Widespread khat addiction threatens Yemen’s future


Abdulmalik, a 13-year-old boy from Yemen’s capital city Sana’a, started chewing khat leaves at the age of seven. “My father would pass me small handfuls at weddings,” he told The Media Line. “But I didn’t start chewing every day until I turned 12 and started to work. Khat gives me energy for work.”

“I chew khat everyday,” he said proudly, exposing the pesto-colored glob of mush packed into his cheek. 

Indeed, each day after lunch, tens of millions of Yemenis from all strands of society devote at least three to four hours to the purchase and mastication of catha edulis, a tall-growing shrub native to the Arabian Peninsula and African Horn that produces an amphetamine-like high when chewed.

In patriarchal Yemen, the ritual was restricted to the province of men for millennia. In recent years, however, women and even children have picked up the habit in growing numbers. The World Food Program (WFP) estimates that 73 percent of Yemeni women today chew the leaves with some frequency, while some 15 to 20 percent of children under the age of 12 chew khat daily.

According to Hind Aleryani, an anti-khat Yemeni activist, the emerging trend of child khat use could spell disaster for the impoverished country of 26 million that just entered a fragile political transition following last year’s bloody, anti-government uprisings, which unseated 33-year autocrat Ali Abdullah Saleh. The WFP estimates that about 15 million person-hours per day are spent chewing khat in Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab world. And 40 percent of the country’s water supply is channeled into the cultivation of the native shrub, despite the fact that Sana’a is on track to be the first capital city to run out of water.

“Whenever we talk about the problems of khat and its impact on the economy, agriculture, water, health and social life in Yemen,” she said, “we say that the only solution is a new generation that is not addicted to the drug. However, the problem is that the new generation has been addicted ever since childhood.”

Donald Burgess from Yemen’s UNICEF office echoed Aleryani’s concerns about addiction. “The habit of chewing khat can easily be picked up by young people as it has an important place in the tradition and social habits of Yemenis, and is not looked upon as something very serious,” he told The Media Line.

“The habit starts off as an imitation of the adults in the family and later develops into an addiction,” he said. Yet “despite the fact that an increasing number of children in Yemen are picking up the habit, there are no accurate statistical data or studies on the negative effects of khat on children.”

From the incidental data and indirect evidence that are available, it is clear that khat has a great impact on Yemeni families. According to WFP, “Households spend an average of 10 percent of their expenditure on khat – more than on health and education combined.”

That, according to Burgess, “acts as a supporting factor to the decreased appetite and loss of vitamins, minerals and fluids that khat induces in children, resulting in the development of fragile bones, pale skin, anemia, weight loss and decreased growth rate.”

Abdulmalik, for his part, said his daily khat expenditure averages about 500 Yemeni Rial (or $2.33), a significant amount in a country where almost half the population survives on less than $2 per day, according to the World Bank.

Another major side effect is decreased academic performance, explained Burgess. “Children who indulge in khat chewing tend to prioritize khat sessions over time spent on their studies,” he said. Following the khat session, he added, “lethargy and decreased interest towards any productive activity” set in, thus wasting more “precious time that could be used for studying or reading educational material.”

Fauzia, a 28-year-old artist who grew up in Sana’a, told The Media Line that it was forbidden for her and her friends to chew khat as children or even teenagers, “but now it seems to be more common for girls, though mostly in elite circles,” she said.

Up to the Next Generation

Aleryani argues that it is up to Yemen’s next generation to change old ways of thinking about khat. “The image of khat for many teenagers, especially boys, is a sign of becoming an adult and a man,” Aleryani says. “Their dream as kids is to grow up and chew khat just like their fathers, and recently this has become the case with women as well.”

Earlier this year, Aleryani spearheaded an anti-khat campaign on Twitter and Facebook, urging the new transitional President Abd Rabbu Mansur Hadi and his government to ban khat in public offices. Only one small gesture came from Minister of Education Dr. Abdulrazag Al-Ashwal, who ordered schools nationwide to promote a day of awareness about the drug’s effects. When asked by Aleryani to introduce regular lessons into the curricula, the minister said, “It's not possible now … maybe in the future.”

With about half of the country’s 26 million residents currently under the age of 15, Yemen’s population is expected to almost double over the next two decades, creating a whole new set of economic and resource challenges for the small Arabian Peninsula state. As long as the vast majority of Yemenis continue to view khat chewing as a sacred tradition, instead of an unhealthy addiction that is strangling the economy, devouring precious natural resources and weakening family ties, the future looks grim. 

David Mamet: At what cost?


It has been suggested that the purpose of a college education is to ease the transition into adulthood. After several decades teaching college-age students, I would agree, only substituting delay and prevent for ease.

Eric Hoffer wrote in “The Ordeal of Change” (1963) that the secret of America was the trauma undergone by the immigrants. They — my ancestors and yours — came here with nothing, most ignorant of the language, most ignorant of the land and the cultures, and ignorant of what would be expected of them. Having suffered to learn the above, they were, in effect, born anew. Their strength was the lack of fear of challenge. They had paid for the immunity.

Little, and nothing of worth, is acquired without cost. Even the love of family, and even the love of God must be earned, kept and reciprocated. But the organization or individual who refuses to acknowledge cost, who demands goods, services or status as a right rejects the essence of Americanism and the hard-won heritage left us by those who paid.

There is a cost for education. Teachers must be paid. That education not paid for is appreciated by students in direct proportion to its cost.

There is a cost for housing. Someone must improve the land and build the structures. Private enterprise must strike a bargain with buyers or potential buyers and find a mutually attractive price. The cost of subsidized housing is decline in building (what builder or landlord would work to sell at a loss?) and/or quality, and increase in graft and corruption. (Someone along the line — administrator, bureaucrat or clerk or functionary — is, finally, in charge of doling out sub-cost housing; and he has a powerful incentive to subvention and theft, as the potential occupant has to bribery.)

There is a cost for food. That one-seventh of Americans are now receiving some sort of government dole in food is not a sign of compassion, but of money leached from the actual economy (free exchange of services and goods) — which money must, if left in the free market, produce jobs, which produce groceries.

There is a cost for health care. The result desired by most Americans is not improved insurance, but improved care. Semantically, this misunderstanding is about to bankrupt our country. The profession of medicine exists to promote care. Insurance exists to increase premiums and decrease service and claims. That is what insurance does. To reconfigure the patient-doctor relationship into one of patient-bureaucrat is, as we watch, the destruction of the profession of medicine, and a triumph of the notion of equality. Under Obamacare, there will be third-rate, grudging, non-responsive health care for all. The cost of this illusion will be national bankruptcy.

There is a cost for security. The cop on the corner carries a sidearm, as the community has licensed him, secondarily to use force, and primarily to advertise the community’s intention to protect itself. This advertisement would be less effective were he only to carry a bumper sticker.

The same is true globally. Peace is preserved in the world not through the proclamation of good intentions, or the sick suggestion of guilt, but by the creditable advertisement of power and of the nation’s willingness to use it. An individual, a community, a country may delude itself that “we are all alike, and if we could just sit down at a table …” and so on. But we are not all alike. The homeowner and the burglar cannot coexist happily. Nor can Israel and Islamic jihad. One must suffer.

Mobility has a cost. Energy must come from somewhere, and its location and difficulty of extraction will carry a price. The wealthy can buy electric cars and vote for entire landscapes defaced by windmills*, but how will the trucks bring them their food?

Knowledge has a cost. Magic phrases may hide but cannot change the eternal, difficult realities of war and peace, poverty and wealth. Our denial, in four years, has cost this: the doubling of the national debt, the massive increase in the size of government, a decrease in the freedom of the individual and of the states, the depletion of our armed forces, a crippled economy.

There is no way to “ease the transition” into national health, but we may accept the trauma; which is to say, face our difficulties and, like all other immigrants, figure out the price and choose to pay it.

Our choice in November is between a businessman, with expertise in cost-benefit analysis, and a community organizer who offered to trade us our cow for the magic beans. And now it’s time to reckon up the cost of his performance.

* Landscapes are also defaced by strip mining, but only one of the two processes provides useful energy.


David Mamet is a Pulitzer Prize-winning and Tony- and Oscar-nominated playwright, essayist, screenwriter and film director. His latest book is “The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture” (Sentinel).

Iran says test-fires missiles over threats of attack


Iran said on Tuesday it had successfully tested medium-range missiles capable of hitting Israel as a response to threats of attack, the latest move in a war of nerves with the West.

Israel says it could attack Iran if diplomacy fails to secure a halt to its disputed nuclear energy programme. The United States also has military force as a possible option but has repeatedly encouraged the Israelis to be patient while new economic sanctions are implemented against Iran.

The Islamic Republic announced the “Great Prophet 7” missile exercise on Sunday after a European embargo against Iranian crude oil purchases took full effect following another fruitless round of big power talks with Tehran.

Iran’s official English-language Press TV said the Shahab 3 missile with a range of 1,300 km (800 miles) – able to reach Israel – was tested along with the shorter-range Shahab 1 and 2.

“The main aim of this drill is to demonstrate the Iranian nation’s political resolve to defend vital values and national interests,” Revolutionary Guards Deputy Commander Hossein Salami was quoted by Press TV as saying.

He said the tests were in response to Iran’s enemies who talk of a “military option being on the table”.

On Sunday, Iran threatened to wipe Israel “off the face of the earth” if the Jewish state attacked it.

Analysts have challenged some of Iran’s military assertions, saying it often exaggerates its capabilities.

Senior researcher Pieter Wezeman of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said Iran’s missiles were still relatively inaccurate and of limited use in conventional warfare. With conventional warheads, “their only utility is as a tool of terror and no more than that”, he said by telephone.

He added, however, that they could be suitable for carrying nuclear warheads, especially the larger ones.

The International Institute for Strategic Studies, said in a 2010 report that all Tehran’s ballistic missiles were “inherently capable of a nuclear payload”, if Iran was able to make a small enough bomb.

Iran denies Western accusations that it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons capability. The world’s No. 5 oil exporter maintains that it is enriching uranium only to generate more energy for a rapidly growing population.

OIL MARKETS ON EDGE

Iran has previously threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, through which more than a third of the world’s seaborne oil trade passes, in response to increasingly harsh sanctions by the United States and its allies intended to force it to curb its nuclear research programme.

Fars said dozens of missiles involved in this week’s exercises had been aimed at simulated air bases, and that Iranian-built unmanned drones would be tested on Wednesday.

Iran repeated its claim to be reverse-engineering the sophisticated U.S. RQ-170 drone that it says it brought down during a spying mission last year.

“In this drone there are hundreds of technologies used, each of which are valuable to us in terms of operations, information and technicalities,” General Amir Hajizadeh was quoted by the ISNA news agency as saying.

Wezeman said Iran had a large standing armed force, but that its weapons were generally outdated. “And those weapons only get older and older and they don’t have access to new technology because they are under a United Nations arms embargo.”

In his first comments since the European Union oil ban took force, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said sanctions would benefit Iran by lessening its dependence on crude exports.

“We must see the sanctions as an opportunity … which can forever take out of the enemy’s hands the ability to use oil as a weapon for sanctions,” Fars news agency quoted him as saying.

Negotiations over Iran’s nuclear programme continued in Istanbul on Tuesday with a meeting of technical experts from Iran and six world powers.

The discussions follow a round of political talks in Moscow last month at which the sides failed to bridge differences or agree on a further round of talks at that level.

The experts have no mandate to strike agreements but the six powers – the United States, China, Britain, Germany, France and Russia – hope that by clarifying technical aspects of Tehran’s work they can open way for more negotiations in the future.

Diplomats in Istanbul said discussions in the Turkish capital were “detailed” and would most likely be followed by a meeting between a senior negotiator from the European Union and Iran’s deputy negotiator Ali Bagheri. Such a meeting could, at a later date, be a prelude to talks on a political level, diplomats have said.

“We hope Iran will seize the opportunity … to show a willingness to take concrete steps to urgently meet the concerns of the international community,” EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said ahead of the meeting. Ashton and her team represent the six powers in dealings with Iran.

As a priority, the powers want Iran to stop enriching uranium to levels close to weapons-grade, ship out any stockpile, and close a secret facility where such work is done.

Iran denies its programme has a military dimension and wants relief from economic sanctions before it makes any concessions.

IRANIAN CALL TO SHUT OIL LANES

On Monday, Iranian parliamentarians proposed a bill calling for Iran to try to stop tankers taking crude through the Strait of Hormuz to countries that support the sanctions.

However, the Iranian parliament is relatively weak, analysts say, and the proposal has no chance of becoming law unless sanctioned by Iran’s clerical supreme leader.

That is seen as unlikely in the near term given that Western powers have said they would tolerate no closure of the Strait while Iranian leaders, wedded to strategic pragmatism for the sake of survival, have said they seek no war with anyone.

“It’s a gesture at this stage,” said independent British-based Iran analyst Reza Esfandiari.

