Tom Fields-Meyer and Sarah Bunin Benor collaborated on "We the Resilient." Photos courtesy of "We the Resilient."

Wisdom of the aged offers hope to Clinton voters


“Estelle L. Schultz, who was born two years before women had the right to vote, marked her absentee ballot for the first female president, Hillary Clinton.”

That’s how it started — with a brief Facebook post in October of a 96-year-old Maryland woman holding her absentee ballot and flashing a big smile.

Before long, there was a website, iwaited96years.com, dedicated to hopeful female Clinton supporters who were born before Aug. 18, 1920 — when the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, was ratified. It featured their stories, 186 of them in all.

Then came the jolt of Nov. 8 and the question of what happens next. For the website’s prime collaborators, Sarah Bunin Benor — the granddaughter of Schultz who made the initial Facebook post at the request of her mother, Roberta Benor — and Tom Fields-Meyer, it was time to get past the initial shock and sting of Clinton’s loss and circle back to the women they featured for advice. The results were independently published last month in a book called “We the Resilient: Wisdom for America from Women Born Before Suffrage.”

“I didn’t realize when I posted it how intense it would be, how it would really change my life for six months,” said Bunin Benor, 42, an associate professor of contemporary Jewish studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles.

Fifty-five of the women who appeared on the website responded to some or all of the authors’ questions, which included: When in your life have you experienced personal disappointment, tragedy or unexpected loss? How were you able to overcome those setbacks? When in your lifetime was this country at its best?

Their responses, as well as pictures of their current and younger selves, are featured in the book, whose title was inspired by artwork designed by Los Angeles artist Ernesto Yerena for a protest campaign called We the People. Yerena passed out thousands of his posters featuring Granny Helen Red Feather, a Lakota elder, along with the words, “We the resilient have been here before,” at the Los Angeles Women’s March. Former U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer wrote the book’s foreword.

Though the contributors come from a variety of backgrounds, many spoke of similar issues, such as losing parents, spouses, siblings and children. The importance of education, friends and hard work were common themes, along with stories of subtle and not-so-subtle sexism.

“When I graduated from Florida State College for Women, I applied and was accepted to the Duke University School of Medicine,” wrote Katherine Blood Hoffman, 102, of Tallahassee, Fla. “Duke required that I sign a waiver promising not to marry while in their medical school. I wasn’t even engaged, but I refused to sign because Duke didn’t require the same promise from men. Instead, I chose to enter Columbia University, where I earned a Master of Arts degree in Chemistry.”

Bunin Benor connected with Fields-Meyer, 54, a journalist and author, after he became one of the hundreds to immediately like her original Facebook post. They had known each other for about eight years, both being members at IKAR and Temple Beth Am and living in the same Mid-City neighborhood.

The two talked about collaborating on a project during a break at Yom Kippur services at IKAR and launched the website with the help of Fields-Meyer’s wife, Rabbi Shawn Fields-Meyer, who has experience in the area. Roberta Benor corresponded with those who submitted pictures and text to the website.

Project participants expressing high hopes about a potential Clinton administration included Madeline Rosenberg, 101, of Hartsdale, N.Y., who died in April, (“Women are getting where they belong!”) and Primetta Giacopini, 100, of San Jose (“It’s about time we got a woman in there! The men have had plenty of time and have just screwed things up”).

Kveller, a Jewish parenting website, did a brief story about the site. BuzzFeed was next. From there, things snowballed. There was coverage in dozens of publications around the country as well as from newspapers in Spain, the Netherlands and India. Fields-Meyer credits all the interest to the “inspiring and optimistic moment in this otherwise rancorous election season.”

As Election Day neared, more and more submissions from nonagenarian and centenarian women came in, including 20 or so from women in their early 90s who were too young. The women born after the cutoff date were, however, highlighted on Facebook.

Only a few of the women featured in “We the Resilient” are Jewish. Still, Fields-Meyer said, given Judaism’s reverence for older people and the wisdom they bring, “In a lot of ways, I feel this project had a Jewish soul and message, a message that it’s really important to listen to these people from previous generations.”

Being featured in the book meant a lot to the participants.

“I’m rather proud,” Rose Kaufman, 103, of Santa Monica, told the Journal. “I’ve seen a lot and I’ve been active with the League of Women Voters, among other things. I think we always have to be hopeful. In other words, we can’t give up.”

