Does your child really need that antibiotic?


ImmunoXpert, a novel blood test developed in Israel, accurately distinguishes between bacterial and viral infections in children, according to a study recently published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases. The international study in children was led by researchers from the University Medical Center in Utrecht (The Netherlands).

ImmunoXpert, made by MeMed in Tirat Carmel, also was shown to outperform routine tests significantly.

“The results are beyond our expectations,” said principal investigator Dr. Louis J. Bont from the division of pediatric immunology and infectious disease at the Dutch medical center. “We independently confirmed that the test is highly accurate in children, with significantly better diagnosis compared to any of the routine tests we use today. It has the potential to significantly aid us in reducing antibiotic overuse and combating bacterial resistance. To our knowledge, this is the first prospective validation study for a diagnostic assay differentiating between bacterial and viral infections that was double-blinded.”

MeMed CEO Eran Eden said the company “took the unusual risk of allowing leading experts to independently evaluate its tests in a double-blind manner,” meaning that neither those taking part nor the researchers knew which participants belonged to the control group.

Eden continued, “We are excited that the new results corroborate the findings of our previous study,” published in March 2015 in PLOS One. “This is another important milestone in our continuous efforts to generate clinical evidence of the highest quality to support our tests.”

“Unlike most traditional diagnostics, which focus on identifying the disease-causing virus or bacteria, ImmunoXpert looks at the immune system where it identifies markers that indicate if the patient is fighting a bacterial or viral infection,” Dr. Kfir Oved, MeMed chief technology officer, said. “This immune system-based approach overcomes the inherent limitations of many traditional diagnostic tools. It is accurate and rapid and can diagnose infections that are not readily accessible, such as pneumonia.”

The study evaluated 577 children ages 2 to 60 months with lower respiratory tract infections or fever without a source. ImmunoXpert was accurate in distinguishing between clear bacterial and viral infections with a sensitivity of 88 percent, specificity of 93 percent and a negative predictive value of 98 percent. ImmunoXpert outperformed routine tests, reducing the number of cases in which viral infections were erroneously diagnosed as bacterial, by more than 50 percent.

ImmunoXpert is cleared for clinical use in the European Union, Switzerland and Israel. MeMed is collaborating on a series of multi-center clinical studies, enrolling more than 10,000 patients, and has plans to conduct clinical studies in the United States in 2017. The company is partnering with international stakeholders from industry and government to facilitate global availability of its tests.

Miriam’s House opens doors for struggling women and their children


Rhonda Evans was 40 years old and addicted to drugs when she decided she needed help. She had three sons — two living with her parents and one with her — and she had been living in a motel, cobbling together money to pay for her habits. 

What turned her life around was a place called Miriam’s House, a nonprofit sober home for mothers. From 2007 to 2009, Evans lived at the house and got her life back on track, eventually getting to the point where she went to school to learn substance abuse counseling. 

“It was a passion of mine. After I lived [at the house], I wanted to give back,” said Evans, who is now the home’s program director. 

The West Los Angeles house opened its doors in 2007 and focuses on women recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. It has 15 rooms and is currently hosting seven women with little to no income. Residents might just be regaining contact with their children, getting a degree and going to work. 

It sits on a large property and has communal spaces for children to play in and women to gather. There also is a back garden where residents can sit outside and have time alone.  

Miriam’s House is part of the Promises Foundation, started by Lisa Rogg, a holistic medicine expert, licensed acupuncturist and lifelong resident of Los Angeles, along with her husband Richard, who founded Promises Treatment Centers.

“When you are a homeless mother or a mother living below the poverty line, it’s difficult to find help for addiction,” Lisa Rogg said. “Often you are faced with the choice of giving up custody of your child or receiving the support you need. As a mother, it was my mission to help these women keep their families together.”

The home, which is funded by private donors, has a success rate of more than 90 percent for reuniting mothers with their children, according to executive director Brenda Valiente.

“The women are so inspired by their children to become better people,” Rogg said. “When you have that threat of losing a child to the system, you really don’t want to go through that.”

If a woman wants to be admitted to Miriam’s House, she has to be at least 30 days sober and willing to follow the designated schedule, along with Alcoholic Anonymous’ 12 steps of recovery. She can bring along one or two children under the age of 10, who live with her in her room. During the time that she’s there, which can range from a few weeks to a year, her children can attend the public elementary school a few blocks away.  

The staff at Miriam’s House aims to get the women back on track and contributing to society. They make sure the residents are set up with housing after they leave, are able to work at a job or get a degree, and know how to plan for their future. 

“We try to impact their lives,” Valiente said. “We not only believe that they can be self-sufficient, but we give them the tools to make sure they are.” 

Miriam’s House hosts AA and Narcotics Anonymous meetings, offers parenting classes, provides child care, shows the women how to meditate and do yoga, and asks them to prepare and attend nightly dinners. The house also holds celebrations for various holidays, including a Chanukah dinner and candle-lighting in partnership with the Reconstructionist synagogue in Pacific Palisades, Kehillat Israel, which Rogg attends. (Residents do not need to be Jewish, and not many are.)

 Not every woman succeeds during her first stay at the house — about 1 in 15 relapses — but in those cases the woman is welcome to try again. 

“We’ve had women relapse,” Rogg said. “But they show a lot of strength and determination and are then very successful.” 

Valiente said that since the women aren’t forced to be there, they must resolve for themselves to do their best. “The women admitted have shown and agreed to certain standards they will fulfill for being in the program. They have to show that they’re committed to being in recovery.”

Evans said places like Miriam’s House are essential because there are too few organizations for mothers in recovery. “There aren’t a handful of places like this where women with children can get sober and the skills they need to be on their own.”

Like Evans, many of the mothers go on to earn their degrees in social work and become drug and alcohol counselors, Valiente said. They find jobs through outlets like Jewish Vocational Service Los Angeles and the nonprofit Chrysalis. Some residents receive scholarships from the Promises Foundation to fund their education. In terms of housing, the women may go on to live in Section 8 buildings, transitional homes, or apply for help from St. Joseph Center, a nonprofit that helps the needy find housing and treatment for mental illness, as well as receive education and training for jobs 

After women graduate from the program, they are always welcome to reach out for support from their counselors. The house hosts alumni events, like a Mother’s Day gathering, to stay connected to their network of mothers.

“What we’ve learned is the women who stay connected and engaged tend to stay sober,” said Valiente. “They feel like they want to do good in the community and pay it forward.”

By assisting mothers on the road to recovery and allowing them to stay with their children, Rogg said, Miriam’s House is able to make a real impact on their sobriety. 

“I think that being able to keep the family together and not have kids go into the foster care system is probably one of the best preventative measures for stopping the cycle of addiction.” 

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.”

More children in Syria dying of malnutrition


This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

In one town in Syria an hour’s drive from Damascus, 86 people have died from causes related to the Syrian government siege of the town – 65 from malnutrition and starvation, 14 from landmines, six from snipers and one from a chronic health condition. Almost all of them could have been saved if they had access to food, medication, medical equipment and medical treatment, according to a new report by two human rights groups.

The report by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) and The Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) says that the town of Madaya today houses 40,000 Syrians, four times the town’s original population. It is surrounded by landmines, checkpoints, and snipers. There is not enough food, and medical care is given by two dentistry students and a veterinarian.

“What do we expect two dentistry students, a veterinarian and a field hospital to do for these cases, each one in need of specialized care? We are in an impossible situation,” Dr. Muhammad Darwish, one of the dentistry students asks in the report.

In another example, Dr. Mohammad Yousef, a veterinarian, performed a caesarean section.

“We had to make the family sign an agreement saying we are not liable if there were complications and the mother or infant died during the surgery,” Dr. Yousef told The Media Line. “We were so afraid during the operation, but it was a success. We cried tears of joy and thanked God for allowing us to save the mother and her child.”

The report details the cases of 65 people in Madaya, many of them children, who died from malnutrition and starvation between November 2015 and the end of May 2016. Countless others have suffered the effects of malnutrition including osteoporosis. Doctors say many in the town could suffer effects in the future including “stunted growth, poor mental development, behavior abnormalities, insulin resistance and hypertension.”

Only occasional shipments of food and medicine have been allowed into the city, and residents have not been able to leave.

PHR calls on the Syrian government to “lift all sieges and allow freedom of movement for all civilians, including medical personnel, in, out, and across all towns.” In addition the UN and non-governmental humanitarian organizations must be allowed to reach all besieged areas to provide supplies and services to people in need. The human rights groups also call on the Syrian government to remove all procedural and other bureaucratic delays that continue to hamper the delivery of lifesaving aid.

Madaya is only one example of the difficulties that Syrian citizens are facing. Forces loyal to the Syrian government have seized control of the Castello Road, the last road into Aleppo cutting off supplies of food and aid to the 300,000 Syrians there – about half of them rebel fighters and half civilians.

Human rights groups say there are some stocks of food and medical supplies but they will run out quickly if they are not replenished.

The siege comes after heavy fighting in Aleppo.

“Every day there are 70 or 80 airstrikes attacking everything on the ground –hospitals, schools or shops,” Dr. Abdelaziz Aladel, a surgeon in Aleppo told The Media Line. “The attacks hit the same area over and over, meaning anyone who tries to help can also be wounded.”

He said there are only about 25 doctors left in the city.

However, it is not only children inside Syria who are suffering. Another group, Human Rights Watch, also issued a report today saying that more than half of the almost half a million Syrian refugees in Lebanon do not go to school or receive any formal education.

There are more than 1.1 million Syrian refugees registered in Lebanon and almost half of them are between the ages of 3 and 18. Lebanon has allowed Syrian children to attend public schools, fewer than half have done so, mostly because the schools are far from where they live or they have limited resources. The finding means that hundreds of thousands of Syrian children have not received any formal education for up to five years.

“Despite Lebanon's progress in enrolling Syrian children, the huge number of children still out of school is an immediate crisis, requiring bold reforms,” said Bassam Khawaja, a Sandler fellow in the children's rights division at Human Rights Watch. “Children should not have to sacrifice their education to seek safety from the horrors of war in Syria.”

A fearful farewell to the dragon of childhood


A dragon lives forever, but not so little boys” is a line from Peter, Paul and Mary’s song “Puff, the Magic Dragon.” Here I am, three days before I turn 18, saddened by these lyrics. 

I can’t help but compare myself to Holden Caulfield, my favorite antihero. “The Catcher in the Rye” is the only book north of 50 pages that I have read more than once. Holden informed so much of who I am today, and as I’m in his position, I can’t help but mentally compare myself to him. 

My troubles come at what should be a more lax part of my high school career. Last night, my parents set a curfew for me — the first time this has occurred in high school. In my second semester of my senior year, three days before I turn 18, two months before I graduate, my parents imposed a curfew on me. 

