Around the pole in Israel


Pole dancing as a modern sport connects the world of dance—jazz, ballet and cabaret—with acrobatic exercise. The pole serves as the base to perform different acrobatic acts of varying levels of difficulty. Regular exercise clothes are worn, not the sexy revealing garb many imagine, with the stomach exposed in order to allow for friction with the pole and to prevent slipping.

The athletic benefits are abound—they include developing strength, stamina, flexibility, coordination, and rhythm. Many women also report an improvement in their self-confidence, their physical feeling, and their femininity. In Israel, classes and private studios are taking the country by storm. 

Champions

Elisa Palsakova, 26, opened her own private studio two years ago. She has been dancing and exercising since she was 5 years old—everything from acrobatics to ballet. In the last decade, she made aliyah from Moscow. She studied dance instruction and became certified as a personal trainer upon moving to Israel, and when she discovered pole dancing, she fell in love with it. She recently won first place in the International Pole Dance Fitness Association (IPDFA) competitions in Moscow and currently sits on panels of judges in competitions all over the word. She feels it is a great honor to sit amongst the world’s top athletes.

Another Israeli champion is Neta Lee Levy, 31, who won first place in the European championships in Holland. Levy has always participated in sports, and she currently studies at the Circus School in Israel, where she learned the trapeze. There, she began to teach herself pole dancing and developed her technique. Levy is the first person in Israel to perform in street festivals using a pole—as a performer, not a stripper. She opened a studio in Tel Aviv and describes the women who come there and exercise as women who are seeking to boost their self-confidence and sensuality.

The Combat Soldier

Alex Brodeski, 21, is a combat fitness instructor in the army who trains in Palsakova’s studio. “It is a physical activity that is different and challenging for the body using muscles that are not usually developed in other exercise classes,” he explains.

He says that the soldiers he trains know that he pole dances, and admits that he gets teased. “But they are jealous that I practice with girls and ask to come observe classes. I tell them that they can’t observe, they must participate, but they get cold feet.”

The Attorney

Boaz, 33, began training following his first visit to a strip club with his girlfriend. “I saw women dancing on poles and I was in shock at their acrobatic abilities. I wanted to learn the acrobatics. After three months of training, it improved my body image and self-image. My arm muscles are stronger and my stability improved. Yes, it is a sexy dance, but other forms of dance are sexy, too. I am not embarrassed by it.”

The Hassid

Bracha (name changed) usually wears a long skirt and a head covering and works in an ultra-Orthodox college. She is a religious woman, 53 years old, a wife and mother of three. But in the past year and a half, multiple times a week, she has been changing her conservative clothes into short exercise clothes. Along with her 17-year-old daughter Anat, she attends classes in Palsakova’s studio.

“When my daughter told me that she wants to learn pole dancing, I told her that she can only if I chaperone as her bodyguard because who knows who participates in such things. Once I entered the studio, I knew that I wanted to participate as well,” Bracha says.

In terms of dealing with revealing clothing, Bracha started with a t-shirt but says “it was difficult for me to do certain moves, so I started wearing a tank top and shorts.”

Bracha explains that it isn’t easy for her to pole dance with men in the room, but says she won’t quit for that reason. “If there are very sexy exercises, I do them minimally because I am here for the acrobatics and not the dance,” she says. Anat adds that they stand on opposite sides of the room from the men, and because the men are much older, it doesn’t bother her.

Bracha says her husband “understands that for us it is only a sport.”

“He is fine with it, but prefers that we keep it a secret from the community because we are religious,” she says.

“I beat him in hand wrestling, and we bought a pole for the house and he has already tried to swing on it,” Anat says of her father.

Bracha doesn’t tell most of her friends about her hobby “because I don’t want them to think bad things about me.” Anat says, “Some of my friends don’t talk to me anymore because of it, others are jealous but wouldn’t dare try, and others don’t even know.”

Bracha adds, “sometimes religious friends are surprised by my body so I tell them I simply ‘do sports’ without getting into detail.”

An Olympic sport?

Several organizations around the world are trying to recognize the sport, holding regional and worldwide competitions that judge the competitors on strength, flexibility and artistic expression. Points are given to competitors according to the level of difficulty, technique, choreography and stage presence. The smallest mistake in body movement may disqualify a competitor.

The British organization Vertical Dance even recently requested that the Olympic Committee recognize the sport as an official competing sport in the 2012 London Olympic Games.

Whether or not their efforts will be successful remains to be seen, but for Israelis—regardless of background—pole dancing is in.

This article was translated by JointMedia News Service from the Hebrew edition of Israel Hayom.

Classes bring a bit of shul to yoga


In a dimly lit room overlooking Santa Monica’s bustling Third Street Promenade, prayers set to electronic music float between bodies in motion. Barely audible over the melodies are the deep exhales of students.

“Shabbat Shalom,” said Zach Lodmer, walking around the room. “That’s something you don’t usually hear in yoga, isn’t it?”

It’s January, and Lodmer is leading the second monthly installment of his Om Shalom Yoga class at The Yoga Collective in Santa Monica, a class that sets traditional yoga sequences to Shabbat prayers.

An attorney by day, Lodmer knows that the concept might sound eclectic — “Some people are skeptical” at first, he admits with a slight grin — but since finding his own connection to the combined practices of yoga and prayer, the 31-year-old hopes to help others in the Jewish community put a new twist on traditional worship.

Lodmer wasn’t always the picture of health. Several years ago, the now-fit yoga instructor smoked, was 75 pounds overweight and was unhappily employed as a prosecutor. It was the birth of his son, he said, that served as the impetus for change and, ultimately, the creation of Om Shalom.

Craving a healthier lifestyle, Lodmer changed his eating and drinking habits and took up yoga. At the same time, he was playing clarinet for Shabbat services at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills. He soon realized that his desire to practice a more personal brand of Judaism was in line with his changing health habits.

“We were sitting in a circle, moving through prayers by singing” and playing music, he said. “I began to get interested in including not just [song] but yoga in the Shabbat experience.”

From there, Lodmer, who was raised Reconstructionist, consulted with rabbis and enrolled in a yoga teacher-training program. All the while, he worked on creating the soundtrack for Om Shalom, which would prove to be the linchpin of the class.

“It was a lot of work,” he said, “but as time passed, I made it my own.”

Om Shalom isn’t the first yoga class to incorporate religions other than Hinduism, which is largely credited with the ancient origins of the practice. Rather, Lodmer’s class is part of a growing movement to meld the physical practice and some of the philosophical underpinnings of yoga with Judaism or Christianity.

Ida Unger, who owns Yoga Garden Studios in Tujunga and also teaches, according to her Web site, “yoga with a Jewish bent,” has been studying yoga for several decades and began incorporating components of Judaism into her practice about 10 years ago. She believes that interest in Jewish yoga began gaining steam in other circles at around the same time.

“I think many Jews found yoga as a physical practice, and after a while it just connects to the soul,” she said. “If you have a Jewish soul, it’s very easy to connect to.”

Like many others, Unger sees parallels in the teachings of Judaism and the teachings of yoga. The basic tenets of both, says Rabbi Avivah Erlick, who teaches private Jewish yoga sessions, are very similar.

“The teaching of Judaism involves Torah, mitzvah and study,” Erlick said, “and the four types of yoga are basically study, prayer, holy action and meditation.”

Unger points out the similarity of savasana, or resting in corpse pose by lying still on one’s back, which concludes most yoga classes, and the practice of resting on Shabbat, which is derived from the Hebrew word shavat, in Jewish culture.

In addition to the overlap in ritual and philosophy, many teachers see yoga as a way to add a needed physical element to Jewish worship.

“Judaism is lacking a movement-and-meditation practice,” Erlick said. “I think people can get that from yoga, as a teaching tool as to how to calm oneself, center oneself and be present in prayer.”

Om Shalom — and Jewish yoga in general — is not necessarily for everyone. Lodmer notes, for instance, that he breaks halachic tradition by playing music on Shabbat, which might turn off Jews looking to adhere to the letter of the law.

But for those who are interested, he believes the combination of yoga and Jewish prayer can help people connect to Judaism in a more personal way.

“People are looking for fewer barriers to prayer and to Judaism,” he said. “People are moved by [Jewish yoga]. And if Judaism is not engaging, we’re losing people.”

Within the Jewish yoga community, Lodmer has been welcomed and admired. Unger sees his work as the continuation of a new brand of Jewish worship.

“He’s almost a generation younger than me,” she said. “I think what he’s offering is very exciting.”

Lodmer’s class follows a traditional yoga prototype: sun salutations, standing poses and a flow that builds steadily in intensity and then tapers off into a cool-down. What sets it apart is the music.

Layering prayers like the Sh’ma and Shalom Aleichem over a soothing but vibrant beat so that they correspond with the trajectory of the class, Lodmer creates the music for his class in his free time. It’s no small task — much of his time outside of work is spent either with his family, he says, or refining the Om Shalom playlist.

“Making the music is a second full-time job,” he says.

It seems to be a worthy cause. Back in the studio on that Friday night in January, students leave glowing and happy. Wishing them all a “Good Shabbos,” Lodmer sees them out the door and back into the world.


Om Shalom Yoga
facebook.com/omshalomyoga

Rabbi Avivah Erlick’s Gentle Jewish Yoga
gentlejewishyoga.com

Yoga Garden Studios
11257 Deneville Place
Tujunga, CA 91042
(818) 353-8050
yogagardenstudios.com

02Max puts a youthful spin on the gym scene


At first glance, the brightly decorated warehouse-turned-gym space of O2Max Fitness in Santa Monica may seem like your conventional workout space, filled with typical cardio and core training apparatuses (think treadmills, balance balls and resistance bands). But it only takes a few steps upstairs to figure out that this is no ordinary gym.

The loft portion of the space is filled with couches, lounge-style furniture, magazines, a television and a computer workspace. The walls are brightly painted and decorated with inspirational quotes from a variety of notable people.

And then look closer: Everyone here seems young — really young. That’s because O2 Max is designed just for teens and college students.

Thinking of everything from one-on-one personal trainers to Princeton Review classes for college entrance exams, entrepreneur Karen Jashinsky has created a full teen hangout, where fitness is just one component.

“We are creating a venue that empowers teens,” said Jashinsky, a New Jersey yeshiva day school graduate who now lives in Los Angeles. “Obviously, fitness is an important part of what we doing — it’s a huge part of what we’re doing — but we’re also creating a social environment.”

Around 30 to 40 teens a month work out at O2Max, which opened last spring. Some kids pay by the day, others pay $80 a month for membership and some do volunteer work for the gym to pay for their workout time.

Jashinsky says that she got her inspiration to get into the teenage-fitness market after working as a personal trainer, which she felt was a fun way to earn money during graduate school at USC’s Marshall School of Business.

“When I started working as a personal trainer I had a few ideas of the fitness industry and then kind of decided to focus on teens because they weren’t being addressed,” she said. “It really evolved into this sort of cool fun social venue that [the teenagers] could come to after school to work out, hang out, meet friends from other schools, rent it out for parties, events, lectures and workshops.”

As a graduate of Frisch yeshiva in New Jersey, Jashinsky is also aware the students at Jewish schools might need an extra nudge when it comes to athletics and fitness.

Upon joining, teenagers are walked through an individual fitness test to assess their fitness capacity and are then given a food journal. After filling out the food journal for two days, students go over the journal with a licensed nutritionist, who gives them tips and pointers to make their meals more nutritionally valuable.

“Our goal is that by the time you graduate college you know how to eat properly, you know how to put an exercise program together,” Jashinsky said.

Seasonal programming can also help with motivation. O2Max is sponsoring the Fall Fitness Fusion starting Oct. 1, a six-week challenge in which students team up with an instructor and earn points for various exercises. The challenge is free to all teens, and the teams that knock out the most points win prizes.

But while exercise is associated with improved physical and mental health, there is a risk that comes with targeting a group that is already thought to be thoroughly overworked and overbooked.

“The issue is that it can’t be another part of the parental schedule,” said Dr. Ian Russ, a psychologist who works with adolescents. “If it’s the parents saying ‘you should go to the gym’ then you might get some exercise out of it, but nothing else. If it’s something kids can do freely and have their life, it sounds like a nice thing.”

O2Max has an interactive Web site with tips on how to eat right and how to exercise even if you can’t make it to the gym, and a blog that all people, not just O2Max members, can access. The Web site also provides a safe forum for kids across the nation to chat about whatever is on their mind. People leave posts, ask questions and respond to each other all within the confines of the Web site.

Such social interactions are part of what make 02 Max “not your parents gym,” as the advertising suggests.

“The way the fitness industry is evolving … [the gym] is becoming your home away from home,” Jashinsky said. “You have your work, you have your home, and you have your gym, and teens aren’t that different, they just don’t need a tanning room or a spa. They need a place to hang out and do their homework and get on the computer.”

O2MAX Fitness is located at 3026 Nebraska Ave. in Santa Monica. For more information, call (310) 867-1650.

Ashkenazi women and ovarian cancer


Dr. Beth Y. Karlan is the director of the Cedars-Sinai Women’s Cancer Research Institute at the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute. Her specialty is ovarian cancer, the deadliest of gynecologic cancers and one that is diagnosed in more than 22,000 women annually. As newly appointed editor-in-chief of Gynecologic Oncology, the medical journal of the Society for Gynecologic Oncology, Karlan will be in a unique position to help shape the direction of this field.
The Jewish Journal spoke with Karlan about the nature of ovarian cancer and its particular implications for Ashkenazi Jewish women.

Jewish Journal: What is most important to know about ovarian cancer?
Dr. Beth Y. Karlan: First, it isn’t rare. Ovarian cancer affects one in 60 women in the U.S.
Second, it doesn’t have to be deadly. When it is diagnosed early, the five-year survival rate for ovarian cancer is over 90 percent. We can even preserve fertility for many of these women. The problem is that there aren’t effective means of early detection in asymptomatic women. Thus, most women are diagnosed with late-stage disease.
Third, we need to debunk the myth that ovarian cancer is a ‘silent disease.’ Women and even some doctors still believe that there are no symptoms, but that’s wrong. In over 95 percent of cases, there are vague, nonspecific symptoms, which are overlooked by both women and their doctors.