Hip-Hope is worn like a belt and has deployable airbags to cushion falls by seniors. Photo from Israel21c

Hip-Hope cushions falls to prevent fractures in elderly


When his elderly mother fell and broke a hip for the second time, former Israeli Air Force pilot and industrial and management engineer Amatsia Raanan searched for a product to prevent this most common serious injury in older people.

“Through her suffering, I learned about the epidemic of hip fractures,” Raanan said.

Each year, nearly 3 million seniors worldwide are hospitalized because of hip fractures. Many of them experience a drastic deterioration in quality of life. And the direct annual cost of treating hip fractures exceeds $15 billion in the U.S. health care system alone.

Rather than focus on better ways to treat the broken bone, Raanan decided to leverage cutting-edge technology to protect the pelvis upon impact and avoid injury in the first place. He and three co-founders developed Hip-Hope, a smart wearable device designed as a belt.

Once Hip-Hope’s multi-sensor detection system senses an impending collision with a ground surface, two large airbags are deployed instantly from each side of the belt to cushion the hips, and a connected smartphone app sends an automatic alert message to predetermined recipients.

The 2.2-pound device even has a built-in emergency call button that the user can activate in any situation of distress.

The patent-pending Hip-Hope has earned medical-device certification from the CE (Europe), FDA (United States), Health-Canada and AMAR (Israel). In studies carried out at a major Canadian lab, the Israeli device was shown to reduce impact by 90 percent.

Now, 150 Hip-Hope units for beta testing are being manufactured at Medimor in Tiberias. Distributors in Europe already have placed orders for Hip-Hope, intended to be the first active hip protection device on the market. Designed by Jonathan Bar-Or Industrial Design in Pardes Hanna, the device will be available in a range of colors and styles after entering mass production by the end of 2017, Raanan said.

The target users — seniors at high risk for falls and fractures at home and in a wide variety of care facilities — will be able to purchase Hip-Hope or lease it on a monthly basis.

“Over the years, I’ve been exposed to several ideas for developing active hip protectors that will prevent hip fractures in the event of a fall. I find the technology of Hip-Hope to be especially innovative and promising in this regard,” said professor Stephen Robinovitch of Simon Fraser University in Canada, a renowned researcher on the prevention of falls and fall-related injuries in older adults. He joined the company’s scientific advisory board to help develop the technology.

Established in May 2011 in Hod Hasharon, Hip-Hope Technologies was co-founded by Raanan with two friends, Amos Shattner and Yoram Romem. They later recruited Ran Manor as vice president for research and development (R&D).

Funded by private investors, angel groups and Israel’s Innovation Authority, Hip-Hope Technologies now has 10 employees.

Raanan isn’t a typical 30-something Israeli startup entrepreneur. “I served for many years as a pilot in the Israeli air force, in the development of airborne and information systems,” he said.

Raanan earned a degree at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and worked first as a business consultant, then for Amdocs.

A father of two and grandfather of five, Raanan also is a photographer. One of his exhibitions, sponsored by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has been shown in Israel, the United States and Canada.

Though his mother still was alive when development of Hip-Hope began in March 2012, her second hip fracture led to slow, steady decline and she died before seeing Hip-Hope win the Innovation Award at the March 2015 MEDinISRAEL international conference and exhibition.

Since then, the product has been refined in a continuing R&D process.

In future iterations, the wearable device also will enable remote activity monitoring, keeping track of the user’s movement data to recognize and alert to changes in personal motion patterns and fall risk level. These features are meant to enhance its preventive capabilities.

At Senior Center, She Learns ‘Nobody Can Compete With Putin’


Until recently, Nadia Luzina gave lectures on culture and politics to her fellow elderly Russians at a senior center in Mar Vista. 

In one talk about Russian President Vladimir Putin and his role in the takeover of the Crimea region in Ukraine, she called him “dictator.”

The audience quickly became annoyed with her and accused her of anti-Putin sentiments. One woman warned Luzina, an 84-year-old Russian Jew, that her anti-Putin comments might offend ethnic Russians. Someone called Luzina a traitor. The following week, not a single person showed up at her lectures.

“Everyone turned away from me that day,” she said.

