Five ways to find your purpose after 50 or 60 or 70 or . . .

Most people can now expect to live longer. Those extra years are a great gift. But they can be an albatross if people don’t know what to do with them. A minority of people like to stay the course, whatever it is. But most people find they need to dig down to their core selves and find new goals and purposes that touch something deep inside — the kind that get them out of bed in the morning.

But how does one find a new mission at age 50 or 60 or 80? A growing array of books, courses, programs and now Web sites exist to provide suggestions, and many of them offer valuable detailed guidance, worksheets and resources. Working your way through them all can be a chore. But identifying your new purpose doesn’t have to be so major an undertaking that you never do it.

There are core ideas and principles you can use to find your purpose after 50.

Here are five tools.

Get Into Neutral

This is crucial when you leave a career. Resist the temptation to leap into the next phase of your life. Sit still. Take a timeout. Give yourself permission to decompress. The neutral zone is kind of a moratorium on old habits and thoughts. Experiencing such a “white space” can be scary. If we submit to it, however, new thoughts and fresh possibilities will emerge. It will help you redefine who you are now, not what you were. Neutral also helps give you closure on the end of your primary career, and the purposes and relationships they held for you.

Retell Your Life Story

Stories reveal things your rational minds (and resumes) can miss. If writing is hard for you, imagine you’re writing a letter to a friend or speak into a recording device. Recap in brief, or in outline style, the story of your life. As you organize the “facts” of your life, hundreds of images, thoughts, recollections and memories will begin to cross your mind. Sift and distill these for central themes, interests, activities and relationships that matter most and express who you are. Use old photos or letters. Pull out your report cards. Read what your teacher wrote about you, and not just your grades. Don’t judge. Generate data. There are clues in your past.

Use Your Verbs

This technique works throughout the assessment process. The pressures of social status make you think about yourself in nouns — the titles, labels, roles and affiliations, usually of your career. But nouns close doors. They peg people. Strip them away and get to your verbs. The challenge now is to dream not about what you want to be but what you want to do. Verbs are active and dynamic. What were you doing when you felt excited or fulfilled? Find several examples and then look for patterns in your skills and experience. That will help you redefine what you want to do now.

Write a Personal Mission Statement

Companies and organizations have these. Why not individuals? Consider writing a statement reflecting your life vision or mission. Skip tangible goals or specific projects and make a list of the values, beliefs and interests you care about the most — the motivators that guide you, fire you up and draw out your best contribution. Only when you have a strong interior sense of these broader life goals can you find the real-time contexts, life opportunities and markets in which to apply them.

Involve Others

A trusted circle of advisers can be of immense help as you seek new paths. Put friends, present or former work colleagues and family members on these personal sounding boards. Those who know you well and who are stakeholders in your success can hold up mirrors to reflect back things about you that you can’t see yourself. Such groups know collectively of more possibilities than any one person could summon. It can be a formal or highly informal group. To get a sense of how a personal board can help, gather three to four friends for personal brainstorming sessions. Open the floor to insights and possibilities with no judgments allowed. The goal is simply to turn up opportunities and use the feedback to improve your exploration of new directions in your life.

These steps are only a beginning. But they may put you on a path to a post-career life purpose that can dramatically reduce the chance of being bored in retirement.

David Corbett is the founder of New Directions, Inc., in Boston, and author of “Portfolio Life: the New Path to Work, Purpose, and Passion After 50” (Jossey Bass). Visit him online at or

Note to new grads: it’s just the beginning!

College graduation: the distinctive rite of passage that marks a child as an adult. Adorned in ceremonious celebration and family gathering, it is an event that simultaneously acknowledges our accomplishments and introduces us to the possibilities — and realities — of our futures, where success is not measured in grades but in self-sufficiency.

My first act as a graduate two years ago was choosing to skip my commencement ceremony. Reluctant to put closure on four enriching years at the University of Florida, I turned in my final paper on “Trash Cinema” and bolted to the Florida Turnpike, figuring I had at least five hours to ruminate before life began.

Two years, four cities and more jobs than can fit on a resume later, I’ve been thinking about graduating (and not just because the Gators have won three NCAA Championship titles since).

As proof that destiny is not without a sense of humor, I recently found myself back at my alma mater saluting my little sister at her college graduation.

Watching her walk across the stage and knowing the immense journey ahead, I felt compelled to share what I’ve learned with her. With two fast but full years under my belt and scrolls of solicited wisdom from my esteemed elders, I’ve discovered how meaningful it is to throw your cap into the air.

But strip away the hype, the elaborate weekends steeped in family ritual and celebratory dining, how many graduates take their passage seriously? Aside from announcements that serve as financial solicitations to our nearest and dearest nowadays, how can graduates show they’re prepared for the next phase of life?

How does an individual prepare for the lifelong transition of becoming who they are meant to be?

In retrospect, I realize I wasn’t ready to graduate — from college, from parental support, from the carelessness of youth in which I considered myself quite skilled. My peers avoided this precipice similarly. Many blindly went from one institution to another, finishing undergrad and matriculating to graduate school. True, graduate study is an unparalleled opportunity for furthering passions or professional goals, but I found it odd, and even humorous, that so many of my peers immediately wound up in law school, yet I can’t remember many of my childhood friends broadcasting dreams of becoming lawyers.

Perhaps the naked confrontation with infinite possibility is too frightening, and many feel that arming themselves with fancy degrees will better equip them for the demands of the adult world. But everyone faces reality eventually, and a degree is simply a piece of paper until a person parlays it into a satisfying life.

Despite my absence from the ceremony, graduating was a cumulative process and not a single event; a period fraught with growth, change, struggle, new experiences and, finally, commitment to a pursuit. For me, that decision necessitated a move away from home, which truly signified my entry into an adult brand of independence.

This is what I learned during my graduation:

  • Don’t rush. The imminent grind of capitalism is yours for the taking — for the rest of your life — so ignore the ubiquitous pressure to become a millionaire before you turn 30, because if we all made our millions by then, a bunch of celebrity-obsessed, party-going 20-somethings would dominate the world’s largest economy. Secondly, it is more important and more rewarding to enjoy the fabric of the journey than to cross the finish line. After all, what would college graduation be if not for all those years we spent indulging in studenthood? What kind of adults might we be if not for our equal and opposite experience as children?
  • Experiment and expand. When you are young, every possibility is open to you. The ability to be malleable and reinvent yourself is a treasure of youth that disappears when permanent responsibilities like mortgage payments, tuition and (heaven forbid!) children of your own enter the scene. It is only later in life that you will understand how the various dots of your existence connect into a cohesive, logical framework.
  • Take risks. Safe choices are, at best, safe. But what makes life interesting and exciting are the unexpected adventures and opportunities that throw us off one course and onto another that is beyond our wildest dreams. Don’t be afraid to do something that scares you. Never miss an opportunity to make yourself a more interesting person.
  • Believe in yourself. People who believe in themselves cannot be hindered. Those are the people who change the world. They are the revolutionaries and visionaries with implacable dreams. They may not have a perfect plan, but they possess passion and conviction, and those qualities will fill the depths of your soul in ways a resume can never explain or encompass.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

Like you, I am working hard to make that true.

Alex Baum: Wheels of a Dream

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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.

New approaches in Iraq could <I>help</I> Israel

For Israel and its American supporters, the Iraq War has scrambled the Middle East in ways that are difficult to navigate.

Once people hoped that the Iraq
War would make Israel safer. The neocons, who cooked up the invasion and sold it to a president desperate for historic glory that would surpass his father’s, considered Israel’s security to be an excellent side benefit of their splendid little war.

For those who missed the first part of this seemingly endless movie, the immensely popular invasion of Iraq would spark a democratic and moderate upsurge in the Middle East. Regimes would be toppled by popular revolts, whose leaders would have Bush’s name on their lips as they called simultaneously for democracy and accommodation with Israel.

Soon the rulers of Iran and Syria would fall and would be replaced by pliant, pro-Israel regimes. Even moderate Arab governments would be rejuvenated by democratic reform from within. Peace would surely follow, for which American military intervention would receive history’s credit.

We can put aside for now the question of how people who believed this nonsense ever came to lead the greatest nation on earth — and, in fact, still run it — are apparently going to blow off both their recent electoral defeat and the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group and “double down” their bet by increasing U.S. military forces in Iraq.

But because of their strong rhetorical support for Israel, the damage done to Israel’s regional interests by the Iraq War was masked. Israel is still America’s most ardent admirer and loyalist. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert recently extolled Bush’s leadership, and Israel may be one of the few places left on earth where Bush is popular. But has the war made Israel safer?

Several outcomes have emerged from the Iraq War. One is that as long as Bush is president, the United States is politically radioactive in the Middle East. The other is that Iran, Israel’s most formidable foe in the region, has been strengthened. No longer facing a hostile Iraq and profiting from America’s unpopularity, Iran has greater freedom of action than before.

America’s allies in the region are confused and alarmed. Saudi Arabia fears that Americans may withdraw quickly from Iraq, leaving their fellow Sunnis to annihilation by the Shiites allied with Iran. The Saudis recently summoned Vice President Dick Cheney to Riyadh to hear their concerns and have suggested that they would use military means if necessary to protect the Sunnis in Iraq.

Meanwhile, someone in the Bush administration implied that the United States is considering picking the Shiites in the civil war in Iraq in order to crush the Sunni insurgency. That plan could place the United States on a collision course with all of its Arab allies in the Mideast, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt.

One casualty of even speculating about picking sides is the loss of trust in the steadiness of American foreign policy. Of course, that very steadiness is what the Bush inner circle has long detested, seeing themselves as visionaries eliminating a “false stability” in the Middle East. As George Will acidly noted, at least that goal has now been achieved.

The antics of the Bush administration have motivated all sorts of experts and advisers with plans to help him gracefully exit from his Iraq fiasco. James Baker, an unpopular figure among many friends of Israel from his days as the first President Bush’s secretary of state, took charge of the salvage effort called, the Iraq Study Group. Among its recommendations were that the United States talk with Iran and Syria.

But the report also suggested that a deal on the Golan Heights between Israel and Syria could help build a better framework for peace. Pressure on Israel to make deals with Syria in order to help the United States exit Iraq may be asking a little too much.

Israel is now stuck between Iraq and a hard place; those in the administration who most uncritically support Israel don’t know what they’re doing, and those who have better ideas are more critical of Israel.

And so, we are left with what to do about Iran. The Bushies long felt that they could defeat Iran in the same rosy scenario they used with regard to Iraq. In their heady early days, they saw the Iraq War as a precursor to regime change in Iran and Syria (along with their other nemesis, North Korea).

They are dealing with Iranian exiles who tell them that we would be greeted as liberators. At the least, they are certain that an air strike on Iranian nuclear facilities would be a great and easy success.

Given the failure of this group to execute even the most basic elements of any of their policies, it is hard to have a lot of faith in that confidence. Finally, they presumably believe that Israel will deal with Iran if America can’t.

Every one of these scenarios with Iran is based on the absolute certainty of military success. No political or diplomatic concerns are raised or respected.

Yet Carl von Clausewitz provides several useful cautions. He once wrote, “No one starts a war — or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so — without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.” And, “War is not a mere act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political activity by other means.”

The argument for engaging our toughest enemies in the Middle East is plain to just about everybody except the Bush inner circle. They have long seen diplomacy with opponents in parent-child terms, a carrot given for good behavior and a stick for being bad. Why get dessert if you haven’t eaten your vegetables?

Political engagement and diplomacy, however, do not preclude military action as a last resort. They do assure that war will indeed be a last resort. And they offer possibilities for long-term change, such as strengthening the hand of domestic reformers.

Tale of heroics, terror from the top of the world

It was a beautiful morning in May on the world’s highest mountain, and Dan Mazur was feeling good. He had been hiking throughout the night in below-freezing temperatures, and now he and his team — a sherpa and two other climbers — had only two hours to go until reaching the summit of Mount Everest.