JJ: What are these symptoms?
BK: They include abdominal bloating, pelvic and/or low back pain, early satiety or a feeling that you are getting full too quickly, and a change in the frequency or urgency of urination. Now these are very common complaints, and most often are due to many other causes. But when they occur together, are persistent and progress, day after day, then it’s time to call your doctor. Ovarian cancer isn’t silent. It whispers, and we need to learn to listen.

JJ: What should you do if you are experiencing these symptoms?
BK: If they persist, you should talk with your doctor and ask about having a transvaginal ultrasound and a CA 125 blood test. These are not screening tests for asymptomatic women, but are helpful diagnostic tests in the face of symptoms.

JJ: What puts a woman at high risk of developing ovarian cancer?
BK: The most common risk is age. The median age of diagnosis in the U.S. is 59. But the most significant risk factor is a family history of cancer. If you have a close relative with breast and/or ovarian cancer, you may be at a high risk of the disease.
Although ovarian cancer is a ‘female cancer,’ a woman is just as likely to inherit a risk of it from her father as she is from her mother. So it’s important to know about cancers in your paternal lineage as well as on your mother’s side. Another risk factor may be a personal history of cancer. If a woman has a previous history of breast cancer, she is also at higher risk of ovarian cancer. Lightning can strike twice.

JJ: Can you speak to the special concerns of Ashkenazi women?
BK: As we understand genetics and family history, we know that mutations of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are associated with ovarian cancer — although these cases make up only 10 percent of all ovarian cancers. The frequency for carrying these mutated genes in the general population is one in 800. The frequency in the Ashkenazi population is around one in 40. That means 2.5 percent of the Jewish population carries this mutation.
For carriers, the chance of being diagnosed with cancer by age 70 approaches 85 percent for breast cancer, and is 40 percent to 60 percent for ovarian cancer. So for women with a family history, it’s appropriate to discuss testing with a genetic counselor and/or your physician.

JJ: What if you are found to have one of these genetic mutations?
BK: Knowing that you have the gene empowers you with knowledge so as not to be victimized — there are courses of action you can take. You can be more vigilant with screening. Or you can reduce your risk surgically. In terms of screening, at this time, I recommend transvaginal ultrasound and a CA 125 test, as well as a rectal-vaginal pelvic exam, to be performed at least annually.
You can also participate in studies, like the ones we are doing at The Gilda Radner Hereditary Detection Program at Cedars. And you may want to discuss this with family members, as they may also be at increased risk.

JJ: How is ovarian cancer treated?
BK: Treatment involves surgery and post-operative chemotherapy. Surgery is the cornerstone of treatment and should be performed by a specialist, a gynecologic oncologist. Chemotherapy has evolved over the last decade, and shows improvements in survival and quality of life, even with advanced-stage disease. The median survival time is more than five years, and I’m optimistic that it will be longer in the near future. Interestingly, women with a BRCA mutation who get ovarian cancer are more responsive to treatment and have even better survival rates. There are clinical trials of targeted therapies, and women can discuss eligibility and the pros and cons of participating in these trials with their doctors.

JJ: What are the promising directions in research?
BK: Better screening and more targeted treatments. Researchers are working on blood tests, which can identify tumor markers and indicate early-stage ovarian cancer. And when we find it early, we can cure it. Also, there are molecularly targeted therapies that are showing a lot of promise. These new molecules specifically target the tumor cells and are less toxic and have fewer side effects.

Joe ‘Master Blaster’ Weider still going strong


Bodybuilding guru Joe Weider, who discovered and trained Arnold Schwarzenegger, among other champions, walks with a slight limp into the second-floor conference room in one of the buildings bearing his name in Woodland Hills. Outside, Tuscan columns of this Greco-Roman building support a frieze of Olympians engaged in wrestling, archery, running and weightlifting.

Even at 86 years old, Weider gives you the sense he might have once been one of those Olympians. As he approaches the head of the table inside this wood-paneled room, Weider appears dapper and powerful, his muscular torso still filling out the gray pinstriped suit he wears with a starched white shirt and red power tie.

A young assistant helps Weider into his chair, a concession to his age. But the man who says he was “born with a barbell in my hands” in his book, “Brothers of Iron: Building the Weider Empire” (Sports Publishing, 2006), retains a strong handshake even after undergoing a heart valve operation and back surgery in recent decades.

Weider’s twin interests in history and art are reflected in the Frederic Remington bronze sculptures of cowboys and Indians on horseback that adorn the conference room, as well as sculptures of Abraham Lincoln and Weider himself outside the room. A teacher once told him that he should be an artist, and indeed he says that that could have been his career had he not chosen bodybuilding.

His artistic sensibilities can be seen in his illustrations of the male body framed in the downstairs lobby, which appeared in the inaugural issue of Your Physique, the first publication in his magazine empire and the precursor to Muscle & Fitness. In 2003, he sold Weider Publications titles, including Muscle & Fitness, Shape, Flex and Men’s Fitness, to American Media, Inc., for roughly $375 million, Weider says. Not bad for a Depression-era kid with a seventh-grade education who invested his life savings of $7 into putting out the first issue of Your Physique in the late 1930s.

On this spring day, he sports an adhesive bandage around the tip of his nose to cover a precancerous growth he had removed. Were he a younger man, one might assume that he had gotten into a fight, as he once did as a teen in Montreal, knocking out an anti-Semitic French Canadian bully with one punch. However, Weider, who immigrated to the United States after World War II, has not gotten into any fights since that scuffle in Montreal.

Weider grew up in an era when many Jews fought for a living, but he did not fight in the prize ring; he fought to keep a business afloat.

“Judaism made me,” he says. “It taught me to be a good boy, respect women, study and apply myself to work.”

Weider and his brother and business partner, Ben, never denied their Judaism, even when Ben was making contacts in Arab countries like Egypt, Iraq and the Palestinian territories as part of their effort to promote bodybuilding worldwide.

Over the years, they had to battle fierce competitors within their field, including Bob Hoffman, founder of the York Barbell Company and a U.S. Olympic weightlifting coach, who published magazines for weightlifters and served as head of the Amateur Athletic Union.

Joe Weider, who casually drops in references to Freud’s pleasure principle, also had to battle psychologists, who claimed that weight training “would do you no good.”

Looking resplendent with a full head of silver hair and matching silver moustache, Weider speaks for many young weightlifters when he says that “It made me feel I can change myself,” then he adds, “and change other people.”

Although bodybuilding improved the self-esteem of Weider and his disciples, he says that he had to counter another notion propounded by psychologists at the time — that those who built up their physiques were “latent homosexuals” who liked to stare at their bodies. It seems an odd point to mention and certainly less serious than charges back then that lifting weights would leave one overly muscle-bound, that muscle could turn to fat and, worst of all, that weight-training could result in so-called “athlete’s heart.”

Like former pupil Schwarzenegger, Weider did have surgery for a leaky heart valve, but he says that both were born with the condition.

“Arnold’s mother had it and died from it,” he says.

Weider also says that his back problems were due to a freak accident and had nothing to do with weight training. However, he admits that handling weights improperly can damage the body. He is also well aware of the drug abuses of too many body builders and athletes in other fields, a scourge that has led to severe health concerns, including heart attacks, strokes and cancer.

In “Brothers of Iron,” which is equal parts memoir, business primer and popular culture history, Weider stresses that he and Ben were always opposed to steroids. He writes that, “like much of the world’s evil … steroids … came from the Nazis and the Communists,” a point that resonates when reflecting on the multitude of East German Olympians, both male and female, who cheated their way to gold medals with bloated musculature through the late 1980s. Although the International Olympic Committee banned certain performance-enhancing drugs in 1967, steroids were not added to the list until 1975.

Ironically, many of those Eastern Europeans got their weight-training methodology from Weider, whose publications have been circulating the globe for nearly 70 years.

In 1950, Weider made his famous 10 predictions, some of which ended up being remarkably prescient. None more so than Prediction No. 1, “I predict that civilization will speed up in every phase, and that the stresses and strains on mankind will continue to increase,” and Prediction No. 2, “I predict that the resulting increase in mental and physical illness will force the world to recognize the importance of systematic exercise and physical activities.”

Most satisfying of all, he says, has been Prediction No. 10, “I predict that body building will one day become one of the greatest forces in existence, and that it may be hailed as the activity that actually saved civilization from itself.”

Semper Fiber


I am a big believer in New Year’s resolutions, especially of the weight-loss variety. I’ve even been known to renew my vows on a weekly basis. Yet, I have learned
that any drastic promises, such as, “I will never eat another bowl of Ben & Jerry’s Coffee Heath Bar Crunch ice cream ever again,” never work.

Other sure-fail methods include eating “calorie-controlled” blueberry gelatin and promising that you will only eat three ounces of cold turkey (skinless, of course) for lunch every day. A coworker of mine ate this way until one day she opened her mouth to speak but started to gobble instead.
Last year, I also decided that I would only weigh myself on the summer and winter solstices.

Too-frequent weigh-ins can sabotage any diet efforts, because a woman’s weight is a mysterious, jumpy, undependable thing that does not follow any known laws of nature. Over-weighing would lead to stress. Stress would slow down my metabolism, which was already prone to sleeping in late.

When my scale realized it was being ignored, it had a digital breakdown. Now my husband and sons are perplexed why the scale registers a difference of 15 pounds from a Monday to a Wednesday. Finally, payback time.

This year, I looked for fresh ideas on reducing poundage. Fortunately, I found an article that uncovered facts never before revealed to the American public. For example, did you know that Krispy Kreme Doughnuts are full of saturated fats and sugar? Who knew?

Now that I am aware of this and other startling nutritional data, I don’t dare approach within 100 feet of a Krispy Kreme shop. (Frankly, they deserve a boycott for the spelling alone.) But I am going one better: I am also making a commitment to fiber. This inspiration came from my friend Helen, who went from a pleasingly feminine figure to a lean, mean marathon machine.

Each time I saw her, she had dropped another dress size, her skin glowed more radiantly than ever and the threat of middle-aged wattle under the chin had vanished. When she moved her arms, her biceps flexed insouciantly. Helen looked fantastic. If she didn’t knock it off, I would have no choice but to hate her.

“How have you done this?” I asked, faking wonderment instead of envy.

She took my arm and leaned in close. “It’s all about the fiber,” she said. “You’ve got to try it.”
“No thanks,” I said, holding my hands up in a “stop” gesture. “It may be ecologically friendly, but pure fibers are much too high maintenance for me. I bought a linen dress once, and the dry cleaning alone nearly killed me.”

“Not that fiber,” she said. “I’m talking bran cereal, garbanzo beans and broccoli.”

She whipped a small nutrition bar out of her pocket, where she apparently kept a stash. It was made of flaxseed, apricots and at least 25 percent recycled greeting cards.

“Try this. Fourteen grams of fiber in this little bar,” she said. “But don’t say I didn’t warn you,” she laughed.

It was a strange laugh, perhaps the kind of laugh you get after ingesting too much fiber.

“Great,” I said, dropping the bar into the vast black hole of my purse. “If it works, I’ll ask my doctor for a prescription.”

“Oh, no need,” she said. “These are over-the-counter, even the blueberry. But if you’re really serious about prescription fiber bars, I know where you can order them cheap from Canada.”

And so, desperately trying to become sinewy and taut like Helen, I put my trust in fiber. Scads of fiber. My main food groups became split peas, collard greens and psyllium husks. I tossed soy nuts and lentils on everything, even cereal. One night, I dreamed that I had fallen into an open barrel of barley at the local Whole Foods store. I developed indigestion.

After two weeks of uncompromising fidelity to fiber, I had not lost any weight, but my pantry was four pounds lighter, because I had used up most of the lentils and several cans of kidney and white beans.

Then I saw Helen again, who looked more buff than ever. My indigestion flared up immediately. Probably too many raw red peppers at lunch. Not a good idea.

“What gives?” I demanded. “You claimed that you looked so great because of fiber. I’ve eaten so much fiber I could be the poster child for the National Colon Health Foundation. You must be doing something else. Come on, spill it ”

“I’m working with a personal trainer three times a week,” Helen said. “I’m sure I told you.”

I knew there had to be a catch. Helen’s confession vindicated me. A diet of chickpeas and cantaloupe might get you poster child status for colon health but would not get you on the cover of Brawny Babe magazine. The green stuff of Helen’s success wasn’t only kale, it was cold, hard cash for the trainer.

Since then, I’ve gotten used to my more fibrous diet, but sometimes I pine for hours for an empty calorie. Overall, it’s not really that bad, if you don’t mind indigestion. I can’t afford Helen’s personal trainer, but at least I know the secret of her success. Commitment, self-discipline and money.

Who knew?

Judy Gruen writes the popular “Off My Noodle” column at judygruen.com. Her next book, “The Women’s Daily Irony Supplement,” will be published in May.

Alex Baum: Wheels of a Dream


‘>Alex Baum

‘>Eve Marcus

‘>Marilyn Harran

‘>Rebecca Levinson

‘>Yoram Hassid

Alex Baum, who will be celebrating his 84th birthday on Dec. 30, fought in the French Resistance, survived two and a half years in the concentration camps, and has since dedicated his life to performing good deeds, most notably in his advocacy of amateur athletics.

Yet, when asked if he is a mensch, he says, “You never know.”

Baum is of French Jewish ancestry, but he speaks with a German accent, befitting one who was born in a small town in Lorraine, which along with the province of Alsace was frequently the subject of territorial disputes between the French and the Germans. Concerning the war, he says without embellishment, “We fought the Germans in any possible way we could.”

