Rescuing Dollars for Seniors, Immigrants


With many health care programs threatened because of cutbacks in government funding, Jessica Toledano and other members of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ advocacy arm have redoubled their work on behalf of the elderly, immigrants and other vulnerable groups. In at least three recent instances, those efforts have paid off and saved imperiled programs from debilitating cuts or untimely demises.

Under Toledano’s direction, The Federation’s Government Relations Committee and its supporters have successfully convinced local, state and federal politicians to spare programs that train immigrants on welfare to become certified nurse assistants, provide adult day health care services for Alzheimer’s sufferers and offer seniors living in so-called naturally occurring retirement communities (NORCs) in Park La Brea and West Hollywood with such services as in-house social workers and transportation to doctors appointments that allow them to continue living at home.

“Last year was a very tough year, but we had some successes that will benefit the community here in L.A.,” Toledano said.

Among those victories:


• Last month, members of The Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC) and others landed a $200,000 federal grant to save a Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) program that has helped dozens of immigrants and refugees move off the dole and into nurse assistant and other nursing jobs. After L.A. County decided not to renew a $125,000 grant because of budgetary problems, Toledano contacted Rep. Howard Berman’s (D-Van Nuys) office to see whether Congress might allocate money for the highly touted program. Toledano met with the congressman and his staff to make her case. She also arranged for JVS executives to meet with interested U.S. senators and representatives in both Los Angeles and in Washington, D.C. As a result of those efforts, Congress just passed the Certified Nurse Assistant Training/Nursing Career Ladder Program, which Berman sponsored.

“Having the opportunity to get federal dollars adds to the credibility and the long-term sustainability of the program,” said JVS Chief Operating Officer Claudia Finkel, who personally lobbied Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) and Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles), among others.

The new-and-improved JVS nursing program will also help certified nurse assistants advance in their careers by offering training to become licensed vocational nurses and registered nurses. With California’s residents graying and its population growing, nursing homes, hospitals and other medical facilities are hungry for nurses at every level, experts said.


• Working closely with County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, Toledano and others helped prevent the county from cutting $360,000 over four years for an adult day health care center in West Hollywood that caters to Alzheimer’s patients. Toledano personally took members of the supervisor’s staff to the center to see how the programs it offered benefit the Jewish and non-Jewish elderly. The county later restored the funding.


• With the Jewish Family Service-sponsored NORC program starved for funds, Toledano tapped former Rep. Mel Levine — now the chair of the JCRC — to lobby senators and representatives for money. The NORC program just landed a $650,000 federal grant for the 2005-2006 fiscal year, after receiving no federal money last year. Waxman sponsored the legislation in the House of Representatives, while Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) supported it in the Senate.

“We really listen to the seniors, see what they need, the kind of things they think would improve the quality of their lives and try to connect them with the appropriate resources,” JFS Executive Director Paul Castro said. “This is what senior programming will look like in the future.”

NORCs enjoy support among many politicians partly because of economics, Diana Aviv, vice president for public policy at the United Jewish Communities has said. She estimated that nursing home care costs $55,000 annually per person, while senior housing with special services is around $20,000. By contrast, NORC support services cost about $5,000.

Despite those bright spots, several programs run by Federation recipient agencies fared less well, including a domestic violence program, Toledano said. Looking forward, Toledano added that she and others will have to fight even harder this year to protect important community initiatives because of the rising tide of government red ink.

“I think 2005 will be the toughest year we’ve ever had,” she said.


Non-Jews Provide Key Community Support

They are security guards, schoolteachers, cooks and banquet
hall waiters. They are waitresses, agency and museum executives and
walkie-talkie-toting synagogue maintenance workers. There are hundreds of
non-Jewish support staff at synagogues and other Jewish institutions throughout
Southern California, and they are integral to the life of the Jewish

“Amazing, amazing people,” said Conservative Rabbi Mark
Diamond, executive director of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California. “I
don’t think our Jewish institutions could function properly without the efforts
of our non-Jewish support staff and even sometimes senior staff.”

Here, then, are three representative profiles of the
commitment and professionalism of these vital people:

Louis Martinez, 67.

Employer: Sinai Temple, Westwood. Martinez has worked at Sinai
Temple for the past 20 years. He plans to retire this year for health reasons
on a synagogue pension.

Occupation: “Officially, I’m the superintendent and head
custodian. Normally, I’m an electrician, and I fix everything.”

Background: Martinez attends services at a Catholic church
with his wife. Their 19-year-old adopted daughter from Guatemala attends the University
of San Francisco. Martinez has lived for 20 years in an apartment on the temple

“I know this building,” he said. “When I have to vote, my
voting place is here. When I knew someone passed away, I feel so sad. If you
know them from only one ‘hello’ every weekend, they are like a part of my

What He Will Miss Most in Leaving Sinai Temple: Rabbi David
Wolpe. Martinez records each of Wolpe’s Sabbath sermons. “I love him. For good
behavior and general things, you don’t have to be Jewish. His speeches are for

Marciel Cano, 43.

Employer: Valley Beth Shalom, Encino.

Occupation: Maintenance staff member/parking lot attendant.
Cano oversees the synagogue’s large parking lot, which serves the congregation
attending services and weekend events and the schoolchildren and teachers on
weekdays. He is usually the first person at the synagogue each morning.

“I open the temple every day,” Cano said. “I’m the first
person here every day. It’s hard to enforce [parking] rules when you see people
every day.”

Background: Cano, who was raised Catholic, is originally
from El Salvador, where he has an adult daughter. He is single and has worked
at Valley Beth Shalom for 13 years.

One of His Proudest Moments: Cano was one of six synagogue
workers who quickly moved seven Torahs to safety after a May 7 arson attack.

“[The Torah] is a very valuable part of the religion,” Cano
said. “We did it because we think it was the right thing at that moment. This
job is different from other jobs. You feel like part of the congregation.”


Dorothy Mackendrick, 31.

Employer: Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles.

Occupation: Assistant education director. “I manage all of
the school programming for all of the kids who come through on field trips.”
she explained, “and I also manage the teacher professional development

Background: Mackendrick was raised Presbyterian in Michigan
and comes from a Swedish/German/English/Scottish family. She studied political
science at Wellesley and is married to a high school English teacher.
Mackendrick has worked at the Skirball since October 1994.

What She Loves About Her Job: “Because the mission of the
cultural center is based on the values of Judaism, including hospitality and
education and caring for the earth — sort of the whole idea of tikkun olam
[heal the world] — that is a way that I find myself really connecting,” she

“Everybody’s background [at Skirball] is valued.”
Mackendrick continued. “Everything that we do is infused with Jewish values.
And so it depends on how you see what Judaism is. And I think that’s the most
important thing, finding those connections.” Â