Snowden says U.S., Israel created Stuxnet virus


Whistleblower Edward Snowden told a German magazine that Israel and the United States created the Stuxnet computer virus that destroyed nuclear centrifuges in Iran. 

Snowden made the statement as part of an interview with the German news magazine Der Spiegel in which he answered encrypted questions sent by security software developer Jacob Appelbaum and documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras. Excerpts of the interview were published Monday on the Spiegel website.

Snowden was asked if the U.S. National Security Agency partners “with other nations, like Israel?” He responded that the NSA has a “massive body” responsible for such partnerships called the Foreign Affairs Directorate.

He also was asked,  “Did the NSA help to create Stuxnet?” Snowden responded, “NSA and Israel co-wrote it.”

Stuxnet in 2010 wrought havoc on equipment at Iran’s Natanz nuclear plant and complicated the manufacture of highly enriched uranium, which the West suspects is intended for making atomic weapons. The virus temporarily disabled 1,000 centrifuges being used by the Iranians to enrich uranium.

Snowden, a former technical contractor for the NSA and employee of the CIA, last month revealed the existence of mass surveillance programs by the United States and Britain against their own citizens and citizens of other countries.

He said Germany and most other Western nations are “in bed together” with the NSA.

Snowden said a private citizen would be targeted by the NSA based on Facebook or webmail content.

“The only one I personally know of that might get you hit untargeted are jihadi forums,” he said.

Snowden is a fugitive of the United States who is believed to be in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport. Three Latin American countries — Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia — have offered him asylum, NBC reported.

Researchers say Stuxnet was deployed against Iran in 2007


Researchers at Symantec Corp. have uncovered a version of the Stuxnet computer virus that was used to attack Iran's nuclear program in November 2007, two years earlier than previously thought.

Planning for the cyber weapon, the first publicly known example of a virus being used to attack industrial machinery, began at least as early as 2005, according to an 18-page report that the security software company published on Tuesday.

Stuxnet, which is widely believed to have been developed by the United States and Israel, was uncovered in 2010 after it was used to attack a uranium enrichment facility at Natanz, Iran. That facility has been the subject of intense scrutiny by the United States, Israel and allies, who charge that Iran is trying to build a nuclear bomb.

Symantec said its researchers had uncovered a piece of code, which they called “Stuxnet 0.5,” among the thousands of versions of the virus that they had recovered from infected machines.

Stuxnet 0.5 was designed to attack the Natanz facility by opening and closing valves that feed uranium hexafluoride gas into centrifuges, without the knowledge of the operators of the facility, according to Symantec.

The virus was being developed early as 2005, when Iran was still setting up its uranium enrichment facility, said Symantec researcher Liam O'Murchu. That facility went online in 2007.

“It is really mind blowing that they were thinking about creating a project like that in 2005,” O'Murchu told Reuters in ahead of the report's release at the RSA security conference, an event attended by more than 20,000 security professionals, in San Francisco on Tuesday.

Symantec had previously uncovered evidence that planning for Stuxnet began in 2007. The New York Times reported in June 2012 that the impetus for the project dated back to 2006, when U.S. President George W. Bush was looking for options to slow Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Previously discovered versions of Stuxnet are all believed to have been used to sabotage the enrichment process by changing the speeds of those gas-spinning centrifuges without the knowledge of their operators.

Since Stuxnet's discovery in 2010, security researchers have uncovered a handful of other sophisticated pieces of computer code that they believe were developed to engage in espionage and warfare. These include Flame, Duqu and Gauss.

Stuxnet 0.5 was written using much of the same code as Flame, a sophisticated virus that researchers have previously said was primarily used for espionage, Symantec said.

Italy to fight anti-Semitism in cyberspace


The Italian government plans to introduce new legislation to beef up measures countering anti-Semitism and hate speech in cyberspace.

Integration Minister Andrea Riccardi told Jewish leaders at Rome’s main synagogue during a meeting on July 16 that he was working with the country’s justice and interior ministers to “give a clear response to those who disseminate hatred via the Internet.”

Riccardi said he planned to introduce measures that could allow the postal police to block racist Web sites and also target regular visitors “to these shameful Web pages.”

The increase in the number of Web sites with racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic content, he said, “requires the government to update the measures currently in force.”

The government, Riccardi said, wanted to send “a strong message: We want to intervene. We have this responsibility, particularly after the attack in Toulouse.” He was referring to the terror attacks in France in March that killed three students and a teacher at a Jewish school and also two Muslim soldiers.

“You can’t just cry after every massacre and then forget the tears,” he said during the roundtable discussion. “Tears have to become concrete commitments to fight against the sowers of hatred.”

At the same meeting, Rome Jewish Community President Riccardo Pacifici called on Parliament to take steps to pass a law banning Holocaust denial.

Flame virus can sabotage computers, attack Iran, expert says


The powerful Flame computer virus is not only capable of espionage but it can also sabotage computer systems and likely was used to attack Iran in April, according to a leading security company, Symantec Corp.

Iran had previously blamed Flame for causing data loss on computers in the country’s main oil export terminal and Oil Ministry. But prior to Symantec’s discovery, cyber experts had only unearthed evidence that proved Flame could spy on conversations on the computers it infects and steal data.

Symantec researcher Vikram Thakur said on Thursday that the company has now identified a component of Flame that allows operators to delete files from computers, which means it can cause critical programs to fail or completely disable operating systems.

“These guys have the capability to delete everything on the computer,” Thakur said. “This is not something that is theoretical. It is absolutely there.”

Flame was deployed at least five years ago and is the most sophisticated cyber spying program ever discovered. Researchers have been racing to better understand its capabilities ever since Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab uncovered Flame last month after the security firm was asked by a United Nations agency to look for a virus that Iran said had sabotaged its computers, deleting valuable data.

Last week, researchers at Kaspersky Lab linked some of the software code in Flame to the Stuxnet cyber weapon, which was widely believed to have been used by the United States and Israel to attack Iran’s nuclear program. Symantec later also said Stuxnet and Flame shared some code.

Current and former U.S. and Western national security officials told Reuters this week that the United States played a role in creating Flame. The Washington Post reported that U.S. and Israel jointly developed Flame and used it to collect intelligence to help slow Iran’s nuclear program.

Iran complained about the threat of cyber attacks again on Thursday, saying it had detected plans by the United States, Israel and Britain to launch a “massive” strike after the breakdown of talks over Tehran’s nuclear activities. . It was not clear if the cyber attack referred to Flame, or a new virus.

Symantec declined to comment on who the firm believes is behind Flame.

INFRASTRUCTURE AT RISK

If Symantec’s conclusions are validated, that means Flame could be used as a weapon to attack computers that run critical infrastructure systems, including dams, chemical plants and manufacturing facilities, security specialists said.

Boldizsár Bencsath, an expert on cyber warfare with Hungary’s Laboratory of Cryptography and System Security, said there was at least a 70 percent chance that Flame was used to attack Iran in April.

“Of course it can be used for sabotage,” said Bencsath, who began investigating Flame several weeks before it was first reported to the public. “It may have been used to attack critical infrastructure and it may be used in the future.”

Sean McGurk, a former Department of Homeland Security official who helped direct the U.S. effort to protect critical infrastructure from cyber attacks, said that Flame was not the first piece of malicious software designed to sabotage systems by deleting data.

