareness.”


From left: Rabbis Elie Spitz, Naomi Levy, Stewart Vogel and Reuven Taff — all of California — received honorary doctorates from Jewish Theological Seminary. Photo by Jewish Journal Staff.

From left: Rabbis Elie Spitz, Naomi Levy, Stewart Vogel and Reuven Taff — all of California — received honorary doctorates from Jewish Theological Seminary. Photo by Jewish Journal Staff.

During a March 2 ceremony at Sutton Place Synagogue in Manhattan, New York’s Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) awarded honorary doctorates of divinity degrees to 55 rabbis, including five California rabbis, all of whom are members of the Rabbinic Assembly, the international association of Conservative rabbis.

The honorees have served the Jewish community for 25 years or more, on the pulpit, in the classroom and elsewhere.

The local rabbis were Elie Spitz of Congregation B’nai Israel in Tustin, who was ordained at JTS in 1988; Naomi Levy of Nashuva in Los Angeles, who was a member of the first class of women to attend JTS’s rabbinical school, in 1984; Stewart Vogel of Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills, who was ordained in 1988; Neal Scheindlin of Milken Community Schools in Los Angeles, who was ordained in 1986; and Reuven Taff of Mosaic Law Congregation in Sacramento, who studied at JTS and was ordained in 1988 at a seminary in Israel.

Levy gave remarks on behalf of those being honored.

— Jewish Journal Staff


CORRECTION – 3/28/17: The original version of this story misidentified Orly Star Setareh.

From left: Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles honorees Gary Weinhouse, Kallyn Woodward and Elizabeth and Glen Friedman. Photo courtesy of Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles.

Moving and Shaking: JBBBSLA’s Big Event, Board of Rabbis Installation, New JCF Chair


At its annual “Big Event” on Feb. 9, Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles (JBBBSLA) honored Elizabeth and Glen Friedman with its Inspiration Award, Gary Weinhouse as Big Brother of the Year and Kallyn Woodward as Big Sister of the Year.

The agency served 1,753 children in 2016, including 225 who were matched with a “Big” and 1,311 who attended its Camp Bob Waldorf on the Max Straus Campus, said the group’s CEO, Randy Schwab.

Woodward’s “Little,” Liam Sason, presented her with the Big Sister award. Weinhouse’s “Little,” Michael Heller, a grown man who has been paired with Weinhouse since he was a little boy and today is a “Big” to a child in need, presented Weinhouse with his award.

Attendees at the event, held at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, included longtime Big Brother Barry Oppenheim. A congregant of Temple Beth Am and father of two, Oppenheim told the Journal that volunteering with the organization has been the best thing he has done, other than having kids of his own.

Additional attendees included volunteer Alana Bram, who wore a pin that read, “I am a Big”; philanthropist Bob Waldorf; Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles Executive Vice President Andrew Cushnir and the organization’s director of community engagement, Ashley Waterman.

The event raised more than $400,000, according to a JBBBSLA statement.

Founded in 1915, JBBBSLA is one of three Big Brother Big Sister mentoring organizations in the Los Angeles area. It is open to all Jewish children, including those with special needs, who are in need of a positive role model.


From left: Rabbis Kalman Topp, Ilana Grinblatt, Jason Weiner, Amy Bernstein, Lynn Brody Slome and Morley Feinstein attend the installation ceremony for Weiner, the president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California.

From left: Rabbis Kalman Topp, Ilana Grinblatt, Jason Weiner, Amy Bernstein, Lynn Brody Slome and Morley Feinstein attend the installation ceremony for Weiner, the president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California. Photo courtesy of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s chaplain, Rabbi Jason Weiner, was installed as president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California on Feb. 15 during a ceremony at Cedars-Sinai.

Weiner, the senior rabbi and manager of the Cedars-Sinai Spiritual Care Department since 2011, is the first chaplain-rabbi to serve as president of the Board of Rabbis in its 80-year history.

“My goal is to contribute to the ongoing professionalization of chaplaincy and to help chaplains gain better support and recognition,” Weiner said. “I also hope to bring attention to non-pulpit rabbis who may sometimes feel that their voices aren’t sufficiently heard by large, communal organizations.”

Attendees at the ceremony included Rabbi Kalman Topp of Beth Jacob Congregation and a Board of Rabbis vice president; Rabbi Amy Bernstein of Kehillat Israel, also a vice president; Rabbi Morley Feinstein of University Synagogue and the immediate past president of the board; Rabbi Ilana Grinblatt, a lecturer in rabbinic studies at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University; and Rabbi Lynn Brody Slome of the Academy of Jewish Religion, California.

The Board of Rabbis of Southern California is a membership organization for synagogues both large and small that provides programming and leadership training in the areas of interfaith engagement, social justice, healing and spirituality, professional development and more.


From left: Richard Foos, Ohr HaTorah member; Rabbi Mordecai Finley; and Cliff Chenfeld, visiting from New York.

From left: Richard Foos, Ohr HaTorah member; Rabbi Mordecai Finley; and Cliff Chenfeld, visiting from New York. Photo courtesy of Ohr HaTorah.

“Steve Bannon is a racist.”

“Trump is mentally unstable.”

“[Secretary of Education] Betsy DeVos is uneducated.”

Those were some of the comments from participants in a group session that Rabbi Mordecai Finley of Ohr HaTorah Synagogue held Feb. 10 in response to people’s requests for counseling on how to reduce their post-election anxiety.

Committed to an apolitical pulpit, Finley offered this overarching advice at his Los Angeles sanctuary: be vigilant, seek to understand other perspectives, take action when fears are justified by measurable outcomes and, most of all, keep calm.

“Fighters who win can take a punch and fight calm,” said the interdisciplinary rabbi, citing his martial arts training.

Avoiding polemics, Finley, a Holocaust scholar, cautioned the approximately 50 attendees not to equate President Donald Trump’s rise with the rise of Hitler.

“Don’t throw around Holocaust, Hitler and genocide until someone deserves the title,” Finley said, “because all it does is make someone hysterical.”

Rather, he advised, people should seek to reduce and avoid sensationalist, incendiary labels and comments: “Be afraid of a thing, not an indefinite phenomena.”

Referencing Abrahamic traditions, Finley advocated for a “civic covenant” to maintain constructive, open, thoughtful dialogue, especially among families and friends torn apart over the presidential election.

Citing the closing of Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address — “With malice toward none, with charity for all…” — Finley reminded the attendees of the bloody U.S. Civil War, which puts today’s divisive political climate in perspective.

Preaching tolerance, Finley told the rabbinic tale of Abraham kicking out a guest in the middle of the night when he found him worshipping idols, to which God responded: “I’ve had to deal with the guy for 70 years and you can’t take him for one night?” To which Finley added: “That’s part of our Jewish ethos.”

—Orit Arfa, Contributing Writer


ms-rabbi-arushRabbi Shalom Arush, 64, author of the best-selling books “Garden of Emuna” and “Garden of Peace,” delivered lectures at The Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills and at the Eretz Cultural Center in Tarzana on Feb. 7 and 8, respectively, to audiences totaling 2,100 people.

The Israeli Breslov rabbi, founder of the Chut Shel Chessed Institutions, visited from Jerusalem at the invitation of Unity 3000, a local organization founded three years ago by Ariel Perets. The organization aspires to bring together Orthodox, secular, Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews through unity and faith, Perets said.

Jews, Muslims and Christians who have read the rabbi’s books and love his message attended the rabbi’s lectures, Perets said. Arush is not a typical Orthodox rabbi, which is perhaps one of the reasons his lectures attract Jews and non-Jews. At times during his lecture, he started singing and audience members clapped their hands in unison and joined in.

For non-Hebrew speakers, the organizers provided headphones offering translations to English and Spanish. The rabbi discussed the importance of faith in a person’s life and how everything that happens, whether it’s good or bad, happens for the best and has a reason to it.

Born in Morocco, Arush made aliyah with his parents at age 13. After graduating from high school, he served in the Israel Defense Forces’ elite naval rescue unit as an airborne combat-medic and took part in many clandestine missions. After five of his closest friends were killed in a helicopter crash while on a mission, he decided to make a change in his life and studied in several yeshivot until he discovered Breslov Judaism, a branch of Chassidic Judaism founded by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.

Arush travels the world now giving lectures about Breslov Judaism.

At the end of each of the L.A.-area lectures, many people from the audience approached the rabbi and asked him for his blessing.

“It’s very rare to see an Orthodox rabbi who appeals to people who aren’t religious or aren’t Jewish, and that’s why I chose to bring him here for this lecture,” Perets said. “I discovered him after reading one of his books and flew all the way to Uman [a pilgrimage site in Ukraine for Breslov Jews] to see who is this person with simple wisdom that touched my heart.”

— Ayala Or-El, Contributing Writer


Shalhevet High School Dean of Students Jason Feld (second from right), who has accepted a job in Seattle as head of school of Northwest Yeshiva High School, poses with his family. He starts that position on July 1. Photo courtesy of Feld.

Shalhevet High School Dean of Students Jason Feld (second from right), who has accepted a job in Seattle as head of school of Northwest Yeshiva High School, poses with his family. He starts that position on July 1. Photo courtesy of Feld.

Jason Feld, Shalhevet High School’s dean of students, has accepted a position as the head of school of Northwest Yeshiva High School in Seattle, effective July 1, according to an announcement by Shalhevet’s Head of School Ari Segal.

“It’s a wonderful community and amazing school, and I think I have something to add and contribute to it,” Feld said in an interview. “I am very, very excited about it.”

“While we will sorely miss Jason and his family, we are so happy for him as he embarks on this exciting new chapter of his career,” Segal said in the Jan. 30 statement.

A successor for Feld, who has been at Shalhevet for 10 years as a teacher, administrator and student adviser, has not yet been named.

“We are exploring all of our options, including filling the components of the role internally,” Segal told the Journal in an email. “Just happy for Jason and also for Shalhevet to be a talent feeder to other schools.”


ms-bill-feilerWilliam Feiler has succeeded Lawrence Rauch as the chair of the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, effective Feb. 2.

The leadership transition at the grant-making organization follows a four-year term served by Rauch.

During Rauch’s term, the foundation surpassed $1 billion in assets, attracted more than $508 million in charitable contributions and distributed more than $322 million in grants locally, nationally and in Israel, said Lewis Groner, the foundation’s director of marketing and communications.

Feiler, a longtime donor, trustee and officer at the foundation, is the former managing director and founding member of Bel Air Investment Advisors.

“He possesses the insight and understanding of our mission, our operating practices and unique position we occupy in the Jewish and general community,” Groner said of Feiler. “He just has long-term experience with us.”

Moving & Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com.

The art of healing


The piece of art is heartbreaking: Under gray skies filled with drops of rain stands a single tombstone. Under that, the artist has written in bright red, “Death now looking for Me.”

It is the work of a fourth-grader.

By way of explanation, the student, whose real name is not identified, writes: “I live close to school where it’s not safe to play in my neighborhood. … My 6-year-old sister was shot and killed when she was playing in the front yard. I get scared sometimes and really miss her. Also, last year my uncle went to jail and I miss him too. It seems like things don’t get better around my house.”

Pieces of art created by students in the Share and Care program. Art images courtesy of Cedars-Sinai Psychological Trauma Center’s Share and Care program

And yet, somehow, drawing pictures about it all — something the student has done as part of a program known as Share and Care — helps.

“In Share and Care,” the pupil writes, “I drew a picture of my sister and my uncle and other things that made me sad, but I also drew what helps me feel better when I’m having a lonely day.” 

This student isn’t alone. About 27,000 local schoolchildren have been helped by Share and Care since it began 35 years ago. Based at Cedars-Sinai, its roots date back to 1981, when Suzanne Silverstein and the late Gladys Wesson-Strickland were working at the medical center’s department of psychiatry.

One day, Wesson-Strickland approached her colleague with a concern: Two of her grandsons (the children of current Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson and preschoolers at the time) had a schoolmate who was shot dead by his father. The boy’s mother had been shot and killed, too, and the rest of the class was having difficulty coping with the event. 

