Brain-dead Israeli boy’s kidney donated to Palestinian child

The kidney of a 3-year-old Israeli boy was successfully transplanted to a 10-year-old Palestinian child.

The parents of Noam Naor decided to donate his kidneys after their son was declared brain dead nearly two weeks ago after falling from a window in his parents’ apartment.

One kidney went to an Israeli child, and the parents were asked by the National Transplant Center for their permission to give the second kidney to a Palestinian boy, according to reports.

The operation on June 2 was successful, according to the Schneider Children’s Hospital in Petach Tikvah.

The Palestinian child had been undergoing dialysis for seven years at the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem while waiting for a match.

“Noam’s parents are noble and an inspiration to us all,” Israeli Health Minister Yael German said. “Their donation is a source of pride and an example of humanity and kindness.”

What Boston hospitals learned from Israel

Minutes after a terrorist attack killed three at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, doctors and nurses at the city’s hospitals faced a harrowing scene — severed limbs, burned bodies, shrapnel buried in skin.

For Boston doctors, the challenge presented by last week’s bombing was unprecedented — but they were prepared.

Many of the city’s hospitals have doctors with actual battlefield experience. Others have trauma experience from deployments on humanitarian missions, like the one that followed the Haitian earthquake, and have learned from presentations by veterans of other terror attacks like the one at a movie theater in Colorado.

But they have benefited as well from the expertise developed by Israeli physicians over decades of treating victims of terrorist attacks — expertise that Israel has shared with scores of doctors and hospitals around the world. Eight years ago, four Israeli doctors and a staff of nurses spent two days at Massachusetts General Hospital teaching hospital staff the methods pioneered in Israel.

According to the New Yorker magazine, every Boston patient who reached the hospital alive has survived.

“We had periods where every week we had an attack,” said Dror Soffer, director of the trauma division at the Tel Aviv Medical Center, who participated in the delegation. “It becomes your routine.”

Techniques that were “routine” in Israel by 2005, and helped save lives in Boston last week, began evolving in the 1990s, when Israel experienced a spate of bus bombings. Israeli doctors “rewrote the bible of blast trauma,” said Avi Rivkind, the director of surgery at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Center, where 60 percent of Israeli victims have been treated.

Much of what Israel has learned about treating attack victims was done on the fly. In 1996, a 19-year-old soldier arrived at the Hadassah hospital following a bus bombing with severe injuries to her chest and esophagus. Doctors put chest drains on her lungs and performed endoscopies twice a day to stop the bleeding. Both techniques are now regular practices.

“We were sure she was going to die, and she survived,” Rivkind said.

Rivkind is an internationally recognized expert in terror medicine and widely considered one of the great brains behind Israeli innovations that have been adopted around the world.

Trained at Hebrew University, the Hadassah Medical Center and the Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems in Baltimore, he has contributed to several volumes on trauma surgery and post-attack care, and authored a number of seminal medical studies. Rivkind was the personal physician for the late Israeli President Ezer Weizman, helped care for Ariel Sharon when the prime minister fell into a coma following a stroke, and has performed near-miraculous feats, once reviving a soldier shot in the heart who had been pronounced dead in the field.

But not everything Rivkind has learned about treating attack victims comes from a story with a happy ending. In 2002, Shiri Nagari was rushed to Hadassah after a bus bombing. She appeared to have escaped largely unharmed, but 45 minutes later she was dead. It was, Rivkind later wrote, the first time he ever cried after losing a patient.

“She seemed fine and talked with us,” he said. “You can be very injured inside, and outside you look completely pristine.”

Organizing the emergency room, Rivkind said, is as important as treating patients correctly. During the second intifada, Hadassah developed what he called the “accordion method,” a method of moving patients through various stages of assessment with maximal efficiency. The process has since become standard in hospitals across Israel and around the world.

German prosecutors say doctors did not hasten Demjanjuk’s death

Nazi war criminal John Demjanjuk's death was not hastened by medication administered at a nursing home in Bavaria, prosecutors said.

Ulrich Busch, an attorney for Demjanjuk, who died in March, filed a complaint in May with German prosecutors asking them to open an investigation of five doctors and a nurse, alleging that the pain medication they gave to Demjanjuk added to his kidney problems.

The investigation of the allegations was closed after no evidence indicated that the doctors made an error, The Associated Press reported Tuesday.

The complaint had said that a specific pain medication, common in Germany but banned in the United States, led to Demjanjuk's death as he awaited an appeal of his conviction last year by a Munich court for his role in the murder of 27,900 people at the Sobibor camp in Poland.

Lying for the cause

There are many admirable values. The list includes, of course, goodness, integrity and compassion.

But there is one value without which civilization cannot survive, and without which evil is inevitable: truth.

I cannot think of a 20th-century evil not predicated on lies. It was years (if not centuries) of lying about Jews that enabled the Holocaust to take place. Otherwise, “ordinary men,” to use the title of historian Christopher Browning’s work on the perpetrators of the Holocaust, would not have slaughtered Jewish men, women, not to mention children and babies, had they not been brainwashed into believing that Jews were not human and were the source of Germany’s and the world’s problems.

The same with communism. Every communist regime was totalitarian — meaning, among other things, that it controlled what was deemed true. The Soviet Communist Party newspaper was therefore named “Pravda,” the Russian word for truth. But there was no pravda in Pravda.

Given the horrors that result from lies (I am referring largely to societal lies; in personal life, there are times when truth is not the highest value, such as when maintaining shalom bayit, peace in the home, or when lying to a murderer to save an innocent’s life), one would think that more people would value it. But not many do.

And the reason is simple: Most people think that their cause is more important than telling the truth.

The most recent example occurred this past weekend when Congressman Todd Akin (R-Mo.) was asked about his position on abortion for women who had become pregnant as a result of rape. The Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate from Missouri responded, in part, that “from what I understand from doctors, that [pregnancy as a result of a rape] is really rare …  the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Now, if a lie is something one knows to be untrue, then, technically speaking, Rep. Akin wasn’t telling a lie. After all, he claimed that he understood this “from doctors”– and it is quite possible that someone did tell him that some doctors had made that claim.

What we have here, rather than a lie in that technical sense, are two other, more common assaults on truth:

First is the lack of desire to know the truth in order for the individual to continue to believe what he wants to believe, even when, as in the Akin claim, it is obviously absurd. Mr. Akin is undoubtedly familiar with the massive amount of rape committed by victorious armies throughout history. Does he believe that almost none of the victims got pregnant? And is he not aware of the tragedy of the women of Darfur raped by Sudanese Arab soldiers — and then abandoned by their families for getting pregnant out of wedlock?

As a member of the United States Congress, he surely knows about such things. So, what we have here is reason number one for the assault on truth: People believe what they want to believe more than they want to know, let alone assert, the truth.

And why this lack of desire to know the truth? 

The answer brings us to the second reason so many people don’t value truth: Their cause is always higher than truth telling. It’s permissible to lie on behalf of one’s noble cause (and what cause isn’t noble in the cause-holders’ eyes?)

I’ll give another conservative example: the claim that viewing pornography leads to rape. While many feminists also make this claim, it is mostly associated with religious conservatives. That the claim is patently false is easily demonstrated. First, the countries with the most lax laws governing pornography have the least rape, and many of the countries that ban pornography have the highest rates of sexual and other physical abuse of women. Second, the vast majority of men who look at pornographic images have never, and would never, commit rape. The fact that virtually all rapists have viewed porn is as meaningless as the fact that virtually all rapists are meat eaters.

But for many religious conservatives who regard pornography as a major sin against God, and feminists who regard it as major sin against women, truth telling is less important than their cause — fighting pornography.

This phenomenon is at least as common on the left. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman made up the false charge that Jared Loughner, the mentally deranged man who tried to kill former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (and killed six others) did so because of Republican Party hate rhetoric. Why did Krugman write this lie? Because it served his great cause: demonizing the right.

And progressives in California’s legislature have passed laws governing what goes into history textbooks from elementary school through high school — a certain amount of space must be allotted to blacks, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, women, gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered. For many progressives, making students feel good about their ethnicity, race, gender or sexual orientation is more important than historical truth.

So, with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur approaching, here’s a suggestion for any rabbi searching for a High Holy Day sermon topic: The primary importance of truth telling. Lies built Auschwitz.

Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the Internet-based Prager University (

U.S. military doctors in Germany will continue circumcision

U.S. military doctors stationed in Germany will continue to perform circumcisions despite a ruling that has roiled the country’s medical and political establishments.

Stars and Stripes on July 23 quoted U.S. officials as saying that a decision by a Cologne court banning circumcision for nonmedical reasons applies only in that jurisdiction, where there are no U.S. military facilities.

Should a court in a region where the U.S. military has facilities ban the practice, the policy will be reviewed, the officials told the newspaper.

A number of German and Swiss doctors have stopped the practice until the legal implications of the Cologne court’s ruling are fully understood.

Jewish and Muslim groups have protested the rulings, and German lawmakers have taken legislative steps toward protecting the practice.

HEALTH CARE DECISION — Jews React: Beverly Hills cardiologist and internist

Beverly Hills cardiologist and internist Dr. Reed Wilson – a former member of the Republican Jewish Coalition who helped found its Los Angeles chapter – called the mandate “an amazing breach of the American trust.” Moreover, he said, the law’s finer print contains “rules and regulations” pertaining to doctor reimbursement rates that will threaten physicians’ private practices and health care quality.

“I want to be able to take care of my patients in a way that I think is wise medicine, is good quality medicine. I don’t want to be subjected to rules that I think are detrimental to my patients,” Wilson said.

But “the Supreme Court decision is one we are going to have to live with,” he added.

The Republican Jewish Coalition released a statement shortly after the decision came down, expressing disappointment: “The serious negative effects this law will have on the economy, on jobs, on medical research and development and on the quality of health care in America are very troubling.”

Doctor fighting leukemia seeks matching donor

A veteran physician diagnosed with leukemia is hoping to find a compatible bone marrow match within the Jewish community to help him beat back the life-threatening disease. Be The Match, the National Marrow Donor Registry, is holding a donor screening on Thursday at USC’s Rand Schrader Health and Research Center.

The identity of the doctor is being kept confidential. He is of Jewish descent and has been with Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center for 20 years. So far no compatible matches have been found. Race and ethnicity are important factors in compatibility, and the physician will likely require a Jewish donor.

People willing to donate bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cells, who are generally healthy and between the ages of 18 and 60, are encouraged to register. The process is free and the majority of potential donors will have their cheek swabbed to determine compatibility. If selected, Be The Match will provide potential donors with additional information on the donating procedure, which the organization says is relatively painless. 

The screening will be held on June 14, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., at the Rand Schrader Health and Research Center, 1300 N. Mission Road, Los Angeles. For more information or to register, call (626) 373-4000 or visit

Heart of Syria

In the constant argument that is Middle East politics it is very rare to achieve anything like universal agreement, but no one can begrudge what Hazem Chehabi did.

He quit. 

Since Chehabi resigned last week as honorary consul general of Syria in Southern California, he has received hundreds of e-mails and phone calls.

All positive.

For 18 years, Chehabi, an oncological radiologist in Newport Beach, has volunteered to act as Syria’s consul general here. His office handled travel documents and birth, marriage and death certificates for the thousands of expatriate Syrians living in the Western states.

When the Arab Spring started to rain down on the regime of Bashar Assad, activists in Orange County began to call on Chehabi to resign. They lodged complaints with the University of California, Irvine, whose UC Irvine Foundation board of trustees Chehabi chairs.

Chehabi, on principle, refused to step down. He believed he was serving the community he cared about — not the Assad regime — providing help that people needed to get on with their lives.

Then came Houla. On May 25, government-backed militiamen attacked the Syrian village and killed 108 people, of whom 49 were children. The victims were shot at close range, beaten or stabbed. Assad has denied his regime’s involvement, but no one, least of all the honorary consul general to Southern California, believes him.

I’ve known Hazem Chehabi for years. He is a soft-spoken, private man, not given to dramatics or bluster. As the situation in Syria deteriorated, he wrestled with — agonized over — how to continue to serve the local Syrian community without appearing to support the Assad regime. 

One of Chehabi’s major concerns, which he kept out of the public debate, was for his extended family and friends in Syria; he was deeply worried about what might happen to them if he stepped down.

But after Houla, there was no more doubt.

“I never thought of myself as a Syrian official,” he told me by phone on Monday. “There was always a distinction in my mind. I was a physician first, volunteering to perform a service for my fellow Syrians. But it got to the point that if there were any hint that what I did had anything to do with this regime, I couldn’t perform these duties.”

Chehabi doesn’t believe for a second Assad’s denial of involvement or responsibility for what happened in Houla.