What makes it unique, he said, is that the data-wiping module works alongside a suite of other programs including the espionage tools that have previously been identified.

“It could render computing devices useless,” said McGurk, who is now chief executive of a consulting firm known as NExt Generation Micro LLC.

That presents a threat, he said, because computers are used in all sorts of industrial control systems, affecting everything from critical processes at manufacturing plants to the pressure inside water networks. “Cyber elements can have catastrophic impacts,” he said.

Neil Fisher, vice president for global security solutions at Unisys, said Symantec’s findings – if verified – mean that Flame could be “highly dangerous.”

“Many of our utilities have connected their operational management to the Internet to save costs,” he said.

“Water, gas, electricity certainly constitute the critical national infrastructure,” he added. “Dysfunction of those … systems could have uncomfortable consequences for a large number of people.”

U.S., Israel developed Flame computer virus, according to anonymous Western officials


The United States and Israel jointly developed the Flame computer virus that collected intelligence to help slow Iran’s nuclear program, The Washington Post reported on Tuesday, citing anonymous Western officials.

The so-called Flame malware aimed to map Iran’s computer networks and monitor computers of Iranian officials, the newspaper said. It was designed to provide intelligence to help in a cyber campaign against Iran’s nuclear program, involving the National Security Agency, the CIA and Israel’s military, the Post said.

The cyber campaign against Iran’s nuclear program has included the use of another computer virus called Stuxnet that caused malfunctions in Iran’s nuclear enrichment equipment, the newspaper said.

Current and former U.S. and Western national security officials confirmed to Reuters that the United States played a role in creating the Flame virus.

Since Flame was an intelligence “collection” virus rather than a cyberwarfare program to sabotage computer systems, it required less-stringent U.S. legal and policy review than any U.S. involvement in offensive cyberwarfare efforts, experts told Reuters.

The CIA, NSA, Pentagon, and Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment.

Flame is the most complex computer spying program ever discovered.

Two leading computer security firms – Kaspersky Lab and Symantec Corp – have linked some of the software code in the Flame virus to the Stuxnet computer virus, which was widely believed to have been used by the United States and Israel to attack Iran’s nuclear program. (Reporting By Mark Hosenball; Editing by Philip Barbara)

Gerald Estrin, computer pioneer in U.S. and Israel, dies


Gerald (Jerry) Estrin, a computer pioneer in the United States and Israel who built the first computer in the Middle East, has died.

Estrin died March 29 at his home in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 90.

Both Gerald Estrin and Thelma Estrin, his wife of 70 years, were born in New York City, earned their doctorates in electrical engineering at the University of Wisconsin, and worked for three years with John von Neumann, the principal architect of the computer age, at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton.

In 1953, the Estrins accepted an offer from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, to build from scratch the first computer in the Middle East and the first outside the United States and Western Europe.

Upon arrival they discovered that there were no parts or tools—from vacuum tubes to soldering irons—available in Israel, or staff, trained or otherwise.

Nevertheless, the computer, named WEIZAC, with its closet-sized main frame and some 3,000 vacuum tubes, went online in 1955, and after 46,000 hours of service was retired in 1963.

Estrin’s legacy to Israel has been long lasting. By building its own computer, in the face of widespread skepticism, “Israel got into the information revolution early in the game,” he said.

Perhaps even more important, WEIZAC spawned a cadre of engineers and technicians who, with their successors, went on to staff the country’s much admired high-tech industries and academic institutions.

Israel also left its mark on the mild-mannered academic.

“I learned how to pound tables, which stood me in good stead when later I became chairman of the UCLA computer science department, he recalled in a 2004 interview, adding, “but I also fell in love with the people.”

Subsequently, Estrin served for more than two decades on the Weizmann Institute’s board of governors.

In 1956, both Estrins joined the UCLA faculty—Jerry to create a program in computer engineering and Thelma as a pioneer developer of data processing in brain research.

Among his many research contributions, Jerry Estrin developed the concept of “reconfigurable computing,” which led to the creation of new types of programmable computer chips that are still in use today.

Looking for chametz in car, coat and computer


Who are the chametz seekers, those dutiful service technicians who in preparation for Passover, and for a fee, help us search and destroy the hidden, unexpected unleaven in our lives?

Yes, for some, it’s not nearly enough to change over the dishes, scrub the kitchen, vacuum the floors and rugs in preparation for eight days without bread, beer and bagels. This observant and vigilant group, in order to begin the holiday with a clean plate, so to speak, must seek out the jammed-between-the-car-seats O’s, the jacket-pocketed pita, even the keyboard crumbs.

Fortunately, for these often-unanticipated tasks, especially for those that are auto-oriented, help is just a fill-up away.

For a city that lives, sleeps and eats in our cars, chametz in the month of Passover becomes an unwanted passenger that may need an expert to help you remove.

“You can’t believe what kids shove between the car seats,” said Eytan Rosenberg, who along with his sister, Ronit Karben, co-owns Josh’s Valero service station in the Hancock Park area.

At his gas station, which has a car wash, Rosenberg offers a $65 “Passover Car Detail,” which, according to the signs displayed on every gas pump, includes “interior detail and carpet vac and shampoo,” plus a carwash.

“It’s chametz removal,” said Rosenberg, a traditional Jew, of the pre-Passover service the station has been offering for four years. “Some people wait for this time of year to clean their cars. We get a lot of families from the area,” he added.

During the pre-Passover season of about two weeks, he estimates the station gets about 10 customers a day. “We take on extra workers so we handle those who come in last-minute,” he said.

“The stuff we find can be like from a petri dish. We found shrunken apples, old diapers, Cheerios, also a lot of pacifiers,” he added.

According to Rosenberg, who inherited the service station business from his father, Josh, who was both an Orthodox rabbi and an auto mechanic, “The Passover service takes three hours per car.”

As Rosenberg demonstrated one of the tools of the Passover car-cleaning trade, a high-power, rotating air gun, he explained that it was good for the job of removing all the chametz, including gum, from the car’s mats and carpets.

But what about bigger carpets with chametz issues? To get those, as well as your clothing, ready for Passover,  one chametz seeker to call is Jacob Jahan, owner of Pico Cleaners.

“Thank God, I have been waiting for Passover;  we could use the business,” said Jahan, whose shop is located in the Pico-Robertson area. “For Passover we get very busy. Some people bring in clothes for the whole eight days,”  added the cleaner, who also provides a no-charge tallit cleaning service for synagogues.

“We use absolutely no starch, and we always search the pockets,” Jahan said, adding that, for customers who ask for it, “We shake the clothes.”

For rugs, Jahan has “a special person who vacuums, beats and shampoos. It takes 10 days to do the job,” he said.

For pre-Passover dry cleaning, Jahan noted, he even takes care with the solvent.

“We have filters to grab the shmutz,” he said.

It’s too bad you can’t take your computer to the cleaners as well. For as those who are truly committed to eradicating all chametz know, you may find it anywhere; not just in your car or parka, but in your Dell as well.

Ever look down between the keys of your keyboard?

On the Chabad Passover Web site, which has an alphabetical checklist of more than 80 potentially overlooked places, from attic to yard, “computer and keyboard” seemingly blink back at you from the list.