“We should go to the school and work with the parents and the teachers and the kids,” Silverstein remembers saying. 

And so they did. 

In the early days of the program — then known as the Center for Psychological Trauma — Silverstein and other counselors worked only with children who had experienced trauma related to violence. That changed after the 1994 Northridge earthquake, which had an official death toll of 57 and injured more than 8,700. Silverstein was asked to put together a program to help school children in the Valley cope with the aftereffects of the quake. 

It was from there that the program began to diversify in the needs it addressed. By 1996, the eight-week art therapy program had expanded to 12 weeks and was dubbed “Share and Care” by some students at Canterbury Avenue Elementary School in Arleta. Today, the program helps young people deal with trauma related to violence, grief, bullying, anger management, divorce, homelessness, foster care and the incarceration of family members. 

But why use art as a form of therapy?

“Kids don’t always understand their feelings,” explained Silverstein, the program’s founding director. “Some kids, it’s really hard for them to talk. But they all know how to draw. So it’s a different way to communicate with people. They can then look at what they draw and talk about it.” 

For example, counselors from the program visited an elementary school after 9/11 and asked them what their thoughts were on the event. One student drew the image of a boy standing next to a building, both at the same height. 

“I wish I was a giant,” the boy who drew the image had said, “so I could squash bin Laden.”

“Art is a natural expression for elementary students,” said Krishna Smith, the principal of Loyola Village Elementary School. “It allows them to tell their stories, and the therapy helps teach them coping skills at a young age.” 

The art itself becomes reflections of the person in therapy — child or adult — so they can better understand their experiences, according to Madoka Urhausen, a supervisor and coordinator of school-based mental health programs at The Guidance Center in Long Beach. Similar to Share and Care, The Guidance Center has art therapy programs in 20 schools in the Long Beach Unified School District. 

“The use of art therapy is more empowering,” Urhausen told the Journal. “People come to the ‘aha’ moment on their own instead of the therapist telling them what their problem is.”

Through Share and Care, run today under the auspices of Cedars-Sinai’s Psychological Trauma Center, a high school student named Janelle said she was able to find other students in a situation similar to hers — her mother and brother are in jail — and who identify with her feelings. She went from failing her classes to wanting to do well in school and become an artist. 

“Now, I have shared my story in group. … I thank my group for believing in me,” Janelle wrote. “I have friends and my counselor believes in me. My homeroom teacher said I am blossoming into an amazing young woman.”

Emma Kaplan, 12, has been through the program twice — once to help her deal with the death of her uncle, and the second time because she was fighting a lot with her brother. Both times, drawing her feelings and then talking about them helped her deal with them better, she told the Journal. And even though she still sometimes fights with her brother, it’s not as bad. 

Teachers refer students in need to 13 program counselors who are stationed at the schools during the academic year. Therapy sessions take place in small groups during school hours, twice a week for 12 weeks. At the end of the 12 weeks, students can avail themselves of additional services if it is determined that the students need more time to heal. 

Although the Share and Care program may be geared toward elementary and middle school children (and sometimes high schoolers), the Psychological Trauma Center also has programs for parents and teachers. 

Silverstein recommends that parents speak to their children about a traumatic event as it happens because “you know your own kids and you can talk to them and explain it in a way that they could understand.” 

The teacher training program focuses on helping teachers identify students in need of counseling and helpful techniques that can be used in classrooms to help students deal with traumatic events.

Funded entirely by Cedars-Sinai — officials declined to say how much is spent on the program — the programs offered by the Psychological Trauma Center are free to schools within the Los Angeles Unified School District. The Share and Care program is currently active in 28 schools, with 33 schools on the waiting list.

The center celebrated its 35th anniversary May 30 with a dinner and exhibition of 33 pieces of art done by students who have gone through the program over the years. The youngest was by a 4-year-old.

“People are much more impacted by violence now than they were ever impacted before,” Silverstein told the Journal. “If you don’t start with the kids and you don’t start early on, you’ll never make a dent in what’s going on. So I’m hoping the little bit that we’re doing here will start to prevent that.”

Sarah Silverman says she is ‘insanely lucky to be alive’ after health scare


Comedian Sarah Silverman said she is “insanely lucky to be alive” after being admitted to the hospital last week with a life-threatening condition.

Silverman in a Facebook post Wednesday said she spent last week in the intensive care unit of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles with a rare case of epiglottitis — the inflammation of the epiglottis, the human tissue that protects the windpipe from filling with food during swallowing.

The airway can become totally blocked by the swollen epiglottis, which can result in cardiac arrest and death, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Silverman said she spent five days on a respirator and woke up without remembering anything after going to the doctor for what she thought was “just a sore throat.”

She also said she owed her life to her doctors and to “every nurse, and every technician & orderly at Cedars who’s punch-the-clock jobs happen to save human lives on the regular.”

Cedars-Sinai through a doctor’s lens


For four decades, endocrinologist Dr. Roger Lerner walked the halls of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center solely to attend to patients. But when he bought a first-generation iPhone six years ago, he began to see his hospital surroundings in an entirely different way. 

That’s when he began snapping photos of the buildings on campus, offering a unique look at a hospital through an artistic lens. His carefully composed images show light reflected and refracted through windows and against walls, creating sensitive explorations of the surrounding space.

Thousands of photos later, his work is being shown in “…Light, Interrupted,” an exhibition at Sulkin/Secant Gallery at Bergamot Station in Santa Monica running through the end of September. (An earlier show, “Roger Lerner: Form in Light,” took place in August at Couturier Gallery in Hancock Park.)

We met one evening at the hospital’s north tower on a terrace overlooking Gracie Allen Drive, and he held up his iPhone 6 to show me a picture he’d taken the previous evening.

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This article was made possible with support from Cal Humanities, a nonprofit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Ellen Brooks: Lending a hand at Cedars-Sinai for 38 years


When Ellen Brooks retired in 1977 at the age of 34 from her job as a production assistant on the Warner Bros. lot, she was looking forward to spending some time traveling the country with her new husband, Dr. Philip Brooks, a gynecologist approaching his 50th anniversary at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Dr. Brooks was preparing to take some advanced classes and attend seminars around the United States, and Ellen wanted to spend that time with him.
 
Shortly after she left Warner Bros., Ellen went with Philip to an OB-GYN dinner and was sitting at a table with a handful of gynecologists and their wives when she told the woman sitting next to her about her decision to retire. That short conversation, as it happens, changed the next four decades of Ellen’s life.
 
“ ‘She said, ‘You retired? OK, you’re going to come and work at Cedars,’ ” as Brooks remembers the conversation. “I said, ‘Maybe someday.’ She said, ‘No, you’re going to come and work. I said, ‘OK, we’ll see.’ ”
 
The next day, Brooks received a call from the president of Helping Hand of Los Angeles, a Cedars-Sinai support group founded in 1929 that has helped raise more than $20 million for the hospital’s Obstetrics and Gynecology Department, which has allowed the department to endow two chairs and establish an ovarian cancer detection program. 
 
The president asked Brooks if she would be willing to sign up as a volunteer. The commitment was not too big — four hours one day per week. She figured it was a nice thing to do and, anyway, her husband was already working at Cedars-Sinai. So she enrolled in training with the volunteer services department and began working at the Helping Hand gift shop, which, like its parent support group, donates all its proceeds to support obstetrics and gynecology at the medical center.
 
Now, 38 years later, every week (and almost always multiple times a week), Brooks is at the hospital to help patients and their loved ones who wander into the gift shop, or she’s at the hospital because she’s now the president of Helping Hand of Los Angeles (a position she assumed three years ago), or she’s at the hospital because, well, she loves to help people who maybe just can’t find where they’re going in the massive complex.
 
“When I come here every week, it’s like coming home,” said Brooks, who came into the gift shop on a Friday just for this interview, but still took some time to do her (volunteer) job — offering comfort to people with whom she crossed paths.
 
“What’s very rewarding is, just now, while I was waiting, I said to a woman, ‘Can I help you?’ And she said, ‘No, no, I’m just waiting; I have somebody in surgery.’ And so we started talking.” 
 
The gift shop and the lobby (which are adjacent) are filled every day with friends, relatives and patients who, for example, are recuperating from surgery and may venture into the gift shop if only to get out of their room for a few minutes. Brooks uses those few minutes to infuse a bit of warmth or simply some basic human interaction that can go a long way in any hospital, for any patient.
 
“When people are anxious and nervous about their loved ones who are in surgery or upstairs in a room,” Brooks continued, “they need to just get a breath of fresh air and walk out. They wander into the gift shop and we provide comfort for them by making them feel they can take their mind off the worries that they have.
 
“Something makes you decide you want to do it [volunteer],” Brooks said. “In my case, I didn’t have anybody that was sick, but I always knew that when I had time I wanted to do volunteer work.
 
“It makes me feel good to help people who, many times, are in a very stressful place,” Brooks said. “Every aspect of it has enriched my life.” 

Finding solutions to reducing teen stress


Every weekday at around 6:30 a.m., Henry Muhlheim hits the snooze button a few times before getting up and driving from Hancock Park to Harvard-Westlake School, one of the country’s top private high schools.

The 17-year-old junior then winds his way through a grueling schedule of seven classes: Middle East studies, AP U.S. history, AP physics, calculus honors, English honors, lunch, design & data structures honors and AP Chinese. Most days of the week, he attends swim practice for a few hours after school, then works on homework until midnight or so. On Sunday mornings, he’s an assistant teacher at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills.

One night a week, Muhlheim volunteers at Teen Line, a teen-crisis hotline run by Cedars-Sinai, where he offers help on “everything from, ‘my parents don’t understand, my girlfriend broke up with me,’ to things like, ‘I’m dealing with suicide and rape and child abuse,’ ” Muhlheim said. Often, though, teens talk about their stress related to college applications and social relationships.

“With classes and extracurriculars and stuff gearing up toward college, it’s getting crazy,” Muhlheim said.

For 16-year-old junior Ella Swimmer, life is equally complicated. Her day starts at 7:30 a.m. and often ends at 2 a.m. During that time, she takes classes at Santa Monica High School, goes to dance rehearsals, does her homework and helps her younger siblings with their homework. She’s also co-president of her synagogue youth group, Santa Monica Reform Temple Youth, and participates in other Jewish activities for teens.

“I’m constantly stressed out, constantly trying to, like, think hours and days in advance of how I’ll manage my time, how I’ll have time to eat and sleep in between all the homework and activities,” she said.

Adolescence has always been a challenging time of life. School, social obligations and hormones all make it especially hard to navigate. But some Jewish educators and clergy members have become worried that parents and teachers have reached a breaking point of piling on to kids’ lives.

“Most synagogues are ignoring that problem,” said Isa Aron, a professor of Jewish education at the Rhea Hirsch School of Education of

Preparing for the worst: A conversation with Cedars-Sinai’s director of epidemiology on Ebola


Ebola.

The dreaded word is all over the news and causing a flurry of activity at hospitals across the nation as officials scramble to prepare for the possibility of new cases of the West African disease in the United States. So far, just three cases of Ebola have been diagnosed on U.S. soil, all linked to patient Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian who contracted the disease in Africa and died at a Dallas hospital Oct 8. However, with the debacle over two nurses who cared for Duncan contracting Ebola, and the search for possible exposures extending from Texas to Ohio, and to multiple domestic flights and a cruise ship, medical facilities are not taking chances.

To date, Los Angeles County has no suspected or confirmed cases of Ebola, according to the county’s public health department. Nevertheless, government agencies and local hospitals such as Cedars-Sinai are training staff and establishing protocols on how to respond to any new cases of the virus, should they appear.

The Jewish Journal asked Dr. Rekha Murthy, director of the epidemiology department at Cedars-Sinai, to explain how the hospital is taking on the challenge of Ebola preparedness, and whether the public should be overly concerned about the disease.

 

Jewish Journal: How is Cedars-Sinai preparing for Ebola?