“They want to emphasise that Iran can make life difficult for Europe and America. I think this is more of an attempt to offset falling crude prices. Financial markets are very sensitive to such talk.”

On Tuesday, the price of Brent crude, which has been on a downward trend for the last three months, broke $100 for the first time since early June.

“A lot depends on nuclear talks,” said Esfandiari. “If there’s no progress and the initiative is deadlocked, then these kind of actions will intensify.”

Additional reporting by Yeganeh Torbati in Dubai, Fredrik Dahl in Vienna and Justyna Pawlak in Brussels; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Kevin Liffey and Michael Roddy

Iran threatens Israel; new EU sanctions take force


Iran announced missile tests on Sunday and threatened to wipe Israel “off the face of the earth” if the Jewish state attacked it, brandishing some of its starkest threats on the day Europe began enforcing an oil embargo and harsh new sanctions.

The European sanctions – including a ban on imports of Iranian oil by EU states and measures that make it difficult for other countries to trade with Iran – were enacted earlier this year but mainly came into effect on July 1.

They are designed to break Iran’s economy and force it to curb nuclear work that Western countries say is aimed at producing an atomic weapon. Reporting by Reuters has shown in recent months that the sanctions have already had a significant effect on Iran’s economy.

Israel says it could attack Iran if diplomacy fails to force Tehran to abandon its nuclear aims. The United States also says military force is on the table as a last resort, but U.S. officials have repeatedly encouraged the Israelis to be patient while new sanctions take effect.

Washington said the EU’s oil ban might force Tehran to give ground at the next round of nuclear talks, scheduled for this week in Istanbul.

Announcing three days of missile tests in the coming week, Revolutionary Guards General Amir Ali Hajizadeh said the exercises should be seen as a message “that the Islamic Republic of Iran is resolute in standing up to … bullying, and will respond to any possible evil decisively and strongly.”

Any attack on Iran by Israel would be answered resolutely: “If they take any action, they will hand us an excuse to wipe them off the face of the earth,” said Hajizadeh, head of the Guards’ airborne division, according to state news agency IRNA.

The missile tests will target mock-ups of air bases in the region, Hajizadeh said, adding that its ability to strike U.S. bases in the Gulf protects Iran from U.S. support for Israel.

“U.S. bases in the region are within range of our missiles and weapons, and therefore they certainly will not cooperate with the regime,” he told IRNA.

Iran has repeatedly unnerved oil markets by threatening reprisals if it were to be attacked or its trade disrupted.

The threat against the Jewish state echoed words President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke in 2005, saying Israel “must be wiped off the page of time” – a phrase often translated as “wiped off the map” and cited by Israel to show how allowing Iran to get nuclear arms would be a threat to its existence.

The EU ban on Iranian oil imports directly deprives Iran of a market that bought 18 percent of its exports a year ago. The sanctions also bar EU companies from transporting Iranian crude or insuring shipments, hurting its trade worldwide.

“They signal our clear determination to intensify the peaceful diplomatic pressure,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement.

The EU sanctions come alongside stringent new measures imposed by Washington this year on third countries doing business with Iran. The United States welcomed the EU sanctions as an “essential part” of diplomatic efforts “to seek a peaceful resolution that addresses the international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.”

White House spokesman Jay Carney said he hoped the sanctions would force Tehran to make concessions in technical-level talks with six world powers later this week.

MALICIOUS POLICIES

“Iran has an opportunity to pursue substantive negotiations, beginning with expert level talks this week in Istanbul, and must take concrete steps toward a comprehensive resolution of the international community’s concerns with Iran’s nuclear activities,” Carney said in a statement.

The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain – foes of Iran which face it across the oil-rich Gulf – announced their own joint air force exercises on Sunday which they said would take “several days,” their state news agencies reported.

In three rounds of talks between Iran and the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, the Western powers have demanded Tehran halt high-grade uranium enrichment, ship out all high-grade uranium and close a key enrichment facility.

The talks lost steam at the last meeting in Moscow last month and there was not enough common ground for negotiators to agree whether to meet again. Officials – but not political decision-makers – meet in Turkey on Tuesday.

Washington sees the sanctions and talks as a potential way out of the standoff to avert the need for military action, but has not said it would block Israel from attacking Iran.

Tehran says it has a right to peaceful nuclear technologies and is not seeking the bomb. It accuses nuclear-armed states of hypocrisy. Officials said they were taking steps to reduce the economic impact of the new sanctions.

“We are implementing programs to counter sanctions and we will confront these malicious policies,” Mehr news agency quoted Iranian central bank governor Mahmoud Bahmani as saying.

Bahmani has struggled to prevent a plunge in the value of the rial currency and steadily rising inflation as the sanctions have taken effect. He said the effects of the sanctions were tough but that Iran had built up $150 billion in foreign reserves to protect its economy.

Oil Minister Rostam Qasemi said oil importing countries would be the losers if the sanctions lead to price rises.

“All possible options have been planned in government to counter sanctions,” Qasemi said on the ministry’s website.

Last Friday, another Revolutionary Guards commander, Ali Fadavi, said Iran would equip its ships in the Strait of Hormuz – the neck of the Gulf and a vital oil transit point – with shorter-range missiles.

Additional reporting by Marcus George and Isabel Coles in Dubai and by Jeff Mason in Washington; Writing by Robin Pomeroy; Editing by Peter Graff

Israel says clock ticking after Iran talks fail


Israel has responded to the failure of the latest nuclear talks between world powers and Iran with a familiar refrain: sanctions must be ramped up while the clock ticks down toward possible military action.

With diplomacy at an impasse, there is satisfaction among Israeli leaders at what they see as a tough line taken by the West in the negotiations on curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Israeli political sources said on Thursday.

A member of the British negotiating team quietly visited Israel on Wednesday to brief officials on this week’s Moscow talks, the sources said, and new U.S. and European sanctions against Iran are due to come into effect in the next two weeks.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak stuck closely to his stated line, without offering any new sense of urgency, when asked by the Washington Post how much more time Israel can allow for diplomacy to work.

“I don’t want to pretend to set timelines for the world,” he said, “but we have said loud and clear that it cannot be a matter of weeks but it (also) cannot be a matter of years”.

Preparations for any strike against Iran, which Israel and Western powers suspect is trying to develop the capacity to build a nuclear bomb, are closely guarded in Israel.

But Barak said that even in the United States, which has counseled against jumping the gun while a diplomatic drive with Iran is under way, “at least on a technical level, there are a lot of preparations”.

Iran and six world powers – the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany – failed to secure a breakthrough in Moscow at what was the third round of the latest diplomatic initiative, and set no date for more political talks.

DEMANDS

Last month, and again in Moscow, the powers asked Iran to close the Fordow underground facility where uranium is being enriched to 20-percent fissile purity, and to ship any stockpile out of the country, demands that come close to Israel’s.

Israeli Vice Premier Shaul Mofaz held talks with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington on Wednesday.

“I explained that after the failure of the … talks in Moscow, the West must impose a full oil embargo on Iran and tough financial sanctions,” Mofaz said on his Facebook page, adding: “In parallel, preparations for other options must continue.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not commented publicly on the Moscow talks. He had complained that the months of talking had given Iran a “freebie” to continue enrichment.

The right-wing leader has been cautioned by former Israeli security chiefs against ordering attacks on Iran, amid skepticism about how effective Israeli air strikes would be.

Iran, which has called for Israel’s demise, says its nuclear program is designed for energy production alone. Israel, widely believed to be the Middle East’s only nuclear power, says a nuclear-armed Iran would pose a threat to its existence.

Barak, in the newspaper interview, held out little hope that diplomacy would persuade Iran to bend.

“By the third meeting in a negotiation, you know whether the other party intends to reach an agreement or, alternatively, whether he is trying to play for time to avoid a decision,” he said.

“It seems to me that the Iranians keep defying and deceiving the whole world. But it’s up to the participants in the negotiations to reach this conclusion. We cannot afford to spend another three rounds of this nature just to allow the Iranians to keep maneuvering.”

Weighing into the debate, Israeli President Shimon Peres told an audience in Jerusalem: “There’s not much time. If the Iranians … don’t heed the warnings, the calls and the economic sanctions, the world will look to other options.”

Additional reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Kevin Liffey

House rejects increase to U.S.-Israel energy cooperation funding


The U.S. House of Representatives voted down a Democratic procedural motion to the energy appropriations bill that would have provided additional funds for U.S.-Israel energy cooperation programs.

The motion to recommit the legislation back to the Appropriations Committee would have allocated an additional $1 million to the $2 million already in the bill for the programs.

The procedural vote was defeated 233-185 mostly on party lines with one Republican lawmaker, Rep. Tom Latham of Iowa, voting for the motion to recommit.

This is at least the fourth such attempt this Congress by Democrats to add pro-Israel language to a bill at the last minute. Republicans have accused Democrats of using the motions to recommit to score political points.

During floor debate, Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa), who offered the motion, said the additional funds were in the U.S. interest. 

“Israel is our strongest ally in the Middle East, without question, and one of our strongest allies across the globe,” Boswell said. “And, as such, our ability to work together to advance the interests of both our nations is crucial.” Boswell said.

Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), the chairman of the Appropriations energy subcommittee, argued that the $2 million already in the bill was the figure proposed by lawmakers who back the program, and said there was no need for an additional increase.

“This is a completely unwarranted increase, considering our bill already maintains funding for this very important program at last year’s level, even while we’ve cut so many programs in our bill to stay within the budget,” Frelinghuysen said on the House floor.

In March, a bipartisan, bicameral group of 44 senators and congressman sent a letter to Appropriations Committee leaders, urging them to ensure the $2 million of funds for U.S.-Israel energy cooperation. 

That appropriations request was led by Reps. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Robert Dold (R-Ill.) and Aaron Schock (R-Ill.), along with Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

Following the vote on the motion to recommit, David Harris, president and CEO of the National Democratic Jewish Council, criticized House Republicans.

“It is very disheartening that so many pro-Israel Republicans who believe in American energy independence voted the way they did,” Harris said in a press statement.

Satellite images show crews hiding evidence at Iran nuclear site


New satellite images show possible recent nuclear activity at the Parchin facility in Iran as well as attempts to hide evidence of past activity.

A May 25 image of the facility east of Tehran revealed “ground-scraping activity” and the presence of bulldozers, according to diplomats quoted by international news services who attended a closed-door briefing by United Nations nuclear agency officials on Wednesday.

On Thursday, the Institute for Science and International Security posted a similar image on its website. Its image showed that two buildings that previously had been located on the site were razed, according to reports.

Last March, according to the International Atomic Energy Association, the nuclear watchdog of the U.N., satellite images showed crews and vehicles cleaning up radioactive evidence of a test nuclear explosion.

The United States, China, France, Russia, Germany and Great Britain jointly called on Iran to grant inspectors access to the site. An IAEA report last year said that construction developments at Parchin are “strong indicators of possible weapon development.” Iran has dismissed the charges against Parchin as “childish” and “ridiculous,” Reuters reported.

This most recent image is believed to be further evidence that Iran is “sanitizing” the site of any incriminating evidence before possibly allowing IAEA inspectors into the complex.

At Wednesday’s briefing, IAEA deputy director Gen. Herman Nackaerts presented the satellite images indicating that at least two small buildings had been removed.

Nackaerts did not elaborate on what he believed was happening at the site, apart from reiterating that the agency needed to go there to clarify the issue, diplomats told reporters.

Iran cleaning building of nuclear traces, U.S. institute alleges


New satellite imagery analyzed by a U.S. security think tank shows that Iran may be clearing nuclear evidence from a building at a military site.

The Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security believes the Iranians are cleaning the inside of the the Parchin military complex near Tehran based on images taken last month by a commercial satellite imagery company. The United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency has asked to visit the facility because it suspects that research on a nuclear weapon may have taken place there.

The building is believed to contain an explosive chamber used to carry out nuclear weapons-related experiments.

Satellite images taken in recent months did not show similar activity at the building, according to the institute.

The IAEA said in a report last year that it believed Iran had built a containment chamber at Parchin in which to conduct high-explosives tests, according to Reuters. It will ask Iran again next week during talks in Iran to allow inspectors to visit Parchin.

World powers to meet Iran in Istanbul this week


Nuclear negotiations between Iran and world powers will be held this week in Istanbul, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton announced.

The talks announced Sunday are scheduled to be held April 14 in Istanbul and will include six world powers: the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany.

Also on Sunday, Iran said it will not close its Fordo nuclear power facility, which is built deep into a mountain near the holy city of Oom, and it will not give up higher-level uranium enrichment, which are reported to be key demands that the world powers will present at the meeting.

Those demands are “irrational,” the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Fereydoon Abbasi Davani, told ISNA news agency in an interview published Sunday.

“If they do not threaten us and guarantee that no aggression will occur, then there would be no need for countries to build facilities underground. They should change their behavior and language,” he told the official news agency.

The demands were revealed Saturday in a front-page New York Times article, which quoted anonymous United States and European Union diplomats.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Iran is using the upcoming talks to “delay and deceive.”