“I have heard of people putting their keyboard on the top rack of their dishwasher,” said Eli Jaffe, who runs a business called L.A. Computer Doc, but he said he doesn’t recommend it.

“You can turn your keyboard over and shake the chametz out,” Jaffe suggested. “Or for 15 to 20 bucks, you could go out and buy a new keyboard for Passover.

“Just make sure it says ‘pareve’ on the box,” he said with a smile.

Hackers strike Israel again


An international group of pro-Palestinian hackers said they leaked the credit card details of thousands of Israelis in an escalation of cyber attacks on Israeli targets.

The group, called OpFreePalestine, claimed to have published online Thursday the details of 26,000 Israeli credit card holders.

Most of the list comes from a list posted in January by a Saudi hacker, Ynet reported. Many of the details are incorrect or partial, according to the report.

OpFreePalestine is part of Team Poison, which was founded two years ago with the goal of attacking Israeli and American targets online. It reportedly has hacked major websites, including high-tech companies and the computer systems of countries that have ties with Israel, according to Haaretz.

Pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli hackers have been attacking each other on the Internet in recent weeks. Thousands of credit card details, mostly of Israelis, have been exposed, and the websites of Israeli targets such as the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and two hospitals were shut down.

Hail to the geek


The real heroes of our age are pencil protector geeks. They sit at home, behind their keyboards, determining the rules of the game that you and I live by—and we trust them to do so. They love toys. They love games. They enjoy battle. They are at the forefront of the cyber war that is enveloping the world.

And then there are the wannabes.

Worms. Viruses. They made headline news and were front page stories. Now come the hackers, banks, stock exchanges, airlines, private facebook pages. Nothing is sacred and nothing is safe.

Most hackers are just an inconvenience. Some of the damage they do can be serious and they must be found and punished for their actions. But the average computer pranksters are called ‘script kiddies’ by serious hackers. The reason for the term is that they only follow the directions of hacking. They use tools found on line for free. They do not buy, build or create software to hack. They hate to pay for anything. They hack for the fun of it. They often hack for the irritation they give and the glory they get from their friends. They are hacker groupies.

So far, most of the hacking that disables servers—and frightens most people with a credit card—has been nothing more than a minor inconveniences. A self proclaimed Saudi hacker called OxOmar was said to have stolen 400,000 Israeli credit cards and identification numbers. In the end it was 20,000 and he actually only gathered them from existing sites that had collected the information from merchants who have very poor security. OxOmar did not hack the Israeli banks. And getting private information on people is equivalent to hacking kindergarden, not post graduate work.

Israel’s Tel Aviv Stock Exchange web site was hacked as well as Israel national air line ELAL. Once again, a very important distinction must be made. It is the web sites that were hit, not the data banks. Yes, they should have been better protected but web sites are full of content, not data—they are not the system work that houses the sensitive material. As one analyst described it, web sites are like a bulletin board with lots of post-its. Someone just came and took down your material and put up his own insulting and graphic messages. The really important and valuable material stayed in the safe.

Script kiddie hacking is a form of vandalism akin to graffiti. There’s no thievery and no other invasion like viruses and worms, occurs.

There are professional and highly paid hackers who have the backing of industry and governments. They are the IT geeks tasked with the responsibility of developing software to access vaults. The technology they develop cost millions of dollars to develop, if not more, and enemy hackers who use them are stealing much more than credit card identities.

They real job of these professionals is to make certain that the national electric grid is safe and that the communication networks are secure.

They work quietly and behind the scenes. They are not headline grabbers like OxOmar the Saudi hacker whose stated goal is to make Israel hurt. OxOmar says that he is a hacker and this is what he knows and how he can achieve his goal. He has joined forces with a group of pro-Palestinian hackers called Nightmare and they have begun their attack.

A day does not go by when an Israeli website is not assaulted. Now Israel’s allies have also been targeted and are becoming victims of these attacks. Azerbaijan has been attacked. The material posted by these hackers on the hacked Azerbaijanian websites emphasize that Azerbaijan has chosen to be friendly with Israel and the United States. Azerbaijan has responded by saying that some people are jealous of our success. And that is exactly correct.

It was the level of amateurism displayed by their enemies that so annoyed many Israeli hackers who, under normal circumstances, would have left things be and considered these hacking episodes as nothing more than children’s games. But Nightmare and OxOmar have announced that they are unstoppable and that they can and will wreak havoc on Israel making life miserable for the Israeli society unless Israel apologizes for a slew of historical events.

Israel has to hit the hackers back. And they will hit back. The Israelis, by virtue of the situation, will take it up a notch. Israeli professionals will have to search for these anti-Israel amateurs and destroy their ability to hack. They will dismantle their systems and they must unmask them. Anonymity is what hackers need more than anything else. And then Israel will prosecute them.

There is no doubt that warfare is changing. But there is still a need to defend and to intimidate. Countries like the United States and Israel must make it clear that it is not worth the price of breaking into their computer systems.

True hacking is a game for grown-ups. True hacking save lives and saves money, it doesn’t hurt unknowing and uninvolved individuals for the sake of saying ‘Look at me, see what I can do.’

Micah D. Halpern is a columnist and a social and political commentator. His latest book is “Thugs: How History’s Most Notorious Despots Transformed the World through Terror, Tyranny, and Mass Murder” (Thomas Nelson).

Saudi-Israel hacker war heats up


The hacker war between Israel and Saudi Arabia is continuing, with the release of the credit card details of more Israelis.

A Saudi hacker, who has already released thousands of Israeli credit card numbers, along with the personal details of the cardholders, on Wednesday released the details of 200 more Israeli credit cards. He has threatened to release 200 more numbers every day.

The new release by the Saudi hacker was in retaliation for the release earlier this week by an Israeli hacker of Saudi credit card numbers, he told Israeli media in a message.

The Saudi hacker, a member of the Saudi hacking group Group-XP named OxOmar, said last week in an Internet message that he has hacked some 80 Israeli websites and will release a total of 1 million credit card numbers with personal information. He has released about 50,000 numbers so far. He also threatened to release documents from military contractors and companies that manufacture surveillance equipment.

Israel concerned it may be under cyber attack


Israeli officials said on Friday they were concerned the country may be under cyber attack after a wave of credit card code thefts in the past week by a hacker who claims to be operating out of Saudi Arabia.

Credit card company officials said 14,000 numbers had been posted on line on Tuesday and another 11,000 on Thursday. However, they said some of the codes had expired and that the active cards were all being cancelled.

The hacker has identified himself as OxOmar and says he is part of a Saudi Arabian hacker team. In a post on Thursday he said he had leaked information about more than 400,000 Israelis and said the “Jewish lobby” was hiding the scale of the attack.

Israeli officials say the hacker has also released email addresses and passwords, but have yet to confirm where he is based.

“This incident should be treated as a cyber attack,” Justice Ministry official Yoram Hacohen told the Ma’ariv daily.

“When it comes to digital felonies committed outside the country, it is difficult to locate the perpetrator if he took the correct precautions,” Hacohen added.

The data theft was one of the worst that Israel has said it has faced, and while the financial damage was reportedly minimal, the breaches have heightened concerns about the potential use of stolen information by Israel’s enemies.

“These matters are worrisome,” Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz told Israel Radio, calling the incident “a sample of the great danger out in cyberspace.”