Although he was caught by the Nazis, he convinced them that he was a resistance fighter, not a Jew. Due to his Algerian passport (his mother was from the North African country), he was treated as a political prisoner in the camps. The Nazis did not question why he was circumcised, because Algerians, being desert dwellers, practiced circumcision for hygienic reasons.

After surviving the Holocaust, Baum vowed that he would be a good role model, like his grandparents and uncles: “I felt a need to do that.”

He moved to the United States shortly after the war and settled in Chicago, where he played semipro soccer for the Chicago Kickers. A center-forward on the team, he scored his share of goals, but his greatest goal has been developing cycling programs and recreational facilities for inner-city kids in Los Angeles.

When not working as a caterer, his living for 30 years, he has been an adviser to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the previous three Los Angeles mayors, but Baum is not simply a cycling enthusiast and fitness fanatic — he has also shown the vision of an urban planner and the determination of a mensch in implementing the now-ubiquitous bike paths throughout the city of Los Angeles, pioneering the Tour of California bike race and building velodromes in Dominguez Hills and Encino.

Of all his projects, he remains most passionate about the creation of bike paths and facilities along the L.A. River. In the next 10 years, he expects to see a 50-mile path bordering the river from the Valley to Long Beach. Speaking with unmistakable enthusiasm, he envisions the following: “You can stop anywhere through the city, enjoy the Sunday or the weekend without using the car; [you can] even ride at night. We have lights and rest stops, parks and a restaurant.”

Although the complete river restoration has not come to fruition yet, Baum says that, due to all the bike paths in recent years, 2.5 percent of people now go to work by bike, as opposed to 0.5 percent in the past.

Despite constant talk of ethanol and hybrid cars, this goodwill ambassador to the city of Los Angeles, who served on the 1984 Olympic host committee, might have the simplest and greenest solution of all for Los Angeles’ gridlock as well as global warming — riding a bike.

Affordable winter escapes are but a snowball’s throw away


Now that the holiday season is upon us, it’s time to do a little carving — and we’re not talking brisket.

The recent tease of fresh powder has left rippers and freeriders hopeful that there won’t be a repeat of last season’s half-open San Bernardino snow farms.

Already some local ski resorts, like Mountain High and Bear Mountain, have reported base depths of more than 2 feet at their upper elevations. Mammoth was the first ski resort to open in California on Nov. 9, hot on the heels of its record-setting 52 feet of snow during 2005-06. And with the last of the Rocky Mountain resorts set to open this week, it’s beginning to look a lot like ski season.

Even though most resorts currently have less than 50 percent of its trails open, don’t put off planning your getaway until the powder drops. Plenty of Jewish ski packages are already filling up, and this year’s bevy will be kinder to you wallet since much of the action is being kept fairly close to home.

Southern California
San Bernardino Mountains

Chabad on Campus and Chabad of California are reaching out to Jews of all denominations with its men-only and women-only Winter Break Ski and Learn Experiences. Geared toward Jewish undergraduate and graduate students (ages 18-26) with little or no background in formal Jewish learning, the six-day trips will feature morning Jewish learning sessions on three different tracks with rabbis and Chabad staff from Southern California, Oregon and Washington. After 11:30 a.m., the mountain is yours until the last run of the day. Subsidized pricing will include transportation to and from the slopes, kosher meals, lodging, alternative outdoor activities and a full Shabbat service. There is no dress code, however you will have to arrange transportation to the Kiryas Schneerson Lodge in Running Springs and pay for your own lift ticket and rentals (three-day package for $160).

Dates: Dec. 21-27, 2006 (men), Dec. 27, 2006-Jan. 1, 2007 (women).
Cost: $50.


For more information, call (213) 748-5884, or visit www.winterbreak.info.

For high school students, West Coast NCSY is hosting a Ski Shabbaton in February. The Orthodox youth group is renting a group of cabins near Wrightwood and Big Bear, and will feature skiing and snowboarding all day Friday, Saturday night and all day Sunday. For tuchus-draggers and frum bunnies, optional snow tubing and alpine sliding will be available Saturday night. A reduced rate is available for students who wish to join the group after Shabbat ends.

Dates: Feb. 17-19, 2007.
Cost: $125 (full Shabbaton), $60 (post-Shabbat).
For more information, call Ouriel Hazan at (310) 876-6631.

Northern California
Mammoth Mountain

Leave the car at home and let someone else do the driving. Now in its 12th year, JSki is the only L.A. Jewish ski group that puts its 20- to 40-somethings on a luxury bus, complete with videos and a bathroom. Cost includes two-nights lodging in a luxury condo with fireplace, kitchen and Jacuzzi; transportation to and from the slopes; dinner and hors d’oeuvres party. Bus picks up and drops off at Van Nuys Flyaway, Federal Building and Irvine Transportation Center.

Dates: Jan. 19-21, 2007; Feb. 9-11, 2007 (joint trip with Mosaic, Kesher Israeli and Nexus); March 2-4, 2007; March 23-35, 2007.
Cost: $199.
For more information, call (818) 342-9508 or e-mail jskila@aol.com.

Lake Tahoe

Want to schmooze on the slopes with the high-tech crowd? The Jewish Federation of Silicon Valley’s Young Adult Division is sponsoring its annual ski trip to Northstar-at-Tahoe. Price includes housing, lift ticket, food, drinks and a cocktail reception.

Dates: Jan. 26-28, 2007.
Price: $255.
For more information, call (408) 357-7503 or visit www.jvalley.org/svyad.html.

Colorado
Breckenridge

Steppin’ Out Adventures is planning a trip for Jewish singles to Breckenridge with a seven-night or four-night option. Breck’s Victorian charm is complimented by its renowned nightlife. While accommodations at The Village at Breckenridge are renown for being a bit austere, its prime location and recent $2 million facelift might make your stay a bit more tolerable. Price includes lift tickets to Vail, Keystone, Beaver Creek or A-Basin; transfers to and from Denver airport; lodging; full breakfast; two dinners and planned optional activities.

Dates: Feb. 4-11, 2007; Feb. 7-11, 2007.
Cost: $1,290-$1,650.
For more information, call (866) 299-5674 or visit steppinoutadventures.com.

Copper Mountain

Just 75 miles west of Denver, Copper Mountain is known for its accessibility — beginner, intermediate and expert skiing trails naturally separated into three distinct areas. The resort also features some of the best early and late season snow, along with four alpine bowls and renowned terrain parks. This JSki trip includes roundtrip air from Los Angeles or San Diego, transportation from and to Denver airport, three nights lodging (double occupancy) at Best Western Lake Dillon Lodge, three days lift tickets, round trip shuttle to slopes and a daily breakfast.

Dates: Jan. 12-15, 2007.
Cost: $699.
For more information, call (818) 342-9508 or e-mail jskila@aol.com.

Vail

Vail’s Bavarian-style resort is regularly ranked as one of the top ski destinations in the United States. Boasting 5,289 skiable acres and one of the largest networks of high-speed quad lifts, Vail offers greater room for skiing or snowboarding and more time on the slopes. This Steppin’ Out Adventure package features accommodations at the Lion Square Lodge in LionsHead Village, which includes a fitness club, spa and complimentary Internet access; transfers from Eagle Airport (30 minutes from Vail); lodging; lift tickets to Golden Peak, Vail Village, LionsHead Village or Cascade Village; full breakfast and two dinners; and planned optional activities.

Dates: March 18-25, 2007; March 20-25, 2007.
Cost: $1,955-$2,330.
For more information, call (866) 299-5674 or visit steppinoutadventures.com.

Utah
Salt Lake City

The New Year’s trip with JSki drew 130 people last year and this year is filling up fast. The roundtrip flight chartered by New Horizon Tours has already sold out, but no worries — simply book your own flight Salt Lake City. There’s still room on the bus from and to the airport and in the hotel, but that won’t last long. The trip includes five nights lodging at the Marriott (double occupancy); five days of lift tickets to Alta, Solitude and Snowbird (tram extra), Deer Valley and The Canyons; transportation to the slopes, daily buffet breakfast and a welcome dinner party.

Dates: Dec. 27, 2006-Jan. 1, 2007.
Cost: $705.
For more information, call (818) 342-9508 or e-mail jskila@aol.com.

Skateboard Creator Builds Business on Performance


Don Tashman doesn’t look like a skater boy, not with his scraggly, brown hair and three-day-old unshaven stubble that’s yet to materialize into a beard.

This religious boy from Beverlywood doesn’t even look like a surfer boy — which he is, as these things usually go hand in hand, along with snowboarding. Tashman certainly doesn’t look like the creator and owner of Loaded Boards and Pigeons Inc., the hip skateboarding company that has brought performance boards back to the industry.

No, 31-year-old Tashman doesn’t look like a dude, not with his short-sleeved, button-down shirt, untucked over loose, brandless blue jeans, but that’s OK, because his co-workers do. The long, lean, sun-kissed blond boys stack skateboards according to styles (Fish, Hammerhead, Pintail, Vanguard) or sit on yoga stability balls at computers, looking like they’re playing video games or designing specs — something that makes them almost as happy as riding a board — any board: skate, surf, snow.

Tashman doesn’t need to look the part of the people he designs skateboards for, because he’s got the attitude, for sure — laid back, imperturbable, chill.
These are the qualities that have gotten Loaded a reputation for authenticity in a world clannishly obsessed with it. It’s been four years since he founded the company, and Tashman said he can’t keep up with demand (he declines to give actual figures) and will be forced to move offices soon from mid-Wilshire, where he shares space with his father and brothers, who work in real estate and futures exchange.

Skateboarding runs in the Tashman family, although not on the paternal side. His mother, who also grew up religious, skateboarded when she was a kid. She was sponsored by a local Velcro company. “She took her old roller skates and nailed them to a two-by-four for her first skateboards,” Tashman said. Since he was 3 years old, “she would attach me to my skateboard and pull me down hills and our neighbor’s empty swimming pool,” he said. “She always wanted me to be a cantor, though.”

Tashman didn’t become a cantor. He grew up Orthodox, attended Yeshiva University Los Angeles (YOLA) and then moved to New York to become an English major at Columbia University in 1994.

“I was short-boarding and couldn’t get around,” Tashman said, referring to the shorter boards in vogue then, which were hard to maneuver around the streets of Manhattan. He started developing his own boards for his own use. After he finished college in 1999, he went to study at a yeshiva in Israel. After a few months there, someone convinced him to work as a traveling salesman for an Israeli technology company. He spent a year at that, then, in his wise and quiet way, Tashman cashed out his stock options two weeks before the market crashed in April 2000.

With about $150,000, Tashman spent the next two years developing the boards he’d begun designing at Columbia. Performance was key but so was finding environmentally friendly materials, like bamboo instead of oak.

Tashman said that because he surfed here growing up, he became interested in making the environment better.

“Surfing in L.A. water is to feel the toxicity — people aren’t even aware of it,” he said. Although Tashman’s is a small company, he believes that if other small companies like his and big ones like GE are more environmentally conscious, “I think we can inspire people to be aware of what they consume, what they use and how they can live more sustainable lives.”

In the end, the company created longer, high-performance skateboards, tailored for hills or parks or streets or long distances. The skateboards were unlike the other black-topped, fancy logo boards.

“We had no graphics,” Tashman said. “It was the ride first and foremost. Most boards were driven by graphics, and we wanted to separate ourselves.”

Separate the company he has, with clean, bamboo long boards that appeal to 20- to 40-year-olds, as opposed to the “17-year-old male from the O.C.,” Tashman said. The boards sell for $215 to $300 and are sold in about 350 stores nationwide and have been featured in men’s magazines like FHM and Maxim. Loaded is looking into expanding into apparel as well as snowboards, and the prototypes are laying around the office. But the company will always focus on skateboards, Tashman said.

Now that he has established the company for performance-driven boards, Loaded is adding graphics in the form of a bird — a kite to be precise, a kind of a sparrow drawn sparingly in white and gold on the undercarriage of the Vanguard.
“We’re seeing what we can get away with, and where we can go with it,” Tashman said.

Imagine standing on a high wire, suspended midair and bouncing on it. That’s the experience of being on the Vanguard, a long and flexible skateboard designed for stability. There’s a sensation of coiled-up energy, as if the rider is a spring ready to be sprung, an arrow ready to be shot — loaded, like the company name.
For Tashman and his five full-time employees, the key to the business is having fun.

“Stoke ’em,” is part of the company motto, which, Tashman explains, means, “We’re here to get people excited about the underlying excitement, to promote the visceral experience of the flow.”

The flow.

Some people talk about finding meaning in life, and others talk about religion, but for adrenaline junkies, flow is the buzzword. “There is a spiritual thing [about skateboarding] — the flow, the pure exhilaration of the experience.”
Tashman also finds inspiration in Los Angeles’ Jewish community.

“It’s an exciting time to be Jewish in L.A. Jewish culture seems very vibrant — people are excited about their heritage; it’s starting to filter out from New York, and it’s like it never was when I was growing up.”

Tashman admitted it’s unusual to be a religious skateboarder, but he finds similarities between the two worlds.

“My religiosity has existed synergistically with my skateboarding. The visceral sense of flow, the intense personal engagement and the stoke it has generated and allowed me to pass on are enriching. Skateboarding culture has historically exhibited a strong sense of community. Like Judaism, I find that it promotes personal development and environmental awareness,” he said.

Aren’t they so different, these two separate worlds of Jewish life and skateboarding?

“They go hand in hand — a big part of skateboarding is how you present yourself,” he said. In the skateboarding industry there’s always the question of authenticity, whether you’re a “core” company — the rap equivalent of street cred — or an outsider trying to make a buck.

“I’ve always skirted the issue. If I can make people excited, great; if not, OK, I don’t need to classify myself in a group to achieve that,” Tashman said.
And that’s how he feels about religion. He said he’s “traditional, shomer Shabbat” but doesn’t define himself as Orthodox. “I do the things I find meaning in, and I don’t do things I don’t.”