“Everything I’ve heard suggests these people had ties to the government,” he said. “The government will say otherwise, and I expect them to say otherwise. There’s a pattern to terrorize the civilian population. It’s nothing less than ethnic cleansing.”

Chehabi’s father knew Bashar Assad’s father, Hafez, and Chehabi himself has known the son for years; they’ve met on several occasions. The last time Chehabi was in Syria, at the start of the protests and crackdown there, he tried to meet with Bashir Assad, but, for the first time, his request was denied.

“At the time he took power, we had high hopes,” Chehabi said of Assad. “He was young, Western-educated, open-minded. I am very disappointed by how things turned out.”

I asked Chehabi if he still wasn’t concerned about how his resigning in protest would endanger his friends and family in Syria.

“I’ve thought about this for a long time,” he said. “I decided these people are not going to be any more precious to me than the average citizen who is suffering day in and day out. I had to do what I felt was moral. I’m concerned about my family, of course, but I’m also concerned about the average citizen suffering at the hands of this killing machine.”

When I asked whether Chehabi has heard a reaction to his resignation from his family in Syria, he was circumspect. “I have to be careful,” he said. “I’ve heard indirectly. The response was overwhelmingly positive.”

Now, Chehabi’s foremost concern is for Syria’s future.

He remains opposed to military intervention.

“It will make things worse,” he said. “It will lead to more bloodshed and flat-out civil war.”

Writing in this month’s Foreign Policy, the analyst Anne-Marie Slaughter suggests the United States take the lead in creating “No Kill Zones” where Syrian citizens can live free of government shelling and attacks and even opposition violence. U.S. and other troops would enforce these NKZs with armed drones and aircraft. 

“I would like to think there’s a way to create these without weapons,” Chehabi said. “I’d like to think we can appeal to the conscience of the regime that at stake is the future of the country. If this continues, the Syria we know will cease to exist,  and what will emerge are mini states along sectarian lines.”

Chehabi now tells people requesting official documents to turn to the Syrian embassy in Washington, D.C., or the consulate in Detroit — a major inconvenience. 

“It’s too bad,” he said. “The country is bigger than the regime; it’s bigger than the government. You should be able to criticize the leader without being seen as criticizing the country.”

That freedom, of course, is what much of the struggle of the Arab Spring is about. And in Syria, it is far from over.

After Houla, President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued yet more rote, ineffective condemnations.

Some people wonder what took Chehabi so long to act. I don’t. I wonder what’s taking our leaders so long.

Follow Rob Eshman on Twitter at @Foodaism.

Israeli military doctor saves Palestinian baby brought to base

An Israeli military doctor saved a 12-day-old Palestinian baby girl who had stopped breathing.

Lt. Michael Findler, 28, the lone doctor at the Halamish military base near Ramallah in the West Bank, resuscitated the baby with CPR. Following an exam, the baby was taken by Palestinian ambulance to a hospital in Ramallah. The mother had brought the infant to the gates of the base at 3 a.m. Monday seeking help.

It was the seventh time since Findler arrived at the base two months ago that he had provided emergency services to Palestinians from area villages, and third in the past two weeks, he told JTA. Last week he cared for a 4-year-old Palestinian girl that he diagnosed with meningitis, as well as a young woman with intracranial bleeding. He also delivered a Palestinian baby in his clinic.

All of the outcomes have been good so far, he said, adding that it can sometimes be difficult to find out what happened to his patients after they are taken away by a Palestinian ambulance.

Findler said it is “very common” for Palestinians to come to the base seeking medical care.

“The Palestinians know that in our base they get the emergency medical treatment they need,” he said.

The base is located near the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh, which is the site of weekly protests by local residents and activists against the West Bank settlement of Halamish, which locals say has taken over their land. Findler says he has cared for Palestinians injured during the often violent demonstrations.

He sees so many Palestinian cases at Halamish, Findler says, because PA ambulances have a difficult time reaching the villages and they do not have paramedics on board when they arrive.

“In our area we are the most capable medical clinic,” he said.

Hernias difficult to diagnose in women

Martine Ehrenclou, 51, first noticed her lower abdomen pain in January 2010. She experienced severe discomfort if she sat at her desk for even 15 minutes, when she drove her car or any time that she pitched forward. Ehrenclou, who lives in Brentwood, describes the pain as “brutal.”

“I would have stabbing, sharp pain right in the center of where my C[aesarean]-section scar is,” she said. “It would start right above the scar, and it felt like it went very deep internally, and once that would happen, it would kick off a spasm that would radiate to every part of my pelvic area.”

Eventually, she said, the spasms happened every day, and she finally visited her doctor. But instead of a straightforward diagnosis, the visit marked the beginning of what would prove to be a year-and-a-half-long search for a cure.

“I saw 12 doctors of differing specialties, I underwent 15 tests and procedures, and I was put on 22 medications,” Ehrenclou said of the grueling road to a diagnosis.

It wasn’t until reading a newspaper article that Ehrenclou finally realized what she might have: a hernia. “I could not believe what I was reading,” she said; the complications that the woman in the article described matched Ehrenclou’s almost precisely.

Armed with this new information, Ehrenclou made an appointment with Dr. Shirin Towfigh, a surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center who specializes in treating women with hernias. After performing an MRI, Towfigh gave Ehrenclou the final verdict: two small belly button hernias and another one protruding through a muscle tear at the site of her C-section. One was pinching a nerve, likely causing the majority of Ehrenclou’s excruciating pain.

Towfigh performed a simple surgery on Ehrenclou, which, she said, is the only surefire way to treat a hernia. Within a few days, Ehrenclou was back on her feet, feeling “elated and grateful” that the pain she had been living with for so long was finally gone.

But unfortunately, Ehrenclou’s story is not uncommon.

Hernias, which occur when part of an internal organ or fatty tissue pushes through a hole in a muscle, are far more common in men than in women. As a result, many doctors don’t consider a hernia diagnosis when faced with a female patient.

“Hernias in women are not on the radar for most doctors,” Towfigh said, “and so many don’t ask the right questions to narrow it down.”

Adding to the problem, the most common type of hernia is in the groin area, and their symptoms mirror other pelvic problems that tend to plague women.

“Women have many more organs in that region than men do,” Towfigh said. “So when they come in with lower groin pain, it’s often mistaken for pelvic pain.”

Women with hernias may be misdiagnosed as having ovary-related problems, such as cysts or ruptures; complications from prior pelvic surgeries, such as Caesarean sections; endometriosis; or fibroids.

In Ehrenclou’s case, her incorrect diagnoses included interstitial cystitis, fibroids and neuropathy. But worse than the frustration of not knowing what was wrong, she said, were the invasive and sometimes painful tests and treatments she endured in the name of the wrong problem.

One such treatment involved painful steroid injections to her pelvic area. Another required her to be put under general anesthesia, injected with needles in her lower back, and then brought out of the anesthesia to have them electronically stimulated in order to isolate the origination point of the pain. 

“All these doctors did not have hernia in their purview,” she said.

Adding to the difficulty of diagnosing hernias in women, Towfigh says, is that they are often smaller than those seen in men. When a man with a hernia lies down, for instance, the hernia can generally be seen in the form of a bulge. But because of the differences in women’s bodies, a hernia may not be as prominent or even visible at all.

“Women’s pelvises are broader, and so the distribution where the hernias occur and how they present is a little different,” Towfigh said. “In men it protrudes, but in women it’s not as large, so it’s not commonly felt as a bulge.”

Because of the likelihood of confusion and misdiagnoses, Towfigh adds that the more information a patient has and the more forthcoming the patient is with that information, the more easily the diagnosis can be made. With Ehrenclou, for instance, her symptoms lined up clearly with those of hernia.

“Women will commonly tell you that they’re doing daily activities, like washing dishes or brushing their teeth, and it hurts them,” Towfigh said, “or anything that closes off that area, like coughing, sneezing or bending over.”

For her part, Ehrenclou encourages other women in her situation to be tenacious in seeking a cure. As difficult as it was, she says, she never stopped pushing for a diagnosis. If she had given up halfway through, “I probably would still be in pain.”

Doctor Calms Radiation Fears With Nature Photos

The walls of Dr. Bernard Lewinsky’s office resemble the pages of a National Geographic calendar: sweeping lake vistas and verdant forests brush up against sculptured rock formations and sun-mottled Yosemite hills. Looking at his photographs, patients remember vacations, times when they felt relaxed and at peace. It takes their minds off their cancer.

Lewinsky, medical director of Vantage Oncology’s West Hills Radiation Therapy Center, found that serene landscape portraits tend to calm patients’ fears as they face the harrowing realities of living with cancer. So the avid nature photographer created a Healing Art Gallery at the center featuring 80 of his images to put patients at ease when they come in for treatment.

“Nature tends to soothe your mind,” Lewinsky said. “The treatment room is often full of hustle and bustle. Patients are scared and upset — they have been given a diagnosis that means life or death. To walk into an environment that’s full of chaos is not what they need.”

The soft-spoken doctor, 66, began taking pictures at age 8. Born in San Salvador, El Salvador, and raised Jewish by his German émigré parents, Lewinsky grew up near the coffee plantation his father owned. He would often go out to photograph the coffee trees and flowers.

The idea that a radiation therapy center could have a calming effect on patients had been with Lewinsky for decades, ever since his 1974-76 stint as chief of radiotherapy at Letterman Army Hospital.

“We had one of the old radiotherapy machines that was a monstrosity,” he recalled. “It looked very much like the early atomic weapons that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”

The generator was an intimidating two stories high. Lewinsky didn’t want his patients to feel any more frightened than they already were, so he obtained funding to redecorate the radiotherapy department. He had the interior painted the same color as the machine and placed large, majestic images of Yosemite landscapes around the treatment room.

In recent years, Lewinsky’s concept has taken off — his art now adorns the walls of 20 medical centers across Southern California, including Vantage Oncology’s five regional locations and the company’s corporate office in Manhattan Beach, the Breast Center in Van Nuys and the Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center at USC.

Lewinsky shoots landscapes mostly in the American West — Utah, Mexico, Arizona — traveling with 20 to 30 pounds of equipment, including 4×5 film and a large-format field camera. His favorite places are Yosemite National Park and Zion National Park, which “puts humanity in place, it’s so big.”

People derive a sense of tranquility from natural settings, he said, which stems from similarities we perceive between the natural world and our own bodies.

“A normal person wouldn’t look at a photograph and see the shape of his thyroid, for example. But I think there is a subliminal connection,” Lewinsky said.

That connection shows up time and again in conversations with patients, he said.

“I spend more time talking about photography to some patients than I do about their disease,” Lewinsky said with a laugh. “They talk about how much relaxation they feel.”

For Lewinsky, photography has also been a form of personal therapy. The doctor was thrust into the spotlight in 1998 after news broke of the sex scandal involving his daughter, former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, and then-President Bill Clinton. “My salvation through that was photography,” Lewinsky said, adding that the time he spent in the darkroom that year produced images that were “very black and white.”

In his West Hills office, however, Lewinsky points out richly hued images on the walls and explains their back-stories with obvious fondness for the locales in which he took them. He greets patients waiting for treatment with a smile and shakes their hands as they leave.

His methods, he said, are expressions of a simple and intuitive philosophy: “You have to treat the tumor and also the soul.”

Checklist: What to do when someone dies

Make sure to contact the hospital or mortuary so that you can fill out any paperwork, i.e., death certificate, as soon after the death as possible.

If you have preplanned:

  1. Contact the doctor to fill out any paperwork.
  2. Contact the funeral director (who should have a list of arrangements).
  3. Call your synagogue and speak with the rabbi about possible times for the service.
  4. Register the death with the synagogue.
  5. Re-contact the funeral home/mortuary to arrange for a funeral time.
  6. Contact close friends and family/chavurah so they can help relay funeral time and information.
  7. Decide for how many days you will sit shiva. Your friends/chavurah can arrange for people to sit shiva with you and your family.

If you have not preplanned:

  1. Contact the doctor to fill out any paperwork.
  2. Call a Jewish funeral director to arrange for someone to pick up the body and to discuss available times for the funeral at a Jewish cemetery.
  3. Call your synagogue and speak with the rabbi about possible times for the service.
  4. Register the death with the synagogue.
  5. After speaking with both the director of the cemetery and the rabbi, arrange for a funeral time.
  6. Call a mortuary that may or may not be affiliated with the cemetery (depending upon which cemetery you use). Set up a service time that is convenient both for the rabbi and the mortuary.
  7. Have your friends/family/chavurah make calls to friends/family/loved ones to relay funeral time and information.
  8. Decide for how many days you will sit shiva. Your friends/chavurah can arrange for people to sit shiva with you and your family.