He added that Israel had “impressive capabilities” and was setting up an agency to deal with the issue, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged last year.

On the back of the credit card theft, a parliamentary committee has scheduled a session for the coming week to review Israel’s readiness to defend itself from cyber attacks.

“We must prepare to cope with cyber threats in anticipation of any attempts to use Internet terror to strike at Israel,” said lawmaker Ronit Tirosh, the committee chairwoman.

Some newspaper columnists speculated that hackers might be retaliating for recent attacks in Iran, including the mysterious Stuxnet computer virus that snarled its controversial nuclear computer systems.

“The peculiar incident we are facing could be a bad joke, a youthful prank, a hate-driven terror attack for beginners or the first stage in an Iranian cyber-terror attack,” commentator Ben Caspit wrote in Friday’s edition of Ma’ariv.

However, Hershkowitz dismissed such speculation, saying: “the imagination tends to soar.”

The hacker wrote in his Web post: “So, I’ve started thinking of sending all Israeli credit cards I own which reaches 1M data.”

“Enjoy it world! Purchase stuff for yourself online, buy anything you want,” he added.

Dov Kotler, CEO of Isracard, a unit of Bank Hapoalim , said 5,200 credit card numbers listed by the hacker on Thursday, belonged to his customers.

The thefts have dampened Internet sales in Israel, media reports said, though no figures were immediately available. Israeli reports have indicated that most of the information stolen had been gleaned from online commercial sites.

Editing by Crispian Balmer

New computer virus detected in Iran


A computer virus similar to the Stuxnet virus that attacked Iran’s nuclear program last year has been detected in Iran.

Iran said Sunday that it had found the Duqu computer virus in some Islamic Republic computer systems, but that it has been contained and neutralized, the head of Iran’s civil defense branch, Brig.-Gen. Gholamreza Jalali, told the Tehran Times.

Duqu is designed to gather data such as keystrokes from computer systems that will help it to launch future attacks on the systems, the Symantec company said in a report after the virus was discovered last month.

Stuxnet, the computer worm that some say set back Iran’s nuclear program by several months or years, affected some of Iran’s computer systems and centrifuges used to enrich uranium after it was released last year. The New York Times reported that it was a joint project of Israel and the United States. Iran had to replace 1,000 Stuxnet-damaged centrifuges at its main uranium enrichment plant at Natanz last year.

The report added that the creators of the Duqu program had access to the Stuxnet source code.

“Duqu is essentially the precursor to a future Stuxnet-like attack,” according to Symantec.

New Stuxnet-like computer virus discovered


A computer virus similar to the Stuxnet virus that attacked Iran’s nuclear program has been identified.

Duqu, with a malicious code similar to Stuxnet, was discovered on computer systems in Europe, the computer security firm Symantec said in a report issued Tuesday.

“Parts of Duqu are nearly identical to Stuxnet, but with a completely different purpose,” Symantec said in its report. “Duqu is essentially the precursor to a future Stuxnet-like attack.”

The report added that the creators of the Duqu program had access to the Stuxnet source code.

Stuxnet, the computer worm that some say has set back Iran’s nuclear program by several months or years, affected some of Iran’s computer systems and centrifuges used to enrich uranium after it was released last year. The New York Times reported that it was a joint project of Israel and the United States.

Iran had to replace 1,000 Stuxnet-damaged centrifuges at its main uranium enrichment plant at Natanz last year.

Duqu is designed to gather data such as keystrokes from computer systems that will help it to launch future attacks on the systems.

UCLA’s new hospital takes technology to new frontiers


More than eight years and $829 million in the making, the new Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center is scheduled to open its doors to patients on June 29. The 10-story, 1-million-square-foot complex — which houses the The Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, Stewart and Lynda Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital at UCLA and Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA — features vast, light-drenched spaces and an airport terminal-sized corridor that connects the three centers.

But what’s more impressive about the new center are the elements that most visitors won’t see. Many of these features involve electronic gear and wireless technology, particularly in the hospital’s 23 operating rooms. Especially striking is how bare the operating rooms look. No equipment sits on the floor. Instead, it is suspended from the ceiling by movable booms. Two flat panel monitors, lights, an anesthesia station and a surgeon’s computer control panel all hang down from above.

During a procedure, surgeons can use a touch-screen panel or voice commands to display and control images, adjust room lighting, or phone a colleague. They can access patient histories, X-rays and lab results, and use their fingers on the console to draw — just like a football commentator — on images displayed on a screen.

Multiple cameras record activity in the room, the operating site, and — using an endoscopic camera when appropriate — the patient’s insides. These images can be saved on DVD, shared with a colleague in the next room or across the globe, or transmitted to medical students in a viewing theater two stories below. The fiber optics and other cables necessary for the room’s extensive connectivity fill a phone booth-sized box located against one wall.

The hospital was designed for “efficiency, control and connectivity,” said Dr. Peter Schulam, chief of the Division of Endourology and a member of the design committee for the operating rooms. He said the design process reflected an unusual collaboration between medical staff and equipment manufacturers.

“The companies we worked with were our partners in designing everything,” Schulam said. “Nothing was off-the-shelf.”

The new hospital replaces the one built in 1951 to herald the atomic era. That facility was designed and constructed at a time before CPR, kidney transplantation or open-heart bypass surgery, and without magnetic resonance imaging, laparoscopy or the Internet. Then, as now, planners had to anticipate the needs of the hospital decades into the future.

Schulam said it was challenging to plan a hospital that would take years to build, not to mention one able to adapt to future decades of technological innovation. To ensure that operating rooms can change as future needs dictate, they were designed to be physically and technologically flexible, allowing reconfiguration as needed.

Already, new developments have occurred since the planning process began.

“When we started design, high definition didn’t exist,” Schulam said.

Now four operating rooms feature HD, complete with 42-inch wall-mounted plasma screens.

He said that while UCLA can currently claim the most state-of-the-art hospital in the country, that will change when the next major teaching university builds a new facility.

“It’s a leap-frog effect,” he said, noting that UCLA benefited from observing previous new research hospitals.

The new medical center came about because of the 1994 Northridge earthquake. The university chose to rebuild, rather than retrofit, the hospital in order to meet new seismic safety requirements. The facility can not only withstand a magnitude 8.0 earthquake, but remain functional after doing so.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency provided $432 million in earthquake relief funding for the hospital, and the state kicked in another $44 million. Private donations accounted for nearly $300 million, and the balance came from hospital financing and bonds.

Reflecting input from more than 500 physicians, nurses and patients, the hospital was designed by celebrated architects I.M. Pei and his son C.C. Pei, along with a team headed by commercial architect design firm Perkins+Will, Pei Partnership Architects and RBB Architects.

Each of the 520 inpatient rooms boasts a sweeping view of Westwood or the UCLA campus, offers wireless Internet and features a fold-out sofa for overnight guests. The rooms can adapt to various levels of care, minimizing the need to transfer patients from one room to another. If patient transport becomes necessary, the patient’s bed — rather than a gurney — serves as the vehicle. Mobile units featuring medicines and IV fluids are also portable, and travel with the patient from one location to another.

A sophisticated electronic records system provides medical staff with immediate access to patient reports, lab results, clinical imaging and real-time vital sign monitoring from any hospital location.

But with all the technology it contains, the hospital is ultimately about the people it serves, according to Dr. James Atkinson, professor of surgery and senior medical director for the transition from the former facility to the new hospital.