“Both worlds can be alienating, in that myopic, or xenophobic tendencies, tend to miss the broader universalist picture,” he said. “In my opinion, the need to promote in-group behavior at the expense of creativity and exploration is sad. I can’t really be bothered by those approaches — there’s too much fun to be had.”

An Israeli Workout for the Brain



What do limousine drivers, breast cancer patients and retirees have in common? They’re all the beneficiaries of the applications developed by CogniFit, an Israeli company.

” TARGET=”_blank”>e-mindfitness.com.

“Our products essentially complement what we do at the gym,” said professor Shlomo Breznitz, CogniFit founder and president. “We want to convince people — particularly older people — that their minds need to be maintained just like their bodies.”

A renowned psychology professor and past president of the University of Haifa, Breznitz was recently elected to the Knesset as a member of the Kadima Party.
The company, which began with a handful of employees in a tiny office in the Tzipori industrial area in the Galilee near Nazareth, now employs 35 workers.
The first application Breznitz focused CogniFit on was driving. According to Mazal, driving is one of the most difficult tasks, because of both the speed at which drivers are traveling and the amount of information that needs to be processed quickly.

“If a driver is slow to process information, it exposes him to greater risks because he’ll be slower to understand road situations,” he said.

CogniFit’s product, FleetFit, assesses drivers’ information-processing capabilities, an assessment which is particularly useful in the insurance industry or with companies that possess large fleets of vehicles and drivers.

“We have a new agreement with risk and safety management company CEI in Philadelphia,” Mazal said. “They’re used by many of the major pharmaceutical companies who employ great numbers of drivers.

“Now they’re offering FleetFit to their clients — with the purpose being to identify which drivers of a specific fleet are at high risk, or to put it more bluntly: Which drivers are accidents waiting to happen?

“Based on the results, the company can then decide what to do with the driver — whether it be deciding to send him to a specific training course or replacing him,” Mazal said.

As effective as Flee
tFit and MindFit have reportedly proven to be, the application believed to have the greatest potential is Cognifit’s newest program, Back On Track. The application has been designed specifically for women who have undergone chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer and are experiencing the so-called “chemo fog” associated with cancer treatments.

One recognized possible side effect of chemotherapy is long-term cognitive impairment. Symptoms, in particular memory and concentration problems, are frequently reported by cancer patients treated with chemotherapy, even years after completion of treatment.

Back On Track was developed using patented scientifically based technology that has proven that active training improves the cognitive skills necessary for everyday activities. It includes a variety of tasks that were designed specifically to exercise the basic cognitive skills that are needed for daily functioning.

People experiencing the cogniti
ve effects of chemotherapy generally respond very well to focused rehabilitation efforts. Just as a person goes to the gym to keep their body in top shape, the brain needs to be exercised as well. Cognifit said Back On Track will engage the mind by exercising all the major cognitive skills and help to find ways to cope with cognitive deficits.

“While potentially, the treatment is good for people who have undergone chemo for any type of cancer, we’re targeting this specific group because of the high awareness of chemo fog among breast cancer patients,” said Mazal, adding that the treatment is currently undergoing clinical trials at an Israeli hospital.

Soccer on Sunday, Wickedly Wonderful


Soccer on Sunday

Talia Schrager loves soccer. She loves being able to run and kick and shout with other girls. Her mother, Sandra Lepson, loves the assertiveness and self-confidence the game inspired in her daughter.

But Talia, a second-grader at Beth Am’s Pressman Academy on the Westside, knew it would all come to an end the season after she turned 8: The older teams in American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) play on Saturdays, when she’s at shul, not on the field.

While Maccabi sports league offers games on Sundays in the winter (as opposed to AYSO’s fall season), the teams are all coed and girls tend to drop out once they hit third or fourth grade. Talia wasn’t interested.

Lepson did not want to see Talia lose soccer, especially the small, all-girl, well-coached teams she was used to. Lepson called in Miriam Prum-Hess, a Federation executive whose 7-year-old, Ezra, is also at Pressman and also loves soccer. After some research, they got in touch with Steve Stautzenbach, a volunteer who runs the Hollywood-Wilshire AYSO region.

It turns out that his region had been looking for a way to tap into the large Jewish population in the Fairfax and La Brea areas, and a deal was struck.Within weeks of word spreading that AYSO would offer a Sunday league, Lepson and Prum-Hess — who now sits on the Hollywood-Wilshire AYSO Board — had inquiries from more than 100 interested parents.

“While being shomer Shabbat means prioritizing our family’s observance above other opportunities, I don’t want my child to hate Shabbat because of what she can’t do,” Lepson said.

Registration for the Sunday league, open to children ages 7-12, is Sunday, July 30, 9 a.m.-noon at the auditorium at Pan Pacific Park, 7600 Beverly Blvd. (next to The Grove). Go to www.eayso.org to download forms. If you are interested in registering and cannot make it on July 30, e-mail mprumhess@earthlink.net.

— Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Education Editor

Wickedly Wonderful

The Oztastic musical, “Wicked,” will be back, saying, “There’s no place like home,” beginning Feb. 9, 2007, when a new production of the Broadway blockbuster begins an open run at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood.

The national tour of the Stephen Schwartz-Winnie Holzman hit, which tells the story of what happened in Oz before Dorothy dropped in, included a seven-week sold-out stop in Los Angeles last summer.

“It has been one of the most popular musicals not just to ever play at the Pantages, but to have ever been performed in Los Angeles,” said Martin Wiviott, general manager of Broadway/L.A. — local presenter of the show, which is moving its theatrical lineup from the Pantages to other L.A. venues.

The story of the “good” witch, Glinda, and the “wicked” witch, Elpaba, has even inspired singalongs, clothing and a line of cosmetics (in, of course, pink and green). So what is it about the Tony- and Grammy-winning musical that has audiences so spellbound?

“If you take a familiar story and you come at it from another point of view, the tension between the audience’s preconception and the approach you’re taking to the story adds an extra level of response,” composer-lyricist Schwartz (“The Prince of Egypt”) told The Journal in 2005, when “Wicked” flew into the Pantages for the first time.

As for those who just have to get tickets, you won’t need a magic wand this time.

“We are planning to make Los Angeles a home for ‘Wicked’ as long as the public’s demand for our show will allow,” producer David Stone said.

“Wicked” will begin performances at the Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., beginning Feb. 9, 2007. $25-$88. At present, tickets are only available to subscribers of Broadway/L.A. by calling (866) 755-2929; or for groups of 15 or more by calling (866) 755-3075 or visiting www.broadwayla.org. For more information on the show, visit www.wickedthemusical.com/la.

— Shoshana Lewin, Contributing Writer

‘Sex and the City’ Workout


“You’re joining a gym again?” I laughed. “If you could get back even half the money you’ve spent on gym memberships, you could go to Hawaii!”

“This time it’s different,” my friend said. “I’m joining that new one right by the mall. It’s so convenient, I can’t not go! And I’ll even use my free sessions with the personal trainer. I swear to you I am not throwing my money away this time.”

Where have I heard that before? Gym joiners are a dime a dozen here in fitness-obsessed Los Angeles. And you can’t drive three blocks without seeing some kind of gym or studio. Where I live, every time a new Starbucks pops up so does another gym. But I gave up on gyms long ago.

I joined my first gym while in college. My friends and I signed up for a three-month trial together, intending to rid ourselves of the proverbial freshman 10 — the end result of late-night doughnut runs.

We went religiously for three weeks, and then at least twice a week for three weeks after that, and then once in a while for three more weeks, and then we took a break for finals. After finals, the excuses began: “I have too much studying to do.” “I have a date.” “My sister has my car.” “I need to go shopping.”

We didn’t sign up again when the three months ran out.

Over the years I joined a few more gyms, always with the best intentions. But eventually my motivation to workout just wore out. For every reason there was to go, I had at least three reasons not to.

After I swore off of gym memberships, I decided that I needed to come up with different incentives to get moving. I used my dog. My dog loves to walk, and I love my dog. But dogs tend to stop frequently, and my dog must have been concerned that the female dogs on our block were not aware of his existence. So even though our walks were delightful, it became less of a fitness routine and more of a way for my dog to mark his masculinity.

Although the dog-walk routine didn’t pan out, a bit of canine inspiration led me to a workout regimen that finally worked.

When I next ran into my gym-joining friend, she was sipping a low-fat frap at the Starbucks next door to her new gym.

“Hey! How’s the new workout?” I asked.

“Um, good. The trainer was great, but kind of expensive once the freebees ran out. The locker room is very clean, and the juice bar totally yum,” she said, diverting her eyes and concentrating on the whipped cream oozing up her straw.

“You quit, didn’t you?”

“Not exactly,” she said.

“You stopped going?”

“I just needed a break.”

“I told you so,” I said as I ordered a tall decaf latte.

“OK, so you did,” she said defensively. “And what about you? What are you doing for exercise?”

I raised my eyebrows and smiled coyly. “I invented my own routine. I call it the ‘Sex and the City’ Workout,” I said.

“I’m intrigued,” she said. We took a seat in a quiet corner in the back. “How does it work?”

“Do you remember Pavlov? Well, I now am conditioned just like his dog.”

“You drool?”

“Don’t be silly. I developed a system so that I associate exercise with something I really want. I got an elliptical machine and put it in front of the TV.”

“I bet you hang your dirty clothes on it.”

“I do,” I admitted. “Exercise equipment always turns into a clothesline. Anyway, the trick to my workout is DVDs of ‘Sex and the City.'”

“I don’t get it.”

“I love watching ‘Sex and the City,’ right? Well, I allow myself to watch only if I am on the elliptical. So just like Pavlov’s dog learned to associate the bell with food, I associate exercise with my favorite show. If I want to watch, I have to workout. It’s that simple. I got caught up in season five one night, and when I looked down I had burned more than 3,000 calories.”

“That’s amazing!”

“It’s the best idea I ever had. My regular workout consists of two episodes — first episode on the elliptical and second episode stretching and lifting weights.”

“Wow,” she shook her head. “You do look, uh, pretty fit.”

I showed her my upper arm and allowed her to poke my bicep.

“I’m not only in shape,” I bragged, “I am also the ‘Sex and the City’ trivia game champion. I was the only one in my havurah who knew where Carrie and Miranda bought their cupcakes.” (Magnolia Bakery.)

“So you just watch ‘Sex and the City’ over and over?” she asked.
“When I could recite Carrie’s lines as well as she could, I decided to move on. So I addicted myself to ‘Gilmore Girls,'” I said.

“Ooooh, I love that show!”

“Then ‘The Sopranos,’ ’24,’ ‘Will and Grace’….”

Top 10 Things to Do Before the Change


No matter where you are in the menopause transition, it’s never too late (or early) to get your health act together to ensure the next 40 or so years are as terrific as or better than the first were. Here are 10 things you can do right now.

1. Choose the right health-care provider

Perimenopause is the perfect time to find a health-care provider you can trust to help you manage any serious medical problems, should they arise in the future. Ask your friends for recommendations or check out the NAMS list of credentialed Menopause Practitioners (

Fit L.A. – The Birthday Party Crasher: Dr. Atkins


Over the past few months, I have relished the apparent collapse of the low-carb industry. Low-carb specialty stores and magazines arrived with much fanfare but soon crumbled like a tired soufflé.

Good riddance to them, I thought — especially the magazine that tried to bilk me after I wrote an article for them. Low-carbism was just another sorry scheme to part consumers from their hard-earned bucks and their bagels.

And who could afford the stuff? I tried an insanely expensive low-carb pasta once. It was heavy, gummy and tasteless — and those were its finer qualities.

But I realized my satisfaction was premature, when I was confronted with the ghost of Dr. Atkins. She was draped in a Size 2 dress and toting a sorry slice of flourless bread between scrawny fingers.

The timing couldn’t have been worse. I was happily toting a batch of homemade bread and a broccoli quiche to a pot-luck birthday party, eager for some good fun and good eats. But I had barely crossed the threshold, when Sandy, the hostess and erstwhile birthday girl, announced that she had lost another 10 pounds on the Atkins plan.

Sandy had always been as slim as an asparagus spear. Why she felt compelled to whittle down to as thin as a blade of wheat grass was beyond me. And telling me bordered on the cruel. I forced a smile at her “achievement” as I placed my culinary contributions on the table.

“Mmmm, smells good,” Sandy said, leaning over to inhale the bread.

If she were still Atkinizing herself, could I blame her for wanting a little inhalation therapy of a wheat product?

“This is home baked, isn’t it?” I detected a plaintive quality to her question.

“Yes, and I made the broccoli quiche, too.”

Hope returned to her voice: “Is it crustless?”

“Uh, no, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you were still no-carbing it.”

“I’m not no-carbing it; I’m low-carbing it,” she clarified.

“But Sandy, it’s your birthday, for crying out loud. Can’t you allow yourself a measly 50 or 60 carbs today? I mean, look at you. When you turn sideways you disappear.”

Sandy was saved from answering by a knock at the door. Linda and Rachel had arrived, the heavenly aroma of something Italian wafting in after them.

Soon, all the guests had settled around the table. I sliced my bread and passed the basket around. Sandy immediately passed the basket to Linda. Meanwhile, I saw her stealthily uncover a very dark, very thin slice of bread filled with sprouty-looking things from under her napkin.

“What is that?” Linda asked.

It appeared to have been made from at least 40 percent recycled paper products.

“It’s flourless protein bread,” Sandy explained. It was called Ezekiel 4.9, “as described in the Holy Bible,” according to the package, made from lentils, barley and spelt, whatever that was.

Just what we all needed: a “friend” seemingly bent on becoming skinnier than Lindsay Lohan and a loaf of bread that quoted scripture. Sandy offered us all a piece, and we each took polite little bites.

“Who says there’s no truth in advertising?” I asked. “This actually tastes biblical.”

“I thought the Atkins thing was over,” Linda chimed in helpfully, washing down her Ezekiel 4.9 with an eight-ounce cup of H2O.