Rekha Murthy: Cedars-Sinai is preparing on multiple fronts. We have taken steps to enhance our early detection system for suspected or confirmed cases of Ebola. For example, we are asking all of our patients if they have traveled to Ebola-affected countries in Africa in the last 21 days or if they have been in close contact with someone who has. In addition, we are training our staff on proper procedures for caring for such patients, including how to put on and take off personal protective equipment. Should we receive a patient with signs or symptoms of Ebola virus disease, we will offer that individual the safe, compassionate care that we offer to all Cedars-Sinai patients and ensure that our patients, visitors and staff are safe.

 

JJ: What kind of training or guidance has Cedars-Sinai received from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)?

RM: We are developing our protocols while monitoring the guidance of multiple health organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, the California Department of Public Health and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

 

JJ: What kind of space and personnel has Cedars-Sinai committed to dealing with a potential Ebola outbreak?

RM: We have identified an isolation unit where a patient with Ebola would receive care, and we have formed a dedicated Ebola Response Team of physicians, nurses and other health care providers.

 

JJ: If an Ebola case is detected, how will you ensure medical staff caring for the patient does not contract the disease?

RM: In addition to doing hands-on demonstrations with our nurses, physicians and clinical partners, we have filmed a video demonstration of the best practices for putting on and taking off the personal protective equipment. the training also emphasizes proper disposal methods for contaminated linens and supplies.  We also will follow the CDC’s recommended “buddy system” in which health care workers observe and check each other during the putting on and taking off of personal protective equipment.

 

JJ: What is the protocol for dealing with family members and other people who have had contact with an Ebola patient?

RM: Should we admit a patient who is suspected of having Ebola or who has been diagnosed with Ebola, we will work with the state and county departments of health as well as the CDC and follow their guidance regarding quarantine procedures.

 

JJ: How concerned is Cedars-Sinai about Ebola?

RM: Ebola virus is a serious disease that has caused a lot of suffering around the world. However, the influenza virus is much more widespread here in America, especially in the upcoming months of the usual flu season, and is preventable with flu vaccine. So it is much more likely that Angelenos would catch the flu, not Ebola virus. We are encouraging all our patients to protect themselves and get a flu shot this year — especially children, as this year’s flu appears to be targeting children.

 

JJ: How worried should members of the public be about Ebola?

RM: Ebola virus is a serious disease, so I understand the concern. However, there is virtually no risk of developing Ebola virus unless you have had close contact with sick Ebola patients with symptoms such as fever, vomiting and/or diarrhea. Transmission of this virus occurs only through direct contact with bodily fluids of patients who are ill with Ebola or from objects such as needles or syringes that have been in contact with these fluids. Unless you have been in contact with Ebola patients or have traveled to the affected countries in Africa or had intimate contact with someone who has been in contact with Ebola patients, there is no need to worry.

 

JJ: Are you seeing an increase in patients coming to the hospital concerned about Ebola?

RM: No. That said, we are aware of the widespread concern in our community and our country. We are dedicated to patient safety, which always has been our highest priority at Cedars-Sinai.  

 

JJ: What are the symptoms of Ebola that people should be looking out for?

RM: There is virtually no risk of developing Ebola virus unless you have had close contact with sick Ebola patients or have traveled to Africa in the past 21 days. If you have a fever and have traveled to Africa in the past 21 days or have had close contact with sick Ebola patients, seek medical care immediately.

 

JJ: When should someone seek medical attention if they think they have Ebola?

RM: Immediately. If possible, call your health care provider ahead of time to let them know about your symptoms and that you are seeking care.

MKI: Mending kids in need


There was a 3 percent chance that the mole on 16-year-old Jacob Rubio’s forehead, which he had had since birth, might turn cancerous. When his mother, Juliann Castillo, noticed some lumps in it, she grew worried and requested a surgery to have it removed.

But Medi-Cal considered the procedure cosmetic and denied it, and Castillo, who is on disability, could not afford to pay for it herself, she said.

Then, on July 20, Jacob received the surgery he needed at no cost, thanks to a collaboration between the Burbank-based nonprofit Mending Kids International (MKI) and Cedars-Sinai. He was one of 18 children who benefited from surgeons who volunteered their time and $50,000 in donations for supplies.

Called a “hometown mission,” because it took place in the United States — MKI usually transports doctors abroad — this event served both domestic and international patients. MKI flew kids in from El Salvador, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guatemala and Kenya to undergo procedures at Cedars. 

MKI Executive Director Marchelle Sellers said the organization, which provides surgeries to children worldwide and has in the past brought foreign children to Cedars for treatment, had been questioned in the past about not helping kids in the United States who also need help.

“When we started looking around, we realized that was true. Kids were falling through the cracks,” she said. 

It’s hard to deny the need, even for some families who have insurance. One family helped by the inaugural hometown mission was unable to pay the $5,000 deductible required before their insurance would cover a procedure.

Children from other countries generally are referred to the program by parents, missionaries or visiting medical professionals. During their time in the Los Angeles area, the children stayed with host families who accompanied them to appointments and cared for them before and after their procedures, which were either cosmetic or urological.

Jacob and his mother, who live in Bell Gardens in Los Angeles County, were driven to the surgery and necessary appointments by an MKI sponsor, who helped them through the entire surgical process.

Dr. David Kulber, director of Cedars’ Center for Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and a volunteer with the hometown mission, said the event was partly to give MKI donors a chance to see the organization in action. He called his work with MKI and other charitable foundations “the most gratifying thing I have done as a physician.”

Kulber said one of the biggest challenges is gaining the trust of children from other countries who may be experiencing culture shock after coming to the United States to receive their surgeries. 

“That’s the real challenge … to get them to trust you,” he said. “It’s really about building trust with the child.

“The beauty of medicine is we all speak the same language: It’s about the human body and how to fix it. … [This] trumps any other cultural differences we may have.”

Kulber belongs to Valley Beth Shalom in Encino and believes that his Jewish background has affected his medical philosophy.

“Treating everyone equally without any prejudice is a lot of what Judaism is about,” he said.

Although MKI provides all kinds of surgeries, including cardiac and craniofacial, the July 20 event focused on cosmetic and urological outpatient procedures. Performing these surgeries in the context of MKI can present challenges. 

Dr. Andrew Freedman, director of pediatric urology at Cedars, said many urological procedures traditionally depend on having access to a catheter. If those will not be available to children when they return to other countries, then he must arrange for their drainage to be different. 

“You’re relying on people who work in a very different system. … We can’t put them in a situation where, if something goes wrong, they will get really sick right away.” 

Freedman said he is grateful that MKI is generally “very sensitive” to follow-up issues and he looks forward to more such missions in the future.

“Helping complete strangers from the other side of the world … is very consistent with your Jewish values,” he said. “We hope this becomes a recurring event.”

The procedures may be cosmetic, but many of them will have enormous impacts on children’s lives. One patient could not move an arm because of contractures from burn scars. One boy, who is returning for his second surgery with MKI, had tumors removed from his hands so that he could regain some use of his fingers. 

The tumors and lumps removed from patients often were uncomfortable rather than dangerous, but as in Jacob’s case, the lumps must be removed and biopsied to know for sure.

Addelyn Del Cid, a 6-month-old dressed in pink and sparkling dot earrings, was brought by her family to remove a lump on her leg. Follow-up tests determined that she has a rare condition that currently poses no threat. The family said they would have been unable to afford the procedure otherwise.

The benefits of an MKI procedure can transcend the medical results. 

“We have a boy coming in who has a mass growing on [his] ear, but he is going into kindergarten. … His mom is just desperate for someone to remove it so he does not have to face a childhood of bullying,” MKI’s Sellers said. “Literally an hour in the operating room is the difference between having a normal childhood and one that would be filled with constant teasing.”

Such was the case with Jacob.

“He got bullied a lot,” his mother said, remembering classmates and even family members taunting him about his birthmark.

Castillo is glad that she will not have to spend her entire life worrying that her son might be sick — the biopsy found that Jacob’s mole was benign.

“I am just grateful and blessed we [had] this opportunity,” Castillo said.

Shabbat kits keep Cedars patients connected


Marie Kaufman’s life has been an ongoing struggle to remain connected to Judaism.

A child survivor of the Holocaust, she was hidden by neighborhood children in France from 1942 through 1944. Kaufman’s family was broken up for its own safety — her mother lived with important townspeople, her father took refuge in a cave, and she stayed with non-Jewish families — before being reunited after the war and coming to the United States when Marie was 10.

Now a different challenge threatens to isolate Kaufman, 72, from the Jewish community she cherishes. Amyloidosis, a rare condition in which the buildup of proteins damages the nervous system and internal organs, has kept Kaufman in and out of the hospital for several months, and away from Jewish celebrations and life events, as well as from her work as president of Child Survivors of the Holocaust, Los Angeles.

Luckily, the Jewish community comes to her every Friday morning when she’s at Cedars-Sinai. As part of the program Shabbat Kits (shabbatkits.com), a challah roll, small bottle of grape juice, two battery-operated candles and a bracha (literally, “blessing”) card are delivered to her hospital room at no cost.

“That is so beautiful,” Kaufman exclaimed from her wheelchair on a recent Friday as Jeremie Braun, founder of the program, delivered her weekly kit. “Throughout health, unhealth, it doesn’t stop … you’re still connected to the community.”

Shabbat Kits got its start about six months ago after Braun, 35, began spending a lot of time at Cedars-Sinai to support a close family member suffering from medical problems. During one Shabbat at the hospital, he realized that there must be many other Jewish patients there who wanted to have their own Shabbat but lacked the means to celebrate in a hospital setting. 

“A lot of patients there have little or no family who visit during their stay,” he said.

He spoke with the hospital’s senior rabbi and manager of the spiritual care department, Jason Weiner, who helped him find interested patients, and began the Shabbat Kits program. Michal Braun designed the kits and now coordinates volunteers. Jeremie Braun used $1,800 in donations from family and friends to fund the project and, in the beginning, put the kits together himself. Now he delivers about 50 kits to Jewish patients at Cedars-Sinai every Friday, and puts the kits together on Thursdays with the help of volunteers at his shul, Chabad of South La Cienega.

His budget is $100 per week to make the 50 packages. Braun has a deal with Schwartz Bakery to supply the challah rolls, and Emek Hebrew Academy Teichman Family Torah Center donated the bracha cards. Braun is still searching out more donors and volunteers to expand the program to other hospitals.

The kits do more than help patients, it turns out; they help patients’ families, too. Sherrie Kramer, 66, has been supporting her husband Philip, 81, while he recovers from a subdural hematoma. Since Philip suffered a fall in February, they have spent two long stints in the hospital, first nine weeks and then another four. Sherrie has almost never left her husband’s side and has been staying with him in his hospital room.

Sherrie, who says she usually lights Shabbat candles at home, lit candles in the parking lot during her first Sabbath in the hospital, because she did not know where else it would be safe. She mentioned the experience to an acquaintance, who told her to contact the hospital staff to see what they could do. Now Braun comes to visit every week.

“Such a simple thing makes a big difference,” Sherrie said.

Despite her husband’s brain injury, she said he reached immediately for a candle in the kit. With his wife’s help, Philip turned on the candle and held it against his chest while he rested in his hospital bed.

Kaufman, who said the volunteers who deliver the Shabbat Kits make her feel like she is not lost to the medical system, hopes to recover and return to visit the now-elderly people in France who saved her life. She has visited them five times since 1996. 

Until then, she said, the Shabbat Kits bring her “inspiration and hope.”

Hospitals and community clergy: A match made in Heaven?


I remember the life-and-death confrontation as if it happened yesterday.

An oncologist was trying to deliver painful news to the son of a grievously ill cancer patient. 

“Your mother is actively dying,” the physician said. “I’m not sure if there is a benefit to further aggressive treatment.”

The son shot back: “You must! My rabbi left clear instructions for me to make sure we do everything possible at all costs.” 

