A prayer of healing from tragedy


Our hearts are breaking, God,
As our nation buries the innocent and the brave.
The loss is overwhelming.
Send comfort and strength, God, to grieving parents,
To siblings, family and friends in this time of shock and mourning.
Shield them from despair.
Send healing to the schoolchildren who are lost and frightened
Whose eyes witnessed unfathomable horrors.
Ease their pain, God,
Let their fears give way to hope.
Let their cries give way once more to laughter.

Bless us, God,
Work through us.
Turn our helplessness into action.
Teach us to believe that we can rise up from this tragedy
With a renewed faith in the goodness of our society.
Shield us from indifference
And from our tendency to forget.
Open our hearts, open our hands.
Innocent blood is calling out to us to act.
Remind us that we must commit ourselves to prevent further bloodshed
With all our hearts and souls.
Teach us perseverance and dedication.
Let us rise up as one in a time of soul-searching and repair
So that all children can go to school in peace, God,
Let them be safe.

God of the brokenhearted,
God of the living, God of the dead,
Gather the souls of the victims
Into Your eternal shelter.
Let them find peace in Your presence, God.
Their lives have ended
But their lights can never be extinguished.
May they shine on us always
And illuminate our way.
Amen.


Rabbi Naomi Levy is the founder and spiritual leader of Nashuva: The Jewish Spiritual Outreach Center. Her books include Talking to God: Personal Prayers for Times of Joy, Sadness, Struggle, and Celebration.

Healing: Where religion and science meet


What does Judaism have to do with healing?  This was the topic of the lively conference, “Healing: The Interplay of Religion and Science,” October 26 and 27, 2014 at Arizona State University.  Three local attendees were Rabbi Elliot Dorff, Rector and Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at American Jewish University, myself from The Lippman Center for Optimal Health and Neil Wenger, MD  Chair of the Ethics Committee at UCLA Medical Center and Director of its Center on Ethics. 

Rabbi Dorff described Judaism's emphasis on maintaining our health and the various community resources that contribute to assisting people in that endeavor.  The emphasis on addressing the whole individual, not just a symptom or an organ system, carried through the entire conference.

I discussed the similarities between alternative medicine and Judaism.  Drawing upon some of the resources Rabbi Dorff described, as well as his writings, I noted that taking a proactive approach to our health and asking questions are two commonalities.  Additionally, I showed how keeping ourselves as healthy as possible facilitates our vitality as well as easing our ability to connect to God, a particularly important topic during the High Holy Days.  It is easier to change our habits and to improve ourselves when we feel better.

Dr. Wenger's summation of research on religiosity and health was enlightening.  Scientific studies reveal that those who are more religious tend to live longer than the general population.  On the other hand, praying for the health of another, while it might benefit the person doing the praying, does not seem to improve the outcome for the ill individual. 

Throughout the two days, the importance of empathy by the health practitioner became one of the most desirable characteristics.  There was general consensus that the empathetic doctor creates the space where better healing can occur.  Amen to that.

Paws of Love: Fur healing’s sake


Ari Gould, 6, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia three years ago. In addition to the physical pain he has endured, the disease and the stressful medical procedures that followed have also left him socially isolated.

The steroid treatments he receives once a month have numerous unpleasant side effects, including increases in anxiety levels.

“When he is on steroids he feels really bad,” said Alissa Gould, Ari’s mother.

During those times she arranges for Ari to visit with Ziggy, a friend he made back in April.

“When Ziggy comes, it totally calms him down and is a great distraction,” Gould said.

Only Ziggy isn’t a boy; he’s a golden retriever whom Ari met through Paws of Love.

Started in 2011, Paws of Love is a volunteer-based project of Chai Lifeline that provides seriously ill children with canine companions from Lend a Paw, a pet therapy agency whose teams of handlers and dogs have been through a rigorous training program. The therapy dogs and their trainers help lift the spirits of chronically ill children and fill the social void that often occurs when a child gets sick.

“When someone is hit with an illness out of the blue, the shock and the terror that strikes a family is overwhelming, especially for a pediatric illness,” said Gila Sacks, coordinator for Paws of Love.

First introduced by Boris Levinson in the 1960s, animal-assisted therapy has grown from fewer than 20 programs in the 1980s to more than 1,000 such programs today. Therapy applications include helping children practice reading, assisting with physical therapy, and providing emotional support to senior citizens and war veterans, among others.

Aubrey Fine, author of the textbook, “Handbook on Animal-Assisted Therapy,” says that while there is little evidence-based research to confirm the effectiveness of animal-assisted therapy, that’s beside the point. “There is a lot of qualitative support out there to say that animal-assisted therapies have value,” he said.

Some evidence is beginning to emerge that dogs can help people with cardiovascular disease. Blood pressure in both the human and the dog may be reduced when the person pets the animal, according to Fine, and people who walk their dogs are less likely to have chronic health problems.

Levels of oxytocin, a neurotransmitter that promotes good feelings, also change in humans and animals when the animal is being petted. And when it comes to the emotional benefits of animal-assisted therapies for children, Fine said, “The animal seems to go under a child’s conscious defense mechanism.”

Sharon Vincuilla, director of Lend a Paw, says she regularly sees the positive effects of animal-assisted therapy. “There was a woman at one facility who never talked, but she would talk to the dogs,” she said. 

One Chai Lifeline family, Sacks noted, has noticed significant improvement in their children’s communication skills after several sessions of pet therapy.

In addition to Paws of Love, Chai Lifeline offers a wide range of services for all members of a family fighting a childhood illness. Programs include individual and family counseling, telephone support groups, art therapy for patients and siblings, tutoring, help with medical insurance, referrals to specialists and therapists, big brothers and big sisters mentoring, and retreats for parents. All of Chai Lifeline’s services are free, funded by private donations and grants.

Chai Lifeline has “helped us a lot with food and keeping the Sabbath. They have helped with activities Ari could do that were very sanitary and geared toward his age,” Gould said. “They also have programs to help the moms … relax without the kids, to give them some free time. And they are very good with the children.”

During a July visit, Ari ran out to meet Ziggy, despite feeling ill from his steroids.

Ziggy’s handler, Jody Rudy, said she met Ziggy while walking dogs for a golden retriever rescue organization. She says she quickly noticed he was meant to be a therapy dog.

“It was not so much about me, but about my dog. The thing about Ziggy is that when someone is nervous or having a hard time, Ziggy will pick that person out of a crowd and sit next to them. I saw this in him, and so I wanted to use him to benefit other people.”

Rudy wanted to make sure she was not forcing Ziggy into a job that was against his nature, so she barely trained him at all before the therapy dog exam. “I read what he was supposed to do … and I made the determination that if he was ready to be a therapy dog, he would pass that test. … And he did. It was really easy for him to do it.”

Rudy chose New Leash on Life to get Ziggy certified for therapy, because they make a point of choosing shelter dogs to be trained for therapy.

Although he was too tired to play outside, Ari gave Ziggy his full attention for most of the visit, petting him while telling his visitors about his recent experience at summer camp.

“Ari just lights up when he sees Ziggy,” Rudy said.

For more information about Paws of Love, call (310) 274-6331 or visit chailifeline.org.

Shalit recovering well, his grandfather says


Gilad Shalit has recovered from the physical ordeal of his Gaza captivity, his grandfather said.

Tzvi Shalit met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday to update him on the rehabilitation of the Israeli soldier who was seized by Hamas-led gunmen in 2006 and kept incommunicado until his release as part of an Egyptian-brokered prisoner swap in October.

“Gilad has put on weight.  He really is back to normal,”  Netanyahu’s office quoted Shalit’s grandfather as telling the prime minister.

“You saved my grandson for me.  In the current situation in the region, it would have been impossible to return him.”

The will of the people, the light of Chabad, the gift of ‘The Goldbergs’


Proposition 8

Thank you for printing Supervisor Yaroslavsky’s eloquent piece (“Proposition 8 and ‘The Will of the People,’” Nov. 28). While I fully respect the concept of the will of the people, I understand that America ensures that when the will of the people seeks to discriminate, violate or abrogate rights of some people in the name of others, that we have instituted a court system of judiciary impartiality to safeguard those rights.

If we left it to the will of the people, would we ever have ended segregation in this country? Would women have gained the right to vote?

Of all people, we Jews should understand that the will of the people is not always what is best in any given time. Thankfully, our Constitution established a system of justice that isn’t, or certainly is not supposed to be, driven solely by the will of the people.

Sometimes the will of the people doesn’t know what is best for all people in a given situation. We depend on judges, who, according to the Torah, are not supposed to take bribes and should administer justice fairly and with righteousness. Lets hope that this happens with Proposition 8, as Yaroslavsky says — soon and in our day.

Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater
Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center

My husband and I picketed the Mormon church on Santa Monica Boulevard 11 days after our legal wedding (Letters, Dec. 5). Our signs said, “I Love My Husband,” and our picture made the L.A. Times.

The Mormon Church chose to make war against our marriage. We were married by a rabbi at our synagogue.

What about our religious rights? I don’t feel sorry for the Mormon Church or for the businesses being boycotted because the owners donated to Proposition 8.

Barry Wendell
West Hollywood

Chabadnik

“I’m a Chabadnik,” Rob Eshman writes in “Open House” (Dec. 5). In sympathy, I davened the last two Shabbats with my Northridge Chabad, where my husband, Marcel, z’l, served as baal korei (master of reading).

I met the Rebbe in 1970, when he gave me a dollar, but I did not know who he was that fall day on Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn. Foolishly, I spent the dollar on gas to get back to Queens.

I then had a Chabad wedding in L.A., and later my daughter, Aviva, met her husband, Brett, at a Chabad Shabbat dinner with Rabbi and Chani Backman in Boston. When my husband had cancer treatments out of town, we called Rabbi Minsk and his wife at the Newport Chabad and they invited us over for Shabbat dinner.

Staying in different hospitals, where I knew no one, there was always a Chabad rabbi that would go with a smile and a bracha to visit Marcel. Chabad Rabbis Schwartzie, Rivkin, Spritzer and Korf visited. Chabad Rabbi Bryski sent Shabbat meals to me via his mother-in-law for the first cancer surgery, and had the Rebbe send us blessings.

I may also be a Renewal Jew, but I sure know where I can find chesed, loving kindness. I’m a Chabadnik.

Joy Krauthammer
Northridge

Thank you for that very touching, moving and powerful editorial.

Rabbi Moshe Bryski
via e-mail

No Money

In “No Money, No Cry” (Nov. 28), David Suissa pointed out that the current economy presents nonprofits an opportunity to explore ways to do more with less.

David cited a hypothetical example of a Holocaust memorial struggling to raise the money to build a new museum.

I’m pleased to point out the extent to which David’s example was, in fact, purely hypothetical. L’havdil, the real Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, successfully meets its benchmarks in its $20 million capital campaign.

Construction continues apace at the site in Pan Pacific Park for the new museum. This construction could not have begun had we not been able to demonstrate to the city of Los Angeles full funding for our construction needs.

We invite David and the entire community to attend the gala awards ceremony and screening on Jan. 29.

Mark A. Rothman
Executive Director
Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust

‘The Goldbergs’

I got such a kick out of the Gertrude Berg TV show on your Web site.

Aunt Tilly, as my mother called her, was my grandpa’s first cousin. Today of all days, I’m wearing a bird pin that Aunt Tilly bought at Tiffany’s as a gift when my mother stayed with her in her Park Avenue apartment.

My great-grandmother was a source of inspiration in creating Molly’s character for the radio show, which, as you probably know, was the original soap opera. Anyway, thanks for the memories.

Bonnie Somers
via e-mail

Dose of Spirituality

Last Friday my family sat in our hotel room in Jerusalem glued to CNN and watching the horror in India. Unfortunately, at 3:45 the bulletin flashing across the screen stating that 5 people were killed at the Chabad House brought total gloom to Jews around the world. Even though it was drizzling, my son suggested that we daven Kabbalat Shabbos at the Kotel. Arriving at the Kotel, I finally realized the feeling that I had hoped for. Soldiers dancing with boys from YULA and Skokie High Schools. Charedim dancing with Chasidim and soldiers singing “AM YISROEL CHAI.” The davening was intense and the dancing invigorating.

As we walked back to the hotel that night I came to two realizations.

The first is that the next time I visit the Kotel, I should bring more shekels. The poverty level being very high in Israel, I should think more of helping these people than them interrupting my davening.

The second realization is that throughout history hate mongers have tried to destroy us. These acts of violence do not make us weaker but in fact make us stronger and more united. These acts show me how resilient we are as a people and giving some like myself an overflowing feel of spirituality.

Richard Katz
Los Angeles

Look up to see angels


Vayera is a rich portion throughout, but I linger on the iconic images in the first lines: Abraham sits at the opening of his tent in the heat of the desertday, recovering from his circumcision. He looks up and sees God, in the form of three men, often described as angels, standing nearby. Abraham rushes to welcome them and offer hospitality. They, in turn, provide comfort for his convalescence.

