Israel Police reportedly confirmed that a dead body found in Ein Kerem near the Jerusalem Forest is that of Aaron Sofer, a yeshiva student from New Jersey who went missing in the area a week ago.
The body was found in a shallow ditch a the side of the road in the neighborhood, and that his hat and glasses were found nearby, WABC in Lakewood, N.J. reported, citing Israel Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.
The body reportedly has decomposed, making identifying the cause of death difficult.
The Hebrew-language haredi Orthodox news website Behadrey Haredim reported the cause of death as dehydration.
Hatzolah announced via Twitter late Thursday afternoon that the body of Sofer, 23, was found in the Jerusalem forest and that the search had been called off.
Israeli Police said that a body has been found, but did not say more. The body was sent to the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute for positive identification.
Sofer was last seen at noon Friday when he and a friend began climbing down a steep incline on a hiking trail. The friend called police several hours later and reported Sofer missing.
Prayer vigils have been held in Lakewood since Sofer’s disappearance.
Sofer’s parents, who traveled to Israel after Sofer went missing, released a video Tuesday on social media begging for information leading to his return and offering the reward of 100,000 shekels, or about $28,000.
In June, a Palestinian teen was abducted and then taken to the Jerusalem Forest, where he was knocked out and burned to death. The murder is being treated as a revenge attack for the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens.
When the Northridge earthquake struck 20 years ago, emergency city services — ambulance, fire, police — were under heavy strain, with extremely high call volume. As in any disaster, many people in need of assistance simply could not be helped quickly.
And when the next big one hits, that’s where Hatzolah of Los Angeles hopes to play a role.
The volunteer ambulance corps, established here in 2001, is designed to supplement Los Angeles’ emergency resources in heavily Jewish neighborhoods. Its services could be especially helpful in the case of a natural disaster.
“When we drill, we pretend that there are zero resources available from the city,” Hatzolah spokesman David Bacall said.
With three ambulances, five authorized emergency vehicles, disaster supply trucks, generators, fuel and nearly 100 emergency medical technicians, or EMTs, Bacall said Hatzolah is equipped to simultaneously run up to three casualty collection points (CCPs) — mobile, outdoor hospitals — each with 50 beds for people in need of treatment.
Hatzolah’s triage system is color-coded: green (walking wounded), yellow (serious, but not critical), red (critical), black (untreatable or dead).
Although the nonprofit group’s areas of service — Valley Village, Hancock Park and Pico-Robertson — all include high concentrations of Orthodox Jews, Bacall said that the volunteer medical service treats anyone in need, regardless of religion or affiliation, as long as they are within one of those three neighborhoods.
Asked how Hatzolah could transport its resources and EMTs in the case of an infrastructure failure, such as collapsed highways or impassable city streets, Bacall acknowledged that driving conditions are “always a problem” during earthquakes.
But, he said, that’s why the group doesn’t keep all of its resources in one location.
“Even if Pico is split down the middle and you couldn’t get past Robertson, we have members with equipment on one side of it and we have members with equipment on the other side of it,” Bacall said.
In addition to Hatzolah, some Los Angeles neighborhoods have their own community emergency response teams (CERTs), and neighborhood emergency teams (NETs).
Trained by Los Angeles Fire Department personnel, ordinary citizens receive nearly 20 hours of free CERT instruction in, among other things, basic first aid, evacuation tactics and search tactics.
Sari Katz, a Pico-Robertson CERT graduate, leads a NET in the area. Although her team is not as comprehensive as Hatzolah, it includes volunteers and block captains who can respond quickly during the next earthquake.
From checking on elderly neighbors to letting people know where Hatzolah has set up nearby outdoor trauma centers, volunteer networks like Katz’s add another layer of preparation
But, as Bacall emphasized, neither Hatzolah nor any other emergency service can supplement self-preparedness, which includes stocking up on water and food, and, most importantly, having a plan.
“If I’m not for myself, who will be for me?,” Bacall asked, citing Hillel. “It’s really incumbent upon everybody to make sure that their family is prepared.”
In March 2011, Hatzolah of Los Angeles, the Orthodox Jewish volunteer emergency response corps, celebrated its 10th anniversary in this city. The celebratory dinner offered a chance for the group to thank some of its supporters, and the hundreds who attended — including elected officials and high-ranking civil servants — heard stories of Hatzolah volunteers saving lives, in part by arriving on the scenes of emergencies within minutes of being called.
The principal honoree that evening was California Highway Patrol (CHP) Commissioner Joseph A. Farrow. The state agency had given Hatzolah a permit to operate the lights and sirens on its vehicles when responding to emergencies, a practice known as responding “Code 3.”
Left unmentioned that evening was the fact that Hatzolah lacked any authorization from the City of Los Angeles to operate its ambulances, or to respond Code 3. Three times in the three years leading up to that public event, the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT) had informed the group, in writing, that its basic model violated two separate sections of L.A. County law.
Absent those permits, Hatzolah never stopped working, responding to emergency calls and, in some cases, acting as liaison between members of the Jewish community and mostly non-Jewish first responders. Last summer, the group helped rescue two individuals — in one instance working with Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies to find a person just minutes before what would have almost certainly been a successful suicide.
But starting in 2011, and for more than a full year, all of Hatzolah’s vehicles were off the streets; two years after the celebration, its three fully equipped ambulances still sit idle.
Its approximately 80 EMTs still respond to emergencies — mostly using their own, private cars and obeying traffic signals even when en route to an emergency, but occasionally using one of Hatzalah’s four SUVs with the lights and sirens running. But no matter what they’re driving, the EMTs are operating in a manner whose legality is uncertain.
“The current status is ‘hot potato,’ ” Hatzolah spokesman David Bacall said of his organization. “That’s the best way that I can describe it.”
Hatzolah, Hebrew for rescue, got its start in Los Angeles in 2001. Its volunteers operate in three neighborhoods of the city with dense populations of Orthodox Jews, although most Angelenos are hardly aware of the group’s existence, a sharp contrast to chapters in and around New York City that are far better established.