“Not for me,” Sandy said. “I’m almost at my high school cheerleading weight, which is my goal. You may think it’s silly,” she admitted, ejecting a carrot curl from her salad as if it carried the avian flu.

Rachel was busily serving up a nice portion of the broccoli quiche and some low-fat manicotti: “My sister-in-law is going one better than you, Sandy. She’s only eating raw foods.”

“That sounds exhausting,” I said. “Who has that much time to chew?”

“She says it makes her feel light,” Rachel answered.

“If I want to feel that light, I’ll float in the Dead Sea,” I said.

Was I sounding a tad snarky? I couldn’t help it. I had been looking forward to this birthday party, and the guest of honor was ruining it for me. If only Sandy had warned us all in advance, we could have saved ourselves a lot of trouble and prepared a meal that she could have eaten without picking out half the ingredients, such as a plate of cheese slices and broiled zucchini. Rachel had made her famous Big Fat Greek Salad, but I was distracted by the sight of Sandy making a little hill of the croutons and shunting aside all the tomatoes, as well. What a waste of all that Vitamin C.

I didn’t say so at the time, but it didn’t seem to me that Dr. Atkins’ dietary brainstorm helped him very much, either. After all, he died after taking a fall. Seems to me that if he had had a little more padding on him, he probably could have just gotten up, dusted himself off and went on his merry way.

Of course, the Atkins people like to keep this quiet, but I also heard his cholesterol was higher than the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Despite all his efforts, you still never hear anybody say, “That’s the greatest thing since sliced celery.”

Inevitably, dessert time arrived. We all sang “Happy Birthday” to Sandy, but I wasn’t feeling so happy anymore. The unspoken pressure during lunch had made me peel off the pasta from the manicotti, and even I was reduced to foregoing the croutons on the Greek salad. It’s amazing how fast mass hysteria can spread.

Rachel served her luscious carrot cake, and Sandy blew out the candles before eating a piece. But no matter how long she sat there, no way could Sandy pick out all the microscopic pieces of carrot from a slab of carrot cake.

However, it all worked out in the end. While the rest of us ate the actual cake, we scraped off the cream cheese frosting and gave it to Sandy.

Judy Gruen (www.judygruen.com) is the author of two award-winning humor books, including “Till We Eat Again: Confessions of a Diet Dropout” (Champion, 2002).

 

Fit L.A. – Let’s Take a ‘J-Walk’ Around the Block


I enjoy walking if it’s through a store during a sale or to show off a grandchild. But walking for the pure fun of it isn’t fun for me. The last time I exercised was when Ed Sullivan introduced the Beatles, and I jumped up and down in the living room as they played.

Enter the Neshoma Orchestra and their two CDs to walk by, “J-Walking” and the recently released “J-Walking the Next Step.”

After schlepping 40 years in the desert, it’s hard to imagine a CD to exercise by coming from a people who have harbored a subconscious distrust of walking. But with my daughter’s upcoming nuptials, my unending kvetch about fitting into the dress won out over my skepticism.

Tuesday, 8 p.m.

I dusted off the portable CD player, stuck an earphone in my ear, put on as flattering an outfit as I could conjure up and hit the open road, one foot in front of the other.

Before I knew it, I had gone a block, then two, humming along with the familiar Yiddish melodies that played faster and more upbeat than I ever remembered. Strains of “Chabibi” coursed through my veins.

My mother’s Yiddish musical selections ran more toward, “My Yiddish Mama” and “Make Mir a Bisala Yingala” from The Barry Sisters. “Sob Your Heart Out Greatest Hits.”

So there I am, walking along at a jaunty pace, humming and moving without my usual stops to check the time, but actually enjoying the pace.

At three blocks I began forcing myself to ignore the objections of my feet and focus on the beat.

I had made it through four songs and I was feeling empowered. Suddenly, the old anti-exercise gene kicked in and my body began to rebel and slow the pace. I fought valiantly and luckily, the next selection was more upbeat. I kicked into overdrive to “Reb Shlomo’s Niggun.”

I was feeling good, and a bit shocked that I had just absorbed five Yiddish songs without shedding a tear.

I decided to push my luck, so I kept walking, farther than I had planned. I wasn’t sure if it was endorphins or the music, but I was feeling good; so good in fact, I pressed forward, another street, another, until I had gone farther than ever before.

I was pretty sure that by now, my pushy Jewish genes had taken hold, awakened by the chemicals released in my brain to combine with more than 5,700 years of feistiness.

Whatever it was, it was working, so I tested myself even more and attempted an uphill walk. This was major since the flat terrain was enough of a challenge.

I looked up toward Sunset Boulevard. It could’ve been Mount Sinai. Oy, that’s steep, I thought. But I was pumped with Yiddishkayt and defeat was not an option. I began the ascent. Gevalt, could I be this out of shape?

The songs had gotten to me and Yiddish was flowing out of my mouth now like lies from a politician. “Hodu” suddenly kicked in, and so did I. Breathing heavily, I climbed ever upward, inspired, pumped, lungs aching, feet screaming obscenities. I could not be stopped. I was a Jewish walking machine, sucking in air as I ascended higher and higher toward Sunset Boulevard. Mouthing silent oys as I schlepped, the beat growing faster and more upbeat, I was inspired and — oy, was I tired. Could I reach the promised land of Sunset Boulevard? I knew I would pay for this the next morning, but I didn’t care. I refused to look upward and focused on my feet so as not to notice how high I was climbing. I wondered how long I might lie on the street if keeled over before someone would find me.

I could be lying there, Yiddish music blasting from my unconscious ears, my headband covering my eyes, just another exercise victim who had crossed a threshold of pain.

This daydream diverted my attention long enough to get my second wind and I was off. Huffing and puffing nearing the top, almost there, thousands of years of Jewish determination pounding in my veins, two feet more, one, I was there. I stood on Sunset Boulevard and peered downward like Moses glimpsing the River Jordan.

The beat compelled me onward, so I walked along Sunset, so filled with accomplishment I thought I would burst.

I walked toward home until I found a downhill street on which to begin my descent. Whoa, this downhill was almost as hard. I fought to keep the rhythm, until I reached Santa Monica Boulevard. I trudged up the steps and tore my shoes off, the music still filling my ears, joyous, upbeat. I had done three miles and walked uphill. There was no talking to me now. I was filled with hope. Tomorrow I could do this again. I felt it; I knew it.

Wednesday, 8 a.m.

I opened my eyes, and flush with optimism I stepped out of bed. Oy, flush with pain.

But there was no stopping me. I was a Jew with her music and a worthy goal of fitting into the dress for her daughter’s wedding.

 

Clearing the Air About Allergies


Scary statistic to contemplate: About 10 to 15 percent of kids suffer from allergies, and the rate has been rising steadily for the past 20 years. Though no one knows why allergies are skyrocketing, we do know what causes them. Allergies are an immunological “overreaction” to a substance that enters the body through airborne particles such as pollen, skin contact, or ingested foods. Though this may sound quite simple, allergies are notoriously tricky to diagnose. The symptoms are remarkably diverse, varied in degree, and easy to confuse with other ailments.

1. If your child has cold symptoms that seem to drag on forever, allergies may be the real culprit. Does your child get endless but fever-free head colds — complete with sniffling, sneezing, itchy nose, watery eyes, and noisy mouth-breathing? Could be that she’s suffering from perennial allergic rhinitis, the body’s unhappy response to such year-round allergens as dust mites and animal dander.

How to handle: Talk to your pediatrician about whether your child should be evaluated by an allergist/immunologist; a skin test can identify what triggers your child’s symptoms. Once the results are in, you can work on minimizing the presence of the offending triggers. But unless you plan to lock your child in a mold-free closet for the rest of his life, complete elimination isn’t always possible. Over-the-counter oral antihistamines and decongestants can help, but they can be sedating. Ask your doctor whether the prescription drug Claritin, a nonsedating antihistamine, is an option; it’s approved for use by children age 6 and older.

2. If your child experiences these same symptoms, but they always strike in spring or summertime, you’re probably dealing with seasonal allergic rhinitis. Sometimes inaccurately called hay fever, this kind of allergy can actually be triggered by an array of pollens that become airborne as plants bloom. Need further help diagnosing your child? Look for this give-away, says Dr. June Engel, a biochemist and author of “The Complete Allergy Book”: Since your child’s nose will be itching like crazy, he may well do what’s known as “the allergic salute” — he’ll rub the palm of his hand upward against the tip of his nose to relieve the itching.

How to handle: Electric bills be damned: You may want to shut the windows and run air-conditioning during the height of the season to minimize pollen entering your home, says Dr. Francis V. Adams, pulmonary specialist and assistant professor of clinical medicine at New York University Medical School. Check with your pediatrician for advice on which antihistamines to try, and keep in mind that this medication actually prevents symptoms rather than cures them, so use them at the first hint of seasonal rhinitis.

3. Wheezing, coughing, tightness of the chest, and shortness of breath are usually hallmarks of asthma, an allergic condition in which the bronchial tubes narrow and the lungs become congested due to inflammation. Triggers may be anything from dust mites to mold to animal dander to cigarette smoke. Complicating matters still more, exercise has been known to bring on episodes, and in about 80 percent of cases, a viral infection will kick off the reaction. Typically, a child with asthma will experience his first symptoms before age 3.

How to handle: If your child wheezes or you have any other reason to suspect asthma, contact your pediatrician right away.

Obviously, you’ll want to keep your child away from the specific allergens and irritants as much as possible (warning: this may mean finding the family pet a new home). Beyond that, your child should have a bronchodilator spray available to be used whenever he feels wheezy and take an anti-inflammatory drug on a regular basis to keep his airways open. If your child ever seems to be struggling for breath and his medication doesn’t bring relief, bring him to the emergency room immediately.

4. When raised red patches crop up on your child’s skin, you’re probably dealing with hives. Hives can be an allergic reaction, commonly to an insect sting or food (peanuts, for instance).

How to handle: Of course, avoiding your child’s triggers is the best defense. But if your child is afflicted, be on the lookout for those cases of hives that can turn deadly: “If your kid brushes up against a tree and gets only a hive or two, it’s nothing to be concerned about; treat the itchiness with an over-the-counter oral antihistamine such as Benadryl,” says Dr. Jack Becker, chief of the allergy section at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia. “But if all of a sudden he feels funny — that’s how a child will typically describe the sensation — has trouble breathing and is breaking out in hives all over, that’s extremely serious.”

This can progress to a potentially deadly condition known as anaphylactic shock, in which the tongue and throat swell up, cutting off the child’s air supply. If your child ever does show these symptoms, call for an ambulance immediately.

The deadly stage of the reaction might not hit until 10 hours later — when you mistakenly think everything’s back to normal. Also, get a Medic Alert bracelet or some other kind of identification that will let emergency workers know what the problem is in case you’re not present.

Beth Levine is a writer whose essays have appeared in Redbook, Woman’s Day, Family Circle, the Chicago Tribune, USA Weekend and Newsday.

 

Task Force Reviews Access for Disabled


Childhood polio didn’t slow Jay Kruger. Although he couldn’t run, Kruger led a normal life as a teenager and into adulthood. Now, like other seniors experiencing post-polio syndrome, his strength is receding. To get around, three years ago he began relying on an electric wheelchair that he controls with a joystick.

While federal laws require public buildings to provide access for the handicapped, Kruger still encounters restaurants without ramps, public restrooms with hard-to-open doors that trap him inside and theater seating that is spitting distance from the screen. One quarter of the nation’s population cope with either physical or cognitive disabilities.

“People with two good legs, it doesn’t hit them,” said Kruger, who recently toured the recently opened Jewish Community Center (JCC) in Irvine to critique its accessibility for the handicapped.

Kruger had another motive, too. He is a member of a special Jewish Family Service (JFS) task force, which this fall will survey for the first time the needs and barriers of the physically and mentally disabled at synagogues, day schools and other Jewish institutions in Orange County.

It is hoped the Jewish Federation-funded survey will identify synagogues or programs that address needs of the disabled, which can be a model for others. The subject is a sensitive and complex one, as it will put a spotlight on community support for special services and conflicting attitudes over how to provide those services.

Findings initially will be compiled as a local Jewish resource guide, said Mel Roth, JFS executive director.

“When you find yourself with a child with special needs, it’s a maze out there,” said La Rhea Steindler, a JFS case manager and counselor, who is leading the 18-member task force, and is a mother of children with disabilities. “If it takes you three years to identify special needs, you’ve lost three precious years and have the emotional damage that goes with it.”

“If we shorten that process, we may prevent it,” she said.

The task force includes representatives from local Jewish groups, like the Jeremiah Society, as well as county service providers.

“It’s a very difficult job to get the community to recognize there are people among us who can’t benefit from society,” said Rose Lacher, who for 20 years has tried without success to establish a Jewish group home for mentally disabled adults in Orange County. She founded the Jeremiah Society, a social club of 30 members that draws participants from outside the county, reflecting the scarcity of such services.

“There are a lot of barriers,” Lacher said. “Some people just don’t want to hear about people who are different.”

“Using a public restroom has nothing to do with being Jewish,” said Joan Levine, who trains special education teachers at Cal State Fullerton. Levine, the author of a vocational guide for Orange County’s disabled, is dyslexic and has attention deficit disorder. She also is a JFS task force member.

Even so, she pointed out, observant Jews with disabilities face some particular hurdles. As an example, she said, turning off a hearing aid on Shabbat is considered an act of work, which is prohibited. Levine recalls having to seek permission from a religious court to use a sign language interpreter at a bat mitzvah where a deaf relative was to be called to the pulpit.

While day schools and supplemental religious schools willingly enroll special needs students, few are staffed with teachers expert in their needs. Some training is available locally through a little-known group, Special Needs Learning Partnership, formerly known as Jewish Education For All. The group provides highly regarded training in special-needs instruction for religious school teachers, hosts experts for talks with parents and teachers, and supplements teacher salaries.