In the medical center’s June 4 dedication ceremony program he stated, “Now that we have our building, it is time for us to breathe life into it. It’s up to us to walk the halls, to fire up the machines and to start doing what it is we do best here at UCLA: healing people. Once that happens — once we’ve saved our first life in the new building — we’ll have fully transformed our original vision into reality.”

Israeli invention could pave way for hydrogen cars


Everyone’s heard that old story about the scientist who invents a “magic pill” that turns water into gasoline — with the invention eventually getting into the hands of the oil companies that bury it, fearing they will be driven out of business when word gets out about their competition.

It sounds like science fiction, but believe it or not, that’s exactly what happened to Moshe Stern, head of C.En (Clean Energy), who said his company’s scientists have developed a revolutionary breakthrough that will enable automobile manufacturers to produce — and sell — cars that use hydrogen power. It’s a breakthrough that has been getting a lot of attention — and oil companies got wind of it, too, with one company allegedly offering him $50 million to shelve his project.

Stern didn’t take the money, though; he intends to see his hydrogen car project through. As a result, he said, for the first time the West has an opportunity to make a real dent in its dependence on OPEC oil.

Hydrogen has long been the great green hope for governments and environmentalists, as well as the ideal opportunity to lessen oil imports for Western countries — since hydrogen can be manufactured from water.

President Bush has set aside billions for development of the technology, and hydrogen is the preferred alternative fuel for public vehicles, like buses, in many cities. Among the cities with at least some public buses fueled by hydrogen are London; Reykjavik, Iceland; Perth, Australia, and Santa Monica — where nearly three-quarters of all municipal vehicles of all types are powered by the fuel.

Instead of producing carbon monoxide or other harmful pollutants, hydrogen fuel emits water vapor, which is certainly better for the environment than fossil fuel emissions — even though some scientists believe it should be considered a greenhouse gas.

Lower pollution and less money for OPEC — hydrogen sounds tailo rmade for the fuel problems that ail us. While Bill Gates of Microsoft fame may have been right when he said, “If GM kept up with technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25 cars that got 1,000 miles per gallon,” the fact is that the industry says that hydrogen is still not ready for prime time.

While producing the hydrogen is easy enough, getting the fuel into the car and storing it in a fuel tank are some of the biggest obstacles for the technology. This, industry experts say, has traditionally been the deal-breaker for increased hydrogen use.

Most hydrogen vehicles on the road use a liquid form of the material, which requires a super strong and super heavy storage tank. Liquid hydrogen is unstable and needs to be insulated from the excess shocks of bumps and potholes that are a part of everyday driving, so the tanks themselves are large and heavy, and hold about five gallons of fuel — enough for barely 160 miles of driving.

Then there’s the issue of integrating the fuel into internal combustion vehicles that, for better or worse, are unlikely to be phased out anytime soon — as well as the question of where drivers are supposed to fill up, because hydrogen stations are rare.

All these are legitimate concerns that have kept hydrogen development restricted more or less to the laboratory, Stern said, and all concerns that are addressed and solved with C.En’s hydrogen storage and supply solution.

The difference? C.En’s tank uses hydrogen gas collected from the environment (i.e., not produced from fossil fuels) and enclosed in a thin but leak-proof glass container. The best part: Drivers will be able to buy “gas” at automotive or discount stores, fueling up approximately every 370 miles.

Stern said they can build a 16-gallon tank that weighs no more than 100 pounds,unlike tanks currently used for liquid hydrogen that weigh several hundred pounds.

“Our company’s breakthrough is in accumulating hydrogen in a glass material that is very small, only a few microns,” said Stern, who is also president of Environmental Energy Resources (EER), a waste treatment company. “You don’t need to transport hydrogen to fuel stations, and you don’t need pipelines. The tanks will be like a battery that can be replaced, and you can carry a reserve in the car.”

When you run out of hydrogen in one tank, according to Stern, you just pull out the empty cell and put in the fresh one, which will be good for another 370 miles.

The cells, in fact, will act just like batteries in electric or hybrid cars and fit right in with the standard internal combustion engine — which means that Detroit or Japan don’t have to retool their factories or production lines to build cars with the capacity for hydrogen cells. The know-how and means of production are in use right now, in fact, as almost every car manufacturer is already producing hybrids or straight electric cars.

George Sverdrup, technology manager for the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s hydrogen, fuel cells and infrastructure technologies program, said that once the storage problem is solved, there is no reason hydrogen cannot be used as the premiere fuel to power cars.

“We can use hydrogen to decrease our dependence on imported petroleum, because it can be produced by a variety of domestic resources, including water and biomass,” he said, adding that his group has made a great deal of progress in recent years figuring out ways to store hydrogen more safely — a problem solved by C.En’s invention.

Stern is coordinator of the project and chief investor. Among the others are Israeli, as well as Korean, Japanese and Russian investors. The head researcher is professor Dan Eliezer of Ben-Gurion University, an expert in hydrogen who has done work for NASA and security organizations in Israel and the United States.

The team has conducted more than 100 tests over the past several years and is going to be conducting field tests in Germany, where the company will seek approval by BAM (the Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing).

Should laptops be allowed in class?


Click, click, click! Walk into any classroom at my high school, Shalhevet — and probably most high schools around the city — and you may very well hear clicking. A new trend has erupted, as more and more students bring their laptops to class.

Laptop use involves a lot of controversy, from students who believe they should be used to their maximum potential to those who don’t want to see laptops at all.

“It’s a distraction to people next to them and to themselves when they are playing games or checking e-mail when they should be taking notes,” Shalhevet sophomore Tannis Presser said.

“I am pro using laptops in class,” sophomore Dana Silver said. “I’m a slow writer and a fast typer, so it’s easier for me to keep up in class when I use a laptop.”

A 2004 study reported in USA Today claims that laptops and hand-held computers help with schoolwork and improve grades. Scientists gave laptops to 25 students from Yankton High School in South Dakota during the first quarter of the year, and found that test averages of students with laptops increased, on average, by 5.7 percent.

Test scores rose 3.2 percentage points for students without laptops, although a teacher at Yankton High School said, “Those with laptops may have simply been better students.”

The 24 students with laptops had higher grade-point averages than the students who didn’t use laptops — a 3.26 GPA, compared to 2.82 among 21 students without laptops.

Results like these have people wondering if students without laptops are at a disadvantage.

“I don’t think it puts me at a disadvantage [not using a laptop] because I memorize everything, so a laptop wouldn’t help me,” Shalhevet junior Roee Raviv said.

At Shalhevet, a Modern Orthodox high school with a dual Judaic and general studies curriculum, laptops are used more frequently in classes like history and English, perhaps because it’s more important to take notes there.

“Its really helpful for me [to use a laptop] in AP U.S. [history] because I can take notes really fast, but in certain classes it’s not really helpful,” junior Adira Vinograd said.

“You shouldn’t use a laptop in math or science classes because of all the diagrams and calculations you need to do with a pen and paper,” senior Guy Harel said.

Some students feel that laptops enhance the academic atmosphere.

“It doesn’t take away from the atmosphere because we live in a modern time, our technology should be as modern as our time,” freshman Shmulek Sabo said.