After a long argument with my dad, I left the house in frustration, not understanding the sudden and, in my opinion, untimely rationale behind this. Although my dad said it was because he felt I was partying too much with my friends, I think he’s trying to cling to what little childhood I still have left. “A dragon lives forever, but not so little boys.” 

Senior year can be a joyous time for many, full of celebration; for others, it can be disappointing and discouraging. It’s second semester of senior year, I should be taking school lightly — which I am — and be locked into a college — which I’m not. 

The college acceptance process didn’t work out for me as well as I had hoped it would. They say it’s random, but I have no one to blame but myself. My options are consequences of my own actions. Those nights I chose to go bowling instead of studying, or to watch another episode on Netflix instead of going to sleep finally caught up with me. 

I guess after my fight with my dad the other night, I really started to realize that. I kept on telling him that he has two more months of parenting, and then he is done forever. (I’m the youngest.) I am working at a special needs camp in New York this summer. Then in early September, I head off to yeshiva in the Old City of Jerusalem. After that, who knows what lies ahead?

 I guess what I’m really getting at is I have no idea what I’m doing with my life. I’ve accomplished a lot in my high school career. To be immodest for a moment, I started a minyan at my school that is the largest student-led minyan in the country. I wrote an article about a major contemporary halachic issue, which received more than 25,000 hits on my school newspaper’s website. Today, a junior told me his class discussed how I was the epitome of the leader they wanted and needed, a compliment I do not take lightly. Yet as I sit at Shabbat meals and talk with family and friends, I do my best to avoid the subject of what I’m doing for college. 

Again I think about that line, “A dragon lives forever, but not so little boys.” I don’t even know if I fully understand it, but it forces one troubling thought into my mind: My childhood is coming to an end, whether I want it to or not. 

It feels ironic to me. Somehow the fantasized fire-breathing dragon I pictured while listening to this song as a child is the part of my youth that continues to live on, while my actual young and innocent self is leaving forever. The Noah who used to spend Shabbat playing wizards and jedis with his cousin Avi has been outgrown. The priceless memories live on, and I get to share them with those around me, but I don’t get to play the game anymore. 

Holden Caulfield knows this, too. He’s the one who first showed this to me. I know why Holden wants to stand at the edge of a cliff as a protector and make sure that not only the “dragon” lives forever, but so, too, little boys. 

And yet, the little boy in me is soon to be no more, plain and simple. The “dragon” of childhood will live on elsewhere, and it will no longer be my place or turn to access it. It feels like 18 years of childhood is being pushed over a cliff. Eighteen years of good times and bad times are soon to be sealed. 

One of the scariest parts is I feel as though everything is happening to me, like fate, like it’s not me controlling my life. Whether I like it or not, and as scary as it is, I have to move on. I don’t have a choice.

I am no longer a little boy. Never again will I get to experience being a child, and the unknown of what is to come terrifies me. 

NOAH ROTHMAN has just graduated from Shalhevet High School in Los Angeles. A version of this article previously appeared in The Boiling Point, Shalhevet’s student newspaper.

For Jewish UNICEF official, it’s all about the children


Whether Caryl Stern, the president and CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, is touring a war-torn country, a natural disaster or a refugee camp, she always sees children playing.

They may be kicking a ball made of paper or hugging a doll made of rags or straw, but they are happily playing.

The kids’ ability to smile and play through the most extreme of circumstances is what inspires her every day. Since taking the helm of the organization in 2007, Stern has guided UNICEF’s responses to disasters as varied as the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and the Ebola crisis in west Africa.

She has also faced criticism that UNICEF is hostile to Israel. Many years ago, one of the camps it sponsored in Beirut to keep children off the street was subsequently renamed for a suicide bomber. Hearing this, the Reform movement of Judaism in the United States ended its sponsorship of the program. Although the camp’s renaming was unofficial, “the damage had been done,” Stern said, and for years Jewish children stopped carrying the bright orange UNICEF collection boxes during Halloween.

“I stand very proudly as a Jewish woman at the helm of this organization,” said Stern, 57. “Right now is our moment. This is our opportunity to stand up for everything we believe.”

Stern, who previously spent 18 years at the Anti-Defamation League and was a 2014 Jewish Women International Woman to Watch, said that her “firm belief in tikkun olam [repair of the world] and not putting the sins of our fathers on children” make it necessary to be involved.

Her current focus is the scores of young people fleeing their countries, sometimes without adult supervision.

“I call them children,” Stern said. “They aren’t migrants. They are not refugees. They are not illegal aliens. They are kids.”

Some 30 million children — 13 million of them from the Middle East and North Africa — need a permanent place to live and a school to attend regularly, she said.

Stern is aware that these children have “scars that are going to be with them for a long time,” including physical and intellectual problems due to malnourishment and disease.

But their resiliency motivates her.

“If you turn on music, they will dance,” she said, boasting that she’s  “played ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’ in just about every language.”

So many of the problems facing the children face “are fixable, curable,” she said. With proper medicine, vaccines and clean water — and with an end to war — many of their woes would disappear. Her goal is “zero hunger, zero poverty, zero disease,” which she described in her 2013 book, “I Believe in Zero.”

Stern was in Washington last week to attend Fortune magazine’s Most Powerful Women event and launch a new fundraising program, UNICEF Kid Power. A $40 bracelet encourages children to be more active while teaching them about other cultures in a game-like program that awards points for exercising.

The bracelet “lights up, and it buzzes,” she said. “Kids love it.” The money raised will be used to deliver food to malnourished children around the world.

Some might assume Stern’s position is an office job, but she said she needs to “bear witness” — in her eight years at UNICEF, she has traveled to 32 countries. Stern said that having grown up in a family steeped in Holocaust memories, she understands the importance of retelling stories from firsthand knowledge.

Stern’s mother was 6, and her uncle 4, in 1939 when their mother, Stern’s grandmother, kissed them goodbye and sent them from Vienna to America with a woman they didn’t know. They ended up in an orphanage on New York City’s Lower East Side.

That same year, her grandfather boarded the St. Louis, the German cruise liner filled with Jewish passengers heading to Cuba. The ship was forced to return to Europe when no country would open its arms to the Jewish passengers.

Growing up, “the two stories we constantly heard were how nobody gave a damn” to help the Jews, according to her grandfather, and “how nice people were to take my mother in and care for her.”

Stern, the mother of three sons, knew she wasn’t going to be the one to turn her back on children who, through no fault of their own, were suffering.

People sometimes hear that UNICEF has programs in areas hostile to Israel — including, most recently, the Gaza Strip — and they condemn the organization, Stern said. But UNICEF’s mandate allows it to operate only in underdeveloped countries, and Israel is not one, she explained.

There are exceptions, she added. It has set up a recreation center for children in Sderot, who grow up under the constant threat of bombing.

“UNICEF has absolutely no politics,” she said.  “We don’t deal with adults. … We only want to give the children what they need.”

 

Combating an Israeli-American identity crisis


A year after Irit Bar-Netzer arrived in Los Angeles from Israel, she had her first son. That was 37 years ago, and that’s when the dilemma began.

“I wondered back then: How am I going to raise my children? As Israelis? Americans? Who is going to help us raise our kids? We didn’t have Grandma and Grandpa around. What’s going to happen to their identity?” 

It was by no means a new dilemma, however — in some ways, not even to her. As a daughter of Holocaust survivors, Bar-Netzer remembered how she felt growing up in Israel as a child of immigrant parents who didn’t speak Hebrew very well. 

“The children used to laugh at us because we spoke Hungarian and not Hebrew,” she said. Still, she ended up speaking Hebrew to her first son in America because, she said, “It was easier and natural for us.”

Bar-Netzer, a psychologist who has worked with children for years, related this story during an Oct. 11 seminar at Temple Judea in Tarzana that was sponsored by Ma Koreh, a project of Builders of Jewish Education (BJE) that is spending the next year providing lectures to Israeli parents. Conducted in Hebrew, the intimate gathering — the first in a series — was attended by 16 parents of young children and featured Bar-Netzer and child psychologist Ernest Katz. 

BJE Associate Director Phil Liff-Grieff said, “We want Israeli-American families to connect better through the organized Jewish community. We want them to understand that it is a tool in their toolbox for raising their kids here.”

The program is funded by the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles and is done in cooperation with the Israeli-American Council and Sifriyat Pijama B’America, which provides books written in Hebrew to young children. 

Although many of the parents at the recent event said they insist on speaking Hebrew to their children, they wondered if that’s enough to keep their kids “Israeli” and how important it is to send their kids to private schools in order to maintain their Jewish-Israeli identities. And while many agreed that not all aspects of Israeli characteristics are welcomed, they do want their kids to maintain some of the values and traditions they were raised on. (The famous Israeli chutzpah was not one of them, according to participants.) 

One father of a 4-year-old described the problem like this: “When my daughter asks me, ‘Am I an Israeli?’ I am confused. I don’t know what to answer her. I do want her to take the good things from both cultures: the Israeli and the American — because there are good things and bad things in each culture — but how do I do that?”

His wife, who was born in Israel and moved to the United States with her parents when she was 8, said she experienced the issue herself as a child. 

“Throughout my childhood, my parents spoke to me in English and I know they meant well, but today I know it was wrong. I never knew what I was. Israeli? American? Americans always thought that I’m an Israeli and Israelis thought I’m an American, so I was confused about my identity, and I don’t want my kids to go through that as well.”

Not that simply speaking a certain language solves the problem.

One mother of three said she insists on speaking with her children in Hebrew, even though they often answer in English. “I struggle with it every day,” she said. “Each time I speak to my son in Hebrew, he says, ‘I was born here. I’m an American. It won’t help you.’ It’s a constant conflict. How do you deal with that?”

Bar-Netzer said she believes part of the parents’ challenge is not only their children’s identities, but also their own.

“The conflict is huge, and you need to think what is right for your child,” she said. “You have decided to come here and raise him here; now you have to decide what’s important for you and what will be best for him. The fact that you had come here ready to listen and discuss it means that the subject is important to you and your children will benefit from that. When I came here, 38 years ago, there was no such discussion on how to raise Israeli children.”

While Bar-Netzer and Katz didn’t offer answers to the many issues the parents raised during the 1 1/2-hour meeting, they suggested that parents make a list of what is important for them and what’s important for their kids. 

“Learn to listen to your children and see what they need. You should send your children a clear message. That is the most important thing. You don’t want to confuse them by questioning their own identity,” Bar-Netzer said. “As long as it’s good and right to you as parents, it will be good for your children as well.”


UPDATE [10/19/15]: This article has been changed from its original form to protect the names of parents at the event.

Forget annoying helicopter parents. Helicopter kids are way worse.