Web sites:

Jewish Funerals, Burial and Mourning, published by Kavod v’Nichum and the Jewish Funeral Practices Committee of Greater Washington

“My Jewish Learning Death and Funeral Practices

“A Guide to Jewish Burial and Mourning Practices” published by the Funeral Practices Committee of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California

A Guide to Jewish Mourning and Condolence” by Jerry Rabow, Valley Beth Shalom

Funerals: A Consumer Guide (Federal Trade Commission)

Consumer Guide to Funeral & Cemetery Purchases (California Department of Consumer Affairs Cemetery & Funeral Bureau)

Funeral Consumers Alliance

The Green Funeral Site


“Mourning & Mitzvah: A Guided Journey for Walking the Mourner’s Path Through Grief to Healing” by Anne Brener (Jewish Lights Publishing, 2001)

“The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning” by Maurice Lamm (Jonathan David Publishers, 2000)

“So That Your Values Live on: Ethical Wills and How to Prepare Them” by Jack Riemer and Nathan Stampfer (Jewish Lights Publishing, 1994)

“A Time to Mourn, a Time to Comfort: A Guide to Jewish Bereavement” Ron Wolfson (Jewish Lights Publishing, 2005)

— Jane Ulman



1022 S. Downey Road
Los Angeles, CA 90023
323 653-8886
800 654-6772

Opened in 1919. Owned and operated by Chevra Kadisha Mortuary.

1068 S. Downey Road
Los Angeles, CA 90023
213 653-8886
800 654-6772

Opened in 1907. Owned and operated by Chevra Kadisha Mortuary.

900 N. Gower Street
Hollywood, CA 90038
323 469-2322
877 238-4652

Opened around 1927. Organized as the Jewish section within the larger Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery, now called Hollywood Forever.

15270 Woodcrest Dr.
Whittier, CA 90604
310 943-3170

Opened in 1987.

11500 Sepulveda Blvd.
Mission Hills, CA 91345
818 361-7161
800 441-7161

Opened in 1954. Acquired by Service Corporation International (SCI) in 1985.

6001 Centinela Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90045
(800) 576-1994

Opened in 1946. Owned by Temple Israel of Hollywood since the 1950s.

4334 Whittier Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90023
323 261-6135
800 300-0223

Opened in 1902 in current location. Owned and operated by Rose Hills Memorial Park.

6505 E. Gage Ave.
City of Commerce, CA 90040
(323) 653-8886
(800) 654-6772

Opened in 1931. Owned and operated by Chevra Kadisha Mortuary.

7231 E. Slauson Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90040
323 721-4729

Opened in 1948. Donated to Chabad of California in the 1980s.

5950 Forest Lawn Dr.
Los Angeles, CA 90068
(800) 600-0076
(323) 469-6000

Originally founded by Forest Lawn in 1953 and exclusively Jewish since 1959. Owned by Sinai Temple since 1967.

6150 Mount Sinai Drive
Simi Valley, CA 93063
(800) 600-0076

160-acre site purchased in 1997 and opened in 2002. Owned by Sinai Temple.

1030 S. Downey Rd.
Los Angeles, CA 90023

Opened in 1916. Currently owned by Jewish Federation Council of Los Angeles and operated by Rose Hills Memorial Park, which owns Home of Peace.

13017 N. Lopez Canyon Road
San Fernando, CA 91342
818 899-5216

Founded in 1951. Privately owned.

13622 Curtis and King Road
Norwalk, CA 90650
(213) 653-8886

Opened in 1938. Owned and operated by Chevra Kadisha Mortuary.


7832 Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90046
800 654-6772
323 653-8886

Founded in 1976 as a private organization and not a traditional “chevra kadisha.”

7700 Santa Monica Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90046
800 300-0223
323 656-6260

11500 Sepulveda Blvd,
Mission Hills, CA 91345
800 522-4875

830 W. Washington Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90015
213 748-2201

6001 W. Centinela Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90045
800 576-1994
310 641-0707

Founded in 1946 in association with Hillside Memorial Park.

5950 Forest Lawn Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90068
800 600-0076
323 469-6000

6150 Mount Sinai Drive
Simi Valley, CA 93063
800 600-0076
323 469-6000

Associated with Mount Sinai Memorial Parks.

7366 S. Osage Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90045
(800) 710-7100

8629 W. Pico Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90035
310 659-3055

13017 N. Lopez Canyon Road
San Fernando, CA 91342
818 899-5211

Founded in 1951. Associated with Sholom Memorial Park

# # #

Compiled by Molly Binenfeld and Jane Ulman

A physician examines his profession’s blind spots

Jerome Groopman is a physician and clinical scientist at Harvard University, a specialist in AIDS and cancer. He’s also a writer for The New Yorker, with a successful and thought-provoking series of books on such topics as the intersection of spirituality and medicine and the importance of a physician’s intuition. His new book, “How Doctors Think,” asks the question: Why do doctors make mistakes and how can we keep them from happening?

Zachary Sholem Berger: How can patient and doctor better understand each other?

Jerome Groopman: Language is still the bedrock of medicine, despite all the great technology we have. I have a great doctor who listens very carefully, lets me tell my story; sometimes he interrupts to guide me. He is an active listener, explaining how he understood what I said and then explaining his thinking to me.

I’ve tried to make myself a better doctor. Like most medical students, I was not educated in thinking about thinking. At least I’ve become much more self-aware. Hopefully through the process of writing this book, I’ll think better for my patients.

ZSB: How can a doctor retrain himself or herself in order to listen more, be open to more diagnostic possibilities?

JG: By and large, we do a good job as doctors. We’re right about 80 percent of the time — our misdiagnosis rate is 15 percent to 20 percent, which is remarkable. But in about half of misdiagnoses, there is serious harm to the patient. My hope is that people in charge of medical education will seriously look at this and ask how can we do better in terms of educating doctors to think about their thinking and avoiding pitfalls.

This concern comes out of the experience of the patient. Because we doctors see so many people, thinking in the moment, we have to use shortcuts. If lay people become educated about how we think, with a few appropriate and directed questions, they could help us think better.

They should ask, “Could this be anything else?” or “I’m worried this is something serious.”

That is the genuine partnership.

ZSB: Could it be that the issue is not only thinking, but that doctor and patient need to understand how the other feels?

JG: There’s an integration of thinking and feeling; our emotions color our thought processes. In the real world, pitfalls in thinking are also influenced by our emotions. So you have to recognize feelings — to be self-aware and know there are going to be patients that you adore. That can impair your judgment, as well. The flip side is there are patients we don’t like, that we find irritating or provocative.

ZSB: Do patients have to recognize feelings, as well?

JG: It’s much harder to be a patient than a doctor. Research I mention in the book shows that patients pick up accurately if doctors like them or don’t like them. Patients need to defuse such a situation or open it up. There are patients who have said to me, “I can feel how devoted you are to me. I don’t want you to hold back.” If [on the other hand] you feel like the doctor’s irritating you, as I experienced myself as a patient, that’s a red flag.

ZSB: What does the Jewish tradition mean to you?

JG: I feel its importance very deeply. There is room in it for doubt and skepticism and questioning, not a sense of infallibility. There’s also extraordinary psychological insight with regard to motivation and character. For example, Maimonides talks about magical thinking, and the Torah talks about not believing in sorcery — often patients do have magical thinking, believing that they will be saved.

ZSB: Doctors, too — magical thinking guards us against admitting our ignorance.

JG: That’s right! So we should be challenging ourselves. Judaism impels you to challenge yourself. In the greatest debates in Talmud, you are able to challenge the greatest authorities.

ZSB: Do you feel recourse to spirituality, to God?

JG: As much as I wish there were miracles — boom, my hand’s fixed — those are fantasies. What Judaism teaches us is the knowledge that we’re created with reservoirs of resilience. We are created with the capacity of wisdom, which means judgment — not just knowledge, but the ability to assess and weigh that knowledge to make choices. Very integral in Judaism is the sense of hope. There is capacity to improve. What it takes is drawing on gifts of science with mobilization of the spirit.

ZSB: How do you mobilize the patient’s spirit?

JG: I try to draw from them wellsprings of their resilience, to lift them up as best I can. The diseases I deal with are serious ones. The confrontation with those kinds of realities requires energy and commitment and determination on the part of a patient.

ZSB: Is the spirituality you’ve talked about just a fancy name for trying to inject religion?

JG: I don’t think you need to be religious to have a sense of awe or to look within yourself or around you for nonreligious sources of strength, whether they be family, friends or therapists. I care for many people who are atheist and agnostic, and I certainly don’t have the hubris of imposing any religious sensibility on them. My job as a physician is to help them find that core of strength and focus.

Zackary Sholem Berger, a frequent Forward contributor, is a medical resident in the primary care program at New York University.

The righteous doctor of Ethiopia — healing suffering in the world heads this Orthodox physician’s

When Dr. Rick Hodes prepares a to-do list, it doesn’t look like anybody else’s.

It includes checking someone’s MRI for severe scoliosis, discussing someone else’s false positive HIV test, paying boarding school fees for his Ethiopian-born sons, preparing heart patients to be examined by Israeli cardiologists, getting a U.S. visa so a 4-year-old with an abdominal mass can get American medical treatment — and buying rat poison for his home.

The list goes on and on, and that’s just for one morning of one day. Every day, he said, “is a balancing act.”

Hodes, 53, who is Orthodox, has taken some unexpected turns in his life, despite what could be described as a rather normal 1950s childhood. He said that he grew up in a nonreligious home in Long Island, and that he’s the only observant Jew in his immediate family.

His father was in the insurance business and his mother took care of the home. He attended Middlebury College, then went to the University of Rochester Medical School, graduating in 1982 and doing his internship and residency at the Johns Hopkins Medical School in Baltimore.

The life-defining change of direction came between 1985 and 1988, when he was a Fulbright lecturer in medicine at the Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia. Two years later in 1990, Hodes returned to Ethiopia as director of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s (JDC) medical programs in that country, managing two medical clinics — in Addis Ababa and Gondar City — which care for 15,000 Falash Mura (Ethiopian Jews), many of whom are hoping to make aliyah.

Hodes supervises a staff of three full-time doctors, a fourth part-time doctor, many nurses, one midwife and one JDC volunteer in providing treatment, immunizations, pre- and postnatal care, health education and family-planning services, as well as nutritional assistance.

He is also an adviser to the Israeli Ministry of Health. “I’ve probably been the doctor for about 1 percent of Israel,” he said, smiling, “because I was the doctor for the 25,000 people who went during Operation Solomon, and I’ve taken care of many people since.”

And if that isn’t enough, he’s also a volunteer physician at the Mother Teresa Mission in Addis Ababa, attending there nearly every day. He started their oncology program and regularly treats children for cancer and other ailments.

From early in the morning until late at night, nonstop, Hodes orders medicines, approves procedures, does work-ups on spine patients and deals with his own children.

Yes, his own children. On top of everything else, he’s a single dad, having adopted five sons. Four of his adopted sons have been in his care since undergoing treatment, three for horrendous back problems, one for a growth hormone deficiency.

Hodes said being a father to these boys is “not like a fake marriage. They’re my kids, period, in every sense of the word.” Two of his teenage sons, Addisu and Semegn, are now in boarding school in Ohio.

Besides those he has officially adopted, there are usually “around 15 kids, mostly boys” — and also a couple of girls — staying in the two homes that he rents, the older boys living in the “satellite home.” Many of these kids are at some stage of medical recovery.

Hodes is wiry, short, energetic, with round glasses, bright eyes and a grip like steel. An Orthodox Jew, he normally wears a kippah, but on a recent visit to Los Angeles, he was wearing a baseball cap. Dr. Rick, as he’s known to the thousands of patients he’s treated — in many cases for ailments unknown in the West — made a brief visit to Southern California to meet with people interested in his work. The JDC organized gatherings in which potential donors could meet Hodes and hear about his work firsthand.

People who have visited Hodes, written about him or supported his work have called him everything from a “lamed-vavnik” to the tzadik of Addis Ababa, one of the righteous people trying to heal the suffering in the world. It’s impossible to be with him, even for a short while, and not feel that this man, unassuming in his manner, is cut from the same mold as Albert Schweitzer or Mother Teresa.

Explaining why there are so many people afflicted with terribly misshapen backs in Ethiopia, Hodes said, “there are a couple of things. One is the lack of medical care, which means that a little scoliosis will turn into huge scoliosis if it’s not treated. Another thing is that [in Ethiopia] there’s tuberculosis of the spine, which you don’t see in the West…. Right now, I have probably 20 cases that I’m dealing with.

