EgyptAir jet missing after mid-air plunge, Greeks find floating objects


An EgyptAir jet carrying 66 passengers and crew from Paris to Cairo disappeared from radar over the Mediterranean south of Greece on Thursday, with Athens saying the plane swerved in mid-air before plunging from cruising height and vanishing.

Greek state television said aircraft debris had been found in the sea during a search for the missing Airbus A320. Earlier, Greek officials said pieces of plastic and two lifevests were found floating some 230 miles south of Crete.

Officials were reluctant to speculate over the disappearance while the search was underway. Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail said it was too early to rule out any explanation, including an attack like the one blamed for bringing down a Russian airliner over Egypt's Sinai peninsula last year.

But despite the caution, the country's aviation minister said a terrorist attack was more likely to have taken down the aircraft than a technical failure.

In Washington, U.S. President Barack Obama received a briefing on the disappearance from his adviser for homeland security and counter-terrorism, the White House said.

In Athens, Greek Defence Minister Panos Kammenos said the Airbus had first swerved 90 degrees to the left, then spun through 360 degrees to the right. After plunging from 37,000 feet to 15,000, it vanished from Greek radar screens.

Greece deployed aircraft and a frigate to the area to help with the search. Greek defense sources told Reuters earlier that two floating objects, colored white and red, had been spotted in a sea area 230 miles south of the island of Crete.

According to Greece's civil aviation chief, calls from Greek air traffic controllers to the jet went unanswered just before it left the country's airspace, and it disappeared from radar screens soon afterwards.

There was no official suggestion of whether the disappearance was due to technical failure or any other reason such as sabotage by ultra-hardline Islamists, who have targeted airports, airliners and tourist sites in Europe, Egypt, Tunisia and other Middle Eastern countries over the past few years.

The aircraft was carrying 56 passengers – with one child and two infants among them – and 10 crew, EgyptAir said. They included 30 Egyptian and 15 French nationals, along with citizens of 10 other countries.

Asked if he could rule out that terrorists were behind the incident, Prime Minister Ismail told reporters: “We cannot exclude anything at this time or confirm anything. All the search operations must be concluded so we can know the cause.”

French President Francois Hollande also said the cause was unknown. “Unfortunately the information we have … confirms to us that the plane came down and is lost,” he said. “No hypothesis can be ruled out, nor can any be favored over another.”

With its archeological sites and Red Sea resorts, Egypt is traditionally a popular destination for Western tourists. But the industry has been badly hit following the downing of the Russian Metrojet flight last October, killing all 224 people on board, as well as by an Islamist insurgency and a string of bomb attacks.

NO RESPONSE

Greek air traffic controllers spoke to the pilot as the jet flew over the island of Kea, in what was thought to be the last broadcast from the aircraft, and no problems were reported.

But just ahead of the handover to Cairo airspace, calls to the plane went unanswered, before it dropped off radars shortly after exiting Greek airspace, Kostas Litzerakis, the head of Greece's civil aviation department, told Reuters.

“During the transfer procedure to Cairo airspace, about seven miles before the aircraft entered the Cairo airspace, Greek controllers tried to contact the pilot but he was not responding,” he said.

Greek authorities are searching in the area south of the island of Karpathos, Defence Minister Kammenos told a news conference.

“At 3.39am (0039 GMT) the course of the aircraft was south and south-east of Kassos and Karpathos (islands),” he said. “Immediately after, it entered Cairo FIR (flight information region) and made swerves and a descent I describe: 90 degrees left and then 360 degrees to the right.”

The Airbus plunged from 37,000 feet (11,280 meters) to 15,000 feet before vanishing from radar, he added.

Egyptian Civil Aviation minister Sherif Fathi said authorities had tried to resume contact but without success.

“NO ONE KNOWS ANYTHING”

At Cairo airport, authorities ushered families of the passengers and crew into a closed-off waiting area.

Two women and a man, who said they were related to a crew member, were seen leaving the VIP hall where families were being kept. Asked for details, the man said: “We don’t know anything, they don’t know anything. No one knows anything.”

Ayman Nassar, from the family of one of the passengers, also walked out of the passenger hall with his daughter and wife in a distressed state. “They told us the plane had disappeared, and that they’re still searching for it and not to believe any rumors,” he said.

A mother of flight attendant rushed out of the hall in tears. She said the last time her daughter called her was Wednesday night. “They haven’t told us anything,” she said.

EgyptAir said on its Twitter account that Flight MS804 had departed Paris at 23:09 (CEST). It disappeared at 02:30 a.m. at an altitude of 37,000 feet in Egyptian air space, about 280 km (165 miles) from the Egyptian coast before it was due to land at 03:15 a.m.

In Paris, a police source said investigators were now interviewing officers who were on duty at Roissy airport on Wednesday evening to find out whether they heard or saw anything suspicious. “We are in the early stage here,” the source said.

Airbus said the missing A320 was delivered to EgyptAir in November 2003 and had operated about 48,000 flight hours.

The missing flight's pilot had clocked up 6,275 hours of flying experience, including 2,101 hours on the A320, while the first officer had 2,766 hours, EgyptAir said.

At one point EgyptAir said the plane had sent an emergency signal at 04:26 a.m., two hours after it disappeared from radar screens. However, Fathi said later that further checks found that no SOS was received.