There are parents who hover over their kids like a helicopter. And there are parents who generally leave their kids to their own devices. Each side insists their way is the right way. I’m not here to judge other parenting styles, though I assume, as is often the case, that the best way is a healthy mixture of both — allowing your kids some independence, coupled with giving them the security of boundaries and a loving home base. But what do I know? Figure it out yourself, and I’m sure you’ll let me know when you do. Because every parent seems to be a maven in all things parenting.

But I’m here to talk about something entirely different from helicopter parents: helicopter kids. When I take my kids to the park, I struggle to shake them off of me like a ragdoll in the jaws of a tenacious pit bull. They’re clingy, they check in constantly, and they compete for my attention — when all I really want is for them to get the hell away from me. “Go on the slide. Go bounce a ball. Go keep that homeless guy company who’s talking to himself and could probably use a conversation partner.” 

I pick up my kids from preschool and look around the playground. There are kids on slides, kids in three-wheelers, and kids chasing each other. My kids? My daughter, Sydney — almost 5 — is getting her hair braided in the lap of her cute young teacher with the pink highlights; my son, Asher, 3, is helping to clean and rake the sandbox with his teacher. This is a playground filled with kids — why are they hanging out with the teachers?

My kids are well-liked by their peers. They’re socially adept and smart. But given the choice of chasing a kid up a hill or sitting with my wife and me on a park bench, they choose us, even when their friends are begging them to play. They might occasionally run off with another kid for a few minutes, but they’re not gone for long. There is an ongoing societal debate about kids watching TV — should they, shouldn’t they, should TV time be limited? We don’t have that issue. My kids have never sat through a whole movie. We throw on “Annie,” sneak away, and 20 minutes later they come running down the hall to our bedroom and climb into our bed. I beg them to go away. I insist. “You’ve never gotten past the first act. Keep watching. Annie gets out of the orphanage. It’s not always a hard-knock life for her!” But they don’t care. I plop them down in their room to play with each other. They come back to ours. No matter what I do, they always come back. 

“I love you guys, but leave me alone,” I beg. They play for a few minutes, which quickly turns into a wrestling match, or a tug-of-war over a toy. And then they’re back again, running to us for help, one or both of them in tears. I say, “Solve it yourself. You don’t need us.” Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. But either way, they have managed to worm their way back to us.

I’m flattered that my kids like their parents so much. And I know it won’t be long before they want nothing to do with us. I know this, and yet I feel like if these nerds don’t start making friends they’re not going to have anyone to hang out with when it comes time for them to hate us. They’ll just be angry, and stuck at home, locked in their room listening to whatever version of The Smiths is around for sad teenagers.

At birthday parties, they take a long time to warm up. They spend most of the party with each other, and within inches of my legs. At one party in the park last week, a parent, Monique, walked over and gave me a kiss hello. “Have you seen Dash?” she asked. I looked around for her son. He was climbing a tree, albeit not very well. What he lacks in coordination he makes up for in confidence. I pointed in his direction. Monique looked to my kids. “They’re always on top of you,” she said. She wasn’t criticizing. She was just pointing out the anomaly. “It’s good they think you’re so fun.” She thinks I’m a clown, perpetually happy and silly. She doesn’t know the side of me who broods, and worries, and gets frustrated with my kids. She’s never heard my daughter yell out, “You’re a bad daddy!” So I went along with the ruse. “I wish I wasn’t so awesome,” I said with a wink. She playfully hit me on the arm and then took off after her kid.

A week later, I was picking up the kids from school, and my wife called to tell me she was going out with her sister for the night. I saw Monique on the playground and made impromptu plans with her and her husband to take the kids out for pizza and ice cream. Dash jumped into my car and asked if he could ride with us. There wasn’t enough room, so I asked Asher if he wanted to ride with Dash’s baby brother. He ran right over to their car and hopped in. He doesn’t know Monique well but I assume he must have sensed that she’s Argentine and was all over that like blanco en el arroz

Meanwhile, in my car, Sydney and Dash were sitting in their car seats talking to each other. I leaned my head back to talk to them, but they weren’t that interested in what I had to say. There was a moment where I wasn’t even sure what they were talking about — and I was actively trying to eavesdrop. Dash has a slight speech impediment and he’s a little hard to understand — at least to me. Sydney didn’t seem to notice. She laughed at his joke, but I didn’t get it. What was the joke? I asked them to explain it to me, but they just giggled. I felt left out.

We parked on Larchmont Boulevard and headed toward Village Pizzeria. The kids ran ahead of me. They ducked into a store, but I was distracted by a text message and wasn’t sure which one. Monique and Asher came up behind me. “Did you see where the kids went?” I asked. Monique pointed to a little boutique. I walked in. A woman with a sourpuss face was speaking on the phone. She was indifferent to the two kids standing at the jewelry case. I walked over to them, as I overheard Sydney tell Dash she liked the gold necklace with the long charm hanging from it. Dash waved his hand over all of the jewelry — “I’m going to buy you all of them.” Sydney laughed. I defensively said, “Sydney, you don’t need a man to get you anything. You’ll buy your own jewelry.” She looked at me, confused. So did Dash. Then they ran off to the pizza place without me. 

I heard Asher chasing after them — “Wait for me!” And even though I was only a few paces behind, something in me ached as my helicopter kids stopped hovering and learned how to fly.


Seth Menachem is an actor and writer living in Los Angeles with his wife and two kids. You can see more of his work on his website, sethmenachem.com.

Grieving the children of Palestine and the dream of Zionism


Through all the turmoil of these last weeks and months I have been tortured by thoughts of children, Jewish children, Palestinian children, Syrian, Iraqi children – all those who most innocently of all, and most grievously of all, are the victims of the Middle East Madness.

Rachel mebaka et baneha, Rachel mourns her children. With her I weep for the children knowing that they are all her children, our children, every one of them.

The shameful apologies trying to justify the death of Arab children with trite explanations of ‘collateral damage’ and ‘use children as shields and they will die’ fill me with anger. Yes, a Jewish child’s life if precious to me but how dare anyone suggest that another child’s life is less precious, less deserving of a future? What is most frustrating is that those who place lesser values on non-Jews are supposed stalwarts of a community that I can no longer rightfully call mine. Where is the commitment to open dialogue, the respect to hear out opposing ideas, where is the dictum that commands us to listen, to debate, to agonize with each other rather than hurl epithets of disloyalty?

People see suffering and unless it is Jewish suffering they are silent. How dare they? Many years ago, at the famous March on Washington, Rabbi Joachim Prinz declared that the crime of the century was silence, silence in the face of injustice. I say it now to my own community; Jewish silence in the face of injustice is intolerable because Jews are commanded to live by a moral code that calls such silence not only wrong but makes it a crime.

My father has been gone for many years now but he left me to be the guardian of his dream, a dream of a Zionism whose engine to fulfillment would be the socialism of the kibbutz movement. Both have now been corrupted and made irrelevant in a land that practices capitalist consumerism and allows children to go to bed hungry.  In my mind I have been offering my father apologies that his dream has been thwarted and that both he and I are left with the sadness of frustrated hope.

I am an old man now but I know how to grieve over a boyhood dream that has gone.


Theodore Bikel, 90, is the chairman of Partners For A Progressive Israel. He has served as national vice president of the American Jewish Congress and as president of Actor's Equity and the 4A's. His latest film, “Theodore Bikel in the Shoes of Shalom Aleichem” recently premiered at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival; his updated autobiography “Theo” has been published early this summer, and his recording on Elektra records are now available for download on iTunes. 

Noa, Noam most popular names for Jewish babies in Israel


Noa for girls and Noam for boys were the most popular names for Jewish babies born in Israel in 2012.

Israel’s Central Bureau for Statistics released the list of names Monday.

Noa, of biblical origin, was followed in order by Shira, which means song; Tamar, a biblical name and date; Talia, which means a female lamb; and Maya. Rounding out the top 10 are Yael, Sarah, Adele or Edel, Ayala and Michal.

Noam, which means pleasantness, was followed by Uri or Ori, which means my light, and the biblical names Itai, Yosef and David. Rounding out the top 10 are Yehonatan, Daniel, Ariel, Moshe and Eitan.

Among Muslims, Miriam was the most popular name for girls and Mohammad for boys. For Christians, the winners were Maria for girls and George for boys.

My last Halloween


These days it creeps up on me like an ache — the occasional pumpkin in a front yard, the synthetic cobwebs in trees, the subtle turn in the weather and, yes, there’s that feeling in the pit of my stomach, the hollowness of those dreams in which you’re lost in a white tunnel, with nowhere to go but forward, though you know that every step will take you farther away from home. 

I know why Lot’s wife looked back. 

From early September, the discussions begin. What am I going to be this year, and when are you doing to decorate the house, and do we have enough candy for the trick-or-treaters, and why don’t you dress up as well — my friend’s mom wears a costume every year and my teacher painted her feet green. Throughout October, negotiations revolve around which stores we’re going to shop at and how many trips we’re going to make and how many hours in total we’ll spend looking for “the same as last year, but different.” My older son is a ninja redux, the younger one wants to dress up as a cowboy, even when it’s not Halloween. My daughter, who likes fine clothes and red lipstick, has been a ballerina three years in a row and wants to be a ballerina again, “only not the same kind of ballerina,” she says, and the boys join in the chorus, “and not a ballerina that has to wear a sweater if it’s cold.” Ninjas and cowboys, needless to say, don’t wear sweaters either. 

Our neighbors are mostly young families with small children. The house directly across from ours is one of those haunted mansions that spits out fog and echoes of laughter, with the shadows of headless corpses popping out of open coffins every 60 seconds. The owners have the whole decorating thing down to an art, so they don’t have to start until the weekend before the big day, but the rest of us, bumbling pumpkin carvers and clumsy spider-web spinners, get to work in mid-October and are still “perfecting” the set at 5 o’clock on the 31st, when the first few kids with their parents appear at the door. By then, my little cowboy has been dressed and ready for a couple of hours already, and has posted himself, basket of candy in hand, in the foyer. The ballerina is waiting upstairs for her cousin, Cleopatra, to arrive for hair and makeup, and the ninja is setting boundaries for me as to how much of the evening’s spoils I’m allowed to take in the name of tooth decay. 

So much of my remembrances of motherhood is traced with guilt — at the mistakes I made thinking I was doing the right thing, the chances I missed because I was focused on the wrong thing, my impatience and arrogance and just plain ignorance. So much of it, too, is condensed into a cluster of midnight feedings and birthday parties, school trips and beach outings and, “Alex, stop working and go to bed”; “Kevin do your homework and go to bed,” seven nights a week. Amid it all, those early Halloween memories sparkle — bright, fleeting, untainted, brimming with anticipation, rife with possibility. 

When did I last put my children to bed with the makeup still on their faces and the candy tucked under their beds? Close the door behind the last trick-or-treater? See the back of that young woman with the long, pale hair and giant angel’s wings? The zombie impaled with a sword and still walking? 