The doctor explained that resuscitating the dying woman would only cause her more suffering and would be medically and ethically inappropriate. The son would not listen. He stood up, face to face with the doctor, and said, “You will resuscitate my mother or I will grab your hands and force you to!” 

I recount this story to highlight an all-too-common experience with well-intended clergy members who become involved in medical care, often without fully understanding the implications of their religious or spiritual guidance. This tension was underscored by a fascinating new study in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). It found that terminally ill patients who frequently turned to their religious communities for spiritual support were more likely to pursue aggressive medical interventions at the end of life regardless of the medical appropriateness of the care. These patients also were more likely to die in an ICU and less likely to receive hospice care. 

On the other hand, the study revealed that end-of-life discussions and the provision of spiritual care by medical teams (including doctors, nurses and chaplains) resulted in less aggressive interventions at the end of life, reducing suffering for patients nearing death.

These results warrant discussion. The study’s authors conjecture that support from clergy members in the community can result in such intense treatment because they may not clearly understand biomedical realities. Well-meaning clergy also may hold firm to a belief in miracles, or focus on the sanctity of life, hope and perseverance even as patients endure the most severe suffering.

Spiritual care providers in hospitals frequently advocate on behalf of the infinite value of the lives of the terminally ill and often defend decisions to pursue treatment that may be called “futile.” Judaism, as I see it, obligates us to do everything possible to prolong life. At the same time, it encourages us — out of respect for the sanctity of human life — not to prolong the dying process for a terminal patient who does not want to suffer. We must keep people alive as long as we can unless it is counterbalanced by extreme pain and suffering, at which point Jewish law permits a compassionate response of allowing (but not causing) the death process to occur with appropriate palliative care. This was the ruling of Rav Moshe Feinstein, widely regarded as a leading 20th century authority on Jewish law. Our challenge is to determine when a patient’s treatment has gone from life prolonging to dying prolonging. These decisions are often further complicated by some distrustful clergy who take an “us versus them” attitude toward medical professionals. 

As a rabbi, I appreciate the incredible importance of hope. It gives people the courage to confront challenging circumstances, and can even alter neurochemistry, significantly aiding the healing process. At the same time, as a chaplain working in a hospital, I see how false expectations and excessive irrational optimism can result in unnecessary suffering, self-blame, and leave people unprepared for adversity. 

This is not to say that less aggressive intervention is always ideal, but it turns out that medical professionals aren’t simply trying to save time and money when they counsel against aggressive treatment at the end of life. We know from many studies that physicians themselves are more likely to avoid aggressive treatment and “heroic measures” before they die than are members of the public.

People who work in hospitals know that CPR is rarely as effective at saving the lives of critically ill patients as may be portrayed on prime-time television, and that it can often be a very traumatic experience that does more harm than good. 

Hospital chaplains are attuned to the complicated medical realities at the end of life and are thus essential partners in the decision-making process for patients who value religious input. 

The delicate balancing act between prolonging life and prolonging dying underscores why people should talk to their families and clergy about their medical wishes at the end of life, and put those wishes in writing by completing advance directives or living wills. The JAMA study highlights the absolute necessity for hospital personnel to reach out to community clergy to better collaborate through open and educational dialogue. That’s what we are hoping to facilitate at my hospital, Cedars-Sinai, in the coming year. As we strive to “choose life,” we recognize that, as Ecclesiastes tells us, “There is a time for everything under the heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die.”

Leon Morgenstern, first director of surgery and founder of Center for Healthcare Ethics at Cedars-Si


Dr. Leon Morgenstern, Cedars-Sinai’s inaugural director of surgery and founder of its Center for Healthcare Ethics, died on Dec. 23. He was 93.

Although born in Pittsburgh, Penn., in 1919, Morgenstern considered himself a New Yorker and earned his medical degree from New York University College of Medicine.

Following two years with the U.S. Army Medical Corps, Morgenstern served his internship, fellowship and surgical residency at Queens General Hospital.

Morgenstern came to Los Angeles in 1953, where he worked as a general surgeon and attending physician at Cedars of Lebanon and Mount Sinai. Morgenstern went on to become director of surgery at Cedars of Lebanon, a post he held until 1988, 18 years after Cedars and Mount Sinai merged to become Cedars-Sinai.

In 1995, Morgenstern established Cedars-Sinai’s Center for Healthcare Ethics, which helps patients, caregivers, policymakers and others with the ethics of how best to care for and treat patients as well as how to raise professionals’ awareness of ethics in their practices. He also held several academic appointments during his career, including clinical professor of surgery at UCLA School of Medicine and adjunct professor of ethics at the University of Judaism (now American Jewish University).

“Dr. Morgenstern was not only a brilliant surgeon, he also was our wise counselor, our impeccable visionary and professional, and above all a remarkable, values-driven compassionate physician,” said Dr. Shlomo Melmed, senior vice president for academic affairs at Cedars-Sinai. “His ethical standards will remain indelibly etched on our culture for decades to come.”

Morgenstern is survived by his wife, Laurie Mattlin; sons, David Ethan and Seth August; and five grandchildren.

Cedars-Sinai is planning a memorial in Morgenstern’s honor.

A Chaplain’s calling: ‘It drew me in’


For Rabbi Jason Weiner, his one-year chaplaincy internship at Beth Israel Medical Center New York’s Lower East Side was a not-so-pleasant requirement while he was a rabbinic student at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah.

“I didn’t feel like I had any impact. I didn’t feel like I could really help people,” said Weiner, who is now senior rabbi and manager of spiritual care at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

The feeling changed in 2007, when Weiner, who was serving as assistant rabbi at Young Israel of Century City, was asked to fill in part time at Cedars-Sinai because the hospital’s longtime chaplain, Rabbi Levi Meier, had fallen ill. 

“I quickly began to build confidence in the impact a chaplain could have in people’s lives. I began to realize how appreciative people were, and how fulfilling it was, and how much I was learning and growing. I felt like I was on the front lines of life and death. The intensity of that really drew me in,” he said.

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Cedars-Sinai’s chaplaincy program puts spirituality on the medical charts


Usually, the frantic words, “Someone get the rabbi!” uttered in a hospital room mean only one thing. So Debbie Marcus burst into tears when Rabbi Jason Weiner was summoned to her grandfather’s room at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in July 2008. 

Weiner, then interim Jewish chaplain at Cedars-Sinai, quickly assessed the situation: Albert Rubens, 97, had been brought in with a massive heart attack. Although he was still lucid, it was clear he was not going to make it. 

But even with that devastating news, the rabbi detected that Debbie’s tears were about something more. And he was right. Albert, known to his family as Pop-Pop, had been eager to see Debbie, then 39, get married, but she and her then-fiancé, Marty Marcus, had not set a date for the wedding.

So someone floated an idea: Get married. Right now. 

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Thank you, David Rimoin


There’s a country, I know, out in the sapphire glass heart of the universe, where every sick and ailing child has a likeness: One is of the flesh; the other, of light. One embodies what is; the other, what should have been.

What should have been, what would be, but for the tiny sleight of hand (is it of nature? Or God? Or that thing we call destiny?) that determines who will live and how. Who will thrive and who will hurt. Who will be spared, and who struck.

Every parent of a sick child, I believe, knows about this other country and its beautiful young people. It’s evidence of all that the child has been robbed of — this mirror image untouched by physical or emotional blight. Faced with it, most parents will seek to heal or, if that’s not in the cards, to lessen the child’s suffering; to convince themselves that there’s a larger design that remains incomprehensible; to embrace the perfect wisdom, the “loving kindness” of a creator whose resolve, we have learned, cannot be bent. A few brave or desperate souls, prompted by personal tragedy, raise the banner of war and seek new treatments or even a cure. With one hand, they hold and care for their child; with the other, they wrestle with time and the lack of resources and the indifference of a world that will not rally, not even listen, except out of self-interest.

It’s a rare and precious person who dares challenge the tyranny of chance in this way. But it’s an even rarer and more valiant soul who rejects that tyranny entirely, dismisses the stories about God’s will and “a reason why things happen” and, out of pure compassion and the desire to save the bodies and souls of the innocent and unsuspecting, devotes his life and many talents to correcting nature’s mistakes.

That’s what I learned the first time I met David Rimoin, at a gathering of Iranian Jews in Los Angeles. He was there to speak about the genetic testing he had recently developed for four Iranian-Jewish diseases, how a few drops of saliva and a few hundred dollars could end 3,000 years of a certain kind of suffering, spare every new child and every new family from the ruinous effects of a single genetic mutation. He couldn’t save the already affected, he said with regret, but with a little help from the community, he could ensure that the diseases would be eradicated for future generations.

I refer to him here not by his many titles — doctor of medicine, doctorate in medical genetics, director of the Cedars-Sinai Medical Genetics Institute, a pioneer in research in skeletal disorders and abnormalities who played a pivotal role in developing mass screenings for Tay-Sachs disease and other heritable disorders — but by his name alone, because, strange as this may sound, given the enormity of his contributions to humanity, the man was much greater than his work.

The gathering I mentioned was called not by Iranian Jews, who stood to benefit from the testing, but by David Rimoin and his team at Cedars. He was concerned that too few Iranians were being tested and wanted to learn why. From his experience with Tay-Sachs, he realized the importance of education. He knew that fear — of learning one has the disease, or of social stigma — played a pivotal role in any decision about being screened. With Dr. Michael Taback, his partner in the Tay-Sachs project, he spoke of the way in which the Orthodox Jewish community has conquered those issues, and he asked his Iranian audience for ideas that might be similarly effective. And he did all this with the same gentle modesty and generosity of heart, the same absence of judgment or arrogance, the same subtle determination and quiet empathy for which his colleagues and patients, his friends and his staff, and those, like me, with whom he crossed paths all too briefly, had come to know him.

And there I was, watching and listening and wondering why. Why was an American doctor of Canadian origin, an Ashkenazi Jew who had already made his mark in a much larger community, interested in saving Iranian Jews? I realized he was also working on some 20-plus hereditary illnesses found mostly among the Ashkenazim. But why give so much of his life to 100 or 2,000 Iranians when there were millions of others — people of Mediterranean origin, Finns, Haitians, Indians and African-Americans — with genetic diseases particular to their populations? There’s no celebrity factor, no high-profile funding, no media interest, even, in Iranian-Jewish diseases. So if the mountain should be climbed just because it’s there, why not select a taller, more recognizable peak?

I asked Dr. Rimoin this question once, and asked again, at a similar gathering a year later. Each time, he smiled politely and changed the subject back to what needed to be done. He was still planning a major public outreach, exploring an arrangement through which the entire cost of testing would be subsidized, and I was still wondering why — why us? — when he passed away late last month. Only then did it dawn on me that the answer had been obvious all along; that it was so patent and honest, so truly unselfish, I had looked right through it:

“It’s not only because the mountain is there,” Dr. Rimoin might have told me, “it’s because I’m here.”

By then, I had already realized that I wasted too much time trying to understand a man who was unlike most. I had asked too many questions and offered too little gratitude. That if I had been able to speak with the voice of our entire community, on behalf not only of the living but of all the future generations of Iranian Jews everywhere in the world, I would have said only this to David Rimoin:

Thank you. For what you gave of yourself and what you took away from the otherwise awesome legacy of Jews everywhere. Thank you for that river of light that, because of your efforts, now glows where once there was only darkness and pain. For the legions of children who will walk alongside it through every dawn and every sunset from here after, their bodies intact and luminous, in this universe and in the other.

A memorial service will be held for Dr. Rimoin on June 11 at 4 p.m. at the Harvey Morse Auditorium at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Gina Nahai is an author and a professor of creative writing at USC whose column appears monthly in The Journal. She can be reached at ginabnahai.com.

Dr. David Rimoin, pioneering geneticist, dies at 75


Dr. David Rimoin, a pioneering physician and researcher in the field of medical genetics, died May 27, 2012 at the age of 75.

Rimoin succumbed after a private battle with pancreatic cancer.

Colleagues and friends, many of whom were not aware of his sudden diagnosis, reacted with shock.