Mazur had reached the top before, 15 years earlier. But this time, the mountain climber and guide was leading two clients who were paying more than $20,000 each for the chance to accomplish the goal of a lifetime. Their objective was so close they could almost reach out and touch it.

Suddenly, Mazur saw something unexpected — some yellow fabric in the distance. At first it looked like a tent, but then it became clear that it was a person, a man sitting cross-legged on a narrow ridge with an 8,000-foot drop to one side and a 6,000-foot drop to the other.

At 28,000 feet — a part of the mountain dubbed the “death zone,” because the weather is so cold and oxygen is so scarce — the man wore no gloves, no hat and had unzipped his down suit to his waist.

“I imagine you’re surprised to see me here,” the man said.

What happened next would cost Mazur his summit and save the man’s life. Now, more than six months later, Mazur, a 46-year-old who lives in Olympia, Wash., will talk about the adventure and dramatic rescue at the Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue on Wednesday evening, Dec. 6.

As it turned out, the man on the ledge was Lincoln Hall, one of Australia’s best-known climbers. Hall had attempted to summit Everest 22 years earlier but never made it. This time, at age 50, Hall had made it to the top.

But on the way down the day before, Hall had started having trouble.

Experiencing the classic symptoms of altitude sickness — fatigue and hallucinations — Hall had refused to continue down the mountain and ended up passing out. The two sherpas with him concluded, after poking Hall in the eye and getting no response, that Hall was dead. Suffering from lack of oxygen themselves, they hurried down the mountain.

A friend had already broken the news to Hall’s wife and teenage sons: Hall was dead — or so they thought. In fact, he was struggling but alive. He ended up lasting through the night alone.

Atop the mountain, at around 7:30 a.m., Mazur and his team persuaded a resistant Hall to put on his gloves and hat. They gave him oxygen, tea and a Snickers bar and tethered him to their rope. They radioed down to Hall’s expedition group, which dispatched a rescue team.

It would take more than three hours for the rescuers to arrive. But Mazur and his climbers waited with Hall, while their chances of summiting slipped away.
In the end, Hall suffered frostbite; he lost some fingertips. But he made it down the mountain.

Mazur’s rescue caught the attention of national media, which had reported only days earlier the demise of another Everest climber, David Sharp, who died after an estimated 40 climbers passed him without offering any help.

“I was always taught that when you see someone who needs help, you’ve got to help him right away,” Mazur said, speaking on the phone from Washington State.

If he had the day to do over, he said, “I would do it again exactly the same.”
Mazur, who grew up with a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother, said he is more spiritual than religious. But that day, high on the mountain, Mazur prayed. He prayed that God would help Hall.

“I believe that Lincoln Hall survived because he was very lucky; the weather was not too bad; he was in good shape,” Mazur said. “And I believe there was a higher power that was looking after him.”

Dan Mazur will speak on Wednesday, Dec. 6 at 7:30 p.m. at the Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue, 24855 Pacific Coast Highway. Admission is free.
For more information, call (310) 456-2178

It May Be Time to Change Goals, Ideas on Philanthropy

I have a dream in which Jewish early childhood educators in the United States, who currently receive an average salary of $9.66 an hour, can raise their own children without having to take out loans or marry rich. I have a dream in which Birthright Israel does not have to keep tens of thousands of potential participants on waiting lists for lack of funds. I have a dream in which non-Orthodox day schools truly rival the best private schools and the Jewish socioeconomic elite clamor to enter them.

While these dreams are remote and quixotic, American Jews have achieved levels of wealth unprecedented in our history. The problem is that we no longer give much to Jewish causes.

We are donors to universities, museums, orchestras and hospitals, but when it comes to Jewish philanthropy, we fall short. Today, perhaps 20 percent or less of Jewish giving goes to Jewish causes.

In the middle of the 20th century, it was about 50 percent. Only half of the Jews surveyed in 1990 claimed to have given to a Jewish cause. Of the $5.3 billion in megagifts given by America’s wealthiest Jews between 1995 and 2000, a mere 6 percent went to Jewish institutions.

Among those who do give, the levels of giving are weak. Only 11 percent of Jews donate over $1,000 to Jewish causes.

Can you name a serious non-Orthodox American Jewish philanthropist below the age of 50?

There may be one or two, but it would be looking for a needle in a haystack. Even those who give Jewishly give smaller amounts to Jewish charity than to secular causes.

Too many ignore programs of Jewish education and culture, focusing instead on antiquated preoccupations, such as the fight against anti-Semitism. In North America, the greatest threat to the Jewish people is not the external force of anti-Semitism but the internal forces of apathy, inertia and ignorance of our own heritage.

People’s giving is a mirror image of who they are. Over time, we have become meaningfully more American and less Jewish. That is reflected in our philanthropy.

We have lost not only our connection to Jewish roots but also our understanding of why Jewish identity and involvement matter. It’s an unfortunate cycle: attenuation of identity leads to reduced philanthropic giving, which, in turn, hobbles our efforts to create programs to enrich identity.

How, then, does one revive Jewishness in an increasingly secular American world?
Not easy. Too many of our needs are no longer fulfilled Jewishly. Today’s synagogues and other institutions no longer appeal to the Jewish spirit the way they used to.

Tzedakah is an outcome, an end product of what we care about, what we want to enhance, what we believe in and what we want to see grow. If we were to apply these hopes to our present community, I’m not sure we would like what we see.
The community has not operated by a set of norms and standards of what constitutes appropriate tzedakah. People who have amassed enormous wealth are told by ‘professionals’ that they’re the most altruistic individuals since Robin Hood, regardless of what they give. There are few role models in the community who represent our tradition of giving 10 percent of income or assets.

Historically, the rabbis of past periods anticipated neither the wealth nor the longevity of many contemporary Jews. If they had, they surely would have insisted on even higher levels of giving.

Recognizing that we are far removed from the bare-bones survival of the immigrant generation, it may be time to reconfigure what is the right level of tzedakah and what we should expect from our givers. One of our philanthropic goals may be to develop an ethic of higher levels of giving in relation to net worth.

For a person with assets of $100 million — and there are many such people today — annual philanthropy of $500,000 or $1 million is not serious. Yet, the community fawns as if these individuals have given amounts that are truly selfless.

At present, there is little accountability between wealth and philanthropy. This must end. A person earning $45,000 who gives $5,000 in tzedakah should be acknowledged as heroic, even though he may not get his name on a building.
We need to become part of a movement to change the perception of giving, to spread the notion that real meaning in life comes from selfless acts of philanthropy and to inculcate a sense of responsibility for the fate of klal Yisrael among those who have achieved high levels of wealth.

The challenge is daunting. In a community where people want their names up in lights, where we have a cadre of professionals known as ‘directors of development,’ whose ambition is to separate rich Jews from their money, how can we create a sense of justice, of fairness between rich and poor and recognize true philanthropy? How can we accomplish this in a free and open society?
On the one hand, we value our privacy. How many of us enjoyed the public displays when there was card-calling at events? For many of us, there is something unseemly about it.

I’m not immune to the conflict. In my various philanthropic efforts, I have valued the Maimonidean principle of modesty and indeed anonymity. Yet I, too, have had my name put on some projects and buildings. I frankly feel deeply conflicted.

I think it is a higher calling not to use one’s name, but I haven’t always been able to reach that higher level.

One of the goals of the emerging Fund for Our Jewish Future is to usher in a culture of vastly increased levels of Jewish giving. The fund plans to raise tens of millions immediately for priority action in Jewish education.
Hopefully, this will be followed by a series of focused funds to revivify Jewish commitment levels. Another goal of the fund is to approach individual communities and offer local philanthropists the opportunity to receive significant outside funds for projects that they are prepared to give meaningful down payments toward.

It is clear that what we need is imagination to view our Jewish future in a way that will capture the spirit of those Jews who are mostly on the sidelines today.

We don’t have many of the needed answers. But through hard work, creativity and, again, imagination, we can begin to reach the presently unreachable. With success, the result will be a renaissance of Jewish life in which our flourishing communal structures inspire greater Jewish involvement and commitment, which in turn inspire even greater levels of tzedakah.

Michael Steinhardt is co-founder of Birthright Israel.

10 Ideas For Creating Meaningful Volunteer Assignments

Any organization’s program and operational decisions should stem from the philosophy, beliefs and vision that are its reasons for being in the first place. These basic values, however, are often assumed, yet rarely articulated.

It is a worthwhile exercise to identify the values about volunteering in your organization. This helps executives, frontline employees and volunteers themselves think about why volunteers are involved at all. It also helps to create meaningful volunteer assignments, providing a framework for staff and volunteers to work together.

Discussing values about volunteering also puts civic engagement into a broader social context. It’s easy to get so caught up in the daily how-tos of managing a volunteer program that we lose sight of the fact that volunteering is bigger than our one setting, or even this one point in time.

1. Participation by citizens is vital to making democratic communities work

Participatory democracy is based on the value that it is a good thing for citizens to participate in running their communities and in making sure that things happen the way they want. This is the heart of volunteerism and is why, in a free society, volunteering is a right, not a privilege. (This is not to be confused with the parallel right of any agency or individual to refuse the services of a prospective volunteer.)

Volunteering generates a sense of ownership. People who get involved feel connected to others and affected by the outcome of their “sweat equity.” It’s the complete opposite of the attitude “that doesn’t concern me.”

2. Volunteers are more than free labor

First, volunteers are not “free.” There are costs to an agency for their support and tools, as well as out-of-pocket expenses incurred by the individuals donating time.

Most important, when placed in the right positions, volunteers bring a value-added component that actually changes or is lost when a paid employee does the same work. For example, legislators and funders are more receptive to the advocacy of someone not on the organization’s payroll — the perception of credibility that comes from lack of self-interest.

Similarly, some clients, such as children or probationers, may feel that paid workers see them as “just someone on their caseload,” while a volunteer is a “friend.”

The point is not that volunteers are better than employees. It’s that sometimes their status as volunteers can provide a useful difference. Therefore, volunteers can be vital to an organization and an asset even aside from the financial concerns of staffing.

3. Equal respect is due to work that is volunteered and work that is paid

Regardless of the perceptions just discussed, the value of work is determined by its intrinsic quality and impact. Work done by employees does not automatically have a higher value than that done by volunteers (and is also not of lesser value). The contributions of paid and volunteer workers are compatible, collaborative, and integrated.

Even more important, the skills and dedication of the person doing the work are not determined by the presence or absence of a paycheck. There are extraordinary volunteers and extraordinary employees. The potential for excellence always exists.

4. Volunteer involvement is a balance of three sets of rights: those of the client/recipient; those of the volunteer; and those of the agency

Despite wrangling over employee and volunteer points of view, each situation defines which perspective takes precedence. In most cases, the bottom line should be what is best for the recipient of service. But there are also agency and other long-term considerations. The key is not to presuppose that one perspective always outweighs the others.

5. Volunteers, as citizens of a free society, have the right to be mavericks

The way that genuine social change occurs is that a few pioneering volunteers are willing to be ostracized (even jailed) for their actions. While an agency has the right to refuse a placement to a volunteer, that individual has the right to continue to pursue the cause or issue as a private citizen. In fact, that’s exactly what leads to the founding of new organizations and institutions, changes in the law, and even changes in cultural mores (just consider how MADD transformed attitudes about drinking and driving).

This right to see things differently also raises an ethical consideration in how we develop assignments for volunteers within our agencies. Do we expect to keep volunteers always “under control?”

6. Volunteering is a neutral act — a strategy for getting things done

Volunteering is not inherently on the side of the angels, nor is it an end unto itself. It is a means to accomplishing a goal and is done by people on both sides of an issue. Volunteering is a method that allows people to stand up for their beliefs.

7. The best volunteering is an exchange in which the giver and the recipient both benefit

Volunteering should not be confused with charity or noblesse oblige — those who have so much, give to those who have so little. Because volunteering puts the time donor directly into the service delivered, the impact of the activity reverberates back to the volunteer in ways much more complex than writing a donation check. Further, when volunteers also benefit from their service, they have even more motivation to do a good job, which means better service to the recipient, and an upward spiral of reinforcement.