These images could be the cover art for manuals for our caring communities, bikkur cholim associations and chevrat kadishah (burial societies). These illustrations of mutual generosity, which provided the rabbis of the Talmud with role models for the prescribed human behavior of “walking in God’s way,” could also illuminate instruction books for our social justice projects. I pray that they can be emblems for America as it rises to greet an era of compassion and caring.

Abraham’s bounteous welcome and the reassuring visit of the men/angels provide archetypes, embodying our injunction to act in imitation of God. We Jews literally begin our day by affirming in full voice the practices of a caring community. These activities, as well as others, such as “performing acts of lovingkindness,” and “making peace where there is strife,” are enumerated in each morning’s liturgy. Every day, we recite these directions for holy behavior, along with the promise that these deeds will be rewarded both “in this world and in the world to come.”

While world-to-come” benefits are enticing, I am most concerned with rewards in this world. Having been lucky enough to visit caring communities throughout the world, I have observed the most successful ones are those that emphasize both the caring and the community. Their success is measured not just by gallons of chicken soup served, hospital beds visited or acts of social justice advocacy, but also by the longevity of the participation of the volunteers, the strength of their relationships with each other and the sense of personal satisfaction and growth that those volunteers receive from their involvement with the community. The rewards of community and individual fulfillment are the “this world” bonuses promised by the liturgy.

I believe that the people who provide the most comfort to others serve from a stance of altruistic self-interest. This paradoxical phrase implies that those who serve do so not just to “help the unfortunates” or “give something back,” but also because they recognize that in helping others they learn about themselves and have an opportunity to grow. They know that comforting a mourner may remind them of their own unfinished grief issues or that visiting a sick person might expose their own fears of vulnerability. They know that serving meals at a homeless shelter may raise questions about their own values or those of their neighbors. They know, as well, that confronting these issues in the company of others will make them deeper, stronger people, more able to serve others and more at peace with what it means to be human. They discover that those who best serve others cultivate their hearts of wisdom through companionship when they return to their caring colleagues to speak of what they have witnessed in others and what it has taught them about themselves. They debrief together. They study together. And they pray together.

These successful caregivers and community advocates know that, as the Talmud tells us, we serve round things in a house of shiva because “like the pea, sorrow rolls. Today’s mourner is tomorrow’s comforter and today’s comforter is tomorrow’s mourner.”

There is no condescension in service to those in need. There is a recognition that, as Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav said, “All the world is a narrow bridge.” All of us must cross that bridge. Our greatest gift to each other and to ourselves is to provide and find companionship on that narrow bridge.

We train caregivers and community advocates to recognize the commonality of human experience by asking them to look into the eyes of others in the room and see not just the superficial things that differentiate us and may cause us to have pity on challenged individuals but the spark of God that we all share. Then, we instruct them to ask each other, “What is it that keeps you up at night?” This invitation to share deepest concerns helps to identify situations and issues that need our attention.

Volunteers refine their ability to hear the needs of others as they decide which actions they will take to provide support and healing for individuals and the community. This form of “leadership by listening” has roots in the community organization techniques of the Industrial Areas Foundation, where President-elect Barack Obama began his career. “Leadership by listening” was the foundation of his campaign. Volunteers were instructed to call voters and listen to their concerns rather than tell them what they should believe. Moved by what they heard, they turned to each other when they hung up the phones. Sharing their experience, they built a community that is much deeper than a campaign.

As we sit at the opening of our tents, nursing the wounds of war, fear and economic distress, may we lift our eyes and perceive a new era for our country. May we, like Abraham the Patriarch, be comforted by the appearance of what Abraham Lincoln called, “the better angels of our nature” as they come to transform our country into the caring community for which we pray every day.

Rabbi Anne Brener is an L.A.-based psychotherapist and spiritual director. She is the author of “Mourning & Mitzvah: Walking the Mourner’s Path” (Jewish Lights, 1993 and 2001). She teaches at the Academy for Jewish Religion and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and is on the board of the L.A. Community Mikveh and Education Center. She can be reached at mekamot@aol.com.

Post-election healing — kumbaya in class and at the beach


Alison Weinreb, a teacher at Maimonides Academy in West Hollywood, invited her sixth-grade social studies class to her home for an election-night viewing party.

As the electoral map turned increasingly blue, she noticed that her scattered Obama supporters were keeping pretty quiet — embarrassed even in victory to be in the minority among their McCain-supporting friends.

At the same time, McCain supporters — who have been the majority of students at Orthodox day schools like Maimonides — needed a fair amount of reassuring that an Obama presidency would not spell immediate disaster for Israel and the Jews, the message they had been hearing throughout the election from their friends and gleaning from conversations at home.

Weinreb wasn’t the only one facing a distressed and confused community in the aftermath of this year’s presidential race. Jews battered one another in passionate arguments throughout this election season, as each side staked out their positions, often spilling over into questionably grounded rhetoric and incivility. Friends and institutions squared off around Shabbat tables and at debate lecterns in what each considered life-or-death debates.

How children have interpreted such passion offers a revealing, though slightly distorted, mirror in which to view adult political discourse.

While children selectively perceive and then reinterpret information that comes their way, they reflect an atmosphere where issues of race, security, economic class divisions and Israel’s future have stirred up strong emotions.

At Orthodox day schools, mock elections yielded landslide McCain victories.

Students from at least one elementary school came home reporting that friends told them that if Obama were elected, he would “kill all the Jews.”

On the other side, at a another, more liberal school, one mother reported that her daughter was afraid to let on that her parents were McCain supporters, since everyone around her was so enamored of Obama.

Now that the election is over and campaign exaggerations can give way to reality, in schools, and everywhere else, people are making efforts to put things back into perspective.

At Maimonides, Weinreb helped organize a post-election assembly on Wednesday morning. On the stage, between the American and Israeli flags, two piñatas — an elephant and a donkey — stood side by side. Rabbi Karmi Gross, headmaster of the school, invited the sixth- through eighth-graders to come together to celebrate this historic triumph for American freedom and democracy.

“But we also come together for a different reason,” Gross continued. “We come together because this was one election — and I have seen quite a few — where the battle lines in America were drawn more clearly than ever, which pitted American against American, the red and the blue states, the left and the right, against each other in ways I do not recall. And sometimes the debates became very loud, and many times the debates became very nasty.”

Gross, using a talmudic parable, urged the children to understand the difference between disagreeing with an idea — which is fine — and attacking the person who holds such ideas, which is not.

Students together watched a video of McCain’s concession speech, and were asked to pull out some of the major themes.

“He said he was more proud to be associated with America than anything else,” one student offered.

“He said that we shouldn’t be upset that Obama won, because he’ll do good things for this country,” another said.

One rabbi acknowledged that many of the students were worried about Israel, but he assured them that Israel was strong, and that Israel’s ultimate fate lies in God’s hands, not in any president’s.

Jews who believed McCain was the better choice for Israel had to do a delicate dance with children.

One father, who asked not to be named to protect his son’s privacy, described a conversation he had with his 6-year-old son about the historic nature of this election and about the many reasons he was voting for McCain. In an age-appropriate way, they talked about security, the economy and issues that were important to them — such as having a president who had a record of supporting Israel. And the father posed the idea that he didn’t know whether Barack Obama would be a friend to Israel and the Jews, because there was not a very long record to rely on.

“Then — like all kids do, they pick up a small amount of what you tell them — he picked up from that that Barack Obama may not be nice to the Jewish people,” the father said, a declaration the boy made to his horrified mother.

The couple talked to their son again, softening the stance and saying that Obama might end up being a very good friend to the Jews. By the time Obama’s picture covered the front pages on Nov. 5, the boy seemed fine with his new president.

Helping kids process the broken-telephone game of information coming from the home and through their friends was a major focus at Emek Hebrew Academy-Teichman Family Torah Center in Sherman Oaks, where teachers integrated ideas about democracy or the specific campaign issues into the curriculum.

“But there were also moments where the students made baseless or exaggerated claims, repeating things they had heard,” said Gabriela Shapiro, general studies principal at Emek. “What we did at the time and will continue to do is teach the students about discernment — in other words, if someone makes a negative comment about Obama, we want the student hearing the claim to ask ‘what is the basis for your claim?'”

Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy in Beverly Hills brought in Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of B’nai David-Judea Congregation, who introduced a pre-election debate by highlighting a moment several weeks ago in which McCain asked riled-up ralliers to stop relying on rumor and innuendo to attack Obama as a person, and to focus instead on the issues.

Rabbi Boruch Sufrin, headmaster of Hillel, plans to use examples from the election when the school starts a conflict-resolution and community-building program next week.

“We’re going to deal with issues of perception and judging others favorably, and attacking issues, not people. We’re going to talk about accepting people’s differences and understanding what you have in common,” he said.

It’s a tough message to get across to kids, when adults themselves haven’t been behaving well.

Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom said he found the rancor among Jewish voters “painful and discouraging.” At a pre-election debate in his synagogue, Feinstein had to put on his former middle school principal hat to discipline the crowd.

“It’s discouraging to me as an American and as a person who believes in democracy, and it’s discouraging to me as the rabbi of a synagogue where important things should be discussed that you can’t have a serious political debate without hooting and hollering and drowning out the other side,” Feinstein said.

ALTTEXTIt was such rancor that a Healing Havdalah — the ritual marking the end of Shabbat — last Saturday night aimed to overcome. The event was organized by LimmudLA, the apolitical, nondenominational, Jewish-unity organization that will hold its second annual conference in Orange County over Presidents’ Day weekend, in February.

Saturday’s event, organized by Gary Wexler, a Jewish marketing expert, attracted 150 people to Dockweiler Beach, where drums and guitars competed with the wind and planes taking off from the nearby LAX.

Warming themselves around a crackling fire, participants talked about how Havdalah, like the election, marks the end and the beginning, the perfect moment for healing.

Many kids were at the Havdalah, joining their parents in singing and dancing, basking in the very Limmud idea that no matter our differences, we can come together for a kumbaya moment of Jewish oneness.

While a lot of healing may still be needed before that sort of unity can move beyond a Saturday night at the beach, one uniting factor all agree on is that this election brought a new level of political awareness and passion across party lines and across ages.

“I’ve heard kids saying that for the first time in their lives they care about politics and elections and personally feel involved, and that is amazing — that energy is constructive,” Vicki Helfand, a teacher at Maimonides, told the students at the assembly. “When you care about something, you can do amazing things. Now that this election is over, we encourage you to keep being passionate, to keep believing that what you think matters — because it does.”

Danielle Berrin and Orit Arfa at Dockweiler Beach. Photo by Joe Haber http://funjoel.blogspot.com

Rabbi Freehling’s pet project


Daylong synagogue attendance is rare among most Reform Jews. It’s even rarer for their dogs.

For almost 12 years, Lucy traveled each day to University Synagogue in Brentwood with her owner, Rabbi Allen I. Freehling, then the synagogue’s senior rabbi. The golden retriever mix soon became one of the most popular members of the Reform congregation.

“The kids coming in for Hebrew school used to arrive early, come to the rabbi’s study, and hope that they would be the ones to take Lucy for a walk before going to class,” Freehling recalled. “She was delighted to spend the whole day in my office. If there wasn’t someone to pay attention to her, she would usually just sleep under my desk.”

Freehling, now the executive director of the City’s Human Relations Commission, found Lucy at a city-run animal shelter in the San Fernando Valley. Through a series of community workshops he is helping to facilitate for Los Angeles Animal Services, Freehling is urging other local residents to seek pets from city shelters, too.

L.A. Animal Services has been sponsoring its “Humane L.A.” workshops — a series of 11 free, public panel discussions — every other week since August to educate Angelenos about what they can do to help make the city a “no-kill” haven. The workshops, which will continue through mid-December, focus on different facets of the agency’s “no-kill equation,” such as low-cost spay and neuter, rescue groups, foster care and adoption programs. Common-sense factors like these, the agency believes, can, in time, reduce the number of unwanted animals euthanized at city shelters.

“We do have a responsibility in terms of taking good care of the animals that are a part of our population,” said Freehling, who is sharing the role of facilitator with three other members of the Human Relations Commission. “Spay and neuter has to become something that is accepted by everyone, because the only way to curtail the population of animals is if they are not reproducing on a regular basis. For people who wish to have animals, for them to consider adopting as opposed to purchasing would also be a step.”

The senior rabbi at University Synagogue for 30 years, Freehling and his wife, Lori, adopted Lucy with social interaction in mind.

“Not wanting to leave Lucy home by herself, we purposely found an animal that would be good with adults and children,” he said. “An animal is a marvelous provider of comfort. That was the role that she played at the synagogue. Being greeted by her was, more often than not, a comforting experience.”

Lucy eventually died of cancer, and the Freehlings adopted Pearl, a black lab and pit bull mix, from an animal rescuer in Riverside. Pearl hasn’t had the same opportunity to follow Freehling to work since he was appointed to the commission in 2002.