A one-day undercover investigation at Shalhevet found that more than half the students with laptops open in class were not taking notes, but instead using them to check e-mail, Facebook or Fantasy Basketball rankings.

Many classes didn’t have anyone using laptops, and out of an average of 17 students per class, about one to five were using laptops in classes that allowed it.

What do the teachers have to say about using laptops?

“I’ve banned it, because I didn’t like it from the beginning, after giving it a semester,” Shalhevet social studies teacher Keith Nadel said. “It’s a distraction and I won’t stand for it. If anyone truly is at a disadvantage for whatever reason, then it’s fine.”

Jewish history teacher Miriam Stern agreed.

“There’s a couple reasons for laptops being a hindrance to learn,” Stern said. “They contain many distractions — Internet, IM, Facebook and games, just to name a few. It’s hard for a teacher to monitor what they are doing.

“A lot of students think that they can multitask,” she added, “but some people aren’t as good at is as they think.”

Some teachers are ready to accommodate and keep a closer watch on students with laptops.

“You can’t put the genie back in the bottle,” Judaic studies teacher Rabbi Naftali Richler said. “Since computers are a way of life, you can’t take them away.”

Math and chemistry teacher Christopher Buckley has a policy for the students using laptops in his class. At any moment, he may yell out, “E-mail me your notes now!” and students with laptops open need to e-mail what they’ve presumably been working on.

Shalhevet does not have a uniform regulation about laptop use in class, leaving it up to the discretion of teachers.

Incoming head of school Rabbi Elchanan Weinbach is generally in favor of laptops, saying he personally loves technology and views it as a useful learning tool, while recognizing that it can be a distraction. If the administration were to institute a policy on laptops in class, he said, it would be made with “all shareholders in mind.”

No matter what the school says, there will probably always be students tapping away on laptops scattered throughout the hallways. Whether they will remain in the classrooms as well is yet to be seen.

Emma Lipner is a sophomore at Shalhevet High School and features editor of The Boiling Point, where this article first appeared.


Speak Up!

Tribe, a page by and for teens, appears the first issue of every month in The Jewish Journal. Ninth- to 12th-graders are invited to submit first-person columns, feature articles or news stories of up to 800 words. Deadline for the April issue is March 15; deadline for the May issue is April 15. Send submissions to julief@jewishjournal.com.

Have laptop, will prosper


Last Shabbat at Sinai Temple Rabbi David Wolpe stood at the bimah to deliver his sermon — and whipped out his laptop.

I wasn’t there, but I was told not a few of the congregants at the mainstream Conservative shul balked — what was coming out next, his cell phone? Observant Jews don’t use such devices on the holy day of rest; he might as well have whipped out a broiled lobster and drawn butter.

“I expect this to be the first and last time I open a laptop on the bimah,” Wolpe said.

Wolpe didn’t actually start checking e-mail and, say, JewishJournal.com. He brought out the small, colorful laptop to push his congregants to participate in a remarkable, world-changing program called One Laptop per Child.

One Laptop per Child (OLPC) is the name of a USA-based nonprofit launched in 2005 by Nicholas Negroponte and faculty members of the MIT Media Lab, with the goal of bringing computer technology to the children of the developing world.

Over the past two years it has created a brilliant piece of machinery, the XO-1, a water-, dust- and shock-proof, web-ready hi-tech wonder that uses open source (i.e., free) software and miniscule amounts of energy, energy that can be suplied via a hand crank or solar panel. One Sinai congregant suggested the XO-1 is the ideal computer to have around for when “The Big One” strikes.

The original idea was to create a “$100 laptop” that governments in developing countries could buy en masse and distribute to their children. “It’s an education project, not a laptop project,” Negroponte has said. Some 15 countries have committed to the program, including Rwanda and Libya — the latter signed an agreement to supply laptops to all of its 1.2 million schoolchildren, according to The New York Times.

But even committed countries wouldn’t buy a quarter million XO-1s until the product was proven, and the price couldn’t drop to $100 without selling more laptops. So Negroponte and company devised Plan B: the Give One, Get One program. For a limited time — until Nov. 26 — they are offering American and Canadian consumers the opportunity to purchase an XO for a child in your life, while donating another to a child in a developing nation. The cost with shipping works out to about $400, which includes a year of free T-mobile wireless Internet access. Because one of those laptops is headed to Cambodia or Chad, $200 of the price is a tax-deductible contribution.

Earlier this month, Wolpe met Negroponte at the home of Internet entrepreneur Dan Adler, a local project booster, and the rabbi was sold. Shortly thereafter he sent an e-mail out to the thousands of people on the Sinai list.

“This program,” he wrote, “which involves all faiths and nations, is an attempt to bring computers, curricula, and education to the very poorest parts of the world. By purchasing one remarkably inexpensive — yet remarkably effective — computer, you will enable a poor child to receive a computer as well…. Let us join people from all over the world seeking to help those who crave knowledge, information, and connection. These computers work without electricity and are specially designed to enable the poorest children to benefit. The Talmud teaches that Jews are rachamim b’nei rachamim — merciful people and the children of merciful people. Please show your mercy to children all over the world.”

But it’s not just about mercy; what makes this project resonate from a Jewish pulpit is how it provides children not with sustenance, but with the tools to sustain and enrich themselves.

Last month The Templeton Foundation asked a range of experts a simple question, “Can money solve Africa’s development problem?”

The experts agreed that Africa’s poverty comes not from lack of money or resources, but from the inability to unleash the best entrepreneurial spirit of the African people.

“The problem in Africa has never been lack of money, but rather the inability to exploit the African mind,” wrote James Shikwati, CEO of The African Executive business magazine.

Critics of Negroponte have pointed out that children in poor countries need clean water and malaria pills, not laptops. Building libraries is more cost effective than supplying machines, they say. Of course, none of these needs are mutually exclusive. But even so, there is something noble and brilliant in Negroponte’s idea that giving children the tools of a 21st century education will enable their societies to leap, rather than crawl, forward. In the computer age, one entrepreneur with a laptop can change the world — ask the 23-year-old who created Facebook — but first that brilliant kid needs a laptop.

There are a lot of things I could have written about this week — a certain conclave in Annapolis comes to mind — but here before us is this concrete chance to demonstrate our gratitude for all we have by sharing our gifts with others, and we have just until Nov. 26 to do it.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Visit the Give One, Get One program @ http://www.laptopgiving.org/en/index.php

Joyce Rabinowitz: A Type Like No Other


 

Look at Joyce Rabinowitz’s computer keyboard and you will see six blank keys in the middle row. They are actually the letters SDF and JKL, but the identifying marks have been worn off from use.

In fact, those are only keys Rabinowitz uses, with the exception of the space bar. And she uses them five or six hours a day, five or six days a week, often starting at 5 a.m., before breakfast. She has been doing this continuously for 30 years, though not always on a computer.

Rabinowitz, 76, is a volunteer Braille transcriber. She takes the printed word and, using a special computer program called Braille 2000, transforms it letter by letter into a prescribed set of dots that she saves to disk and gives to the Braille Institute. Each disk, with the help of an embossing machine, is used to produce a book written in raised dot text that a blind person can read with his or her fingers.

Rabinowitz herself doesn’t read Braille by touch.

“You have to have very sensitive fingers,” she said.

But she reads it with her eyes.