8. Volunteering empowers the people who do it

Volunteering empowers volunteers, both personally and politically. On the personal level, volunteering contributes to individual growth, self-esteem, sense of control, and ability to make a contribution to society. At the community level, the collective action of volunteers who share a commitment to a cause is extremely powerful — real clout for real change.

9. Volunteering is an equalizer

When people volunteer, it is often more important who they are as human beings than what they are on their resumes. In a volunteer role, people can rise to the level of their abilities regardless of their formal qualifications: teenagers can do adult-level work, those with life experience can contribute to client service without a master’s degree, etc. Similarly, when running in a fundraising marathon, the corporate CEO and the school custodian are indistinguishable, as are all members of a nonprofit board of directors who share the legal and fiduciary responsibilities of this position whether they are employed in professional capacities or represent grassroots perspectives.

10. Volunteering is inherently optimistic and future-oriented

No one gives time to a cause they feel will fail. In fact, the whole rationale for volunteering is to assure the success of a cause. So, while people may take a paying job that is relatively meaningless if the salary is enticing, the reward for volunteered service is accomplishment.

This also means that people volunteer with a vision of the future, often in hopes of a better future in which a problem or disease will be conquered, communities will be safe and inclusive, and the world will be in harmony. This may sound terribly mushy (which may be why such a value is not expressed every day), but it is ultimately true.

Susan J. Ellis is president of Energize, a training, publishing and consulting firm specializing in volunteerism. Her Web site is

Abbas’ Move Challenges Olmert

As Prime Minister Ehud Olmert presses ahead with plans for another unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is determined not to be sidelined by Olmert’s go-it-alone approach.

In late May, as Olmert tried to convince President Bush of the need for unilateral action, Abbas urged the Hamas-led Palestinian government to accept a package that would enable the Palestinians to break out of diplomatic isolation and emerge as full-fledged negotiating partners with a say on Olmert’s pullback plans.

The vehicle Abbas hopes to use to regain international legitimacy is an agreement hammered out between Palestinian prisoners from Hamas, being held by Israel, and his own Fatah organization, calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The so-called “prisoners’ covenant” is based on the Saudi-initiated peace plan of 2002, which received widespread international support at the time.

As of May 26, Abbas gave Hamas 10 days to accept the package.

If not, he says he will go to the Palestinian people and ask them to approve the prisoners’ covenant in a referendum within six weeks. Should the Palestinians accept the covenant, analysts believe there could be strong international pressure on Israel to engage in peace talks on the basis of the Saudi plan. In this way, they say, Abbas hopes to re-establish the Palestinians as players and undercut Olmert’s unilateralism.

But it won’t be easy.

Hamas leaders have already rejected the plan and question Abbas’ constitutional right to call a referendum. Moreover, without Hamas’ compliance, Abbas may not have the power to stage and secure a nationwide ballot, even though most Palestinians seem to want one. Latest polls show that between 70 percent and 80 percent of Palestinians favor a referendum.

The Saudi plan is based on a “land for peace” formula. It stipulates that if Israel withdraws from all territory gained in the 1967 Six-Day War, all the Arab states will normalize their relations with Israel. Hamas, however, continues to reject anything that implies recognition of the Jewish state.

The radical movement’s leaders also reject other key elements of the “prisoners’ covenant.”

For example, they refuse to be bound by previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements and insist on the right of Palestinians to use force against Israel, not only in the disputed territories, but in Israel proper as well.

Abbas has evolved several strategies to overcome Hamas intransigence. One is the planned referendum. Another is the establishment of a national-unity Hamas-Fatah government in which he, as the senior Fatah representative, would be empowered to conduct negotiations with Israel, not only as the president, but in the name of the government as a whole.

Then there is the ultimate weapon: Abbas could dissolve the Hamas-dominated Parliament and call new elections.

If he manages to get the Palestinian people and polity to commit to the Saudi plan, Abbas will create a major dilemma for the international community.

On the one hand, senior American and European officials are highly skeptical about the Palestinian president’s ability to deliver. They note that in the three years since the formulation of the internationally approved “road map” peace plan, Abbas has done virtually nothing to implement it, and doubt whether things would be different with the Saudi plan.

On the other hand, both the Americans and Europeans would much prefer a negotiated settlement to unilateral moves by Israel, which they fear might spark more fighting rather than less.

Olmert is not only skeptical about Abbas. He also has deep reservations about the Saudi plan, which calls for withdrawal to the 1967 lines, without Israel retaining any of the large settlement blocs he wants to keep.

Moreover, the Saudi formula insists on eastern Jerusalem as the capital of the projected Palestinian state and it suggests that Israel would have to accept the Palestinian refugees’ right of return — positions Olmert rejects out of hand.

The prime minister, therefore, hopes to keep the Saudi plan off the international agenda. He plans visits to Egypt and Europe in the coming weeks to persuade key players that Abbas cannot be relied on to deliver, and that Israel’s unilateralism is the only game in town.

Olmert, however, may not have things all his own way. If Abbas is able to get the Palestinians to accept the Saudi initiative, Olmert could find himself under strong domestic and international pressure to make a serious negotiating effort, despite the skepticism about its efficacy.

After a recent meeting with Abbas, Ami Ayalon, a leading Labor Party legislator, declared that even though he rejected many of its stipulations, the Saudi plan “could be a basis for negotiation,” because it “supports the idea of a two-state solution.”

The key to whether the Saudi plan becomes a serious option — even if adopted by the Palestinians — lies in Washington. The American goal remains a negotiated two-state solution based on Bush’s “vision” that he outlined in June 2002.

U.S. leaders hope to further this aim by strengthening Abbas and using economic and political leverage to bring Hamas down or force it to moderate its positions. Backing the Saudi plan as a basis for negotiations could promote these ends.

But there is another possibility: that the Saudi plan be put on the table only after Israel completes its planned pullback or what Olmert is now calling “realignment.”

In his Washington meeting with Olmert last week, Bush made it clear that the United States was in no hurry to see unilateral Israeli moves, and wanted to give negotiations another chance. But Bush also assured Olmert that as soon as it became apparent that negotiations are going nowhere, Washington would back Olmert’s unilateral alternative, as long as it does not contradict Bush’s vision of a viable and contiguous Palestinian state.

Most importantly, Bush emphasized that the United States will not recognize the borders Israel pulls back to unilaterally as permanent. And he reiterated the American view that final borders must be agreed upon in negotiations between the parties.

It is here where some analysts believe the Saudi plan could come in: not as a means of pre-empting Israel’s “realignment,” but as a way of taking things further once it is achieved.


Super Sunday Aims at Aiding Programs

In 1999, Alexander Khananashvili left behind his prosperous life as a Moscow doctor to immigrate to the United States with his wife and two daughters, hoping for a better future. He came with little money, no job prospects and no knowledge of English.

With the help of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Khananashvili and his family quickly found their footing. Within two days of their arrival, the former doctor and his wife met with a social worker from Jewish Vocational Service (JVS), a Federation beneficiary agency.

The social worker spoke to them at length about life in America, giving them information on everything from opening a bank account to enrolling in a medical plan. Within a few weeks, Khananashvili had several job leads, courtesy of JVS, while his wife enrolled, for free, in an English-language class offered by the agency.

Subsequently, The Federation awarded scholarships worth tens of thousands of dollars to enroll the Khananashvili daughters in Jewish day schools and Jewish camps, which, Khananashvili said, has helped cement their Jewish identities.

“The Federation improved our lives,” said Khananashvili, now a 48-year-old social worker and Beverly Hills resident. “They gave us our start here and protected us under their shield. We’re very grateful.”

During the past 30 years, The Federation has helped 30,000 Jews from around the world settle in the greater Los Angeles area. On Feb. 26, The Federation will hold its annual Super Sunday megafundraiser to support its 22 beneficiary agencies, including the Refugee and Resettlement Program that helped the Khananashvilis, as well as myriad other programs.

For the fundraiser, an estimated 1,900 volunteers will gather from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. to staff phones at three sites: The Federation’s headquarters at 6505 Wilshire Blvd., the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus in West Hills and the Torrance Marriott. They will be making calls to potential donors, with the goal of raising $4.7 million.

Craig Prizant, The Federation’s executive vice president for financial resource development, said he hopes this year’s Super Sunday fundraising will break its record by $200,000 over 2005. He said he feels optimistic, because many local Jews have profited from the sizzling real estate market, enabling them to give more generously. In addition, The Federation has identified and plans to contact the growing population of Jews in the West Valley, including West Hills, and in such South Bay cities as Manhattan Beach and Torrance.

Still, “the needs are always going to outweigh what we can raise,” Prizant said.

That’s especially true for Jewish Family Service (JFS) and Jewish Vocational Service (JVS), two Federation beneficiary agencies that have been particularly hard hit by cuts in government funding.

The JFS Gramercy Place Shelter, for instance, has lost about $180,000 in federal and state money over the past two years, a huge financial hit, according to Paul Castro, the agency’s executive director. The 57-bed homeless shelter, which, Castro said, “seems to be chronically at risk,” has managed to stay afloat only because JFS has filled the gap with private donations. However, because of the government shortfall, JFS has not been able to expand the existing programs or introduce needed new ones at a time when demand for services has skyrocketed, Castro said.

In this age of budget deficits, JFS and other local nonprofits increasingly rely on funds generated by Super Sunday and other private-sector initiatives to maintain present service levels, Castro said.

“When you look at what’s happening with government funding, you’re seeing a bigger expectation that private donors will take a greater responsibility for meeting the safety net,” he said. “And Super Sunday is an important example of how this community is working toward that reality.”

JVS also has seen demand for its services outstrip resources to provide them. In 2002, for instance, the agency’s staff included eight full-time job developers tracking down leads for clients. Today, JFS has one full-time and one part-time employment developer.

Reduced funding has forced JVS to move away from individual sessions for resume writing and interviewing. Instead, said Vivian B. Seigel, JVS chief executive, much of the training is now done in a group setting.

In light of those realities, she said, Super Sunday’s importance to JVS should not be underestimated.

“We look at the money generated by Super Sunday as extremely important,” Seigel said. “It has enabled us to reach out to families we know are living below the poverty line and to offer important services, ranging from help in finding jobs that pay a living wage to college tuition scholarships.”

Among those calling prospective donors will be the Khananashvilis, who, in addition to making pitches, will make their own donation, just as they have every year since coming to America.

“We like being able to give back,” Khananashvili said. “In the beginning, it was only $10, but $10 for us was maybe more than $1,000 now. It was a lot of money.”

To volunteer for or make a donation to Super Sunday, call (866) 968-7333.


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 ( 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.


‘Top Gun’ Lawyer Aims to Aid Likud

The latest, and certainly most colorful, addition to the ranks of the local Likud leadership is Beverly Hills lawyer Myles L. Berman.

He is better known to citizens facing drunk driving charges — and to connoisseurs of advertising slogans — as The Top Gun DUI Defense Attorney, but these days, it’s the defense of Israel that is uppermost on his mind.

Last June, fed up with what he considers the failure of established organizations to involve the American Jewish and Israeli expatriate communities, he founded the Beverly Hills Chapter of the American Friends of Likud.

So far, he has recruited 11 upscale families, drawn primarily from the Iranian Jewish community, to which his wife, Mitra belongs. The members make up in financial clout what they lack in numbers, with a combined worth of over $1 billion, according to Berman.

Born into a strongly Democratic family but later a founder of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Berman, at 51, is a man of strong physique and opinions.

“I am fed up with intermarriage and with rabbis who reach out to gay and intermarried couples,” he said during an interview in his spacious Sunset Boulevard office.

A member of Sinai Temple, Berman fears that “to some extent, rabbis and lay leaders are unable to instill Jewish identity” into their constituents.