He called for Iran to dismantle Oom, completely halt uranium enrichment and remove higher level enriched uranium from the country.

Massachusetts pension board completes Iran divestment


The Massachusetts Pension Reserves Investment Management board announced that it divested all holdings in companies tied to Iran’s energy industry.

The divestment, announced Tuesday in a news release, fulfilled a state law encouraging PRIM to pressure Iran to cease its nuclear weapons program in the Persian Gulf.

“I’m pleased to report that the Iran divestiture was completed on time and in compliance with the law,” said PRIM Executive Director Michael Trotsky.

“Our prompt response to the call to divest sends a clear signal that the actions of Iran will not be tolerated on the international stage or in the boardroom,” said Steven Grossman, Massachusetts state treasurer, and chair of the PRIM board. “Targeted sanctions on Iran offer the best prospect for deterring the Iranian aggression that threatens the security of the United States and its allies, including Israel.”

The divestment became official on Dec. 30, 2011. In the aftermath of the divestment, some companies severed their own ties with Iran and were subsequently dropped from PRIM’s restricted list.

“This is proof positive that sanctions work,” said Grossman. “Major corporations changed their behavior in response to the prohibitions, resulting in increased economic pressure on Iran.”

A number of other pension funds are reportedly severing ties with Iran, but Massachusetts was the first state to fully divest.

Congress approves funds for Israel-U.S. energy cooperation


The U.S. Congress maintained funding for a cooperative agreement with Israel that develops energy alternatives.

The Omnibus Appropriations Bill passed over the weekend by both houses keeps in place the $2 million contributed by the United States to the U.S.-Israel Energy Cooperative Agreement.

Under the agreement, Israel also contributes $2 million, and private investors contribute as well.

Funds allocated from 2009 to 2011 have been used by U.S. and Israeli firms to advance areas such as energy grid management, and biodiesel and solar energy.

In November, Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore,) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) wrote appropriators to express concern that the funding might fall victim to budget cuts.

“We believe that this is an investment worth maintaining—for the sake of U.S. jobs, our important bilateral relationship with our ally Israel, and the energy innovation this relationship produces,” they said at the time.

The bill now goes to President Obama for signing.

At Reform biennial, energy, Obama and handwringing over the next generation


The metaphors abound. To Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the next president of the Union for Reform Judaism, it’s a gas station. To Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the outgoing president, it’s an anchor. To Stephen Sacks, the incoming chairman of Reform’s board, it’s a supermarket.

They’re all talking about the Reform synagogue, and they all agree on one thing: It’s not a place you can find very many Reform Jews from post-bar/bat mitzvah age through their 30s.

“Most synagogues are not meeting the needs of that demographic,” said Rabbi Elissa Koppel, 39, of Temple Beth El in Hillsborough, N.J. “Synagogues need to think differently about how to reach them. I think it’s always been a challenge, but there’s more awareness of it now.”

Reform activists and leaders cite several reasons for the disaffection of young Jews: the difficulty of competing for young people’s attention given the distractions of the modern world; the ethos of individualism in American life; a growing preference for virtual social networks over physical ones; parents who emphasize soccer practice over Jewish tradition; a declining sense of obligation to belong to communal institutions.

And then, of course, there’s the deterrent of Reform synagogues themselves.

“The standard model is not working for the younger generation,” said Rabbi Larry Sernovitz, 39, of Old York Temple Beth Am in Abington, Pa., near Philadelphia. “A lot of programming is based on the 50s and 60s set—one size fits all. But American Jews have become more assimilated and are moving away from organized synagogue life. The movement has to change along with that.”

The Reform movement is facing a host of challenges, from an economic downturn that has left some synagogues unable to make ends meet to the Union for Reform Judaism itself, which is undergoing a transition at the top and is six months away from completing an 18-month assessment to decide the movement’s future. But Reform leaders say their greatest hurdle is figuring out how to engage young Jews, most of whom leave Reform synagogues “with the last hora of the bar/bat mitzvah party,” as Jacobs puts it.

One need look no further than Yoffie’s own children, whom he talked about in his Shabbat sermon at the Reform biennial conference held Dec. 14-18 at a hotel just outside Washington. His daughter, Adina, attends a Modern Orthodox shul, and his son Adam, 28, finds temple boring and doesn’t go much at all, according to Yoffie.

“They agree on what they don’t want,” Yoffie said. “They don’t want their synagogue to be the synagogue of their youth.”

In a time of decreasing affiliation with communal Jewish institutions across the denominational spectrum, concern is growing in the Reform movement that unlike previous generations, the young Jews leaving Reform synagogues now will never return.

“A newer trend indicates that fewer and fewer Jews will even join for their children,” Jacobs said in his biennial address Sunday morning. “Of all the movements, Reform Jews lead the way and—this ain’t a happy one—we lead the way in leaving when childhood education is over.”

In an interview with JTA, Jacobs added, “If we don’t start thinking differently about youth, it’s certainly not a bright and rosy future.”

The bleak prognosis for the movement was belied by a biennial that many participants described as the most energetic they had ever attended.

“I’ve felt inspired by this conference,” said Jonah Kaplan, 25, of Springfield, Mo. “My belief in the movement has been reaffirmed. It’s important to get some Yiddishkeit and Jewish vigor and Jewish identity, and be surrounded by people like me who share the same passion for Judaism that I do.”

Nearly 6,000 people attended the biennial, making it the biggest Reform conference in history and the first to be sold out, and featured speeches by President Obama, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, among others. It also was the last biennial with Yoffie at the helm. Jacobs, who has been the rabbi at the Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, N.Y., will take over as president in January after 16 years of Yoffie’s leadership.

Sessions at the five-day conference covered everything from “Yoga Shalom: The Embodiment of Prayer” to “Is America Abandoning Church-State Separation? Implications for the Jewish Community.”

For many of the rabbis, cantors, lay leaders and teens from the National Federation of Temple Youth in attendance, the main motive for coming was to reconnect with old friends and be energized by the thousands of fellow Reform faithful.

The conference was a mix of old and new, reflecting some of the changes made by the movement over the last generation and some it has not made. The weekday prayer services consisted of participatory singing, guitar playing and even storytelling and meditation—part of a revolution in Reform prayer led by the late singer-songwriter Debbie Friedman. But the Shabbat morning service was more formal and operatic, sending some congregants—mostly young people, but also gray-haired ones—out of the room and into the hallways to chat and fiddle with their phones.

Yoffie over the years has tried to make Torah a renewed focus of the movement, pushing for more Jewish study, Shabbat observance, the adoption of some kind of Jewish dietary ethos and the practice of mitzvot. To some degree the push has taken hold, though not always in step with traditional Jewish practice.

The communal Friday night dinner was kosher style, not kosher, there was a single challah at each table rather than the traditional two, and Shabbat candles were lit after Kabbalat Shabbat services, more than three hours after sunset.

At services, instead of the traditional “maariv” blessing on Friday night, the congregation chanted a piece of prose written by Anne Frank. On Saturday, aliyot went to groups rather than individuals, and the selection from the weekly Torah portion amounted to just 11 verses—excluding the passage from the weekly portion that Obama had cited the day before in the d’var Torah he used to open his speech.

“We’re not a halachic movement and we don’t profess to be,” Yoffie told JTA. “We now have a Reform Judaism that is in a certain sense more traditional. We’re also more radical. We live with the contradiction.”

The question for the Reform movement isn’t how close or far it can get from halachah, or Jewish law, but whether it can interest the 80 percent of Reform Jews who stay away from the synagogue for two or three decades after their bar mitzvah.

Jacobs says that if young people aren’t going to come to the synagogue, the movement will just have to bring the synagogue to them. How that is to be done is not exactly clear. Jacobs, whose own temple hired a rabbinic intern to work outside the synagogue to engage people in Jewish life, is starting by launching a campaign for youth engagement and going on a listening tour to learn about innovative and successful models.

Rabbi Jonathan Hecht, 51, of Temple Chaverim in Plainview, N.Y., says the movement has to move away from synagogues being bar-mitzvah factories—what Jacobs called a gas station to “fill up the next generation with Jewish gas” and what Sacks called a “supermarket where Reform Jews come to purchase services.”

“We are at fault for creating a model based on ‘You come to synagogue when your kids are in third grade and you’re out in eighth grade,’ ” Hecht said, lamenting that kids “see Reform Judaism as something you do at one time in your life, like college.”

It’s a question, he said, of resources.

“Are we willing to add more camps, more full-time youth workers?” Hecht asked. “Where are we putting our efforts?”

Temple Sinai going green with rooftop solar panels


Temple Sinai of Glendale is about to begin installing a solar energy system in an effort to go green. The 30-kilowatt rooftop solar panels will be unveiled at an induction ceremony at Temple Sinai on Dec. 11 at 10 a.m.

“The Jewish Federations is pleased to see our synagogues going green in a serious way,” said Mark Diamond, executive vice president of the Southern California Board of Rabbis.

The project is inspired by the Chanukah miracle of the oil lasting eight days, which can be understood as a parable about sustainability, said Temple Sinai Executive Vice President Eddy Polon.

“It is my understanding that we will be the first synagogue to install solar panels in Southern California, something we are particularly proud of.  Our hope is that we can be an inspiration to others.”

Making one day’s worth of consumption last for eight


And on the fifth day, I learned how not to compost.

It was a sunny mid-November morning when I found out that potato peels, celery tops and other vegetable pieces — in other words, most of the 7 pounds of organic matter I had been saving in my refrigerator’s crisper drawer for the past four days — were, in fact, still food.

“What’s wrong with that carrot?” Danila Oder, the manager of the Crenshaw Community Garden, asked. She looked down, horrified, at my contribution to her garden’s compost bin and plucked the floppy, slimy orange root off the top of the pile. “What you’re throwing out here — that’s vegetable stock.”

I took the carrot from Oder’s hand, picked the least yucky-looking bits of vegetable matter out of the black plastic drum and stuffed them back in my blue plastic bag.

What began as a simple, circumscribed idea for an article — reducing oil consumption on Chanukah — had somehow morphed into an all-encompassing challenge: To make a single day’s worth of the stuff we consume last for eight days. The experiment was loosely inspired by one of Chanukah’s miracles in which oil that was to have lasted for one day instead burned for eight. I intended to reduce my consumption of petroleum, electricity and water by 87.5 percent. Since transporting food from farm to table also involves burning fossil fuel, I decided I would buy only the most local, least-processed food I could find. I also committed to cutting out the trash I would produce by seven-eighths, as well — which helps explain why I was keeping decomposing vegetable scraps in my refrigerator in the first place.

All this is not exactly in my nature. I am a very particular kind of environmentalist — a lazy one. I buy reusable shopping bags and then forget to bring them to the store. I found author Jonathan Safran Foer’s environmentally based argument against eating animals wholly convincing but haven’t been able to kick meat from my diet. A bit of Web searching showed me that “hypermiler” drivers can get more than 40 miles to the gallon driving their 2001 Honda Civics; I don’t remember the last time I checked my tire pressure.

I believe I’m not alone in wishing that environmentally friendly living were easy, in wishing it didn’t require much thought. Unfortunately, as I found out when I decided to take my own personal environmental impact seriously — some might say altogether too seriously — choosing to live more lightly on the land does take some thought, and re-enacting the miracle that took place in Jerusalem during the Second Temple period in 21st century Los Angeles required equal parts creative thinking and hard work. For eight days, I commuted by bike. I captured half of the water from every highly efficient shower and used it to flush my toilet. I checked my electric meter every morning. I weighed the contents of my garbage can every night.

By the Numbers

What We Use in a Day:
Water: 83 gallons per person per day (for apartment dwellers, LADWP)
Electricity: 16.9 kilowatt hours per residential customer per day (2009, LADWP)
Food (average miles from farm to table): 1,500 miles
Trash: 3.3 pounds per person per day (includes refuse, recycling and yard trimmings, Los Angeles City, 2009)
Petroleum (miles driven): Average weekday car commute in Los Angeles County: 25 miles round trip (Southern California Association ofGovernments 2008 Regional Transportation Plan)

What the Author Used in Eight Days:
Water: 100 gallons*
Electricity: 30 kilowatt hours
Food (average miles from farm to table): It’s nearly impossible to measure.
Trash: 24 pounds (10 pounds recycling, 7 pounds compost, 7 pounds refuse)
Petroleum (miles driven): 36.5 miles *Or thereabouts. And he didn’t do laundry that week.

And when the experiment was over, I found that I had overshot my target numbers in every one of the five categories of consumption — in one case by more than 600 percent. Still, what I learned along the way was more than worth the effort.

Chanukah is more often associated with gift giving than with conservation. But Adam Berman, who has been working at the intersection of Judaism and the environment for 20 years, has long known that environmental messages can be found in every Jewish holiday, and Chanukah is no exception.

“There was this obscure part of the holiday, that there was a race against time that had to do with running out of oil,” Berman said. “We don’t use oil lamps anymore,” Berman continued, but with only 14 percent of our electricity coming from renewable sources like hydroelectric plants, wind farms and solar panels, the miracle’s lesson could still be made applicable. “The light that we use in our homes comes from a finite resource,” Berman said.