She’s transcribed many books over the years, recording the titles, date completed and number of Braille pages in a small notebook. (One average page of text translates into two to three Braille pages, 11 by 11.5 inches.) Her first book, in December 1975, was “Stories by Chekov,” clocking in at 310 Braille pages. Last year, she completed a total of 4,400 Braille pages.

Always an avid reader, she loves doing children’s books and currently is transcribing the young adult nonfiction book “Code Talker” by Joseph Bruchac. She reads each book twice, once while transcribing it and once while proofreading it. She also enjoys transcribing math books.

“I don’t have to work out the problem or know the answer,” she said.

Originally looking for new volunteer work, Rabinowitz began by taking a Braille class at Temple Beth Hillel in 1974, when transcribing was done on the much more labor-intensive Perkins Brailler. Of the 12 students in her class, she was one of only two who completed the course and the only one who became certified through the Library of Congress to transcribe literary works. Later she took additional classes to become certified in textbooks and math books.

She generally works from her Encino home, in one hour to one and a half hour time slots, but goes down to Los Angeles’ Braille Institute on Vermont Avenue every Wednesday and sometimes on Mondays. Her current task there is transcribing a set of complex math tests.

Carol Jimenez, the Braille Institute’s transcribing coordinator, has worked with Rabinowitz for the last 20 years and is impressed with her skill, especially in transcribing complicated math and science books.

“There’s a big need for people to do textbooks,” she said, pointing out that studies have shown that only blind children who read Braille, and not just listen to tapes, are considered literate.

“They’re the ones who grow up to be educated and go on to college and jobs,” she said.

As for Rabinowitz, she plans to keep doing this until she’s no longer able.

“I love it,” she said. “My only answer is I love it.”

Joyce Rabinowitz

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Jennifer Chadorchi: The Hunger to Help

Karen Gilman: What Makes Her Run?

Steven Firestein: Making Magic for Children

Yaelle and Nouriel Cohen: Kindness Starts at Home

Moshe Salem: Giving a Voice to Israelis

David Karp: A Guide for Unity in Scouting

Spectator – The Holy Land of Progress


The Israeli firm, M-Systems, developed flash technology that allows huge amounts of computer data to be stored on a key chain. Given Imaging Ltd. created a miniature, disposable video camera that can be fitted into a capsule and swallowed, giving doctors thousands of images of a person’s intestines. Nemesysco invented voice-sensitive technology that reveals, over the telephone, whether someone is telling the truth.

The achievements of these Israeli companies aren’t the kind that are likely to make headlines, especially coming from a region long dominated by violence and political turmoil. But for British philanthropist Trevor Pears — who conceived and funded the 2005 book, “Israel in the World: Changing Lives Through Innovation” (Orion Publishing Group, Limited) — they were just the kinds of stories he wanted to share.

“Other books tell you how to argue for Israel,” he said. “They don’t tell you why you should…. [So I] figured perhaps I might make that happen.”

Eventually journalists Helen and Douglas Davis signed on to write the book, and media mogul Rupert Murdoch wrote the forward.

“From media and telecommunications to … banking, Israeli technological advances are key contributors to the progress and strength of the global economy,” Murdoch wrote.

Pears’ favorite “Innovation” story is about Yoel Margalith, an Israeli scientist known worldwide as “Mr. Mosquito.” Margalith, a Holocaust survivor, is credited with saving millions of lives through his discovery of a naturally occurring bacteria that kills disease-carrying mosquitoes without harming the environment.

Researcher Yossi Leshem saves lives in a different way. His pioneering use of unmanned aerial vehicles has tracked the flight paths of hundreds of species of migratory birds so airplanes can keep away from them. Leshem provided the United States government with information on the birds’ migratory patterns during the 1991 Gulf War; he now works closely with other Western governments, as well as the Jordanian and Turkish air forces.

“It’s breathtaking how broad Israel’s innovative genius has become in the 21st century,” said Larry Weinberg of Israel21c, which works to give a fuller picture of Israel beyond the Palestinian conflict. A number of the stories in the book are from his organization’s archives, Weinberg said: “People look at this book and go, ‘Wow! Even Jews don’t know what Israel has become in the 21st century.”

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‘On_Line’ Takes Byte Out of Cyberspace


While obsessing over an ex-girlfriend in 1997, Jed Weintrob, then an Orion vice president of interactive media, turned to the Internet for distraction. “I got hooked peering into the lives of strangers,” said Weintrob, a self-described Jewish “techno geek.” “It was both calming and mind-blowing to log on and see Jenni on Jennicam.org who was also awake at 4:30 a.m., but in the end it was also kind of alienating…. You’re watching this person do the most intimate things, yet you’re never going to know them or touch them.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by John Roth (Josh Hamilton), the Internet-addicted lonely-heart in Weintrob’s acclaimed directorial debut, “On_Line.” Like Lynn Hershman Leeson’s “Teknolust,” the gritty but stylish film is among the first to probe relationships in cyberspace.

Weintrob shot his actors in separate rooms connected by Web cams so they felt like they were alone with their computers.

The message is that “we all need human contact, so eventually you have to get off line,” he said.

Weintrob, 34, first learned about the importance of human connections growing up in a close-knit Manhattan Jewish family where Israeli relatives often crashed on the couch. His introduction to the Web (and to cybersex) was the early PC model he received for his bar mitzvah.

Sex ed part II was researching “On_Line,” co-written with fellow Harvard alumnus Andrew Osborne; one inspiration was the man who learned of his wife’s infidelity by reading her Web journal.

“He never spoke to her again except via e-mail,” Weintrob said. “That started me thinking about the intimate things people were willing to reveal online and how messed up that could make you in real life.”

The fictional Roth evolved as Weintrob wondered what would have happened had his heartbreak-induced Web addiction escalated. “We’ve all felt desperate and depressed, and that the computer is our only friend,” said the director, now dating a nice Jewish girl from Long Island. “But as personal as it feels, it’s completely impersonal.”

“On_Line” opens June 27 in Los Angeles. For moreinformation, visit www.onlinethemovie.com .

Staying Supple


Leo Cohen wanted to see my PalmPilot.

“How do you put in the data?” he asked.

We were just completing our pre-fast family dinner, and I’d taken out my snazzy, whiz-bang electronic calendar to demonstrate it to Leo’s son-in-law, Sam, an astronomer who gets his data from the sky, not from bytes in his Palm.

But if Sam was blasé, Leo was emphatic.

Leo is 93. He could hardly see the potato on his plate next to the chicken. He has a hearing aid. He had two valve-replacement surgeries, for starters.

This man is anything but turned off. I’d been speaking to Sam in a low-pitched voice I hoped was below Leo’s radar screen, to spare the man frustration. Yet I had underestimated his interest, his tolerance for new ideas. Leo, with a look that said ‘Don’t count me out,’ read me loud and clear.

I explained that I type the information into my computer, and then transfer it electronically.

“How do you put in the data?” he repeated, still not satisfied. He immediately reached for the Palm, examining its buttons, fingering the stylus, the thin inkless pen that lets me write on the portable screen. The tiny typeface embarrassed me, with its blatantly discouraging “Do Not Enter” for those with limited sight. Though Leo couldn’t see the print, he got the principle. Funny, the Palm wasn’t so newfangled after all. It was just an updated version of the old plastic film scratch pads we’d had when we were children. With the pride of a man who had grasped a new technology, Leo was content.