Currently, Berman is focusing his considerable energies on two primary issues:

One is to assure the election from America of a large pro-Likud slate for the upcoming quadrennial Congress of the World Zionist Organization (WZO), dubbed “The Parliament of the Jewish People,” and his own election to the No. 5 spot on the slate.

He is concerned, he said, that so few American Jews realize the importance of June elections for the WZO Congress, which plays a major role in determining relations between Israel and the Diaspora, the running of the Jewish Agency and the dispersal of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Berman’s second immediate goal is to persuade the Israeli government and Knesset to allow Israeli citizens living abroad to vote in Israeli elections.

“It matters to both Israel and American Jewry what the expatriates say and do,” he observed.

Berman has “grabbed [the two issues] in my teeth,” he said. With Berman that means putting his money and advertising savvy behind the effort. Indeed, his penchant for publicity elicits knowing smiles even from fellow Likudniks.

Berman is laying out $50,000 of his own money to place his messages on Israeli cable TV programs popular with Israeli expats, and in the Anglo-Jewish and Hebrew-language press in the United States.

“I hope the efforts will further my ultimate aim of bridging the gap between Israeli leaders and American Jews,” Berman said.

Any Jew over 18 is eligible to vote for delegates to the Congress of the World Zionist Organization online or via mail by Feb. 15. For details, go to or phone (888) 657-8850. The Congress will meet June 19-22 in Jerusalem.


Culling Your ‘Stuff’ Can Be Painful Task

My Aunt Naomi is overwhelmed.

Now 78, she was widowed three years ago. She lost her husband, but inherited his piles of files, cancelled checks and warranties for current and formerly owned equipment.

Aunt Naomi also has her own collections — beloved tchotchkes that are scattered throughout her expansive home.

Along with feeling overwhelmed, my aunt is very lonely. She wants to move to a retirement community to be around people, participate in activities and have someone else do the cooking (and dust her tchotchkes). However, this idea has Aunt Naomi distressed.

“How can I possibly move to someplace half the size of this house?” she asked. “I have too much stuff; I’ll never be able to figure out what to keep and what to get rid of.”

She’s not alone. A word search for “clutter” on returned 319 titles dealing with the problem of “too much stuff.”

My sister and I were fortunate when we moved our mother from her home to a smaller place. I don’t think I ever saw a stack of papers in mom’s house, and she would no more own a huge collection of tchotchkes than an assault rifle. She was a minimalist when it came to stuff.

But professional organizers exist for a reason, and these experts point to several challenges when downsizing to a smaller home:

  • The quantity of stuff and the daunting task of dealing with it all;
  • The feeling of urgency to get this task accomplished quickly;
  • A painful sense of loss.

This last issue seems especially important for older people.

“Getting old means facing a lot of losses,” my 87-year-old father said. “I’ve lost my independence, my physical strength and functioning and people I care about. It’s not easy.”

Moving from a familiar home and letting go of things owned for years can feel like an additional loss. It’s not just the loss of the objects that has an impact; it’s the connection with the past that these objects symbolize.

I recently came home to find that my cleaning lady had broken a precious, hand-painted bottle that my grandmother had given me when I was 11. Whenever I held this bottle, I felt the special bond I had with my grandmother. It was painful to look at this shattered reminder of her.

It did eventually occur to me that the bottle was, after all, just an object. And I didn’t really require it in order to remember my grandmother and our love.

But the fear of losing such objects and their associated memories is why many people hang on to things, said Peter Walsh, the professional organizer on The Learning Channel’s show, “Clean Sweep,” which helps ordinary people deal with their clutter.

I recently spoke with Walsh about the emotional and practical aspects of downsizing.

“People usually keep things because of fear, security and control,” Walsh said. “But it’s important that you understand that holding onto these objects doesn’t make you who you are, and doesn’t help you control the life you have; that’s really an illusion.

“The goal is to just keep the things that really give your life meaning — the items that bring you the most joy, which you have the best associations with. The objects you hang on to should be a reflection of you, rather than things you feel obligated to keep.”

Walsh said that one needs to acknowledge that trimming back is indeed an overwhelming task, and a very tough thing to do: “As my grandmother always said, ‘The only way to eat an elephant is one mouthful at a time.’ Go through your stuff gradually, maybe over many months’ time.”

To help with the process, he suggested having an organizing buddy. For some people, a friend or professional is a better option than a family member, he said, because of the emotions that get aroused.

On the other hand, if children can take the time, handle the predictable stress, be patient and understanding and help their parent stay calm, going through mementos and photos together can be a very meaningful experience. While my sister and I helped mom go through her photos, artwork and books, we reminisced, laughed a lot, cried a little and learned more about her family history.

It might have been even easier if we’d known some of Walsh’s tips for downsizing:

  • The 1-to-5 Ratio. Go through a collection of anything, and for every five you keep, get rid of one. Once you’ve done it once, go back and do it again — keep five items, get rid of one. You’ll cull down the collection gradually.
  • Reverse Coat Hanger Trick: We wear 20 percent of our clothes 80 percent of the time. Turn all coat hangers in your closet back to front. In the next six months, when you wear something, put it back in your closet the correct way. At the end of six months, you’ll see what you’ve worn and what you haven’t. Give away what you haven’t worn.
  • Two Garbage Bags Rule: Get two large trash bags — one for giving away, one for trash. Spend 20 minutes every day, once a week, putting three items in the giveaway bag, and one in the trash bag. Immediately have someone take the giveaway bag to your favorite thrift store. Put the other out in the trash.

As my grandmother knew, giving treasured things to family members feels good. Walsh points out that doing so (or giving objects to a local museum or historical society) can help ease the loss of letting go.

A lifestyle with regular sifting through stuff is ideal, Walsh said: “Clutter sucks the life out of your space. As you get older, you need to surround yourself with the essentials, rather than the excess. It’s safer, better for you health wise and easier to maintain. By having less stuff, you live a richer life.”

For more information, visit the National Association of Professional Organizers at

Ellie Kahn is a freelance writer, owner of Living Legacies Family and Organizational Histories and producer of “Meet Me At Brooklyn & Soto.” She can be reached at and


Teshuvah for Tots Sets Right Tone

The concept of repentance is hard enough for grown-ups to get, so how do educators make the central themes of the High Holidays real for children?

While projects like tempera-painted honey dishes and party-whistle shofars are de rigueur, preschool and elementary school teachers take seriously the idea of having the High Holiday message of personal accountability set the tone for the whole year.

The Jewish Journal spoke with a few educators to get their thoughts.


Nettie Lerner, director of Chabad’s Garden School preschool on Pico Boulevard, teaches about God’s closeness during this time of year through analogy:

“We teach them the story of the king in the field. The king is in his palace the entire year, and once a year he comes out of his palace to meet with all the different people, to get to know them and see how they are doing. He does this for a month all around the kingdom and then goes back to his palace and feels like he knows how to be a more effective king,” she said.

The Garden School also uses the High Holidays to establish rules of engagement among the kids.

The school practices conflict resolution, where a teacher stops the offending action and has each child articulate feelings and establishes empathy. Then, together the children and teacher come up with a resolution.

“We do this over and over, and that’s how we’re able to bring this concept of teshuvah to a preschooler,” Lerner said.

Kindergarten-Second Grade

At Stephen S. Wise elementary school, director of education Metuka Benjamin encourages teachers to use project-based activities around the High Holidays to emphasize Jewish peoplehood.

“First and foremost, we want to help children understand that being Jewish means they are part of a community,” she said. “This community has a shared history, ancestry and value system. We want them to understand that there are Jews all over the world, yet there is a connected spirit that ties us together. At this early age, understanding community is critical to helping them acquire a sense of pride about their backgrounds, while also feeling tied to Jewish friends and family here and around the world.”

Third-Fifth Grade

Rivka Ben-Daniel, director of Hebrew and Judaic studies at Heschel West in Agoura, has the whole school — and parents — blowing shofar every morning leading up to the High Holidays.

She concentrates on the idea of cheshbon hanefesh, an accounting of the soul. The word “chet,” Hebrew for sin, comes from the root of deviate — indicating that someone has missed a goal they set.

Ben-Daniel has students break into small groups to write a personal and communal “Ashamnu” confessional prayer, focusing on wrongdoings the class may have done as a group, and, privately, what they have done as individuals.

“We put them on paper and then we go to Malibu Creek Canyon, one grade at a time, and we read out loud the class sins, and we say goodbye to the sins and promise to start anew and welcome a new year by promising to strive to be better for the coming year,” Ben-Daniel said.


Ben-Daniel goes through a similar exercise with teachers, asking them to account for their wrongdoings with students, teachers and parents.

“We ask the teachers to acknowledge what they have done wrong and to ask for forgiveness, to forgive other people, and to forgive yourself for what you have done wrong,” she said.

In addition, teachers are asked to write goals for themselves “in an area where they want to improve in their educational lives.”


Two Finish Lines


What is the touchstone that unites a 26.2-mile marathon with a Siyum Hashas celebration of completing the 7.5-year page-a-day Talmud cycle?

The concept shared by both events is human striving — or in the language of the Lithuanian yeshiva, the commitment to shteig, to stretch one’s limits. Someone who studies one page of Talmud a day, Daf Yomi, logs text pages; the marathon runner logs miles. Trappings of mortality bedeck the starting line — the talmudist seeking better understanding of his mortality, and the marathon runner physically defying that same mortality.

This unlikely comparison of both fetes of transcendence occurred to me, based on my bicoastal participation at a Siyum and a marathon. One night, in early March, I was at New York’s Madison Square Garden celebrating the completion of the Talmud cycle; the following afternoon I was flying to the Quality of Life Expo prior to the Los Angeles Marathon, the nation’s fourth-largest long-distance race.

Adding my voice to thousands of my fellow Daf Yominiks at the Garden, I passionately and thankfully shouted, “May His great name be blessed for now and for eternity,” and swayed to the musical beat of the chasidic songs.

At the three-day expo preceding the marathon, I manned a booth together with my editor, Peri Deavaney, promoting my book, whose theme is also one of striving. This first biography of the founder of the New York City Marathon (“Anything For a T-Shirt: Fred Lebow and the New York City Marathon, the World’s Greatest Footrace,” Syracuse University Press) shows how an impresario convinced the plodders and shleppers of the world that they could go a marathon’s seemingly fearsome distance.

The similarity between these two enterprises crossed my mind during a slow patch Thursday afternoon where. Viewing a large-screened film clip in the auditorium of past L.A. marathons, particularly the slow runners and the wheelchair athletes, my thoughts somehow turned to the simcha I reveled in only a day and a half earlier in New York. Both of these events, I thought, were triumphs over human ordinariness and complacency.

True, on the surface, there was no hashava (the Talmud’s word for common denominator) between these two enterprises — and a God-fearing Jew would be best off uttering a lehavdil (a statement of demarcation) before drawing similarities between a siyum and a marathon. After all, one undertaking is spiritual; the other, physical. The marathon represents a legacy of a hedonistic ancient Greek culture; the Talmud, a work of faith and holiness.

But is there any question about the commonality of obstacles facing the student of the daily page of Talmud and the marathon runner in training? Both often launch their daily trajectory at dawn, defy sleep, knowingly cut into family time and are undeterred by inclement weather and life’s distractions. Many runners mark their miles in the company of other runners, encouraging one another. The Daf Yomi learner also tackles his talmudic page in a shiur, a group setting, rather than by himself.

While the runner’s gear is his sneakers, and the Daf Yomi stalwart his Talmud, each striver calls on aids making the challenge more manageable. For instance, the runner applies breathing strips to his nose, eats protein bars (some of which hold kosher certification) and carries instruments measuring his speed. The talmudist not only cites other commentaries helping him to understand the sugya (topic) at hand, but brings in visuals and diagrams (the layout of the Temple in Jerusalem, the anatomy of a bull) to clarify an obscure text.

In my Riverdale, N.Y., Daf Yomi group I see daily examples of discipline and modesty on the part of the text’s presenter, but this should not be surprising since immersion in holiness enhances character traits. But in this, my first experience in manning a booth, I also was exposed to real examples of humility.