FRANCE, EGYPT TO COOPERATE

The weather was clear at the time the plane disappeared, according to Eurocontrol, the European air traffic network.

“Our daily weather assessment does not indicate any issues in that area at that time,” it said.

Under U.N. aviation rules, if the aircraft is found to have crashed in international or Egyptian waters, Egypt will automatically lead an investigation into the accident assisted by countries including France, where the jet was assembled, and the United States, where engine maker Pratt & Whitney is based.

Russia and Western governments have said the Metrojet plane that crashed on Oct. 31 was probably brought down by a bomb, and the Islamic State militant group said it had smuggled an explosive device on board.

That crash called into question Egypt's campaign to eradicate Islamist violence. Militants have stepped up attacks on Egyptian soldiers and police since Sisi, then serving as army chief, toppled elected President Mohamed Mursi, an Islamist, in 2013 after mass protests against his rule.

In March, an EgyptAir plane flying from Alexandria to Cairo was hijacked and forced to land in Cyprus by a man with what authorities said was a fake suicide belt. He was arrested after giving himself up.

EgyptAir has a fleet of 57 Airbus and Boeing jets, including 15 of the Airbus A320 family of aircraft, according to airfleets.com.

Co-pilot appears to have crashed Germanwings plane on purpose, prosecutor says


A young German co-pilot locked himself alone in the cockpit of a Germanwings airliner and flew it into a mountain with what appears to have been the intent to destroy it, a French prosecutor said on Thursday.

Investigators and grieving relatives were left struggling to explain what motivated Andreas Lubitz, 28, to kill all 150 people on board the Airbus A320, including himself, in Wednesday's crash in the French Alps.

French and German officials said there was no indication the crash was a terrorist attack, but gave no alternative explanation for his motives.

Lubitz gained sole control of the aircraft after the captain left the cockpit. He refused to re-open the door and sent plane into its fatal descent, Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin said.

He did this “for a reason we cannot fathom right now but which looks like intent to destroy this aircraft,” Robin told a news conference in Marseille broadcast live on national TV.

Describing the final 10 minutes of the passengers on board as the plane hurtled towards a mountain range, Robin said sound recordings from one of its black boxes suggested most of them would not have been aware of their fate until the very end.

“Only towards the end do you hear screams,” he said. “And bear in mind that death would have been instantaneous … the aircraft was literally smashed to bits.”

The CEO of Lufthansa, parent company of Germanwings, said its air crew were picked carefully and subjected to psychological vetting.

“No matter your safety regulations, no matter how high you set the bar, and we have incredibly high standards, there is no way to rule out such an event,” CEO Carsten Spohr said.

The world's attention will now focus on the motivations of Lubitz, a German national who joined the budget carrier in September 2013 and had just 630 hours of flying time – compared with the 6,000 hours of the flight captain, named in German media only as “Patrick S.” in accordance with usual practice.

Robin said there were no grounds to suspect that Lubitz was carrying out a terrorist attack. “Suicide” was also the wrong word to describe actions which killed so many other people, the prosecutor added: “I don't necessarily call it suicide when you have responsibility for 100 or so lives.”

Police set up guard outside Lubitz's house in Montabaur, Germany. Acquaintances in the town said they were stunned, describing him as an affable young man who gave no indication he was harbouring any harmful intent.

“I'm just speechless. I don't have any explanation for this. Knowing Andreas, this is just inconceivable for me,” said Peter Ruecker, a long-time member of the local flight club where Lubitz received his flying license years ago.

“He was a lot of fun, even though he was perhaps sometimes a bit quiet. He was just another boy like so many others here.”

A photo on Lubitz's Facebook page, which was later taken down, shows a smiling young man posing in front of San Francisco's Golden Gate bridge.

Robin said the conversation between the two pilots before the captain left the cockpit started normally but that Lubitz's replies became “laconic” as they started readying what would have been the normal descent to the airport of Duesseldorf.

“His responses become very brief. There is no proper exchange as such,” he said. It was not clear why the captain had left the cockpit but it was probably to use the toilet, he said.

Robin said the family of the co-pilot had arrived in France for a tribute alongside other those of the victims but was being kept apart from the others.

“SMASH THE DOOR DOWN”

The New York Times cited an unnamed investigator as saying the recording shed insight into the moment when it dawned on the captain that he had been shut out of the cockpit.

“The guy outside is knocking lightly on the door and there is no answer,” it quoted an investigator described as a senior French military official as saying. “And then he hits the door stronger and no answer. There is never an answer.”

“You can hear he is trying to smash the door down,” the investigator added.

Investigators were still searching for the second of the two black boxes on Thursday in the ravine where the plane crashed, 100 km (65 miles) from Nice, which would contain data from the plane's instruments.

France's BEA air investigation bureau had said on Wednesday it expected the first basic analysis of the voice recordings in days.

Pilots may temporarily leave the cockpit at certain times and in certain circumstances, such as while the aircraft is cruising, according to German aviation law.

Cockpit doors can be opened from the outside with a code, in line with regulations introduced after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, but the code can be overridden from inside the cockpit. Lufthansa's CEO said that either the pilot had entered the code incorrectly, or the co-pilot inside had overridden it.