“Here at City Hall it’s less likely that someone would bring an animal to the office on a regular basis,” he said.

Asked if it’s possible to make Los Angeles a no-kill city, the Chicago native does not hesitate before saying, “Yes.” But profound changes must first occur in the local population’s attitude toward its four-legged neighbors.

“I hope people will begin to understand what a no-kill city is all about and what our responsibilities are as part of that community, and not simply leave it up to a particular department within the city to solve the problem by euthanizing an extraordinary number of animals,” Freehling said. “It’s something we’re all in together.”

For dates and locations of the remaining “Humane L.A.” workshops, visit

Liturgy reminds us what we can do to avert evil


Sept. 11, 2001, occurred just six days before Rosh Hashanah. It was the tail end of what had been a difficult 12 months on the Jewish calendar: violence in Israel, a presidential election arbitrated by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Enron scandal.

Then, on a particularly gorgeous morning, terrorists attacked New York and Washington, D.C. Rabbis who had worked hard on their High Holy Days sermons all August rushed to rewrite them.

The liturgy seemed stunningly relevant. Who shall live and who shall die? Who by fire and who by water? We acknowledge our vulnerability in light of death, the harsh decree. But, the liturgy tells us, teshuvah (repentance), tefillah (prayer) and tzedakah (righteous deeds) will avert — not nullify, but avert — the evilness of the decree.

In other words, we cannot always prevent the worst from happening, but we can choose to wrest some meaning from it.

So here we are seven years later, about to enter the Jewish year 5769. The deaths of Sept. 11 have been compounded by more deaths in Iraq and throughout the Middle East. In many ways our world is more violent and certainly more fearful than it had been. Evidence of evilness abounds.

But this is also the time to take stock of the ways in which our liturgy speaks to a universal human theme. Many Americans, Jews and non-Jews, in the face of tragedy have chosen to move forward in these seven years — to engage in teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah.

Teshuvah: For some Americans, the first step of repentance was to say, “I don’t know enough; let me repair my ignorance.” Since early 1992, groups of Jewish, Christian and Muslim women have been joining together in living rooms to discuss books about their respective faiths. The Daughters of Abraham book groups began in Cambridge, Mass., when one Christian woman realized she didn’t personally know any Muslims. Now there are 14 such groups in the Boston area alone. We just began one in Philadelphia and already there is a waiting list.

Tefillah: In 2001, Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb of Albuquerque decided she wanted to pray for peace alongside Muslims. So she called the local mosque, where she knew no one, and found herself on the phone with a scientist and peace activist named Abdul Rauf Marqetti. They came up with the idea of a peace walk — a meditative, prayer-in-motion march for Jews and Muslims together.

In 2003, a group of Philadelphians decided to emulate them, and with no institutional backing, an ad hoc collection of Jews, Christians and Muslims began meeting monthly at the Al Aqsa Mosque in the Kensington section of the city. The first walk began at the mosque, stopped for prayer at two churches and culminated at a synagogue. It drew 400 people. Plans are under way for the sixth annual Philadelphia Interfaith Walk for Peace this coming spring.

Philadelphians are not the only ones praying with others. In 2000, The Hartford Institute for Religion Research conducted a survey to find out how many congregations, if any, had participated in an interfaith service in the past year. The answer was 7 percent. By 2005, the number had grown more than threefold to 23 percent.

Tzedakah: The Hartford study had even more striking news. When it asked about community services, the institute learned that 8 percent of congregations had joined with those of other faiths to improve conditions in their communities. Five years later it found 37 percent — a nearly fivefold increase.

Which brings us to Eboo Patel, a young Muslim born in India and raised in the American Midwest. In 2001, he was in England completing his studies as a Rhodes scholar. When he returned to the United States, he had a big idea. The way Patel saw it, young people want to change the world, and extremists are expert at giving them a cause to believe in, an exciting and dramatic movement to be part of. But what about moderate, pluralistic, liberal men and women, he wondered, those who saw religion as a way to work across faiths to make the world a better place? Could they offer young people a compelling counterpart to what the extremists offered?

Patel thought so. He founded the Interfaith Youth Core in Chicago to bring together young men and women of different faiths to serve their communities. Since 2001, his staff has grown to 20; Jewish teenagers and college students throughout the country are joining with Muslim and Christian peers to create a national interfaith youth movement.

Something is happening out there, something good. It does not eradicate the very troubling developments precipitated by the Sept. 11 attacks, but in small ways it is helping our society achieve what Jews worldwide seek to achieve at this time of year — to avert the severity of the decree.

That’s worth remembering as we mark another anniversary of that beautiful and horrible September morning — and another Rosh Hashanah. This year our anxiety — who will live and who will die? — must be matched by our belief in our ability to make a difference.

We cannot always prevent the worst from happening, but we can choose to wrest some meaning from it.

Rabbi Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer directs the religious studies program at Philadelphia’s Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

åArticle courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Eva’s prayer


It’s not often you see someone pray to God with all their might for something to happen, and then, when God doesn’t make it happen, thank Him profusely andeven celebrate.

My friend Eva Brown prayed to God with all her might.

She was praying the day she called me a few months ago and said, “Can you come over now? I need to see you.” By a stroke of luck, I had just finished a meeting in her area, and I went right over.

It was one of those bright California afternoons that make you feel guilty if you’re not in a sunny mood. And I was in a great mood, until I got to Eva’s place, a little bungalow in West Hollywood where she has lived for over half a century. With the sun’s rays piercing through the drapes of her immaculate living room, Eva sat on her sofa and gave me the news: She had stage IV leukemia.

Her spleen was so swollen by the tumor that fluid had entered her chest. At 81, she was too frail for surgery. Before doctors could start aggressive chemotherapy, Eva would need a bone marrow test. She was told the earliest it could happen would be two weeks. When she got to the doctor’s office, he changed his mind and said it needed to be done in a hospital. That meant another two weeks. All along, the pain was getting worse.

That’s when Eva started praying.

She saw all these obstacles as a sign that her time was up. Her daughter was not well. The thought of losing her had always haunted Eva. So she figured this was her chance to be the sacrificial lamb that might save her daughter.

“Don’t take her, take me,” she prayed to God day and night, while reading Tehilim (Psalms).

As she was telling me all this, my discomfort grew. This wasn’t the Eva Brown I had come to know — the feisty Holocaust survivor who for years had talked to thousands of people about the preciousness of life. This Eva Brown was ready to throw in the towel.

But I just listened, awkwardly, not agreeing with her resignation, but also wanting to provide comfort and support. As she saw things, after years of teaching people how to live, maybe her new mission would be to teach people how to die: how to accept one’s fate with grace and dignity — how to live while you’re dying.

We agreed that we would film her last statement, which we did a few weeks later. It was not pleasant. The video is a soul-searching, painful summary of her life.

In the meantime, while Eva was anticipating the next world, her good friend Sara Aftergood introduced her to another doctor, Sara’s husband, David, who after talking to Eva immediately put her in touch with a specialist, Dr. Solomon Hamburg. The new doctor and Eva hit it off. Hamburg, a child of Holocaust survivors, took her on as his personal mission. The bone marrow test was done in his office in a day. The chemo would start a few days later, every other Monday for eight weeks. Hamburg had no clue that Eva had been praying for God to “take her.” All he wanted was for Eva to live.

During the chemo treatments, Eva would call and tell me about the incredible physical pain she was going through. It seemed that every part of her little body was aching. She was in such pain she no longer had the strength to pray. When she finally told Dr. Hamburg that even with painkillers her suffering was becoming unbearable, he didn’t downplay it. To the contrary, he told her it was “useful pain”: It meant that the treatment was working.

He pleaded with her to hold on and fight.

He wasn’t the only one who helped Eva fight through the pain. For years, Eva has had an extended family down the street at Maimonides Academy. The head of the school, Rabbi Boruch Kupfer, often came to visit. One day, knowing what Eva was going through, he asked her what they could bring. Eva wasn’t shy: Food, she said, and lots of soup. She had no strength to cook, and she loved soup.

Well, don’t ask. Overnight, the leaders of the Maimonides PTA — Kathy Hiller and Susan Tonczek — turned into managers of a catering operation. For several months, hot, homemade food cooked by Maimonides families was delivered to Eva’s door, along with words of comfort from regular visitors like Marci Spitzer and Sabina Levine.

It was clear that everyone in Eva’s life wanted her to fight and to hang in there, not least her ill daughter. But the pain was so deep she had trouble thinking straight. She started to see God everywhere. She saw God in her daughter’s eyes. She saw God in all the people who wanted her to live. She even saw God in the fact that she was in too much pain to pray for Him to “take her.”

Maybe, she realized, God was simply saying no, it’s not your time to go.

This helped her regain the will to live. Armed with the food deliveries from Maimonides, the dedication of Dr. Hamburg and the love she got from all over, she made it a personal project to conquer the pain of chemotherapy. Like she says now, pain became her “full-time job.” It’s not like she had no experience: Surviving 10 concentration camps in one year at the age of 16 had given her plenty of experience in full-time suffering.

As the weeks went by and her battle continued, her condition slowly improved.

On the Friday before Shavuot, Eva called to give me the news: Her cancer was in remission. The tumor had shrunk and was dormant. She still had some life left in her, and was full of gratitude to everyone who had helped her get through the ordeal.

Having regained some of her strength, Eva is slowly returning to public speaking, and praying with all her might that her daughter will get better.

She’s hoping that God, once again, will know how to answer her prayers.




Last year, Eva Brown talked with JewishJournal.com about her experience during the Shoah. Video by Jay Firestone.



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

Mia Goldman’s film is an ‘Open Window’ into trauma and recovery


One night in 1989, Mia Goldman awakened to find a menacing stranger sitting on top of her, ordering her to keep her mouth shut or he would “shoot [her] brains out” with a gun he had placed on a nightstand.

At the time, Goldman, a film editor, was living in a two-story condominium in rural Virginia, on location with the film, “Crazy People.” Her assailant revealed that he knew she was working on the movie, that he had been stalking her and that he had entered the condo through a downstairs window she had left open a crack for air.

Over the next five hours, he brutally raped, tortured and beat Goldman, covering her body with bruises and injuring her neck. In the aftermath, she developed a heart murmur, endured cervical surgeries, experienced flashbacks and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome and lost her boyfriend, who had tried to be kind but ultimately could not deal with his own feelings of trauma and violation.

Goldman says it took her six years to work through her depression and to heal, which she did with the help of her psychoanalyst, her family and her growing spiritual connection to Judaism. She drew on her experience to write and direct her debut feature, “Open Window,” which premieres on Showtime July 16 at 8 p.m.

The intense, intimate drama revolves around Izzy (Robin Tunney), a struggling photographer, Izzy’s fiancé, Peter (Joel Edgerton), and how their relationship unravels after she is raped by a man who enters her studio through an open window.

Both Izzy and Peter are devastated by the rape: “I wanted to show how the act violates not only the woman, but also the man — and how it creates circles of pain that may extend to the entire family,” Goldman says.

But the 52-year-old filmmaker does not intend the movie to be a “rape film,” per se. “The specificity is rape, but I wanted the drama to be about how an individual may be able to survive any kind of trauma,” she says. “After my experience, I learned that I could go through something horrible, and that it didn’t have to destroy me. I felt that I was right on the line — that I could have been ruined but I didn’t want to give the rapist that. So I muddled through, I made a lot of mistakes, and I found that if I persevered I could become stronger, I could be brave. And that is what I wanted to convey.”

Jewish texts informed her film, Goldman adds during a conversation at her home, where a hall is lined with expressive portraits of rabbis and landscapes of Jerusalem.

In her bedroom, volumes by authors such as Adin Steinsaltz and Joseph Soloveitchik line a bookshelf. “Man’s Search for Meaning,” by the Auschwitz survivor and psychoanalyst Victor Frankl, deals with life after the Holocaust and directly inspired how Goldman’s film depicts loss and the possibility for healing, she says. The movie — which won best picture at the 2007 Reel Women International Film Festival — was an official selection at the Sundance and Jerusalem film festivals and has screened at a Los Angeles high school and the UCLA School of Medicine, among other venues.

“Audience members have come up to me and said, ‘I have cancer’ or ‘I lost my husband in a car accident, and this is my story,'” the filmmaker says.

Struggle and transformation is a theme that has run not only through Goldman’s life, but the life of her remarkable family. Her grandfather, Julian Goldman, grew up in an impoverished family that had escaped Russian pogroms; he became the owner of a chain of department stores and an adviser to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt — but never spoke to FDR again after the president declined to bomb the railroad tracks to Auschwitz.

Mia Goldman’s father, the screenwriter Bo Goldman (“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”), scraped along financially for years before achieving fiscal and artistic success. (His family disapproved when he married an Episcopalian, Mia’s mother.)

“I was the oldest of six children, and we lived this haphazard existence, always on the edge, borrowing other people’s summer houses and running around barefoot,” Goldman recalls of her childhood. “My parents were loving but exhausted and overwhelmed. When I was 10, I was hired out to work as a baby sitter. By the time I was in the 12th grade, we had moved 20 times.”