On the East Coast, the presence of volunteer ambulance corps is quite common, particularly in smaller towns. Hatzolah’s first chapter was established in Brooklyn in the 1970s; Bacall, a financial adviser originally from New Jersey, had served as a volunteer with a number of different 911-related volunteer corps before moving to Los Angeles with his family four years ago.
In California, however, EMS services are provided primarily by local professionalized fire departments, which maintain exclusive claims to being the sole 911 responders in their particular regions. In the city of Los Angeles, the exclusive responder to emergency calls is the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD); in unincorporated sections of Los Angeles County, the county fire department has that privilege.
Under current county law, Hatzolah is prohibited from responding to emergencies, even when the calls come in over the group’s dedicated hotline. In its letters, the DOT has informed the group that to obtain a permit, Hatzolah would first have to agree not to respond to emergencies.
Furthermore, because Los Angeles County Emergency Medical Services Agency (LACEMS) also determines the sums charged by all private ambulances in the county, Hatzolah would be prohibited from providing transport to hospitals free of charge.
In both respects, Hatzolah could be seen as a threat to the LAFD — threatening the agency’s claim to exclusivity in the city and chipping away at the department’s main source of revenue, the fees paid by patients and their insurance companies for transport.
In fact, Hatzolah responds to about 500 emergencies each year, and Bacall argues that its relative size wouldn’t adversely affect the LAFD’s bottom line in a significant way. In general, Bacall said, Hatzolah’s aim is to support and supplement the work of the LAFD.
“We’ve trained with them in the past,” Bacall said. “The boots on the ground, we have a really good rapport with 80 or 90 percent of them.”
The representatives from United Firefighters of Los Angeles City (UFLAC) are a different story, however.
About five years ago, Hatzolah attempted to get a bill passed in Sacramento that would have specifically allowed the group to respond to emergency calls, using lights and sirens. Then UFLAC President Pat McOsker showed up at the California State Legislature’s transportation committee and argued against the bill, which stopped it in its tracks.
“It seems like that’s the most complicated issue for them, and there are regulations that get in the way at every level,” said Paul Koretz, who introduced the legislation when he was in the Assembly.
Koretz, a member of the Los Angeles City Council since 2009, represents some of the parts of the city where Hatzolah operates, and he maintains his strong support for the organization.
Under current county law, Hatzolah is prohibited from responding to emergencies, even when the calls come in over the group’s dedicated hotline. In its letters, the DOT has informed the group that to obtain a permit, Hatzolah would first have to agree not to respond to emergencies.
In July 2011, Koretz convened a meeting with representatives of the LAFD, DOT, LACEMS and Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), hoping that the agencies could find a way to work together to allow Hatzolah to respond to emergencies.
The meeting was “somewhat tense,” Koretz recalled, and the responses of the different agencies were “bureaucratic.”
“It sounded like some of their requirements might even conflict with each other,” Koretz said in an interview recently. “I was hoping that some of the people in these positions would try to make it work; but I couldn’t tell whether they were finding a way to make it work or trying to find a way to not make it work.”
Perhaps as a result of the bureaucratic challenges and the union’s opposition, Hatzolah has shown itself willing to act first and ask questions later.
The group, for instance, received a “cease-and-desist” letter from LAPD Chief Charlie Beck’s office in 2011, telling the responders to stop driving Code 3. Earlier this year, on the advice of attorneys, Hatzolah wrote back to Beck informing him that they would resume use of lights and sirens on their four SUVs, in certain cases. Hatzolah leaders met with Beck last month to discuss the matter, Bacall said.
As for Hatzolah’s three ambulances, the group has submitted an application to LACEMS, but has not brought itself into compliance with the relevant laws. Instead, Bacall said, Hatzolah is hoping that some branch of government — perhaps the state legislature — will provide it with an exemption that would allow Hatzolah to continue responding to emergencies on a volunteer basis.
Los Angeles’ newly elected mayor and city attorney are almost sure to face questions about whether or how Hatzolah will be allowed to operate in L.A.
A spokesman for Mayor-elect Eric Garcetti’s transition team did not respond by press time to a request for comment. Former Assemblyman Mike Feuer attended the Hatzolah 10th anniversary dinner two years ago, and a spokesman said Feuer would address the matter once he takes office as city attorney.
“As with a myriad of issues, he will carefully evaluate each side and receive a full briefing from city attorney staff and make a decision,” spokesman Rob Wilcox said. “Right now, he is City Attorney-elect, and he is focused on his transition.”
At 10:32 on a Tuesday morning, exactly seven minutes after he ran out the door of his real estate management office, Steve Fleichman, a volunteer with Hatzolah of Los Angeles, pulled an ambulance up to the front of the Goodwill shop on Beverly Boulevard. Other Hatzolah responders’ cars were already parked outside. Nobody from the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) had arrived yet.
Fleischman, 38, is a broad-shouldered man with a beard and sidelocks tucked behind his ears. He is one of the 86 Orthodox Jewish emergency medical technicians, or EMTs, who work for Hatzolah, the only volunteer ambulance corps in this city. Hatzolah — Hebrew for rescue — is a household name among Orthodox Jews who live in the Hancock Park, Pico-Robertson and Valley Village neighborhoods that the corps serves. But outside the Orthodox community — even among Jews who live, work or worship in those neighborhoods — the group is all but unknown, despite the fact that it just celebrated its 10th anniversary.
The name alone, for starters, trips many people up. All three vowels are pronounced “uh,” with the emphasis placed on the middle syllable. Many people who see the word printed on the side of one of the group’s vehicles think it says “Haz Mat.” Others mistake the name for a terrorist organization. “We got Hezbollah a couple of times,” said Ari Stark, a volunteer responder who also works as the unpaid spokesman for the group.
There is also a perception that Hatzolah, which is run and funded by the Orthodox community, provides its services only to the Orthodox. In fact, the group does not ask for or keep track of any patient’s religion or style of Jewish observance and will respond to anyone who calls its number with an emergency taking place within its coverage area.