“It’s the best-kept secret,” said Linda Shoham, the partnership director and also a member of the JFS task force. In the coming year, partnership-trained teachers will offer special-needs religious school classes at Fountain Valley’s Congregation B’nai Tzedek and Huntington Beach’s Congregation Adat Israel.

Yet even when such resources are available, many parents with special-needs children prefer mainstream classes rather than a specialized one, which can be stigmatizing.

During the JCC tour, Kruger was pleased to learn the fitness staff includes Angel Luna, a victim of cerebral palsy, who is a rehabilitation specialist. Luna’s expertise with stroke and heart-attack victims would serve the disabled, too, said Sean Eviston, the JCC athletic director.

“He fits a niche perfectly that is lacking in most commercial gyms,” Eviston said.

Kruger was equally impressed with a submersible chair, allowing the wheelchair-bound to be immersed in the swimming pool.

“I’ve never seen another one,” he said.
But entering a JCC restroom or the senior center was a considerable effort for Kruger from his wheelchair.

“There are people with walkers who will have more difficulty than I getting through all those doors,” said Kruger, none of which open automatically. For those reasons, Kruger gave the JCC a “B” grade. “I couldn’t give it an ‘A.'”

Seniors Flock to OASIS of Learning


“Make the shape of a U with your hips,” coaches belly-dancing teacher Elexa Williams. Her students willingly comply, rolling their shoulders, gyrating their torsos and undulating their hips as they follow the teacher’s example. Around their waists, the participants wear scarves adorned with rows of coins, and as they move, the room fills with a rhythmic jingling sound.

Down the hall, students peer intently at computer screens, struggling to learn the nuances of sending e-mails and creating documents in Microsoft Word.

OASIS, a program offering educational, enrichment and volunteer opportunities. Part of a national network, OASIS in Los Angeles is a program of Jewish Family Service, and is co-sponsored by Robinsons-May, the Los Angeles Department of Aging and the Westside Pavilion.

OASIS provides an eclectic array of classes, many of which are free. Fitness fans can choose among such options as chair exercise, yoga and karate. Art buffs can study French and American impressionism or drawing. Others can explore Jewish spirituality, analyze Shakespeare or play guitar. Some of the classes are even taught by retired professors from UCLA and USC. And seniors who wish to travel can choose among a variety of day excursions and extended trips.

“I think OASIS is wonderful because they have so much to offer,” said Aura, a 72-year-old participant in the belly-dancing class. She also takes “The Rabbi Speaks,” with Rabbi Michael Resnick, and a bridge class, which she said “works the aging matter in your brain.”

“OASIS provides learning and growth opportunities for active people who live at home,” program director Victoria Neal said. “It’s a progressive alternative for those who might feel like they’re with old people’ when they attend senior centers or meal programs.”

Neal estimates that between 1,200 and 1,500 individuals ranging in age from 60 to 95 attend classes at OASIS’ Westside locations each week. Most Westside classes meet within OASIS’ warren of classrooms inside the Robinsons-May at the Westside Pavilion. Others meet in community rooms within the shopping center. Satellite locations include the Farmers Market, Park La Brea, Workmen’s Circle and Jewish Family Service’s Pico-Robertson Storefront and Freda Mohr Multiservice Center on Fairfax. In Woodland Hills, classes are offered in conjunction with Pierce College through the Encore-OASIS program.

The national OASIS program was founded in 1982 in St. Louis by educator Marylen Mann and Margie Wolcott May of the May department store family.

“They wanted to create a program fostering wellness, companionship and vitality for mature adults,” Los Angeles OASIS assistant director Rachelle Sommers Smith said. “They didn’t feel that existing programs offered sufficient stimulation for retired people.”

OASIS is now available in 26 cities nationwide.

For the past five years, Fanny Behmoiras, 66, has been making a weekly trek to Pico-Robertson from Encino to attend the life history writing class.

“I come rain or shine,” said Behmoiras, who has written 153 vignettes, including those describing her family’s flight from Cuba in 1961. During this session, she shares her account of the joy of her grandson’s bar mitzvah, followed days later by the anguish of losing a cherished family member.

Her instructor, Bea Mitz, explains that participants write their memoirs to leave a history for their children and grandchildren. “They do this so that whoever follows will not have to say, ‘I didn’t ask … I wish I knew.'”

Bella Haroutunian, 73, follows life history with an intermediate computer class.

“I started a year ago,” Haroutunian said. “I had very little knowledge about computers, and I wanted to write my memoirs.”

Now she uses the computer not only to compose her life story, but also to e-mail friends and family and research her upcoming trip to Europe and Russia.

It makes me feel that I’m a little bit up-to-date,” she said. “Before, I felt that I was so behind on this technology.”

Neal says many OASIS participants explore new hobbies or careers through the program.

“They’re doing what they love to do and never had a chance to do,” she said.

OASIS also provides volunteer opportunities for seniors, who help keep the program running. Ruth Morraine, 94, has been volunteering twice a week since 1991, assisting with clerical and bookkeeping tasks. She doesn’t seem at all daunted by the need to take a taxi and two buses to reach her destination. As Morraine says, “Age is just a number, honey.”

For more information, visit or call (310) 475-4911, ext. 2200 (Westside); (818) 710-4163 (Woodland Hills); (323) 298-7541 ext. 2517 (Baldwin Hills); (310) 547-0090 (San Pedro) or (562) 601-5010 (Long Beach/Lakewood).

Doctor Helps Kids Deal With Diabetes


Ask just about any of Dr. Francine Kaufman’s pediatric patients about her and the superlatives will start to fly.

“Fran is one of the busiest people I know … yet she’s still able to find time for me and make me feel like the only child in the hospital,” said 15-year-old Katie Zucker.

Chris Paonessa, 14, calls Kaufman his “mentor and role model.”

“She’s not just my doctor, she’s my friend,” noted college student Lupe Pena, a patient of Kaufman’s for 15 years.

The compliments come despite the fact that Kaufman, a pediatric endocrinologist and the head of the Center for Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, is often the person who delivers the devastating news to children that they have diabetes. It is Kaufman who orchestrates their transition from having a carefree childhood to one dramatically altered by the constant need to monitor diet, measure blood sugar and administer insulin.

If there’s such thing as a typical doctor, Kaufman surely doesn’t fit the mold. First, as Zucker noted, “She’s the only doctor we know who comes to work in stilettos and a miniskirt.”

While doctors are cautioned not to get too involved with their patients, Kaufman has invited several of them to stay at her home for periods ranging from days to years. One became a member of the family, whom Kaufman refers to as her “near son.” Another currently lives with the Kaufmans during the week while attending college.

Kaufman’s quest to eradicate diabetes extends beyond her direct work with pediatric patients. Among other things, she is a professor of pediatrics at the Keck School of Medicine at USC, the president of the American Diabetes Association (ADA) and lead researcher on two National Institutes of Health (NIH) diabetes studies. That’s in addition to being the wife of a Cedars-Sinai pediatrician and mother of two grown sons.

Kaufman was honored by the ADA as their 2003 Woman of Valor at a tribute dinner on Feb. 6. Along with physicians nationwide, she is alarmed at the increasing number of children diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, which used to be known as adult-onset diabetes.

“Twenty-five percent of new onset diabetes in children is Type 2,” Kaufman noted.

This increase is tied to the rise in childhood obesity, now considered an epidemic, and Kaufman is concerned about the poor eating habits and lack of physical exercise among school-age children.

“We’re seeing too many kids who are gaining too much weight,” she said.

To address this problem, Kaufman chaired the Los Angeles County Task Force on Children and Youth Physical Fitness, which recommended policies to support physical activity and healthy eating among children. She was one of the driving forces behind the Los Angeles Unified School District’s policy to prohibit soft-drink sales at middle and high schools starting January of next year (they are already banned in elementary schools).

At Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, her team is involved in NIH multicenter studies to see how lifestyle modifications can impact children with Type 2 diabetes, and whether diabetes can be prevented in the relatives of those with the disease.

She has collaborated on diabetes initiatives with Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy G. Thompson, who flew in from Washington, D.C., to present Kaufman’s Woman of Valor Award. Saluting her work nationally and in such locations as Israel, Ecuador and Mongolia, Thompson said Kaufman has “the courage and the drive to make a difference in the lives of millions, not just here but around the world.”

When Kaufman sees a need, she fills it. One of the biggest challenges for diabetics is keeping the level of their blood sugar stable, especially at night. Kaufman came up with the idea of using uncooked cornstarch to formulate a patented food bar that reduces the incidence of hypoglycemia by promoting gradual and consistent absorption of glucose. For some patients, it has eliminated the need to wake up during the night to snack or test their blood sugar.

To help children understand the nature of diabetes, Kaufman helped develop a CD-ROM game called Life Adventure Series. And when she noticed that patients were having difficulty calculating the dosage of insulin they needed, she designed a simple slide card that matches blood sugar numbers and corresponding insulin dosages.

With all her roles and accomplishments, Kaufman’s direct impact on her patients is perhaps the most dramatic.

As Paonessa, who has successfully completed a marathon said, “She made me believe that everything is possible, even with diabetes.”

The Life Adventure Series: Diabetes CD-ROM is available
free of charge to children with diabetes and their parents. For information,
visit www.starbright.org/projects/diabetes/order.html

Training for Life


Dave Rabb is a personal trainer with a few secrets: bring balloons to class, reward genuine efforts with cookies and make sure all clients use the potty before climbing the equipment.

"Oh, no. It might be too late," yells Rabb one afternoon, as his client Matthew, 3, runs down the hall looking for the bathroom.

"In there, in there!" he shouts to the boy.

Gold’s Gym this isn’t, but Rabb’s Children’s Fitness Center in Culver City is more about fun and physical education than tight abs and buns of steel.

Before Gymboree and Mommy and Me, Rabb opened one of the country’s first gyms for kids ages 9 months to 10 years. More than 25 years later, he is still leading classes built around songs, games, playground skills, tumbling and basic gymnastics.

Rabb is not interested in training the next Olympian. If someone wants an intense gymnastics program, he sends them elsewhere. Instead, he is promoting physical development, the joy of movement and plenty of self-esteem.

Classes build strength, balance and coordination, and each session gets increasingly challenging. Rabb also works with kids who have special needs.

"That’s it, Paige! You’re doing the dreaded bear walk," he says to the 3-year-old crawling atop the parallel bars, her bottom in the air.

Devon, 4, does a handstand on the low bars as Rabb holds his ankles and says, "His feet don’t smell bad either." And hanging by her belly from a pulley and a string, Gabby, 3, holds her arms out and slides across the room. "A birdie, a birdie," Rabb booms in his thick Brooklyn accent.

Using balloons, he leads the children through several dexterity exercises, like turning the balloon quietly, then making it squeak. Rabb lobs one-liners to the parents, grandparents and caretakers who sit behind the observation counter.

"He’s balloon-retentive," Rabb says. "If you like that sound, next week I’m going to teach you how to scratch your fingernails on a blackboard."

"What I really like is that Dave doesn’t take any nonsense from the kids," says Jody Reichel, whose two children, Sibyl, 6, and Ethan, 4, attend classes. "He gets them to try their best and he takes them to a new level. But if they don’t cooperate, he sends them out. He won’t let them have a turn."

Rabb also works with children who have special needs — including autism, physical disabilities and motor skills challenges.

These kids, who now represent about a third of the gym’s participants, are referred by the West Side Regional Center, an agency that provides services to children and adults with developmental disabilities. Rabb works with some of these children individually, while others are mainstreamed into general classes. There are also group classes dedicated to children with special needs.

"Some autistic children don’t speak, but these activities transcend speech," Rabb said. "Our activities are so graphic and visual and experiential that children express themselves through activities and feel the pleasure of that. They don’t have to verbally give us the feedback."

In 1962, when Rabb says he was "young and skinny," he had a television show pilot he calls "a Jack La Laine for kids." When it wasn’t picked up, he took a job as the athletic director at the Jewish Community Center (JCC) in Kansas City. He also worked at the Silver Lake-Los Feliz JCC before opening his own facility.

Rabb, who identifies as a cultural Jew, says he speaks more Yiddish now than he did growing up on Coney Island, in the observant community of Seagate. "I sound like Jackie Mason," he says, throwing in a few "oy veys" for good measure. While he’s still bending and squatting with the kids, at 67, Rabb has his sights set on retirement. He’s already got the house in Hawaii, where he’ll spend his days deep sea fishing. But now he’s got work to do.

Noticing a child who gets distracted, he shouts, "Wake up and smell the…."

"Coffee!" the youngster yells back.

"Right, Gabby," Rabb says. "Very good."

For more information contact Dave Rabb’s Children’s Fitness Center in Culver City, (310) 559-4110.

Fit From N.Y. to L.A.


When I first moved to Los Angeles several months ago, I went to the gym every day. So, I discovered, does everyone else here.

This came as a shock to me. As a displaced New Yorker among the angels, I could adjust to the un-NYC features of this sunny world: the shocked glares I’d receive at mere mention of walking or (God forbid) public transport, the industry chit-chat that’s a cliché by now, the masses of people here with ambiguous jobs involving "something in music or film" who never seem to go to work but somehow manage to pay their rents. Yet one thing I did need schooling in: L.A. fitness mores.

In New York, my daily workout routine made me something of a spectacle among my health-considerate but hardly health-obsessed friends. For most of them, the gym was an event, not a routine.

"I’m going to the gym a week from tonight," my friend Jane would declare. This meant she was off-limits for at least three evenings: the crucial night before the workout (to be spent getting a good night’s sleep), the night of the workout (to be spent sweating), and the night after it (to be spent recovering).

But in Los Angeles, my sneaker-clad self became something I never wanted to be: yet another 20-something single girl with a regular fitness routine. Going to the gym is a given here. Nobody’s impressed if you do it; they’re stunned if you don’t. In car culture, gyms are Los Angeles’ traffic lights: "Turn right at the Bally’s," I’d hear, "and make a left at Hollywood Fitness."