The BEA on Wednesday already ruled out a mid-air explosion and said the scenario did not look like a depressurisation.

Germanwings said 72 Germans were killed in the first major air passenger disaster on French soil since the 2000 Concorde accident just outside Paris. Madrid revised down on Thursday the number of Spanish victims to 50 from 51 previously.

As well as Germans and Spaniards, victims included three Americans, a Moroccan and citizens of Britain, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Colombia, Denmark, Israel, Japan, Mexico, Iran and the Netherlands, officials said. However, DNA checks to identify them could take weeks, the French government said.

The families of victims were being flown to Marseille on Thursday before being taken up to the zone close to the crash site. Chapels had been prepared for them with a view of the mountain where their loved ones died.

Israeli girl, 3, injured after car hit with rocks in West Bank


A 3-year-old Israeli girl is in critical condition after a car accident in the West Bank caused by rocks thrown by Palestinians.

A car driven by a woman and her three young daughters veered off course Thursday night after being hit by a rock, crashing into a truck or bus, Haaretz reported, citing eyewitnesses. Ynet reported that the truck veered off course to avoid the rocks and crashed into the woman's car.

The woman and her other daughters, ages 4 and 5, also were injured in the accident on Route 5 near the West Bank Jewish city of Ariel. A bus also was hit with rocks.

An Israeli man and a 10-year-old boy also were injured by thrown rocks in the same area.

Before the accident, a number of drivers had reported coming under attack by rocks. Police reportedly are investigating the accident's cause.

2 Israelis killed in incident in West Bank


Israeli police said a West Bank car overturning that left an Israeli man and his baby dead was an accident.

In a Twitter post, David Ha’Ivri, a settler leader who lives in the nearby West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba, said the car was overturned after Palestinians threw rocks at it. The IDF and the police later said they were classifying the incident as an accident.

The Jerusalem Post reported that the car overturned occurred not long after an Israeli struck and seriously injured a Palestinian child nearby. Police already have concluded that case was also an accident.

Palestinians have rioted in the past after accidents have been reported in their communities as deliberate attacks; the first intifada erupted in 1987 after a lethal road accident in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli troops are out in the West Bank in force this weekend out of concerns that Palestinian Authority plans to apply for statehood recognition on Friday will spark violent protests.

Israeli fighter jet training crash kills 2


An Israeli pilot and navigator were killed when their fighter jet crashed during a training flight in southern Israel.

The two-seater F-16I fighter jet, nicknamed Soufa, or storm, crashed Wednesday night near the Ramon Crater. The bodies were found Thursday afternoon, several hours after the crash, following an extensive search.

Human error is suspected in the accident.

Four planes took part in the exercise on the Israeli Air Force’s newest plane. Until the exact cause of the crash is pinpointed, training on the airplanes has been halted, according to the military.

In September 2009, an Israel Air Force F-16A fighter plane crashed during a training flight, killing pilot Assaf Ramon, the son of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, who died in the crash of the U.S. space shuttle Columbia in 2003.

Astronaut Ilan Ramon’s son dies in IAF crash


The son of the late Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon was killed in the crash of an Israeli Air Force fighter plane.

Capt. Assaf Ramon, 20, died Sunday while flying the F-16 aircraft as part of advanced training. He had completed the training course for pilots with honors in June, receiving his wings from President Shimon Peres. He had escaped death in a training flight in March.

His father, Israel’s first astronaut, was killed aboard the U.S. space shuttle Columbia in 2003 when it broke apart upon its return to earth.

The Air Force ordered all F-16 training halted until further notice. The plane crashed in the Hebron Hills.

Ilan Ramon himself was a fighter pilot in the Air Force and participated in the 1981 strike on an Iraqi nuclear reactor.

Assaf Ramon, the oldest of four children, was 15 when his father died. He had said he would like to become a pilot like his father and perhaps even an astronaut.

Communities can use High Holy Days to help ease economic angst


With the start of the High Holy Days, the pace of communal life starts to change, and our focus is on reflection, reconciliation, repentance and the annual response to new beginnings.

For too many in our community, however, this season will hold more angst than joy.

The economic situation in our country presents us with challenges unseen for nearly a generation. Too many will sit in synagogues through this season and be equally concerned with their own economic situation as they will the state of their soul. Increasingly, senior citizens on fixed or limited incomes are seeing their resources challenged. Young adults are concerned about job security. Too many of our people of all ages have lost jobs, been downsized or live on the edge of job and financial uncertainty.

This reality presents our community with a unique and necessary opportunity to become an even more meaningful “caring community.” This is a time when no one should be left to feel that they are “l’vado” (alone). This is a time for community and relationships to be enhanced and expanded, so that our congregations can be seen as responsive to and involved with those who are hurting.

In every community are untapped human resources: people who may have some time to give, who have experienced life and, if asked, might be willing to assist leadership in developing support systems for individuals and families in need. At the least, a call can be made to members who have experience in the workplace, who have counseled people in job changes and career moves.

Establishing a congregational or communal service corps with members willing to give advice and direction — or just lend a sympathetic ear to those who might be searching for new directions — is one possible course of action.