The next morning, the street is strangely quiet. The cobwebs have been cleared from the trees, and the doorbells no longer howl. The haunted mansion has been sold to a less theatrical family, and the basket full of candy remains, untouched, by the front door. The kids have grown up and left home. Oct. 31 is just another day on the calendar.  

It’s not that I have nothing else to do with my time, now that the obligatory visits to the pumpkin patch have stopped. It’s not that I have no identity outside of being a mother. On any given day. I’m a good few months behind on a whole lot of work-related projects, my domestic talents still waiting to be discovered. I can attend to neglected friendships and an ailing social life, spend more time with my parents, travel again with only my husband to places that are not necessarily child-friendly. But even with all that, I feel like a typewriter in the age of Siri: still operational, but functionally obsolete. 

I think that’s why Lot’s wife looked back: to see her daughters one last time and, through them, the part of herself she most liked. 

I do have other things to do with my time, yes. I just can’t think of anything better to do on those October mornings when I drive by the little preschool on my way to the gym and see tall those little fairies and wizards march, single file and effervescent with joy and pixie dust, before their adoring, admiring parents.


Gina Nahai is an author and a professor of creative writing at USC. Her latest novel is “Caspian Rain” (MacAdam Cage, 2007). Her column appears monthly in the Journal.

The Torah and child sexual abuse


Everything we build and teach our children, all our investments and dedication to good, all our moral standards, our entire education system, can be wiped out in one fell swoop when we or our children are violated.

The first of all ethical and Torah axioms must be stated at the outset: No one has a right to in any way violate in any way the body or soul of another human being. Indeed, we don’t even have the right to mutilate our own bodies, because your body does not belong to you; it is “Divine property.” 

No crime is worse that assaulting another’s dignity — which is compared to the dignity of G-d Himself, being that every person was created in the Divine Image. Even a hanged murderer must not be defiled and his body not left to hang overnight because it reflects the Divine Image. How much more so — infinitely more so — regarding a live person and innocent child.

Abuse, in any form or shape, physical, psychological, verbal, emotional or sexual, is above all a violent crime — a terrible crime. Abusing another (even if it’s intangible) is no different than taking a weapon and beating someone to a pulp. And because of its terrible long-term effects, the crime is that much worse.

The next question is this: What are our obligations as parents, teachers, writers, Web site editors or just plain adult citizens when it comes to abuse?

On one hand, we are talking about protecting innocent people from criminal predators, which clearly is a major obligation and a priority concern. On the other hand, we do have laws prohibiting embarrassing people (even criminals) in public, always hopeful, allowing people to correct their ways. We have laws about avoiding gossip and speaking ill about others (lashon harah), and not feeding into the base instinct of “talking about others” or “mob mentality” witch-hunting expeditions.

We have several obligations when we see or know about a crime, as well as obligations to prevent further crimes:

1) A witness to a crime who does not testify “must bear his guilt” (Leviticus 5:1). 

2) “Do not place a stumbling block before the blind” (Leviticus 19:14), which includes the obligation to warn someone from a danger we are aware of. If you see someone walking down the street and you know that farther down the block there is an uncovered pit in the ground or a man with a gun, you are obligated to warn him. If we are aware of a predator, we must do everything possible to protect people from him.

3) “Do not stand still over your neighbor’s blood (when your neighbor’s life is in danger)” (Leviticus 19:16). It’s interesting to note that this commandment follows (in the same verse) “do not go around as a gossiper among your people,” suggesting that gossip is an issue only when no life is in danger. But if a life is in danger, then “do not stand still” even if means speaking about it in public.

4) “You must admonish your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him” (Leviticus 19:17). If one does not admonish, then he is responsible for the other’s sin (Sefer HaMitzvot, Positive 205; see Shabbat 54b. 119b). Although at the outset rebuke must be done “in private, kindly and gently,” not to embarrass him publicly (Arkhin 16b; Sefer HaMitzvot, Negative 305), but if it doesn’t help, the obligation is to admonish him in public (Rambam Deos 6:8. Shulchan Aruch HaRav Hilchos Onaah v’Gneivas Daas 30).

This is true even about a crime that does not affect other people. All the care taken about public shame is because the crime does not affect the public. And even then, there are situations where the admonishment must be done publicly. By contrast, in our discussion about abuse, which affects others, all these restrictions do not apply: Embarrassment of a criminal is never an excuse or a reason to put anyone else in potential danger.

Based on the above, I would submit the following criteria to determine whether to publish and publicize the name of a molester:

1) The abuse must be established without a shred of doubt. Because just as we must protect the potential victims of abuse, we also are obligated to protect the reputations of the innocent, and not wrongly accuse anyone without evidence or witnesses.

 2) Publicizing the fact will serve as a deterrent or even possible deterrent of further crimes, or will warn and protect possible future victims. If that is true, then lashon harah does not apply. It would be the equivalent of saying that it is lashon harah to warn someone of a weapon-wielding criminal who may cause harm.

3) Even if a name is not available to be publicized, the issue of abuse itself must be addressed for the same reasons stated: to make the public aware of the dangers, to protect innocent children.

The argument that publicity will give the community a “bad name” and “why wash our dirty laundry in public?” does not supersede the obligation to protect the innocent from being hurt.

Anyone who suggests that abuse must be overlooked, because (as one person told me) it “happens all the time” and “by many people, including our leaders,” or for any other reasons — is not different from ignoring any other crime, and is in itself a grave crime.

One could even argue that the greatest “kiddush HaShem” (sanctifying God’s name) is when a Torah-based community demonstrates that it doesn’t just mechanically follow the laws or isn’t merely concerned with reputations, but that it sets and demands the highest standard of accountability among its citizens, and invests the greatest possible measures to protect its children from predators, create trust and absolutely will not tolerate any breach or abuse. That the greatest sin of all is ignoring or minimizing crimes being perpetrated against our most innocent and vulnerable members: our children.

In conclusion: The bottom line in all matters regarding abuse is one and only one thing: protecting the innocent. Not the reputation of an individual, not the reputation of the community, not anything but the welfare of our children. In every given case, whether to publicize, whether to take any other action, the question that must be asked is this: What is best for the victims? Will or can this action help prevent someone from being hurt or not? If the answer is yes or even maybe yes, then the action should be taken.

The crisis has reached a boiling point where it must be addressed and brought to the attention of the public to make everyone aware of the dangers, the long-term consequences and the zero-tolerance policy that needs to be applied to every form of abuse.

Anything less would be irresponsible, immoral and, yes, in some way complicit.


Rabbi Simon Jacobson is the author of the best-selling book “Toward a Meaningful Life.” He heads The Meaningful Life Center (meaningfullife.com), in Manhattan, N.Y., which bridges the secular and the spiritual through a wide variety of live and on-line programming.

Getting ready for baby


Rabbi Julia Weisz found herself in a bit of a conundrum when she became an expectant mother.

On the one hand, the rabbi and director of education at Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas was cautious about holding a baby shower. In the earlier stages of her pregnancy — she is due to have her first child in July — she said, “It seemed uncomfortable for me to celebrate something that wasn’t here.”

However, her Reform congregation wanted to honor her pregnancy. Ultimately, she agreed to have one in May. 

“A baby shower is a good way to bring the community together around something positive,” Weisz said. “I wanted to give them the opportunity to do something to help.”

When it comes to Jewish laws and customs, there are many different opinions on every lifecycle event — from birth to marriage to death. Baby showers are no exception.

While some Jews and clergy have no problem with throwing baby showers, others won’t even select a name for a baby prior to birth. There are no textual laws banning celebrations before the baby is born, but in some circles, it’s customary not to hold them. 

“It’s a little bit arrogant to assume the baby is going to be born,” said Rabbi Chaim Bryski of Chabad of Thousand Oaks. “Traditionally, we don’t tell anybody about the pregnancy, not even until the third or fourth month. To make a party to honor the baby would be uncomfortable from a traditional perspective, but there is no law that says you can’t.”

Some believe that if a baby’s name is uttered or his or her life is celebrated before birth, the evil eye, or ayin harah, might harm it, according to Rabbi Noah Farkas of Valley Beth Shalom (VBS), a Conservative shul in Encino. 

“In our tradition, there is the theological and religious idea that a new life is very tenuous,” he said. “One of the superstitions is that the evil eye knows who to run after because they know the name of the person. If someone gets really sick, they can change their Hebrew name to escape the angel of death. We don’t do a lot to celebrate the baby in order to protect it from the possibility of its own demise.”

After a baby is born, more traditional Jewish families will celebrate by sponsoring Kiddush meals at their synagogues or hosting a shalom zachar, or a drop-in party for a baby boy, on the Friday night after he is born. 

Bryski suggests registering for gifts, and once the baby is born, they can be delivered. He said that if something happens to a baby, it adds to the pain the parents experience to be surrounded by presents.

Still, Rabbi Jonathan Hanish has no hesitation about having a baby shower, particularly because of modern medical advances.

“In today’s world, where you know a baby is healthy and you have such a high rate of successful pregnancies, a baby shower is totally acceptable,” said the rabbi at Temple Kol Tikvah, a Reform congregation in Woodland Hills.

One of Hanish’s congregants, Sarah Knopf, a mother of three, had a baby shower for her first son. Although she grew up with a superstitious grandmother, she wasn’t convinced that there was anything negative about it. 

“I needed to have everything done and organized before he came,” she said. “I’m a planner, so that made me feel better. I would have gone crazy.”

Farkas said that at VBS, which has 5,000 members, traditions vary. 

“Most of the congregation does do baby showers of different types. In our community, it’s not homogeneous by any means,” he said. “Some in the community will give babies names, and then there are some who [won’t do anything before a baby is born]. Some are in between. That reflects the larger Jewish community.”

Like Knopf, VBS member Nikki Eigler chose to hold a shower because she wanted to plan before the baby arrived. She said, “I’m a person who needs to be prepared. I did not want to come home from the hospital without having anything in the house.”

Allison Lotterstein, a congregant at Kol Tikvah, had no concerns either. She, like many expectant mothers, just wanted a way to commemorate a new life coming into the world. 

“Every pregnancy should be celebrated,” she said. “In my mind and in the minds of the people who threw me a shower, my baby was a blessing.

Former JFS director of children and family services rejects report she shielded Australian abuser


When veteran social worker Debbie Fox’s name appeared in Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald on April 10, the story about her claimed she was doing the unthinkable: protecting a known abuser of children.

The story purported to quote from an e-mail she wrote to an unnamed sex offender in November 2011. “I have no idea how anyone found out,” she was quoted as saying, “but calls are coming daily from many sources. So far, we’ve been protecting you.” 

Fox worked at Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS), until budgetary pressures led her to resign late last year. Most recently she was the agency’s director of children and family services. She also served as director of the Aleinu Family Resource Center, an arm of JFS serving the local Orthodox community. 