In 2006, the documentary film “An Inconvenient Truth” inspired activists concerned about climate change across American communities to action. Green Jews have been using Chanukah as an opportunity to organize their communities around issues of sustainability and renewable energy for years. Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of the Shalom Center, first drew attention to the holiday’s “conserve-oil aspect” in 2001. The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) runs an annual program to increase environmental consciousness through actions around Chanukah nearly every year. In 2006, Liore Milgrom-Elcott drew on Waskow’s work to devise COEJL’s campaign to get Jews to switch from incandescent to more energy efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). This year, COEJL director Sybil Sanchez has used the organization’s Web site to promote a number of programs, all of which are dedicated to getting Jews and Jewish communities to “use less oil, rely less on fossil fuels, [and ] emit less greenhouse gas emissions.”

Eco-stunts like mine are not original. Any writer embarking on such a path is, at some point, going to come across Colin Beavan, the writer better known as No Impact Man.

U.S. expert sees Israel as renewable energy leader


Israel is poised to be a leader in developing solar energy and other renewable energy sources, a leader in the energy arena said while visiting the Jewish state.

In addition, “There are real opportunities for U.S.-style venture capital investment in Israel,” Michael Eckhart, president of the American Council on Renewable Energy, said Thursday during a visit to Israel with a delegation of leading American energy specialists.

The delegation is visiting Israel to discuss best practices in the fields of renewable energy and reducing dependence on fossil fuels. The trip was organized by Project Interchange, an educational institute of the American Jewish Committee.

The weeklong program also is intended to establish strategic partnerships, foster professional cooperation and encourage information-sharing between U.S. energy specialists and their Israeli counterparts.

“Israel’s world-class expertise in solar power, biofuels and electric vehicles can be a catalyst for a global shift to low carbon and secure energy systems,” said Marilyn Brown, the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize co-recipient, who is on the trip.

Waxman will play key role in putting Obama agenda into action


Henry Waxman is a combination of toughness and gentlemanliness, qualities that helped raise him from the fratricidal politics of West Los Angeles to the pinnacle of power in President-elect Barack Obama’s Washington.

Through it all — from battles as a leader in the California Young Democrats in the 1960s to the Washington, D.C. Capitol meeting room where last week the Los Angeles Democratic congressman unseated John Dingell (D-Mich.) to become chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee — he has retained an idealism and interest in intricate public policy unusual in a political world, where victory too often goes to the superficial and cynical. He is also serious about his religion. He and his wife, Janet, are practicing Jews.

Waxman’s toughness was on display when he beat Dingell, Washington’s great defender of the auto industry and opponent of mileage, safety and pollution standards. Waxman had long fought for such standards, often clashing with Dingell.

He strongly made the point to his colleagues that his policies represent the change Obama brings to Washington and some of the most important portions of the president’s agenda will have to pass through the committee.

But there was more to Waxman’s victory than strong words and promises, as John M. Broder and Carl Hulse reported last Sunday in The New York Times. They quoted Rep. Mike Doyle, a Pennsylvania Democrat and Dingell supporter, as saying many new members had received direct campaign contributions from Waxman: “You bumped into a lot of freshmen who said Mr. Waxman had been very good to them.” Waxman’s supporters carried lists of prospective supporters to contact in the climactic meeting and watched the doors to talk to those leaving for a break.

Waxman honed his talent for careful planning in the ’60s, when, as a young lawyer and UCLA graduate, he began his political career in the liberal volunteer organization, California Young Democrats.

Emma Schafer, a public affairs consultant who runs the Los Angeles Current Affairs Forum, recalled meeting with other Young Democrats, including Waxman, at the West L.A. home of Howard Berman, who also later went on to Congress. “We plotted and planned campaigns,” Schafer said. “We were the anti-Unruh, anti-money crowd.”

By Unruh, she was referring to the late Jesse M. Unruh of Los Angeles, the longtime Speaker of the California Assembly, who, unlike the Berman-Waxman crowd, supported the Vietnam War, although he turned against it later in the decade. He was also a prodigious political fundraiser, whose efforts offended the reformist Young Democrats who opposed the war.

The fights between the Unruh followers and the anti-war group became legendary. They fought on every level, battling fiercely for even fairly obscure posts known only to political insiders.

When Waxman became president of the Young Democrats, Rick Tuttle, the former Los Angeles city controller, met up with him at an East Hollywood meeting hall. Tuttle was there for a complex four-way fight for political power, an event typical of Young Democrats’ political life.

He listened to Waxman speak, and later they chatted. “He was friendly, engaging, very down to earth,” Tuttle said. And he remembered that Waxman “spoke in complete paragraphs.”

By this time, Waxman was ready to challenge the Democratic assemblyman in the West Los Angeles area, Lester McMillan, an Unruh loyalist.

McMillan was well-liked by many Los Angeles liberals, mainly because he introduced a bill abolishing the death penalty every year. It never passed, but it made McMillan something of a hero among some Westside liberals, and Waxman’s decision to take him on represented a huge escalation of the Young Democrats’ assault on Unruh.

McMillan had the name and Unruh backing, but Waxman had a brilliant young political strategist in Howard Berman’s brother, Michael.

Most politicians at that time saw the Westside as a typically amorphous sprawl, difficult to fathom. Michael Berman saw it for what it was, a distinct collection of Jewish communities, centered on synagogues and community organizations.

Waxman reached them by traditional means, traveling from synagogue to synagogue, from one organizational coffee to another.

But Michael Berman brought a technique to the campaign that was revolutionary for the 1960s: using computers to analyze census tracts and voter records to identify voters in the district. A much more sophisticated version of this technique is now common in political campaigns, but when Berman unveiled it some 40 years ago, computerized politics brought about a radical change.

Berman sent out direct mailers to each group. Some addressed the concerns of older people. Others were targeted toward younger families. Some were about Israel, others about homeowners’ concerns.

Waxman beat McMillan, became a leader in the Assembly and moved on to Congress in 1974. His district reaches as far north as Calabasas and Agoura Hills, and includes portions of Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, as well as Beverly Hills and the Fairfax district.

In Congress, Waxman has dug into complex issues, including health care and pollution. He is the author of a major revision of the Clean Air Act of 1990, a major step in efforts to control pollution.

When the Democrats lost control of Congress, Waxman, no longer a policy-making committee chair, turned to investigating abuses by industry and the Bush administration.

Now, as chair of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, Waxman is poised to play a leading role in putting the Obama agenda into law, particularly in health care and in pushing the auto industry into manufacturing energy-efficient and minimally polluting cars.

In a phone conversation on Monday, Waxman told me that health, the environment and energy — all within the committee’s jurisdiction — will be his top priorities.

“The energy issue is one of national security,” he said. Americans must “wean ourselves from depending on sources” in nations hostile to us. And he said millions of jobs will be produced by industries created by a new energy policy, and they “will transform our economy.”

On health care, he said he favors something along the lines of what Obama has advocated, where people can retain their own health plans or move into a form of government-backed health insurance.

I asked him what it felt like to take on a tough old vet like Dingell.

“I felt the next two years offered historic opportunities, and I didn’t think John Dingell was up to it,” he said.

Until leaving the Los Angeles Times in 2001, Bill Boyarsky worked as a political correspondent, a Metro columnist for nine years and as city editor for three years. You can reach him at bw.boyarsky@verizon.net.

Begone, bygones! Green is the new blue and white


Bygones

Let Bygones (Not) Be Bygones” (Nov. 7) infuriated me. Marty Kaplan is not happy that Barack Obama was generous to his opponents and their supporters in his victory speech, because in his opinion, they are guilty of lies and character assassination for suggesting the possibility that a Chicago politician who associated with the likes of the Rev. Wright and Bill Ayers to launch his political career might not be trusted to always put the best interests of his country above his own political ambitions or the best interests of his political party.

I have never read a more mean-spirited opinion piece, and I urge The Journal to stop printing such garbage.

Steven Novom
Tarzana

The Republicans have smeared many American citizens and disrespected us as human beings, called us traitors, called us un-American, made the word “liberal” into a mocked, disrespectful term, etc.

And many of us would like some accountability. Especially of the kind that lies us into wars and gets our kids killed. Because I am not just going to “get over it.”

How do we get it? What can we do to make sure that happens, because I am behind that campaign?

Bill Davis
Secretary, Democrats Abroad
Melbourne, Australia

Marty Kaplan so eloquently expressed my own disdain for the politics of personal destruction practiced by John McCain and his campaign. We as Jews know only too well that words count and that there are people who can be whipped into committing dangerous acts when encouraged by a leader they respect.

I once had enormous regard for McCain, but it will take me a long time to forgive him after he condoned — expressly or tacitly — the ugly accusations against an honorable opponent. We can’t allow this to be excused as politics as usual. It is unacceptable, dangerous and profoundly un-American. Enough is enough!

Barbara H. Bergen
Los Angeles

It seems a bit disingenuous when Marty Kaplan writes, “Along with the privilege of living in a democracy comes the obligation to be accountable for your actions,” right after making so many unsupported accusations against John McCain, Sarah Palin, Rudy Giuliani and President Bush.

The one quote he does supply is from McCain’s concession speech: “I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him [Obama] but offering our next president our good will and earnest effort to find ways to come together,” which surely supports the idea that McCain is indeed a class act.

Kenny Laitin
via e-mail

New Jewish Agenda

You could not be more right when you said green is the new blue and white (“A New Jewish Agenda,” Nov. 7). Our community has been slow to grasp this. AIPAC has been slow to grasp it in a meaningful way. There is a sentence or two in its annual policy document but not much by way of content in the annual conference.

The League of Conservation Voters is in the same building as AIPAC in Los Angeles, and I can’t get my friends in each to have coffee. Israel’s percentage of solar energy is 4 percent, which is 1 percent higher than California.

I encourage you to stay on this topic.

Howard Welinsky
via e-mail

Thou Shalt Not Lie

I can understand why Teresa Strasser would want to lie to her grandmother in order not to break the old woman’s heart by telling her that her Catholic husband was not Jewish (“Thou Shalt Not Lie…ish,” Oct. 31). What I cannot understand is the obvious relish she received from the ruse.

The article made me very sad. If we are lucky enough to live to our 90s, is it better to live out our last days being lied to by our loved ones? When everything else is taken away from you, do you lose the truth as well?

Pat Weiner
Los Angeles

Same-Sex Marriage

Orthodox Judaism doesn’t even recognize civil marriage for Jewish couples (Advertisement, Oct. 31). Besides, we live in a constitutional democracy, not a theocracy. Why do you care that same-sex couples wish to marry?

I am the proud, Jewish father of a wonderful girl, and I was born gay.

I will not tolerate anyone telling my daughter that her family is less legitimate than any other.

William Kaplan
Los Angeles

It is troubling that some Orthodox rabbis have joined with the Christian right to eliminate same-sex civil marriage. Banning same-sex civil marriage is about as relevant to Orthodox Judaism as banning the sale of shellfish.

Jack Rosenfeld
Los Angeles

Policy Statement

We are in complete agreement with your policy statement regarding accepting advertisements (Advertorial, Nov. 7). The Jewish Journal is a paper that speaks to the entire and marvelously diverse Jewish community in greater Los Angeles.

Middie and Richard Giesberg
Los Angeles

Larry and Me

Jews have always felt for the downtrodden and then allowed themselves to be used and abused (“Larry and Me,” Oct. 31). They seem to have short memories and choose to overlook important issues. Since Larry Greenfield disagrees with you, you consider him wrong. No, you are. You prefer to believe in fiction, not facts.

There are plenty of Jewish Republicans who see the world more clearly than you, but you ridicule them. Thank God for Greenfield, who presents the real world, not the dream world.

Robert Reyto
Los Angeles

Israel’s clean tech advances attract foreign investors’ green


TEL AVIV (JTA) — From cutting-edge geothermal power deep underground to wind turbines and solar panels capturing energy from the sky above, foreign investors are pouring money into Israel’s growing clean tech sector.

And it’s not just Jews.

“Every day I get calls from people asking for opportunities to invest in clean technologies in Israel,” said Michael Granoff, president of the New York-based Maniv Energy Capital and an investor in Project Better Place, the company working to make Israel a testing ground for an electric car.

“That to me is extremely encouraging,” he said. “I believe nothing will determine Israel’s prosperity more than the degree to which it is a leader in innovation around sustainability.”

Clean tech, a catch-all term for emerging technologies focused on renewable and more efficient energy consumption, is soaring in Israel. A wave of new start-ups, academic research projects and new venture capital funds are focusing on the industry, and multinational corporations such as the Coca-Cola Co. and General Electric are scouting out new technologies here.

Fueling the interest in environmentally friendly clean-tech solutions are skyrocketing oil prices, growing concerns about global warming and a push for sustainable solutions to the world’s energy problems.