During a similar economic downturn in the early 1980s, I worked in Philadelphia and was involved in helping congregations create a communitywide job bank. It had some success helping people in our community get back to work. We simply polled the members of the community’s congregations for possible job openings and advertised those openings throughout the area so members could see what was available from those within their own community.

This could be done again. Synagogues can join other local organizations, JCCs, Jewish Family Service and others to broaden the base of opportunities to search. Even in this day of electronic and Internet job searches, personal networking and relationships go a long way in opening doors.

A difficulty in some of this may be the unwillingness on the part of many to come forward. So often we face this challenge of having people admit they may need some assistance, guidance or help in establishing goals. Transitions are tough and filled with fear. But let us not forget the power of the pulpit. The simple act of the rabbi offering a sermon on the need for this type of caring “inreach” can help worshipers see their congregation as more than a life-cycle institution.

The High Holy Days are a perfect example of a moment in time when Jews attend synagogue. Why not take a few moments at each service to launch this internal support network? Why not have in each prayer book a form that someone can fill out who has a job opening or position request, or has a willingness to give time to counsel or advise a fellow congregant on career change and possibilities?

Use your caring community committee to organize these forms and launch, right after Yom Kippur, a Sukkot of Transition so that all can feel the possibility of a “sukkat shalom.”

We soon will enter our season of possibilities. In each of our communities there are those we need to support and those with the ability to create that sense of support and caring. All we need to do is ask.

Rabbi Richard F. Address is the director of Union for Reform Judaism’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns (www.urj.org/jfc).

Article courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Obituaries


Our thoughts go to the families of the men and women who were killed in the Metrolink Train 111 crash in Chatsworth on Friday, Sept. 12.

We also send our prayers to the families of the men, women and children who were killed when a passenger jet, en route from Moscow to Perm in central Russia, crashed Sunday, Sept. 14, during its descent. All 88 passengers, including members of the local Jewish community, were killed: Yevgeny and Lyudmila Sankin, 50 and 53; Anna Spivak and Yakov Spivak, both 32; Sergei Yudin and Valeriya Yudin, 41 and 3, and Ifraim Nakhumov and Golda Nakhumova, 36 and 24, with their children, Ilya Nakhumov, 7, and Eva Nakhumov, 5.



Rea Altman died Aug. 12 at the age of 102. She is survived by her daughter, Phyllis Gelb. Sholom Chapels

Bernardo Azernitzky died Sept. 10 at 82. He is survived by his son, Richard. Sholom Chapels

Sylvia Braun died Aug. 24 at 83. She is survived by her son, Jay; and grandchildren. Sholom Chapels

Victor Clafin died Sept. 10 at 86. He is survived by his wife, Paulette; son, Jacques; and granddaughters, Alison August and Ashley. Mount Sinai

Ruth Epstein died Sept. 4 at 95. She is survived by her son, Earl (Helen); grandson, Eric; and granddaughter, Danielle Gebhardt. Hillside

Elias Eshagian died Aug. 8 at 77. He is survived by his wife, Parvin; sons, George, Gilber, Joubin and Roger; 14 grandchildren; brothers, Ezatollah, Mehdi, Benjamin and Maurice; and sisters, Shokat Mishkanian and Farideh Bamshad. Chevra Kadisha

Marvin Freeman died Sept. 7 at 81. He is survived by his wife, Natasha; daughters, Linda Rauch, Traci (Roy) Salter and Karen (Jeffrey) Shapiro; and seven grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Elizabeth Grossinger died Aug. 25 at 86. She is survived by her daughter, Susan (Zev) Bogan. Sholom Chapels

Semo Filbert died Aug. 18 at 81. He is survived by his wife, Helen; daughter, Billie (Jack); and two grandchildren. Sholom Chapels

Edwin Otto Guthman died Aug. 31 at 89. He is survived by his sons, Gary, Les and Edwin; and daughter, Diane Jo Cincino. Hillside

Evelyn Halpern died Sept. 8 at 90. She is survived by her children, Robert (Anneta Posner) and Deena (Jerry Epstein); eight grandchildren; nephew; and nieces. Groman

Eli Barry Hirsh died Sept. 4 at 41. He is survived by his wife, Irit; mother, Toni; and friends, Adina and Moshe Melnick. Hillside

Celia Lillian Kahlenberg died Aug. 27 at 91. She is survived by her sons, Edward (Deana), Robert (Janice) and Sherwood (Rita); daughter, Ruth (Jacob) Bloom; and sister, Rose Lewis. Hillside

Mildred Golick Kauffman died Aug. 27 at 94. She is survived by her son, Ken Golick; and daughter, Gale Gould. Hillside

George Klasser died Aug. 28 at 73. He is survived by his wife, Lorraine; son, Kenneth; daughter, Sandra (Steven) Greenough, and brothers, Alan and Edwin. Hillside

Florence Kaminsky died Sept. 3 at 84. She is survived by her daughters, Karen (Nate) Hoffman and Linda (Michael) Johnson; and brother, Herbert Kapsky. Hillside

Hugo Kren died Sept. 6 at 94. He is survived by his wife, Rosa; daughter, Jeanette (Gary) Lachman; and granddaughters, Heather and Stephnie Lachman. Mount Sinai

Shirley Lane died Sept. 8 at 84. She is survived by her son, Rod; daughters, Laura and Barbara; and three grandchildren. Groman