Fox, who is internationally known as a leading authority on child abuse prevention within Orthodox communities, confirmed in an interview with the Journal that she wrote the e-mail quoted in the Herald, but said the Australian newspaper took it out of context in a way that misrepresents its intent. 

Speaking on April 14, Fox stated that her e-mail was not about protecting the offender from prosecution or from the local Orthodox Jewish community. 

Rather, Fox said she was informing the offender of what he already knew: that if he did not follow through with the evaluation and treatment that he and JFS had come up with, the victim, who had first brought the offender to Fox’s attention, would go public with what the offender had done to him 20 years earlier in Australia. 

The complete chain of e-mails, Fox said, make clear that she and Aleinu had no intention of protecting the offender from such exposure, and Fox said that each e-mail she sent to the offender also was copied to the victim and to a rabbi on Aleinu’s Halachic Advisory Board (HAB), a group of Orthodox rabbis who work with Aleinu on its cases and protocols. 

“The victim, the offender and the rabbi were all notified of every communication,” she said. 

The Herald’s story is just one of many published about abuse within the Australian Jewish community, and it comes at a time when revelations and prosecution of sexual abuse within Orthodox Jewish communities around the world are on the rise. 

This story could draw further scrutiny of the work of Los Angeles’ HAB, which has been considered by many Orthodox experts as a model for treating abusers because of HAB’s close cooperation with law enforcement. Critics, however, see HAB’s work as undermining reporting requirements by presenting itself as an alternative to law enforcement. 

Since the early 2000s, when three sex abuse scandals in Los Angeles’ Orthodox Jewish community received broad press coverage, Fox has been working on a number of fronts to prevent sex abuse. 

A licensed clinical social worker, Fox created a program that aims to educate children, parents and educators about how to prevent and respond to child abuse. She worked with the HAB rabbis to devise a “conduct policy” that has been introduced in Jewish schools and camps. And she oversaw the growth of the HAB to its current size, with 11 local rabbis from across the Orthodox community now working on a volunteer basis on some particularly sensitive issues.

Fox is herself a mandated reporter — if she has reason to suspect child abuse, she must inform authorities — as are JFS and Aleinu. But the HAB, Fox said, only intervenes in cases of child abuse where there is no reportable offense, and has taken on between 25 and 30 cases of alleged or confirmed child abuse in the past eight years. 

Fox said she was contacted in 2011 by a victim who was seeking to force the man who abused him decades earlier in Australia to go before the HAB. 

The offender, now living in Los Angeles, admitted to the abuse, but Fox said that when she called the L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services, she was told there was nothing to report locally because the offense took place decades earlier and in another country. Fox said she also encouraged the victim to call police in Australia, but he declined to do so at the time, citing personal reasons. 

For a victim of abuse to decline to report an offense, even years later, is not unusual in insular Orthodox communities. That is, Fox said, what drives the HAB in the work that it does. 

In 2011, both the victim and the offender — both of whom provided statements to Fox, but declined to be interviewed by the Journal either by phone, e-mail or in person — were in “100 percent agreement,” Fox said, both about what took place decades earlier and what had to happen going forward.

Under threat of exposure, the offender underwent an in-depth assessment to determine whether he was still a danger to children. 

Such evaluations, used frequently by the HAB, can last up to 50 hours and involve lengthy questionnaires, a lie-detector test and other examinations. 

This one, however, ended up being atypical, Fox said: The assessment found the offender had offended in the past but had not reoffended in “more than 20 years.” 

The outside evaluators recommended the offender undergo therapy with an expert in the field, Fox said, and in accordance with the victim’s wishes, disclose his past offenses to his own rabbi. The offender is now required to meet with that rabbi on a monthly basis. 

The offender complied, Fox said, and the victim told her he was completely satisfied with the results of the HAB’s involvement. 

The other unusual aspect of this case, Fox said, was that the offender took, in his words, “a significant period of time” to complete the evaluation and to get set up with treatment. 

Too long, as Fox made clear in her e-mail of Nov. 21, 2012. 

“We have NEVER had any evaluation take nearly this long,” Fox wrote in the e-mail obtained by the Herald, reminding him that he had to complete it “for [his] security.” 

Fox declined to share the entire e-mail chain with the Journal, but read the text of those that preceded the one obtained by the Herald to a reporter over the phone. The e-mails were insistent that the offender move forward with the agreed-upon assessment and treatment regimen. 

“Every communication was about following through with the protocol,” Fox told the Journal. “When he [the offender] did not follow through in a timely manner, what I said is, ‘I can’t protect you.’ 

“The victim is going to just let everybody know that this is what you’ve done 20 years ago, and I’m not going to stop it,” Fox added. “I can’t protect that. That is what the e-mail said.” 

Fox has many supporters within the Orthodox Jewish community, but some advocates for the sexual abuse victims are critical of her work with the HAB. 

 “Why do you need an advisory board? Why do you need gatekeepers?” asked Ben Hirsch, a spokesperson for Survivors for Justice, an organization that educates and advocates on issues related to child safety. “Duplicating the job of trained law enforcement professionals serves no purpose other than the occasional cover-up.

“The only thing rabbis should be doing is to tell people to report all incidents of abuse directly to the authorities — even when there is no legal requirement to do so — and to offer public moral support to victims who do report,” Hirsch added. 

Richard Baker, one of the reporters who wrote the Herald article, said this week that the unnamed offender is now under investigation by detectives in Sydney for acts committed against four victims when they were children. 

Australia has no statute of limitations on criminal charges of sexual abuse against children. 

Egyptian exodus comes to Westwood


With focused eyes and wide smiles, a sea of preschoolers in white baker’s hats worked slowly, carefully kneading and flattening the dough that would soon emerge from a brick oven as that classic Passover food: matzah.

These little amateur cooks were part of the model matzah bakery at Chabad’s West Coast headquarters in Westwood, which over a two-week period drew about 6,700 children, most ranging in age from 3 to 7.

The 28th annual event, which took place March 3-17 at the Chabad on Gayley Avenue, gave inquisitive Jewish and non-Jewish children a chance to experience the biblical Exodus firsthand. They went from learning about the hardships of slavery to unleashing a torrent of plagues on the Egyptians to crossing the sea — and even enjoying their own hand-made, piping-hot matzah on the other side.

At the first of five stations, dozens of young participants, along with their teachers and some parents, learned about what the Hebrews suffered through: arduous work, little rest and molding mortar for the bricks. What is normally a large social hall was divided into stations, each with tarps designed according to a specific theme of the period of the Exodus.

One station resembled the Egyptian desert, with images of sand and pyramids adorning the tarps. Another featured Moses, Pharaoh and an Egyptian magician — all played by yeshiva students. 

After witnessing eight plagues, including, to their wide-eyed amazement, water poured into Pharaoh’s goblet turning into blood (or some other mysterious red substance), the children’s Egyptian masters suddenly stopped moving. They had been struck blind by the ninth plague, darkness. 

“We are frozen,” Pharaoh said, appearing to panic. 

“If you allow the Jewish people to go free,” Moses responded, then God will restore light. 

“Maybe,” Pharaoh said. “But first take the plague away.”

“OK, I trust you,” Moses said as he “removed” the darkness with a movement of his staff.

“He’s kidding!” yelled one child, not buying Pharaoh’s promise.

“Ha, ha, ha!” exclaimed Pharaoh. “I’m not letting anyone get away.”

The kids appeared disheartened, exhaling loudly. But after the 10th plague killed every firstborn male in Egypt, Pharaoh crumbled, allowing the children to leave Egypt to the tune of “Under the Sea,” from “The Little Mermaid.”

That brought them to an area where a man who went by the name “Farmer Joe” — the bakery’s wheat and flour expert — taught the basics of grinding wheat stalks into flour, the first step of the delicate and precise matzah-baking process. He softened up the crowd with a bit of comedy, introducing his stuffed ram.

“He’s an interesting ram. He doesn’t eat at all,” Farmer Joe said. “He always says he’s stuffed.”

As children crowded around several wooden tables, they separated kernels from the wheat stalks, grinding them down to flour. They then moved to the mixing station, where they watched some of their classmates enter two booths connected by a wooden plank, one booth for water and one for flour. The children in the respective booths enthusiastically dumped their flour and water into a stainless steel bowl, creating dough.

According to Jewish law, once water touches flour, there is a period of 18 minutes that may pass until the dough leavens, turning into chametz, which cannot be consumed during the holiday. In professional matzah bakeries across the world, this process is intense and hectic, as workers must ensure, down to the second, that all matzah packaged for distribution is baked within 18 minutes of the water and flour mixing.

Because the bakery in Westwood was just a model one, the matzah baked there was not technically kosher for Passover, but the kids understood that time was of the essence, hurrying from the mixing station to the bakery itself.

Little hands flattened the dough on large tables, then made holes in it using spiked rollers. They placed their creations in a brick oven, waiting eagerly for a taste. As the small, handmade, roundish pieces of matzah emerged minutes later, the kids gathered around, staring excitedly at the crunchy unleavened bread that was placed into their outstretched baker’s caps. 

As they left the building with their teachers and parents, munching on their snack, and singing a catchy tune about matzah, Rabbi Aron Teleshevsky, organizer of the bakery, reflected on the annual program.

“I love this,” Teleshevsky said. “It’s not ‘in-your-face’ Judaism; it’s a fun opportunity to celebrate Passover.”

Teleshevsky estimates that about 90 percent of the children who pass through the bakery in any given year are not from Orthodox day schools. Many, he said, are from public schools, or even a Christian school, and are simply interested in the holiday.

Rabbi Chaim Cunin, CEO of Chabad of California, thinks that model matzah bakeries — which are held worldwide — help children connect on a deeper, more personal level during the Passover holiday.

“They’ll be sitting at their own seder table, eating matzah around the table, telling the story. All of a sudden they have a point of reference to make sense of it all and to relive it,” Cunin said. 

The Mensch List: Two-person army for their autistic son


Just try asking Connie and Harvey Lapin to recap 44 years as parent activists in the world of autism. In hyperactive tag-team, the couple bursts forth with stories and ideas, only to interrupt themselves and one another with still more anecdotes, ideas and accomplishments.

In the end, through laughter and tears, they manage to produce a coherent story of the tireless chutzpah, visionary courage and what they call serendipity, but is probably more about persistence, that helped them change the landscape, locally and nationally, for people with autism.

Harvey, 75, and Connie, 73, both grew up in Detroit. The second of their three sons, Shawn, was born in 1968 and was diagnosed with autism in 1970. Shawn is mostly nonverbal, and when he was younger was prone to violent and self-destructive behavior. He now lives in his own apartment with 24-hour help.