I became a closet case. Embarrassed to be a cliché, I began telling people I was going to the supermarket instead of the gym. They began wondering why my groceries had such a short shelf life.

They also invited me on what I came to think of as gym-related leisure activities: hiking, running, ball-playing, swimming. Performed by those who engage in regular workouts but who also like to cultivate hobbies, these activities are so very Los Angeles because they, like everything else in this city, blur the line between work and play (Is it a night on the town or a networking venture? Is it a walk through the mountains or an efficient workout?).

If fitness is the official religion of Los Angeles, then everyone, I’ve determined, has a bad case of Jewish guilt. If they’re not working out, they’re thinking about it, talking about it, or planning to do it. The Jewish mother in this metaphor is the ubiquitous personal trainer, who always lurks as a reminder that however hard you’re working out, you could always be putting in just a little more effort, couldn’t you?

My first gym membership here was at Gold’s in Venice, one of the few institutions in this city with some history attached to it. Unfortunately, I never seemed to get an efficient workout there, because I’d end up ogling my fellow exercisers, most of whom had bodies that seemed to defy nature itself. How, I wondered, did they get all that bulge and bulk in all those bizarre places? Most of the women at Gold’s could bench press me 10 times over. As for the men, I couldn’t fathom how they jammed all that bulk into human clothing.

Then again, when it comes to fitness, I learned, L.A. men are a whole different breed. Vanity in women — that’s a given. But vain men are the specialty of the region. Five minutes into a conversation with one, I’d often end up hearing more than I cared to know about his workout schedule and problem areas. They were shocked to hear that I had no opinion about the quality, texture, and/or value of a six-pack.

Ah, the elusive six-pack — something my male roommate never tires of discussing, especially while his Healthy Choice dinner is in the microwave and he’s confessing to all the carbs he ate that day, as if to purge himself of sin. "If I could only work out that extra hour, and stop my late-night snacking," he’d moan. I’d nod, absolve him, and shake my head in puzzlement. A man who knows what a low-carb diet is? I don’t think I could find a single one in New York — but I meet them every day at the frozen yogurt store in West Hollywood, filling their perfect abdominals with carbo-lite milkshakes and low-carb muffins. I admit it: These guys have beaten me at my own game.

I’m not in New York anymore, and this is the new game of fitness. So I yield to the insanity and drive (drive!) back to the gym.

The ‘Personal’ Touch


Rhoda Weisman was having trouble motivating herself to exercise. Although she belonged to a gym and wanted to stay fit, the 43-year-old Angeleno worked out only sporadically and felt frustrated by what she saw as her physical "weakness." "I decided my body needed an overhaul," said Hillel’s chief creative officer, who is based in Los Angeles. So she hired a personal trainer, and ever since, "I feel healthier, stronger and more confident," Weisman told The Journal.

As the concern for a healthy lifestyle grows, personal trainers — exercise coaches who are employed privately to work out one-on-one with their clients — are becoming more popular. Generally, a personal trainer prescribes a personalized exercise program for the clients, one that takes into account the client’s particular situation and needs. The trainer also works out with clients, continuously motivating them to do their exercises correctly and stay in shape.

Today, as many people eschew their gym memberships for the workouts provided by personal trainers, it is clear that trainers have created a niche in the fitness industry that presents fitness seekers with a viable — albeit costly — alternative to working out alone or at a gym.

People employ trainers for a variety of reasons. Some, like Weisman, feel that they need a boost to get in shape or to lose weight. Others, like Shirley Pollack, 81, who began working out with a trainer to rehabilitate herself after a stroke, use a trainer as an aid to recovery after a serious illness. There are also people who employ a trainer to help them reach a certain fitness goal, such as running a marathon or completing a triathlon.

The main benefit of having a trainer, many say, is the discipline it provides.

Mara Blum, 33, started working out with personal trainer Betsy Mendel after she had her first baby. "I wanted someone to make me work out. It is easy to join a gym and never go, but if someone is coming over to your house at a scheduled time, then [you] get your energy going and just do it." Another client of Mendel’s, Vivien Shane, a senior, says that working out "takes an amount of discipline, but knowing that [Betsy’s] coming disciplines you enough to get up and go."

Some trainers, such as Greg Small, 32, of Brentwood, make their clients sign contracts financially binding them to their workout times, so that last-minute-I-don’t-feel-like-it cancellations are not tolerated. "You have to get the person to love exercise. Your client has one hour with you two to three times a week — and they have one hour a day with you, and they have 23 hours a day to undo what you just did for them, but if they love coming to the gym, and they understand that it is about your mindset just as much, if they love coming to the gym, then the relationship works a lot better."

It’s the "personal" in personal training that hook many fitness buffs. Citing convenience of a trainer coming to the home, many note that they feel more confident with the tailor-made exercise programs that the trainer provided than the general work-out-as-you-wish plans that come with a gym membership. "There are a lot of people who just don’t know where to start, and they feel intimidated by the machines at the gym," says Mendel, who has been a personal trainer for two years. "I bring the gym to them, and can make sure that they are doing it right."

Yet personal training is not for those who want to get in shape on the cheap. Trainers’ fees range from $30 an hour upwards of $125 an hour, with many trainers seeing their clients more than once a week. And, like many services, one does not necessarily get a better workout for a higher price: Small believes that the main difference between his $70 workouts and other trainers’ $125 workouts is the marketing costs that some trainers incur to get themselves on infomercials and written about in fitness magazines.

Vic Gainer, a trainer who specializes in running and training runners for marathons, told The Journal that he thinks the high prices are "absurd — but I don’t make the rules, I just make my own rules." Gainer’s $50 fee for eight private sessions is atypical of this industry. "A person can go to a gym and spend $50 an hour doing free-weight work, but I don’t think that they are going to get any of the benefits [runners] are getting," he says, noting benefits that include emotional and spiritual well-being, in addition to weight loss and general cardiovascular fitness.

Personal trainers have other drawbacks too. Since the client and the trainer work closely together, the relationship is not one that can withstand personality clashes. Weisman says she discontinued the services of trainer when she found that he was inattentive and "not very interested" in her fitness. Small admits this too: "The personality part of personal training is very big. You can’t be a stick-in-the-mud and have a great business."

Furthermore, although becoming a trainer does require certification, the industry is free of checks and balances that standardize certification requirements for trainers. "Fifteen years ago, [aspiring] actors would be bartenders, but today a lot of them are personal trainers," Small says. "Some just look in the mirror and say ‘Hey — I look really good. I like what I see. Where can I hang up my sign?"

Small himself became a trainer thinking that his success at the job would be determined by his knowledge of physiology, and he is frustrated by what he sees as the false allure of aesthetics in the industry. "Is someone who has a great body a fitness expert?" he asks rhetorically. "It is not that people are getting hurt in the gym, it is just that people aren’t getting helped the way they should be helped." Small, who received his certification from the National Academy of Sports Medicine, said that he is "constantly reading and continuing his education" so that he can serve his clients better and keep up with all the new innovations in fitness.

Regardless of the hassles people face finding a trainer that suits them, when they finally do, they tend to wax euphoric about the experience. "I feel great, I look better than I have done in years, and it is a wonderful experience," Blum says. Shane echoes her sentiments: "I have more energy, and I have lost inches."

Trainers, it seems, sometimes feel the same way. Says Gainer: "You know that you are doing something very special for these people."

Unwind With Yoga


Americans are in the process of healing from the events of Sept. 11. Most of us are under additional stress that shows up in our bodies by lack of sleep, headaches, overeating and irritation. To combat the symptoms of stress and fatigue I recommend a good dose of yoga.

Yoga has been around for about 5,000 years. It is a meditative, stretching-based workout that originated in India. Literally translated, it means, to solder a union between mind and body. The regular practice of yoga can increase energy levels, flexibility, strength, relaxation, and decrease stress. (Sounds like a wonder drug!) Other benefits of a regular program include improved circulation, improved blood pressure, improved lung capacity and pain relief — need I say more?

There are eight major schools of yoga, but Hatha yoga is the most commonly practiced in the Western world. This style of yoga emphasizes different body positions (asanas) combined with breathing techniques. Have you ever done the “Downward Dog?”

One of the most commonly used progressions in Hatha yoga is the Sun Salutation. It is often used as a warm-up, and can be repeated over and over again to build strength, flexibility and balance.

The following exercises make up the Sun Salutation. If you try these at home, make sure you have a clear space and a soft surface, such as a mat or carpet, to lie on. Remember to consult with your physician before starting any exercise program.

Mountain Pose

Stand with feet together. Body is upright and hands are clasped together in prayer position close to the heart.

Arching Back Pose

Stretch arms overhead and slightly arch your back, keeping your eyes to the ceiling. Inhale deeply.

Standing Forward Bend

Reach arms forward and down to the floor. Place hands beside your feet, your head to your knees. Exhale deeply.

Lunge Position

Keep your right leg stationary; reach your left leg behind you in lunge position. Your right leg should be bent and your left leg should be straight. Inhale deeply.

Plank Position

Bring your right leg back to meet your left leg so that both legs and arms are now straight. (You should look like you are ready to do a push-up). Exhale deeply.

Cobra Pose

Lower your hips and legs to the ground, lift your chest to the ceiling. Arms should be straight, and hands are pressing firmly into the floor. Inhale deeply.

Downward Dog Pose

Tuck toes under and straighten your legs, pushing your hips back and up to the ceiling. You should look like an inverted V. Press arms and heels into the floor. Exhale deeply.

Deep Lunge Position

Bring your left foot forward between your hands, keeping your front knee bent and back leg straight behind you as in the first Lunge position. Inhale deeply.

Forward Bend

Bring your right foot forward to meet your left foot. Both legs are straight as in the Standing Forward Bend. Relax head and neck area, dropping your head to your knees. Exhale deeply.

Arching Back Pose

Reach arms forward and bring your body to an upright position. Extend arms overhead while you slightly arch your back. Inhale deeply.

Mountain Pose

Back to the beginning. Pose with feet together. Body is tall, and hands are clasped together in prayer position. Exhale deeply.

It is important that during times of stress we listen to our bodies. Sleeping longer hours, drinking more water, eating the right foods and exercising at least three days a week are important to maintain balance. The Sun Salutation is a great way to start your day with energy and vitality.

If you have any questions or comments, contact Ani at Ani_Dumas@jcc-gla.org  

Pass the Hummus, Please!


Hummus, the popular Middle Eastern staple made out of chickpeas, packs a nutritional wallop, according to a new study by Dr. Ram Reifen and Dr. Shahal Abbo of the faculty of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Quality Sciences of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Reifen, an expert on digestive illnesses and child nutrition, and Abbo, an expert in plant genetics, succeeded in creating hybrid chickpeas which are high in antioxidants, protein and minerals, such as calcium. Antioxidants contribute to the prevention of heart disease and cancer.

In their research at the Rehovot Campus, rats and goats were given a diet supplemented by chickpeas. The animals were found to have faster growth rates than those fed only animal proteins. In addition, chickpeas are less allergenic than other high-protein plant food sources, such as soy, which points to the possibility of developing chickpea-based baby foods. The European Union has recognized the value of Hebrew University’s research and has allocated more than $1.5 million toward continuation of the work. Cooperative development is proceeding with Israeli and European researchers and commercial firms toward developing chickpea-based alternatives for milk powder for babies and children’s foods.

Chickpeas also contain elements that prevent wrinkling of skin, which holds out promise for its use in developing ointments for skin care. Cosmetic firms in Germany and France are working on the development of chickpea-based anti-wrinkle creams.

HEBREW UNIVERSITY HUMMUS

1 can (16-19 ounces) chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1/4 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)

3 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons parsley

1 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted

1/4 teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and process until smooth. Store in refrigerator. Serve with pita bread and salad.

Yield: approximately 2 cups — Staff Report

Overweight and Counting … Down


Reena Dulfon, 14, trudges home every day after school, and no matter how much she begs, her mother won’t pick her up in the car. Robin Dulfon is not being a mean mom, but is helping Reena accomplish her goal. And though Reena sees this 30 minutes of daily exercise as a chore — after all, it’s all uphill — she’s secretly proud of walking the distance.

Mother and daughter have twice participated in Dr. Lydie Hazan’s eight-week PowerPlay Program for overweight and obese children and teenagers.

When Reena first entered the program a few years ago, she was a shy and baggy-outfitted 12-year-old, weighing 170 pounds, unsure if this would be just another boring visit to the doctor. But her single mom, a registered nurse, is acutely aware of the health issues involving overweight children.

“She made me do it,” Reena said, “but it was fun.” They learned about nutrition, how to read labels and count calories, and did aerobics, hip-hop and other exercises.

“It worked! The first week I lost a couple pounds, and then lost one pound a week,” said Reena, who is now a svelte 146 pounds and still counting … down.

Obesity in children is no small matter, but a health crisis of epic proportions. According to a July 2000 Newsweek article, one out of three children in this country are seriously overweight.

That statistic seems hard to believe, until you look around. Go to any mall or playground and see the results of a fast-food, fried-food diet. Children as young as 3 are being referred to Hazan, and that’s not exactly what she had in mind when she started her clinic.

“I thought I would make a difference to the older children, but I have 6-year-olds crying in my office because they are so ashamed [of] getting teased at school. I have a 7-year-old in the program that weighs 242 pounds.”

Five years ago, as an energetic Los Angeles emergency-room pediatrician, Hazan began to notice the correlation between severe asthma attacks and obesity.

“To give you an idea of the enormity of the epidemic, kids would come into the E.R. and have to be intubated [have a tube inserted to help breathing] twice a year. One night a girl almost died because we couldn’t tube her, she was too big,” Hazan said. “After that, I swore I would make sure she lost weight.”

Hazan found, however, that there were no resources for overweight and obese children in Los Angeles. And it wasn’t only Los Angeles; the entire country was lacking.

Eventually, Hazan hooked up with the Center for Disease Control’s Dr. Bill Dietz, a pediatrician specializing in overweight and obese children.