David Langer died Aug. 30 at 86. He is survived by his wife, Florence; daughter, Andrea; son, Barry; daughter-in-law, Janet; and grandchildren, Robert and Bethany. Hillside

Mira Langer died Sept. 4 at 78. She is survived by her husband, Nathan; sons, Dennis (Susan), David (Melissa) and Bruce (Stefani); seven grandchildren; and sister, Rachel Jaskowitz. Malinow and Silverman

Stuart Levin died Aug. 29 at 88. He is survived by his wife, Jane; sons, Peter (Ruth) and Michael (Lisa); and brother, Maurice LeCove. Hillside

Marion Norma Levinson died Sept. 2 at 79. She is survived by her husband, Bill; and daughters Dharma Khalsa and Nancy Retinoff. Hillside

Robert “Bobby” Mallon died Sept. 10, at the age of 89. He is survived by his daughter, Judith Rojas. Mount Sinai

Joanne Marcus died Aug. 26 at 58. She is survived by her husband, Robert; daughters, Ariane and Alexander; and son, Harry. Hillside

Marvin Marmelstein died Sept. 4 at 81. He is survived by his wife, Roberta; daughter, Wendy Rose; grandson, Bryan Raber; and his partner Jordan Katnik. Hillside

Al Mishkin died Sept. 7 at 95. He is survived by his son, Robert; and daughter, Joyce Saltz. Hillside

Elizabeth Anne Morgan died Sept. 2 at 40. She is survived by her husband, Jack; daughter, Tabitha; and father, Jack Morgan. Hillside

Aaron Peck died Sept. 13 at 69. He is survived by his wife, Linda; son, Anthony (Gayle); daughters, Dena (Shane) Gertsch and Jessica; and three grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Gerald Peck died Sept. 1 at 82. He survived by his wife, Elaine; sons, Bennett and Lawrence; brothers, Robert (Ann) and Burton (Rona); sister, Beverly (Leo); nieces; and nephews. Mount Sinai

Matilda Frances Penny died Sept. 2 at 84. She is survived by her son, Theodore; daughters, Jeanne and Helen; sister, Joyce; and seven grandchildren. Groman

Fanny Pomeranc died Sept. 11 at 86. She is survived by her son, Dennis. Mount Sinai

Bernard Reder died Sept. 6 at 82. He is survived by his wife, Serena; sons, Martin (Susan), Glen (Orly) and Paul (Sherri); daughter, Marina (Spencer) Misraje; seven grandchildren; sister, Gloria (Rudy) Diamond; and half-sister, Kathy (Ed) Stacy. Mount Sinai

Julio Roberts died Aug. 6 at 90. He is survived by his wife, Helen; daughter, Paula (Larry); and three grandchildren. Sholom Chapels

Shirley Rocklin died Sept. 3 at age 98. She is survived by her sons, Ted and Milton; three grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. Groman

Michael Alan Rosenaur died Aug. 30 at 30. He is survived by his father, Leonard (Martine) Rosenaur; mother Hope (Richard) Shaw; sisters, Lara (Kyle) Polvy and Chanel Rosenaur; aunt, Sybil Bergman, and cousins, Jayand Lance Bergman. Hillside

David Schwartz died Sept. 2 at 86. He is survived by his daughter, Lisa Leffton; and son, Howard. Malinow and Silverman

Ruth Simon died Aug. 29 at 86. She is survived by her sons, Andy, Peter, Michael and Howard. Hillside

David Slobin died on Aug. 9 at 93. He is survived by his wife, Evelene; children, Myron (Mary Ann), Ellen (Gershon) and Barry (Carol); and 14 grandchildren. Chevra Kadisha

Adolf Joseph Snyder died Sept. 9 at 89. He is survived by his wife, Marian; son, Larry (Bobbie); daughter, Michelle (Henry) Wisch; and grandchildren, David and Robin. Mount Sinai

Esther Terry died Aug. 31 at 89. She is survived by her daughters, Elaine Dreyfuss, Shane Cronenweth and Lori Erlendsson; two grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman

Joseph Weiner died Aug. 1 at 92. He is survived by his son, Jerry (Patti); daughter, Miriam (Steve) Kosberg; seven grandchidlren; and 10 great-grandchildren. Sholom Chapels

Sarah Weinstein died Sept. 7 at 95. She is survived by her daughters, Lois (Rabbi Moshe) Rothblum and Marilyn (Alex) Ehrlich; and three grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Thelma Yaffe died Sept. 11 at 90. She is survived by her daughters, Lois Bloch, Arlene (Marvin) Garfield, Roberta (Barry) Zwick and Martha (David) Uslaner; seven grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Survivor, rabbi recall horror of Metrolink train crash


Richard Slavett normally takes the 4:36 p.m. Metrolink train from Glendale to his home in Thousand Oaks, but last Friday his daughter-in-law was flying in from the East Coast and he decided to go home early.

Slavett, 69, owner of the Glendale Tire Co. of Glendale, caught the 3:45 p.m. train instead, took an aisle seat at the rear of the train, and fell fast asleep.

The next thing he knew he was lying face down at the front of the compartment following a horrific crash between his Metrolink train and a freight train, which killed 26 people and injured 138.