In 1970, there were no services for Shawn, and autism was misunderstood as childhood schizophrenia, often blamed on a frigid mother (Connie melts with warmth), and was treated with what today would be called abuse. The Lapins were told Shawn was incapable of feeling love or attachment and that the state had no obligation to educate him.

The Lapins had no intention of standing for any of that.

Story continues after the video.

Text of President Barack Obama's address to the nation after Friday's mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school, as provided by CQ Transcriptions:

“This afternoon, I spoke with Governor Malloy and FBI Director Mueller. I offered Gov. Malloy my condolences on behalf of the nation and made it clear he will have every single resource that he needs to investigate this heinous crime, care for the victims, counsel their families.”

“We've endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years. And each time I learn the news, I react not as a president, but as anybody else would as a parent. And that was especially true today. I know there's not a parent in America who doesn't feel the same overwhelming grief that I do.”

“The majority of those who died today were children — beautiful, little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old. They had their entire lives ahead of them — birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own. Among the fallen were also teachers, men and women who devoted their lives to helping our children fulfill their dreams.”

“So our hearts are broken today for the parents and grandparents, sisters and brothers of these little children, and for the families of the adults who were lost.”

“Our hearts are broken for the parents of the survivors, as well, for as blessed as they are to have their children home tonight, they know that their children's innocence has been torn away from them too early and there are no words that will ease their pain.”

“As a country, we have been through this too many times. Whether it is an elementary school in Newtown, or a shopping mall in Oregon, or a temple in Wisconsin, or a movie theater in Aurora, or a street corner in Chicago, these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods and these children are our children. And we're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.”

“This evening, Michelle and I will do what I know every parent in America will do, which is hug our children a little tighter, and we'll tell them that we love them, and we'll remind each other how deeply we love one another. But there are families in Connecticut who cannot do that tonight, and they need all of us right now. In the hard days to come, that community needs us to be at our best as Americans, and I will do everything in my power as president to help, because while nothing can fill the space of a lost child or loved one, all of us can extend a hand to those in need, to remind them that we are there for them, that we are praying for them, that the love they felt for those they lost endures not just in their memories, but also in ours.”

“May God bless the memory of the victims and, in the words of Scripture, heal the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds.”

Chanukah models of courage


My 4-year-old son is obsessed with superheroes, dressing up at every opportunity as the superhero du jour to do battle with the bad guys lurking around the corner. (My 2-year-old daughter is just as enthusiastic, but at her age all she can really muster is a “meanie” face.)

From a developmental perspective, I know this fantasy play is his way of exercising control over a world he is learning is increasingly out of his control. But I also see other qualities — his desire to be strong, to stand up for the good guys — in short, to be courageous.

Becoming courageous doesn’t happen overnight. It develops when children have opportunities to stand up for what’s right and to take responsible risks. Through experiences my husband and I provide, and the stories we tell them, we can lay some groundwork.

As I think about a central message of the Chanukah story and the way I want to portray it to my kids, models of courage abound. From Judah Maccabee to Judith and Hannah and her seven sons, heroes and heroines fought for the right to be different, to be Jews who refused to assimilate into the prevailing Hellenistic culture.

When Antiochus Epiphanes came to power, and observance of the most basic mitzvot (circumcision, Shabbat celebration and kashrut) were turned into capital offenses, their acts of courage formed the basis of a central narrative of the Chanukah story that has been passed down through the generations.

Consider Judah Maccabee, whose army used guerrilla tactics and religious zeal to defeat the stronger Assyrian-Greek army. He forced the Assyrian Greeks to rescind the policies that forbade Jewish practice, and in 164 B.C.E. liberated the Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it as a place of Jewish worship.

Consider Judith, who did her part to prevent the siege of Jerusalem in her hometown of Bethulia by seducing Holfenes, the Assyrian-Greek army general, and then decapitating him. Her bravery is so highly esteemed by the rabbis that it is because of her act of courage that Jewish women are obligated to light Chanukah candles.

And consider Hannah and her seven sons, who refused to bow down to Zeus and Antiochus and eat nonkosher meat. The Book of Maccabees relates that each of her sons and then her mother were tortured to death.

These acts of courage seem extreme and even unpalatable to our modern era — what woman would sacrifice her son, not to mention all seven? And aren’t we a peace-loving people who should not extol brute force?

But they also lead us to a deeper question about the nature of courage. Are there values and beliefs for which we are willing to make great sacrifices, and if any of these values or beliefs were to be violated, would we be stirred to action?

While these figures present us with one narrative of the Chanukah story — of heroism in battle and martyrdom — a second narrative is favored by the ancient rabbis. The story begins with the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem and the faith that the Jews had that the small cruse of oil, which should have lasted for one day only, could last for eight (in time for others to travel and get more oil).

The second narrative downplays the military victory won by human hands and elevates the story to one in which our faith in God and God’s miracles are kindled. It reminds us that courage is born when we continue to have faith and hope even in our darkest time. Having faith in itself is an important kind of courage.

While the call to be courageous is central to the Chanukah story — spiritually or physically — it is also daunting. But the rabbis offered another way for us to understand how to live a courageous life and be our own heroes.

“Who is a hero?” the rabbis ask. “One who overcomes his urges?” (Mishna, Pirke Avot 4:1).

Overcoming our most natural desires and exercising personal restraint is another kind of heroism. This is a kind of everyday courage.

When we are present in a difficult conversation with someone we care about even though our impulse is to leave, we are a hero. When we resist the urge to say something that we know will offend another person, even if we think it is warranted, we are courageous. When we have vowed not to feed a habit that is destructive to us, and when tempted and resist (a smoke, an extra piece of chocolate cake), we are being our own heroes.

This Chanukah, celebrate all of the dimensions of courage by dedicating each night to one of them:

Candle 1 to the classic Chanukah heroes of Judah Maccabee, Judith and Hannah.

Candle 2 to the courageous acts of our children who welcome a new kid to the school, speak out against bullying or have faith that the next day at school might be a little better than today.

Candle 3 to someone in your community who took up a cause you believe in and fought for it.

Candle 4 to someone in your family — perhaps a parent or grandparent — and a courageous act they performed during their lives.

Candle 5 to American and Israeli soldiers who are fighting to protect values and ideals that are sacred to us.

Candle 6 to the courage that you have exercised by restraint — with a co-worker, spouse, child, friend or parent.

Candle 7 to a person in your life who exemplifies courage the most.

Candle 8 to that quality of courage in ourselves that enables us to bring light into dark places and for the energy to continue to stoke the embers of our own sense of courage.

High Holy Days: Books for children and teens


“Oh No, Jonah!”

by Tilda Balsley, illustrated by Jago (Kar-Ben: $7.95)Oh no, Jonah!

Those parents and teachers looking for a new twist on the story of Jonah (read yearly on Yom Kippur) need look no more. This latest version from children’s author Tilda Balsley sticks to the biblical text but is appropriate for very young children. The clever rhymes demand to be read out loud, such as after Jonah suggests that the frightened fisherman throw him into the sea: “Immediately, the weather cleared. / But things were worse than Jonah feared / ‘I wish I hadn’t volunteered.’ ” The vibrant, bold illustrations are truly stunning, and the artist’s interpretation of a huge, bright orange fish is probably more accurate than the usual depictions of whales. “A giant fish swam to his side / And stared at him all google-eyed. / Its mouth, humongous, opened wide / and, CHOMP! / He found himself inside.” Entertaining fun with a biblical message of forgiveness that is surely important to remember during the High Holy Days.


“It’s a … It’s a … It’s a Mitzvah”

by Liz Suneby and Diane Heiman, illustrated by Laurel Molk (Jewish Lights: $18.99)

If your kids haven’t heard of Mitzvah Meerkat and all his animal friends, then it’s time to introduce them to this delightfully illustrated picture book. The authors were inspired by a well-known Talmud teaching relating the importance of various good deeds, such as honoring parents, visiting the sick, helping the needy, bringing peace between people  and more. The lively animal characters joyously perform many mitzvot that children can easily relate to, and the clever layout helps parents introduce the Jewish concepts of performing good deeds in an age-appropriate manner. The title refers to the rhythmic refrain that can be chanted for fun by kids during a story-time session, but the whimsical pen-and-ink watercolor drawings are the highlight of this engaging way to introduce children to acts of loving kindness. Thankfully not preachy or otherwise didactic, the lessons are cute and contemporary.  (The sheep are knitting scarves, the monkeys play on monkey bars, etc.) This is an excellent book for the preschool classroom, but the cuteness factor of the animals’ antics will ensure that parents at home will also get lots of pleasure in learning great Jewish values and passing them on to future generations.


“The Apple Tree’s Discovery” 

by Peninnah Schram and Rachayl Eckstein Davis, illustrated by Wendy W. Lee (Kar-Ben: $7.95)

Well-known author and storyteller Peninnah Schram reminds us in her afterword to this charming fable: “To find the star in the apple, you must turn it on its side and cut it in half. We must look hard to find the beautiful star in each of us, and sometimes it just takes a change of direction.” When a little apple tree notices that stars in the sky appear to be hanging from branches of the taller oak trees, she asks God to grant her wish to also have stars. Although God notes that her “fragrant blossoms fill the air” and her “branches offer a resting place for birds” she covets only what others have. But when God causes a wind to blow and suddenly her delicious apples hit the ground, they split open, exposing the beautiful star within. This sweet parable about appreciating God’s gifts and understanding our own uniqueness is a universal tale. It will be particularly memorable if you remember to read it before you slice those Rosh Hashanah apples — by turning them on their sides and finding that elusive star.


“Be Like God: God’s To-Do List for Kids”

by Ron Wolfson (Jewish Lights: $15.99)

Did you know God gave us superpowers? This inspirational guide/journal for kids (ages 8-12) shows us how “our God shares God’s powers with us so we can make our lives better and the lives of others better. When we learn how to use God’s superpowers, we become God’s partners — God’s superheroes — on earth.” Even though it sounds moralistic, it isn’t. In fact, it looks like fun. The paperback volume sets up prominent Jewish educator Ron Wolfson as a friendly uncle who asks you thought-provoking questions and lets you write down all your answers in your book. This book is a kids’ version of Wolfson’s 2006 adult book, “God’s To-Do List — 103 Ways to Be an Angel and Do God’s Work on Earth.” Divided into 10 chapters such as “Rest,” “Care,” “Give” or “Forgive,” it can serve as a young person’s means of truly understanding the ways he or she can bring goodness into our world. Wolfson is remarkably at ease with the sort of unaffected language that will appeal to young people. The book is attractively designed, the stories within are engaging, and the child’s urge to write in it will be irresistible. 