Marathon officials had arranged to give gift copies of my book to some 300 “legacy” runners. These were finishers at the 19 earlier marathons and honorees, in a sense, at the marathon’s 20th anniversary. Two of these legacy runners came to my booth carrying copies of my book asking for my autograph. Both were men probably in their 50s. I learned that one worked as an air-traffic controller and the other in the county court system. The air-traffic controller told me that he had completed a total of nearly 50 marathons. What stood out was the modesty from both these marathon runners in response to my compliments; neither of the two seemed boastful or truly regarded themselves as exceptional.

To be sure, the Talmud uses the metaphor of running in stressing the superiority of Talmud study over ephemeral, worldly pursuits.

“We run, and they run,” states the Talmud in celebrating the completion of a tractate. The Jew “runs” toward eternal life, the others pursue vanity. Without minimizing the spiritual superiority of the Daf Yomi goal, the marathon runner also obeys the Torah’s edict “to watch carefully one’s soul,” interpreted by Jewish commentators as including health and physical fitness.

In competing against themselves, both the Daf Yomi student and the marathon runner are testing their limits and proving something about their core identities. May they both be blessed with the faith and energy to cross the finish — the Daf Yomi learner to go m’chayil l’chayi (from strength to strength), and the marathon runner to “go the distance.”

Ron Rubin is a professor of political science at Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY.


Make Resolutions That Will Stick

"We have spoken slander; we have acted presumptuously; we have practiced deceit."

Each year we beat our chest and resolve to change. And each year, we make promises to ourselves: I’m going to lose weight. I’m going to stop gossiping. I’m going to learn to play the piano.

Yet long before Chanukah rolls around, the resolve has dissipated. With all our good intentions, we never quite manage to change.

"Unless you hit a crisis … most people don’t change their lives," psychotherapist Yona Kollin said. Her husband, Gilbert Kollin, rabbi emeritus of Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center, said that while the High Holidays provide a helpful mechanism for making positive changes in our lives, most congregants who attend services "aren’t necessarily there for resolutions."

For those truly committed to making changes, he said, the High Holidays can facilitate that process as they are designed to take us through a process of self-assessment.

"You ask yourself, ‘What am I going to do in the year ahead better than in the year prior?’ It’s like a business plan," Gilbert Kollin said. "Imagine you’re in bankruptcy court. You’re filing a moral Chapter 11 and saying to God, ‘This business is bust. But give me a year.’ And God says, ‘Show me a plan.’"

Spiritual preparation for the High Holidays actually begins a month prior to Rosh Hashanah, during the month of Elul. During that time, we are encouraged to take stock of the past year, pinpointing our strengths and weaknesses, examining the impact of our deeds and clarifying our goals. Teshuva (returning to the desirable path) involves three steps: Regretting our misdeeds, confessing them and committing not to repeat them.

It’s not necessarily an easy process, but as Yona Kollin notes, real change requires effort. "In cognitive therapy, you think about what you want to do and practice it over and over until it becomes automatic," she said. "It won’t happen without practice."

"It’s what Heschel called ‘a leap of action.’ You become what you do," her husband added. The High Holidays "hopefully give an opportunity to focus on whether your actions represent your thoughts," he said. "If you find dissonance, you have to determine what you want to do and what actions you need to take in order to get there." Having the thoughts without taking the actions, he said, will only lead to feelings of frustration and inadequacy.

Both Jewish practice and psychological theory prescribe similar formulas for making change: Identify the goal, identify the steps needed to reach the goal and put your intentions into action. Repeat as necessary. Make goals specific, and focus on just a few.

But why even bother trying to change the very habits that we already know we’ll be seeking forgiveness for next year? After all, the Machzor (High Holiday prayer book) lists a whole host of sins we’re destined to commit.

"God doesn’t expect us to be perfect," Gilbert Kollin said. "God has the role of judge, but also the role of parent … who might not demand an ‘A’ so much as an honest effort," he said. "We know we’re not going to be perfect, but the question is: Can we do better?"

Federation to End Donor Subscriptions

Starting next year, Jewish Journal readers who received their weekly newspaper by donating to The Jewish Federation will still be able to get it, but not as part of their Federation donation.

Readers will be able to subscribe directly to The Journal for home delivery, or pick it up for free at distribution sites around Los Angeles.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2005, The Federation will no longer purchase 20,000 annual Journal subscriptions for its donors.

The change in this 18-year relationship comes as The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles launches a unique and unprecedented plan to distribute some 110,000 copies of its weekly newspaper in the greater Los Angeles area.

"By 2006, we intend to be the largest circulation Jewish community weekly in North America," Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman said.

As part of its plan, The Journal will rely largely on free distribution and paid private subscriptions. Until now, The Journal has been able to pay cheap third-class postage rates, allowing it to charge $30 per subscription. Under U.S. Postal Service regulations, a company must pay first-class postage if it distributes a majority of papers for free. First- class postage for weekly delivery is $60 per year.

The Jewish Journal will be running a series of ads to alert readers to its new distribution system.

The distribution plan is unique among North America’s 135 Jewish community papers. But Eshman says it suits a community that is in itself unique. "L.A. Jewry is dispersed, diverse and at the cutting edge of American Jewish life," Eshman said, "and we want our paper to reach and reflect all parts of it."

Journal Chief Operating Officer Kimber Sax said the change could initially cost the Journal, a nonprofit, "hundreds of thousands of dollars" in lost revenue.

On the upside, she said, giving away The Journal is expected to double the paper’s circulation to 110,000 by 2006. Sax and Eshman are confident the increased penetration will make the paper more attractive to advertisers hungry to reach the affluent Jewish community.

"Our vision is that everywhere you go in greater Los Angeles County, whether you’re in Arcadia, Conejo, Encino, San Gabriel or Torrance, you’re going to see The Jewish Journal," Sax said.

Eshman said the new goal challenges the paper to improve the quality to grow readership. Toward that end, The Journal has hired new writers and launched editions in Orange County and Conejo Valley. The paper just hired an in-house Web director to overhaul its Web site, which should be unveiled by October.

"Our goal is to be the largest Jewish newspaper in the country and among the best," Eshman said.

The Journal will become one of only a handful of Jewish papers nationwide neither owned by nor selling thousands of subscriptions to federations, said Neil Rubin, senior editor of the Baltimore Jewish Times and former president of the American Jewish Press Association. He estimated that about 85 percent of Jewish papers have formal financial ties with the philanthropic bodies, including the Cleveland Jewish News and the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent, which are federation-owned. Such arrangements help keep some publications afloat by guaranteeing paid circulation, he said.

However, Rubin said at the very least these relationships create the appearance of conflicts of interest.

With federation papers, "you’re not really doing journalism. You’re self-censoring or you’re being censured, which isn’t healthy for the Jewish community," said Rubin, whose Baltimore Jewish Times is independent.

Relations between the Los Angeles Federation and Journal occasionally became frosty after stories critical of the organization ran in the paper. Both Federation President John Fishel and Journal Editor Eshman deny these occasional conflicts played any role in the impending separation.

Eshman said the philanthropic organization no longer could afford subscriptions at a time of dramatically increasing operating costs and only slightly higher fund raising. He said the split might have been driven by cost-cutting recommendations made by an internal Federation task force.

Fishel said The Journal’s decision to give away most of its papers necessitated the separation. With The Journal’s decision to giveaway most copies, subscriptions will cost more than The Federation wants to spend, Fishel said.

Still, he said he hoped Federation members would continue to pick up The Journal, which has served the community well.

"I think The Journal has improved dramatically over the last decade," he said.

The Giving Ladder

"Rambams Ladder: A Meditation on Generosity and Why It Is Necessary to Give" by Julie Salamon (Workman Publishing, $18.95).

Even a wizard at niche marketing would tremble before the title of Julie Salamon’s most recent book. "Rambam’s Ladder," based on an ancient text by Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, sounds like it’s bound for the remainder bins even before it hits the Judaica sections. Don’t be fooled; this slender volume is a (mistitled) must-read for every individual, Jew and non-Jew alike, who recognizes his or her greater responsibility as part of a family, community and member of society.

Ben Maimon, a 12th-century physician, philosopher and scholar, is best known as Maimonidies or Rambam. Salamon uses his text, the Ladder of Charity, as the inspiration for her title and the basis for her eight-step ladder explaining different levels of charitable giving: the reluctant giver is at the bottom of the ladder and the individual whose charity enables someone to become self-reliant at the top. In between fall all vagaries and levels of giving — unsolicited charity, giving with a smile or giving with a scowl, anonymous donations — with a separate chapter dedicated to each rung of the ladder.

The ground beneath the ladder of charity is always shifting, Salamon says. By the time you have finished her text you fully grasp that there is no such thing as a simple act of charity. Do we give out of self-interest, to atone for past sins, to alleviate guilt, to impress, to ingratiate favor? At the end of the day, who is giving to whom?

Billed as a road map to charitable giving, "Rambam’s Ladder" begins as one woman’s journey, subtle and stirring, to make sense of her world following the horror of Sept. 11. An inveterate volunteer and do-gooder, Salamon’s reaction to the tragedy of Sept. 11 was to gather her children near and to protect her own. Her husband bolted into action, running to donate blood, to dispense sandwiches, to search for the missing. Sept. 11 is the crucible for inhumanity and terror on the one hand, and profound acts of kindness and charity on the other.

"The tragedy of human history lies in the enormous potential for destruction in rare acts of evil, not in the high frequency of evil people," said the late Steven Jay Gould in response to Sept. 11. "Complex systems can only be built step by step, whereas destruction requires but an instant. Thus, in what I like to call the Great Asymmetry, every spectacular incident of evil will be balanced by 10,000 acts of kindness, too often unnoted and invisible as the ‘ordinary efforts’ of a vast majority."

Paolo Alvanian is an ordinary man responsible for one such act of kindness. He watched from his downtown restaurant as the Twin Towers crumbled. The events of that day transformed him from a man who did not believe in charity — an immigrant who believed that everyone should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps — into a giving man. He dedicated a day for charity where all proceeds from his restaurant were donated to the Red Cross. He did away with his set prices and asked his patrons to pay what they could afford. One woman ate a small salad and wrote a check for $400. The lesson of the reluctant giver: "Giving may begin as a way to make order out of chaos, and turn out to be a transformation."

Alvanian’s simple act changed his perception of himself, his place in the world and his feeling of responsibility to others. "I’m not Mother Teresa. I’m not equal to her liver for generosity. But I believe that if you give from you heart you will have it returned back."

Each and every one of us is not only capable of, but obligated to be charitable. Reading this book forces us to examine how we stack up — or which rung of the ladder we are on. The book is thoughtful, poetic and a gripping read.

Salamon interviews the homeless man on the street and the CEOs of major corporations. She references Enron, Sotheby’s and Scarlett O’Hara all in the same breath. She is brutally honest about her own conflicts, preferring to give money to a presentable homeless man rather than the crazy one muttering under his breath. And her reporting is thorough and relevant. We learn that the United States has more billionaires than any other country in the world: 216 out of 497 in 2001: "Yet the U.S. Bureau of the Census reported in September 2002 that 32.9 million Americans, 9.2 percent of the total population, were officially considered poor."

Too many Americans, it would seem, have yet to reach even the first rung of the ladder.

It is not natural to want to give away one’s money; in fact, one could argue that being philanthropic is counterintuitive. Ramban’s goal — and Salamon’s mission — is to press the importance of our hardwiring a charitable instinct into the soul. No easy task, but one she takes on with courage and zeal. Every parent will immediately recognize the importance of this book not only for themselves, but also for their children. No child is too young to understand the importance and the impact of a charitable life. The sooner the indoctrination begins the better.

Hello, Israel Calling

Phones will be ringing in at least 5,000 Jewish homes around Orange County on March 14, when volunteers pitch in to help raise money for O.C.’s Jewish Federation, the umbrella fundraising organization that helps support a dozen Jewish agencies.