Next to him were two bodies, one bleeding profusely. Slavett painfully crawled to retrieve his briefcase, and a lunchbox holding the day’s cash receipts.

“It was like a scene from a disaster movie,” he said.

Agonizingly, Slavett crawled to the exit, until two men carried him to a nearby boulder. An hour later he was taken to the triage area and there LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and County Sheriff Lee Baca, who both know Slavett, came over to comfort him.

Three hours later he was transferred to Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Woodland Hills. Miraculously, he had no broken bones, but suffered an excruciatingly painful torn groin.

Despite the pain, Slavett managed to attend a dinner Monday evening, marking his installation as lieutenant governor of the California Kiwanis.

Now slowly recovering, the father of three and grandfather of six said, in a voice chocked with emotion, “I got to get well fast so I can go back to singing in the choir at Or Ami [in Calabasas].”

Rabbi Leonard Muroff was driving to his home in Agoura Hills after conducting services at Temple Ner Tamid in Downey, when he heard that families of those thought to have been on the train were told to assemble at Chatsworth High School and wait for news.

As a full-time chaplain with Vitas Innovative Hospice Care, he immediately changed course and headed for the high school.

The place was jammed with families and friends, some standing in stunned silence, others close to hysteria, alongside aid workers from the fire department, sheriff’s office, Red Cross, and the mayor’s crisis team, headed by Jeff Zimmerman.

Working alongside a Protestant and Buddhist chaplain, Muroff worked to pinpoint the locations of the injured, scattered throughout some 20 hospitals, from Simi Valley to the USC-County Hospital.

Muroff encountered some Jewish families, although the faith of the affected families made no difference to the three chaplains.

Around midnight, officials of the Coroner’s office received a list of those who had died in the crash and began to notify the waiting relatives.

What do you say to the bereaved in such a moment, Muroff was asked.

“There are no magic words,” he answered, “no easy phrases like ‘he has gone to a better place’ or ‘God will embrace her’.”

“All you can do is let them cry it out, say that you are with them, that they are not alone.”

Muroff pulled a 17-hour shift, interrupted only by morning prayers at Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills. He returned to the high school bearing 13 bagles with cream cheese, supplied by the temple.

Muroff, 48, is a native of Toronto and has been a hospice chaplain for two years, previously with the Jewish Homes for the Aging.

There have been many emotional and agonizing moments during that time, he said, but nothing had been as intensive as the 17 hours at Chatsworth High.

q 4 u re metrolink


Q & A With Bahar Soomekh


Persian Jewish actress Bahar Soomekh earned some serious attention last year when she played a young Iranian in “Crash,” the Academy Award winner for best picture. She’s now appearing in an even bigger role — playing alongside Tom Cruise in the thriller, “M:I:III.” On the eve of the film’s debut, Soomekh spoke about growing up Persian Jewish in Los Angeles and about her career.

The Jewish Journal: Can you share with us a little about your background?

Bahar Soomekh: I was born in Tehran. My father is a poet. We moved from Iran in 1979, but before the revolution. I pretty much grew up in Los Angeles and learned English by watching TV. I went to the Sinai Akiba Academy and later to Beverly Hills High School.

JJ: What sort of training have you had as an actor?

BS: I played the violin for 13 years, but acting was always what I yearned to do. I went to UC Santa Barbara. There were no Persians or Jews there, and I was just able to lose myself and enjoy the college life. I studied environmental studies and did theater for fun — never thinking I could pursue it as a career. I later came back to Los Angeles, got a corporate job and I was just miserable. I did sales during the day and took acting classes at night. I did that for a couple of years to get myself trained and get a better understanding of the world beyond theater. The scariest thing I ever did was quit my job to pursue acting full time. That was two and half years ago. I quit my job, started pursing acting seriously and not even three months later, I booked “Crash.”

JJ: How did you manage that?

BS: I fought very hard to get the part. My agent at the time wasn’t very good. I read the script and I was dying, my heart was aching to be a part of it. I loved my character, Dorri, so much and really related to her. I kept calling my agent, and he wouldn’t even try. I heard through the grapevine that they were going to offer another woman the part. So in desperation, I called the one Hollywood person I knew, another Jewish Persian girl at William Morris named Ashley Daneshrad. She called them and said don’t give the part to this other woman until you give Bahar Soomekh a chance. I went in there and gave them my heart and soul. I went into my car and cried for about 40 minutes. And then two days later, I got the call that I booked it.

JJ: What was it like working opposite a major Hollywood actor like Tom Cruise?

BS: It’s so surreal. Tom Cruise was my childhood crush. I was obsessed with him since “Top Gun.” I can recite every single line of that film, and here I am I getting to meet him and work with him.

JJ: What was your family’s reaction when you told them you wanted to be an actress?

BS: My parents were not encouraging in the beginning. Who wants to see their daughter out of work all the time? Every parent wants their child be a doctor or lawyer. At first they were definitely hesitant, but now they’re so proud and excited.

JJ: How important is Judaism in your life now, and how are you involved in the community?

BS: I think Judaism has enriched my life and developed who I am. I hope to instill in my family a belief in tikkun olam. One of my dreams is to bring attention to environmental and children’s issues.

“M:I:III” is in theaters now.

Article courtesy The Forward.