In recent weeks, there has been much talk of the mutual admiration between Putin and Donald Trump, the Republican candidate for president of the United States. The annexation of Crimea and prosecution of opposition leaders turned some world powers against Putin and many Americans have expressed dismay at Trump’s laudatory remarks about the Russian president, but not everyone shares that skepticism. 

Among many Russian-Jewish expatriates in Los Angeles, the second most populated Russian-speaking community in the United States, Putin gets high marks.

“Nobody can compete with Putin,” said Leonid Ivanov, who moved to L.A. from Belarus 15 years ago and now lives in West Hollywood. “With him, the unemployment rate went down and many people got a job.”

For decades, the fate of Russian Jews depended on the czar’s will. Before the Bolshevik revolution, they were segregated in the western part of the Russian Empire, known as the Pale of Settlement, terrorized by Cossacks’ pogroms.

Under Soviet control, synagogues were shut down and Jews were banned from any administrative positions. But in recent years, Jews have seen anti-Semitism weakening in Russia, a change many attribute to Putin’s peacemaking efforts.

“With Putin, there is less anti-Semitism,” said Victor Petrov, a West Hollywood resident who emigrated from the Black Sea port city of Odessa 25 years ago. Of course, that could be due to changing demographics, too. “Maybe it’s because there are not that many Jews left,” he added. 

For many Russian Jews who remember economic hardships of the post-Soviet era, Putin symbolizes times of economic stability and growth, when Russia finally got up from its knees.

The country hit rock bottom in the 1990s in the time of financial collapse, political crisis, war in Chechnya, and the bombing of residential buildings in Moscow.

“It’s mind-blowing that someone would want a dictator until you lived through 1990s in Moscow,” said Robert English, director of the School of International Relations at the University of Southern California. “If you lived through a decade of President Boris Yeltsin and his efforts to make democracy work, it would make sense. Those efforts produced crime, corruption and criminals.”

Those turbulent times also made many Russians reluctant to support building a Western-style democracy.

“They had such a bad experience in the 1990s that they gave up on democracy,” English said. “A lot of people said, ‘If I have to choose between democracy and freedom of press or stable society with less crime and steady income, I choose the stability.’ ”

Russian-Jewish expatriates also believe Putin protected Russia’s sovereignty by taking over the Crimean Peninsula, historically populated by Russians. 

“Crimea belongs to Russia because everyone speaks Russian there,” said Victor Tankelevich, who moved to Los Angeles from Moscow in the late 1990s, fleeing economic turmoil. “Ukrainians are trying to eliminate Russian culture in Crimea. So why would we need to give it to Ukraine? Crimea has always belonged to us.”

Since the day of the heated discussion, Luzina has stopped giving lectures at her Mar Vista senior center, but has continued the political debates with her 94-year-old Russian Jewish boyfriend, who is a big supporter of Putin.

“He saved Russia from destruction, and I respect him for that,” said Isaac, who asked that his last name not be used. Isaac moved to Los Angeles from St. Petersburg 24 years ago. “Putin was able to keep the country together.”  

Luzina came here from Moscow in 1990 with her husband Lev, who passed away a few years ago. To distract herself from the grief of losing her husband, she started spending hours at her laptop digging into Russian history and politics. A friend suggested she give lectures on politics and culture at the Universal Adult Day Healthcare center.

On a recent Wednesday morning, Luzina sat at a table covered with a clear tablecloth, along with four fellow seniors. Sitting next to Isaac, she wore a long black skirt. Her pearl necklace matched white sandals and a white top with large blue leaves and sparkling buttons. 

Their square table was in a long auditorium, and as the group waited for breakfast, their conversation shifted toward Russian politics.

“Putin is a dictator and Russia needs the dictator because it has the slave mentality,” said Anna Z., who declined to give her last name. “Russia needs a person like Putin to keep the country together.”

A woman wearing a brown apron served, and the group started breakfast. Black-and-white plastic jars with signs “coffee” and “tea” sat on the table next to bowls of steamy oatmeal and a glass vase with artificial roses.

A large painting of a fountain decorated the yellow walls. On the opposite wall, a sign that read “Happy Birthday” hung next to an American flag. 

Luzina has been coming to the senior center for several years, but since the beginning of the Crimean crisis, she said, she has had trouble connecting with fellow Russians. 

“I read news on the internet, and those old fools watch Russian channels, which is nothing but propaganda,” she said. 