“By talking with Dietz, I soon found out there were no immediate solutions available, so I started thinking about long-term [solutions]. I developed PowerPlay based on that,” Hazan explained.

PowerPlay is a comprehensive eight-week weight-loss program that combines medical, psychological, nutritional and physical treatment, and that seeks a balance between what goes in and what goes out. A child cannot double his exercise routine for a day and expect to pig out the next, although, Hazan confesses, there are some compromises. But consistency is key, for both children and parents.

“Lead by example” is Hazan’s mantra for what she believes makes the program work. “When a child enters the program, the whole family begins to lose weight,” she said.

As a first step, Hazan gives each child two medical screenings, during which health problems, such as type-two diabetes, are often detected.

“It used to be that type-two diabetes was considered an adult-onset disease, but no more,” Hazan said.

After the medical screenings, the program provides nutritional consultation with a licensed dietitian, daily fitness classes, group and/or individual therapy, art and music therapy and continual progress assessments of both child and parent. Hazan estimates a weight loss of 10 to 30 pounds can be accomplished during the eight-week session.

“When talking to the parents, I try to demystify the whole stigmata — that weight is health — and that’s it.”

Still, Hazan fights against cultural and societal pressures. She finds the stigma attached to being overweight crosses all cultural boundaries, a little less for African Americans, a lot more for Latinos, and a whole mixed bag for Jews.

Being overweight or obese is a “huge epidemic among Orthodox Jews,” Hazan admitted. “And especially among Orthodox girls,” for whom Hazan has developed a special program.

“First of all, there are no healthy places to eat. All of the kosher restaurants serve fried foods on white or rye breads, with huge portions. Secondly, there is Sabbath, a celebration where instead of a three-course meal, there are four-course meals that start on Friday and continue until noon the next day. Challah is loaded with calories,” Hazan said.

Nevertheless, Hazan has developed a few tricks. “I’ll talk to the kids and work out a compromise for Sabbath. ‘OK, you can have half a portion of kugel, if you take a walk afterwards.'”

“I know why doctors avoid this [issue],” Hazan sighed. “It’s a very frustrating field. Kids stop losing weight, stop being motivated, and you have to be the cheerleader, the evil endorser of the program. Parents love me for that, because their child must be accountable to me.”

Robin Dulfon couldn’t agree more, appreciating that her daughter “knew I wouldn’t be nagging her anymore.” She added, “I’m such a believer in this program, I want Reena to do it again!”

Reena isn’t so sure about that, but both agree that PowerPlay is effective. Her weight loss “makes me happy,” Reena said, “and makes me look better. My friends at school really didn’t say much about it, but my family members said, ‘Wow! You look good.’

Bulldog on the Ice


Ethan Lee Fougner, a 7-year-old hockey player from Valencia, is our May Athlete of the Month.

The call of the ice was so strong for Fougner that his mother, Lori, went into labor while attending a Los Angeles Kings third-round playoff game in May 1993.

Fougner first took group hockey lessons at the North Hills Iceoplex at 2 1/2 years old. His skill and enthusiasm for the game were such that he subsequently joined the Mini Mites and started taking private lessons. Three years later, he moved up to the in-house Mites league.

Fougner’s ability to score more than one hat trick per game encouraged his parents to seek a team more in keeping with his skill level. After several tryouts, Fougner was signed to the Ventura Mariners. The second-grader quickly earned the nickname “Bulldog” for his tenacity and played during L.A. Kings intermissions on their last night at the Great Western Forum and first night at Staples Center.

Fougner attends Heschel Day School during the school year and Camp Valley Chai at the North Valley Jewish Community Center during the summer, and he plays baseball and roller hockey for fun. His goal is to be the best hockey player in the NHL, despite people telling him that there aren’t many Jewish athletes. Recently, Fougner was inspired when he read in the March 23 Jewish Journal that Kings defenseman Mathieu Schneider is Jewish.

Keep an eye out for this hat-trick superstar.


SPORTS EXTRA!

The Journal will regularly feature coverage of sports in the Jewish community in these pages.

We will feature profiles of local athletes and major sports figures, standings and news for local Maccabi, school and intramural teams, and stories that focus on issues surrounding sports in the community.

Please send your team scores and news to Ari Morguelan, who will coordinate our sports coverage.

To submit story ideas, scores, team news and suggestions for "Athlete of the Week," contact Ari at (213) 368-1661 ext. 107, fax him at (213) 368-1684 or e-mail him at arim@jewishjournal.com.

Now play ball!

Exercising the Mind


As we enter the new millennium, fitness professionals are becoming more aware of the movement toward spiritual forms of exercise. Programs like Pilates, Yoga, Tai Chi, meditation, and body work are common in fitness clubs and community centers. To keep up with today’s stressful lifestyles, we must do more than increase our heart rates and pump iron to maintain maximum health. Mind and body fitness can facilitate this by achieving inner balance and harmony in mind, body and spirit.

One way to practice mind and body fitness is through meditation. Methods of meditation were used in ancient Judaic times by focusing on certain words or prayers. Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan has written two books on Jewish meditation: "Jewish Meditation, a Practical Guide" and "Meditation and the Bible."

According to Kaplan, Judaism produced one of the more important systems of meditation. "There is also evidence that during the period when the Bible was written [until approximately 400 b.c.e.], meditation was practiced by a large proportion of the Israelite people," he maintains.

Today, meditation is becoming much more mainstream and has crossed religious barriers once associated with it. Rabbi Jonathan Omer-Man, founder and rabbi emeritus of Metivta, a center for contemplative Judaism, describes meditation as a "profound and demanding practice" which "clears the obstacles in our mind, to help us perceive the underlying realities, the divine."

Meditation produces a state of deep relaxation that has been known to reverse the stress process. Focus is key. By focusing on our breath or a mantra, we are able to quiet our minds and still our constant chatter. Meditation should be thought of as an exercise program. You would not run on the treadmill once a week and expect any results. The same is true of meditation. A regular meditation program of 10 minutes a day will produce psychological as well as physiological benefits.

The following is a basic meditation exercise for beginners:

Sit or lie in a comfortable position.

Close your eyes and relax.

Focus on your breath entering and leaving your body. (Place your hands on your abdomen; feel it expand and collapse with each breath).

At the exhalation, count each breath, from 1 to 10; repeat.

Repeat a phrase that has meaning to you. It could be a phrase from the Bible, such as Deuteronomy 4:15: "Take you, therefore, good heed of your souls." It could also be a single word, such as "Shema."

Continue the meditation for 10 to 20 minutes. If the mind begins to wander, calmly direct it back to the task.

Fat and Fit


Looking at television and magazine ads these days, you’d think the surest route to health is a diet that goes something like this: an apple slice and a thimbleful of skim milk for breakfast, a carrot with a gallon of water for lunch, four grains of rice, one strawberry and a shot of wheat-grass juice for dinner. Most of us resign ourselves to the fact that we’ll never be cover-girl skinny, but that doesn’t stop 40 percent of women and 25 percent of men from trying to lose weight at any given time in the United States. These days, however, the old weight blueprint of five pounds for every inch over 5 feet tall is slowly losing ground, as more and more researchers discover that thinness doesn’t equal health, fitness does. And fitness comes in all shapes and sizes.

“The medical community says we’re eating ourselves to an early grave,” said Glenn Gaesser, professor of exercise physiology at the University of Virginia and author of “Big Fat Lies” (Fawcett 1996), “and it’s a big overstatement.”

Gaesser claims that while there are limits to a person’s weight — a 1,000-pound man, for example, is simply unhealthy — folks 50 or 75 pounds beyond the weight-chart suggestions may be as healthy as someone who nails the chart dead-on. “A 5-foot-4 woman should weigh no more than 145 pounds, according to the chart, [and have] a body mass index of 25,” Gaesser said. “But that woman could probably go up to 200 and not have much to worry about as long as she exercised regularly.

“Studies are quite clear in showing that if you take a fat person of any size and get them eating better and exercising more, their health problems greatly clear up, even if they don’t lose much weight,” he added.

One of the main ways of determining if you’re overweight is by calculating body mass index (BMI) — essentially a ratio of weight to height. The government has determined that a BMI over 25 is considered overweight, which categorically puts those people at higher risk for blood pressure, diabetes, heart attacks, high cholesterol and other problems. But, according to Gaesser, there are 97 million Americans with BMIs over 25, and “probably 90 million are unnecessarily stigmatized and [said to be] destined for an early grave.”

The key to health, many researchers agree, is not weight, but exercise. A good litmus test, Gaesser maintains, is that a man or woman who walks at a brisk pace — say, 3.5 miles an hour, three to five times per week for 30 minutes — would be considered fit enough to achieve health benefits. The 30 minutes can even be incremental, 15 minutes in the morning and 15 in the evening.

Dr. Henry Kahn of the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at Emory University says fat, in and of itself, may not be cause for concern so much as where that fat is distributed throughout the body. Researchers like Kahn have found that abdominal fat poses the greatest health risks but that thigh fat may actually be favorable. “What you read on the scale in your bathroom may not be the best way to measure weight in terms of health risks,” he says. In recent years, a waist-to-hip ratio, measuring circumference, helped determine which people were most at risk, but recent studies have shown, Kahn said, that a waist-to-thigh ratio is “substantially stronger for sorting out the people who are at risk versus those who are not.”

Several years ago, Kahn compared first-time heart-attack victims with a control group who’d come from the same neighborhoods and who were comparable in socioeconomic status, sex, weight and age. What he found was that while the BMIs of the victims were no different from those of the control group, they tended to have higher proportions of abdominal fat and smaller thighs, whereas the control group tended toward larger thighs and less abdominal fat.

The good news, says Gaesser, is that abdominal fat is the easiest to burn and generally comprises only 10 percent to 15 percent of fat on the body. Besides regular exercise, people who want to lower health risks associated with weight gain should maintain a diet with reduced fat and loaded with fiber, he says.

“We think we’re fattening up as a country … [but] actually, only 10 percent of the population weighs over 200…. We’re heavier than we were a generation ago, but only by 8 or 10 pounds,” said Gaesser, whose new book about healthy fitness and healthy fat, “The Spark,” is due out this year. “That’s cause for concern, but we’re not bursting at the seams.”

Prostate Cancer: A View From The Trenches


"You Can’t Make Love If You’re Dead: Curing Prostate Cancer and Keeping My Sexuality" by Leon Prochnik (Ari Press, $19.95)

Looking back on his experience with prostate cancer, author and screenwriter Leon Prochnik realized that what he’d needed when first diagnosed was a "trench buddy," someone who’d faced the same battle and could tell him what to expect and how to cope.

The result was "You Can’t Make Love If You’re Dead," an intimate and candid account of how Prochnik came to terms with his disease and went about deciding on a treatment. Prostate cancer threatens not only a man’s life but also his masculinity, since treatments have the potential to render a man incontinent and/or impotent. Prochnik shares the agony of facing his mortality as well as the other distressing possibilities.

In an effort to give men facing prostate cancer a true understanding of the emotional and physical trials in store, Prochnik spares no details. He shares his sexual escapades, his feelings about orgasm, and the ins and outs of his prostate biopsy. He describes masturbating as a child and having sex with his wife before surgery.

Given that 75 percent of prostate cancers strike men over the age of 65, it may be that the very people for whom the book was written would least appreciate Prochnik’s candor. Most guys in their 60’s and 70’s would sooner have a root canal than read such intimacies. The book actually may be more suited for the wives of men diagnosed with the disease, as it compellingly presents the hurdles couples may face.

Prochnik’s battle story may leave some guys a little shell-shocked, but it provides just the ammunition a man needs in confronting prostate cancer.

Fit After 50


Looking to get in shape, clients of all ages, shapes and sizes come to youthful fitness trainer Betsy Mendel. Mendel, who operates a business called No Excuses, has developed special insights into the training needs of her middle-aged clients. After arriving in Los Angeles from Atlanta five years ago, she fell in love with the sunny climate and found it the perfect place to indulge her fanatic workout habits in the great outdoors. Since 1999, she has been training full time, offering workouts suited to L.A. beaches, canyons and other outdoor spaces.

Mike Levy: Can you describe your average client?

Betsy Mendel: I’ll train with anyone, but a lot of my clients are women over 50. What I try to do is make it easy, convenient and fun for them.

ML: How do you begin a fitness routine?

BM: We fill out a medical history, make sure they don’t have any medical problems where they’d need a doctor’s supervision. Then, we just talk about what their fitness goals are. Most people just want to get back in shape; they want to start feeling better and doing something a few times a week.

ML: You’ve said that many of your clients are women over 50. Do you have specific workouts for them?

BM: Let me give you an example. I have a client — she quit smoking a year ago — [who] feels like she’s put on weight. We do a warm-up where we stretch, then a 40-minute power walk around her neighborhood with light weights for the arms, and then we do a cool-down. She’s really into burning fat and working her cardiovascular, so we have a program emphasizing those things.

Another woman I work with, she’s 69. I set up a step. We use exercise bands, which are like giant rubber bands, and body bars, which are padded and weighted. We start off with a warm-up, and then we do stretching, because she’s very concerned about flexibility. A lot of the warm-up is done on the steps, or jogging in place. Then we’ll work with the bands, which provide resistance for upper-body strength.

ML: So, more generally, what do women need to be focusing on in their fitness training?

BM: As you get older, maintaining your flexibility becomes more of a challenge, but also more important. It gets very easy to break your bones, for your body to get more brittle, if you don’t stay active.

ML: And what is the most important part of the fitness routine for your older clients?

BM: For most of my clients, for women over 50 as well as the younger women, the most important thing is just getting out and doing something. That’s going to make them feel better about themselves, and when you feel better, you take better care of yourself; you eat better. It all comes together.

With an older woman, you just start out slower, you use a bit more precaution. And the results are going to be different as well: obviously, you don’t get as much muscle tone when you’re older. But you can still feel great, which is really what it’s about.