“Text Messages: A Torah Commentary for Teens”

edited by Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin (Jewish Lights: $24.99) Text messages

Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin (author of “Putting God on the Guest List”) wants young people to know that the Torah is about their lives — even if they are teenagers. “Every passage of Torah has the potential to be someone’s personal story and teaching — and that definitely includes you as a teenager,” he writes. Rabbi Salkin serves as editor of this volume and he has gathered insights into each of the 54 Torah portions from more than 100 Jews of all denominations. Most are rabbis, but other contributors are well-known educators, authors or community leaders. Some of the names that would be familiar to Angelenos would be Rabbi Sherre Hirsch, Chazzan Danny Maseng, Rabbi Steven Z. Leder, Rabbi David Wolpe, Ron Wolfson, Ruth Messinger, Rabbi Spike Anderson, Rabbi Zoë Klein, Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, Rabbi Laura Geller, Rabbi William Cutter, Rabbi Ken Chasen, Rabbi Ed Feinstein, Joel Lurie Grishaver, Rabbi Denise Eger and Rabbi Elie Kaplan Spitz. Each short, two- to three-page essay is written in an engaging teen-centered style, such as one by Rabbi Cherie Koller-Fox, which opens the discussion of Parshat Miketz with this line: “How do you know whom to trust and what is true? In Miketz, Pharaoh faces that problem.” Of course this is a wonderful resource for bar mitzvah students, but it can also serve as the first go-to book for families who enjoy sharing Torah insights at Shabbat or holiday meals.


Lisa Silverman is the director of the Sinai Temple Blumenthal Library and former children’s editor of Jewish Book World magazine. 

Everything is easier than doing good


Some thoughts for Rosh Hashanah:

If we took a vote on what trait we human beings most value, goodness would undoubtedly win. Certainly goodness is the trait that we most want everyone else to possess.

But if we say we value goodness above everything else — and surely Judaism does — why aren’t there more good people?

A big reason is that it is easier to value other things — including, and especially, positive things — more than goodness. So it’s much easier to be just about anything rather than good.

It’s easier to be religious than to be good.

The history of all religions is replete with examples of individuals who seem religious, yet who are not good and are sometimes downright evil. The most obvious examples today are found within Islam. But Judaism, Christianity and all other religions have provided examples. It was mean-spirited observant Jews (observant of laws between man and God) whom the Prophets most severely criticized. God doesn’t want your ritual observances, Isaiah said in God’s name, if you don’t treat people properly. And too much of European Christian history produced people who valued faith over goodness.

It’s easier to be progressive than to be good.

Just as it is easier to be religious than to be good, it is easier to hold progressive positions than to be good. Too many religious people have equated religious piety with goodness, and too many believers in today’s dominant religion, progressivism, equate left-wing positions with goodness. I saw this as a graduate student in the 1970s, when the most progressive students were so often personally mean and dishonest. They seemed to believe that protesting against war and racism defined the good human being — so how they treated actual people didn’t really matter. Defining goodness as having progressive social positions has helped produce a lot of mean-spirited and narcissistic individuals with the “right” social positions.

It’s easier to be brilliant (and successful) than to be good.

Ask your children — whether they are 5 or 45 — what they think you most want them to be: happy, good, successful or smart.

Parents have told me for decades how surprised they were that their children did not answer “good.” One reason is that so many parents have stressed brilliance (and the success that brilliance should lead to) over goodness. Thus, many parents brag about their child’s brilliance rather than about their goodness. How closely do parents monitor their children’s character as compared to how closely they monitor their children’s grades?

Brilliance is probably the most overrated human attribute. And there is absolutely no connection between it and goodness. 

It’s easier to care about the earth than to be good.

Everyone who cares about the next generation of human beings cares about the earth. But we live at a time when many care about the earth more than they care about human beings. That is why, for example, the environmentalist movement in the West persisted in banning DDT, despite the fact that not using DDT to destroy the Anopheles mosquito has resulted in millions of Africans dying of malaria.

Similarly, it is a lot easier to fight carbon emissions than to fight evil.

It’s easier to love animals than to love people.

The secular West has produced many people who love animals more than human beings. Ask people who love their pet if they would first try to save a beloved dog or cat that was drowning or a human being they did not know who was also drowning. If my asking this question for over 30 years is any indication, a significant percentage would answer that they would first try to save their dog or cat. Why? Because, they say, they love their pet and they don’t love the stranger.

Contrary to what is widely believed, love of animals does not translate into love of people. While those who are cruel to animals will likely be cruel to people, the converse is not true. Love of animals has little to do with, and can often substitute for, love of people. 

It’s easier to love humanity than to love your neighbor.

The greatest moral teaching of the Torah is, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” not “Love humanity [or “all people”] as yourself.” Why? Because it’s easy to love humanity; it’s much tougher to love our neighbor.

It’s easier to be intellectual and cultured than to be good.

The most cultured nation in the world created the Holocaust. The nation that produced Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Schumann and Wagner also produced the Nazis and Auschwitz. For those of us whose lives have been immeasurably enriched by the art and culture produced by Germans, that is a sobering fact.

It’s easier to intend to do good than to do good.

It is a truism that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Nearly all the evils of the 20th century, the bloodiest century in history, were committed not by sadists, but by people with good intentions.

That is why, when it comes to how we treat our fellow human beings, only our behavior — not our intention, and not how much we feel for others — matters. 

The primacy of behavior over feelings may well be Judaism’s greatest message. 

A happy and healthy new year to all my readers.


Dennis Prager will once again be conducting High Holy Day services in Los Angeles. For more information, visit www.pragerhighholidays.net

For southern Israel, start of school is start of ‘rocket season’


As the school year got underway for more than two million Israeli students across the country on Monday, a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip exploded in open territory in the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council in southern Israel—midway between Beersheba and Ashkelon—causing no damage.

President Shimon Peres visited a fortified high school in Sha’ar Hanegev on Monday.

“Facing the threat of rockets, you have shown steadfastness in learning, achievements, and creativity,” Peres told students. “The state of Israel is proud of you.”

Monday’s rocket attack came just a day after three Qassam rockets were fired into Israel from Gaza on Sunday. The first rocket exploded on the grounds of a factory in the industrial area of Sha’ar Hanegev, while the second rocket exploded in an agricultural factory. The third rocket was located by a police bomb squad in an open field.

“The school year is opening today,” said Shani Cohen, a mother of three from Sha’ar Hanegev. “I have three small children in preschool and elementary school. I can’t say I’m calm and relaxed when I know Hamas could, at any moment, remind us of its existence by firing rockets. It’s true that the schools themselves are fortified, but having [the children] actually reach the schools is enough to worry me. Yesterday’s shooting was only the beginning of ‘rocket season,’” she said.

“We will not give them the satisfaction of disrupting the new school year,” said Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council Head Alon Schuster. “Most of the education and public buildings in the council are fortified, including the new high school that will be inaugurated today.”

Over summer vacation, workers in the Sha’ar Hanegev and Eshkol regional councils inspected all of the schools under their jurisdiction. “We’ve left nothing to chance,” a security officer said. “We put out a clear order to fix anything in need of repair, in relation to the safety of the students.”

The sirens set off by Sunday’s rockets caused residents and those working in the factories to seek shelter in designated secure spaces. Despite the direct hit, only one shock victim was reported. According to Roni Elkabetz, all the employees at the factory where he works were present when the rocket hit. “It’s been quiet here for several weeks now,” he said. “We’ve already gotten used to a calm life without any rockets, but now the story is repeating itself.”

Another employee said that the factories in the area have become accustomed to this situation over the past 12 years. “It’s sad that we’ve come to terms with this, but the fact is we live with it, because this is where our homes and families are.”

One of the factories hit on Sunday was also struck a few months ago. One worker was wounded in the June incident, and damage was caused to several structures. All the facilities had since been repaired, but they were damaged again on Sunday.

“It all comes down to luck,” said one employee. “There’s no way to predict in these cases. It was just unlucky that our factory was hit twice.”

Israeli NGO to advise UN on disabled kids


The UN Economic and Social Council has named an Israeli NGO as a special consultant on assisting disabled children.

The inclusion will allow Beit Issie Shapiro to “provide Israeli expertise in the field of disability rights and represent the innovations coming out of Israel,” according to the organization’s website.

The Council has 54 member states, including Egypt, Iraq, Libya and Qatar. Israel is not a member.

Beit Issie Shaipro was founded in 1980, and is now helping 30,000 children in Israel, according to its website. The organization also helps train thousands of therapists in Israel with its new therapies, and conducts research and shares best practices internationally.

The Israeli weekly Yedioth Hasharon quoted Noa Forman, an Israeli delegate to the UN on human rights issues, as describing the nomination as “a tremendous achievement.”

“The fact that an Israeli NGO made it past hurdles set by countries that are not exactly friendly toward Israel shows that no one can object to Beit Issie Shapiro’s work,” she saod.

Beit Issie Shapiro has a center in Kalansawa, an Arab city in Israel. Children from the West Bank also are regularly brought to Beit Issie Shapiro for treatment, Jean Judes, the NGO’s executive director, told the Israeli weekly.

Yang Sam Ma, South Korea’s Ambassador in Israel, gave the “initial push” to have the organization registered, Forman is quoted as saying. Sam Ma has sat on the committee in the past.

“The ECOSOC family is very happy about the nomination of Beit Issie Shapiro to Special Consultative Status,” Andrei Abramov, chief of the NGO branch of ECOSOC, said.

Focus on kids’ character, not grades


Not long ago, psychologist Madeline Levine gave a lecture at a Jewish day school near her home in Marin County, Calif. The topic: “Your Average Child.”

Nobody showed up. 

“I guess there wasn’t a single average kid at the school,” Levine quips.  

“By definition, the vast majority of our children are average,” she clarifies. 

It’s a notion that is difficult for parents to accept, especially as many of us grew up hearing that we were anything but average—we were special. If our kids are average, does that mean that ultimately we are (gasp!) average, too?

In an effort to keep such thoughts at bay, we enforce the typical trajectory: have the kids load up on classes and activities. Make sure they get good grades and garner trophies. This will land them at a top-tier college where, the story goes, they will graduate and embark upon a well-paid career.

But Levine, author of the new book “Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success” (HarperCollins Publishers), says that despite today’s high-stakes environment, which combines an uncertain economic future with increasingly fierce competition for spots at top schools, parents are paying attention to the wrong things.

“If you spend all this time going over their homework, correcting it, bringing in a tutor, you’ve lost all this time to build other things: character, persistence, generosity—all the things that people now are saying are going to be mandatory” for future jobs, she said. 

In the book, Levine writes: “Every measure of child and adolescent mental health has deteriorated since we’ve decided that children are best served by being relentlessly pushed, overloaded, and tested. Our current version of success is a failure.”

It’s a trap in which much of the Jewish community finds itself ensnared, Levine says, given the historical emphasis of Jews on the value of education.

“There’s always this sense that education is the way to go; it always has been,” she said. “If your 15-year-old says I don’t want to clear the dishes today, I have my AP chemistry test [to study for], most [Jewish] parents say don’t worry about it, go study.”