“For example, there’s a shoeshine boy, he must be 17 years old, and he comes to Addis Ababa every summer to shine shoes. On a good day, he makes about a dollar a day, and he saves money to pay for his school fees. So he was in over the summer, and one of his customers saw that he had a terrible back and told him, ‘Call Rick Hodes, here’s his cell phone number.’

“So this shoeshine boy spent all the money he’d made that day to make the phone call…. He had very bad scoliosis, and I did all the tests and X-rays and so on. Last week he was accepted for surgery, and he’ll be going to Ghana in May.”

Hodes said that the thing he likes best is “helping people that nobody else would ever consider helping. And being able to do it in an extraordinary way.”

One day, he was at Mother Teresa’s Mission in Addis Ababa when his assistant stepped outside for a moment and saw a tiny boy with a deformed back. The assistant called the boy over and told him that in the mission there was a doctor who could help him.

“So this little boy came inside. He weighed less than 40 pounds.” Treatment started almost immediately, and Hodes gives him money every week so he can strengthen his body with milk and eggs.

Don’t hold your breath on plans for baby

Nothing is more exciting than finding out that you’re having a baby. The moment I found out I was expecting, I began making grand plans. I read the books, spoke to pregnant friends and questioned all the new mommies I knew. Then I made some big decisions.

Disposable diapers were clogging the landfills — I would use cloth. Baby foods had preservatives — I would puree my own. Cavities begin before teeth appear — no bottles in bed.

There would be no junk food, no TV, no yelling, no spanking, no spoiling, no bribing. I would provide only classical music and educational toys. I would never use food for reward or punishment. My baby would never use a pacifier or learn to suck his thumb. The list went on and on, and then our precious son was born.

Shortly after we came home, our son started an interesting habit. When upset, he would cry very hard, turn blue around the lips and make no sound. Then the bluish color would spread until he hysterically gasped for air and turned pink again. I got somewhat used to this routine until he progressed to the point of passing out.

“He’s a breath holder,” the pediatrician said calmly.

“The books said nothing about breath holders,” I wailed.

“It’s not very common, but it happens,” he said. “Don’t worry. He’ll start breathing again as soon as he passes out. Just don’t blow in his face.”


“They used to say that if you blow in the baby’s face, he’ll catch his breath,” the pediatrician said. “But it really doesn’t work; it just makes him madder.”

He paused right before administering the vaccination.

“When I give him his shot, he’ll probably start crying,” the pediatrician said as he stabbed the needle into my baby’s thigh.

Sure enough, the crying began, the lips went blue, the face grew ashen and my baby passed out. It happened again with another shot in the other thigh.

As I packed up the diaper bag, sniffling back my own tears, the pediatrician warned me: “Don’t let him manipulate you, or he’ll use breath-holding to get what wants. He’ll grow out of it eventually. See you next month.”

From that moment on, my grand promises were cast aside. Attempting to avoid crying and fainting episodes, I broke my own rules. I kept pacifiers everywhere and shoved one in his mouth at the smallest whimper. When he tired of pacifiers, I taught him how to suck his thumb. When he wanted up, I picked him up.

Diaper changing was a particularly tricky time. He’d be happy and bubbly for the first 30 seconds or so, but if it took any longer than that, he would become frustrated at being on his back and begin to cry. Since I could change disposable more quickly than cloth, I fired the diaper service. Once I had crossed the diaper line, it was easy to give in on anything.

I developed a do-what-works attitude. Why be so rigid? Jar food was just fine. In fact, he ate so much that I switched from organic to whatever was on sale. I used generic wipes on his tender tush.
One time, I found the dog licking his face after a messy spaghetti meal. My son loved it. From then on, I sat him on the kitchen floor and let the dog clean him up after he ate. A mother must find clever ways to make her job easier.

As the doctor predicted, the breath-holding eventually subsided. By the time my second son came along, my child-rearing methods had evolved considerably.

Potty training? M”&”Ms for a tinkle in the toilet. Television? How did we grow up without videos? Spanking? Watch your toddler dash into oncoming traffic and then tell me you never spank. Yelling? Ever seen a cheesecake after 10 minutes in the microwave? Bribery? Try taking two toddlers to the market and see how long it takes before you say: “If you’re good, mommy will buy you….”

That breath-holding baby is now 16 years old. A few thousand dollars in orthodontia fixed the overbite that the thumb caused. He regularly uses the potty without expecting M”&”Ms. The last time he had a shot, he hardly let out a peep.

The only time he holds his breath is when he’s swimming, and the bribery item of choice has progressed from cookies to car keys. He does, however, still eat his way through the grocery store.

So, have your baby, make your plans, set your limits, follow your rules. And when things don’t go the way you expected and the mess is just too big and you feel like crying until you pass out, do what I did — put the baby on the floor and let the dog clean up.

AJ Congress wowed; Shaare Zedek gets record donation; Koufax in the house

Woolsey Wows AJC

It was an extraordinary evening when the American Jewish Congress (AJC) honored former director of Central Intelligence R. James Woolsey at a black-tie gala dinner at the Four Seasons Hotel Dec. 10.

Woolsey received the AJC’s Jerusalem Award for his extensive work on behalf of Israel and the Jewish people. The honor recognized Woolsey’s efforts in combating the United States and Israel’s reliance on oil from the Middle East. His work promoting energy independence has enhanced the security of the State of Israel and the U.S.-Israel alliance.

Woolsey’s political and legal career, including presidential appointments in two Republican and two Democratic administrations, has reflected consistent environmental involvement. He has worked closely with the advisory boards of the Clean Fuels Foundation, the New Uses Council and the National Commission on Energy Policy. He had been adamant in his beliefs and said, “The United States cannot afford to wait for the next energy crisis to marshal its intellectual and industrial resources.”

Special guest of the evening was Richard Perle, former assistant secretary of defense during the Reagan administration. Perle is a former chair of the Defense Policy Board and has served on the board of advisers for the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.

Shaare Zedek’s Healing

Dr. Norman Levan, a 90 year-old dermatologist in Bakersfield, donated a record-setting $5 million to Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem to establish a Center for Humanistic Medicine.

The Dr. Norman Levan Center for Humanistic Medicine will seek out innovative and practical ways to further develop humanistic medicine within Shaare Zedek. The center will coordinate and host training seminars for staff from all departments within the hospital while helping to instill the importance of placing compassion as a primary objective in all interactions with patients and guests of the hospital.

In announcing Levan’s gift, professor Jonathan Halevy, Shaare Zedek director general, stated, “This most generous gift will allow us to further expand the legacy of compassionate care that has characterized Shaare Zedek for more than a century.

Levan’s contribution will enable the advancement and expansion of the medical center’s many existing programs.

Score one for the McCourts

The American Friends of Hebrew University hit a home run last week when they honored Dodgers co-owners Jamie and Frank McCourt with the prestigious Scopus Award. Former Vice President Al Gore showed his sense of humor as he spoke to the overflowing crowd in the Hilton Ballroom kibitzing and shooting barbs at Don Rickles, who’d entertained the crowd with his outrageous humor. Gore turned serious when praising the university, noting its three recent Nobel Prize-winning graduates as an example of “questioning intellect combined with a profound sense of moral purpose.”

Gore said he believes that love of knowledge has sustained the Jewish people through the ages and now Israel, as well. He said Israel possesses an abundant knowledge-based economy. Gore’s mood became somber when he turned the discussion to Iran, saying the world can’t ignore the threats and must be proactive, taking necessary action if talking fails.

Throughout the night, whispers of excitement were heard about the attendance of baseball legend Sandy Koufax, who presented the McCourts with their award. Vin Scully, hall of fame broadcaster and “voice of the Dodgers,” served as master of ceremonies.

The dress was formal, but the room was warm with generosity and good wishes as the event raised more than $3 million.

Open to Art

Rain and cold weather couldn’t deter several hundred people from attending the opening reception of the L.A. Art Association annual exhibition, “Open Show,” at Gallery 825 on Dec. 16. Collectors, artists, family members and friends crowded the gallery to view more than 1,400 works submitted by more than 400 California artists.

Only 61 works were selected by Ann Philbin, director of the UCLA Hammer Museum of Art, to be included in the exhibition. Two of the works were by Israeli-born American Sigal M. Bussel, who draws from her experiences in both countries. Bussel received an undergraduate degree from UCLA and a master’s from Harvard University.

The L.A. Art Association is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide opportunities, resources, services and exhibition venues for L.A. artists. Seen enjoying the exhibits were Danny DeVito and wife, Rhea Pearlman; actress Mindy Sterling, and Laurent and Bibiana Urich. The artworks will be on display until Jan. 20.

First Person – Snips and Snapshots

To snip or not to snip … that wasn’t the question. When my obstetrician asked me during my pregnancy what I planned to do about my son’s circumcision, he wasn’t referring to the health controversy that now seems as dated as whether to go Atkins or South Beach. Instead, he wanted to know whom I planned to entrust with this delicate task. I assumed it would be a mohel, but my doctor informed me that today’s parents have a wide array of options. I could also pick an obstetrician, a pediatrician, a pediatric urologist or the latest in full-service circumcision, the pediatric-urologist-turned-mohel.

I didn’t know what to do — and as a single mom, I didn’t have a husband around to offer some male input. It was almost like asking a father to have an informed opinion about his daughter’s bikini wax. Except that while a bad bikini wax might only ruin a spring break, my decision could affect my son’s sexuality for the rest of his life.

My obstetrician lobbied for the job, telling me that in more than 20 years, he only had to re-do one. The first time, he explained, he was so nervous, he barely took anything off and had to repeat the entire procedure from scratch. As frightening as this sounded, I felt reassured that he erred on the side of caution. I also liked that he had two decades of experience, but then I wondered: Has the technology changed? Maybe there was a new painless procedure, like the circumcision equivalent of LASIK? The more research I did, the more confused I got. There seemed to be heated debate about which type of anesthesia, antibiotic, and scalpel to use. Should I go with a guy who uses Elamax or kosher wine? Lidocaine or homeopathic ointments? The Mogen Shield or the Gomco clamp?

What I really wanted to see were before and after shots, the way surgeons whip out photos of boob jobs and Botox procedures. My friend Kim suggested that mohels compile photos of their work in a book titled, “Head Shots.” The closest I could come were testimonials on a Web site called, home of pediatrician-turned-mohel Dr. Fred Kogen. There I found rave reviews from parents. A Mrs. Cohen, whose son is now in preschool, wrote: “I have had many, many occasions where I have had to change the diapers of other boys. I must tell you, our son has a perfect penis. Many of the other moms have commented to me how pretty Seth’s penis is compared to their sons.'” (Incidentally, for the rest of Seth Cohen’s life, everyone from future girlfriends to future employers can learn with a quick Google search that his mom thinks he has a “perfect penis.”)

Another parent wrote simply: “You have a great touch.” (The mohel with the great touch … hmm. It sounded a little Catholic church to me.)

Another parent wrote: “….Even our pediatrician said that you ‘did a fantastic job!’ We are attaching one of his photos, so you can see how much he has grown in just a few short weeks.”

I eagerly clicked on the photo. Incidentally, it was an actual head shot.

Aside from Kogen’s cheesy mass-market vibe (did I really want somebody with an 800 number cutting my son’s private parts?), I worried about the fact that Kogen claims to perform six to seven circumcisions each week. Would all of his work have the same cookie-cutter look, the way that girls who got nose jobs at my mostly Jewish high school and all went to the same brand name Beverly Hills surgeon now have exactly the same nose? Would my son’s girlfriends one day recognize a Kogen penis the way boys in my high school could identify a Glassman nose from across the cafeteria?

In the end, I decided to let my obstetrician do it. The fact that he forgot to circumcise Zach in the hospital and then went on vacation for a few days, gave me pause, but when his partner, who looks like he’s about 16 years old, offered to do it, I declined. If something went wrong, I didn’t want to have to explain to Zach that I let the junior guy in the practice slice and dice. Instead, my parents and I trekked over to my OB’s office for what I like to call an office bris.

For the next week, friends, family, and even colleagues called asking after my son’s genital region.

“I think it’s fine,” I’d say, and I’d report on the color of the scar tissue, the decreased use of gauze pads and the progression to a tub bath again.

Most important, Zach seemed pleased with the result. When I’d change his diaper and he’d pee against the wall, he’d laugh hysterically. Apparently, the pain was gone, and his equipment still worked right.

“Maybe that’s his testimonial,” my doctor chuckled at our next appointment.

“Yeah,” I replied, “Or maybe the joke is on us.”

Lori Gottlieb, a commentator for NPR, is the co-author of the forthcoming “I Love You, Nice to Meet You” (St. Martin’s Press). Her website is


Life More Ordinary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


After the Miscarriage

When my doctor informed me, in the seventh week of my first pregnancy, that I had miscarried, he accompanied the news with what he surely thought was a comforting idea.