Nevertheless, most of Hatzolah’s calls do come from Orthodox Jews. This may be, in part, because the number for the Hatzolah hotline is not listed on its Web site — because, Stark said, of the group’s limited coverage. (It is circulated to the group’s mailing list of about 6,000 only on printed matter and promotional materials, like Hatzolah’s toylike ambulance-shaped tzedakah boxes.)
Stark says that Hatzolah is working to change its image among the non-Orthodox. “We want the broader Jewish community to know that there’s an emergency response service that’s free, that’s all-volunteer, that operates 24/7 and that’s available to them,” Stark said.
There are two situations that could instantly raise Hatzolah’s profile in Los Angeles — and neither is good. The first would be if a major earthquake or other disaster were to hit the city. Hatzolah has been preparing for “the big one” since the group’s president saw how long residents of New Orleans were stranded without assistance in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
The second could arise as early as next week, if the Los Angeles City Council approves Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s 2011-12 budget, which calls for a $14 million cut to the LAFD budget — over and above the $66 million reduction in funding it has suffered over the last two fiscal years.
The mayor’s plan allocates $481 million for the LAFD and will permanently eliminate 18 fire companies and four LAFD ambulances. It does not call for any fire stations to be closed, nor will any personnel to be laid off.
But the city has not hired a new firefighter since 2009, and if the plan is approved, 31 stations will see their staff numbers reduced.
At Station 58, on Robertson, south of Pico, two fire engines could be eliminated and station staff halved by July. A fact sheet circulated by the LAFD predicts only a “minimal increase to the average response time.”
Critics of the plan have said that even a minimal increase could cost lives. One firefighter, a paramedic who did not want to be named, warned against thinning the ranks of paramedics available to respond. “The old saying is, ‘Never be the second heart attack,’ ” she said.
Hatzolah, which was founded to supplement existing emergency response coverage, not replace it, has encouraged its supporters to contact their representatives about the proposed cuts at Station 58. But if the budget is passed, and response times do increase, Angelenos will be looking for faster ways to get medical care in emergency situations.
Enter Hatzolah — which answered more than 800 emergency calls in 2009 on a budget of just under $250,000 — thanks to a well-organized group of dedicated, trained and community-funded volunteers who boast an average response time to emergencies of less than 90 seconds. Could a small group like this one — which responded to more than 1,200 calls in 2010, one call for every 625 that LAFD did — help pick up the slack? And could it be a model for similar community-based volunteer emergency response groups?
A Beverly Hills Police officer pointed his gun at a Jewish emergency medical technician who was responding to a car crash on Olympic Boulevard on Jan. 20.
The EMT, a volunteer with the Hatzolah of Los Angeles Jewish emergency rescue team, was rushing to the scene of a two-car collision in his own car, which bore flashing, roof-mounted red-and-white lights and was blaring a siren.
The BHPD officer, who was not familiar with the volunteer ambulance group, did not know that the California Highway Patrol (CHP) has authorized Hatzolah members to mount lights and sirens on their private cars for use when responding to emergencies. The officer followed the EMT in a police car, also running lights and sirens.
The Hatzolah EMT stopped only when he reached the scene of the crash, where he got out of his car. At that point, the Beverly Hills officer stepped out of his vehicle and pointed his gun at the EMT.
“It was a misunderstanding and a misjudgment by both parties,” said Ari Stark, Hatzolah of Los Angeles’ spokesman. The volunteer group has been responding to emergencies in three neighborhoods around the city since 2001, and because emergencies reported to Hatzolah on its private hotline are usually also reported to 911, Stark suggested that the Hatzolah volunteer may have assumed the BHPD officer was responding to the same emergency.
“If our individual did not see [the officer], and did not pull over willingly, then he was wrong, and we’ll stand by that,” Stark said. “But we don’t believe that [the volunteer] intentionally did that. We really believe that he was caught up in attending to the scene of his emergency with his lights and sirens going, very close to his location — and if he saw the police officer, [the volunteer assumed] he was going to the same place.”
A spokesman for BHPD declined to comment, saying an official complaint had been made against the officer, and an internal investigation initiated.
Stark was unaware of the complaint and said he believed the matter had been settled by the officers at the scene. In addition to the BHPD officer, at least five Hatzolah volunteers, the Los Angeles Police Department and CHP also reported to the scene. According to Stark, CHP determined that, in using the lights and sirens, the Hatzolah volunteer was acting within his rights.
“It hasn’t strained our relationship with [BHPD] at all,” Stark said. “They did their duty; we did ours.”
“Is Rabbi T a crime-fighting rabbi?” That’s what a student asked Pressman Academy Rav Beit Sefer (head school rabbi) Chaim Tureff at a recent question-and-answer session.
“Lehavdil,” Tureff responded, using the Hebrew word to draw a distinction between himself and the person his students think he might be. “They want to know if I’m Superman.”
Clark Kent never admits to being Superman, and Tureff, who is at least 6-foot-4, teaches Torah-infused tae kwon do and hapkido classes at a studio on Wilshire Boulevard and competed in two different sports at the collegiate level, is similarly reluctant to talk about the charity he does in and beyond the Jewish community.
Tureff has been a volunteer with the Pico-Robertson Hatzolah Emergency Rescue Team since it was established in 2004. (He was once disgusted by the sight of blood but overcame that.) He also works with Jewish teens who need a bit more support than they may otherwise be getting. Humble and discreet, Tureff wouldn’t say much more than that.
When he will cop to some charitable or kind act, Tureff is quick to give credit to others. He organizes annual lunches on Thanksgiving and Purim at B’nai David-Judea for 40 or so homeless people from Pico-Robertson, but insisted that the synagogue’s rabbi, Yosef Kanefsky, laid the groundwork to make it possible. “He’s the gadol [great man] when it comes to these things,” Tureff said. Tureff has also helped to plant trees in his neighborhood (he gives credit to L.A. Green Mile founder Noah Bleich) and has worked as a counselor to recovering addicts at the Chabad residential treatment center (but mentioned how great the work being done at Beit T’Shuvah is).