Investing in Israel’s expertise may not only make good business sense but benefit the worldwide quest for cleaner, greener energy alternatives.

It also may constitute an opportunity to bolster Israel’s international reputation by linking the Jewish state with green innovation.

Jonathan Shapira, a recent American law school graduate who writes a blog on clean-tech investment in Israel, says Diaspora Jews can play an essential role by becoming either consumers of or investors in Israeli technologies.

“Every Jewish family and institution should consider installing solar panels, rooftop wind turbines or energy efficient lighting developed in Israel,” he said. “This will lower their electricity bill, protect the environment, benefit the Israeli economy and help position Israel as a world leader in clean technology.”

The imperative for developing alternative energy sources is particularly acute for Israel because its enemies’ strength derives in large part from the world’s dependence on their oil resources.

“It really makes sense for reasons of economics, but there is also the issue that so much is at stake here,” said David Rosenblatt, the vice chairman of the board of a new solar power company near Eilat, Arava Power, which is headed by Yosef Abramowitz. “This is doing something for Israel’s national security, protecting its energy independence through green power.”

Rosenblatt, who also runs an investment fund in New York, where he lives, said his investment in Arava Power is a Jewish venture as well.

“This is about clean energy, but it’s also about Jewish roots and what I can do to express it and where I personally have value to add,” he told JTA.

In Herzliya, three American immigrants in their 30s have created the first venture capital firm to target the Israeli clean-tech market, Israel Cleantech Ventures. They recently raised $75 million for their debut fund, exceeding the $60 million they originally set out to raise.

Glen Schwaber, one of the firm’s partners, said enthusiasm among investors for Israeli clean tech reflects Israel’s growing reputation as a potential incubator for new technologies that is buoyed by the country’s high-tech success stories.

“Israel has a reputation for innovation and technology, and a mature venture capital environment along with a successful history in entrepreneurship,” Schwaber said. “The next logical place for the clean-tech investor after Silicon Valley and the Boston area is Israel.”

The Jewish state is beginning to capitalize on its experience in such fields as solar thermal technology, wastewater recycling and desalination. Until recently, Israel had the world’s only large-scale desalination plant, off the coast of Ashkelon. Now countries such as China are building them.

“Israel is a great country to beta test some of these new technologies because it is a microcosm of the world’s needs: shortages of water, a large transportation fleet on per-capita basis, and an abundance of solar energy potential,” said Schwaber, 38, who made aliyah from Boston.

Among Cleantech Ventures’ investors are some big names in Jewish philanthropy, including the families of Edgar Bronfman and Stacy Schusterman.

Schusterman, CEO of the Samson Investment Co., a private oil and gas company based in Tulsa, Okla., said she sees her investments in Israeli clean-tech ventures, including Israel’s electric car enterprise, as business, not philanthropy.

“This is a business venture,” she told JTA in a phone interview from Tulsa. “We saw this as an opportunity to leverage Israel’s deep intellectual capital in an area we see as a burgeoning worldwide industry, and by investing it we would have the opportunity to create a hedge against our base business.”

She added, “This is an area where Israel should excel, so as a Jew I have every reason to help make that happen.”

Last month, the city of Los Angeles signed an agreement with Kinrot Incubator, a company located on the shores of the Sea of Galilee that helps entrepreneurs and researchers with water-based technological innovations.

The deal will enable Israeli start-up companies to use water and power facilities in Los Angeles for pilot projects and to conduct joint research with the University of California, Los Angeles on water projects.

Los Angeles is interested in using the Kinrot model to establish its own incubator for water-related technologies.

Assaf Barnea, Kinrot’s CEO, said that although the water market is not new, the hype over going green has given it a new shine in the eye of investors.

“They have now heard about it and want to be players,” he said. “There is huge hype but it’s not just hype. This is a market that is here to stay.”

Israel-Iran war talk blamed for oil price frenzy


WASHINGTON (JTA)—Even if the tough talk between Israel and Iran never comes to blows, it’s already hitting consumers where it hurts—at the gas pump.

Experts say that talk of an Israeli strike on Iran is a key part of what’s unsettling already volatile oil markets.

“It’s clearly having an effect on oil markets as they continue their march upward,” said Tom Drennen, an oil markets expert at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in upstate New York.

Oil prices soared to a record high of more than $144 a barrel last Wednesday after Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki suggested to the United Nations that Iran would hit back in the event of an Israeli strike.

And after Israeli Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz said last month that an Israeli strike would be “inevitable” if Iran develops a nuclear bomb, oil prices had their highest single-day jump in history.

Mofaz, a former chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, is also the chief negotiator in the U.S.-Israel strategic dialogue. Some pointed to his pronouncements as evidence that his Bush administration interlocutors view such a possibility positively, but others downplayed Mofaz’s remarks as indeliberate blustering.

Even if it’s all just talk, the problem for consumers is that this intensified speculation drives the markets.

“Traders on the floor look out into forward months, and when there’s a factor that will disrupt supplies, they will lock supplies a bit further out,” said David Pomfrey, the deputy director for energy and national security at the independent Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Securing supplies ahead of time keeps oil off the market, driving up prices.

Market fluctuation is more common in markets driven primarily by rumors and speculation rather than facts, Pomfrey said.

“It’s a network of people whispering to each other,” he said.

Speculators are now asking whether an Israeli strike on Iran would be limited to nuclear targets or if Israel would try to hit other sites as part of its attack strategy. For example, if Iran’s ports were damaged, the Islamic Republic’s major oil trading partners, such as China, might suffer. That likely would prompt a run on other markets.

Then there’s the question of the Iranian response.

“Would they try to use the leverage they have to cut off their oil flows into the world markets?” Pomfrey asked. “It would cost them, but it does allow them to impose penalties.”

The nightmare scenario would be if Iran used its regional military superiority to shut down the Straits of Hormuz, a key passage for oil tankers. That would cut supplies from the other major producers, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Persian Gulf emirates.

“The whole notion that if something happened and Iran was willing to shut down the straits, that would send prices who knows where,” Drennen said.
Experts say the effect of tensions with Iran should not be overstated. Unrest within Nigeria, another major oil supplier, also was a major factor in driving up prices.

“It’s hard to even tell” what the major factor is, said Michael O’Hanlon, a specialist in U.S. national security policy at the Brookings Institution. “The market is so easily spooked, it’s hard to separate anything from the noise.”

In recent weeks, speculation that Israel might strike Iran in the diplomatic dead zone between the U.S. election on Nov. 7 and the presidential inauguration on Jan. 21 has intensified in Washington.

That timing would give Israel a chance to get backing for a strike from President Bush, a staunch defender of Israel’s right to a pre-emptive defense, as well as spare the incoming president the difficulty of explaining such an attack.

The effect on markets of attack talk likely was a factor in this week’s effort by U.S. officials to tone down the rhetoric, Drennen said.

Bush, for instance, said Wednesday that he had made it clear to Israel that diplomacy was still the preferred option with Iran. And Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned of the dire consequences of an Israeli strike.

“The U.S. would be thinking very seriously that they would be very careful about what they say in public,” Drennen said. “Any notion that they are considering such a move or Israel is considering such a move will have an affect. Every $2 increase in a barrel of oil means another five cents at the pump, and I’m not sure how much more consumers are going to take.”

 

Israel Invests in Clean Tech as energy Crunch Looms


At a lab in Rehovot, the man who developed the Arrow missile is consumed with his next mission: making Israel energy independent by using cheap solar power.

“The issue of energy is the greatest danger to Israel, because in 30 years there will be no energy means, no oil and no gas, and the use of coal will be prohibited,” said Dov Raviv, now the CEO of MST, an Israeli renewable energy company. “Without energy Israel cannot survive, and we must find a substitute and find it fast. That is what I am trying to do.”

Raviv’s company is working to reduce the high price of solar power, which is not yet competitive with the price of conventional energy sources like oil, by more efficiently harnessing solar energy through a method of concentrating sunlight on a matrix of single solar cells.

MST is one of dozens of alternative energy start-ups across Israel seeking solutions to the global energy crisis.

Among the innovations under development are a gear system that dramatically boosts the efficiency of wind turbines, a device that would reduce gas emissions from trucks, the generation of bio-fuels from desert plants and various techniques to generate energy from unlikely sources, including seaweed and sewage water.

Entrepreneurs say Israeli solutions can help not only Israel but also the world.

“Israel has the minds, the R&D, the technology and the entrepreneurship, but we are lagging behind in terms of actual deployment,” said David Schwartz, the chairman of MyPlanet, an Israeli consortium of companies involved in energy and security issues. “This is impeding reaching our full potential as a source of alternative energy for the world.”

Israel’s leadership in the development of alternative energy also can have security benefits. If the world is weaned from its overwhelming dependence on oil, the oil-rich autocratic regimes that surround the Jewish state, including Iran, will have less oil revenue to pay for their anti-Israel activities — whether the development of nuclear weapons or the funding of fundamentalist terrorist groups.

During a recent visit to Israel to accept the $1 million Dan David Award for promoting environmental awareness, Al Gore asked a question many Israelis have been pondering themselves: “How is it here, in the land of the sun, there is no widespread use of solar energy?”

Alternative energy is “good for the Jews,” Gore told a conference on the subject at Tel Aviv University.

Industry observers say more aggressive government policies, such as underwriting renewable energy initiatives and granting more land for power plants, are needed to bolster the development of alternative energy.

“Europe and the U.S. have made incredible strides,” Schwartz said. “Israel has not.”

Meanwhile, Israel has an energy shortage looming. Israel’s supply capacity is 10,600 megawatts per day, and the country has come dangerously close to exceeding that demand on especially hot and cold days.

With limited energy reserves to accommodate for surges, and as the country’s population and energy use grows, the problem is becoming more acute.

The head of the Israel Energy Forum, Yael Cohen-Paran, says some relatively simple measures could significantly reduce the load on the energy grid: cash rebates for those who purchase energy-efficient air conditioning and heating units, and government encouragement of energy-saving building practices.

The long-term solution, however, may require more of a shift.

At the Tel Aviv energy conference, Israel’s infrastructure minister, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, responded to criticism of government policy on the issue by announcing a commitment to increase the share of such energies to 15 percent to 20 percent of Israel’s total energy use by 2020, double that of previous targets.

He also pledged to adopt a plan to build one new solar station per year for the next 20 years and introduce a bill to make the Negev Desert and southern Israel a “national preference region” for renewable energies. Tax breaks and other incentives would be part of the package.

Yossi Abramowitz, the president of Arava Power, wants to install 62,500 solar panels by year’s end on the sun-drenched sands of Israel’s deserts. He says his company has found investors to pay for solar power stations that would be capable of supplying up to 500 megawatts of electricity for the country — nearly 5 percent of Israel’s daily energy needs during daylight hours.

The project relies on the use of photovoltaics, or PV, a relatively expensive technology that uses a fraction of the silicon used in conventional solar panels to convert sunlight-generated photons into energy.

But for this energy to be competitive on the open market, the government needs to double its current rate of subsidy, Abramowitz says, bringing Israel more in line with the levels of subsidy in countries such as Germany and Spain.

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev recently announced a new deal with Israeli start-up Zenith Solar to license solar energy technology developed by its researchers that could revolutionize the way solar power is collected and drastically reduce its price.

The new method, a form of “concentrated PV,” would use fewer of the expensive silicon solar cells to create energy. Instead it would use low-cost glass mirrors to collect sunlight and then focus it onto a relatively small amount of those solar cells to generate power.

The Israeli founder of an algae fuel company called GreenFuel, Isaac Berzin, who was named by Time magazine as one of its Top 100 people in the world for 2008, says Israel is too small of a country to keep such technology to itself.

“Israel should be a catalyst for change,” Berzin said. “Israel is a very small market, a very small place in the middle of nowhere, but it has here what it takes in terms of technology, the know-how to change the world.”

Listening with our ‘third ear’


Sometimes you hear something that you get right away and then you forget it; other times, you hear something that you don’t get right away, but then, when you “get it,” you can’t forget it.

Recently, I heard something that I didn’t get right away.

It came from an Orthodox married couple who live in the hood and who invited my kids and me for Shabbat lunch. At first, I was mostly focused on a display of Mediterranean salads that could have been photographed for the Museum of Modern Art.

Once I started paying more attention, however, I noticed that my hosts were talking about something called the third ear. It sounded like worn-out hippie schmaltz – this notion of tapping into our “third ear energy” to bring more harmony into our lives, and to the world.

I was hearing that the third ear is really our hearts, but that we need to teach our hearts to think, so that we can listen through it. The result is what’s called “thoughtful emotion,” an emotion that lets us safely open up to new experiences.

It sounded really cool, but it still reeked of spiritual schmaltz. I wasn’t getting it – I needed more. A few weeks later, at the Temple Bar in Santa Monica, I got more.

I got a little music.

You see, the man who was doing the Kiddush, the blessings and the dvar Torahs at the Shabbat table is a reggae-African-roots rocker named Maimon Chocron, and he’s the lead singer of a band called Mongoose. The woman, who waxed passionately about the third ear and who created the culinary panorama on the Shabbat table, is his wife, Jennifer.