He told me that God wanted perfect children, and this was His way of making it happen.

It was the first of several inappropriate and unhelpful comments that people would offer me. I drove off from the appointment sobbing, ran a red light and smashed my car.

The pain and anguish of infertility has been passed down from matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca and Rachel to women today. But while our traditions have given us words to say and ways to act during other lifecycle events — death, birth, marriage — there is little guidance for how to help a friend or loved one deal with the loss of a pregnancy or the pain and despair of infertility.

When, after a second miscarriage, my husband and I reached out for support to friends and family — many of them in the happy throes of birthing and raising their own families — we were surprised by some of the comments we got in return.

On several occasions, friends advised, “Perhaps reducing stress by relaxing more could be helpful,” implying that stress had caused these miscarriages.

“I know so many people who have adopted and then gotten pregnant.”

Uh, OK. This helps me how?

Then there was this chestnut: “Covering your hair leads to healthy babies” — except, of course, for the countless healthy children born daily to those with uncovered hair.

From others I got: “It was meant to be,” or “it will work next time” or “at least it happened early.”

Everyone surely intended to be helpful, but they missed the mark.

What I really needed were people who were there just to listen, and fortunately I had friends and family members who understood this. Some realized the importance of calling to say hi, perhaps while their children were napping, rather than when they were crying or playing in the background. I appreciated the friends who would call on a spur of the moment and invite me to coffee, just the two of us, knowing I still found larger groups somewhat intimidating.

Miscarriage and infertility can be as isolating as they are painful.

Raising a family has always been a desire and priority of mine. After my first miscarriage, I picked myself up and quickly regained hope. I knew that this was quite common. Surely this was just a small bump in the road, and nothing to be too concerned about.

After a couple months of healing, physically and emotionally, I became pregnant again. My husband and I were filled with renewed hope and joy. But my new doctor informed me that a certain hormone level of mine, one that is a good indicator of a healthy pregnancy, was lower than normal.

I was convinced that this pregnancy would be strong and there was just something that seemed right about it, but after several week I miscarried again.

This time I was overcome with a grief that lingered. For a long time, I would cry for no apparent reason. I had trouble facing my friends, walking into my synagogue or being around pregnant women. I felt scared, ashamed, lonely and angry. I wondered whether I had done something wrong, been a bad person or perhaps had been lacking in faith.

Throughout this time, many of my friends were announcing their pregnancies, having children and announcing second pregnancies. Pregnancy and motherhood began to dominate the conversation. I felt as though I had been excluded from a club that all my friends were joining.

Pregnancy began to take over my thoughts. I felt as though this aspect of life was becoming unattainable.

Yet time has a way of healing wounds. Slowly, my husband and I have picked ourselves up and prepared for the process once again. Sure, there have been times that I retreat, avoiding contact with my peers and preferring to stay home alone. But we are now seeing a fertility specialist, and while it adds to our stress and poses different problems, we are optimistic.

If you have friends or family members in my situation, you can provide solace and support. Don’t blatantly avoid the topic, which just makes it the elephant in the room. Don’t play the cause-and-effect game (i.e., “Perhaps if you just relax and let things happen it will work out”). And don’t make empty promises: “It will all turn out OK.”

But absolutely do call periodically just to say hi and chat. And look for ways to hang out one-on-one or in small groups (e.g., coffee, dinner). And you can say things like: “I know it’s been hard lately. Please don’t hesitate to ask if I can help in any way.” By saying this, you already have.

Infertility and miscarriages remain largely taboo within the Jewish world, but there are ways that you can help a loved one through those difficult times.

Andrea Lesch Weiss is a social worker who lives in Los Angeles with her husband Jonathan. She can be reached at


Prop. 73: The Devil’s in the Details

When Californians go to the polls on Nov. 8, many will read Proposition 73 as a proposal to require that health care providers perform the seemingly logical task of informing parents before performing abortions on underage girls.

But the considered opinions of doctors and Juvenile Court judges, as well as a look at the actual text of Proposition 73, reveal that the initiative is fraught with adverse ramifications for virtually all Californians. It also poses particular issues for the Jewish community.

Much of the literature against Proposition 73 correctly emphasizes that many teenage girls will seek underground abortions, rather than have their parents (or guardians, foster parents or other legal designees) learn that they are pregnant. Thus, under the banner, “Protect California’s Teens,” a Planned Parenthood Web page urges that defeating Proposition 73 is essential to ensuring that desperate teenagers retain access to safe and legitimate medical care.

This emphasis is entirely appropriate. But there’s more to object to in this ballot initiative. One of the proposition’s most troubling aspects lies within the fine print. Proposition 73 amends the California Constitution to define abortion as a procedure ending the life of a “child conceived but not yet born.”

This radical definition has profound implications not only for teens, but also for adult women. And this carefully calculated wording should be of particular interest to the Jewish community.

Many Jewish couples undergo genetic screening as part of family planning. Those of us who learn we are dual carriers of genetic mutations (e.g., Tay Sachs) know there is a one in four chance of conceiving a child afflicted with the disease.

Couples who face this risk make the wrenching choice of attempting to have a biological child, while also taking the precaution of undergoing testing after conception. Diagnosis is possible through either chorionic villus sampling 10 to 12 weeks into the pregnancy or amniocentesis in the second trimester. Couples choose such procedures with the hope of having a healthy baby.

But typically, they also have resolved to terminate a pregnancy that would, if carried to term, bring forth a child doomed to endure unconscionable suffering ending in early death. A couple that follows this course of action sometimes has the blessing of Orthodox rabbis who would ordinarily oppose abortion.

Amending California’s Constitution to define abortion as ending the life of a “child conceived but not yet born” has profound implications for adult Jewish couples that rely on pregnancy testing. The proposition’s language would, in effect, shorten the road to outlawing abortion.

Indeed, that appears to be the aim of James Holman, the San Diego millionaire who backed Proposition 73 with $800,000, most of which went to paid signature gatherers to get the initiative onto the ballot. In line with his devout, conservative beliefs, Holman has expressed opposition to contraception, as well as to abortion apparently under all circumstances, including rape and incest.

Defining abortion as terminating the life of “a child that is conceived but not yet born” also could undermine the legality of stem cell research, perhaps the most promising scientific frontier of the 21st century. Here again, the medical implications are heightened for those of us in the Jewish community who recognize that stem cell research may herald the cures for degenerative diseases linked with genetic markers prevalent among us.

This subtle but intentional groundwork for outlawing abortion is reason enough for opposing Proposition 73, but even at face value, this measure would do more harm than good. It is opposed by Planned Parenthood, of course, and other pro-choice organizations, but also by California Women Lawyers, a statewide organization that promotes the general interests of women in society, as well as the California League of Women Voters.

Women’s advocacy organizations are correct to cite the dangers to teens posed by parental notification initiatives. Indeed, efforts to decriminalize abortion in the 1970s were largely spearheaded by doctors, lawyers, and clergy who knew only too well that making abortion illegal did not prevent abortion, but simply made the procedure lethal to many women who sought out illegal abortions.

Today, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists all oppose parental notification laws, citing the risk to teens. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, mandating parental notification does not achieve the intended goal of family communication, but does increase the risk of harm by delaying access to appropriate medical care.

Parental notification is also opposed by Bill and Karen Bell, who lost their daughter to an illegal abortion in 1988. Although Becky Bell belonged to a loving Indianapolis family, this high school junior pursued an underground abortion, rather than tell her parents. The Bells never had the chance to tell their daughter they were not, after all, angry at her.

Instead, they became outraged at the parental notification law, operative in Indiana, that compelled their daughter to resort to the underground abortion that claimed her life. In the wake of their family tragedy, the Bells became activists against parental notification laws.Proposition 73 contains a supposed answer in its “judicial bypass provision,” which would enable teens to seek court orders excusing health care providers from the parental notification requirement in appropriate circumstances. This provision is unrealistic and unreasonably cumbersome both for teenagers and the courts, which is why Juvenile Court judges have gone on record against it.

To activate this provision, California courts would have to appoint guardians ad litem to speak on behalf of teenagers and, in most cases, to appoint lawyers for the minors, as well. In sum, the law would impose a mandate upon all courts, with no source of funding to carry it out.

Like many of my colleagues on the California Women Lawyers board, my personal choices were for marriage and children. I hope, want and expect that my daughters will come to me, however reluctantly, if they became pregnant unexpectedly. But a sweeping parental notification requirement will affect all families, including vulnerable teenagers in broken and abusive families.

As the tragic example of Becky Bell reminds us, even girls in “good” families may resort to underground abortions. And, a close examination of Proposition 73 makes clear that its language and intentions strike far closer to home than many of us previously thought possible in California.

The Jewish community — and everyone else — should oppose Proposition 73 not only because it is bad for teenage girls we may never meet, but also because it is bad — and dangerous — for adults, including ourselves.

Angela J. Davis is president-elect of California Women Lawyers, an independent bar association that advocates on public-policy issues.


Set, Spike, Kiss

I’ll never play the violin in high heels again.

OK, I’ll be back in sticks in six weeks, and I never played the fiddle. But I did play an important game of volleyball.

Every Sunday, my peeps and I play co-ed pickup volleyball on Venice Beach. New catch Austin is always up for a little bumping and setting, so I invited him to come out and play. It seemed like the perfect chance to make a make a big impression. I’d win the point, I’d win the game, I’d win his heart.

Wearing nothing but my red polka-dot bikini, I was dressed to impress. But my play? It wasn’t pretty. Remember the last kid picked for gym class? Yeah, that wasn’t me. I was never even picked. I spent P.E. class helping Ms. Toppee keep score. So, Misty May I’m not, and Austin’s presence only heightened the pressure.

Then I saw it, in slow motion, the volleyball teetering above the net. This was it! One of those “douse me with Gatorade, throw me on a Wheaties box, one shining moment” kind of plays. The kind of play we’d recount over victory drinks. The kind of play I’d never attempt, but one that would make Austin fall for me — hard. Unfortunately, I’m the one who fell.

In all my 5-foot-2 glory, I jumped for the spike. But my towering 5-foot-3 opponent, Wendy, went for the block. We collided midair and crashed to the ground in a Cirque de Soleil contortion of bikinis and sand. I heard my teammate Randy say, “That’s hot.”

Austin helped me hobble off the court and drove me to his couch. My foot — swollen. My ego — bruised. I wanted the afternoon to be perfect. I wanted Austin to think I was perfect. I wanted to start things off on the right foot, and now all I’ve got is a Hobbit foot. Who wants to date an uncoordinated girl who lives in a Shire?

This wasn’t the first time I klutzed my way through a courtship. I’m the Tasmanian devil of the singles scene, the Lucy of JDate. I hit my golf ball into the moat at Sherman Oaks Castle Park. I released an air hockey paddle into Brad’s head, I spilled cold beer on Andrew’s pants, and I knocked over a candle during dinner with Dave. Those guys each canceled our relationship faster than a bad fall sitcom. I’m nervous Austin will follow their lead — another date bites the dust.

The next day I met Doc K. He looked at my chart, did a George Clooney head tilt, and said “Carin Davis … wait, do you write for The Jewish Journal?”

“Yes. I — “

“That’s what I thought. You write that singles column. My wife and I read it. You talk about a different guy every time. Pretty funny stuff. But as a happily married man, let me give you some dating advice.”

“What about some medical adv–?”

“Quit looking for the perfect guy and find your perfect match. From what I’ve read, you’re not perfect, so why would he be?”

“I’m sorry, I’m here about my–”

“The key is to find someone who likes you despite your faults … wow, I can’t wait to tell my wife I met you. Well, let’s look at that foot.”

Leaving the office with my broken toe taped and orders to stay out of stilettos, I realized the podiatrist formerly known as Dr. Phil, made a correct diagnosis. Not only was I looking for the perfect guy, but I was desperate to appear perfect to him. No whammies. All my ducks in a row. Not that I own any ducks, geese or Empire chickens — or would bring anything that quacks on a date. I would, however, make myself meshuggeneh trying to look graceful and flawless. But why work so hard to get some guy’s hechsher?

Sure men get excited about that perfectly polished, put-together, supermodel type, but they also get excited about cold pizza. They’re not so hard to please. Sometimes we’re so focused on impressing the person we’re dating, we fail to notice how impressive that person really is.

Austin could have called The National Enquirer, told them he’d located Big Foot. But instead, he was a knight in shining T-shirt. With my athlete’s foot elevated and my head in his lap, we spent hours talking, exchanging stories and playing beach blanket bingo. Guess I was the one who was swept off my feet. Well, at least one of them.