Goldman paid for her first year at Vassar with a scholarship and by working as an apprentice film editor in New York. At 19, she left school for a time after she lapsed into a suicidal depression, prompted by an identity crisis; she began seeing the renowned analyst, Dr. Abraham Gottesman, in Westwood.

Gottesman encouraged Goldman — who had been raised Episcopalian — to explore her budding interest in Judaism, if only in order to dismiss it. Eventually she started attending services at Sinai Temple and converted to Judaism under the auspices of the Conservative movement.

Temple Sinai’s Rabbi David Wolpe officiated at her marriage to a Jewish physician in 1997. Along the way, she edited films such as “Choose Me” and “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”

Goldman believes her work with Gottesman — which lasted until his death in 2005 — gave her insight into the psyche that helped save her life back in 1989.

“I intuited that my rapist had suffered terribly; that the rape was an expression of his anger, and I kept trying to make a human connection with him,” she says, quietly. “I noticed that he smelled like Irish Spring; the fact that he had washed for me made me feel like, in a perverse way, he saw this as a date — and that just maybe I could get through to him.”

At one point, Goldman refused to engage in a particular act because “I don’t love you,” she told the intruder, causing him to take pause (Izzy makes the same declaration in “Open Window”). As Goldman’s ordeal drew to an end, however, she realized the man still intended to kill her, and she spent more than two hours negotiating for her life. “In a strange way I felt grateful to him when he let me go, because I had seen all those rape movies, like ‘A Clockwork Orange,’ where victims are severely maimed or murdered.”

Please God, heal her now


In shuls across the world this Shabbat we will hear five short, simple Hebrew words: El na, refah na lah (Please God, heal her now).

Our prayers are never more heartfelt than when we ask for intervention in the process of sickness and death. God, we are saying, we acknowledge that the control and the timing are ultimately yours. We will provide the doctors and the medicine, the care and the concern, but the ultimate timing is Yours.

Please be gracious. Please.

Once a month we include a special healing service as part of our Saturday morning Torah service at the Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue. We form a healing circle, first stating the names of all our loved ones who are ill.

“El na, refah na lah,” we chant, “Please God, heal her now.”

Our focus then turns to the personal. We take out the Torah scroll, and pass it around the room, all the while continuing to chant the five words of this week’s portion. Some enter the circle while holding the Torah, receiving the energy of the group, while others quietly complete a silent prayer for their healing while holding on to the Tree of Life. There is no magic, no miracle cure involved. It is merely a formalized way for us to acknowledge the support of the community, and our own vulnerability. It is prayer.

Often, the question is asked, “Does prayer work?” If the proof of the efficacy of prayer is that no one remains ill or, God forbid, dies, then prayer is clearly a bust. Despite the studies of numerous healing groups on the power of prayer, no one can report that prayer defeats death. With proper medication, good support and much “luck,” some will heal from an illness, others will not.

The Hebrew word “na” in our formula for healing means “please.” It takes up two of our five words. Please. It’s all we can ask.

So why do we pray? On one hand, we seek and provide community support for the one who is ill. The misheberach list each week, which asks for the blessing of healing to be bestowed on ill members of the community and all of those who suffer, alerts us to the needs of those around us. In the recitation of healing prayers, there is no need to detail the challenges facing each person mentioned, only their names. It is up to the rest of us to complete the mitzvah of “bikkur cholim,” visiting the sick, in our own timing and our own ways.

For the ill person who prays, prayer provides a direct engagement with the Source of All Being. We can only struggle through the essential questions of why me? Why now? Yet, in the process of prayer, we begin to appreciate and understand the larger perspectives of life and death, and the gratitude for every moment that we enjoy in this life that has been granted to us.

Like Moses, we pray to hold on to life, to be able to fulfill our goals to the end. Please God, please, is all that we can say. Should death occur, the first response of the living must be, baruch dayan ha emet, or blessed is the true Judge. But up until that final moment, we are to beg, wheedle, plead for God’s mercy — and often our very engagement with life will prolong and improve the time we spend on this earth.

Can there be healing even if a person dies? There are those who speak of “healing unto death,” and the process of prayer that opens the lines of communication between the ill person, their inner circle, and the Holy One. To die healed, or consciously, is to heal the wounded relationships of one’s life before passing. It takes tremendous effort but can be done.

Last spring, I was honored by a connection to a young woman who consciously met with, and healed, the relationships with all of the key players in her life before her eventual death. The wounds of mother-daughter, sister-to-sister, even old loves were pursued with conscious love and forgiveness. She healed and entered death in peace. I pray to have the courage to do the same.

It is patently not fair when a young person dies of cancer, no matter what their state of healing. Our Torah portion, in Numbers 12, tells a story that is riddled with inequities. Miriam and Aaron speak against Moses “because of the Cushite woman he married.”

They are also jealous of Moses’ power and position.

“Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?” they say.

God overhears, and calls them into the front office, along with Moses: “Come out you three to the tent of meeting.”

God chastises Aaron and Miriam, and when the cloud of God’s glory withdraws from the tent, Miriam is stricken with snow-white scales. Not fair! What about Aaron? He was gossiping, too — gossip seen by later sages as the source of her illness. Why only Miriam?

We ask this question every time one person gets cancer and another does not.

There is no fairness, no quid quo pro. All we can do is step up, pray and ask the Source of healing for mercy. Aaron does exactly that saying, “Let her be not as one dead,” and Moses cries out to the Lord, saying “Please God, heal her.”

Miriam is shut out of the camp for one week to heal. But she is not abandoned.

She is but prayed for by her family and community, and perhaps she, too, prays to the God of Mercy. Likewise, we do not turn our backs on those who are ill among us, nor do we despair in illness, no matter how unfair the situation may seem.

Together, we unite, and we pray for those who are ailing with those five words that resound through time, a gift of this Torah portion. El na, refah na la.

Please God, heal her now. May it be so.

Judith HaLevy is rabbi of Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue.

Lawyer makes case for answering rabbinical school call


Kenneth Klee is living the American dream.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turn Memory Into Blessing


Holidays bring up feelings and memories about people who have died. They also offer opportunities to address unresolved issues. The four Yizkor services and the themes of their days correspond to different tasks of mourning.

Yizkor provides temporal focal points where the new people we are becoming meet again with those we have lost, allowing us to continue the relationships and keep them growing and healing. Yizkor allows us to assess our individual growth in a world without those we’ve lost.

Each day provides a unique window on the nature of grief, encouraging us to approach healing from a different perspective and address a different task or season of mourning. Each creates a context for continuing relationships with our dead, helping to make peace as relationships transform from physical to spiritual connections.

Continuing our conversation with those we have lost is essential to healing. These conversations are central to our emotional lives. Yizkor engages memory for healing. The pain of our history becomes less of a burden. Memory becomes a blessing. The conversation is restored.

Each day of Yizkor provides a distinctive frame of mourning issues. At Yom Kippur, we settle accounts with others and with God. We put right our relationships with the people who are gone, asking them for forgiveness.

We focus on unresolved issues, feelings and guilts we may carry. It is also a day to forgive those we mourn. Also called in plural form, Yom HaKippurim, the day of “atonements,” it is a day when we atone not only for our own sins but also for those of others. This contextualizes a dynamic connection that remains between the living and the dead.

Shemini Atzeret, Yizkor’s day two, ushers in the winter season. It is marked by adding to the liturgy a daily prayer for rain. This prepares us for sadness, bringing us closer to mourning’s cold and brittle aspects.

This time of the broken heart is necessary to healing, just as the time when the earth lies fallow — absorbing moisture — is necessary to bring forth the buds of spring. Our tears connect to the rain and necessity of winter to prepare us for spring. Thus, we honor the need for change and contemplate what it means to let go of the past.

The third day of Yizkor, Pesach’s eighth day, commemorates the Exodus from Egypt and calls for a release of bondage to grief. It acknowledges the difficulty of yearning for freedom as we seek a new life, as we celebrate spring and the budding of hope!

Finally, Shavuot, the summer harvest festival, commemorates the giving of the Torah and the establishment of the covenant between God and Israel. These themes encourage reflection on gifts given and what they taught, commemorating these gifts with acts of thanksgiving.

For Pesach, the commemoration of the Exodus and the release from the grip of winter and its tears provide powerful healing metaphors. Mourners have insight into bondage as they are held by the grip of grief. Pesach’s Yizkor can move the mourner from concern about the deceased to concern with his or her own healing.

The Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzryiam, means narrow places. Pesach Yizkor might focus on finding the passage from the tight places that remain in the mourning process, restricting peace of mind and enjoyment of life, to the freedom to remember the deceased as a blessing.

Each year, the Passover story is told anew. In re-telling the story, we see how it has changed. Through each year’s lens, we monitor how time has moved us from the bondage to the blessing of memory.

Passover begins with the elimination of chametz, which inflates food and causes bread to rise. Chametz also threatens healing, for when we inflate or idealize the dead, we lose their reality. Healing relationships becomes harder.

The four children come to the Passover table with different attitudes that correspond to the seasons of mourning. The Simple Child represents mournings’ unbearable yearning. The Angry Child is enraged by bondage to past issues and pains. The Mute Child is simply stunned by loss and unable to articulate feelings. The Wise Child has moved on to healing-wholeness.

With whom do you identify? Has the story changed since last year?

Mourners’ bondage may appear as guilt over unresolved issues. They may be bound to live the agenda of the deceased and not their own, like the slaves in Egypt, living in someone else’s land. This exercise may help you, as you move toward freedom.

Bondage to the Past

We may be tied to something fulfilling and unable to let go. We may have unresolved issues. How are you in bondage to the past or living in someone else’s kingdom?

Pharaoh: How is your loss a tyrant holding you in bondage — a taskmaster, as you do its bidding and not your own?

The Plagues: What punishments have you endured because of this bondage?

Matzah: What have you failed to give proper time, attention and nurture due to mourning?

The Sea of Reeds: What obstacles impede your freedom?

Manna: What has sustained your journey?

The Golden Calf: What has distracted you from the tasks of healing?

Moses and Miriam: Who are your role models and teachers in this wilderness?

The Promised Land: Describe your hope for the future.

God: Envision a healing power to carry you to freedom and the Promised Land.

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

Clergy abuse — the cover and the story; Anti-Semitic road rage — do the right thing?


Cover Choice

It is appalling to me that you should depict this dreadful image on your cover (“Don’t Kid Yourself,” Jan. 12)

I understand your exploring the topic in an article, but to put this image and headline on the cover of The Jewish Journal when you describe plenty of anti-Semitism incidents causing us problems already is really inappropriate. As a subscriber of several years, I am really disappointed in your choice of covers, to say the least. You could use some better editorial advisers.

Fleurette Hershman
Sherman Oaks

While The Jewish Journal should be commended for addressing this issue, the cover photo illustration was not necessary.

Harry Green
via E-mail

I wanted to personally thank The Jewish Journal for having the courage to publish the entire JTA series, “Reining in Abuse” (Jan. 12). You have helped to break the taboo of silence and secrecy. Awareness and education are the first steps in making changes in hopes of ending sexual violence and bringing healing to our communities.

In the article, “Awareness Center and Blogs Draw Praise, Criticism,” I wanted to point out a fact that was omitted. The Awareness Center has posted our polices for removing alleged and convicted offenders from our Web page (www.theawarenesscenter.org/policies.html).

Vicki Polin
Executive Director
The Awareness Center Inc.
(Jewish Coalition Against Sexual Abuse/Assault)

I was so moved by the writings and revelations of clergy abuse within the Jewish community. Someone was finally telling the truth. Someone had managed to put into print what has been taboo for so long. This article brings to light that rabbis, cantors and Jewish religious educators are just as capable of committing this horrendous sin of abuse.

I feel it is [also] important that the Jewish community realize that one in three women and one in seven men have been sexually abused at some time during their childhood. Just as Jewish clergy are not immune from clergy abuse, the Jewish community as a whole is not immune to incest.

Rabbis, cantors and chaplains need to confront their own feelings and fears about incest in order to provide pastoral care to their congregants in need of being heard. This cannot be pushed aside any longer.

Bonnie Leopold
Via e-mail

Ride on Wild Side

While I truly empathize with Gary Wexler’s rude awakening to anti-Semitism, I cannot help but ask, what took him so long (“Ride on the Wild Side: Road-Rage Anti-Semitism,” Jan. 12, 2007)?

Richard Friedman
Los Angeles

I was shocked that in Gary Wexler’s column, “Ride on the Wild Side: Road-Rage Anti-Semitism,” there would even be a question about reporting the Jamaican car service driver who threatened his life and spewed anti-Semitic remarks on the way to the airport.

No mention was made of reporting this incident to the police or even contacting the car service that employs this driver.

Sometimes we meet evil incarnate, and we have a responsibility to confront it. It is very unsettling that someone could have this experience and not feel a responsibility to act.