“That’s a big mistake. There’s more to be learned about the issue of sharing responsibility and community that goes along with three minutes of clearing the table.”

While many Jewish schools emphasize community and values, she says, parents too often worry about a botched test.

“We know everything about their grades and not enough about where they go and what they do,” she writes. “We monitor their performance, but not their character.”

Levine reminds parents of their ultimate goal: “We want to turn out good people who find good partners, find work they like, and contribute to their communities.” 

“Teach Your Children Well” is, in part, a response to Levine’s previous book, the 2006 surprise best-seller “The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids.” (“Nobody expected it to end up on The New York Times” best-sellers list, she said. “It did.”)

“The Price of Privilege” touched a nerve. Although its scope was limited to upper-class families, it identified problems also prevalent among the middle- and upper-middle class. Her current book, Levine says, provides a broader perspective along with some solutions. (One example: “Question aggressively a system that seems to sanction excessive homework, competition over collaboration, sleep deprivation, and choosing activities based solely on their resume-enhancing potential.”)

As for her own background, Levine, 62, embodies the notion that “average” can turn exemplary. She grew up in New York City, in the Flushing section of Queens; her father was a police officer who died young, her mother was a social worker.

“We had no money, no insurance, nothing,” Levine recalls. A scholarship enabled Levine to study at the State University of New York, Buffalo.

“I had the best parents,” Levine said. “I was just fine the way I was, whether that was excelling in English or floundering at math. They were more interested in the kind of person I was.”

Levine began her career as a teacher in the South Bronx, a downtrodden, violence-plagued section of New York, in the 1970s. (“I was a terrible teacher,” she said. “I was so bad in the classroom, so good at the one on one.”)

Levine moved to California to pursue a doctorate in psychology and has remained here. She has a private clinical practice—on the back burner at the moment, she says—and is a founder of Challenge Success, a Stanford University-based organization that works with schools and families to promote better balanced, more fulfilled lives for children. 

She and her husband, Lee Schwartz, have three sons, ages 32, 27 and 21. Having adult children, she says, gives her the opportunity to look back and consider what she would do differently. One thing Levine says she’d change: She would have participated more in her children’s Jewish education.

Busy with her family and career, “I remember all the times I dropped them off at Hebrew school, went home and went to bed,” she said. “It’s one thing to say, ‘You have to go to Mitzvah Day.’ Well, if mom’s not going … actions speak louder than words.”

Levine’s youngest son, Jeremy, helped guide her career toward combating the pressure-cooker environment that so many kids encounter at school. While her older sons, good students, “were served by the system,” her youngest (“a perfectly average student,” as she describes him in her book) was falling between the cracks.

“There was very little to feel good about, starting in about sixth grade,” she said. “Nobody was interested in the parts of him that were super good.”

“Every kid has a super power,” she said. “For one kid, it may be calculus. For another it’s an incredible sensitivity toward people.” A parent’s task, Levine says, is valuing these strengths equally. 

“Life hands people all kinds of losses, disappointments, tragedies,” she said. “Why do we want to have kids night after night sobbing over their homework at 2 a.m. because they can’t get it done? It’s something we created that has become an enormous stressor.”

“I feel like adults have a secret: There are a bunch of things you’re good at, a bunch of things you’re average at, a bunch of things you really suck at,” Levine said. “This idea of straight-A students is a perfect mythology to me. Most of us are pretty average in most ways.”

Kidsave changes lives for orphaned children, adoptive parents


Santiago Brown calls himself a “cashew.” It’s his way of combining the words “Catholic” and “Jew,” to refer to his unusual religious background. He lived in Colombia in a Catholic orphanage until being adopted into a Jewish family a year ago, at the age of 12. His mother, Lori Brown, a graphic artist and Nashuva member, says Santiago has Jewish music on his iPod and tells his friends, “It’s awesome to be Jewish.”

Brown first connected with Santiago through the organization Kidsave and its Summer Miracles program. Kidsave founders Terry Baugh, in Washington, D.C., and Randi Thompson, working in Los Angeles, were inspired to start the nonprofit after making visits to foreign orphanages where they witnessed children who were often left alone for hours without personal attention or mental stimulation. Kidsave, which has offices in Bogota, Colombia, and Moscow, is designed to find families for these children, as well as mentors and other sources of support.

Kidsave’s Summer Miracles program brings Colombian children from group homes and foster homes to the United States for four weeks during the summer. The children stay with “host-advocates” who care for the children while they are here, and who take it upon themselves to help find permanent homes for the kids.

Summer Miracles focuses on older children, usually between the ages of 8 and 11, who are often overlooked in the adoption process. Selected children must be legally and emotionally ready for adoption and typically are not more than two years behind academically in their home countries.

“I think there is a niche for these children,” says Sari Weiner, who adopted a child through Kidsave’s domestic hosting program, Weekend Miracles. As an older parent, Weiner did not want to adopt an infant, believing she would be too elderly by the time her child was grown. Other families may not have the energy for younger children or may want an older sibling for their other children.

Once chosen for the program, the children are brought from foster homes and group homes all over Colombia to the country’s capital, Bogota, for two weeks of training, psychological counseling and workshops. They are taught guest etiquette, some English and a bit about U.S. culture.

Estefany, left, and Johana participate in the three-legged race with Kidsave’s Bob Holman.

Host-advocates also complete role-playing workshops before the children arrive to prepare them for how to deal with situations that may arise. Rhona Rosenblatt, who has helped a child get adopted through a hosting program before and is hosting again this summer, jokes, “All the kids are doing great. The adults are constantly checking on them, being paranoid, but they are always fine.”

It costs a total of about $7,500 to bring a child to the United States through Summer Miracles, according to Thompson. Of that amount, host-advocates contribute a hosting fee of $1,250 and an application fee of $275. Host-advocates generally raise money through grass-roots organizing, while Kidsave itself receives grants and large donations.

Once the children are here, the host-advocates’ job is to spread the word about Kidsave and attend weekly events to introduce their visiting children to families. Susan Baskin, who is currently two weeks away from adopting the child she hosted last summer, mentioned Kidsave in her profile in The Jewish Journal’s “My Single Peeps” column. Brown, Santiago’s mother, has used Facebook, word of mouth and even a blurb on the Nashuva Web site to spread information about Kidsave. Brown says she brings up the organization in conversation whenever possible. Once, a teller at the bank who saw Santiago ended up mentioning Kidsave to a friend, and that friend is now in the process of adopting a child of her own.

Kidsave does not facilitate adoptions. Families who wish to adopt Colombian children after their summer visit must go through the normal international adoption process. Lauren Reicher-Gordon, the vice president of Kidsave and director of Family Visit Programs, said, “We are the yentas, the matchmakers.”

However, their success rate is noteworthy. Eighty percent of children from Summer Miracles are now adopted or in the process of being adopted, according to Reicher-Gordon. She attributes the high rate to the time families spend getting to know the kids.

Baskin agrees. Before hearing about Kidsave, she had attempted adoption on her own but was turned off by the lack of information about and time with the prospective children. “As a single woman, I felt I might not have the financial and emotional resources if the match was not good,” Baskin said. Kidsave motivated her to try adoption again because it gave her time to get to know her prospective child and a realistic idea of what it would be like to be a parent. Baskin hosted Johana in the summer of 2011 and will be leaving to pick up her new daughter in Colombia in two weeks.

The risk of any hosting program, of course, is that children’s hopes will be crushed if the adoption does not work out. Marcia Jindal, director of the intercountry adoption program at Vista Del Mar, has worked with Kidsave for seven years, doing home assessments before the children arrive, training the families, providing support and resources while the children are here, and conducting post-placement studies on children who have been adopted.

Jindal says there are pros and cons to every program. In her experience, she said, “The biggest negative that families find in these hosting programs is they feel it’s unfair to get the child’s hopes up. But there’s no way to prevent that, unfortunately.” Even if the families have the intention of adopting, the home countries of the children could at any time revoke permission to adopt. Additionally, a sudden family illness or financial problem could prevent the adoption from going through.

Valentina enthusiastically tosses a bean bag.

Reicher-Gordon says Kidsave has specific instructions for hosting families about how to approach the issue of adoption while the children are visiting. “It is not discussed when the kids are here. They are told they are learning English and having a cultural experience. … We know that kids are hopeful [for adoption], but it is not in the best interest of the children to tell them that before they leave.”

It is, nevertheless, a challenging issue to navigate. Baskin described taking Johana, who was crying and clinging to her, to the airport at the end of her visit. “I wished I could say I was going to adopt her. But all I could say was, ‘I will see you again.’ ”

Jindal stresses, however, that there are more positives than negatives to a program like this one. “Any way that we can get the word out there that children are waiting for permanency is good.” Vulnerable older children do need to be connected with families before they age out of the foster care system, and she says Kidsave does a very good job of matching children with families. “The families are really committed to advocating for the children.”

At the most recent Summer Miracles event, it appeared the hosting families cared deeply about their Kidsave children.

Baskin still remembers the expression on Johana’s face when she walked in the sand and splashed in the ocean for the first time a year ago.

Brown is hosting two more boys this summer, a second boy named Santiago — this one is 11 — and Julian, 12. The visiting Santiago recently learned to ride a bike for the first time.

“My heart is filled with joy and love,” Brown said. “They just need homes; they’re good boys. … The magic in them is amazing.”

Judge won’t allow parents to take custody of Nazi-named children


A New Jersey couple who gave their children names linked to Nazism cannot have custody of their children, a judge ruled.

The children of Heath and Deborah Campbell have been in state custody for the last three years, since a local supermarket refused to print Adolf Hitler Campbell’s full name on a cake for his third birthday. The boy, now 6, and sisters adolfJoyceLynn Aryan Nation Campbell, 5, and Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie Campbell, 4, remain in state custody, and the state also took custody in November of a newborn boy named Hons, according to UPI.

A Superior Court judge in New Jersey decided last week that the couple cannot regain custody of the children.

The Campbells plan to appeal the ruling and Heath Campbell told the Star-Ledger newspaper that he would give up his Nazism to regain custody of the children. He and his wife are now separated.

Child Holocaust survivors speak up for those who can’t


Only a precious remnant of Holocaust survivors is alive today, and many of them were just children when they went into hiding or ended up behind barbed wire. Indeed, there’s a heartbreaking irony in the fact that the last survivors are the ones who were the most at risk, precisely because the Germans had no use for youngsters who could not perform heavy labor.

The story is told in the first person in “How We Survived: 52 Personal Stories by Child Survivors of the Holocaust,” a publication of an organization called Child Survivors of the Holocaust Inc. ($30, ” title=”www.jewishjournal.com/twelvetwelve” target=”_blank”>www.jewishjournal.com/twelvetwelve and can be reached at books@jewishjournal.com.