This year, though, Super Sunday dialing will be divvied up between about 75 local volunteers punching numbers in the morning from the Costa Mesa campus and Israelis, who will take the afternoon shift from across several time zones.

"It’s very special to get a call from Israel," said Marc Miller, who is campaign chair for the Federation, which develops programs to foster ties between Israel and the U.S. Jewish community. "I think it will change the dynamic of conversation."

"There is a substantial cost savings between using the Israel call center and renting extra lines for the Federation," campaign director Alissa Duel said. Several other federations have also tapped the call center provided by the IDC Corp., which is based in Newark, N.J. The 14-year-old company provides international phone service at a flat rate.

"Here’s an innovative way to build bonds with Israel" and give support to its ailing economy, Miller said.

Miller’s fundraising goal is to surpass last year’s record $2.25 million Federation campaign by 10 percent.

Will U.S. Jews Keep Pace With Israel?

Publicly, most Jewish organizations support the "road map" for Israeli-Palestinian peace that President Bush is promoting in his Middle East travels this week and at his summit with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his new Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas.

But privately, there is much skepticism about what will transpire in the coming weeks and months, with fears that Israel will be forced to make too many concessions or that Palestinians will get a state without first cracking down on terrorism. The goal, many say, is to make these concerns heard quietly, while not standing in the way of progress.

Mainstream Jewish leaders who have reservations say they are not worried that they will be viewed as impediments for peace. Instead, they say they are on the same wavelength as Israel’s government, supporting the process — hesitantly.

"The center, I am convinced, has already shifted in support for Sharon and Bush," said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. "If it’s good enough for Sharon and good enough for Israelis, then the American Jewish community will embrace it."

But to some, supporting the Israeli government means more than backing what is said publicly.

Some Jewish leaders feel it is up to them to say what many in Israel, including Sharon, are thinking but are not saying. They say political pressure may have forced Sharon to back something he truly does not believe in, and it is the Jewish community’s job to balance the support Israel is expressing with voices of caution.

This is not the first time the organized American Jewish community faces the prospect of suddenly embracing a peace process after years of echoing hard-line Israeli positions with respect to the Palestinians. When the Oslo process evolved in the mid-1990s, some prominent Jewish organizations, including the umbrella Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, were accused of not fully backing the process the Israeli government had adopted.

Supporters of Oslo called it the "Diaspora lag" — the fact the American Jews were not supporting something that was being viewed positively in Israel.

American Jews can become more pessimistic than some in Israel because they do not see the violence up close each day, said Martin Raffel, associate executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, and therefore are not as pragmatic about the need to embrace any movement in the peace process.

"Maybe the fact that we don’t live it as acutely as Israelis do, sometimes we have a tendency to be less pragmatic or more idealistic," he said.

This time around, some Jewish leaders say they are once again skeptical. But the difference is, some say, that skepticism is shared by Israel.

"Everybody is hesitant," said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents. "A lot of people have reservations because they see this as a very risky approach."

Hoenlein and others say the 14 reservations about the road map that Israel submitted to the United States last month mirror the concerns they have been expressing for months, and there is still strong concern that Arafat, the Palestinian Authority president, retains much of the control of the security system in the West Bank and Gaza.

Indeed, an Israeli Cabinet minister, Limor Livnat of Likud, meanwhile, told American Jewish leaders Tuesday that "your role now is to stand very firm" and to make sure that the Israeli government does not make concessions until the Palestinians have uprooted terrorism.

"You need to make sure [that Bush sticks to his ideology to uproot all terrorism in the world] including, of course, the Palestinian infrastructure," Livnat, who abstained from the Cabinet vote endorsing the road map, told a meeting of the Conference of Presidents.

There’s a decade’s worth of experience that makes American Jews fear the worst.

"If it’s hard for the community to be on board, it’s for good reason," said Morris Amitay, a former executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). "I don’t think the Jewish community will be that much ahead or behind Congress and public opinion."

That worries some more dovish Jewish groups, who fear Jewish leaders may be reluctant to embrace a new process, when the last one burned Israel.

"The concern I have is if groups get wrapped up in the opposition to any talks of a return to diplomacy, and too tightly wound around denigrating the other side," said Lewis Roth, assistant executive director of Americans for Peace Now.

He fears that Jewish groups, while technically on board, will not expend any political capital on supporting — and pushing — the peace process.

The question, others say, is whether Abbas and the Palestinians will follow through where they have not in the past. If progress is made by the Palestinians, with terrorism especially coming to an end, there would be almost universal support among American Jews for a revived peace process, they say.

Even hawkish groups like the Zionist Organization of America say they will "openly and publicly support negotiations" if the environment is right, said the group’s national president, Morton Klein. He said they would need to see Palestinian arrests of terrorists and other requirements before they would support the process.

Indeed, several Jewish leaders said they will be working in the weeks and months ahead to ensure that Palestinians and other partners are keeping the commitments stressed in the road map, because they fear the main problem with Oslo was that Palestinian compliance was not enforced.

"The role for the American Jewish community is to be skeptical and watch and move in when the Arabs are not fulfilling their commitments," Amitay said.

Also on the agenda is setting the scene to entice the Palestinians to fulfill those commitments. AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, last month pushed for a provision in the State Department Authorization Act that would give substantial U.S. assistance to a Palestinian state, once it achieved a thorough peace.

Jewish leaders said the provision, sponsored by U.S. Reps. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) and Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), the leaders of the House International Relations Committee, sent a signal that the new state would have American Jewish support.

"I think our role is to encourage our government to play a constructive role to facilitate an opportunity for peace," Raffel said. That means finding international donors and other financial avenues to support the state. "I only wish that we get to the point where money is needed," he said.

For now, many American Jewish groups say they will take their cues from the Israeli government.

"Some of us sometimes lose sight of the fact that it’s their decision," Foxman said. "It’s not our role to push them or to hold them back."

A Just War May Be Great Risk to Israel

There are very few people I know who have an unambiguous
perspective on this war. I think we are quite unanimous in our belief that
Saddam Hussein is a bad guy who should go — for the sake of his own
people and all the people in the Middle East.

As a stand-alone goal, the removal of Saddam, even killing
him, is morally justified. From the Jewish point of view, he is a rodef, a

He has, on more than one occasion, brutally killed large
groups of people and is a threat to repeat such offenses. We are commanded to
preemptively kill a rodef before he can kill us.

What complicates the matter of Saddam as rodef is that in
order to accomplish this moral goal, we may have to sacrifice the lives of
many, and we may end up killing as many as the rodef did. That then begs the
question: Would that make us a rodef in the eyes of others? Hence the

There is another facet of this war, however, that gives a
Jew pause. What will be the war’s impact on Israel?

There are those who suggest that if Saddam is removed, a
major source of support for terror against Israel will be eliminated, a major
destabilizing factor in the Middle East will be neutralized and the
Palestinians will be better able to deal with the radicals in their midst and
in a better position to negotiate with Israel. Some also suggest that if Iraq
can be democratized, it will be a giant first step toward the democratization
of the whole region, and this can only work to Israel’s benefit.

This is what has me worried. I have read commentaries on
both sides of this issue, and I come up with the conclusion that the optimists
in this case are being naïve and are assuming too much with regard to how
ready the Middle East is for democracy.

I also think that if the United States remains in Iraq for a
protracted period, whether it is to wage war or to clean up after the war and
make the country ready for democracy, it will stoke the fires of Arab
anticolonialism, energize the radical Islamists, who constitute the principle
terror groups — Al Qaeda, the ayalollahs, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah —
and heighten, rather than reduce, the level of tension and terror in the Middle
East and around the world.

It will push the Wahabis in Saudi Arabia even further toward
extremism, weaken the regimes of Jordan and Egypt, which are struggling with
the extremists in their lands, and, in the end, put Israel at even greater
risk. And the United States, branded by the Arab world as the colonizer in
their midst, would lose its capacity to be a broker for peace in the region and
would be of no help to Israel as sympathetic friend.

Indeed, the United States might feel the need to assume a
more pro-Arab stance in order to restore its status in the Arab world, and,
discredited in the eyes of Europe because of the chaos that emerges from its
presence in Iraq, the United States would also lose its ability to serve as a
moderating force against European pro-Arabism.

The military might of the United States cannot, by itself,
guarantee any results. The days when Arabs run away at the sound of the
Davidka, as they did in the Israel War of Independence, are over. As we have
seen, the opposite is the case: the radicals glory in attacking the giant and
powerful Satan, because they believe Allah is on their side.

The United States is big enough and strong enough to absorb
such a loss of face. After a while, the world will recognize that it needs us,
and things will be OK.

Israel is not big and strong, and if I am right, then the
destabilization in the Middle East that a prolonged American presence in Iraq
could generate will actually endanger Israel. I am afraid of this outcome, and
because of this, I hope America can find a way to get out of Iraq as quickly as
possible and let someone else assume the responsibility for democratizing the
Middle East. It is a noble goal, but I do not believe that we are the ones to
do it.

Joel Rembaum is senior rabbi at Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles. This essay is an abridged version of his sermon delivered March 22.

Made in Israel

On a typically bustling weekday morning at Elat Market onPico Boulevard, regular shopper Boris Sinofsky was at the fish counter,ordering several pounds of tilapia. He had seen a pamphlet for Fine Foods FromIsrael — a campaign to support Israel through the purchase of its goods — buthe didn’t pay it much mind.

“I shop at Elat, Kosher Club, Koltov all the time. I alreadybuy a lot of Israeli products.”

Over by the meat counter, Gila Mehraban had not even heardof the campaign.

“I usually buy kosher products,” Mehraban said. “But I getall kinds of brands.”

Nobody she knows, she added, is consciously buying Israeliproducts to support the Jewish State.

Fine Foods From Israel — a citywide awareness campaignrunning March 19-31 — hopes to change Jewish consumer patterns. The marketingcampaign was launched earlier this month in a collaboration by the SouthernCalifornia Israel Chamber of Commerce, The Jewish Federation of Greater LosAngeles, the Government of Israel Economic Mission and the Israel Export andInternational Cooperation Institute. More than 60,000 pamphlets weredistributed throughout Los Angeles, listing participation of 90 markets,including 56 Ralphs supermarkets and independent outlets such as Elite Marketand Sami Makolet.  The campaign’s goal: to coax customers to buy products fromIsraeli companies such as Adin Ltd., Segal Wines and Wissotzky Tea.

Fine Foods is one of many ways American Jewish communitieshave been rallying support through Israel, using financial and educationalprograms. But unlike victims of terror funds such as The Jewish Federation’sJews in Crisis, Fine Foods’ objective is not to raise proceeds for specificcharities, but to boost revenue of Israeli companies and, by extension,Israel’s economy. Israel — which has experienced a steady economic downturnsince the second Intifada began in September 2000 — ships about $38 billion intotal exports, an estimated $1 billion of that food-related. Israel exports toNorth America decreased from $76 million in 2001 to $70 million in 2002.

Fine Foods is one of many recent “buy Israel” efforts.Another food-related initiative involves Osem USA  — the American branch of Israel’s largest food manufacturer — which has partnered with Jewish NationalFund (JNF) to launch the Passover campaign Matzah With a Mitzvah. For everyfive boxes of Osem products purchased, Osem will make a donation to JNF toplant a tree in Israel. Osem will also promote facts on its packaging aboutJNF, the century-old organization that has developed more than 250,000 acres ofIsraeli land. Major supermarket chains nationwide — including Ralphs andAlbertsons — are endorsing this endeavor.

“This is a great way to support Israel,” Osem’s PresidentIzzet Ozdogan said. “With one purchase, you are helping Israel’s economy,fulfilling the obligations of Passover and planting trees in Israel — threemitzvot for the price of one.”