“We have lost a giant in the field of medicine,” said an official statement from the Cedars Sinai board of directors. “His medical contributions will continue to bring healing for generations.”

“David Rimoin was a magnificent scientist and physician whose contributions were global in scale,” said Thomas M. Priselac, president and CEO of Cedars-Sinai. “The arrival of David and his team in 1986 represented an essential element of the foundation on which Cedars-Sinai’s academic mission has grown and flourished over the years. His kindness and his grace were without equal.”

Dr. Rimoin held the Steven Spielberg Family Chair in Pediatrics and was Director of the Medical Genetics Institute at Cedars Sinai Medical Center.  He was also Professor of Pediatrics, Medicine and Human Genetics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. At Cedars, he conducted groundbreaking research into dwarfism and skeletal dysplasia.  His 1970 demonstration that diabetes mellitus was the reflection of multiple genetic variants laid the foundation for the field of common disease genetics.  His 1983 textbook, Emery and Rimoins Principles and Practice of Medical Genetics remains a classic in the field.  Dr. Rimoin published over 400 articles in peer-reviewed journals.

David Rimoin was born in 1936 in Montreal, Canada.  He earned his PhD from McGill Medical School in 1961, and received his PhD in human genetics in 1967 from Johns Hopkins.

In 1970 he arrived in LA, where he built the division of human genetics first at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, then at Cedars Sinai.

Also in 1970, Dr. Rimoin recruited Dr. Michael Kaback, who discovered enzyme screening for the deadly disease Tay Sachs, a hereditary disease among Ashkenazi Jews. Rimoin and Kaback instituted Tay Sachs screening first in California, then throughout the Jewish world, and the incidence of Tay Sachs has been reduced by 90 percent.

Among his initiatives, Dr. Rimoin launched and directed the Cedars-Sinai Persian Jewish Genetics Screening Program in 2009, focusing on detecting genetic diseases in that community, which numbers some 20,000 in the Los Angeles area.

In a 2010 interview with Dr. Norman Lavin for The Jewish Journal’s ” title=”Dr. Kaback said” target=”_blank”>Dr. Kaback said of his longtime colleague and friend at a 2010 ceremony honoring Dr. Rimoin with the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American College of Medical Genetics Foundation.

In a 2002 interview for the Oral History of Human Genetics Collection, Dr. Rimoin reflected on his own contributions to the field.

“What I really enjoy is putting people together and making these organizations work,” he said, “and making genetics a true specialty, which I’ve been fortunate to play a part in.”

“David had so much success,” said his wife of 32 years, Ann Garber Rimoin, Dr. Ph., in a statement, “but he was the most incredibly humble person, except when it came to bragging about his kids and supporting his family. He was wise, knew how to laugh, especially at himself, and he was the kindest man any of us knew – he showed us that kindness is the most important quality in a father, husband, friend and doctor.”

Dr. Rimoin, who lived in Beverly Hills, is survived by his wife Ann, his daughters Anne Rimoin, Ph.D.,M.P.H., and Lauren Rimoin, and his son Michael Rimoin.

The family is planning a private funeral and a public memorial. 

For the official Cedars-Sinai obituary,

David L. Rimoin, MD, PhD, director of the Cedars-Sinai Medical Genetics Institute, dies at 75


David L. Rimoin, MD, PhD,  director of the Cedars-Sinai Medical Genetics Institute, a pioneer in research in skeletal disorders and abnormalities who played a pivotal role in developing mass screenings for Tay-Sachs and other heritable disorders, died early Sunday in Los Angeles. He was 75. 

Rimoin, Cedars-Sinai’s Steven Spielberg Family Chair in Pediatrics, died after a diagnosis of Stage 4 pancreatic cancer in early May. 

Beloved throughout the academic medical world as a mentor who demonstrated model dedication, compassion, kindness, humor and personal balance to colleagues and dozens and dozens of physicians and scientists, many of whom would become leaders in the field, Rimoin was just the second member of his extended family to go to college.

He became a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, a Master in the American College of Physicians and an Honorary Life member of Little People of America. From 1979 to 1983, Rimoin served as founding president of the American Board of Medical Genetics, formed to improve the standards of care in the area of medical genetics.

Rimoin, a longtime Beverly Hills resident who was a devoted husband and father, is survived by his wife, Ann, and three children. While his funeral will be closed, planning is under way for a public memorial. 

“David Rimoin was a magnificent scientist and physician whose contributions were global in scale,” said Thomas M. Priselac, president and CEO of Cedars-Sinai. “The arrival of David and his team in 1986 represented an essential element of the foundation on which Cedars-Sinai’s academic mission has grown and flourished over the years. His kindness and his grace were without equal.”

Working with Michael M. Kaback, MD, Rimoin played a fundamental role in developing mass screenings for Tay-Sachs, a rare and fatal genetic disorder that affected the Ashkenazi Jewish population in the United States and Israel. The Tay-Sachs testings were the first large-scale genetic screening and have virtually eliminated the disease.

“We have lost a giant in medicine,” said Lawrence B. Platt, chair of the Cedars-Sinai Board of Directors. “For those of us who had the great fortune of having David in our lives, we have lost a cherished friend. David touched the lives of so many people in such significant ways that his passing leaves a void that will never be filled.”

For 18 years prior to founding the Medical Genetics Institute in 2004, Rimoin served as chair of the Cedars-Sinai Department of Pediatrics. Before joining Cedars-Sinai in 1986, Rimoin served as chief of the Division of Medical Genetics at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. He also was director of the Genetics Clinic at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Rimoin’s primary research focused on medical genetics, specifically short stature and skeletal dysplasias – a group of disorders associated with abnormalities in the size and shape of the limbs, torso and skull – as well as heritable disorders of connective tissue. He founded and directed the International Skeletal Dysplasia Registry, the largest such registry in the world and wrote a primary textbook, “Emery and Rimoin’s Principles and Practices of Medical Genetics,” now in its sixth edition. 

Rimoin also established the GenRISK Adult Genetics Program at Cedars-Sinai in 1986, committed to providing comprehensive risk assessment for a variety of adult onset diseases including cancer, heart disease, diabetes and stroke. Recently, Rimoin designed a unique genetic screening program to test for four common inherited disorders within the Persian Jewish population including anesthesia sensitivity, a salt-losing disorder, a multiple hormone deficiency and hereditary muscle disorder.

He also was working on ways that state-of-the-art technology could expand the access and convenience while reducing the costs of key medical genetics tests.

“David was a prince of academic medicine,” said Shlomo Melmed, MB, ChB, Cedars-Sinai’s senior vice president for Academic Affairs, dean of the Medical Faculty and the Helene A. and Philip E. Hixon Chair in Investigative Medicine. “He was the trailblazer for integrating translational science with clinical care and epitomized this vision and leadership for Cedars-Sinai and the nation.”

Born in Montreal, Canada in 1936, Rimoin earned his bachelor’s degree with honors from McGill University in Montreal in 1957 and his medical and master of science in genetics degrees from McGill University in 1961. While attending McGill, Rimoin secured his first job in genetics:  Examining female lab mice to determine whether they were pregnant – a job so unusual that he often joked he should appear on the TV game show “What’s My Line?” 

After two years of internship and residency at the Royal Victoria in Montreal, Rimoin moved to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore to complete his medical residency. There he earned a PhD in medical genetics and began his work with Victor McKusick, widely regarded as the “father of medical genetics.” Rimoin also began there his studies in the hereditary aspects of endocrine disorders, including diabetes mellitus, growth-hormone-deficient states and dwarfism.

A chance encounter with a young, short-statured woman during consultations on the wards at Johns Hopkins launched his research into skeletal disorders and abnormalities. His research on that and other topics took him around the world, working with circus performers, pygmies in Africa, the Navajo and other distinctive groups.  He was an avid traveler throughout his life—an enthusiasm he shared readily with others.

In 1986, to back in a big way the work Rimoin led at Cedars-Sinai’s Medical Genetics Institute, dozens of dedicated supporters launched the Sports Spectacular, an annual event that over the years has honored the elite of the athletic world such as Muhammad Ali, the U.S. women’s hockey team, John Wooden and Blake Griffin. Sports Spectacular has raised more than $21 million, with one of the largest sums going to support fellows who will become tomorrow’s outstanding medical leaders, researchers and physicians. 

Rimoin, a beach- and pool-lover who also was a dedicated gym-goer, expressed his gratitude often for the support he received, especially from the sports community, which in one of its many humor-laden fund-raisers paused to bestow a surprise honor on him. Kobe Bryant praised Rimoin for doing “the impossible” and called him and his medical colleagues a “blessing.” In typical fashion, Rimoin deflected attention from himself when accepting his award, instead, pointing out that he was honored that his mentor, McKusick, was present at the event.

“David had so much success but he was the most incredibly humble person, except when it came to bragging about his kids and supporting his family,” said his wife, Ann. “He was wise, knew how to laugh, especially at himself, and he was the kindest man any of us knew – he showed us that kindness is the most important quality in a father, husband, friend and doctor.”

Irving Feintech, real estate developer and past Cedars-Sinai board chair, 92


Irving Feintech, real estate developer, philanthropist and past Cedars-Sinai board chair, died on Feb. 5. He was 92.

Feintech was born Nov. 11, 1918, in Des Moines, Iowa, and moved to Los Angeles as a child with his parents, Abraham and Ida, and his siblings, Norman and Celia.

A graduate of Southwestern Law School, Feintech started the Liberty Building Company with his brother in the late 1940s, and together with Nathan Shapell, they developed Porter Ranch in the northwest San Fernando Valley.

In 1948, Feintech became involved with Mount Sinai Hospital, where his brother, Norman, was president. He served as joint conference committee chair during the hospital’s decade-long merger process with Cedars of Lebanon, which started in 1961.

“It was just not easy at the time,” Feintech told The Journal in a 2002 interview. “It was going to cost us $130 million. We had to find out how we were going to get that money.

“Before we went to the banks, we had to show that we had the community’s support,” he said. “Ultimately, the community felt it was necessary. We didn’t need two hospitals going after the same money.”

On Nov. 5, 1972, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center held the official groundbreaking for its 1.6 million-square-foot, 1,120-bed hospital.

Feintech, who served as Cedars-Sinai board chair from 1993 to 1995, co-chaired the medical center’s Campaign for the 21st Century, a $180 million initiative to support new buildings and programs that ended in 2004, with Robert Silverstein. The pair worked together at Cedars-Sinai for more than 56 years and are the only two people ever elected to permanent seats on the Cedars-Sinai board of directors.

A member of The Music Center’s board and the West Coast chairman’s council for the American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Feintech also supported numerous causes through the Feintech Family Foundation. Shane’s Inspiration, The Heart Foundation, St. John’s College, the Skirball Cultural Center and the USC Shoah Foundation Institute were among the many causes close to Feintech’s heart.

He also took delight in his role as an investment partner at Spago Beverly Hills, where he regularly dined and celebrated with family and friends.

Feintech is survived by his daughters, Wendy and Lisa; grandchildren, Alexandra and Jordan Pinkus; nieces, Lynn and Vivien; nephew, Michael; and sister-in-law, Evelyn.

Services were held Feb. 9 at Hillside Memorial Park. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be sent to The Heart Foundation at Cedars-Sinai (theheartfoundation.com).

Cedars Receives Unexpected Donation for Pediatric Care


After sitting idly in the hands of the state for five years, a bequest of $100,000 designated to help mentally challenged and blind Jewish children was turned over to Cedars-Sinai’s Maxine Dunitz Children’s Health Center in December.

The donation, which has been named the Beatrice Mazure Fund in honor of the donor, will be used primarily to care for children in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

“We plan to use the funds from the bequest to provide operational support toward preventing, diagnosing and treating common neurological problems in premature infants and children of Jewish faith,” said Dr. Charles F. Simmons, a chair of neonatology in the department of pediatrics at Cedars-Sinai Hospital.

The funds were turned over to the state after a bank was unable to find a charity that matched the wording in the bequest, which called for the donation to benefit “blind and retarded Jewish children.” 