Story continues after the video.
For the most recent “Got Mitzvah?” project, a program Tureff launched at Pressman in 2006 as a way to get students directly involved with good causes, the students sent care packages and wrote letters to American servicemen and servicewomen in Iraq. “Other teachers gave me the idea,” Tureff said.
Getting Tureff to accept the title of Mensch took serious urging from relatives. “‘You inspire me,’” Tureff said, recalling his mother’s words. “ ‘You do little things every day. People need to know they can do things like that.’ ”
“Which made me feel a little better,” Tureff said, sitting in his office at Pressman, a windowless former bridal chamber only slightly bigger than a telephone booth. “As it is, it’s still a bit awkward.”
For more info, visit hatzolahofla.org.
Let me just start by admitting that I probably didn’t really need to put the knife directly on my burner. But it was the first time in a very long time I was kashering anything, and I had conflicting guidance from my rabbi and my mother, and I thought I needed to drop a hot metal object into my hot water urn to make it kosher for Pesach (I was totally wrong. Do not try it at home.).
How was I to know the knife would explode into my face, leaving me traumatized — though only slightly injured?
But my ignorance is exactly the point: In preparation for Passover, usually smart homemakers end up doing really dumb things with superhot materials, all in the name of removing any trace of chametz (leavened grain products). And, often, people get hurt.
“Here you have this extra cooking and extra work, while the kids are running all over the house, and the combination, naturally and unfortunately, brings in a high volume of calls,” said Tzvika Brenner, chairman of Hatzolah, an all-volunteer first-responder system operating in three Orthodox neighborhoods in Los Angeles that has been responding to emergencies since 2001.
On any normal day, Hatzolah usually gets about five calls; before Passover, that number jumps to between 10 and 15. Hatzolah has 86 trained EMTs who are able to respond within minutes, even seconds, to an accident in Pico-Robertson, Valley Village or the Fairfax/Hancock Park area and then transfer care to the paramedics once they arrive.
Most Passover calls involve burns, either from kashering or cooking accidents.
Kashering involves subjecting pots, dishes or cooking appliances to extreme treatments to eliminate even invisible traces of offending food. Those treatments usually involve heated metal or rocks, boiling water, superheated ovens and, in some cases, blowtorches.
“It’s not something we do every day, so accidents happen,” Brenner said.
And, as in my case, half the things we do don’t really need to be done, according to Rabbi Eliezer Eidlitz, executive director of Emek Hebrew Academy Teichman Family Torah Center in Sherman Oaks and founder of the Kosher Information Bureau and kosherquest.org. He said when Passover approaches, he receives twice the usual daily 100 e-mails with questions regarding kosher products and kashering a kitchen.
“The reason I went into this in 1976 was that people were going so overboard,” he said. “And it didn’t make them any more observant of halachah.”
Many women don’t trust rabbis when it comes to kashering a kitchen for Passover — they want to do it like their mothers did it or better than their neighbors do it.
Eidlitz has seen men and women strain their backs moving refrigerators to clean up any crumbs, which, he said, is completely unnecessary. Only accessible chametz needs to be removed. People blowtorch ovens, damaging the thermostat and killing the gasket that lines the door, when all they really need to do is turn the temperature up as high as it goes for about an hour.
While he lauds the impulse to be thorough about kashering, he laments that so many women can barely stay awake at seders because they’ve spent the week repapering every shelf, lining their refrigerator with heavy duty foil (thereby limiting air circulation and breaking the compressor) or covering the counters. All unnecessary, he says. If it’s clean and it’s cold it does not need to be kashered or covered. Only appliances or utensils that come into contact with heat need any special treatment.
In fact, it was from Eidlitz that I learned I hadn’t needed to kasher my hot water urn at all. I could have just cleaned the outside, and that’s it.
I’m not sure how I got it into my head that I need to drop a hot object into my urn. Heating a rock or a piece of metal and dropping it into boiling water is a standard method for kashering pots, because it causes the water to overflow, thus insuring that every part of the pot has been covered in boiling water.
I didn’t have a rock, so I decided to use a solid metal, blunt knife from my everyday stainless steel cutlery. I put the knife on the burner, and after a minute or so, I leaned over to turn the flame off.
Which is exactly when the knife exploded.
Turns out the core of the knife handle was made of ceramic or some other kind of porous composite rock. When I put the knife on the burner, the metal and the rock heated up at different rates, and the built-up energy resulted in the rock exploding out of the metal casing.
The explosion threw me backward and muffled my hearing.
Shards of something hit me straight on, and I shrieked, imagining myself forever blinded and scarred by what I thought was hot metal shrapnel all over my face, in my eyes, in my mouth.
I hobbled to the bathroom and washed off what I soon realized was a chalky substance. I had pocks all over my neck and some on my face, but I could still see — my eyes didn’t even hurt — and there was no blood or open wounds. I ended up with small burn blisters on my neck, eyelids, face and arms that were gone within a few weeks.
Brenner said L.A.’s Hatzolah has never been called for any exploding knife incidents, but there are plenty of other ways people have managed to hurt themselves.
To kasher granite or marble countertops, you pour a small amount of boiling water onto the counter. That can get kind of tricky, especially if you’re trying to keep the water from dripping onto wood cabinets or onto the floor. People often pour much more water than needed, Eidlitz said, and sometimes the water spills into their shoes, which can cause severe burns.
Brenner has had cases of people playing with the fire as they kashered. Or a man might grab a utensil he thinks needs to be dipped in boiling water, only to find out that his wife just removed it from the steaming cauldron.
Most often, Brenner, himself a responder, sees cooking accidents.
“You’re in a rush to take something off the stove or out of the oven, and many times you put it down the first place you find, not realizing it’s too close, in the reach of young children,” Brenner said.
He warns of leaving cords for hot water urns loose, vulnerable to being pulled down.
Eidlitz thinks many of the accidents, and the general exhaustion of Pesach, would be mitigated if people asked more questions about what they really need to do.