“Buy Israel” programs are also transcending the foodindustry. American Jewish Committee devoted part of its Web site to a “Made inIsrael” section that identifies Israeli cosmetics and clothing brands, andincludes links to other “buy Israel” Web sites, such as

Consumers have also been supporting Israel in the homeimprovement arena, where Israeli companies have a prominent local presence.Doorset Closet Mobel, manufacturer of custom closet and storage systems, openeda Beverly Hills showroom in 2001, while Caesarstone — pioneers of quartzsurfaces — has based U.S. operations in Sun Valley. Meanwhile, Bradco Kitchens& Baths has become the exclusive U.S. distributor of Israeli companiesTopaz Kitchens and Harsa Sink.

Doron Abrahami, consul for economic affairs at the SouthernCalifornia Israel Chamber of Commerce, believes that word is slowly gettingout. He was encouraged by the 160 people who attended a Fine Foods “food expo,”held March 24 in Beverly Hills. The networking party attracted store owners,distributors and buyers for Ralphs, Albertsons and Trader Joe’s.

“It’s too early,” Abrahami said, “but from the feedback thatwe’re getting, we’re considering holding this campaign again next year.”

Midway through this attempt to boost the quotient of Israeligoods, the Fine Foods campaign’s effectiveness is difficult to separate from anoverall, pre-Passover trend. Participating retailers endorse the marketingendeavor, but report conflicting feedback on its effectiveness. David Eskenazi,manager of Kosher Club in Los Angeles, noticed a small spike in the shape of afew phone calls.

“Overall there’s been a general increase in the purchase ofIsraeli goods even before the campaign,” said Eskenazi, who added that,conversely, “there’s been a drop in the sales of all of our French products.”

As a result of demand, Kosher Club will carry four moreIsrael-imported wine brands this Passover.

“Consumers are making a choice to support Israel, and we’remaking an effort to purchase these products,” Eskenazi said.

Noori Zbida has seen a bump in interest since the campaignbegan at his Fairfax Avenue store, Picanty.

“People want to choose more Israeli products than before,”Zbida said.

Tzvi Guttman of Mr. Kosher in Encino, felt otherwise.

“I sell the same amount around the year,” said Guttman, who”didn’t feel a difference.”

Abrahami cautioned against looking for instantaneous resultsfrom this inaugural Fine Foods.

“It might take a year to measure this campaign,” he said.”It’s a big community. I think there’s a big potential.”

Chamber of Commerce executive committee member BennettZimmerman agreed.

“If we could reach 100,000 people in California with ourcampaign,” he said, “that’s $100 million worth of goods. If we can replicatethis across the country, that’s a very significant impact on Israel’s economy.”

For more information on the Fine Foods from Israel campaign, call (323) 658-7924; visit For more information on Jewish National Fund, call (800) 542-8733; visit For more information on American Jewish Committee’s Made in Israel program, visit

Russia Returns 16 Long-Sought Books

The Lubavitch movement is celebrating the transfer of 16 more religious books to a Lubavitch-run synagogue in Moscow. But it is unclear when — and indeed, if — the balance of the thousands of books that make up the “Schneerson Library” will come into the ultra-Orthodox group’s hands.

Earlier this month, a group of Lubavitch Jews gathered in a downtown Moscow synagogue to welcome the 16 books that were returned to the movement from the Russian State Library, formerly known as the Lenin Library, where the collection has been held for the last 80 years.

With the 16 volumes returned this month, the count of books from the collection released by Russia this year increased to 30. Fourteen books were returned earlier this year in two batches.

A few years after the Russian Revolution, the books — estimates range from 4,000 to 12,000 volumes — were seized from the fifth Lubavitcher rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, as part of a crackdown on religion.

Excitement, singing and clapping filled the room as West Coast Chabad director Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin, who described the transfer as “the fulfillment of 80 years of imprisonment,” carried the pile of antique books into the Bronnaya Synagogue’s main hall. Long tables were put together and covered with tallitot (prayer shawls), before the books were laid out.

Cunin opened the front page of the thickest volume in the pile. “It’s Gemarrah,” he announced, referring to a volume of Talmudic texts. Another book turned out to be a 200-year-old prayer book of the first Lubavitcher rebbe, and Cunin recited his evening prayer over the newly found treasure.

The return of the books came after more than a decade of efforts. Agudas Chasidei Chabad-Lubavitch, a group affiliated with the Lubavitch movement, was established in 1990 with the goal of achieving the release of the Schneerson collection.

It took appeals by three U.S. administrations, all 100 U.S. senators, heads of state from various nations and Jewish leaders from around the world “to get these 16 volumes,” said the Los Angeles-based Cunin, who has been spearheading the Lubavitch effort to get the books returned. More directly, a gesture from the Bush administration apparently made the return possible.

At a ceremony in Moscow earlier this month, the United States returned to Russia an archive of the Smolensk Regional Committee of the Communist Party. At the end of World War II, the U.S. armed forces came into possession of the archive, looted by the Nazis when they occupied Russia during World War II. To show its appreciation for the archive, Russia agreed to return part of the Schneerson library. A senior Russian State Library official in charge of the Schneerson collection said the library was asked “to expedite the return” of some books to Lubavitch when the United States indicated it was ready to give back the Smolensk archive.

“These books are now the property of Chabad,” said Meri Trifonenko, head of the Russian State Library’s Oriental Center, where the collection is stored.

Rabbi Berel Lazar, leader of the Lubavitch movement in the former Soviet Union and one of Russia’s two chief rabbis, confirmed that the books will be transferred to the library at Moscow’s Marina Roscha Synagogue and Community Center, the movement’s main facility in Russia.

As part of the arrangement, the books must stay in Russia for now. A decision on the matter by the Russian Ministry of Culture could allow the Lubavitch movement to transfer the books to Brooklyn, location of the group’s international headquarters. However, it is unclear whether all parts of the Lubavitch movement want the books taken out of Russia.

The State Library’s Trifonenko said no more books have been marked for transfer to Chabad in the near future. She said that only those books from the Schneerson collection that have duplicates in the State Library’s main collection were transferred to Chabad.

Lubavitch officials said they hope the Russians will follow up on the return of the books. Cunin indicated that Chabad will continue its practice of appealing to the U.S. leadership to press Russia on the matter.

Fill ‘Er Up With Guilt

What do you think you’re doing when you pump gallons of gas into your SUV?If you think that you are simply doing a necessary weekly chore of no great consequence, then Laurie David, a trustee of the Natural Resources Defense Council and wife of comedian Larry David, wants you to think again.

On Dec. 19 at a forum on energy independence hosted by the American Jewish Congress, David revealed a new anti-oil television advertising campaign designed to make the suburban soccer-mom set shudder with shame every time they pull into a gas station. The ads are a parody of President Bush’s war on drugs ads, and they feature talking heads saying, "Today I helped hijack a plane" and "Today I helped our enemies develop weapons of mass destruction." They end with the tag line: "What is your SUV doing to national security?"

David produced the ads along with Arianna Huffington, film producer Lawrence Bender and Ariel Emanuel, a partner at Endeavor Talent Agency. These four call their efforts The Detroit Project, and the aim of the ads is to encourage American car manufacturers to produce hybrid cars such as the Toyota Prius, which use much less fuel than SUVs and get more miles to the gallon. If Americans can use less gas, then America can decrease its dependence on Saudi Arabian oil. The Thinking goes: If Saudi Arabia loses a large chunk of the American oil market, then it will have less money to support terrorism and radical Islamists, and the world just might be a safer place.

The Detroit Project plans to air the ads in select markets a week before President Bush’s State of the Union address. Their goal is to make you feel uncomfortable about taking the SUV out for a spin. "The time has come," David said. "Drastic times call for drastic measures"

Out of Africa

What started out as a joke between friends fast became a million-dollar goal for a retired Jewish soccer player.

Ethan Zohn emerged as the sole survivor of the third installment of the CBS reality show "Survivor" during the two-hour Jan. 10 finale, defeating Kim Johnson, a 57-year-old retired teacher from Oyster Bay, N.Y.

"I was happy to do our tribe proud," Zohn told The Jewish Journal.

"Survivor: Africa," plagued this season by dwindling audience share in the United States, was recorded last summer in Kenya’s arid Shaba National Reserve. Sixteen contestants faced off in a variety of contests over 39 days, braving 100-degree heat, wild animals and conspiracies.

"It’s one of the most difficult games out there," Zohn said. "It touches upon every part of one’s being, every part of one’s self — emotional, psychological, physical, social."

Throughout his life, the curly-haired 27-year-old has held tightly to his Jewish faith, traditions and culture, seeking out synagogues to pray at during Jewish holidays when the soccer teams he played with were on the road.

"It’s a huge, huge part of my life," he said.

A committed soccer enthusiast, Zohn’s journey into the harsh African terrain had a lighthearted beginning.

Zohn played goalie for soccer teams in Zimbabwe, Hawaii and Massachusetts and with the U.S. soccer team in the 1997 Maccabiah Games. Realizing that he wasn’t going to be the next soccer superstar, Zohn hung up his cleats in 2000 and took a job with a product-naming firm.

But a sudden hiring freeze ended his foray into full-time employment a day before he was scheduled to start. When he asked friends for job advice, they joked that he should try out for "Survivor."

"We made the video, sent it in, and the next thing you know, I got on the show," said Zohn, who earned a reputation for being a nice guy and an introvert as the series unfolded. Like the winner of "Survivor: Australia," Tina Wesson, Zohn emerged victorious without a single elimination vote.

"I’m not the guy who is going to stand up and bark orders and tell people what to do," Zohn said. "I’m more the guy who is going to sit back, observe things — and then based on my observations I’m going to make my moves."

Zohn has nearly gained back the 26 pounds he lost during the show’s filming and is getting back into shape. On Dec. 3, the show’s producers asked Zohn to regrow the beard he’d shaved off following his New York City homecoming for the surprise series finale.

When "Survivor" host Jeff Probst revealed the winner, live from a reconstructed "tribal council" set in Hollywood, the family-oriented Zohn called out to his mother, Rochelle, two brothers and girlfriend, Diana, in the audience, "I’m the favorite son now."

Zohn’s win wasn’t a total surprise. Past "Survivor" winners Wesson and Richard Hatch had picked him to win during a Jan. 9 "Early Show" appearance, and Las Vegas sports book manager Andy DeLuca had Zohn’s win at 6-1 odds early in the game.

His rugged looks, reticence and honesty made him a fan favorite throughout the season.

"I wanted to play the game like I play life — be honest, be fair, play hard, play to win. It was important for me to come home from ‘Survivor’ with my dignity and my self-respect," Zohn said.

But the lack of soap opera-style drama and conflict that characterized the first two seasons has reduced enthusiasm for the show. Television critics point out that the show’s audience is shrinking.

The first season’s finale drew 51.7 million viewers, while the second season’s pulled in 36.4 million. Despite the lower turnout of 27.3 million viewers, "Survivor: Africa" still helped CBS win the Thursday night rating war, trumping NBC’s 21.6 million viewers.

"I think hundreds of shows would dream to have their ratings as ‘bad’ as this year’s ‘Survivor,’" Zohn said.

For Jews, Zohn’s pride in his faith and culture was a refreshing change from the evangelical Christians cast in the show’s previous seasons.

One of this season’s most controversial moments involved what appeared to be a blatantly anti-Semitic comment directed at Zohn.

Fellow contestant Tom Buchanan, a goat and cattle farmer from Rich Valley, Va., called Zohn a "Jew boy" after the two won a reward challenge. Instead of taking offense, Ethan looked on it as an opportunity to educate.

"He didn’t mean any harm by it and didn’t mean it in a derogatory term, and he wasn’t being a racist," Zohn said.

"Tom had never met a Jew before," said Zohn, who also was the first Jew that contestants Clarence Black and Frank Garrison had met. "It was almost like a blessing. I got the opportunity to educate someone about Judaism.

"I’d tell him what it’s like to be Jewish. He’d tell me what it’s like to live on a farm, how to herd goat and sell cattle. It was a learning experience," he said.

Zohn, who attended the Conservative congregation Temple Emunah while growing up in Lexington, Mass., fondly remembers his Jewish upbringing.

And despite the harrowing challenges thrown at Zohn by "Survivor," none could rival the ultimate challenge this newly minted millionaire faced growing up.