Last year, a representative from the state attorney general’s office contacted Cedars-Sinai with the goal of matching the money to an appropriate organization.

Representatives from Cedars-Sinai said the call was totally unexpected.

“We didn’t know anything about the donor,” said Ellen Cheney, a senior development officer for the hospital. “[She] had no connection to Cedars.”

After completing an application process and waiting nearly a year, the hospital received the decision to hand the funds over from a state court on Dec. 9, 2010.

Cedars’ mission doesn’t directly match the designation in the bequest, however babies in the NICU have an increased risk of developing neurological problems, as well as a higher risk for a disease that can lead to blindness.

“One of the most common causes of blindness in childhood is called retinopathy of prematurity,” said Simmons. “Cedars has been at the forefront of finding ways to minimize instances of that disorder in our most premature babies, and this wonderful opportunity makes it likely that we can be even more effective.”

In that sense, the funds will address the concerns laid out in the bequest by providing preventive care. According to Simmons, the department hopes to purchase imaging tools as well as provide increased funding for staff.

Cheney says that credit for linking the money to Cedars-Sinai should go to the state representatives who first reached out to the hospital.

“The office has this Robin Hood mentality, of finding money like this and getting [it] to deserving charities,” she said.

The Circuit: 25th Annual Sports Spectacular


The 25th Annual Sports Spectacular raised $1.2 million for the Cedars-Sinai Medical Genetics Institute on May 23 at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza. Honorees included tennis legend Pete Sampras, who received the Lifetime Achievement Award; Olympic gold medalist Apolo Ohno; NBA All-Star Carmelo Anthony; the L.A. Dodgers; and the New Orleans Saints.


First baseman James Loney accepts on behalf of the L.A. Dodgers.


Singer Carrie Underwood on the red carpet.


New Orleans’ Reggie Bush


Speed skater Apolo Ohno accepts his award.


From left: Pete Sampras, emcee Snoop Dogg and presenter Luke Wilson hang out backstage.

Cedars-Sinai studies liver transplants for HIV patients


Although he was diagnosed as HIV-positive in 1991, Brent Carrillo had been well enough to pursue careers in custom stone and tile installation and interior design with relatively few health setbacks. A lifelong resident of Burbank, Carrillo moved to Portland in 2005 to enjoy a home set on half an acre of forested land.

But right about that time, a blood test revealed that Carrillo had elevated liver enzymes. He was diagnosed with Hepatitis C, but the medication he was prescribed made Carrillo’s blood so thin that he had to discontinue taking it. His condition worsened, and in the fall of 2007, Carrillo’s doctor said his liver would cease functioning in about a year.

“The doctor said there was nothing more they could do,” Carrillo said. “He didn’t give me any options.”

Like Carrillo, many others with HIV are living decades after their diagnosis, thanks to the development in the mid-90s of a new class of AIDS drugs, which drastically slow the progression of the virus. But while the threat posed by infection has declined, the danger of organ failure has become more likely.

“As treatment has improved, patients are not dying of HIV complications but from liver disease and cirrhosis complications,” says Dr. Nicholas N. Nissen, assistant surgical director of the Multi-Organ Transplant Program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s Center for Liver Diseases and Transplantation. “Individuals with HIV should know that, despite excellent control, liver disease and liver cancer are increasingly likely.”

Carrillo, 46, had resigned himself to the idea of having a year to live, but his mother, Sandy, was unwilling to accept such a fate for her son. While scouring the Internet for information, she found a study involving liver transplantation for individuals with HIV. One of the study locations was Cedars-Sinai.

The medical center is participating in a National Institutes of Health-sponsored clinical trial to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of liver transplantation among HIV-positive patients. Cedars-Sinai is one of only 11 hospitals in the country and two in the state participating in the study. The other California facility, University of California San Francisco Medical Center, is also studying the effectiveness of kidney transplantation in HIV-positive patients.

“This is a tremendously important question,” Nissen said. “Patients ill enough to be a candidate for liver transplantation are out of other options. This is the best and sometimes only option they have.”

Nissen says that many transplant centers have been reluctant to perform transplants in HIV-positive patients with liver failure because little is known about how they fare afterwards. In addition, it had been assumed that the immune-suppressing medications required for an organ transplant would “allow HIV to run wild.”

Patients who are part of the study have agreed to be monitored for effects of the transplant and immuno-suppression drugs for five years following their transplant. As with any liver transplant recipient, their status on the waiting list for an organ is based on a numerical score determined by medical tests.

“Liver transplantation is a well-established procedure,” Nissen said. “We are not comparing two types of therapy, as is often done in a clinical trial. Rather, we are evaluating how these patients do when transplanted.”

Patients admitted to the study must have a strong enough immune system and no severe infections or malignancies. Carrillo underwent a series of tests to assess his health status before being accepted to the study.

An earlier study published this year in The American Journal of Transplantation concluded that liver transplantation was “an option for selected HIV-infected patients cared for at centers with adequate expertise.” However, it involved only 11 patients. The current, multicenter study will follow 125 liver transplant patients and publish findings next year.

The biggest challenge, Nissen says, is integrating the combination of medicines this group of patients requires after transplant. The combination includes those designed to prevent organ rejection along with medications addressing HIV and other recurrent disease. “It’s not just the transplant itself, but the effect of medication on HIV…. Any change in medication would require involving [a team of] physicians.”

Cedars-Sinai has assumed some risk by being part of the trial since the hospital’s overall liver transplant results — available online to the public — could be negatively affected were the HIV positive group to show poor results.

Carrillo is glad the hospital was willing to take that risk. His condition had been deteriorating since he was accepted into the study in January. On Sept. 10, he received a new liver, and was discharged from the hospital a week later.

He says he has more energy and feels like “a whole new person.”

“This has given me another 20 or 30 years that I didn’t know I would have,” Carrillo said. “My brother has two young children, and now I have hope of seeing them grow up.”

Cancer gives musician a new song


This time, Charlie Lustman hadn’t come to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center for medical tests or to endure another round of chemotherapy. Despite having lost three-quarters of his jawbone, Lustman had come to celebrate, to inspire — and to sing.

Lustman was at the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute’s Cancer Survivors Day program to officially launch “Made Me Nuclear,” the album he wrote, arranged, produced and performed. The 12-song compilation chronicles his cancer odyssey, from receiving the diagnosis to experiencing chemotherapy-induced forgetfulness to feeling grateful to those who supported him along the way. The songs range from poignant ballads contemplating mortality to the humorous title song about being injected with a radioactive substance for a diagnostic imaging procedure: “Yes they put me through the scans/Now I’m a subatomic man/I’m a human mobile phone….”

“This is the first ever pop album about cancer,” said Lustman, 43, who decided to create “Made Me Nuclear” a year to the day after receiving his diagnosis. “There is no other album which directly speaks to the cancer experience.”

Lustman completed the album on March 1 — exactly two years after being diagnosed. Next month, he will begin performing a theatrical adaptation of “Made Me Nuclear” at the Santa Monica Playhouse. The one-man show combines songs with dramatizations of Lustman’s experience. He hopes to tour nationally beginning next year.

Lustman’s cancer odyssey began when he noticed a small bump on his gum. His dentist couldn’t identify it, nor could his periodontist, who ordered a biopsy just to be safe.

The bump turned out to be osteosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. Lustman’s specific form of the disease is diagnosed in only about 30 people a year nationwide, according to Dr. Charles Forscher, Lustman’s oncologist and medical director of the Sarcoma Center at the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute.

“I’m an extremely lucky man. Statistically, I’m supposed to have won Super Lotto three times before getting this,” Lustman said. “I turned the statistic into something positive and realized that my whole purpose … was to make a difference in the world and help other people affected by this disease or other hardship. I just had to go through a two-year journey through cancer to come out on the other side.”

The journey included surgery at UCLA’s Head and Neck Institute, which entailed the removal of half of his jaw. After the surgery, Lustman and his wife, Ri, who was pregnant with the couple’s second child, had to wait 10 days for tests to reveal whether all the cancer had been eliminated. It hadn’t, so Lustman underwent a second surgery. The couple endured another 10-day waiting period, and this time the results were clear.

Lustman then returned to Cedars-Sinai for a year of supplemental chemotherapy to destroy any remaining cancer cells. He had timed the chemo sessions around his wife’s due date, but the baby arrived five weeks early. So Lustman went from having chemo in the hospital’s basement to the third floor Labor and Delivery to witness the birth of his daughter, Gita.

After he completed chemotherapy, Lustman received a prosthetic mouth piece, which enables him to speak and sing.

A Santa Monica resident, Lustman grew up in Beverly Hills. He graduated from the Berklee College of Music in Boston with a degree in television and film scoring. After writing commercial music in New York, he spent multiyear stints in Denmark performing and writing songs for Scandinavian artists.

In 1998, Lustman purchased and renovated the Silent Movie Theatre on Fairfax Avenue, which he operated until 2006. He had begun work on “Shaya,” an album about his young son, and was planning to sell the theater in order to focus on his musical career. Cancer expedited the process.

“When you get that kind of diagnosis, you realize you might not have a lot of time on the planet,” he said.

The son of a Holocaust survivor, Lustman drew parallels between his own experience and his father’s.

“When I got my head shaved at the beginning, I felt my father in the camp,” he said. “And when I couldn’t eat anything solid for three months because they had removed most of my upper jaw … I felt what it was like to just have soup… All the pain and all the suffering that my family endured watching me suffer…. It was a very deep suffering that I had never experienced before.”

But here at the July 31st Cancer Survivors Day celebration, the suffering seems like a distant memory.

Dressed in white tennis shoes, white pants and a white shirt emblazoned with his album’s purple nucleus logo, Lustman addressed the audience gathered at Cedars-Sinai — some currently battling cancer and others who have completed treatment. “The [time] here has changed me into something different — something better.”

For more information about Charlie Lustman’s album or performances, visit www.mademenuclear.com

Dinner of Champions; Really N-Ice Camp


Dinner of Champions

Maccabi Team Los Angeles held its gala awards dinner “A Night of Maccabi Champions” on Jan. 20 at the Universal Hilton. Cohosted by the New JCC at Milken, the event honored Jerry Bobrow, Landon Lerner and the outstanding athletes from the 2006 JCC Maccabi Games.
The occasion — made possible by dinner chairs Linda and Hal Sandler along with JCC assistant executive director Michael Jeser — highlighted Bobrow’s contribution to the JCC Maccabi Games as chairman of the organizing committee for 18 years.

Since Bobrow — who has authored more than 100 top-selling test-preparation books and coached basketball and baseball teams — became chairman in 1988, more than 3,000 Los Angeles Jewish teenagers have been involved with the games. One of those former players is Lerner, who received the Barry Sandler Memorial Award for his dedication to baseball and to his education.

Many in the ballroom shared Lerner’s sentiment about Bobrow when he said, “Without you, this doesn’t happen.” The current first-year student at Southwestern University of Law spent four years playing for Team Los Angeles and one year for Team USA in the Pan American Maccabi in Chile, winning gold medals in all those competitions.
Among the athletes, coaches and relatives in attendance were master of ceremonies Fred Roggin from NBC4, Los Angeles City Councilman Dennis Zine, Olympic gold medalist Lenny Krayzelberg and former Dodger Steve Yeager.

The outstanding athletes in baseball, basketball, soccer, softball, swimming, table tennis, tennis and track and field included: Jacob Adler, Josh Albert, Bradley Bernet, Brett Berns, Dara Deaton, Michelle Fassberg, Justin Fredlender, Amanda Gard, Jaclyn Gersh, James Goldstein, Matthew Graditor, Spencer Horowitz, Brandon Katz, Adam Landecker, Alexander Lichtenberg, Carly London, Danielle Mofsowitz, Allison Schneider, Lindsay Schwartz, Ben Sperling, Sam Stapleton and Lisa Zeitlin. Swimmer Alex Fullman received the JCC Maccabi Leadership Award.