How I plan to die


One Sunday last November, 86-year-old Joy Johnson laced her running shoes and ran the New York marathon for the 25th year in a row.  At mile 20, she tripped and fell, but quickly got up and finished the race. After celebratory hugs from her family and a quick interview with Al Roker, she returned to her hotel room, took a nap and died.

She is my idol.  

Who wouldn’t want to go out that way?  And yet, for many elderly people, the reality of life at 86 doesn’t involve marathons, but frailty, physical disability or Alzheimer’s, straining the resources of the grown children who care for them. At 55, I’ve already made my children promise that if I become demented, they will not write a heartbreaking memoir about how they bravely fed me prunes while I stared dully into space with food all over my shirt or, as Karl Ove Knausgaard vividly recounts in the international best-seller “My Struggle,” hauled my week-old festering corpse out of the home I’d trashed in my senility.   As human beings live longer and longer, extreme elderliness is a likelihood for many of us. But if we can’t choose to be elderly like Joy Johnson, do we want to live like Knausgaard’s father? Is there an opt-out clause?

Yes, says Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, whose recent article in The Atlantic, “Why I Hope to Die at 75,” went viral immediately, racking up thousands of comments. Emanuel objects to what he calls the “American immortal” ideal of prolonging life as long as possible. Life after 80, Emanuel contends, is likely to involve physical or mental diminishment. Over the objections of his family, Emanuel has decided that he will accept no medical care after he is 75, and if diagnosed in his late 60s with a terminal illness, he will choose not to be treated. Ideally, he hopes to die of an infection like pneumonia, which will kill him swiftly and relatively painlessly.  

I’m fascinated with Emanuel’s argument. What’s most appealing to me is the idea that if I chose it, I might avoid what horrifies me most: that I would become a burden to my children, a shell of the full human being I believe myself to be. I am a control freak. I fear indignity more than death, and if the passionate public response to Emanuel’s article is any indication, I’m not alone.

But the more I think about his argument, the more dubious I become. One of his central arguments is that as people age, they experience a slowdown in memory and problem-solving ability. For him, this slowdown represents a dire and unequivocal loss of humanity. The average age of Nobel Prize winners, he argues, is 45. For the majority of elderly people, “Creativity, originality and productivity are pretty much gone.” Because they often feel happy anyway, they are oblivious to the fact that they are “aspiring to and doing less and less.” 

I think of my mother, a very lively 80, who retired several years ago from her career as a psychologist; though she remains extremely active and takes many classes at Northwestern University, she’s often content to take life a little more slowly than she once did. On a recent trip to Laguna Beach, she was happy to walk into town and sit on a bench for much of the afternoon, watching the ocean. But really, why in the world should she aspire to do more? What’s wrong with taking time to breathe the fresh air and watch the gulls swoop over the waves? Couldn’t that be called wisdom? Or even enlightenment? Three years ago, she caught a bacterial infection that nearly killed her; after a brief course of antibiotics, she was back on her feet. If she’d refused antibiotics and died by choice, how would that have been different from suicide? For the rest of my life, I would have felt personally responsible, guilty and even angry. And how would her beloved grandchildren have felt, knowing that a quick death was more important to her than being at their college graduations? Is that really how she would want to be remembered?  

I don’t want to sentimentalize the reality of aging. Too many of my friends know the pain of caring for an elderly parent who is suffering from dementia. We roll the dice when we choose an uncertain future. But our lives belong to the people we love as much as to ourselves, and making a unilateral, radical decision in the midst of a healthy life may cause more pain than it prevents.  Our legacies are as complex as the lives we have lived. And old age, for all its losses, is not only loss.  

I respect Emanuel’s choice, but to me, making a proclamation like his in the midst of a healthy life feels like a defensive crouch, a way of denying uncertainty. It also feels deeply unfair to the rest of the family — and does an injustice to how much our elderly relatives and friends often give to us. The same medical system that gives some people the illusion of immortality also gives us the illusion that we can control when we die without causing suffering to others. Instead of focusing on how Joy Johnson died, I’ve decided to focus on how she ran her race: full-throttle, joyous, undaunted by pain. I can’t promise to live that way when I’m 86, or when I’m 76, or even, let’s face it, tomorrow. But I can try to live that way today.  And maybe that’s enough.

Ellie Herman is a writer, teacher and life coach.  She blogs at gatsbyinLA.wordpress.com

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