It was a night for lessons. The topic arose, was Leo fasting?

“Yes!” he said.

“No!” said his daughters, Margie and Cindy, together.

I, trying to play peacemaker, rushed in with the voice of tradition. I explained, as if he’d just started celebrating Yom Kippur this year rather than before Henry Ford, that the rabbis say you don’t have to fast if it jeopardizes your health. I figured such excuses would have pleased me by getting me off the hook; maybe it would help him.

But Leo gave us that same withering look: “Don’t count me out.” He knew all about the rabbis and their opinions, and a lot more. Only when he made it clear that he’d fast, how and if he wanted to, did he become content. Now we went to shul, where Leo fought his entire family on the topic of his cane.

“Take it with you, Dad!” said Margie.

“Take it, Dad!” said Sam.

“Dad!’ said Cindy.

“It takes up a full seat,” said Leo, throwing the cane back into the car, like a bowling ball ready to forge a strike.

We were all dreading the evening, the terrible indignities the man could suffer without his cane. Surely he’d be unable to stand and sit with the rest of the congregation.

Fuggetaboutit. Years ago he lost his beloved wife. In his 70’s, he packed up and moved cross-country and started a new life. He had hobbies, including a new recipe for fruit compote that he made using candied pineapple. The man is supple.

Up and down, Leo stood and sat throughout the service while Cindy complained about her back and Margie and Sam discussed the philosophical distinctions between vanity and pride. Leo, who knows that attitude, not physical limits, is the true test of infirmity, was content.

The old are difficult, but so are the young. I am in the middle now, marveling at it all.

During this High Holiday period, I traveled around my community, visiting shuls and taking the temper of our time. The synagogues these days are filled with people like me, proud of our new knowledge, our trophy spirituality, our newfangled reconstruction of ancient rituals.

But we take change hard. We get irritated when the cell phone cuts off at a mountain pass. We get frustrated when the Internet service cuts out, when voice mail overfills and won’t accept more messages. We get irritated when the cantor changes the melodies and the rabbi moves Yizkor from 1 o’clock to 5 o’clock.

And that’s just the outer change. We come to shul alone now that our children are grown and gone. Our homes are filled with computers, surround-sound stereo, hardwood floors and Wolf ovens. But they are emptier, as we get ready for the next stage of life. We have completed the season of teshuvah, the period of self-reflection devoted to personal change. But it’s clear we have only scratched the surface. Life is change. Instability is the rule. Keeping steady is the challenge, for the young or old.

When I am seriously old, will I still care about the Palm Pilot 200? Will it matter that I walk to my seat under my own steam? When the rabbi says it’s all right to sit for the final “Amidah,” will I rise anyway, because I care?

As the new year proceeds back into normal rhythms, think of Leo Cohen. Stay supple.

Space Cadet


When Los Angeles artist Victor Raphael was a boy, he gazed at the biblical murals at Wilshire Boulevard Temple and pondered the divine. His cosmic musings, in the age of Apollo and Sputnik, led him to dream of becoming an astronaut. But when the need for eyeglasses made that dream impossible, he invented another way to visit the stars.

Raphael, now 49, set up his Polaroid camera in front of the TV, snapped pictures from NASA programs and embellished them with luminous paint and metallic leaf. The stunning series of novas and comets and eclipses, now on display at the Frederick R. Weisman Museum at Pepperdine University, reflects his Jewish awe of the infinite.

The pieces have names like “Double Moon Rise,” “Spiral Nebula,” and “Cosmic Explosion,” in which kinetic pink and gold asteroids appear to speed past the viewer. When Raphael transforms a Polaroid in his computer, the result is a large digital painting like “Binary Star” or “Space Field.”

With his new CD-ROM, “A Creative Journey,” viewers may click the mouse to become explorers within Raphael’s artwork. “It’s like you’re traveling in space,” says the mixed-media artist, who began utilizing Polaroids in the 1980s because they are “democratic” – accessible to everyone – and because they help him reveal the extraordinary in the commonplace.

A Sephardic Jew who curates the galleries at the University of Judaism, Raphael has produced work including “Aleph Bet,” a splash of Hebrew letters that looks like a constellation of stars. “The Three Triangles,” in which planet-like spheres vibrate amid a pulsating gold background, depicts the Kabbalistic diagram of divine attributes.

Raphael, who is also an art consultant to Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel, says one of his priorities is promoting Jewish art in L.A. It’s easier now than it was a decade ago, when Jewish work was perceived as colloquial, he admits.

Exhibitions such as “Too Jewish” at the Hammer and the heavily Jewish-themed Lee Krasner retrospective at the L.A. County Museum have helped. “Multiculturalism has been good for everyone,” Raphael explains. “All ethnic artists are less in the closet.”

For information about the “Victor Raphael: Envisioning Space” retrospective at Pepperdine in Malibu, call (310) 456-4851.

A Hi-Tech Jewish High


The Milken Community High School celebrated the completion of its campus construction Sunday, putting the final touches on the nation’s largest non-Orthodox Jewish high school — and its most high-tech — bar none.

Families of the school’s 700 students marveled at the classrooms, each wired for the Internet and with video cameras to allow video-conferencing with virtually every place in the world.

Each seat in the six science labs has a fiber-optic hookup, so that students can plug in laptop computers. The curriculum includes both traditional Jewish studies and texts, as well as robotics and biotechnology.

Sunday’s ceremony marked the dedication of the last of four buildings on the $40 million campus, stretching over 10 acres.

Campus facilities include a broadcast studio, art studio, libraries, a 600-seat gymnasium, separate study and socializing terraces for students and faculty, and a cafeteria serving kosher food.

“We are now poised to set the standard of excellence for Jewish schools in America,” said Dr. Bruce Powell, school president, at the dedication.

Such standards come at a price, with the annual tuition fee set at $15,000 per student, although scholarships are available.

The largest financial supporter of the school is the Milken Family Foundation, headed by former junk-bond king, Michael Milken.

The completed campus realizes the dream of its founder, Rabbi Isaiah Zeldin, of Stephen S. Wise Temple, who started the school nine years ago.

Although the temple is Reform, students of all denominations are enrolled.

The hilltop campus flanks the Sepulveda Pass, linking major Jewish population concentrations in West Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley, which is rapidly developing into a Jewish cultural and academic enclave.

Adjoining the Milken School is the Skirball Cultural Center and museum, and across the freeway are the University of Judaism and Stephen S. Wise Temple.

Pursuing Holocaust Claims


A new sophisticated computer database may help the heirs of Holocaust victims receive the benefits of insurance policiestaken out by long-deceased relatives.

Major European insurance companies have refused torelease benefits to such policies, believing them heir-less. Butparticipants at the conference of the Association of JewishGenealogical Societies held in Century City last week announced thatthe large scale database project, called “The Family Tree of theJewish People,” will help track and document the survivingdesecndents of Holocaust victims. AJGS and its president, Dr.Sallyann Sack, are already involved in the project, along with theDouglas E. Goldman Genealogy Center at the Museum of the Diaspora inTel Aviv. Washington state Insurance Commissioner Deborah Senn, whohelped lead the initial investigation into Holocaust survivors’claims, said the database will, “link families around the world tothis pursuit of justice.”– Staff Report