At the Temple Bar, she was again in schmooze-hostess mode, but this time, instead of a few Shabbat guests, there were a couple-hundred Mongoose fans.

Yamulkes, beards, dreadlocks, miniskirts, other rockers, a few wigs – I even saw some Caucasian Americans. In a tight space that could have doubled as an underground blues bar in Mississippi, the crowd rocked to the mystical rasta rhythms of the 10-piece Mongoose band, which featured two African American vocalists, a bassist named Ronnie “Stepper” McQueen and Maimon, in his Charlie Chaplin hat, working the crowd.

Everyone was there to hear Maimon’s new collection of songs, which are in a CD titled – take a guess – “Third Ear.” Nothing on this night seemed obvious.

After songs on “Coming to Pray” and memories of hell (“1945”), and the occasional interspersing of Hebrew lyrics, Maimon would belt out a festive riff in Arabic that I recall hearing at my parents’ parties in Morocco. There was a soulful love song, and a song on police terror. And, out of nowhere, a whimsical song in French about a Chassidic rabbi. Just when you thought you had Maimon figured out, he’d tickle your ear with something odd and delicious.

I started to get it. Maimon was listening with his third ear. He didn’t pander to please, but neither did he perform to please himself. His thoughtful heart knew just what to give to keep the crowd alive and guessing. Maybe it was his way of getting the crowd to listen with their own third ears – and hear something new.

When I got home and went over the lyrics from his CD, I started to get it even more. His songs were imbued with “thoughtful emotion.” Open up but don’t fall. Bend but don’t break. Make a prayer, but don’t forget to see that everything around you is a prayer, too.

But get this. There is no song called “Third Ear,” not even a mention of it in the CD liner notes. That’s either an enormous blunder, or brilliant marketing. If you ask me, I think they figured out that the surest way to kill a movement is to call it a movement – and then hype it.

For now, the Chocrons are letting the hype come to them. Although they’ve lived in the hood for many years, their gigs have been mostly in Santa Monica, where Maimon and the Mongoose band had a four-year run in a local club and developed a fan base affectionately called the Mongooseheadz. If things go as planned, they hope to be performing soon at The Joint, a hard-edged music bar in the heart of the hood, across the street from that other icon of edgy street life – Eilat Market.

My favorite part of this story is when I asked them how they came up with the phrase “third ear.” I was expecting a story about some mystical revelation that bubbled up during a meditation with jasmine-scented candles and Chassidic chants. Instead, they told me it came from the friend of a girl who was visiting from Texas. Honest. Someone they barely remember gave them an idea for how to name their new music, and possibly a lot more.

It’ll be interesting to see if this “third ear” idea catches on. When you see Maimon and Jennifer’s laid-back enthusiasm, you get the feeling that if a small group of followers get turned on by their music and spread the message a little, that’ll be OK with them. And if a few Jews reconnect with their Judaism through this path, that would be even better. I just hope they write a book soon; I can think of many of us who could use another ear.

But this obsession with making things bigger and more popular is my problem, not theirs. One of the things you learn when you live in a cozy hood is that not every great idea needs to go global, not every movement needs to go mainstream.

Sometimes, a small movement for a small group of people is just fine, even if we don’t “get it” right away.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

Lawyer makes case for answering rabbinical school call


Kenneth Klee is living the American dream.

He is a nationally recognized bankruptcy lawyer, founding partner of Klee, Tuchin, Bogdanoff & Stern and was named one of the top 100 lawyers in California by the Los Angeles Daily Journal. A tenured law professor at UCLA, he lectures nationwide and has held a named professorship at Harvard Law School.

He is also writing a book on bankruptcy, due out in 2008, and he serves as an expert witness or consultant in such high-profile bankruptcy cases as Adelphia Communications and Enron.

And yet despite these avocations, the 40-something Klee said he felt there was something missing in his life. He’s now studying for his smicha, or ordination, as a rabbi, which he intends to compliment his sideline as a spiritual counselor.

Klee earned his law degree from Harvard University in 1974, and started teaching at UCLA as an adjunct professor in 1979. From 1995 to 1996, Klee taught at Harvard Law School as the Robert Braucher Visiting Professor From Practice, and then joined UCLA full time the following year.

In 1997, he also began studying energy healing techniques, like reiki and pranic. He soon formalized his efforts by establishing the Klee Ministry, a side business that offers a variety of meditative and energy healing treatments.

Energy healing doesn’t always sit well with medical professionals, but the practice is increasingly finding a place in the mainstream and some local hospitals, like UCLA’s Mattel Children’s Hospital, seek to compliment a traditional approach to medicine with one that some might brand New Age.

Energy healing has been around for thousands of years. Centered on the concept of a life force, known as chi in Chinese medicine or doshas in Ayurveda, healers claim they can change the direction of this energy to aid the body in healing.

In addition to his legal practice and teaching, Klee also counsels people who are in physical, mental or social pain, which he confessed seems “incongruous for a type-A lawyer/professor.”

Klee said that his wife, Doreen, “came along kicking and screaming as she saw the teacher/attorney she had married turn into a healer-minister” after helping her with health problems on three separate occasions. He added that his two computer programmer sons, ages 32 and 34, are very accepting, but they “think their father is strange.”

As he became more and more involved in his healing practice, Klee found he wanted to tap into the Jewish mysticism of kabbalah and learn more about spiritual counseling. Klee grew up in a secular Jewish family. While confirmed at Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills, he had never studied Hebrew nor became a bar mitzvah.

His quest brought him first to Kehillat Israel, a Reconstructionist congregation in Pacific Palisades, and eventually led him to enroll in the Academy for Jewish Religion, California (AJR/CA), where he is now studying to become a rabbi.

Unlike traditional rabbinic seminaries, AJR/CA has attracted students like Klee who want to add a spiritual dimension to their careers. Although he has no ambition to become a pulpit rabbi, Klee is studying Hebrew in order to be able to read traditional texts in their original language. He is willing to do this because he believes that his rabbinic training and Jewish learning will make him a better counselor.

Among the 66 students currently enrolled in the school are lawyers, professors and even a screenwriter.

“Spirituality is an integral part of the AJR,” said Rabbi Stan Levy, the academy’s president, who added that the school is “the ultimate merger to bring spirituality into the day-to-day.”
Levy considers Klee “the perfect embodiment of two different dimensions,” he said.

Klee has since become a member of the Orthodox Westwood Village Shul and the Conservative congregation Adat Shalom, where his wife introduced him to Lev Eisha, Hebrew for Heart of a Woman, a women’s spiritual community that he says is filled with “so much spirituality, singing and dancing.”

Of the program at AJR/CA, Klee said that his rabbinic studies have given him “valuable insights” into his professional career as a lawyer and teacher. He has been deeply affected by his study of the prophets and the writings of Abraham Joshua Heschel, whom he credits with having had a “very significant” impact on him.

In light of his otherwise busy schedule as an attorney, teacher and healer, Klee said he’s going to give his ordination plenty of time and attention.

“I don’t mind working hard and I think I have a lot of time,” he said. “I don’t expect to get my smicha for several years; I’m not in a hurry.”

The great (non) depression


I overdid it yesterday. Perhaps I misjudged the line between exhaustion and sloth.

Or perhaps my recuperation from the cancer treatment requires a slower return
to fitness than yesterday’s exertion.

But this morning’s desire to stay in bed needs to be honored, unlike yesterday’s, which called forth a kick in the pants.

Some might suspect depression, but I disagree. I am finding, in my confinement, too many sources of pleasure, despite the situation. I am delighting in friends, home, books, writing, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, NPR, PBS….

Besides I am pharmacologically covered for depression.

Depression is a word that has been cheapened. We forget that it is a diagnosis for a bona fide disease. It becomes a catch phrase for the weighty feelings we experience as we come to terms with life’s challenges and honor the process of change. Those who cannot tolerate taking the time and effort that normal healing requires are quick to label depression and try to prescribe it away.

Shortly after receiving a cancer diagnosis, Janet came to my office. She sat down on the couch opposite me and sank into the pillows, settling shapelessly and breathing shallowly. Finally she let out a sigh.

“I feel depressed,” she said. “I feel heavy. I can’t move. I’m paralyzed. I cry all the time. I have no desire to go on with my treatment.”

As she spoke, a trickle of tears ran down her cheek. Janet was mourning her health.

Grief is not depression. It is not a disease. The sense of heaviness and weight that we feel when we face challenges is our organism’s insistence that it is time to stop, give honor to what is lost, and surrender to the healing process. One of the symptoms is often an overwhelming fatigue triggering the fear that we don’t have the energy to face what is demanded.

This feeling sets in when there has been a death and the fires of grief have been banked and the mourner begins to sift through the ashes. In other losses, it descends when the fact of the illness, divorce or other change begins to sink in. Each labored breath exposes what has been left behind and reveals a glimpse of the obstacles ahead. While at times, we may still feel wrapped in gauze and unable to move, this so-called depression indicates that the time of numbness is over. Feeling begins to return. Sadness is palpable. We begin to comprehend the changes that have taken place and their consequences in our lives. Difficult feelings lie in the wake of this understanding. But have heart, this heaviness is a sign of life.

In this state we have no vitality. The pulse of our life force is barely detectable. So we wait. And we can’t move. The time of the broken heart is necessary to heal. There are genuine tragedies, sadnesses and injustices that cannot be denied or rationalized away when we take the measure of our lives and the changes that they have wrought. We must dwell in this valley of tears as if we are seeds, lying fallow in the earth, absorbing the moisture necessary to bring forth the sprouts of spring and the harvests that follow.

Taking time to feel, we honor the need for change. We learn about patience, surrender, acceptance and, ultimately, letting go. It can be a quiet and inarticulate time in which until we are able, literally, to come to terms with our loss.

I take issue with the word “depression.” Depression is a clinical state. It is a psychological diagnosis of something with an organic base. Although elements of the symptoms of depression and of grief have much in common, the two are not the same. Depression describes an illness. Grief is a healthy, appropriate, though often excruciating, response to loss. Loss is not just letting go, which would be difficult enough. It requires us to reconstruct our entire world. We must come to see the universe in a completely different way.

Rather than “depression,” I prefer the Hebrew word “kavod.” “Kavod” means “honor” as in the biblical commandment to “honor thy father and mother.” It also is translated as “weight” or “heaviness.” These latter translations are what people who suffer often experience.

This paralytic feeling is their organism asserting the opposite of what the culture demands. While they are urged to get over their loss quickly and get on with their lives, their bodies and souls are saying, “Stop. Feel the gravity…the weight, of this situation. Honor what is past and what is being born within you. Honor your need to broaden your understanding and come to terms with your new status and new world. Stop.”

By labeling this experience with a holy Hebrew word, perhaps we can be kinder to ourselves and less afraid. Perhaps this will encourage us to take the time we need for healing, learning its lessons and allowing it to transform our lives.
We contemplate our situation and thus give it kavod — honor. We feel the weight; the heaviness of what loss itself is about. In the process, we transform it. As we wait, contemplating our lives and the nature of life itself, we begin to heal.

I’m staying in bed this morning.

Anne Brener is an L.A.-based psychotherapist. She is the author of “Mourning & Mitzvah: Walking the Mourner’s Path” (Jewish Lights, 1993 and 2001), a fourth-year rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and a faculty member of the Academy for Jewish Religion.

Prop. 87 fuels high octane fight on oil production tax


In August 2006, the average price of gasoline in California was $3.20 per gallon. Today, with the summer demand faded, it still hovers at $2.60. Politicians and interest groups know that Californians want answers and solutions, and they also know that the election season is upon them.

Next month, California voters will take sides in what has been an epic battle over Proposition 87, called the Clean Energy Alternative Act.

The stakes include a proposed $4 billion state tax on oil production, which would be spent on development of alternative fuels and theoretically change the amount of oil California needs to import from the Middle East, especially for gasoline. California is the fourth-largest oil producing state in the United States and the No. 1 gasoline consumer.

On one side, Hollywood producer and prominent Jewish Democrat Steven Bing is backing the initiative. Against him stand the nation’s largest oil corporations. Weeks before Election Day, Proposition 87 is already at the center of a $105 million spending spree by partisans on both sides, breaking the record for any single initiative on a California ballot. Bing alone donated approximately $40 million.

On the other side are the oil companies, which claim the measure would force them to fund an unaccountable state handout.

The fundamental idea behind Proposition 87 is that corporations extracting oil from California lands would have to pay a new tax into a state account, called the California Energy Independence Fund. The complicated tax would vary, depending on the market price of a barrel of oil, but the most likely interpretation puts the new fee on a $70 barrel of California oil at about $2.17. Once $4 billion in taxes is collected this way, or after 10 years at the latest, the levy would cease to exist.

More than half of the anticipated $4 billion would be used to subsidize public vehicles, such as school buses and garbage trucks that run on alternative fuels, and to fund private research institutions to develop and manufacture new fuel sources. More than a quarter of the money would go to universities for work on renewable energy sources and to community colleges for vocational training in the field. The rest would fund alternative energy start-up companies and public education programs.