Freelance writer Carin Davis can be reached at

Breast Cancer Tips Doctors Don’t Share

My mother recently called me with a request: One of the moms at the elementary school she works at was newly diagnosed with breast cancer. Could I give her a call?

I immediately phoned Susan, a sweet, smart lady in her early 40s. She was weighing her options about surgery and doctors, and gathering information about her course of treatment. She was also terrified. I reassured her about the success of current cancer therapy, but what she really wanted to know were the little things, like does it hurt when your hair falls out? (No, but your scalp feels tingly, like someone pulled your ponytail too tight.) These are the questions that fall under “What you always wanted to know about having breast cancer but were too afraid to ask,” a category that is still too relevant.

This October marks the 20th anniversary of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 217,440 people in the United States, almost all women, will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004. Despite growing awareness and funding for this disease, the incidence of breast cancer has continue to rise since the 1980s, and while detection methods have improved, there is still no foolproof prevention method.

So, for all those out there who are or will be new members of the Breast Cancer Sisterhood — the sorority no one chooses to join but is, especially in the Jewish community, very popular — here is a list of what to expect during treatment:


There are many choices when it comes to breast cancer surgery: lumpectomy, simple mastectomy, bilateral mastectomy. If you decide to opt for the “extreme makeover,” take comfort in the fact that, at least, both sides will match.

The reconstruction process can be uncomfortable and it takes a long time. Be patient.

There are advantages to not having nipples. Clothes look better on you, it’s harder to tell if your breasts are uneven and no one knows when you are cold.


The best hair substitute for nighttime: ski caps.

The good news, for those of us who have had a close relationship with Gillette since the seventh grade: by the time your hair returns, you will actually miss shaving.

Be prepared for people, especially kids, wanting to touch your bald head.

Wigs are itchy, but if you buy one that fits your appearance, you will look and feel more normal.

Scarves and hats are a lot more comfortable, but they tend to draw attention to you, especially if you are young. However, I’ve noticed on the days when I am wearing a scarf, more people go out of their way to be nice to me — which is a big boost when you’re feeling unwell.

Not-So-Glorious Food

Although it might be tempting to eat your favorite meal the evening before or the day of chemo, don’t. The associations between food and nausea are so strong you might never want that meal to cross your palate again.

Along those lines, the best advice from my nutritionist, Rachel Beller, was to avoid eating good-for-you foods, like fish, around chemo days. Spicy foods and anything too hot or too cold should also be off the list.

Chemotherapy tends to make people anemic, so think Atkins.

You will crave strange things, or only be able to eat a certain food after one chemo session and a different one after the next. (For me, it was the Caesar salad from Sharky’s, alternated with, of all things, pea soup.) If it’s legal and you can eat it, go for it.

Speaking of legal: not only is it a bad idea to fast on the designated holidays when you are undergoing cancer treatment, several rabbis advised me you are not allowed to do so. God will understand.

Emotional Rollercoaster

PMS has nothing on cancer. You will be moody. Forgive yourself for it.

It may sound cliche, but cancer really does give you the opportunity to examine your life and your relationships and make the changes you have been putting off for years.

At least one friend will not be able to handle what you are going through.

Unexpected people will come out of the woodwork to support you. Outside of my family, my two best friends through this whole process have been Ronette K., who teaches at my mom’s school, and Linda C., my brother’s girlfriend’s mother. Ronette sent me funny get-well cards after every chemo (I had 10 courses) and kept me in mystery books during my recovery from surgery; Linda ended her chemotherapy the day I got my diagnosis and was my mentor through the whole treatment process. I wouldn’t have made it without either one of them.

All in the Family

Husbands/significant others are the greatest unsung heroes in this battle. Remind people to check on them instead of you every once in a while.

As with friends, some family members will handle your situation better than others.

Kids can be your greatest allies. For little ones, you don’t have to tell them much, just what they might need to know. Like that Mommy will be living in the bathroom for the next three days.

Beam Me Up, Scotty

Compared to chemo, radiation seems like a cakewalk. Some people do get exhausted from it, so while you may be feeling better, this is not the time to take up lacrosse.

Yes, you will be asked to get tattooed. If this freaks you out, there are alternatives, but a tattoo provides the best record for any possible future radiation. The tattoos are tiny, not the big, rosy “Mother” ones found on certain bikers. Your doctor can give you a note for the chevra kadisha (burial society) if you feel the need.

Know that, even if you do get the tattoos, the radiology staff will draw on you. With a big marker. In dark, purple ink. As if you needed one more thing to make you look strange.

Words to remember: body lotion. Some people swear by aloe vera; I like Aveeno with the colloidal oatmeal (which, by the way, doesn’t mean any kind of special oatmeal — it’s just minced up really fine so they can get it in the lotion).

The machinery used during radiation emits a loud, annoying whine that makes it difficult to lie still. Find a “theme song” you can run through your head to distract you. (Mine is the overture from “Star Wars.”)


Just when you start getting good at dealing with the chemo and radiation, it’s over. Thank God.

Wendy J. Madnick was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2003. She awaits the return of her hair with growing anticipation.

The Doctor Is In

Listening to Howard Dean reminds me of going to a doctor who
starts out the visit by saying, “Bill, you really look sick.”

Maybe I do, but I don’t want to hear it expressed quite so
bluntly. Just like I didn’t want to hear Dr. Dean saying in Los Angeles Dec.
15, “The capture of Saddam has not made America safer.”

Dean’s pessimism was hard to take, especially right after
the bearded villain was hauled out of the ground by American troops.

Such blunt, sometimes thoughtless talk could be damaging to
him in the Jewish community because it has led to a perception among some Jews
that he is soft on the Palestinians. That may be one reason Connecticut Sen.
Joe Lieberman, an observant Jew and a strong supporter of the Iraq invasion,
led the Democratic presidential field among Jews in Florida in a December poll
by the St. Petersburg Times and Miami Herald.

The impression has persisted even though Dean’s prescription
is the same two-state solution advocated by Bill Clinton and now by President
Bush. As a statement issued by Dean’s campaign put it: “The basic framework for
peace between the Israelis and Palestinians is a two-state solution — a Jewish
State of Israel living side by side in peace and security with an independent,
demilitarized Palestinian state.”

His trouble began when he said, “It’s not our place to take
sides” in the Israeli-Palestinian battle and that the United States should be
evenhanded in its approach. Criticism forced Dean to clarify, as he has had to
do before.

On CNN, he said he would “speak out against violence of any
kind in the Middle East. That’s what I mean by being evenhanded.” He conceded
that he shouldn’t have used the term “but the fact of the matter is, at the
negotiating table, we have to have the trust of both sides.”

During Chanukah, I talked about Dean with a few people while
attending an American Jewish Committee reception at the Beverly Hills canyon
home of Naty and Debbie Saidoff.

As is true with most of California, most were not especially
focused on a presidential nominating contest now being fought in Iowa and New
Hampshire. By the time the fight reaches this state, in the March primary,
the nomination may well have been decided. For Californians, except for
dedicated political activists and large contributors, the Democratic presidential
contest is like the National Football League — something we watch on

Nevertheless I encountered some interest.

Valerie Fields, a long-time political activist, said she and
her husband, Judge Jerry Fields, had been struck by Dean’s ability to draw new
people into his campaign. They attended a Dean fundraiser at Union Station. The
place was packed, she said, and Fields, acquainted with innumerable people in
politics, knew only two other people there.

Fields had hit upon the great strength of the Dean campaign.
A combination of his blunt manner and brilliant use of the Internet for
organizing and fundraising has brought in large numbers of political newcomers,
put him ahead of the field and seemingly on his way to the nomination. It has created
a base of supporters dedicated enough to love him for his mistakes, and to step
up their contributions whenever he is attacked by rivals.

The Dean Web site,, has a young,
rebellious intensity, a bit too intense for me, too much like a fan club. The
big question is how far can Dean extend his appeal beyond the adoring bloggers
and the friends they make at Dean meet-ups.

Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, western regional director of the
American Jewish Committee (AJC), had his doubts when I talked to him briefly at
the AJC reception and then on the phone a few days later.

He seemed skeptical about Dean’s ability to expand his base
into large numbers of those in their 30s and older in the Jewish community,
which he said comprises a substantial part of AJC membership.

He said, “Given the rise of anti-Semitism in the Arab world
and Europe, Jews will be “more inclined … than ever before” in the voting
booth to base their votes on what candidates say about Israel. Jews usually
vote liberal, but “this time they will be voting Jewish issues,” he said.

Dean’s use of the phrase “evenhanded” was damaging, he said,
as was his failure to understand that the words would infuriate Jews
increasingly concerned about Israel’s survival.

Donna Bojarsky, liberal political strategist and Jewish
community activist, sharply disagreed.

It’s “preposterous” to challenge Dean’s commitment to
Israel, she said, “there’s no foundation for it.”

Only Dean generates the excitement to awaken and expand the
Democratic Party base, she added.

Personally, I think the Jewish community should give Dean a

He can be careless with words. But he doesn’t pose and
pander. He doesn’t parade his Jewish physician wife or his Jewish children on
the campaign trail. He doesn’t try to make voters feel happy. He’s the doctor
who slams you in the face with the unpleasant truth.

And while hearing the truth is uncomfortable, a politician
with the guts to tell it should be valued.

Bill Boyarsky’s column on Jews and civic life appears on the first Friday of
each month. Until leaving the Los Angeles Times in 2001, Boyarsky worked as a
political correspondent, a metro columnist for nine years and as city editor for
three years. You can reach him at

The Circuit

Dinners Party

Literary Odyssey Dinners, a unique fundraiser which arranges 50 dinners with renowned authors in private homes to benefit the Los Angeles Public Library’s Reading Programs for Children and Teens, held its kickoff party at The Peninsula in Beverly Hills.

Speakers Larry Gelbart, Traci Lambrecht and John Sacret Young were among the authors in attendance.

The 50 dinners will begin on Nov. 3. Among the hosts who will open up their homes are Wallis Annenberg, Judith and Steve Krantz, Mary and Norman Pattiz, and Liane and Richard Weintraub. This year’s stable of participating authors will include: Laurence Bergreen, Michael Crichton, Susan Fales-Hill, Richard Reeves, Lisa See and Garry Willis.

Lauded with Laws

Philanthropist-entrepreneur Peter Gold and Judge Harry Pregerson were both awarded honorary doctor of laws degrees at the 88th commencement ceremonies of Southwestern University School of Law, held at the Shrine Auditorium.

Joy Book Club

Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy elementary school students donated 24 copies of David Saltzman’s “The Jester Has Lost Its Jingle” children’s books and 18 Jester and Pharley dolls to young patients at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Cedars-Sinai child life specialist Joanne Borromeo accepted the donation at a Harkham Hillel special assembly.

Pulpit Pupil

Congregation Beth Meier of Studio City announced the appointment of Rabbi Aaron Benson. The 27-year-old Benson, who has served as a rabbinic intern with the shul for the past three years, was ordained by the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies this past May.

Brandeis Benefit

The Brandeis-Bardin Institute honored longtime participants Ellie and Gil Somerfield during their annual dinner at The Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel. Rabbi Lee Bycel gave the keynote address and the event was co-chaired by Vicki Kupetz, Laurie Cohen and Caren Sokol. Board Chair Helen Zukin presented the honorees with a tzedakah box.

Technion Talk

David Horovitz, left, editor of The Jerusalem Report, with Rob Eshman, editor-in-chief of The Jewish Journal, at the American Techion Society’s May 18 event at the Four Seasons.

Land of Magbit and Honey

When Magbit Foundation of Greater Los Angeles celebrated the 55th Israel Independence Day at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, it was slightly different from previous years.

Last year, Magbit raised $3.5 million for the victims of war and terror in Israel and a delegation from Magbit handed the money to different organizations in Israel. This time, they were not soliciting any money or financial support.

A “Celebration of Life,” organized by Dora Ghadisha and Pouran Nazarian, featured wheelchair-bound dancers — disabled Israeli war veterans who are members of Beit Halochem (House of the Warriro) — in a special dance performance.

Also on hand: Jimmy Delshad, Beverly Hills’ newly elected city councilman, and Yuval Rotem, Israel consul general to the Southwestern United States.