Doesn’t Wexler realize that an irrational anti-Semite serving the public makes everyone who uses that service unsafe and that Wexler and his family’s safety is not increased by not reporting this incident to the police?

Pamela Abramovici
Pasadena

Gary Wexler reports on his brush with an insane anti-Semite and his dilemma about a proper reaction.How about reporting this lunatic to company management, then consider appropriate legal proceedings. The district attorney can decide on a proper course of action, especially if there is a pattern of such abuse.

I emigrated from France as a teenager, so I never got too used to the golden age of acceptance Wexler mentions. Most Jews outside the United States know anti-Semitism as a fact of life. No, they do not like it.

But, despite lacking a full embrace by much of the rest of the world, Jews throughout the ages have chosen to celebrate and perpetuate Judaism. This is what many of us continue to do today.

So, Wexler, do not feel afraid, guilty or ambivalent. Be proud. Defend yourself, your family and your people. As a Jew, you deserve as much respect as any other human being. Do not settle for less.

Stephan C. Schonbuch
Culver City

I read your article and would like to raise several issues with you (“Ride on the Wild Side: Road-Rage Anti-Semitism,” Jan. 12, 2007):

Why didn’t you use your cellphone to call the cab company and complain while riding? After all, I can guarantee you the driver would not have killed himself to kill you.

When you got out of the taxi, you should have told this fool that his table would be turning fast, when the authorities knock on his door.

Your apologetic and no-courage sentence: “You have no idea who I am or who my people are. All you did was spew hate,” was much redundant. Who cares what he knows. Could you educate and turn around a fool?

And, as this idiot asked, “Are you going to report me like the Jew did about Mel Gibson? Are you going to get all your Jewish organizations after me now?” you should have said: “You bet I will and more.”

I hope no tip was included!

And with the self-pity one reads in between these lines, you should have then turned around and asked yourself, “What am I going to do about the Mel Gibsons of the world; about people like Judith Regan; about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threats to have a world without Israel and the U.SA.; about the brutal torture and killing of Ilan Halimi in France and the like; about all the recent pronouncements of anti-Semitism throughout the world. What are you going to do about it all?

What is your contribution besides self-pity? I would like to know!

Healing community rises from life-threatening illness


“There but for the grace of God go I …,” you think upon hearing of some horrendous freak accident. “There and there and there and there but for the grace of God …,” you recite when hearing about the women in your life who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. For breast cancer has become a disease of epic proportions, a modern-day plague.

One out of eight women develop the disease over a lifetime, and the older a woman is, the higher her risk. From age 40 to 49, one in 68 women get the disease; from 50 to 59, one in 37; and from 60 to 69, one in 26. Approximately 213,000 women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer this year, and approximately 41,000 will die.

To make matters worse, Jewish women have a slightly higher incidence of the disease. But no matter how low a risk factor you may have — no family members with breast cancer, you had your children before the age of 35 and eat healthily — the disease will strike some of the best of us.

Enter Rabbi Carla Howard. Howard had a busy schedule as the executive director and co-founder of Jewish Hospice Project Los Angeles, the first Jewish hospice service in the city that offered spiritual care for the dying. She was on faculty at the Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, held workshops throughout the city on hospice care for lay people and professionals, taught at area seminaries for rabbinical and chaplaincy students and oversaw care of more than 600 hospice patients and their families.

But on Oct. 29, 2005 — Howard’s birthday — all that changed. On that day, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and told by her doctors to slow down.

For someone used to being energized by being out in the world, Howard had a hard time swallowing her doctors’ orders. It became clear, however, after visiting with a sick patient soon after her diagnosis, she had no other choice.

“The last person I saw was a 54-year-old woman dying of breast cancer,” Howard recalled the other day while making a hasty lunch. “I thought, ‘OK, I can take a little break. Maybe I need to pull my energy in, see if I can make this go in a different direction.’ I’m so used to pouring a lot out, now I had to rally my energy for my own healing. It was a big change for me.”

Howard started chemo/radiation treatment; she lost her hair and her energy. A good day meant a walk around the park with the dog; a bad day meant staying in bed all day.

She stayed close to home, close to her bed. Often she was unable to eat or cook. She was thankful for her students, friends and family who came by every evening with armloads of food. Although distressed by her condition, her husband and daughter perked up with every new meal.

As she lay in bed, Howard longed for a community of people like herself, who needed spiritual care for what ailed them. She envisioned a place for a multidisciplinary approach to healing.

The space, of course, had to be in a beautiful urban setting — an oasis, a grove — where people could come together to paint, to plant flowers, to pray. There would be meditation rooms, dance and art studios and a garden where people could sit and stare out into space.

Meanwhile, while she was in treatment, the Jewish Hospice Project closed, which freed Howard to create a new venture: the Jewish Healing Center of Los Angeles.

To start, she organized Rfa’einu, a series of nine healing services at Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles for men and women facing serious illnesses or other spiritual challenges, as well as for their family and friends. The first healing service took place this past October. Though the topic was breast cancer, everyone was welcomed.
“Rfa’ein, or heal us, is a call to God to bring wholeness to those in pain,” Howard said.

Sixty participants gathered to chant powerful prayers of healing, with chants drawn from various Jewish texts and liturgy. After the prayers, they spent some time sitting in silence. Participants then broke into smaller groups of four and five and shared their stories.

Dr. Susan Love, who wrote “Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book,” the bible on breast cancer, was the evening’s guest speaker, lecturing on the state of the art in breast cancer research. The service ended with a healing circle.

Sandra Braun, Temple Beth Am vice president for adult and family planning, hadn’t planned to stay. She intended to check in and then be on her way. Before she knew it, she was joining in the chanting. “It fixes you,” Braun said, trying to articulate how the service had moved her. “I’d never been involved in meditation or spiritual prayer before. It was a really powerful feeling being in a room with so many people who needed healing. [The prayers] came flowing out; you repeated them over and over, and everyone was doing it together.

“Afterward, I felt free. I felt on a different plane spiritually, emotionally and physically,” she said. “I think everyone felt the same thing.”

Braun attended the November healing service on the role of stress, the environment and diet on serious illness, with guest speaker Dr. Soram Singh Khalsa. Braun plans to attend the third service on Dec. 18, as well, which will be a meditative healing service of light for the Chanukah season. She has pledged to support Howard in creating a permanent space for her new mission.

Since her original diagnosis, Howard has completed treatment and her prognosis is good. She is currently concentrating on opening the Jewish Healing Center, which is now incorporated as a nonprofit.

She is confident that if she envisions a community of healing, it will come. But life has not been easy. This year on Yom Kippur, Howard’s older brother was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. He died six weeks later on her birthday.

The great (non) depression


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

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

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

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

Besides I am pharmacologically covered for depression.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m staying in bed this morning.

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

To comfort me, first comfort yourself


People have been generous.

During the past two decades I have assisted in creating caring communities that extend themselves to people in their midst at
profound turning points.

These times of need include both times of tragedy and times of great joy. Baby namings, weddings, illnesses, communal catastrophes, and shiva minyanim, call forth different emotions. All of them have their share of anxieties. All of them take a village.

During these months of cancer treatment, I have been blessed with a village, giving me rides, food and comfort when I am in need, and respecting my privacy when I crave solitude.

“How can I help?” people ask. Aside from the practical help that is often needed, there is the less tangible assistance that often creates anxiety on the part of the ones who seek to help. People often stay away for fear that they will say the wrong thing.

That unease is unnecessary, to paraphrase the Torah, for the right thing is as near to you as breathing. If you help appropriately, you, and those you help, will benefit greatly.

The wisdom to help others is not privileged information. It is taught to all of us through our life experiences.

Hearts that are both caring and helpful, marry self-knowledge and the ability to attend to others. Therefore, when we seek to provide comfort, we look into our own lives for guidance.

I’d like to explore some of these deeper aspects of bringing comfort.

Bikur cholim is the sacred obligation of visiting the sick. Its principles apply to any outreach to people at vulnerable times.

Performing this mitzvah is not about helping the less fortunate.

It is not about doing a good deed.

It is a way of cultivating a relationship with the deep and rich nature of what it means to be human.

If you do this effectively and with compassion, it will help others. It will also make your life more meaningful. It will open your heart. You will live more fully. Ironically, the more you receive from your visits, the more skilled you become in the art of helping others.

A good visitor is more than a well-meaning person who comes with urgent good intentions, whose need to find just the right words can communicate anxiety more than care.

We all want to make things better. We want to do the right thing or find the phrase to transform the difficulties.

But guess what? We can’t fix it. We can’t take away the pain of loss. We can’t heal a chronic illness, bring back the dead or force family members to behave appropriately.

We can, however, make a difference.

A first step in learning to comfort suffering is to come to terms with our own powerlessness. Ironically, this relieves suffering. Struggling with this understanding gives us access to the paradoxically profound and simple skill of visiting. Understanding that we can’t do the impossible takes away some of the urgency. We can focus not on changing what can’t be changed, but on being present.

Knowing that we don’t have to rescue makes it easier to help. Knowing that caregiving has limits makes it less threatening for those who want to help but stay away in fear of not knowing what to say. We’re off the hook with regard to performing magic tricks of healing. All we can really do is to create a place where those to whom we offer comfort feel heard and protected.

The most important thing we offer as comfort is our own comfort. When we are fluent with some of life’s profound issues and communicate this either in words or in silence, we are helpful. We communicate that we are present and unafraid. The irony is that we become capable of serving in this way, by taking care of ourselves. We do this by cultivating our own soul and exploring our own relationship to life’s challenging questions.

Think back on your own difficult challenges. What helped you get through them? What did not help? Was there anything said that made it easier for you to get on with your life?

Over and over, I hear from people that what helped was not a cogent bon mot or profound piece of advice. It was the gift of compassionate attention with which someone validated the experience and provided presence and lack of judgment. This was offered without intruding into the person’s private world or forcing them to move beyond their comfort zone. It can happen in silence.

It can come with a light touch or the subtle expression of care. Above all, the feeling is communicated that the person being visited had permission to be exactly as he or she needs to be, be it tearful, angry, cheerful, silent, or confused. Rarely are these reassurances expressed verbally.

This kind of presence says more about whom the visitor is than about what he or she says, does or knows.

It reflects the visitor’s own work on the deep issues of his or her own life, which makes it possible to comfortably reach out to others.

That comfort gives comfort.

Knowing that we don’t have to rescue makes it easier to help.

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

Movie on pedophile priest puts a face on evil


In October 2004, journalist Amy Berg cold-called a defrocked priest she has nicknamed the “Hannibal Lecter of pedophiles.” While serving Central California parishes in the 1970s and ’80s, the Rev. Oliver O’Grady allegedly molested dozens of children — boys and girls, infants and adolescents — according to Berg’s new documentary film, “Deliver Us From Evil.”

He did so with the knowledge of church officials — including Los Angeles Cardinal Roger M. Mahony — who moved him from parish to parish when parents complained, O’Grady alleges.
 
After months of phone conversations, Berg persuaded the priest to appear in a documentary that “has heightened interest among law enforcement officials … in considering a criminal case against [Mahony],” The New York Times reported on Oct. 8.
 
In a Journal interview on Oct. 9, Tod M. Tamberg, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, called the movie “very heavily biased.”
 
“This film was heavily edited and weighed in favor of Amy Berg making the cardinal the culprit and completely ignoring … that O’Grady is a skilled liar and a master manipulator,” Tamberg added.
 
“Evil” — which won the nonfiction prize at the 2006 Los Angeles Film Festival in July — presents for perhaps the first time a convicted pedophile speaking graphically about his actions on camera. O’Grady’s words provide “the backbone of a deeply disturbing documentary about the Roman Catholic clergy abuse crisis,” the Associated Press said.
 
When O’Grady first answered Berg’s call with a cheerful “Hello and good evening,” to her surprise he didn’t curtly dismiss her as had other pedophiles she had telephoned to be in her film. Berg believes he ultimately agreed to talk, in part, because he was angry with church officials.
 
“I should have been removed and attended to,” he says in the film.
 
O’Grady, who arrived in California in the early 1970s, remained a parish priest until he was convicted on four molestation counts in 1993. After seven years in prison, he was deported to his native Ireland.
 
In the movie, O’Grady describes having been molested by an older brother as a boy, and how he, in turn, abused a younger sister. As a priest, he says he sometimes started fondling children while sleeping over at their homes: He would often begin by hugging a child, then let his hand stray if they did not protest.
 
He recollects his crimes in a detached or avuncular tone that contrasts with anguished testimony from his victims. In the film, one father cries and screams as he blames himself for allowing O’Grady to abuse his daughter: “At 5 years old — for God’s sake, how could that happen?” the father says.
 
The film also includes never-before-seen taped depositions in which Mahony says he was unaware of the abuse and did not know O’Grady well when he served as bishop of Stockton from 1980 to 1985. But in the movie, excerpts from court documents, superimposed over Mahony’s testimony, suggest otherwise.
 