But he knows he’s fighting an uphill battle. And he admits the zealotry of Passover may have advantages.
“There is a good reason why statistically only between 11 and 18 percent of people buy all kosher food year round, but over 70 percent do for Pesach,” Eidlitz said. “And that’s because as little girls, women today saw their mothers and bubbes working their kishkes [guts] off to make sure that everything is so meticulous. And something that important gets ingrained in a person.”
All Hail Hatzolah
Ambulances, LAPD squad cars and fire trucks filled the parking spaces outside Beth Jacob Congregation the evening of March 16 — but there was no emergency going on inside.
Rather, it was an “Evening of Appreciation” for the Los Angeles Fire Department, presented by the Hatzolah Los Angeles emergency rescue team.
“We are here to salute you for a job well done,” said Hatzolah chairman Zvika Brenner to the 200 guests who packed the congregation’s ballroom.
Hatzolah, Hebrew for rescue, has dozens of round-the-clock trained volunteer emergency medical technicians and dispatchers who act as a bridge in the critical first minutes of an emergency before paramedics arrive. The group works in the Pico-Roberston, Fairfax, North Hollywood and Hancock Park neighborhoods. No other community in Los Angeles has its equivalent, LAFD Chief Douglas Barry, who was honored at the event, told The Circuit.
“What we have here tonight is a collection of the most selfless individuals in the city of L.A.,” Rabbi Avrohom Teichman said.
He was speaking both of the Haztolah volunteers and the many police and fire personnel in attendance.
The event was sponsored by Beth Jacob caterer Edmond Guenoun and honored Chief Timothy J. Scranton of the Beverly Hills Fire Department, Deputy Chief Terry Hara of the LAPD and Fire Commissioner Andrew Friedman. Also in attendance to honor what master of ceremonies Alan Stern termed “the life-saving and holy work of Hatzolah” were L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca, EMS Commissioner Rabbi Chaim Kolodny, Hatzolah coordinator Michoel Bloom, LAPD Counterterrorism head Michael Downing and LAPD Det. Yehuda Packer.
The evening turned even more emotional when Hatzolah unveiled a new emergency supply truck dedicated in honor of Devorah and Aliza Levenberg, a young Hancock Park-area mother and daughter killed 10 days earlier in a traffic accident in Israel. Dvora’s mother, Rivi Adelman, a volunteer Hatzolah dispatcher, clad in black mourning clothes, expressed her appreciation to the assembly.
Burmese Rights Take Center Stage
Damien Rice. Photos by Mary Bell
Hollywood elite joined L.A. Buddhist monks and Burmese-born citizens in the penthouse Sunset Room of West Hollywood’s Hyatt Hotel on March 1.
The Human Rights Action Center and U.S. Campaign for Burma raised $30,000 to increase awareness and advocate on behalf of human rights in Burma. The organization is also boycotting the Beijing Olympics and the Chinese government for their involvement with the Burmese military junta, which has held Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest in Rangoon for the past 20 years. Jewish World Watch is also rallying support to protest the Chinese government before the Olympics, holding monthly vigils in front of the Chinese Consulate in downtown Los Angeles.
Actress Anjelica Huston (photo, right) co-hosted the event and emerged on stage wearing a professional business suit, looking radiant as ever while reading an excerpt from one of Kyi’s essays, “Freedom From Fear.”
A bright-eyed Khin Phyu Htway, who left Burma in 1999, expressed her gratitude to the 200 guests in attendance. “Burmese people will be in high spirits knowing Americans support them,” she said.
Irish musician Damien Rice delivered a heartfelt performance and lamented the status of 70,000 child soldiers who are forced to fight in the Burmese military.Throughout the night speakers repeated a popular, powerful phrase coined by the detained Kyi, which reflected the sentiment of the event’s cause: “Please use your liberty to promote ours.”
— Celia Soudry, Contributing Writer
Sing a Song for Sheba
(From left) Honoree professor Arnon Nagler, honoree Cathy Schulman, co-chair Lynn Ziman, and co-chairs Sheldon and Annie Lehrer.
The Friends of Sheba Medical Center Awards Gala on March 16 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel drew 400 enthusiastic supporters who raised their voices in singing “Yom Uledet Sameach,” or “Happy Birthday” in Hebrew, to congratulate both the State of Israel and a prominent Israeli charity on their 60th birthdays.
Cathy Schulman, Academy Award-winning producer of “Crash” and the recently released documentary “Darfur Now,” received the Sheba Humanitarian Award.In accepting the award Schulman, the president of Mandalay Pictures, described “Crash,” which deals with issues of race and diversity, as “the most rejected film in history,” but stressed her belief in producing films that can “make a change for the better.”
Also honored was Tel Aviv University professor Arnon Nagler, while Marjorie Pressman paid special tribute to the memory of former Sheba Board member J. Paul Levine.
The gala also raised funds to benefit the Sigi & Marilyn Ziering National Center for Newborn Screening, which tests Israeli newborns for 20 treatable genetic diseases at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, a leading healthcare facility throughout Israel and the Middle East.
— Peter Rothholz, Contributing Writer
I support Rabbi David Wolpe’s position entirely (“We Must Condemn Heartless Bilge,” Sept. 16). Rav Ovadiah Yosef has made Israel look very bad. Why would a scholar of Israel speak such racism, a man of our ancient traditions who should have more respect for human suffering? All Jews of good faith owe it to the people of Louisiana to condemn Rav Ovadiah Yosef.
Thank You Hatzolah
As a volunteer with Hatzolah of Los Angeles, I was happy to see that the efforts of my colleagues, Rabbi Chaim Kolodny and Rabbi Tzemach Rosenfeld, were recognized (“Going in After Katrina,” Sept. 16). It is important to note that the dedication these individuals displayed is not uncommon among the volunteers of this wonderful organization. The more than 100 volunteers stand ready on a 24-hour basis to answer the call for help. Whether they get up in the middle of the night to assist a patient having chest pains or leaving their families on a moment’s notice to help search for a lost child, the dedication is absolute and highly professional. Thank you Kolodny and Rosenfeld for your efforts, you make us all proud.