One major goal is a 25 percent reduction in petroleum use for transportation in the state over the next 10 years, but in general, the California Energy Alternatives Program Authority, which Proposition 87 would create, would have a great deal of discretion on spending. The measure contains numerous examples of the type of programs that could qualify for funding.

However, there are far fewer strict guidelines for what would be excluded. This is where the greatest problem with the measure lies, said Scott McDonald of the “No on 87” campaign.
“They have specifically excluded themselves from the state’s contracting and bidding regulations,” he said.

The law allows employees of grantee organizations to be members on the authority board, raising the potential for conflicts of interest.

“There are no specifics in the initiative,” McDonald told The Journal. “There’s no requirement that [the tax money] will be spent in California or the United States, for that matter.”
Beth Willon of the “Yes on 87” campaign responded that despite critics’ doubts, “none of the members of the [authority’s] board can make any money from this.” Despite the looseness of membership requirements of the authority under the law, she said, members of the authority and any entities that they control cannot directly receive funds from it.

Another concern of critics is how the tax could affect the behavior of oil companies. Though the law and the global economics of oil would prevent them from directly passing the cost of the tax onto Californians in gas price increases, they may opt to import more expensive foreign oil if the tax makes “marginal wells” in California even less profitable to drill, McDonald said.

The “Yes on 87” campaign has attacked all those claims, most recently with a TV ad featuring former Vice President Al Gore arguing that the fruits of the alternative fuel research funded by Proposition 87 will mean less dependence on foreign oil. In terms of marginally profitable wells, Proposition 87 seems to have foreseen the problem by enabling oil companies to deduct the new tax from their general corporate income taxes.

Latching onto the income tax concession like a sign of weakness, the “No on 87” campaign has in recent advertisements argued that withheld corporate income taxes would reduce available General Fund revenue for the state to spend on schools. The proposed tax deduction counters the prediction that the initiative would increase foreign oil imports due to lost oil profits, and with a potential impact of at most $14 million, it is not likely to impact the education budget, which for 2005-06 stood at $58 billion.

Advocates for the measure include high-profile Democratic Party supporters, such as former President Bill Clinton, Gore, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein and L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, as well as the L.A. City Council by a 10-1 vote. The local Progressive Jewish Alliance also supports Proposition 87 and has issued a position statement arguing that even if the tax increases the cost of gasoline in the short run, the higher cost would only encourage more California consumer adoption of alternative fuels.

Proposition 87, however, aspires to affect the international oil market, so a look at California state politics is not the end of the story. Gal Luft is co-director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, but he spoke to The Journal on his own behalf as an energy expert. Luft said the real question is whether Proposition 87 can actually accomplish its objectives, given the economics of oil and what its cost would be on a global scale.

“I think the goal of a 25 percent reduction in [petroleum] consumption in California within 10 years is completely unachievable,” Luft told The Journal. “There’s no way, period.”
Luft scoffed at the billions of dollars allocated in Proposition 87 for research into alternative fuels.

Israel, U.S. Act on Request for Renewable Energy


Israel and the United States will pool their scientific brainpower to find and develop alternative energy sources under a bill passed by the House and now wending its way through the Senate.

Under the proposed U.S.-Israel Energy Cooperation Act, scientists and engineers from both countries would focus on research, development and commercial use of renewable energy from solar, wind, hydrogen and biofuel sources.

The act would appropriate $20 million annually through 2012 for grants to researchers at universities and business enterprises, awarded by a newly established International Energy Advisory Board in the U.S. Department of Energy.

All the funds are to come from the United States.

In a rare display of bipartisanship, the energy act was introduced by Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) and Rep. John Shadegg (R-Phoenix), and approved by an overwhelming voice vote in the House last month.

Essentially the same bill has been sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) and 14 of his colleagues. Although the bill faces the usual committee and appropriations hurdles, Smith’s spokesman, R.C. Hammond, expressed confidence that the measure would pass the full Senate by the end of the current session.

The act received a boost from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert during his May 24 address to a joint session of Congress, when he stressed America and Israel’s common “desire for energy security” and praised the pending legislation.

Ron Dermer, minister of economic affairs at the Israeli embassy in Washington, said that the act would build on previous collaboration through the U.S.-Israel Binational Industrial Research and Development (BIRD) Foundation.

Dermer also pointed to the large pool of Israeli scientific talent, such as at the Weizmann Institute of Science, and its ability to tackle new research fields.

Similarly, Sherman noted past technological collaboration between the two countries, as in the development of the Arrow missile, and Israeli pioneer work in developing more efficient batteries, solar energy and fuel cells.

In the language of the bill, he and Shadegg stressed that energy independence was “in the highest national security interest of the United States,” and warned that the U.S. now imports from foreign countries 58 percent of its oil.

Such dependence will increase by 33 percent over the next 20 years, the legislators projected, with some of the exporting countries using their profits to fund terrorism and hostile propaganda.

In a phone interview, Sherman said that when he introduced a similar measure last year, it died in committee hearing, contrasted to the overwhelming support this year.

He paid special tribute to the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress), which has been lobbying for effective energy legislation for many years and has mobilized public support for the House measure.

Gary P. Ratner, AJCongress western regional executive director, said that his national organization had sent e-mails to some 25,000 members in support of the House bill. He urged that voters now contact their senators to advocate passage of Senate Bill 1862.

AJCongress National Executive Director Neil B. Goldstein said he was optimistic that the legislation would be passed by the Senate and signed by President Bush, noting that Senate majority leaders Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) had expressed interest in presenting the bill to the full Senate for an early vote.In a related development, American and Israeli business, academic and financial leaders will meet in Tel Aviv on Nov. 8 for a high-level Alternative and Renewable Energy Conference, according to Shai Aizin, Israel West Coast consul for economic affairs.

For information on the conference, call (323) 658-7924, or e-mail losangeles@moital.gov.il. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Anchors Let Slip Plaintiff’s Name

Two Israeli radio disc jockeys were suspended for broadcasting the first name of a woman who alleges that President Moshe Katsav sexually assaulted her. Shai Goldstein and Dror Raphael, irreverent anchors on Tel Aviv Radio, were suspended for a week following a recent surprise phone call they made on air to the former Katsav aide, who previously had been identified in the media only by her first initial “A” due to the sensitivity of the case. Before she hung up on the duo, they used her full first name. The radio station apologized for the indiscretion but noted that the name is so common in Israel that the chance that the woman had been unmasked was slim. Shai and Dror, as they are popularly known, are famous for their broadcast pranks, which have included making crank calls to Israeli leaders and even enemy countries like Iran and Iraq.

Olmert Limits Inquiry Into War

Ehud Olmert announced that his government would conduct a limited inquiry into Israel’s handling of the Lebanon war. The prime minister said Monday that a former Mossad chief, Nahum Admoni, would lead the government-appointed commission to investigate whether the military and political echelons mishandled the 34-day offensive against Hezbollah. Olmert’s decision fell short of the independent judicial commission that his opponents had called for, and which might have had the power to recommend the prime minister’s resignation. Olmert said such a probe would take too long and would neglect the need to rehabilitate Israel’s defense apparatus ahead of possible future conflicts with Hezbollah or its patron, Iran.

Poll: Israelis Want Olmert Resignation

Sixty-three percent of Israelis want Ehud Olmert to resign, according to a new poll. Results of the Yediot Achronot poll, released Friday, showed for the first time that a majority of Israelis favor the resignation of the prime minister, elected in March, because of his handling of Israel’s war with Hezbollah. The poll showed 45 percent backing Benjamin Netanyahu, a former prime minister who heads the Likud Party.

New Orleans Shul Dedicates New Torah

A New Orleans synagogue that lost its Torah scrolls to flooding dedicated a new scroll for the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. On Sunday, Congregation Beth Israel dedicated a scroll donated by the Los Angeles Jewish community through a fundraising drive by 16-year-old Hayley Fields of Hancock Park, who raised $18,000 to buy the Torah. Seven ruined Torah scrolls were recovered and buried after last year’s flood. National Council of Young Israel, the Orthodox umbrella body, facilitated the dedication.

Argentine Jews Complain Over Blocked Protest

Argentine Jewish leaders met with the country’s interior minister after left-wing activists prevented Jews from holding a demonstration against Iran.Luis Grynwald, president of the community’s central AMIA institution, and Jorge Kirszenbaum, president of the DAIA political umbrella group, talked with Anibal Fernandez for more than an hour Friday morning about an incident Thursday in which the Quebracho group blocked a street where Jews were to demonstrate. Many saw the move as anti-Semitic.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Panama Solar Project Shows Power of Tikkun Olam


At 7 a.m., after a long, grueling red-eye journey from Los Angeles, our plane landed on a narrow runway carved out of the lush rainforest deep in a remote island area of
the Panamanian outback. As my son, Adam, 13, and I trudged off the plane, 40 smiling Kuna natives eagerly welcomed us to the exotic island of Playón Chico.

With vivid memories of Adam’s bar mitzvah just a fortnight prior replaying in my mind, I couldn’t help but think that this would be the adventure of a lifetime.
Indeed, it was.

We were on a tikkun olam (heal the world) mission to change the lives of Spanish-speaking natives from numerous island villages in the province of Comarca de Kuna Yala by providing training on how to install and maintain solar power systems.

While sleeping in hammocks in a primitive island village, subsisting on a grilled fish diet and using an outhouse is not the typical way a father commemorates his son’s bar mitzvah, that’s exactly what we did over the next five incredible days.

Ironically, Adam’s Torah portion, Noach, speaks about renewing the environment and bringing the natural world back into order after an epic flood. Similarly, Adam saw our mission as a way of renewing nature in a faraway part of the world.

With no electricity in the province (not to mention roads, modern plumbing or reliable communications), having solar power would help ensure a good, renewable energy source and provide some energy self-sufficiency for these people. We worked through the auspices of my company, Permacity Construction, a firm specializing in solar power installation, and Codesta, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the Panamanian environment.

We became involved in this because we’ve always been concerned about the environment and reducing society’s dependence on fossil fuels. Adam has been an active supporter of Pennies for the Rainforest and Heal the Bay.

I suppose this philanthropic orientation emanates from my parents, Jerry and Lorraine, who have long been active in tikkun olam projects like the environment and causes in the Jewish community and beyond, including serving in leadership roles in our family synagogue, Temple Emanuel. They’re very hands-on people, so Adam and I were simply following in their footsteps with our mission.

The communities we helped are among Panama’s poorest, and the living conditions were quite primitive: We lived on the top floor of a small cement home — one of the few on this island of many dirt-floor grass huts — and the owners lived below.

The bathroom was a simple outhouse of wood poles and palm leaves over the ocean. We showered with a bucket. Our diet consisted primarily of plentiful fish (served complete with head and tail), lentils, rice and banana soup. Adam and I both endured stomach ailments and much fatigue from a lack of sleep.

The mission involved months of preparation, including research on the villages’ energy needs, their structures and what local resources — if any — were available. Some villages had generators, but the gas needed to power them is very expensive. Some older, inoperable solar panels exist, but nobody knows how to repair them.

I ultimately produced a detailed, 40-page solar power system training manual that was translated into Spanish. Finally, I packed and shipped many tools and parts so that each village would have a complete solar power system kit.

In Playón Chico, with the aid of a skilled translator and some other helpers, including Adam, I spent several days teaching a solar energy crash course to 34 top-notch, handpicked students who commuted by dugout canoes to our classroom.

The mission culminated when we finished installing solar panels, batteries and related equipment to power a lighting system in the community’s large town hall, or congresso. Though consisting of just seven 20-watt fluorescent lights (equivalent to 75-watt bulbs), this marked a major advancement, because the congresso had been previously illuminated by only one kerosene lantern.

That evening, when the new lights were turned on, cheers erupted as hundreds of villagers began a long celebration of dance, song and hand pipe music, along with speeches. The village chief gave Adam and me the royal treatment, seating us on his special bench and treating us like heroes.

It was wonderful to watch as the Kuna Yala people began to control their own destiny. We also were thrilled to see that natives from different islands, who had hardly even met before, were now beginning to work together collaboratively, including successful efforts to expand the use of solar power.
This experience has truly inspired Adam.

“I definitely want to do more as I get older,” he says. “Now I know what I can do. I’ve seen firsthand what things can be improved and how things can be improved. And I definitely want to help out more in the future.”

Quite frankly, that’s the best bar mitzvah gift Adam’s mother, Anne, and I could have ever given him.

‘Hybrid’ Actor Crafts ‘Everyman’ Show


Is it possible for an everyman to be a leader? Can an everyman be a woman?

Ameenah Kaplan, who calls herself a “hybrid” — the product of an African American mother who converted to Judaism and a Jewish father — is directing, choreographing and co-producing “Everyman for Himself.” Appearing weekends at the Unknown Theatre in Hollywood, the show is a hybrid itself, in that it blends music, dance, theater and capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian dance form that incorporates self-defense maneuvers. Kaplan also wrote and conceived the production and, indeed, thinks of herself as an everyman.