In response, Tamberg said Mahony’s testimony was heavily edited and facts omitted to make Berg’s points. Tamberg said Mahony did not know O’Grady had committed abuse until the former priest was arrested in 1993 and that “Evil” largely presents the opinions of plaintiffs’ attorneys, who stand to gain financially by suing the church.
 
Tamberg said he believes the documentary poignantly depicts the victims’ anguish, which is “its greatest strength but also its greatest failing. Because then we are asked to put all of O’Grady’s lying and manipulation aside and believe him…. [But] he lied to his bishop, he lied to the families, he lied to victims and I believe he even manipulated the filmmakers.”
 
Berg indignantly denied that she was ever manipulated, and that her documentary takes undue potshots at the church.
 
“If this is the best they can come up with, then let them respond to the allegations in the film, for once,” she said.
 
She wants church officials to answer questions such as “‘Why didn’t you take O’Grady Out?’ ‘What are you hiding?’ ‘[And] how many are still out there?'”Despite her bravado, Berg admitted she previously declined to tell reporters she is a Jewish, divorced single mother (she lives with her young son, Spencer, in an apartment in Santa Monica). She worried that the information might make her appear biased against the church and that the diocese might somehow interfere with the release of her film, since it successfully delayed the airing of some of her CNN pieces.
 
Tamberg said Berg’s news pieces were delayed because “we asked for fairness, and CNN management agreed.”
 
The 36-year-old filmmaker was raised Reform in Valley Glen; she attended Jewish Camp Swig in Saratoga and became a bat mitzvah at Temple Beth Hillel in Valley Village. But when public high school proved too large and overwhelming for young Amy, her parents enrolled her in a Catholic school because it was affordable and many other Jewish students were enrolled there, as well. All students were required to attend religion class, but Berg said she used to ditch because she did not believe some of the teachings after having been raised Jewish. “Children were saying ‘Hail Marys’ to be forgiven for chewing gum or not brushing their hair,” she recalled of her school.
 
Years later, while producing for CBS and CNN, Berg was drawn to covering the church’s pedophilia crisis because victims exuded “this unbelievably raw, lonely, ‘Where do I turn?’ mentality.”
 
She convinced O’Grady to allow her to film him only after speaking to him every Sunday for five months. In December 2004, she flew to Dublin to meet with him in the city center (he would not tell her where he lived.) The eight-day shoot in April, 2005, was “brutal,” both physically and emotionally, she says. For example, O’Grady nonchalantly spoke of his attraction for children as kids were playing in a nearby park; in the film he even peers over the fence to look at them.
 
To keep herself calm during the process, Berg turned at the end of each day to meditation, including exercises from Melinda Ribner’s “Everyday Kabbalah: A Practical Guide to Jewish Meditation, Healing and Personal Growth.” After a week of listening to O’Grady describe his molestations of children, she said, “I was completely overwhelmed and exhausted.”

Wanted: someone to help suffering Jews


One day, Rabbi Barbara Speyer went to a Los Angeles-area nursing home to provide emergency chaplaincy services — spiritual comfort and care — to a dying patient. When she arrived, the administrator said to her, “Why do you guys charge for this? This should be voluntary!”
 
Speyer was not on staff with the facility, and her schedule is more than full. She works full time as a chaplain at the Veteran’s Administration Hospital and serves on the Red Cross Disaster Team. She is also a community chaplain with the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, which is the hat she was wearing when she went that day to the nursing home.
 
“When your dishwasher breaks, don’t you call a plumber?” Speyer responded to the administrator. She had driven out to the Valley in Friday morning traffic for a fee that would barely cover the cost of her mileage, and she couldn’t believe the administrator’s attitude, although it was one she had encountered many, many times before.
 
“Why is spiritual counseling something you should give for free?” she said recently. “People feel as Jews, we’re supposed to care for one another. But we have multiple needs in the community, and people do not understand what is involved in maintaining and sustaining a Jewish community.”
 
Indeed, the Jewish community has many needs that require funding, manpower and programming, and they are often called “crises”: There is the Israel crisis, the intermarriage crisis and the disengaged youth crisis.
 

But the one crisis hardly spoken of is the aging crisis: Some 23 percent of the Jewish population nationally is older than 60, compared to 16 percent in the general population, according to the National Jewish Population Survey 2000-2001. In Los Angeles, between 1979 and 1997, (the last survey of Los Angeles’ Jewish population), for example, the number of Jews older than 65 grew from 11.1 percent to 20.4 percent. Put simply, the Jewish community is aging rapidly — and not necessarily healthfully, as medical advances in areas such as chemotherapy and kidney dialysis prolong life spans, while also sometimes adding extra years spent in hospitals, nursing homes, under medical treatment.
 
Who will provide spiritual care for the needy?
 
The crisis, for those involved, like Speyer, who is past president of the National Association of Jewish Chaplains, is not merely physical care — Medicare is a benefit afforded these people — her concern is the huge gap in provisions for another very important kind of sustenance.
 
“There is very little spiritual care being ministered to those who are in need,” she said. “I mean, we all need spiritual care. We have a large society of the elderly who spend their time alone,” either at home or in nursing homes and often not affiliated with any synagogues or religious organizations. “No one is attending to the needs of these people.”
 
“People are becoming more aware that there is more than just the curing process. There’s also the healing process that must go on with a patient and his or her family,” said Cecile Asikoff, national coordinator of the association, the umbrella organization for national and international professional Jewish chaplains, totaling some 300 members. A chaplain is a spiritual counselor who provides guidance, comfort and care to people in institutions — hospitals, nursing homes, prison and the military, and the National Association of Jewish Chaplains sets standards and can qualify Jewish chaplains.

“An important element in the healing process is the spiritual process. The healing process can be helped by confronting the spiritual issues of, ‘Why me, why now?'” Asikoff said.
Which is where the chaplain comes in — or should come in — to offer spiritual guidance and counseling, to sit with the patient and his or her family.
 
“A person is not just his or her disease any more than he or her eye color. The disease is part of who the person is. Part of the pastoral piece is helping people come to terms with very difficult, life-threatening or life-ending conditions, the piece of transitioning from one place in life to another place in life, the elderly, the transitioning piece of hospice, those are all pastoral pieces that are not outside his or her illness or medical condition,” Asikoff said.
 
In 2002, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles published a study, “Services to Jews in Institutions,” originally sparked by the United Way’s elimination of a prison chaplaincy program. The 42-page study was divided into two parts: “Jews in Prisons,” and “Jews in Hospitals and Nursing Homes.” Although the first part sparked the study, the second half was what attracted people’s attention.
 
“There is a significant shortage of trained volunteers, chaplains and others to meet the needs of those in hospitals, nursing homes and hospice. Not enough professionals are entering and remaining in these fields,” the study reported.
 
This is something that people like Asikoff and Speyer know very well: Many elderly and sick Jews need spiritual care and are not receiving it. And there are not enough people who can provide it.
 
The concept of chaplaincy originated among the Christians, though, bikur cholim (visiting the sick) is considered one of the most important mitzvahs in the Torah.
 
Historically, members of a Jewish community and rabbis have attended to sick people. But these days, for many of the unaffiliated sick — and even those who are affiliated — a rabbi’s time is often not sufficient to provide real care.
 
Rabbis often serve vast communities and with those communities come myriad other obligations, like weddings, bar mitzvahs, speeches, functions, counseling and fundraising. Often rabbis have time only to visit the terminally ill and even then not on a regular basis.
 
Still, with equal rights for all religions, the demand has been increasing. Many institutions have begun to seek out Jewish, as well as Christian ones, and, of late, Muslim, Buddhists and many other religions. And the requirements are stringent: A professional chaplain today must be board certified, having completed 1,600 hours of clinical pastoral education working at a hospital or institution.

There’s a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on over Power Plate


Remember those machines from the 1950s that used to jiggle a person’s fat in an attempt to rid the body of cellulite?

These days, a more sophisticated generation of those machines, which vibrate the entire body, is claiming it can do a lot more than eliminate cellulite.

Proponents say whole body vibration can increase muscle strength and flexibility, fight osteoporosis, improve balance and posture, increase circulation and reduce pain.

But skeptics say the claims are highly exaggerated, and that the machines might actually be dangerous. They want consumers to exercise caution if they’re going to use them.

Unlike those old-fashioned machines, the new technology relies on more aggressive vibration to stimulate muscles. One of the most popular, the Power Plate, features a vibrating platform that oscillates 30 to 50 times per second. Each time, it stimulates the nervous system and creates a reflex in the body that causes the muscles to contract.

Recent news reports say celebrities like Madonna and Heidi Klum are using it in their workouts, and the Power Plate Web site lists dozens of college and professional sports teams as using vibration training in their regimens, too.

“You’re getting a lot more muscular activity,” said Dennis Sall, a chiropractor in Mount Sinai, N.Y., who began using the Power Plate to train his patients about a year ago. “This is a great way to jump start the metabolism.”

Ultimately, he said, that causes the body to burn more calories.

Dr. Geoffrey Westrich, associate professor of orthopedic surgery at the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan, said that’s true.

“There’s no doubt that the muscles are contracting, and you’re burning calories and strengthening muscles at the same time,” he said.

However, he thinks it needs a lot more research to back up the claims that the machine can do a lot more than just build muscle.

A quick glance at the “applications” portion of the Power Plate Web site indicates that the device can play a significant role in anti-aging, sports performance and rehabilitation. One section seems to imply that it can be used to treat everything from emphysema to multiple sclerosis to whiplash.

According to Scott Hopson, director of research, education and training for Power Plate USA, dozens of studies using Power Plate have been published in peer review journals, including the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, the American Journal of Geriatrics Society and Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.

“It’s very effective for improving balance, strength and preventing the muscle and bone loss that comes with multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, fibromyalgia and cerebral palsy,” he said. “One of the biggest secondary impairments of degenerative diseases is loss of muscle fibers and the ability to use them.

Vibration is a great for fighting against that.”

Hopson added that studies have shown that vibration can increase blood flow to muscle, tendon and ligament tissues and stimulate the release of hormones that are needed for healing damaged tissues.

But Westrich said it’s not the quantity but the quality of the research that concerns him.

“If you go to their Web site and look at all their studies, there is not very good science behind it,” he said. “I found only a few randomized prospective studies. There is some basic science studies about vibration … but a lot of it has nothing to do with their particular device.”

For example, many of the studies on osteoporosis, which are cited in Power Plate’s information packet, were conducted by Clinton T. Rubin, a professor in the department of biomedical engineering at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Rubin, furious that his studies are being used by the company, said, “I’ve never studied the Power Plate at all, and the vibration magnitude we used was 50 times lower than what they are using.”

Rubin works with a different company that also makes a vibration machine but one that uses much less intensity. He said his research shows that minimal vibration can stimulate bone growth, but he said, “Power Plate misuses that.”

“I’m furious that what Power Plate is doing is dangerous to people,” Rubin said. “It’s dangerous because there is a huge scientific body of evidence that high vibration magnitudes can cause lower back pain, circulation disorders, hearing loss, balance problems and vision problems.”

Dr. Jeffrey Fine recently ordered two Power Plates for two hospitals that he works at.

“Physical medicine rehab is a specialty where we apply different types of physical energy for physiologic benefit,” he said. “We considered this a newly identified modality to treat a variety of different medical conditions.”

Currently, Fine is looking into how the Power Plate will help patients with impaired sensation from diabetic neuropathy. He pointed to studies conducted at Harvard University that demonstrated how other devices that incorporate vibration technology have proven useful in stimulating multiple joints and ultimately improving balance and gait problems.

Westrich still isn’t convinced vibration technology is for everybody. For one thing, he’s not sure how useful it would be to treat osteoporosis in his elderly patients.

“I’m not sure they can tolerate being vibrated like a piece of Jell-O,” he said.

Debbe Geiger is a freelance writer specializing in health and science.

‘World Trade Center’ Writer Views Film as Catharsis


“I wanted the movie to be a catharsis,” says Andrea Berloff, the screenwriter of “World Trade Center,” the Oliver Stone-directed docudrama that opens Aug. 9. “I’ve felt that way from the beginning.”

The film is a surprising coup for the young writer, a soft-spoken graduate of Cornell’s Drama School, who has never before had a script produced. The famously headstrong director of “Platoon,” “JFK” and, most recently, “Alexander,” told Berloff he would shoot the film faithfully to her script – an almost unheard-of tribute in an industry where multiple rewrites are customary.

If having her script produced is a coup for Berloff, the completed film is likely to be greeted with hailstorms of discourse, not least because it seems the current spate of 9/11 movies is a reminder that films have become a primary way for Americans to digest difficult and painful events.

For many, particularly New Yorkers, the wounds of Sept. 11 have scarcely closed. Will the film be received as an homage to the dead, the survivors and their rescuers, as Berloff says she intended or as a flag-waving disaster flick?
Even more problematic are the politics of interpretation surrounding the Al Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers and the Pentagon. Sept. 11 has been appropriated, in part, by the Bush administration as rationale for pre-emptive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Meanwhile, some left-leaning observers like Noam Chomsky have named the attacks as the inevitable comeuppance for what they describe as America’s bad behavior in foreign places.