 

Reel Life


If you do a LexisNexis search for the screenwriter-director Paul Haggis and his new film, “Crash,” you’ll come up with a surprising number of hits for newspapers in Canada.

It turns out Haggis was born in London, Ontario. He came to Los Angeles in 1977, started writing for television, then in 2001 switched to movies. His screenplay for “Million Dollar Baby” won a much-deserved Oscar, and “Crash,” his directorial debut, has been an early summer sleeper hit.

“Crash” weaves together the stories of disparate Angelenos — a white district attorney and his Brentwood wife; a black detective; a black TV director and his wife; an Iranian shopkeeper; a Latino locksmith — whose lives intersect and sometimes collide in explosive moments detonated by fear, racism and crime. The language is sharp, the acting superb. As for the reality of Los Angeles that the film portrays on screen: Well, it ain’t reality.

Haggis’ Los Angeles is no more a true depiction of our city than George Lucas’ “Revenge of the Sith” truly depicts outer space.

This isn’t a knock. Movies can create a compelling alternate reality, the singular vision of a writer or director. In 1946, most Angelenos didn’t skulk around a Los Angeles filled with gin-sodden detectives muttering like Bogie about a dame who “tried to sit in my lap while I was standing up.” Haggis’ Los Angeles is not true to life either; it’s true to Haggis.

But that’s not how “Crash” plays in Canada, where Haggis has favorite-son, “Canadian writer,” status. In the Canadian press, and elsewhere outside of Los Angeles, “Crash” is seen as a narrative oracle. Haggis the outsider has come to tell the truth about the city of O.J. and earthquakes, movie stars and race riots.

It’s a city many prefer to imagine in stereotypes, and to some extent “Crash” feeds those misconceptions. Walking out of the theater, you half expect someone to run up and cut off your wrist for your watch. You expect to be called whatever epithet fits your mother’s ancestry, then shoved onto a violent city street and set upon by roving (though perhaps hyperarticulate) thugs.

“That was a city I didn’t recognize,” said Joe Hicks, co-director of Community Advocates, Inc. “That’s not the daily engagement most people have here. As any kind of social commentary, it just falls flat.”

The funny thing is, most residents are optimistic about Los Angeles. Our new mayor, a Latino, won the vote of almost every voting bloc except Republican whites. Reported hate crimes have gone down by almost half in four years.

A poll taken by the Public Policy Institute of California this year found that Angelenos hold “a positive overall attitude” toward the city. Sixty-one percent say things are going very well or somewhat well. The same number believe race relations are improving and will continue to improve.

On public schools, the economy, job opportunities — on all these things expectations are optimistic. People are most overtly concerned about the environment and transportation, but light rail and particulate counts don’t make for very sexy drama.

The film’s own setting drove this point home, without meaning to, during a scene in which two carjacking thugs walk in a supposedly nasty neighborhood, grousing about how the white man keeps them down.

Hey, I thought to myself, that’s my neighborhood. Haggis had shot the scene on Venice Boulevard, about two blocks from my home. It’s a neighborhood all but devoid of violent crime, where an Indian restaurant shares a building with a Mexican grocery across from a Thai cafe. Venice has its share of gangs and burglaries, but it is more “Lords of Dogtown” than “Lord of the Flies.”

The morning after I saw “Crash,” I was sipping coffee near work at Cafe Americano, a quiet little place in Koreatown with a neighborhood vibe. It serves good coffee, pastries from La Brea Bakery, and the clientele — white, black, Latino, Korean — resembles a mini-United Nations, as does much of Koreatown. At the table next to me a heavyset young man started speaking Russian to a beautiful young Korean woman at the counter. She turned to him and answered — in fluent Russian.

In last year’s action thriller, “Collateral,” actors Jamie Foxx and Tom Cruise engage in all-out shootouts with various underworld thugs that seem to control these same streets.

At dinner that evening, we took the kids to Nagila in Pico-Roberston. As we got up to leave, the Latino busboy called out to us, “See you later” — in Hebrew.

It was so incongruous I could only stammer back, “Gracias.”

These are snapshots, granted, and perhaps no more reflective of the truth of Los Angeles than Haggis’ hate-mongering city, where people learn, too late, the salvation of coming together.

Haggis has told interviewers that the inspiration for “Crash” came after he and his first wife were carjacked outside a video store on Wilshire Boulevard in 1991. The film, ostensibly told from numerous points of view, most particularly feels like a tale told by a man terrorized 14 years ago.

But a parallel tale could be told about all the ways we here in Los Angeles have found to come together without crashing — to combine, to collaborate, to live well with others.

It would be sweet, upbeat and affirming — and so saccharine that it would never get made into a movie.

But it might just be more real. 

Death Stalks Family


A local American Israeli family, which lost a daughter in an airport shooting rampage last July 4, is in renewed mourning for a son who died Nov. 26 following a car accident.

Nimrod Hen, the 18-year-old victim, was the brother of Victoria "Vicky" Hen, 25. She was one of two people shot and killed by an Egyptian-born gunman while working at the El Al ticket counter at Los Angeles International Airport.

Avinoam and Rachel Hen, the parents of Vicky and Nimrod, and a surviving third child, Udi, were reported in deep mourning and unwilling to speak publicly.