“We want your passion,” host Bijan Nahai said. “We want you not to forget what you saw tonight. We want you not to forget those dancers in wheelchairs. We want you to contribute all through the year, not at a dinner party.” — Mojdeh Sionit, Contributing Writer

Center of Attention

(From left) Dustin Hoffman, 2003 Music Center Distinguished Artist Award honoree; event chair Connie Abell; and Variety’s Army Archerd, who presented Hoffman his award. Other honorees included Cyd Charisse, John Williams and John Ritter, who came with wife Amy Yasbeck. Also taking part: Henry Winkler, Debbie Reynolds, Stefanie Powers, Cynthia Gibb-Kramer and emcee Debbie Allen. Photo by Bonnie Toman

Jewish Prescription For Health Care Ills

Is our national health care system beyond cure? Rabbi David
Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and Dr.
Alexandra M. Levine, medical director of the USC/Norris Comprehensive Cancer
Center and Hospital, believe that the Jewish community can take a role in
advancing remedies for our nation’s health care ills.

The two will share their perspectives during Caring for Our
Nation: Jews and America’s Health Care Crisis presentation on Sunday, Jan. 19,
sponsored by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s Kalsman
Institute on Judaism and Health and USC’s Casden Institute for the Study of the
Jewish Role in American Life.

Saperstein, who represents the national Reform Jewish
movement to Congress and the Bush administration, was elected as the first
chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom that was
created by Congress. An attorney and the co-author of “Jewish Dimensions of
Social Justice: Tough Moral Choices of Our Time” (UAHC, 1999), Saperstein spoke
with The Journal about health care challenges facing our country and the Jewish
response to this issue.

Jewish Journal: How is health care a Jewish issue?

David Saperstein: Jewish values mandate that every society
has a decent health care system and that access to health care is a fundamental
right of all people. This is also a Jewish issue to the extent that a
disproportionate number of people involved in health care provision are Jewish.

Additionally, it has an impact because the Jewish community
has the oldest median age of any community in America. This impacts Jewish
social service agencies that are funded by our federations and private
charities that administer to the needs of our community. Issues like Medicare
reform, prescription drugs, long-term disability, Alzheimers — these are all
problems that disproportionately affect the Jewish community.

I would add that there are issues of concern relating to
bioethics, genetic research and cloning. [The Reform Action Committee is]
playing a very active role working on legislation that will prevent genetic
discrimination and insure privacy of genetic information. This issue is
especially important for the Jewish community, given that we display specific
genetic tendencies.

JJ: How would you characterize the nation’s health crisis?

DS: We are the wealthiest nation in the world, with the best
doctors, best hospitals and best medical care for those who can afford it. Yet
of all the developed countries in the world, we have the highest number of
people who are uninsured and the highest per capita cost for providing medical

This has created a crisis that affects nearly every aspect
of our society. Our country has an enormous stake in trying to significantly
improve the health care system.

JJ: With such challenges as spiraling health care costs,
nursing shortages, growing numbers of uninsured and aging baby boomers, how do
we begin to address this seemingly vast and complex issue?

DS: There are two different approaches. One is to create a
universal health care system, either along the lines of a single-payer system
or a mix of different kinds of funding approaches akin to the Clinton proposal.

The  second is to do it incrementally, which would likely
begin by building on successful parts of Medicare, Medicaid and SCHIP [State
Children’s Health Insurance Program], which provides coverage for 3.5 million
children who otherwise would have slipped through the cracks….

Whether an incremental or universal approach is taken, the
most important thing is to begin to take steps to address the problem, rather
than continuing to turn a blind eye toward it.

JJ: Here in Los Angeles, the county faces an estimated $700
million deficit. We are seeing closures of county clinics, emergency rooms and
hospitals and an uninsured rate of 31 percent. How does Los Angeles stand in
relation to the rest of the nation?

DS: The problems of Los Angeles are a microcosm of the
problems nationwide. While the national uninsured rate is lower than that in
Los Angeles, it is still unconscionably high. There are currently 41 million
uninsured in the United States.

The hospital and ER [emergency room] closures are due to a
number of factors. First, you can’t provide basic health care for the uninsured
in emergency rooms without significantly straining and overwhelming the
capacity of hospitals to function…. So addressing primary health care and
providing basic health care to the uninsured outside the hospital structure
remains a central challenge.

In addition, we need a coordinated program between the
federal government and the state government to begin to put resources into
inner-city hospitals. Finally, we need to deal with the macro issues. Because
if the entire system is strained, the most vulnerable components — such as
urban centers — will feel it first and most extensively.

JJ: What can we as individuals and as Jews be doing to
improve the situation?

DS: Our synagogues can strengthen their bikur cholim
[visiting the sick] programs to support the people in our communities who are

And while we’re strengthening the volunteer segment of our
work, we need to be dealing with policy issues. The Jewish community has a long
history of playing the lead role in coalitions that have helped transform
America into a fairer, more compassionate society….

The Jewish community needs to be at the forefront of efforts
to develop sensible health care reform that can address these challenges. I’m
hopeful this conference will generate some consensus regarding things that our
community can do to play a lead role in moving the process of reform along.

The free program will be held Jan. 19 from 3-5 p.m. at Stephen S. Wise Temple, 15500 Stephen S. Wise Drive, Los Angeles.  For more
information,  call (213) 740-3405.

Pet Project

Dr. Yonatan “Yoni” Peres acknowledges that being the son of former Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres can be a mixed blessing.

“The name helps open some doors,” he said, “but sometimes it closes them.”

The doors through which the younger Peres, a doctor of veterinary medicine, hopes to pass at the present time lead to potential supporters of his pet project, the Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind.

With Los Angeles as his base, Peres is spending some months in the United States as the center’s volunteer development director. It’s an assignment in which he must compete with better-known Israeli causes and institutions for contributions from U.S. Jews.

Although the center also has support organizations in Britain, Switzerland and Israel, American donations account for 80 percent of its annual budget of $630,000.

There are some 20,000 blind persons in Israel, among them 150 veterans, blinded through combat wounds.

The acceptance of guide dogs, as of animal pets in general, is not as common in Israel as in the United States, Peres said. According to his statistics, there is one pet dog or cat for every two Americans, while in Israel the ratio is one such pet to every 20 people.

He attributes the difference to the higher living standards of Americans, with their larger homes and backyards, as well as the remnants of a “galut [exile] mentality,” which associates dogs with pogroms and Nazi concentration camps.

Peres was a member of Hebrew University’s first graduating class in veterinary medicine, but he traces his love of animals back to his childhood.

“That’s something you are born with, you don’t acquire it,” he said.

Though not claiming any genetic family inheritance, Peres notes that his father, after arriving in Palestine from Poland, worked as a kibbutznik in charge of cows and sheep.

The middle of three siblings, Yoni Peres remembers a difficult childhood as the son of a famous father.

“You were always under the microscope,” he recalled. “When you did something well, people thought you used your family connections. When you did something bad, it was a public disgrace.”

He has found in the United States a greater appreciation of his father’s talents and contributions than in Israel, but

he quickly turns the conversation back to the present.

“I want to live as a normal person, not as the son of a famous man,” said Peres, a divorcé who just turned 50.

Up until a decade ago, a blind Israeli waiting to acquire a guide dog had to travel to the United States for training, a move that required considerable money, separation from family and fluency in English.

Even those who overcame the obstacles found that the guide dogs, transplanted to Israel, had to make a difficult adjustment to a strange land and language, and no facilities were available to deal with subsequent problems.

In 1991, Noach Braun, who had worked with dogs during his Israeli army service, and subsequently trained in the United States and Britain, opened the guide dog center and three years later moved it to its present location in Beit Oved, south of Tel Aviv.

The facilities were, and still are, spartan by American standards, though the kennels are state of the art. Braun and his wife, Orna, acquired two breeding dogs and four mobile homes — two for offices and two to house four blind persons during their training period.

Peres, then in private practice and teaching at Hebrew University, joined the center as a volunteer shortly after its opening and is largely responsible for the medical screening and evaluation of potential guide dogs.

Just as important are the psychological profiles of the dogs to assure a successful relationship with their blind owners.

“Some dogs are shy, a few are too aggressive,” Peres said. “In the case of Golden Retrievers, for instance, the human partner has to know that they are very sensitive and easily insulted.”

So far, more than 180 Israelis have found a new independence and self-assurance as graduates of the center, and an ambitious building program is underway to accommodate many more.

On the drawing board are plans for a main building to replace the mobile homes, which will include six to eight bedrooms for the trainees, living and dining room, computer and music facilities, a Braille library and administrative offices.

With he Israeli government providing only 9 percent of the center’s operating budget, the bulk of the money will have to be raised through private donations.

For more information about the Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind, callthe Los Angeles office at (310) 453-1212, e-mail or visit

Community Briefs

Valley Beth Shalom Tackles MedicalEthics

Valley Beth Shalom will assemble a group of doctors, therapists, scholars, lawyers and rabbis for a “Medical Ethics Beit Din.” The panel discussions will be held on three consecutive Thursdays — Nov. 14, Nov. 21, and Dec. 5 — and will address beginning of life details; the changing role of the doctor; and end of life issues, respectively. Valley Beth Shalom’s Rabbi Edward Feinstein, who coordinated the panels, observed that as medical science becomes more advanced and accessible, “Torah-relevant issues become part of people’s daily lives.” Topics to be covered include extending medical care; responding to emergencies; life and death issues; and infertility and the manipulation of the process. “These issues of medical ethics were once abstract, but now families deal with them all the time,” Feinstein said. “I wanted to create a program where people in the community can learn how to make such decisions.” For more information, contact Ilana Zimmerman at (818) 788-6000. — Michael Aushenker, Staff Writer

New Consul for Communications TakesOffice

Yariv Ovadia has joined the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles here as Consul for Communications and Public Affairs. Ovadia, 30, is a Jerusalem native, whose parents arrived as children in Israel, his father from Iraq and mother from Morocco. Accompanying him are his wife Daphna — to whom he proposed at India’s Taj Mahal — and their 4-month-old daughter, Romi.

As a high school student, Ovadia aimed for a career as computer scientist, but changed his mind after serving three years with an infantry unit in Gaza.

“I wanted to learn more about the roots of the conflict between us and the Arabs and study their language, history and religion,” he said, sitting in his Wilshire Boulevard office with a view of the Hollywood Hills.

He enrolled at Hebrew University, focusing on studies of the Middle East, Islam and sociology, and after graduation, joined the diplomatic corps in 1999.

For the past two years, Ovadia served as second secretary at the Israeli embassy in New Delhi, India. As part of his responsibilities, he headed the embassy’s cultural and scientific affairs department.

Ovadia said that he is eager to meet with the Jewish and general communities in Los Angeles and throughout six Southwestern states. In the meanwhile, he urges people to take five to 10 minutes a day to do something to help Israel, for instance, “call or write an editor or organize a group to hear a speaker from the consulate.” — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Muslim Journalist Calls Islam Founder Source ofAnti-Semitism

Recently in Los Angeles, as the guest of the Council of Iranian American Jewish Organizations, Muslim journalist Dr. Mohammad Amiri spoke to a large audience at Sinai Temple and at the Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills and visited the Museum of Tolerance.

Amiri was named by his parents in Iran for the Prophet Muhammad, but today, he considers the founder of Islam as the source of modern anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism in the Middle East.

The Jews of the Arabian Peninsula in the seventh century C.E. “sinned” against Muhammad by rejecting his teachings, according to Amiri, and he retaliated by demanding the Jews’ property and killing many of them. Since then, anti-Semitism in Islam, as in Christianity, has found racial and political expression, but the wellspring remains the original religious bias, Amiri said.

By an unlikely route, Amiri has become an expert on the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. Born in the Kurdish region of Iran 57 years ago, he followed “the dream of all you young Iranian men to go to Europe,” and received his bachelor’s and doctorate degrees in philosophy at the University of Cologne.

For his doctoral thesis, he analyzed the philosophy of the Jewish political theorist Hannah Arendt (“Origins of Totalitarianism”) and from there, embarked on lifelong studies of the tensions between freedom and religion, anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.

He is now a reporter and analyst for German radio, broadcasts for the Farsi-language service of Israel’s Kol Yisrael and is a research fellow at the Institute for Culture and Philosophy in Cologne.

While in Los Angeles, Amiri also participated in three talk show programs on local Farsi radio stations, which serves the Southern California Iranian community.

Looking at conditions in his native land, Amiri said that a certain sympathy for Israel, based mainly on the traditional Iranian dislike of Arabs, has been overridden by the even more pronounced religious hatred of Jews by Muslim fundamentalists. — TT

Meeting Dr. Soulmate

Somehow, the universe knows. It knows when you have on a fresh coat of MAC lipgloss, some cute heels you got on sale at Charles David and clean hair that’s looking halfway decent. It knows. That’s the night you won’t meet anyone.

If a principle is true, then so is its opposite, which I proved by meeting the future Mr. Strasser in a Utah emergency room, between bouts of moaning in a fetal position and dry heaving. To be honest, the future Mr. Strasser probably has no memory of me other than in his notes: "Patient presents with fever and severe stomach pain. Possible pancreatitis. Please refrain from asking her out because that would be unprofessional even though you’re obviously unbearably attracted to her." OK, I added that last part.