— Sara Bakhshian, Contributing Writer

Really N-ice Camp

Children with special needs enjoyed four days at the Friendship Circle’s annual Winter Camp 2006. The kids participated in trips to Big Fun Gymnasium, the California Science Center and the Valley Ice Center, where many of them had their first opportunity to be on ice.

It’s A First I

Dr. Jeffrey N. Wilkins received the Lincy Foundation/Andrew Heyward-Amy Moynihan Endowed Chair in Addiction Medicine at Cedars-Sinai on Jan. 24. Wilkins is the inaugural holder of the chair, which will fund research and teaching efforts focused on the causes of and treatments for addiction.

Wilkins is vice chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences, as well as director of Addiction Medicine at Cedars-Sinai.

“The endowed chair we inaugurate today will shine the light of science on the mysteries of addiction,” said John C. Law, chairman of the board of directors, during his opening remarks at the event. “In our time, the understanding of this disease will grow. It will evolve into new approaches and treatments. Fewer lives will be damaged and fewer hearts will be broken.”

The chair is funded jointly by the Lincy Foundation, a nonprofit formed by Kirk Kerkorian’s company Tracinda Corporation; Andrew Heyward, chairman and chief executive officer of DIC Entertainment; and Amy Moynihan, vice president of marketing at the Los Angeles Times.

It’s A First II

Spencer Lord was named recipient of the inaugural Jack H. Skirball Community Justice Award bestowed by Bet Tzedek-The House of Justice, a Los Angeles-based provider of free legal services to the elderly, low income and disabled.

The honor was presented Jan. 31 at the 19th annual Bet Tzedek dinner gala at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza. Lord has been a Bet Tzedek staff paralegal for the past 18 years, and has spent more than two decades in the U.S. Army. He developed significant expertise in Social Security, veterans and other public benefits programs. Lord is one of only 10 advocates in the United States certified by the Veterans Administration to provide hearing and appellate representation to veterans.

Mitchell A. Kamin, Bet Tzedek’s president and CEO, applauded Lord’s dedication: “Spencer’s selection as the first recipient of this new award is a wholly fitting tribute. He exemplifies not only the best values of Bet Tzedek, but of Jack Skirball as well: humility, loyalty and service to others.”

Back the Badge

Bone marrow match still sought for rabbinical student — can you help?


The urgent search for a suitable bone marrow transplant donor for University of Judaism rabbinical student Joel Shickman, 37, stricken with AML, a form of leukemia in early February, continues.

Shickman’s family is encouraging people to register with the National Bone Marrow Program, especially those of Ashkenazi (Eastern European) descent who have a greater likelihood of providing a match.

Information regarding testing, which involves providing a small blood sample or swab of cheek cells, is available at www.marrow.org or by calling 800-627-7692.

In the Los Angeles area, bone marrow drives are scheduled for February 27 and March 3. In addition, testing is being done in Culver City on March 10 and in North Hills on March 11.

Shickman has just completed a second round of chemotherapy and doctors are keeping him comfortable while they watch for infections and other side effects. In a few weeks, a biopsy will be done to determine if the leukemia has gone into remission. Once that occurs, a bone marrow transport will be performed, pending the discovery of a suitable donor.

In the meantime, Shomrei Torah Synagogue in West Hills, where Shickman teaches and leads services, has established a fund to help with healthcare and related expenses. Additionally, the University of Judaism community, under the direction of Rabbis Cheryl Peretz and Shawn Fields-Meyer, has initiated a Mishnah study in honor of Shickman’s health.

Shickman’s wife, Heather, writing on a Cedars-Sinai CarePages blog, has expressed thanks for the community’s involvement: “I cannot express the gratitude I feel for everyone who has been helping me and for everyone who is signed up to continue helping. Joel and I are awed by God’s miracles and blessings that we receive daily from each of you.”In addition, Shickman, who is married and the father of threesons, is regularly receiving blood and platelet transfusions. Those wishing tohelp can schedule an appointment at the Cedars-Sinai Blood Donor Facility to givea directed donation by calling 310-423-5326.Shomrei Torah Synagogue inWest Hills, where Shickman teaches and leads services, has established a fundto help with healthcare and related expenses. Additionally, the University ofJudaism community, under the direction of Rabbis Cheryl Peretz and ShawnFields-Meyer, has initiated a Mishnah study in honor of Shickman’s health.— Jane Ulman, Contributing WriterToread about Joel Shickman on the Cedars-Sinai CarePages blog “HereForJoel,”click: http://www.carepages.com/ServeCarePage?cpn=HereForJoel&seed=883673&ClusterNodeID=jb03&tlcx1=defaultInaddition, a webpage has been set up on www.lotsahelpinghands.comfor people to assist the Shickman family with childcare, meals, cleaningservices and other care.To participate in prayer and study groups, remotelyor on-site at University of Judaism, contact Rabbi Cheryl Peretz at cperetz@uj.edu or Rabbi ShawnFields-Meyer at shawn@fields-meyer.comTo donate to the Shickman Health Fund, pleasemake your checks payable to Shomrei Torah Synagogue and put Shickman HealthFund on the memo line. Mail to Shomrei Torah Synagogue, 7353 Valley Circle Blvd.,West Hills, CA 91304 (Attn: Shickman Health Fund).

Troubled teens turn to Teen Line and its Leader


Every night for the last 27 years, teenagers who need to talk have been able to find an understanding ear at Teen Line, a confidential phone hotline staffed by highly trained teenage volunteer listeners.

The calls reflect every manner of teen suffering and angst, from mundane worries about dating and friendships to life-threatening encounters with drugs, suicide, eating disorders and child abuse.

Although the voice at the other end of the phone is always that of a young person, the driving force behind Teen Line is Elaine Leader, a 79-year-old great-grandmother with a British accent and a propensity for hats and oversized costume jewelry.

As the co-founder and executive director of Teen Line, the London-born Leader, who holds a doctorate from the California Institute for Clinical Social Work, knows more about Los Angeles’ teenagers than most. For nearly three decades, Leader has established herself as a tireless champion for Teen Line and the often-voiceless population it serves.

“When I see somebody in pain, I feel like I must reach out to help,” Leader said.

She can recite the suicides of dozens of young people in Los Angeles as if she knew them all. She helps train school counselors and police officers alike in dealing with young people in crisis. She can tell you which drugs are in vogue at which high schools, and why there is an apparent epidemic of young people cutting themselves.

The organization’s youthful army of listeners must complete a rigorous 60-hour training program, and they work under the constant supervision of mental health professionals. But the essence of Teen Line is the unwavering belief that teenagers will talk with each other more honestly and comfortably than they will with adults.

Last year Teen Line’s high school-aged volunteers handled 6,666 phone calls and 1,750 e-mails, for a total of 8,416 teen-to-teen contacts. The Cedars-Sinai-affiliated group’s volunteers made 215 educational presentations to schools and organizations in 2006, reaching some 36,000 young people.

In the early years, and to some extent today, the listeners were predominantly culled from privileged backgrounds and attended high schools on the Westside. Although there are exceptions, those kids have always tended to be the ones with the time — and the reliable means of transportation — to devote so many volunteer hours to the cause.

In addition to its Westside offices, a new Teen Line call center in Reseda, which opened last spring, is likely to increase the diversity of Teen Line’s volunteers, and Leader hopes it will also help the organization provide more specific referrals to callers from the Valley. A third call center in Riverside is also in the works, Leader said.

“We are expanding because teens from all over want to be involved,” Leader said. “They want to be able to take calls.”

In addition to Teen Line, Leader runs a successful private practice in adolescent psychotherapy and group therapy from her Beverlywood home. And many Teen Line volunteers are Leader’s own patients; they say talking to others about their experiences helps them to heal.

Leader is particularly passionate in her advocacy for gay, lesbian and transgender teenagers, whom she will insistently remind you are three to four times more likely to attempt or commit suicide than straight teens.

Alyn Libman was one of them. A 22-year-old transgender man, Libman says he became suicidal because of the harassment and abuse he suffered in middle school and high school.

As a 13-year-old, before Libman told anyone else about his struggles, he called Teen Line. He had seen the brochures in his middle school guidance counselor’s office. “The first time I called I hung up, and the second time I ended up talking to someone for about an hour,” Libman said. “I spoke to someone named Michael. I told him, I think I’m gay, and I’m just afraid to come out. I told him I was contemplating suicide.”

“He just listened. It was very helpful. It was someone I could talk to, and they weren’t judging me,” recalled Libman, now an undergraduate at UC Berkeley. “It was very legitimizing.”

After a failed suicide attempt in ninth grade, Libman met Leader by chance at a conference for gay youth. He told her about having called Teen Line, and she recruited him to speak at outreach programs about gay and lesbian teens.

“It really touched my heart to know that an adult, an older adult, thought the lives of teenagers and youths were important,” Libman said.

“You look at her and you think about this proper British grandmother, and you can’t imagine the kinds of people she helps, and the people whose rights she stands up for,” Libman said. “She’s a very safe person to talk to. You just want to hug her and cry.”

Leader says she’s had gay friends for decades — longer than most people her age have known anyone who was out about being gay. “I was a socialist when I was in high school during the war,” she recalled. “I was always for the underdog, and the gay people were the underdog.”

Having spent her own adolescence during World War II, with the family split between New York and London, Leader says she identifies completely with the unsettled feelings common among teenagers.

Leader attributes her relentless drive to help people to the philanthropic example her father set for her in the years before World War II. “I think some of this comes from my father,” Leader says one evening in the Teen Line call center, in a rare display of personal emotion.

An early Zionist, her father worked behind the scenes from London in the late 1930s to help establish a Jewish state in Palestine. A self-made businessman, he convinced a non-Jewish friend with a big estate outside of London to harbor young Jewish men from Germany and Austria, where they would train for the Hagganah, the underground Army that would eventually win Israel’s independence.

“He took these young men out to this country estate. I was 8 or 9 years old. I remember seeing them marching up and down with broomsticks, training for the Hagganah,” she said. “There were 50 or 60 of them, and he had saved their lives.”

Community Briefs


U.S. Theaters Pull Controversial Turkish film
Click on big arrow to see ‘Valley of the Wolves’ trailer

A Turkish film featuring a venal, bloodstained Jewish doctor has been mysteriously withdrawn from screening in the United States.

In “Valley of the Wolves: Iraq,” American actor Gary Busey portrays a Jewish U.S. Army doctor who cuts out the organs of Iraqis at Abu Ghraib prison and sells them to wealthy clients in New York, London and Tel Aviv.

A blockbuster hit in its native country, the film had been scheduled to open last Friday at two theaters in Los Angeles and one in San Francisco.

However, in early November, “Valley of the Wolves” was quietly dropped from the theaters’ advance schedules.

Gregory Gardner of Luminous Velocity Releasing, a company involved in distributing the film in the United States, said the Turkish producer, Pana Films, had withdrawn the movie without explanation.

Attempts to obtain further information from American or Turkish sources were unsuccessful, but a protest filed by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) may have played a role in the cancellation.

In an Oct. 19 letter to Turkish Ambassador Nabi Sensoy in Washington, ADL leaders expressed concern at ”the incendiary anti-Jewish and anti-American themes and characters in the film” and pointed to previous inquiries about the wide availability of anti-Semitic publications in Turkey.

The letter was signed by ADL National Chair Barbara Balser and National Director Abraham Foxman, who did not receive a reply from the ambassador.

The Busey character, listed only as “The Doctor” but clearly identified as Jewish, isn’t even the chief villain. The distinction goes to another American actor, Billy Zane, who plays a rogue American officer and self-professed “peacekeeper sent by God.”

In one scene, the officer and his men shoot up an Iraqi wedding party, killing the groom in the presence of the bride and a little boy in front of his mother.”Valley of the Wolves” was shown at the Berlin Film Festival and has played in theaters in Germany, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and Bosnia.

According to one Turkish diplomat, who spoke unofficially and requested anonymity, the film became such a hit in Turkey because it is a spin-off from the country’s top-rated TV series of the same title, though the series’ villains are local mafiosos and militant ultranationalists.