I must take issue with my friend Bob Hertzberg and his resistance to the November school bond measure for needed new schools in Los Angeles (“School Bond Measure Gets Failing Grade,” Sept. 16). He has created a straw man in depicting the current school construction as “warehouses.” In fact, LAUSD has made great progress in creating new schools that are outside the box, including small primary centers, and themed schools connected to important community institutions, whether the Science Center or Orthopedic Hospital.
Clearly, new buildings by themselves do not improve student performance. Sadly, just as these new schools are opening, state funding support for the basic education program remains grossly inadequate. In fact, LAUSD has been required to make nearly $1 billion in budget cuts in recent years. But we cannot get around the fact that new schools are a necessary — but not sufficient — response to the challenges of public education. New schools allow students to avoid long bus trips and return to their neighborhood school. New schools allow crowded year-round schools to return to a traditional schedule.
We should not force students and parents to remain out on the sidewalk at 6 a.m. waiting for the school bus to take them across town, because some of us would like to see a better design process or more collaboration with city government. We can, as Hertzberg hints, have both — new schools and a visionary approach to making schools the center of the community.
Editor’s note: The writer is a former LAUSD school board member.
Guns and Froman
Rabbi Ari Hier’s letter illustrated precisely the type of illogic that characterizes the arguments of the NRA and the gun lobby (“Letters,” Sept. 16). He begins his letter by stating that he learned that Israel was founded on God and guns. What the fact that Israel used guns to protect the newly declared state after it was invaded by Arab armies on all sides has to do with gun control in America is beyond me.
I also found amusing Hier’s noting an affiliation with the L.A. Sheriff’s office. Major police organizations have consistently lobbied against the NRA and in favor of gun control measures such as the Brady bill. Does Hier oppose the ban or assault weapons (like the M16 he carried in the Israeli army) or the strict registration of gun ownership and purchases? The NRA does. I would hope that in his time as an armory volunteer, Hier speaks to law enforcement officers about the advisability of easy accessibility to weapons by civilians vs. stricter controls. I am sure it would be an interesting discussion and learning experience for him. Few who I have ever spoken to think more guns in civilian hands is a good idea.
Let me add my outrage about Sandra Froman (“She’s Armed and President,” Sept. 2). Is she such a hero that she has to have her picture on the front page of The Jewish Journal? She is setting a terrible example for our young Jewish women who are taught to abhor violence. Self-defense is one thing, but rifles are only for killing innocent animals, birds and sometimes even children. Do we have to accept all the bad qualities from our macho men? It makes me shudder.
What’s wrong with having a good, faithful watchdog to protect you? He would also prevent thieves and intruders from getting into your house and would offer companionship, in addition.
The NRA is a violent rightwing organization that we Jews should not join. You see in countries where there is strict gun control like England, France and even Japan there are far fewer murders than in the United States, where the old Wild West mentality still prevails.
I was petrified when I picked up the yellow-covered High Holidays issue of The Jewish Journal (Sept. 16). For us Jews yellow is a reminder of the Nazi period when Jews in the ghettos had to wear a yellow Mogen David.
The appropriate color is blue and white because this is the color of Jewish life.
Name withheld by request
Having just read Mihal Lemberger’s review of Robert Pinsky’s “The Life of David” one has to agree with the view that King David was a deeply flawed character (“David: Great Leader or Damaged Hero?” Sept. 23). The biblical sentiment that his throne “shall be established forever” does not imply an endorsement of David himself as a role model for a Messiah and in fact the prophet Nathan roundly condemns King David for his evil acts against God and tells him his descendants will suffer as a result of his murderous deeds. Having had Uriah killed so he could marry his wife, he also brought destruction on 70,000 Israelites through his misbehavior. Hardly an example for a future Messiah.
In fact in normative Judaism of biblical times messianism did not appear until the time of Daniel in the second century BCE, so King David cannot be the basis for a messianic figure for previous and present generations. Unfortunately for conventional scholarship there is no one else to look to.
When it comes to the descriptions of messiahs seen in the Dead Sea Scrolls, we perhaps see a clue to the real figures that originated messianic ideas in Judaism. Messiahs, because the Qumran-Essenes, the possessor/authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls, wrote about two — and possibly three — messiahs. One royal, one priestly and one like Moses. The royal figure was certainly not King David and the priestly figure is not suggested in the Pentateuch or any succeeding Hebrew text. As professor Joseph Fitzmyer of the Catholic University Washington notes, “It is a surprise to see a priestly figure become part of the Qumran community’s messianic expectations, because there is little in the Hebrew Scriptures itself about a future priest.” He finds no reasonable explanation for this phenonomena.
Cabs and Conscience
Helen Schary Motro, consumed with guilt because she refused to ride in a taxi with an Arab driver, reasons that she “too [is] a casualty of the occupation and the intifada it caused” and asks the driver’s pardon (“Never Been Mugged,” Sept. 23). If the intifada was caused by the “occupation,” I’d like Motro to explain the 1921 and 1929 and 1936-39 anti-Jewish riots by Arabs, their strenuous military and terrorist efforts to prevent Israel from being born and the continuous warfare since 1948 by regular Arab armies and Arab irregulars attempting to destroy the Jewish state.
Helen Schary Motro suffers from that typically Jewish affliction, cancer of the conscience. Like any cancer, it causes the affected organ to grow abnormally large, but increasingly interferes with its function until it becomes more of a danger than a faculty.
She is not “a casualty of the occupation,” but of the headhunters’ penchant for senseless and atrocious violence. This is directed at various “infidels” around the perimeter of the Muslim empire (Chechnya, Cyprus, Serbia, Nigeria, Sudan, India, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Lebanon), and at other Muslims (Algeria, Egypt, Yemen, Iraq, Kuwait, Kurdistan, Iran, Afghanistan).
Their terrorism against us predated our return to Samaria and Judea, and claimed Jewish victims in Israel even during the 19 years when not one Jew set foot in those provinces. It predated the founding of the state.