Given the politically polarizing nature of her material, “the fact that the studio made this movie at all is remarkable,” Berloff says, adding, “It is rare that you can do something with this kind of meaning” in the world of commercial film.

For her part, Berloff does not look like a person braced for controversy and criticism. An attractive woman with pale eyes and auburn hair falling nearly to her shoulders, she is quiet, focused and poised. But is she prepared for flak from both the left and right?

She seems to shrug off the question.

“Actually, most of the responses I have gotten so far have been overwhelmingly positive,” she says, neither defensive nor arrogant.

I suggest that the character of Dave Karnes, a real-life former marine who assisted in the rescue of several trapped policemen, seems to personify the militaristic mood that followed the attacks.

Karnes (played by Michael Shannon) says at various points, “You may not realize it yet, but we’re at war,” later mentioning that the attacks need to be “avenged.”

Berloff replies calmly that Karnes, ideological or not, is a real person who played a pivotal role in the real-life rescue of Port Authority Policemen John McLoughlin (Nicholas Cage) and Will Jimeno (Michael Pena). At the same time, “people find that character very polarizing,” she acknowledges, without saying more.

If Berloff seems reluctant to jump into the politics of 9/11, it may be because she views the film as essentially nonpolitical.

“If there is any political issue that all Americans can get behind, it is idea that Sept. 11 brought out the goodness in people,” she says. “That’s what impressed me most at the time.”

The story Berloff wants to tell, she says, is of ordinary people and their families caught in extraordinary circumstances, both as victims and rescuers. The response to crisis is human goodness, generosity and, in some cases, heroism, she continues. Berloff undertook thorough research, interviewing many survivors.

At the same time, Berloff allowed herself certain poetic insertions. She gives Karnes one of the most striking lines in the movie, delivered as he arrives at the smoldering site of ground zero: “Maybe the smoke is hiding something we’re not ready to see.”

Although the film has its share of crowd scenes and mayhem, Berloff’s approach to the script was not to write about mass emotions but to focus on two characters trapped in the rubble of the collapsed towers.

“Once I decided just to focus on those two characters and their families, that’s when I knew I had found the way to tell the story,” she explains.

Berloff’s respect for research led her to make contact with several World Trade Center survivors and their families. Striving for the greatest possible accuracy in the portrayal of events, she transcribed more than 1,000 pages of notes from her interviews with former officers Jimeno and McLoughlin.

“I met the guys and their wives, who were so kind and who had had such a tough run in their lives,” she says. “I felt this enormous responsibility to do right by them.”

The responsibility she felt was so great, in fact, that she found it “paralyzing” for several months in the course of writing.

One part of the script she found personally challenging deals with religion and prayer. At one point, believing himself at the point of death, McLoughlin says the “Lord’s Prayer,” very much the way a pious Jew would say “Shema.” In another scene, Jimeno sees an image of Jesus beckoning him to heaven.

The characters’ beliefs are “so uncynical, and their love for their fellow man is really genuine,” she says, “it made me feel open-minded and open-hearted.” At the same time, she says, “To think of this Jewish girl writing this ‘Christian’ movie is really funny.”

Berloff’s biography is the trajectory of a young actress into a writer. Raised in Framingham, Mass., a suburb of Boston, she majored in drama in college, subsequently moving to New York to pursue an acting career.

After getting some roles in New York, she and her husband later moved to Hollywood. Berloff says she grew disenchanted with acting, however.

“If it’s all about who’s the most skinny and who’s the most cute, I don’t want to do it, because I’m never going to be that,” she says in a tone of disgust.

She responds warmly to a suggestion that “World Trade Center” is ultimately about family. Married, with a 7-month-old child, perhaps she has been thinking about family recently. Or perhaps, family is her chosen theme, as it has been for many writers.

“The family is central to everyone,” she says. “There is no more complicated relationship in life than that with your family,” she adds. “It’s your primary experience in life.”

She is currently working on a different kind of family drama concerning the mutual backstabbing of the Gucci fashion family of Italy for director Ridley Scott.

“It’s the high drama of a family whose members destroy one another,” she says.
Despite working on a script about mutual betrayal, Berloff herself retains the idealistic tone of “World Trade Center.”

“As horrible as it was, it was a day of love when we took care of each other,” she says. “To include that goodness as part of the oral history of Sept. 11 is important,” she adds.

“It might be idealistic,” she reflects, “but I would like to live in that world.”

A ‘Nice’ Idea Blossoms Into a Group of ‘Niceaholics’


Debbie Tenzer was having lunch with several girlfriends when the conversation got heated. “We all had such different views on where the country was headed. There was so much anger and so much scary news in the post-Sept. 11 world,” she says, recalling the devastation from hurricanes and the tsunami, terrorism threats, difficulties facing Israel and escalating deaths in Iraq. “I wished I could pull my head in and hide like a turtle.”

But that’s hardly what Tenzer, a mother of three and marketing consultant, decided to do.

She thought to herself: “I can’t single-handedly end world hunger, but I can donate some cans to a food bank. I can’t fix the entire school system, but I can donate my kids’ old books to the library.”

So she did, and her kindness was empowering.

“I realized that if you have the ability to help other people, you’re in a pretty good place,” says Tenzer, who lives in Los Angeles with her husband of 29 years. “It’s not always easy, because basically, we’re selfish creatures, many of us struggling every day. We have to make a choice, and it starts by doing just one nice thing.”

Tenzer decided that every Monday, she’d do something nice for others.

“It’s the hardest day of the week,” she explains, “so I wanted to start off with something I could feel good about, a personal victory,” even if it was only a five-minute gesture like making a card for senior citizens in nursing homes.
Her friends were inspired by her idea, so she sent an e-mail to 60 of them with her suggestions for kind acts they could easily do, too.

One year later, her idea has evolved into a Web site, DoOneNiceThing.com, with thousands of visitors and a weekly e-mail that reaches people in more than 20 countries, including Afghanistan, Israel, Japan and Slovakia. Her self-funded site reinforces the idea that small acts of kindness can create lasting results and suggests simple deeds that appeal to both adults and children without usually asking for money.

She credits them with cheering up hundreds of hospitalized children, donating countless books to schools, libraries and hospitals, as well as backpacks to foster children who were literally carrying their belongings from home to home in a garbage bag.

“What kind of message does that send to them?” Tenzer asks rhetorically.
The ideas are often sent to Tenzer in the more than 200 weekly e-mails she receives from the site’s members, whom she calls “Niceaholics” because, Tenzer cautions, “you get hooked.”

Operation Feel Better, for example, encourages people to make or buy cards that she then sends to hospitalized children. “So far I’ve gotten 1,000 cards from all over the United States and as far away as China, and they’re still trickling in,” she says. The figure includes about 20 from her 14-year-old daughter.
“I brought some to UCLA Children’s Hospital and sent others to St. Jude’s Hospital in Memphis.”

Pulling out a big batch in a manila envelope, she adds, “These are on their way to Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, where sick children of all faiths lie side by side.”

Pointing to a wall in her home office that’s covered with pictures, Tenzer says, “These are some of the heroes who are making life better.”

She begins to cry as she talks about Mallory Lewis, with whom she spent the day at Fort Irwin near Barstow, the last stop before many of the soldiers are deployed to Iraq. “Some of the people we met were killed in the war. Maybe the last smile they had or their last taste of childhood was because of Mallory,” she sobs, noting that Lewis, the daughter of puppeteer Shari Lewis, performed with Lamp Chop for no fee.

“I’m not usually so emotional, but these people remind me of a higher purpose in life,” she adds. Getting teary-eyed again, she points to a picture of a young man who quit his job at a law firm to teach at an inner-city school, where he spent his free time helping students fill out college applications.

“Every one of them went to college because of him,” she said.

While some of the “nice people” Tenzer has recognized are spearheading grass-roots efforts or starting nonprofits to help the homeless, disadvantaged children, AIDS patients, abused animals or drug addicts, others are honored for simply making people smile. Bob Mortenson, for example, a retired man in his 70s, takes a walk every morning carrying a bag of cookies so that he can share something sweet with workers in his neighborhood. And on her way home from work as a gynecologist, Karen Gross has a daily ritual of dropping off treats at her local LAPD and Fire Department stations.

The one thing all the honorees have in common, Tenzer says, is their reaction to being praised.

“Every single one of them says something like, ‘Oh no, not me. Other people do so much more than I do,'” Tenzer says. “This is the sign of a truly kind person.”

When the kindness hits close to home, she’s especially grateful and pleasantly surprised.

“You won’t believe this,” she says, explaining that her younger son, Ben, a college junior who’s spending the semester in Barcelona, was recently pickpocketed. But within days, a taxi driver had found what remained of Ben’s wallet, including his credit cards and ID, and called his university in the United States so that he could arrange to return it.

“There really are a lot of nice people out there,” Tenzer says with a smile.
She attributes her sense of tikkun olam, healing the world, to her Conservative Jewish and Zionist upbringing in the Bay Area, values that she and her husband, an agent at Creative Artists Agency, have instilled in their children.
“I was always taught that we have a responsibility to other Jews and to the whole community,” she says, praising her parents for being role models. “Tikkun olam is in my soul. It’s just a reflex. It’s what’s expected of us.”
But she’s careful to point out that her site embraces people of all denominations and backgrounds.

“My goal is to unite people, not point out our differences,” she says. “I never ask people their faith, but it often comes out.”

Still, she admits that about half of all the people featured on the site are Jewish: “And I’m proud of that.”

Like her honorees, she’s also proud of her accomplishments, but won’t take all the credit. “It’s not all me by any means,” says Tenzer, who’s now working on a related book. “I just lit a match to get some light going out there. It’s the people all over the world who are keeping it going.”

Healing Torah Makes Hospital Rounds


One day last year Rabbi Levi Meier, the Jewish chaplain at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, was summoned to the room of an elderly Russian man in the ICU who had cancer.

He was in poor spirits, so Meier decided to bring in the Torah from the chaplaincy ark. The patient’s eyes lit up at the sight of the Torah that Meier, and volunteer Sandy Gordon, brought into a room.

“Can you please bring me some water to help me wash my hands?” the ailing man asked. He washed and said a blessing and asked the rabbi to place the Torah next to him. After a few silent moments, tears began to stream down the man’s face, which became much more animated. Finally he spoke.

“Today is my Simchat Torah,” he told the rabbi, referring to the long-passed October holiday that celebrates the joy of the Torah. And then the man began to sing: “Sisu V’simchu, V’simchat Torah, u tenu kavod La Torah!” (Rejoice and be merry on Simchat Torah and give glory to the Torah.)

“He went from not being able to raise a finger, to raising his arms and singing a childhood song in Hebrew,” said Gordon, who has been volunteering at Cedars since 1988, when she attended the University of Judaism’s two-year Wagner Human Services Training Program for paraprofessionals in psychological training. “His eyes became very clear, and his face seemed like he was a boy or a young man, and when he smiled, it really lit his face up.”

When Meier and Gordon left the room some 20 minutes later, Gordon asked the chaplain: “Why doesn’t a Jewish hospital have a Torah they can take around, if it’s so profound?”

Meier, who has served as the hospital’s Jewish chaplain for the last 28 years, quickly acknowledged the need. So Gordon set out to fill the gap by endowing a Torah in honor of her parents, Florence and Milton Slotkin. Meier commissioned scribes in Israel to create a special lightweight Torah that could easily be carried to patients’ rooms on a daily basis. The completed Torah arrived last January.

Much has been written about the role of spirituality and faith in benefiting health and healing, but the effects are difficult to prove. There is no question, though, that Cedars’ new Torah has been uplifting the spirits of Jewish patients. Meier hopes other chaplains will also adopt the idea.

“Since we got the Torah, we’ve been taking the Torah around to selected patients, and the experiences has been amazing. Unparalleled,” Meier told The Journal.

In his nearly three decades at Cedars, he said, “we’ve been doing very well with all the patients, but the response with the Torah has brought it to a new level.”

Meier, an Orthodox rabbi ordained at Yeshiva University with a doctorate in psychology from USC, is a soft-spoken man with a gentle demeanor, and when he uses words like “amazing” and “indescribable” about the Torah’s effect on patients, it seems more than hyperbole.

Indeed, it is difficult to portray in words the powerful emotional pull people exhibit toward the chaplain with the Torah.

On a recent Thursday afternoon, “Lisa,” a 30-something actress with cancer and other ailments, has been hospitalized for 10 days. She lies wan and listless on her side, her pale, bony arms poking awkwardly out of a checked green hospital gown. The radio blares in the background but she doesn’t move; had her eyes not been open, staring into space, she might be mistaken for sleeping.