"What can I tell you except that it’s a terrible tragedy?" Joseph Knoller, a family spokesman, told the Los Angeles Times.

Nimrod Hen died of injuries sustained in a Nov. 16 accident, in which he apparently swerved to avoid a car coming out of a Chatsworth mall parking lot and crashed into two parked cars and a fire hydrant.

He resided with his parents and graduated in June from Chatsworth High School. He was described by school officials as a popular and outgoing student.

Vicky Hen, the oldest of the three children, had been working at the El Al ticket counter for less than two months when she was slain by Hesham Mohammed Hadayet, who in turn was killed immediately by El Al security guards.

The FBI has not issued a final report in the case, to the frustration of Hen’s family and Israeli officials, who view the shooting as an act of terrorism.

The Hen family, whose roots in the historical Israeli city of Safed go back 700 years, immigrated in 1990 to California, where the father built up a automobile parts supply business in Canoga Park.

Wellstone — One of the ‘Frozen Chosen’


As Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) began campaigning for a third term, some pro-Israel activists tried to generate support for his opponent by whispering that the two-term incumbent was insufficiently supportive of Israel. But in almost every respect Wellstone, who died in the crash of his campaign plane in remote northern Minnesota last week en route to a funeral, was more representative of the Jewish political tradition than almost anyone else in political life.

Wellstone, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants, was a bleeding-heart liberal in the best sense of the phrase. He genuinely cared about the nation’s most vulnerable citizens; he put social justice and civil rights ahead of almost every other consideration during his 12 years in the Senate.

Defying the anti-government mood that has even crept into Democratic circles, he made the case for active, creative, compassionate government intervention to elevate the poor, treat the sick and protect the vulnerable. Many Democratic colleagues had come to fear the taint of the liberal label; Wellstone wore it as a badge of honor. He did it with humor and grace and a lack of the humbug that seems to infect even politicians who come to Washington as self-proclaimed populists.

He often appeared at public events in a dark T-shirt, not the camera-ready jacket-and-tie ensembles chosen with the TV lights in mind. He was forever rumpled, forever looking like an energetic-but-distracted college professor who had consumed too much caffeine and too many ideas.

He looked — there’s no other way to put this — totally Jewish. Wellstone looked like a guy at the corner deli in Brooklyn, arguing politics with a thoroughly Jewish zest. His unabashed ethnicity was all the more amazing because he represented the land of Garrison Keillor’s Norwegian bachelor farmers — an overwhelmingly Lutheran state where the Jewish population is a measly .4 percent and the favored political style is Scandinavian deadpan.

He used to refer to himself as one of the "Frozen Chosen."

He was one of the most regular attendees of the Capitol Hill events sponsored by American Friends of Lubavitch.

"Disagreement never led to disrespect with Paul," said Rabbi Levi Shemtov, the group’s Washington director. "He and I agreed on very little, politically, but he was always extremely polite, courteous and respectful. He had a real respect for Jewish things. He was a real mensch."

Wellstone’s office even looked like the office of a quirky, widely read college professor — which is what he was before his quixotic Senate victory in 1990. His inner office looked like a used bookstore; it smelled of musty pages, not political testosterone.

Wellstone did not wear his religion on his sleeve, but he made it clear to friends over the years that his Judaism was an essential element in his compassionate liberalism.

"He was motivated by fundamental values and was a brilliant advocate for his beliefs, " said Hannah Rosenthal, executive vice-chair of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. As a Midwest political activist and then an official of the Clinton administration, Rosenthal worked with Wellstone throughout his Senate career. "He was proud that those beliefs were motivated by the prophetic values of Judaism. As the son of Russian Jewish immigrants, he believed in the strength and beauty of American democracy."

When he came back to Washington more than a decade ago — he was raised in suburban Arlington, Va., just across the Potomac — he sometimes seemed more interested in being a liberal gadfly than in leaving his imprint on legislation, a process that requires compromise and ability to forge bipartisan coalitions.

But even political detractors say Wellstone quickly shifted gears, reaching out across partisan and ideological lines to make a difference on the issues he cared about: health care, the environment, abortion, gay and civil rights.

His consistency was impressive in a city where deeply held views often last only until the next public opinion survey. He voted against the 1991 Gulf War resolution, and he voted against a similar resolution a few weeks ago, despite predictions that it would hurt his re-election bid against former St. Paul Mayor Norman Coleman — another Jew.

It didn’t; polls showed that his stand was part of the reason he had reclaimed the lead in the tight race. But that didn’t seem to matter to Wellstone; he was against a preemptive, unilateral war, case closed.

He remained a reliable supporter of Israel, but he didn’t vote the straight party line — just as he didn’t vote the straight party line when it came to domestic matters. He strongly supported an active U.S. role in Mideast peacemaking, something that didn’t always endear him to pro-Israel lobbyists, but was consistent with mainstream Jewish thinking. He supported a congressional resolution of solidarity with Israel earlier this year but insisted that, "I don’t think it should be viewed as an open-ended endorsement of the policies of the Sharon government."

He was passionate about the issues that drove him into politics, and he was passionate about his job — so much so that he violated his promise to seek only two terms.

Wellstone was buried as a Jew this week; he will be remembered for living a life that reflected the best in Jewish political activism.

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