The movie is also seen by Turks as payback for the 1978 film “Midnight Express,” in which some Americans and Britons are caught trying to leave Turkey with a stash of hashish, thrown into a hellish prison and viciously mistreated.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Writer

‘Emergent’ Network Could Help Define Synagogue

Christians have their “emerging church” movement that seeks to redefine the traditional church. Now, Jews have an “emergent” network of their own.

A group of mostly young American and Israeli Jewish leaders will start meeting regularly to brainstorm ways of pushing the boundaries of what a synagogue is supposed to be.

The leaders will focus on creating “sacred communities unbound by conventional expectations,” said J. Shawn Landres, the Los Angeles-based research director of Synagogue 3000, the national organization sponsoring the Jewish Emergent Initiative.

The initiative, which includes Los Angeles’ Rabbi Sharon Brous of Ikar, met twice this year in working-group sessions. Now, with more than $300,000 in grants from the Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff Awards Committee and the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the leaders will meet formally twice a year. The next meeting will take place in Simi Valley in January.

The group of innovators will document their efforts so Jewish communities around the world can emulate their work. They will also write essays for a book that will attempt to map the future of Jewish congregational life.

In a separate initiative launched last month, Synagogue 3000, a nonprofit dedicated to revitalizing synagogues, introduced the S3K Synagogue Studies Institute. The institute’s first report, written by sociologist Steven M. Cohen, draws on data from the National Jewish Population Survey to examine who joins American synagogues and why.

For more information, see www.synagogue3000.org.

— Sarah Price Brown, Contributing Writer

Fund Brings Macedonian Mom to L.A. for Treatment

Thanks to contributions to the newly created Rachel Fund of Temple Beth Emet in Burbank, Rachel Razankova, who was suffering from cancer in Macedonia, has arrived in the United States and is now under the care of Dr. Marina VaysburdVaysburd, a hematologist/oncologist at Cedars-Sinai Outpatient Cancer Center at the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute, had been consulting on the case even before the arrival of Razankova, the mother of Beth Emet congregant Roni Razankova. (See “Beth Emet Works to Save a Mother’s Life,” The Jewish Journal, June 9, 2006.) Razankova has now undergone three chemotherapy treatments. Pending an evaluation, she is likely to continue with more, according to her daughter, who lives in Valley Village.

Every other day Rachel Razankova talks with husband, Jordan, who is still in Macedonia, as well as their son, Vanche, 30. Meanwhile, Roni Razankova has applied for a resident visa for her father, a process that takes nine months or longer.

Rachel Razankova grew up a non-practicing Jew, forced to keep her religion secret in communist Macedonia, and she attended synagogue for the first time at Temple Beth Emet on Yom Kippur morning. Beth Emet’s Rabbi Mark Sobel and other congregants warmly welcomed her and presented her with a tallit.

Although weak, she greeted the congregation, gave them handmade crocheted placemats and, in English, which she is learning, said, “Thank you.”

Created to raise money for Razankova’s care, the Rachel Fund has now become a permanent charity at Temple Beth Emet. It will continue to assist her with medications not covered by Cedars-Sinai, but will also be extended to other families affected by cancer.

“No matter what happens, I will for sure continue to raise money for people who are in the same situation as my mother is,” Roni Razakova said.

To contribute to Temple Beth Emet’s Rachel Fund, contact Rabbi Mark Sobel at (818) 843-4787.

— Jane Ulman, Contributing Writer

The Circuit


Leaving a Legacy

Fariba Nourfshan of Beverly Hills and Holli Rabishaw of Tarzana were among 22 young women selected to participate in Hadassah’s recent Young Women’s Legacy Mission to Poland and Israel. The program was designed to connect young women with their Israeli heritage and the numerous projects of Hadassah.

Chair for Thomas

It was standing-room-only when Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s President and CEO Thomas M. Priselac was named the inaugural recipient of the Warschaw Law Endowed Chair in Health Care Leadership, a permanent academic research chair devoted to furthering leadership, research and education in healthcare public policy and management. Officials and physicians who joined in the festivities following the ceremonies included L.A. Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa and West Hollywood Mayor Abbe Land, who were among the speakers. Carmen Warschaw, a life trustee of the Cedars-Sinai board of directors, and her son-in-law, John C. Law, Cedars-Sinai board chair, along with Law’s wife, Hope, endowed the chair.

“With Tom Priselac’s depth of expertise and passion for quality health care, this endowed chair will advance health care policy and delivery in California and the nation,” Law said.

Priselac began his association with Cedars-Sinai Health System more than two decades ago, serving as executive vice president until 1994 when he was appointed president and CEO. Priselac also serves as an adjunct faculty member of the UCLA School of Public Health. He is a past member of the American Hospital Association board of directors, chairs the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce Health Committee and is a member of the board of trustees of the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science.

“The endowment will allow me to continue supporting the well-being of patients through the development of policy initiatives, new research and education, which I hope will ultimately lead to improved health care coverage in California,” Priselac said.

Rabbi in the House

A special family dinner and concert was held Jan. 21 at Temple Beth El of San Pedro featuring Jewish composer and musician Cantor Wally Schachet-Briskin, who is known for his teaching and appearance each summer for “Hagigah” at the Union for Reform Judaism’s camps Swig, Kutz and Newman. Schachet-Briskin, who is cantor at Leo Baeck Temple in Los Angeles, appeared in honor of the installation and consecration for Rabbi Charles Kahn Briskin, as spiritual leader at Temple Beth El.

Saluting Soldiers I

More than 850 people, including many of the most prominent leaders of the Jewish community, gathered at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills to honor the brave men and women who serve in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). The Friends of the IDF Western Region held the event to raise funds for an auditorium, library and synagogue at the soon to be built new REIM Base in the Negev.

The gala dinner was co-chaired by Cheryl and Haim Saban and included a live satellite hook-up with soldiers stationed near Gaza. The evening’s special guest speaker was Avi Dicter who recently retired as head of Shin Bet. By the end of the evening, the gala dinner had raised nearly $4 million — with many additional pledges and commitments under discussion — for recreational facilities at a new army base in the Negev, reported the group’s director Miri Nash.

Even in Beverly Hills, it’s not every day that someone gets up to pledge $1 million to a good cause, to say nothing of two successive million-dollar donors. It happened at the 25th anniversary celebration, when the Saban and his wife announced their gift, almost as a throwaway line.

Not bad for an ex-corporal in the IDF, who was surrounded by a platoon of respectful Israeli ex-generals.

Next in line was Leo David, former chair of the Western Region, who proclaimed that anything Saban could do, he could do and added another million bucks.

Dichter, a rising star in Israel’s Kadima Party, warned that the “terror states” of Iran, Syria and Lebanon had not given up on their hopes to destroy the Jewish state. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Saluting Soldiers II

The Chanukah e-mail from an American Jewish soldier in Iraq put it succinctly: “We have a hard time getting things here,” wrote Army Staff Sgt. David T. Silcox.

He was thanking Jewish community volunteers in Los Angeles and Connecticut for the Chanukah gift packages sent to Jewish troops in Iraq as well as soldiers in Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar through Operation Far From Home.

“We also sent little gifts for the soldiers, so they can send those to their children,” said Jewish community activist Adeena Bleich, who created Operation Far Home last Passover with her parents, Linda and Phil Bleich, who live in New Haven, Conn.

“Jewish solders need to know that we’re here and we’re thinking of them,” Linda Bleich said.

Operation Far From Home has received 500 Jewish music CDs from the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, plus donations from former California state Assemblyman Bob Hertzberg and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), as well as support from several L.A. area shuls and schools. One seventh-grader at Hillel Hebrew Academy wrote to the troops: “I admire what you are doing for our country.”

Rabbi Elazar Muskin of Young Israel of Century City said he likes Operation Far From Home because, “it’s our responsibility to support our soldiers overseas who are defending democracy for us.” — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

 

Cedars-Sinai Ministers to Spiritual Needs


"A woman came into my office yesterday needing to make a decision about the amputation of her husband’s leg," said Rabbi Levi Meier, the chaplain at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. "It was a very difficult case, because her husband cannot give proper, informed consent, because his mind is not functioning anymore.

"Then I had another woman who wanted to know about code vs. no code," the Orthodox rabbi continued. "’Code’ means to try to resuscitate. Her husband is on life-support system, and the doctors were pressuring her to make a decision about whether they should code him or not. I helped her understand the Jewish medical ethics involved, and to make a decision."

It’s all in a day’s work for Meier, who has served as the Jewish chaplain at Cedars-Sinai since 1978. (There is also a Catholic chaplain who serves Christian needs.)

With over 50 percent of the beds in the 905-bed hospital occupied by Jewish patients at any given time, Meier finds himself administering pastoral care to patients who are terminally ill, have presurgery anxiety or depression or need to deal with family dynamics that have changed with the encroachment of debilitating illness. He also helps doctors cope with a job that finds them getting up close and personal with death on a regular basis.

"The main aspect of my counseling is from a spiritual perspective. I use [the same techniques] psychologists and psychiatrists use, but I look at the spirit, where people can feel their relationship with God personally, not in a cognitive sense, but in a personal sense," said Meier, the father of four, who holds a doctorate in gerontology and is a licensed psychologist. "Because when you feel God in a personal way, you become a different person."

In his role as chaplain, Meier has found many ways to bring God to Cedars-Sinai. The rabbi has organized Jewish medical ethics conferences and synagogue services for Shabbat and the Jewish holidays. He has produced closed-circuit religious television programs for the patients. Meier also teaches a Torah class at the hospital every Thursday, which is open to patients, doctors, staff and members of the board of directors and board of governors.

During his tenure, the rabbi has overseen the establishment of a kosher kitchen that can service kosher patients with special dietary requirements, (such as low-sodium needs). And working with Sharon and Herb Glazer, he has seen that mezuzot were placed on every door of the hospital, including patients’ rooms.

Meier also confers with the medical center’s board of directors and board of governors about how they can best live up to the facility’s motto: "And be a blessing," a verse taken from Genesis.

"’And be a blessing’ means taking care of poor people, no matter what culture, ethnicity or religious faith they have," Meier said. "Taking care of indigent patients of all religions is central to Judaism, and that is why the ambulatory care center (a walk-in clinic that has a sliding fee scale for low-income patients) is a central part of the hospital."

Under the same program, Cedars-Sinai also operates traveling coaches that take doctors and other health-care workers into low-income communities that are underserved medically, making it convenient and affordable for families to receive quality medical attention.

Meier recently parlayed his experiences at Cedars-Sinai into a book titled, "Seven Heavens: Inspirational Stories to Elevate Your Soul." The book is about a fictional patient named Jonathan, a scientist who worked on the human genome project. Jonathan finds himself facing mortality, and feels the need to bare his soul to Meier.

This story line is secondary to the messages that Meier wants to bring out in the book, that life is a series of moments, and each is moment is perpetually sacred. The book talks frankly and openly about death, and helps readers come to terms with the inevitable.

"I say vidui [the Hebrew confession for those facing imminent mortality] with people a few times a week," Meier said. "And what that has done to me is it has helped me prioritize what is important in life. Sometimes people will have an argument about the color of furniture, should it be blue or purple, or things like that. And while it is nice to have good colors, there is a larger picture."

Meier said every story that he tells in the book is true, although identifying details were changed. "My main character, Jonathan, is an M.D. Ph.D. A lot of the people around here are M.D. Ph.Ds, and they have a sense of certainty about themselves and about life, until something happens to them, and then they begin to look at their soul.

"That is what this book is about, what I call, ‘The Soul Project.’ What I am trying to do is to combine the human genome project that they are doing with the human soul project that I am doing. I want to make people aware of how their soul is affecting their health."

"Seven Heavens: Inspirational Stories to Elevate Your Soul" (Devora Publishing, $24.95) is available in bookstores. To reach Rabbi Levi Meier at Cedars-Sinai, call (310) 423-5238

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