It’s something Zohn, who freely discussed his Jewishness on camera, hasn’t talked about publicly — the loss of a parent to cancer.

After his bar mitzvah, Zohn’s involvement with the congregation slowed after his father, Aaron, was diagnosed with colon cancer.

The entire family switched to a macrobiotic diet in the hope of prolonging Aaron Zohn’s life, a regimen Zohn continues to follow.

Aaron Zohn died the following year; Ethan was 14.

"I went and I did minyan for the year after," he said. "It was important for me."

In 1997, Zohn qualified to play for the men’s U.S. soccer team in the Maccabiah Games. Playing soccer in Israel was a dream come true, Zohn said.

"In my mind, it was probably was one of the biggest accomplishments I’ve made in terms of my soccer," he said. "We played Brazil, France, England and Denmark. It’s probably some of the best soccer I played in my life."

He was slated to play in 2001 until the soccer portion was canceled when the Maccabiah was scaled back because of the Palestinian intifada.

Since 1998, the Vassar-educated Zohn has been the assistant coach for the Fairleigh Dickinson University men’s and women’s soccer teams in Teaneck, N.J. He is considering a variety of other soccer options, including a youth-development program proposed during the "Survivor" finale, and joining soccer’s upcoming World Cup in some capacity.

"Staying involved in soccer is important to me," he said. "Being an ambassador to the game would be great."

Zohn has kept in contact and visited with the other "Survivor: Africa" contestants since the series wrapped last summer, especially Johnson, Buchanan, Black, Teresa Cooper and Lex van den Berghe. Zohn’s visit to Buchanan in Virginia made an indelible impression.

"It was crazy," he said. "I tripled the population of Jews when I walked into that place."

Rescuing the VCJCC

At the Valley Cities Jewish Community Center, the metaphors were dire. "This is like a horrible accident, and we’re the paramedics," Mike Brezner told an advisory committee meeting on Monday night. "All we can do is save the patient’s life. We can’t worry about scars or what caused the accident. We have to save this life so we can ask those questions tomorrow."

Brezner wants the Valley Cities advisory committee to focus on the short- term goal of raising enough funds to keep the center open past Dec. 31. Brezner, the vice president of sales and marketing for a small computer firm, "played hooky at work," organizing the meeting agenda and subcommittee sign-up sheets. With organizing partner Batya Oren, he steered the meeting toward organizing subcommittees to take charge of tasks, like emergency appeals, and media and legal relations.

"I’m just trying to save my children’s future," said Oren, a school teacher and mother of two children in after-school programs.

Part of the problem with setting up an advisory committee, according to those at the meeting, is that no one knows exactly what needs to be done. While some thought the center might be saved temporarily with $200,000, estimates for fundraising ranged as high as $5 million.

"I hear a lot of figures thrown around," said one parent, "Right now, what I want to know is, if this particular JCC were to band together, have some kind of special event, would that help?" Others dispaired over raising any money without access to the JCC’s and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ accounting books to prove the exact figures needed.

Les Paley, a Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA) board member who attended the meeting, later told The Journal, "They aren’t going to open the books. They’re still auditing. The board only found out about this in October."

Not all of the concerned members gathered for the meeting agreed with the focus on fundraising. "If we only try to raise money, we don’t find out what other options there are," said Marc Lizer, whose 2-year-old son attends JCC classes.

Among his suggestions for saving Valley Cities: affiliate with another Jewish organization like a synagogue, do more to attract the local Israeli community and sell Camp JCA Shalom instead of the community centers. Lizer also insisted that the Valley Cities group not work alone. "We have to make sure that we don’t let the Fed[eration] work the JCCs against each other," he said.

Paley’s history with the Valley Cities goes back to the beginning. A past president of the Valley Cities board that was disbanded last year, he helped found the center 42 years ago and sent his three children to JCC programs. His son Aaron Paley co-founded the popular Yiddishkayt L.A. festival. His daughter, Cindy Paley, has recorded eight albums of Jewish music and performs regularly. "What I think would be criminal," Aaron Paley told the Journal, "would be to look at these centers as real estate, not taking into account the investments people have made, the time people have spent and the effort."

Norm Berke, chair of the senior adult committee, expressed the near-helplessness felt by many at the meeting: "This precipitous disaster has caused a lot of heartache. They sold us down the river."

Others noted that some of the senior programs are run by Los Angeles Unified School District. These programs will continue, though maintenance services, such as moving and setting up chairs for meetings, will have to be taken up by volunteers.

"It’s such a sad time. We’re sitting here taking inventory," said Fran Brumlik, director of the Valley Cities, who is unsure about the future of Valley Cities after Dec. 31. "People at this center act with passion, which is good and which is bad. I can’t say it’s always peaceful, but the people here care about the community."

Paula Hoffman, early childhood education director at the North Valley JCC, told The Journal that a group of member parents met Dec. 6 to discuss saving that center. Hoffman declined further comment on the meeting, saying, "There isn’t anything officially going on right now."

Les Paley will be sorry to see any center closed, but holds Valley Cities closest to his heart. "I was at Valley Cities when the building was opened in November 1959," he says. "I said at the last board meeting, I hope I’m not around to say ‘Kaddish.’"

The P Word

Are you prepared for Palestine?

Earlier this week, President George W. Bush brought the world closer than ever to the reality of a Palestinian state side-by-side with Israel. In a speech to the UN General Assembly last Saturday, he said, "We are working toward the day when two states — Israel and Palestine — live peacefully together within secure and recognized borders."

This coming Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is expected to outline a plan toward ending violence in the region that will make clear the ultimate goal of a Palestinian state.

What’s remarkable is that after more than a year of fresh blood and graves, Jews here and in Israel and Palestinians want Washington to take an active role in ending Israeli-Palestinian violence. In a Gallup poll released in Israel last Friday, 54 percent of the respondents said Israel should accelerate efforts to achieve a peace agreement with the Palestinians. This from a nation which has suffered terror’s full measure, and amidst warnings from Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer that, "the number of terror attacks against Israelis may soon escalate."

Even Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he supports the concept of a Palestinian state.

Sure, simply waving the name Palestine in front of Arafat might be enough to lure him out of his do-nothing stupor. When he awakes, the U.S. can press him to crack down on terrorism and incitement. Despite Bush’s public statements, his administration is angry with Arafat, and wants to see actions, not words.

It might work. Word inside the upper echelons of Palestinian leadership is that Intifada II has fared as badly as most sequels. Palestinians are dispirited. P.A. Jerusalem representative Sari Nusseibeh has said it is time to recognize that the Palestinians’ greatest enemy, Israel, must inevitably become their closest partner. Arafat has a chance (Chance ‘254,987) to take them to the Promised Land.

How should we American Jews attend the birth of Palestine? Hard to imagine we’ll be there with the box of cigars and some "It’s a State!" balloons. But should we turn our backs and scream in protest?

The truth is we are ill-prepared for this birth. Many of our leaders have been busy blaming the Palestinians, CNN and the L.A. Times for the ongoing conflict. They fire off e-mails listing historic reasons the Palestinians don’t deserve a state; or they try to warn us that Palestine means Israel’s imminent demise. But Israel’s prime ministers have always pursued negotiations. Unlike many of us, they never lost sight of a simple fact: the Israel-Palestinian conflict cannot be solved militarily.

The American Jewish community, from New York to L.A., has always treated Israel the way most Americans relate to their local football teams. Call it the Fan Theory of Diaspora-Israel Relations. The vast majority of us — say, 70 percent, are supportive, but hardly active. We care when the team makes the playoff, or faces extinction, but otherwise we just follow the big headlines. A smaller percentage of us, maybe 25 percent, go to some home games. We read the op-ed pieces, maybe give a little money, visit Israel once or twice. A far smaller number represents the die-hards — the kind of football fans who go to every game, paint their faces team colors, and think they call plays better than the head coach.

This is the 5 percent that have controlled much of the rhetoric of American Jewish-Israel relations. They have for the most part opposed compromise with the Palestinians. They have been educating the rest of us to deny the eventual reality of a Palestinian state. So here we are, shocked, shocked to see that nation-building is going on here.

Well, it is.

We should support our president’s efforts to seek a compromise that brings about the P word for the Palestinians and the S word for the Israelis — security. We should work to make sure that any deal includes the obliteration of anti-Semitism in Palestinian textbooks and government-sponsored media. We should applaud this week’s statements by British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Jordan’s King Abdullah urging Arab states to ensure Israel’s security in order to secure a Palestinian state.

In short, those Jews in the bleachers need to move down to the sidelines, and start cheering for Israel loudly as it faces the hard, inevitable compromises to come.

Victory Should Be Israel’s Goal

Should Israel’s goal be to defeat the Palestinian Arab terrorists who are waging war against it? Or should Israelis be striving merely for a few days or weeks of quiet?

The answer would seem obvious, but at a recent meeting with a senior State Department official, I and other Jewish leaders were surprised and disappointed to discover that the State Department condemned Israel’s July 31 pre-emptive strike against terrorists in Nablus, who were planning to carry out a massacre of Israeli Jews, as "excessive" and "provocative" because it "would not contribute to the goal of achieving quiet."

No country in the world, including the United States, would sit by idly and allow the massacre of its citizens. Indeed, the United States has never behaved in that fashion. For example, when Pearl Harbor was attacked, the goal of America’s response was not to achieve temporary "quiet," but to make sure that the aggressor would feel consequences so severe that the aggression would halt. And, of course, the United States has used much greater force than Israel in situations where Americans citizens were not in direct danger, including in Panama, Grenada and the Persian Gulf.

Israel’s goal in fighting a war is not "quiet," but is to protect Israeli lives and the Israeli homeland. A few days of quiet might provide an impressive sound bite for publicity-hungry politicians, but it would not do Israel any real good. It would just mean a very slight delay until terrorism resumed.

Israel has every moral and legal right to use whatever force is necessary to defend the lives of its citizens. Secretary of State Powell himself has supported strong U.S. action to defend U.S. citizens and U.S. interests.

Powell’s statements include:

America should enter fights with every bit of force available, or not at all." (Time, April 19, 2001)

Overwhelming U.S. force assures success at minimum risk to Americans in uniform." (Boston Globe, Jan. 19, 2001)

The State Department’s passionate rhetoric about the two Arab youths who were inadvertently killed during Israel’s July 31 counterterrorist action is especially ironic, considering the harm done to innocent civilians in operations directed by then-Gen. Powell himself. For example, he oversaw the December 1989 invasion of Panama, in which 25,000 troops were sent to capture a minor dictator suspected of drug trafficking. The action cost the lives of 23 American soldiers, 315 Panamanian soldiers and hundreds of Panamanian civilians. In addition, thousands of civilians were injured, and 10,000 were made refugees.

Israel has not used "full force" or "overwhelming force" — to quote Powell’s description of his recommended methods — but soon it will have no choice but to do so. As of this writing, 138 Israelis have been murdered since September 2000, and the daily mortar attacks, shootings, and bombings have reached Israel’s major cities. Israel will have to take serious military action to defeat the terrorists.

If the Bush administration is serious about its interest in peace in the Middle East, there are specific actions it can take to stop the terror before it leads to an all-out war:

Stop condemning Israel’s counterterrorist actions. The condemnations lend encouragement to the terrorists.

Halt America’s $100 million in annual aid to the Palestinian Arabs. Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Arabs must be made to see that there will be real consequences for Arafat’s war against America’s ally, Israel.

Put the Palestinian Authority on the official U.S. list of terrorist sponsors.

If Palestinian Arabs kill Americans, take concrete steps to bring the killers to justice — including offering rewards for information leading to their capture, and issuing indictments so the suspects can be brought to trial in the United States.

Continue the administration’s policy of refusing to invite Arafat to the White House so long as violence continues. This is the one positive action the administration has taken regarding Arafat, and it must be maintained. Inviting Arafat now would be rewarding violence.

There can be no peace until Israel has defeated Arafat and his terrorists. The United States should help Israel do so.