It’s hard to imagine that I could have been less delectable. In Salt Lake City for work, I woke up one morning with searing stomach pain. I called my mom, tried every remedy in the hotel gift shop and wept for about six hours before giving in and finding the nearest hospital.

A co-worker drove me there, and as we pulled up to the ER, we passed a landing pad for trauma choppers. Kind of put my tummyache in perspective, but man did I feel bad; I couldn’t eat, couldn’t walk upright and I had the green-hued sheen of an extra on "Six Feet Under."

After checking in, I was given a room next to another woman named Teresa, a psych patient who couldn’t stop shouting "Who took my shoes?" I don’t know, Teresa. The Crazy Fairy? When the nurse told her to lower her voice, she said, "I can’t hear myself until I talk loud."

Oh, really? Well, I can’t stop heaving and the sound of your voice is about as settling to my stomach as last week’s sashimi.

Just when Crazy Teresa (and I call her that so you don’t get confused) got sedated, a 19-year-old named Amber came in screaming, "It’s my birthday. You don’t know what it’s like to be a junkie! I haven’t eaten in two days." Whatever happened to broken bones and slingshot wounds? I wished Amber happy birthday, gave her all $7 in my wallet and shuffled back to my room, holding my gown together in back.

Moments later, my doctor appeared. Cue the violins and gauzy light because no way an intern in the ER could be that gorgeous. He adjusted his wire-rim glasses and tucked a loose tangle of long blond hair behind his ear.

He introduced himself and I thought, "Mr. Strasser, what are you doing in Salt Lake City? Do you realize we’re getting married? I think I love you." (I should mention here that I had a high fever and may or may not have been delirious.)

Now, there are many conversational topics that are nice for that first meeting with one’s soulmate: the weather, favorite movies, work, religious beliefs, politics. One topic that doesn’t make that list is bowel movements.

"Have you had any bowel movements today? Are you having diarrhea? Are your bowels discolored?" Dr. Soulmate asked.

On the one hand, decent medical care required that I be honest, on the other, human dignity required that the color of my stool be between my maker and me.

My health won out. "To tell you the truth, doctor, it’s sort of puce."

"Puce? I’m not sure what color that is," he said.

"It’s kind of brownish-purple." Great, now I’m trying to explain to the doctor that puce is the new brown. This was not going well.

"Married or single?" he later asked.

Did he really need to know, I wondered? Or was he secretly saying that he too felt our union was destined?

"I’m not sure what’s wrong with you," he said. "I’m passing you along to my attending." That must be doctor speak for "It’s not you, it’s me."

Of course, if he had made advances toward me, I would have thought he was sleazy and unprofessional and quite possibly had a puce fetish I could never accept or understand. It was a lose-lose-lose my lunch situation. We were star-crossed lovers, doomed. Still, if he had actually noticed me, he might have overstepped the rules of propriety and I might have overlooked his overlooking and it would all be a cute story — except the part about the puce.

He left with me with an IV of nausea medication and the attending physician, a very nice, very butch-looking woman who shut Amber up with one stare. She sent me home with a prescription, a diagnosis of heat stroke, directions to eat only food I could see through and the fantasy that somewhere in Utah, a young intern is pining for me, wishing we could have met under circumstances that were easier to stomach.

Red Like Me

As I write this, I look like James Coburn eating a lemon in a windstorm. Drunk. Not only does my face look red and crackly, it must be covered at all times with a Vaseline-like lotion, thick and greasy, giving me the appearance of someone who has just eaten a pork chop with no hands. And I lack Mr. Coburn’s panache.

I knew I’d be ugly for a week or so. My doctor warned me that even though I was getting the most minor of chemical peels, there would be redness, crusty skin, temporary darkening of the very discolorations and freckles I was trying to remove. In the end, I would look a little better. There was just the purgatory between blotchy and better to be endured.

Wisely, I left town right after the peel and escaped to my mom’s for a few days, to the one place no one was likely to notice a woman molting about the face. Wrong. Even in Las Vegas, my face is something to see. I’m thinking about selling two-for-one tickets.

My second day here, I ventured out to surprise my mother at the casino where she works. I waited in line and walked up to the counter of the sports book, where mom was in the middle of telling a guy he was too late to bet on the 49er game.

“Hey! This is my daughter,” she beamed, introducing me around.

That’s when I saw myself through the eyes of her co-workers. Let me paint a vivid picture. Realizing there was nothing I could do about my face, I completely let myself go. I decided to leave the deep conditioner in my hair instead of washing it out. I didn’t shave or put on makeup. I was wearing the outfit I had worn driving in, an oversized men’s shirt and old jeans. I’m pretty sure I had brushed my teeth, but I don’t want to brag.

“You want to place your very first bet? Clippers or Kings?” asked my mother’s co-worker.

“Now, I know you’re not used to dealing with this kind of cash,” I joked, pushing a five towards him. As I placed my bet on the Kings, the guy let out a hearty laugh, as did the others. Oh my god, I thought. These are sympathy laughs. That wasn’t funny.

Bring your daughter to work day had taken a sinister turn. I felt so bad for my mom, like I was embarrassing her, which I knew I really wasn’t because she’s not as shallow as I am. Still, I wondered what she would tell people the next day. “Don’t worry, my daughter isn’t really disfigured. She’s just vain.”

When mom’s shift ended, we went over to the bar with a couple free drink tickets from the sports book. “Scotch,” she ordered for me. “Something good.” Normally, “good” Scotch from the well of a casino bar is throat-burning swill. What I got was smooth, some sort of Glensomething. It was sympathy scotch and I knew it.

Mom told me about having to have something removed from her cheek once. The surgery gave her two black eyes and weeks of stares. “That’s what it’s like getting older, too,” she said. “You don’t care so much what you look like, and neither does anyone else. You’re outside of that scene. You just want to sit around and hang out and watch life. When your car breaks down, you figure out how to fix it. When a cop pulls you over, you get a ticket. Everything changes.”

Things have changed for me in just a few days. I lack confidence. I’m the same as before, but the package is too much for me to overcome. Since the casino incident, I’ve remained mostly inside. Until this thing is over, I’m not heading into a crowd without one of those Tom Cruise “Vanilla Sky” disfigurement masks. I feel like a loser somehow, and not just because the Clippers beat the Kings.

I never thought much about the word “face,” as in face the music, face your demons, face a challenge, face the facts or Einstein’s phrase, “the face of God.” Now, I can’t stop thinking about Eleanor Rigby’s face, the one she keeps in a jar by the door. I had no idea my own face was such an integral part of how I face people, how I see myself — quirky, flawed, OK from certain angles but overall, a problem child.

Maybe too much alone time equals too much philosophizing. One little peel and all of a sudden I think I’m Albert Camus.

My mom’s right, though. Things change. My face will be back in a few days, serviceable, familiar, with a few fewer freckles. But it will evolve. It will age. There will be speeding tickets. The only face that doesn’t change is the one preserved in a jar by the door, but even the Beatles don’t know who that is for.

Teresa Strasser is now on the Web at

Beyond the Wall

It is a bright, sunny day at Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services. In her office, medical director Dr. Susan Schmidt-Lackner is sitting on the floor with one of her young patients — not an easy feat for a tall woman in a long skirt, but the doctor is more interested in the little boy than in her own comfort. The child’s mother, seated nearby, recounts her concerns, such as how her son can’t tolerate the texture of most foods and is subsisting on a diet of McDonald’s Happy Meals.

"What do you like about McDonald’s, John?" the doctor asks, moving closer to the boy. She repeats the question until John answers, giving her a fleeting moment of eye contact.

Like most of the children Schmidt-Lackner sees, John (not his real name) is autistic and finds social interaction difficult. His mother tells a reporter that John used to spend much of his time in destructive behavior against others and against himself — biting his own arms, for example. Since being treated by Schmidt-Lackner, who put John on a combination of the medications Prozac and Risperdal, John’s behavior has improved, and he has started communicating with his family, even playing games with his little sister.

"We noticed the difference right away," his mother said.

Another parent of a patient calls Schmidt-Lackner "our miracle worker. She gives it to you straight, but she also gives you hope."

Dr. Schmidt-Lackner, 45, is one of the growing number of doctors and therapists treating children with autism spectrum disorders. In addition to her work at Vista Del Mar, she is an assistant clinical professor at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute, serves on the board of directors of the Autism Society of Los Angeles and will be a presenter at their April 28-29 conference in Pasadena. A California native, Schmidt-Lackner lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their four children. She lectures frequently at conferences on the use of medication in the treatment of autism spectrum disorders and is considered one of the most respected authorities on the subject in the nation.

Autism is a hot topic right now. During the past year, the neurological disorder, which involves a variety of symptoms, including a delay in speaking and an inability to connect socially with others, has been covered in everything from Newsweek to "The Montel Willams Show." The high profile is due mainly to the frightening rise in diagnoses of the mysterious disorder. Schmidt-Lackner notes that when she began working with childhood disorders at UCLA in the late 1980s, the incidence of autism was about seven cases per 10,000 children in the general population; now it is estimated at 20 per 10,000, or 1 in 500 — and more children are diagnosed every day.

In an interview this month (which is also national Autism Awareness Month), Schmidt-Lackner answered some frequently asked questions about autism and her work with autistic children.

JJ: We’ve all heard about the rising number of children being diagnosed with autism. Do you think it is because of the change in the definition of who fits on the autism spectrum, or because there are more children being born with this disorder?

SSL: I think it’s a combination of both. We have a better understanding of autism, and the actual incidence has also increased. Autism is no longer a rare disorder; it is now more common than Down Syndrome, more common than childhood cancers. Everyone knows someone who has a child with autism, so that proves it for me.

JJ: Have you noticed an increase in the number of Jewish children being referred to you?

SSL: I see kids from every walk of life and an increase (in diagnoses) across all ethnic and socioeconomic lines. I don’t see this as being a Jewish problem, like Tay-Sachs.

JJ: What are the recent medical breakthroughs that may help children and adults with autism?

SSL: There is a lot of new research. We’re gathering interesting data and facts, but that hasn’t translated into a lot of effective new treatments for our kids. The atypical anti-psychotics are being used all of the time; some of my kids are even on anti-Alzheimer’s medications, but treatment is still very symptom-oriented. We know autism is linked to the serotonin-transport gene, but in general we are not treating the core of the disorder. Also, it’s important to make sure our kids are getting good support, like behavioral programs. At Julia Ann Singer [Vista Del Mar’s school for children with developmental disabilities and emotional disturbances], what’s great about our school is, we encourage parents to spend one day a week in the classroom, which is very different from the public school model. We also have a support group that meets weekly.

JJ: One of the problems facing many parents of autistic children is the cost of the myriad therapies and evaluations their children need. Seeing someone of your caliber can cost anywhere from $500 to more than $1,000 per visit. Why so much?

SSL: Those prices are usual for a first-time evaluation, not a follow-up, and Regional Center [a state agency] can sometimes fund the visit. But you’re 100 percent right: people who have better economic means get better services. I do a lot of pro bono work because I think it’s deplorable, the lack of services for people who are not as sophisticated about the system.

JJ: What is the prognosis for most children with autism?

SSL: Probably 25 percent of the kids do really well, take off and are able to function independently. The majority of kids are going to need assistance throughout their lives.

JJ: What elements of being Jewish do you find help you the most in your work?

SSL: To me, if I didn’t have this framework [of Judaism], it would be so hard. My parents — that is, my clients — are my heroes. To have a kid with developmental disabilities and be able to live that, day in and day out, you have to be extraordinary. I’m an observant Jew, and the more I do [in this field], the more I realize there’s a very spiritual connection to this work. There’s a spiritual side to these children, and I feel privileged to see these very pure souls.

JJ: What can the Jewish community do to better support families of children and adults with autism?

SSL: Our spiritual leaders need to reach out to people with developmental disabilities. Instead of excluding these kids, we have to include them. The Bureau of Jewish Education has been talking about special ed forever, and Etta Israel is doing a great job, but people need to reach out more. These families need so much support. The divorce rate is so high, between 70 and 90 percent, in families where a child has autism. Families slide downhill so terribly, in a way they would not have if they did not have a child with developmental disabilities. The parents who do the best are the ones who can accept their child’s disability and still see the beauty of that child. It is the responsibility of the Jewish community to pull these families in, to help them push for their child’s potential, but also help them to accept their limitations.

For more information on programs at Vista Del Mar, call (310) 836-1223. For more information on the Autism Society of Los Angeles’ conference, “A Journey to Solutions 2001,” call (818) 953-3855.