This intifada was planned when Arafat was offered more than he could have dreamt of, and saw the excuse for existence of his gang being removed. It started with the murder of a Jewish soldier, days before Sharon’s famous visit to the Temple Mount.
Is it but coincidence that following the U.S. pressuring of Israel to forcibly expel 10,000 of it’s citizens from the Gaza Strip, they had to forcibly evacuate, for the first time in U.S. history, their own citizens from New Orleans (“Getting Out Before Katrina Still Painful,” Sept. 16)?
But if that is not enough to show divine wrath, now the president’s home state is being targeted by one of the most intense hurricanes in recorded history!
Could this not be modern-day biblical plagues?
White Oak, Pa.
Prominent rabbis have been urging their congregations to give generously to Hurricane Katrina relief funds, the most prominent being one set up by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, which had raised more than $500,000 by early this week.
The scope of the disaster is reaching Southland Jews through media reports and other sources. At Rancho Park’s Reform Temple Isaiah, Rabbi Zoe Klein received an Aug. 31 e-mail from a congregant worried about her relatives stuck in a New Orleans hospital.
“There is nine feet of water outside the hospital where they are staying,” the message read. “They have their two children, a friend’s child and my sister-in-law’s two blind parents with them…. The generators have run out of fuel.
“They think they will be evacuated by boat to a dry area and then hope to drive out of town if they can find a car…. Would you mind saying a prayer and exercising whatever pull you have with G-d….”
In Westwood, Sinai Temple’s Rabbi David Wolpe told a Sept. 3 Shabbat audience of more than 900 that “the best way to insure both the decency and the safety of the human community is, when we are the lucky ones, to give a model of what it means to have open hands and open hearts.”
At Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills, Reform Rabbi Steve Jacobs said the hurricane’s aftermath is something that “has exposed the great poverty in America.”
Among the many temples collecting donations is the Orthodox Young Israel of Century City. “We’re going to send one check in the next few weeks,” said Rabbi Elazar Mushkin. “You do not read this [hurricane] as a judgment of God. Planets are formed, tectonic plates shift, earthquakes occur and sometime innocent people die.”
Some Sept. 3 bar and bat mitzvahs included hurricane donations, rabbis said.
Temple Ramat Zion in Northridge has collected more than 15,000 articles of clothing for shipping to Congregation B’nai Israel in Baton Rouge, La. B’nai Israel is providing shelter for 200-plus evacuees and requested clothing and baby items for immediate distribution.
Heading into the hurricane’s devastation zone were two leaders of the L.A. chapter of the emergency-response volunteer group, Hatzolah. Rabbis Tzemach Rosenfeld and Chaim Kolodny arrived in Montgomery, Ala., on Labor Day to help out for at least a week, bringing with them a suitcase loaded with kosher food.
“We never know who we’re gonna bump into,” Kolodny said.
By early this week, the situation seemed to have improved for Jewish residents and other hurricane victims who’d survived. Los Angeles Federation President John Fishel sent out an e-mail stating that most Jews appear to have been evacuated.
In addition, he had instructions for families attempting to reunite. “Any New Orleans evacuees can report their whereabouts to firstname.lastname@example.org,” he wrote. “There may be students from the affected areas studying here in Los Angeles. If so, they are asked to contact Hillel.”
Fishel added that New Orleans’ Jewish leaders are asking Jews elsewhere to avoid contacting either the New Orleans or Houston federation staff directly, but “to do so through the L.A. Federation.”
After midnight one Sunday last December, Motty Stock found his wife, Freda, unconscious on the bedroom floor. He picked up two phones and simultaneously called 911 and Hatzolah, an all-volunteer emergency first-response service.
While Stock was still on the phone giving information to 911, two Hatzolah volunteers bounded up the stairs to his Hancock Park home and began working on the 28-year-old woman, who was having a seizure and choking on vomit.
By the time the ambulance arrived 15 minutes after the initial call, Hatzolah volunteers had Freda Stock stabilized. They transferred her to the care of paramedics, got a babysitter for the three children so Motty Stock could ride along in the ambulance and sent someone to Ralphs to buy formula for the 4-week-old baby.
“They saved her life,” Stock said. “It is impossible for me to describe what they did for us. It’s invaluable.”
Now, thousands more will have access to the life-saving skills of Hatzolah, which last month expanded its 3-year-old pilot program in Hancock Park to Valley Village and the Pico-Robertson area.
“Over the past three years, we have perfected ourselves in the sense that we are better equipped to meet the immediate needs of the emergency,” said Zvika Brenner, president of Hatzolah Los Angeles. “Working together with local paramedics, we now know what they expect of us when they show up; we know what kind of information to obtain in order to make a seamless transfer of patient care when they arrive.”
Aside from its near daily responses to medical emergencies, in the last three years Hatzolah in the Beverly-Fairfax-La Brea area has helped the Los Angeles Police Department capture a serial rapist, responded to a plane crash in the Fairfax neighborhood and has helped find five missing persons. At the request of city and county officials, some volunteers are training to respond to mass casualty incidents, such as earthquakes or terrorist attacks.
City and county fire and law enforcement departments, as well as local politicians, have praised Hatzolah’s ability to become an integral part of Los Angeles’ emergency response system.
Fifty new volunteers have been certified as county emergency medical technicians (EMTs) in the heavily Orthodox Valley Village and Pico-Robertson areas.
Hatzolah, Hebrew for rescue, does not have its own ambulances and does not replace calling 911. Rather, it acts as a bridge in the critical first minutes of an emergency until paramedics arrive.
The average ambulance response time in Los Angeles is six to 10 minutes. Hatzolah’s average response time is 90 seconds, since all volunteers work and live in the areas they serve and constantly wear radios and have easy access to equipment.
“In an emergency, six to 10 minutes is an eternity,” said Azriel Aharon, a coordinator and volunteer EMT for the Pico-Robertson area. “Even if we only beat [the ambulance] by two minutes, that can be the difference between life and death.”