Shaped by Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” Kaplan, 31, grew up in Atlanta, where she was bat mitzvahed and confirmed and where, she says, she would “float into different communities and never really fit into any of them.” As the only non-Christian among blacks, the only black among Jews, she says, “you’d be in a room and nobody sees you.”

Everyman, the title character in her show, played by Michael Gallagher, is both invisible and conspicuously visible. Where the other ensemble players paint their faces and wear togs like members of an African or Indian tribe, Everyman looks like a stiff businessman, donning a tie, starched shirt and long pants.

“Go with the flow,” is one of the adages he reads from a book, yet Everyman never quite fits in. He is singled out by one female character, who engages in a kind of martial arts match with him that is equal parts seduction and boxing.

None of Kaplan’s characters have traditional names; instead, they sport generic titles like Ball Girl, Judge, Bee and Boss. With the beat of African drums playing in the background as the ensemble characters teach Everyman to dance, there is the sense that we are witnessing an ancient ritual among primal beings.

In the production notes, Everyman is billed as a Buster Keaton/Charlie Chaplin “genius/fool”; he appears awkward, a modern man, exposed as if for the first time to the world of conformity that dates back to our days as early Homo sapiens in the Horn of Africa.

“People are essentially primal anyway,” says Kaplan, sitting on a couch in a lounge down the hall from her actors’ rehearsal hall. Wearing a head wrap that conceals her afro, Kaplan says, “We’re all simple and alike at the bottom. My acting training taught us that. Come into the room, get your shoes off and build the actor from the ground up.”

We share more than not, she says, pointing out “the visceral body connections celebrating those things that bring us together — sound, energy, drums, heartbeat, blood flowing.”

Kaplan has the slim, athletic body of a dancer; she has played numerous TV and legitimate theater roles, and sees herself first as an actor. She smiles when asked if she was somewhat conflicted over not playing the lead role herself, but she says that Gallagher embodies Everyman. She also stresses that every actor in the show contributes as much as the others. All of the actors play multiple roles: “The ensemble is the show. There are no supporting roles. No one’s playing crossword puzzles backstage. There are no cigarette breaks.”

One scene flows into the next, each one carrying totemic significance. The smallest prop — whether it’s a book, a jacket, a ball or a handkerchief (a nod perhaps to “Othello”) — becomes a talisman in this primordial landscape, where the characters speak very few words and those they do are often monosyllabic.

Everyman may be more Jesus than Adam. He must choose whether to fight or kill another man. Unlike the others, he is consumed with grief.

“What he’s going through is the human condition,” says Kaplan, whose work ethic really comes through in person. Reluctant to leave her actors for an interview, Kaplan never loses her graciousness and generosity; she has the maturity and seriousness of one who knows that, without her, the play will not proceed. Even during the brief interview, she wants to make sure that the actors are OK. At one point, she tells the stage manager that the actors will need her to be there for the next scene, involving some dance routines that they have not tried before.

As the interview ends, Kaplan, the everyman, springs to her feet with the physicality of Keaton. She will direct her cast without any crossword puzzle or cigarette breaks. She is anything but invisible.

“Everyman for Himself” plays Friday and Saturday nights at Unknown Theater, 1110 Seward St., near Santa Monica Boulevard, through April 29. For tickets and information, call (323) 466-7781.

 

Eco-Friendly Parties Mix Mitzvah, Simcha


Three days after my son, Will, ascended the bimah as a bar mitzvah, I stopped by our shul to drop off some books and thank the principal of the Hebrew school and others who made his big day such a wonderful experience.

When I got back in my car and drove past the piles of huge trash bags outside the shul’s kitchen door, I got a jarring jolt of reality: white plastic fork tines poked through the black bags and the remnant of a Mylar balloon was blowing in the breeze, caught on a nearby treetop.

While I wouldn’t classify myself as a tree hugger, I felt guilty that my hasty decision-making was impacting the environment. Had I invested a little more time and effort beforehand, I would have made more eco-friendly choices.

April 22 is Earth Day, and this year it lands on Shabbat. What better way to demonstrate our commitment to conserving our world’s precious resources than with b’nai mitzvah planning?

Selecting an environmental mitzvah project is a good starting point. But consider adding eco-friendly substitutes for white plastic tableware, Styrofoam centerpieces, Mylar balloons and elaborate banners. Are your invitations printed on recycled paper with soy-based inks?

If you need some tips, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL ) can help. The nonprofit publishes “Caring for the Cycle of Life: Creating Environmentally Sound Life-Cycle Celebrations,” which can be purchased online for $4.50. The booklet addresses brit milah, naming ceremony and weddings, and devotes three pages in the b’nai mitzvah section covering such issues as the ecology of the student’s Torah portion, what it means to fulfill the commandment of “to till and to tend” and environmental aspects of holidays, in case your child’s portion involves one. The booklet also covers Shabbat and “how solving environmental problems is an important part of tikkun olam, and then mitzvah project ideas,” said Barbara Lerman-Golomb, associate executive director of COEJL.

The booklet also offers lots of green mitzvah project possibilities that would appeal to kids.

Since many people have books, CDs and videos that they no longer want, you could keep those things out of the wastestream by organizing a drive and donating the items to a hospital, shelter or senior center.

eBay’s Giving Works program offers a high-tech answer. Your child can gather unneeded merchandise in good condition — sports equipment, toys, musical instruments your child had to have but then decided he hated, etc. — and sell it through this online yard sale, transferring the money raised electronically to the charity of his or her choice.

Since kids wear out or outgrow sneakers fairly quickly, why not consider adopting Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe program as a mitzvah project? Nike grinds the rubber, foam and upper fabric of any brand of athletic footwear and recycles those components into new material that is used for running tracks, tennis courts, soccer fields and playground surfacing. The program features drop-off locations throughout the L.A. area.

Selecting the right invitation can set the scene for a green b’nai mitzvah day. Handmade, recycled-material paper invitations are obtainable (but not inexpensive) through Indiana-based Twisted Limb Paperworks. For those with a smaller budget, machine-made recycled paper is now available through most regular invitation purveyors. And soy-based inks are starting to gain ground, too.

Whether your family decides to celebrate the simcha quietly with an intimate gathering after services or loudly on a grand scale, food will be served. Even if it’s just challah, cake, coffee and soda, you’ll need cups, plates and utensils. Tables will have to be covered. A few balloons strategically placed outside the sanctuary will add a festive touch.

With more and more consumers clamoring for earth-friendlier options, companies are now producing products that are strong, serviceable, cost-effective and conservational.

If you’re having a colossal Kiddush, consider covering the tables with white butcher paper and using Chinet plates or platters instead of plastic. Made from recycled material, this tableware will stand up to a most generous serving of chopped herring, cheese, egg salad, gefilte fish and all the horseradish you want.

Plastic can take almost forever to break down at the city dump, so if you’re unable to use metal utensils, consider this alternative: biodegradable cutlery. Made of cornstarch, potato or tapioca starch, these utensils look great and work almost as well as plastic. However, potato-starch-based products will hold up better to heat than cornstarch ones. If you don’t find these items at your favorite party store, check with Palo Alto-based nonprofit World Centric, which sells the items online.

When you’re considering balloons, think latex. While it won’t hold helium as long as Mylar, it is made from rubber, a renewable resource that is biodegradable. Color selection is extensive, and size and shape options are pretty good, too. Specialty balloons are available through party planners and retail outlets, like 1-800-Dreidel.

Centerpieces and banners are often quite flashy and extravagant — lots of glitter, Styrofoam, plastic and all sorts of environmental unmentionables. If you choose to take the eco-track, consider using recycled paper banners and decorating tables with pi?atas or live plants, or creating something out of natural materials, like seashells and bamboo. With a little thought, it’s easy to come up with something attractive that won’t condemn the next generation to energy starvation and toxic terror.

Pearl Salkin is a freelance writer living in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Links related to this article:

Giving Works
” target=”_blank”>www.nikereuseashoe.com

Twisted Limb Paperworks
” target=”_blank”>www.worldcentric.org/store/cutlery.htm

1-800-Dreidel

Think Green Tips


Ten ways to begin greening your synagogue from Barbara Lerman-Golomb, associate executive director of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life:

  • Switch to cost-effective and energy-efficient compact fluorescent lightbulbs.
  • Buy recycled paper products. Use both sides of the paper, then recycle it again.
  • Precycle. Buy products that are in recycled packaging or that can be recycled, such as cans, glass, plastic, paper and cardboard.
  • Minimize use of disposable plates, cups, paper towels, napkins, plastic and silverware for synagogue functions. Avoid using Styrofoam products.
  • Turn thermostat down a few degrees in the winter and up a few degrees in the summer.
  • Encourage congregants to carpool to religious school and to turn off engines while waiting to pick up children.
  • Buy Energy Star (energy-efficient) appliances. Turn off lights and office equipment, such as copy machines, when not in use.
  • Buy flow restrictors for sinks and water-saving toilet tank dams.
  • Use nontoxic cleansers.
  • Don’t use pesticide on the lawn and use a nontoxic integrated pest management system.

 

Unhappy New Year!


OK, I’ll be absolutely honest — I spent this past New Year’s Eve alone. Sure, I could have salvaged the situation with a round of frantic last-minute calling, but I never got around to it because I had to go and get into a fight. Fortunately, I was the only one who got hurt. You see, I picked a fight with myself. And on New Year’s Eve day, no less. Almost out of nowhere and with virtually no warning, I started in on myself.

So, who’s your lucky date for New Year’s Eve?

Please. You know darn well I don’t have any date tonight.

What? The Duke of Dating flying solo on New Year’s? I’m stunned. How can it be?

I don’t want to talk about it. It just worked out that way.

It doesn’t “just work out that way.” You worked it out that way. How many coffee dates have you had this past year?

Too painfully many to remember.

And not one of them was available for New Year’s Eve?

You don’t just ask someone out on a date for New Year’s Eve. It’s a very meaningful night. A very expensive night. It’s not for “a” date; it’s for “the” date.”

So with all those coffee dates, how come none of them worked out into “the” date?

You want a reason for each? She wasn’t attracted to me. I wasn’t attracted to her. She wanted someone who made more money. I wanted someone who talked about something other than herself. She wanted to have more kids. I wasn’t communicative enough for her. She didn’t have a sense of humor. I didn’t have a passion for four cats. Shall I continue?

You know what you’re doing, don’t you?

What am I doing?

It’s so obvious. For every woman you meet, you’re finding some reason, any reason, to keep you from starting a relationship.

That’s ridiculous.

Is it? You mean to tell me you meet a woman who’s perfect in every way, except she has four cats, and that’s the deal-breaker?

Look, I never said she was perfect otherwise. And besides, if I didn’t want a relationship, what am I doing spending all this time and energy meeting women?

You really want to know?

I asked, didn’t I?

You’re addicted to dating.

Get out of here.

Exactly. That’s the message you’re giving these poor women: “Get out of here.” For you, it’s all about the thrill of the chase. Ms. Right’s just around the corner. The next one’s going to be flawless. Well, get this, oh Sultan of Singles: There is no Ms. Right; there is no flawless, and there is no satisfaction for you if you keep on this way. One day you’re going to wake up to find yourself 78 years old and on your way to your next coffee date. That what you want, Pops?

Of course not. But none of the ones I’ve met this year feel right. I’ve had coffee dates where everything just clicks, we start dating, and before long, we’re in a relationship.

Sounds lovely. And where are those “everything-clicks” women now?

They didn’t work out.

They didn’t work out? Or you subconsciously torpedoed the relationship so you could get back to your addiction?

I, uh…

You know, I’ve about had it with you. You disgust me. Get out of my sight.

I can’t. I’m you and you’re me.

What did I do to deserve this?

Well, come on, don’t give up on me. What do you suggest?

I don’t know. Since I am you, I’m somewhat limited in my perceptions and insights.

You don’t have to insult me.

I’m sorry. OK, look, let’s try something different this year. One word: “Stop.” Stop the coffee dates. Stop the singles Web sites. Stop the matchmaking services. Stop the personals ads. Stop the singles parties and dances. Just stop.

Are you heading for a celibacy thing? Because that’s not what…

I’m trying to keep you from a celibacy thing. Just live your life. Do your work. Be with your friends and family. Volunteer for something. Be out in the real world. She’s out there, but you’re trying too hard. Stop trying. Start living.

I don’t know. I’ll think about it.

That’s all I ask. Now let’s get some Thai food, and for the love of God, no “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.”

I was in no mood to fight with myself any more. I picked up some Thai food. I called a few loved ones. I watched a Marx Brothers movie. And I gave some serious thought to what I’d said to myself. It wasn’t so bad. Yes, I was alone, but not lonely, really. And maybe next New Year’s Eve, I’ll have a date. She can even bring her cats.

Mark Miller, a comedy writer and performer, can be reached at