Hatzolah volunteers are equipped with defibrillators, oxygen tanks and trauma kits.
They train for 120 hours to receive EMT status and are able to perform everything from basic first aid to life-saving procedures, such as tracheotomies. They also learn how to secure an accident scene and gather the pertinent information to transfer care to the medical and emergency professionals when they arrive. Volunteers take additional classes in city and county protocol, and do ride-alongs with county ambulances.
The volunteers are all Shabbat-observant married males, as per the original 1972 Hatzolah New York charter, which also provides guidelines for halachic liberties that can be taken to save life or limb.
Hatzolah in Hancock Park, with about 35 volunteers, has received an average of a call a day. Tripling its area of coverage has necessitated improving the two-way radio system and equipping two more garages with supplies for restocking.
Hatzolah is currently training more dispatchers — mostly women — who take around-the-clock shifts of several hours to answer a dedicated Hatzolah line in their homes.
Hatzolah will respond to anyone who calls, but its publicity is done through synagogues and schools in the areas it serves.
Startup costs for Hatzolah in the Pico-Robertson area, which has about 40 volunteers, was about $150,000 and in the Valley was about $30,000 for 18 volunteers. Citywide, it will cost about $120,000 a year to maintain, with all of the money raised through private donations.
Yossi Manila is forever thankful to Hatzolah volunteers who rushed to his house late on a Friday afternoon after his 2-year-old daughter swallowed a dozen chewable Benadryls (Poison Control informed him that up to 20 chewables wasn’t harmful).
“When your daughter is lying unconscious in your arms, and you can’t figure out what to do, you just feel extremely helpless and extremely hopeless,” Manila said. “Hatzolah came, and they were extremely professional and extremely comforting.”
For emergencies, call 911, then (800) 933-6460. For
nonemergencies, call (310) 841-2328 or visit www.hatzolah.org .
Contributing Editor Tom Tugend contributed to this article.
The June 6 report that The Federation has taken a gambit — re: bringing Rabbi David Woznica to Los Angeles from the 92nd Street Y in the hope his passion for Judaism lectures and teaching will “spark” a flow of dollars to the community’s United Jewish Fund campaign — I hope will work (“Finding a Role for Woznica”). My own experiences as a fundraiser in the Jewish community for close to 40 years suggests otherwise.
Our inability as a community to crash the present barrier — the stall in the high $40 million — is because we haven’t built a sense of community for the close to 600,000 Jews living in Los Angeles. Nor have we had the success necessary from the growing number of individuals with amazing wealth. It’s been going to personal interests over community.
Hyman Haves, Pacific Palisades
It is with sadness that we read Amy Lord’s June 13 letter about Jews going to church. Lord tells us in her letter that she just hasn’t been welcomed at synagogue the way she has been at church, and she likes all of the classes and services offered on a donation-only basis at church.
Indeed, synagogues need to constantly work at being more welcoming to all people. We would urge her, however, to reconsider her approach to synagogue. As President John F. Kennedy said: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
In other words, we need to think less about what synagogues can do for us and more about what we can do for our synagogues and communities.
Rabbi Zachary Shapiro, University Synagogue
Cantor Ron Galperin , Temple B’nai Emet
Thank you so very much for your article on the tremendous self-sacrifice of the Hatzolah volunteers (“Hatzolah Fulfills Its Role in Plane Crash,” June 13). The volunteers deserve a sincere debt of gratitude. Please God, we should never need their help, but if we do, it’s great to have them around in the community. In this diverse, multiethnic city, it’s heartwarming to know that the first group to organize itself to help relieve the load of the overworked LAPD and LAFD is our own Jewish community.
Manny Saltiel, Los Angeles
Where Leaders Learn
“Where Synagogue Leaders Learn” (June 6) by Julie Gruenbaum Fax in the quote from me about inviting Rabbi Moshe Edelman to teach our board members at Mishkon Tefilo, I failed to give due credit to our immediate past president, Bessie Novos. She had made contact with Edelman a year before and had strongly urged other board officers and members, including then-Vice President Sue Kaplan, to pursue a board leadership seminar with him.
The invitation would also not have been possible without the support of our then-vice president and strategic planning chair, Dr. Billy Frumovitz. So even though the quote says “I invited,” as anyone familiar with synagogue boards knows, almost every effort is a team effort.
Carole Stein, Mishkon Tefilo
Explosion in Encino
Michael Berenbaum doesn’t get it. There was no “hatred” in the bombing of my beloved temple (“Explosion of Love in Encino Defeats Hatred,” May 30).
A sick Jew committed a sinful act. What hatred was defeated?
The self-serving “anger” voiced by public officials — the media frenzy that took place at the scene (I was there early on) was pathetic. Only the calmness and wisdom of the clergy, staff, temple officers and parents arriving with their children kept the situation under control.
If we are to have a semblance of order in our society, the finger-pointing and rush to judgment until we know the facts must end. Yes, there is justification for concern about security, but our leaders and the media need to end their grandstanding and stop promoting fear to perpetuate their self-interests.
Berenbaum needs to calm down and act like the leader he is known to be.
Bernard Otis, Encino
Michael Berenbaum’s article mentioned the arson attackson churches and synagogues, but he failed to mention that the arsonist that wasarrested was a Jew. Why didn’t Berenbaum report this information? Isn’t itobvious?
Kim Lee, Los Angeles
Michael Berenbaum responds:
What Mr. Otis regards as self-serving, I consider essential. Politicians must speak out, the media must cover the event and people of diverse views must show solidarity. Contrast this response with France, where politicians were mute and the press silent as Jews and their institutions were attacked.
Ms. Lee is correct. Readers should know that the alleged perpetrator was a Jew. I presumed that they learned it elsewhere, and therefore it needed no repetition, as my focus was not on the attack but on the response to it.
In “Hatzolah Fulfills Its Role in Plane Crash” and “Torah, Prayer Then Death From the Air” (June 13), Jessica Kaplan was incorrectly identified as Jennifer Kaplan. We regret the error.