“I’ll tell you what I’m going to do,” the chaplain says as he walks into the room and turns off the radio. “I’m going to place the Torah next to you on the bed.”

He takes the blue-velvet-covered scroll and places it on the pillow within breath’s reach. With effort, Lisa slowly moves her hands to it. She closes her eyes and smiles, like a baby having a dream.

“Can you pray out loud? To me?” Lisa asks in a murmur after a few moments. “In Hebrew?”

Meier says she should repeat after him, and she does, inaudibly, her lips barely moving. “Shema. Yisrael. Hashem. Elokeinu. Hashem. Echad: Hear O’ Israel, The Eternal God is One.”

Meier recites a blessing that the holy angels and divine presence should surround her and give her a complete recovery. Lisa’s eyes are now closed again, her long fingers resting on the Torah. She breathes deeply, as if meditating.

Finally, the chaplain stands up to go, and reluctantly takes the Torah from her bedside.

“Tomorrow you will have an MRI,” he says on his way out, “so think about this, and this should give you some comfort.”

Down the hall, an 89-year-old Hancock Park rabbi awaits hip surgery.

“How nice, how nice,” says the ailing rabbi in a thick European accent upon seeing the Torah. After wiping his hands with a washcloth, he reaches to touch and kiss it, not expecting anything more. But the chaplain places the Torah at his bedside.

“Tonight we pray that the surgery will go well, but the best prayer is the one you say yourself,” the chaplain says and leaves the room as the old man’s voice, loud and cracking with emotion as he recites Tehillim, the Psalms, echoes in the hallway: “Eso eynay, el ha’harim, me’ayin yavot ezri….” (I raise mine eyes to the mountains/where will help come from/Help will come from God, creator of heaven and earth.)

After the chaplain has collected the Torah from the rabbi, he appears awed and shaken: “I don’t even know if King David said Tehillim like that.”

Unlike the old rabbi, most people the chaplain visits with the Torah are not particularly religious. Meier says the Torah rekindles the pintele (Yiddish for “spark” of Jewishness) in people, memories of Hebrew school or a bar mitzvah or a grandparent in the past and it helps them connect to the next generation as well.

For Meier, this work is not a “religious” mission, but a spiritual one that overrides distinctions of denominations and practice. “Although in the outside world, when people are healthy, they make a differentiation between Reconstructionist, Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Judaism, here there’s no distinction. There is the meaning of life, solitude, family, reconciliations — everyone is part of what we call “the experience of the human condition. It’s an experience that the Torah alleviates.”

As the Jewish chaplain at Cedars, Meier receives a list with the names of the all the Jewish patients in the hospital. Together with his assistant and a couple of volunteers, they visit the sick. The Torah, a holy object in itself, allows the chaplain to have immediate spiritual relationship with a patient that otherwise might take much longer to achieve.

The healing process is not always about getting better, Meier said.

“Healing means whole, and it also means holy, so we talk about the path of getting toward wholeness, even if a cure is not possible,” he said.

You can be whole in different ways, with yourself, with your family, with your children, with God, he said.

“It’s a common fallacy and myth that this job is very hard,” he said. “I find that when I don’t do this, it’s very difficult. I give meaning to people and they always to a little better. I don’t do miracles, but it’s beautiful to add meaning to a person’s life and to help them in the smallest way possible.”

 

Hineni


I expected to be dealing with an empty nest when my daughter started college. I projected my availability to friends who had yielded my attention during my childrearing years. I dragged writing projects onto my computer’s desktop to await the plane ride from NYU to the rest of my life. Instead, the levees broke in my hometown. I spent the next three months as a relief worker with the Red Cross and the New Orleans Jewish agencies in service to those displaced and/or traumatized by Katrina.

I expected to be dealing with the aftermath of Katrina when I returned to Los Angeles. I imagined myself as an advocate for the restoration of New Orleans, recounting the environmental deterioration, government malfunction, and dire future the hurricane signaled. Instead I was diagnosed with cancer. I now spend Mondays in a lounge chair, with an IV flooding my body with toxic, life-giving chemicals and much of the rest of the time in my bedroom reacting to their impact.

Despite the broken lives and landscapes and the mountains of debris, my time in the South brought personal healing. I am a writer and a psychotherapist. I spent the last 30 years mapping the territory of grief and redemption, a journey begun with wounds obtained in New Orleans. It felt that my personal and professional curricula had been a training program anticipating just this disaster. Indeed, I found that each day, despite tears and fatigue, my experience graced me with the ability to say, ” Hineni” (I am here) to the tasks to which I was called.

In Mississippi, I counseled shelter residents, dished out food, filled out relief forms and orchestrated art therapy for child evacuees. In New Orleans, I led Rosh Hashanah services for a congregation ranging from the barely affiliated to members of Chabad. In Baton Rouge, I led Shabbat services and taught religious school and adult education for those impacted by the disaster. I assisted Jewish Family Service with clinical and administrative work, hosted luncheons for displaced elders and helped with grant-writing and other projects.

Shortly after Katrina, I awaited what was called “deployment” to the place where I would do my Red Cross duty. I chuckled because in the last years “deployment” has had, for this rabbinic student, a spiritual meaning. Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi, the founder of the Jewish Renewal movement, says that we are deployed at birth, sent forth like arrows, to walk in God’s ways and make the world holy. There seemed a connection between my deployments, both in the Red Cross and the mystical sense. In both cases, personal will was superseded by a greater will. I wanted to go to Gulfport, but I needed to await my assignment, determined by the greater need and not my own desire. This is also the spiritual task: to quash the desires that keep us from “walking in God’s ways,” aligning ourselves with God’s will. In both cases, spiritually and professionally, I am challenged to choose paths not determined by the needs of my ego, but by the needs of the place — hamakom. In this case, the place was the Gulf South, but HaMakom is also a name of God. In connecting deployments and HaMakoms, I made my commitment to hineni.

Was I prepared to say hineni, the word that Abraham and Moses said when they answered God’s call? Hineni’s literal meaning is an unequivocal acceptance of what is asked. It also implies a faith that I came to understand more deeply in the Red Cross shelters in Mississippi, where I met people who had waited out the storm and its 30-foot waves on their rooftops and in trees. Their homes reduced to straw, they were living in a room with a 150 others. But there were two phrases I heard from person after person: “This is God’s will” and “I am blessed.” Liberal Jews don’t speak this way. I had to translate.

At first I thought that by saying, “This is God’s will,” they were saying “God did this to me,” implying a God that doles out punishment and reward with a direct hand. This doesn’t work for me. I have seen too many bad things happen to good people.

After tragedy, people want desperately to make sense of what happened. It can be unbearable to live with the discomfort that the workings of the universe are a mystery. But we learn to make peace with the fact that we will never have answers for life’s biggest questions and we accustom ourselves to an ambiguous universe, embracing what lies ahead, without being tormented by the past.

“It’s God’s will,” doesn’t mean “God singled me out and did this to me.” It means, “What will I do with what I have?” Saying “It’s God’s will,” we accept and move on. To say “I am blessed” in the midst of catastrophe implies a commitment to go forward without the torture of second-guessing and self-blame. We choose hope instead of despair. We say ” hineni.”

And now, as I sit, not on the bimahs of congregations to whom I had hoped to bring messages of Katrina, but on the chemo-couch, I am again challenged to say ” hineni.” If I could say it in Mississippi, I have to say it here.

Anne Brener, author of “Mourning & Mitzvah: Walking the Mourners’ Path through Grief to Healing” (Jewish Lights, 1993 and 2002), is an L.A. psychotherapist and spiritual director. She is a rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and on the faculty of The Academy for Jewish Religion.

 

Home Pampering Easy as 1, 2, Ahhhhh


No one deserves a spa experience more than you do. Just picture it — warm tubs scented with essential oils, invigorating body scrubs, refreshing botanical blend face masks smoothed on in soothing circular massaging motions and misty showers with luscious gels.

Sound divine? You bet. Millions of people are embracing the spa experience — taking what was formerly an exclusive pleasure of the rich and famous and turning it into a health and wellness phenomenon.

Millions of spa-goers must be on to something. But why limit all that good stuff to the precious times you can book at a spa? Why not have a spa experience whenever you choose?

It’s easier than you think to have sensual and sensational spa experiences in your own home, on your own time.

Create an Inviting Environment for the Senses

“The first step is to create an environment for your spa experience,” said Susan Kirsch, owner of Kirsch Cosmetic Clinic and Spa in Toronto, Canada. “Remember to incorporate all of your senses.”

Since water is an important part of most treatments, the bathroom is a good place to create your home spa, Kirsch said. All it takes is a little imagination.

A really simple way to transform any regular bathroom, she said, is to soften the lights.

“Have a dimmer installed on the light switch,” Kirsch said. “Just dim the lights and light some candles to turn an everyday bathroom into something that looks a bit more special.”

If a warm, bubbling bath is your idea of heaven, consider having a hot tub installed in your backyard, on your deck or inside your house. Currently, more than 5 million households now own a hot tub and by the end of this year, roughly 400,000 Americans are expected to purchase a hot tub for their homes, according to a recent study by the National Spa and Pool Institute in Alexandria, Va.

“Some people think a hot tub is a luxury item. I think it’s a necessity,” Andrea Martone said. “And my husband and daughters feel the same way. It’s much better to relax and de-stress in a hot tub after dinner than to sit in front of the television set. Sometimes we use it together. We light candles and chat. And sometimes I use it by myself — to meditate or just go to another place in my mind.”

Prices on hot tubs, according to the National Spa and Pool Institute, range from between $2,500 to more than $10,000 (plus installation costs). The average price is about $5,500.

Just as certain sounds can unsettle us, other sounds can help us achieve a sense of calm. Kirsch likes to use music that’s soothing and relaxing at her spa and during her at-home spa treatments — “something that’s appropriate for a healing environment,” she said.

She says she often plays the music of singer Enya.

“Choose whatever works for you,” she said.

For Martone, it’s the splashing sounds of water.

“I’ve got little waterfall fountains all over my house,” Martone said. “They bring a sense of calm to whatever room they’re in. My daughter even has one in her room for doing homework.”

Martone is a New York City publicist and co-founder of Spa-Daze, a company that provides professional spa treatments and services for groups of four or more in the setting of your choice — including your home.

Martone also suggests burning essential oils to set a relaxing tone for an at-home spa experience. She recommends using a 50/50 mix of your favorite essential oils and water for a scent that’s noticeable but not overpowering.

“Different scents can help create different moods,” she said. “For example, lavender is very calming to the senses and nice to burn at night before going to sleep. And oils like eucalyptus and peppermint are soothing — especially if you’re ill — and can help you breathe easier.”

Choose Your Products

If you are a spa devotee, you may already be one step closer to recreating your spa experience at home. Many spas sell the products they use in their treatments — facial masks, exfoliates, bath and shower gels, lotions and more. At Kirsch Cosmetic Clinic and Spa, staff members will custom mix body scrubs and other beauty potions for guests. So if you’ve had a particularly divine professional treatment, buy the product to use at home. You can conjure up your fond memory of that experience as relaxation therapy.

When shopping for new products for your home spa, buy in small quantities — especially if you have sensitive skin, said Carrie Pierce of Ecco Bella Botanicals of Wayne, N.J. Ecco Bella, which means “behold beauty” in Italian, is a line of natural, gentle-to-the-skin cosmetics and skin care products that use medicinal-grade essential oils.

“It’s important to have the luxury of trying a new product or scent without making a huge and perhaps costly commitment,” she said.

For that reason, Ecco Bella offers smaller, lower-priced “try me” sizes of their scented bath and shower gels, lotions, parfums and fizz therapy bath marbles.

It’s important to find scents formulated to enhance the experience you’re trying to create in your home spa, Pierce said.

Then revel in them. For example, lemon verbena has a reputation as a mood-lifting, feel-good scent. And vanilla reputedly has an aphrodisiac-like effect on men — “second only to the scent of pumpkin pie,” Pierce said.

“Layering your selected scent by using a gel, lotion — maybe spraying a little parfum on your pillow — is a luxurious way to take care of yourself and to take your spa experience with you,” she said.

Formulate a Plan

Don’t try to do too much all at once, Kirsch advised.

“Remember, your primary goal is to feel relaxed and pampered,” she said.

For a simple and luxurious home spa experience Kirsch recommends the following head-to-toe regime.

You can begin one of two ways — either by covering your head with a towel and lightly steaming your face over a basin filled with boiling water or by gently swabbing your face with a warm, damp towel.

“Your choice,” Kirsch said. “If you want to go the simple route, the warm, damp towel works just fine.”

The next step is to exfoliate — or slough off — dead skin cells.

“The skin has a natural turnover of cells. When you exfoliate, you just help that natural process along,” Kirsch said.

When choosing a product, remember exfoliates generally come in two forms — gel and grain.

“The gel form is less invasive and may be good to start out with,” Kirsch said.

Apply in circular massaging motions with your fingertips. Leave the exfoliate on until it feels tacky and almost dry. Then slough it off with the flat part of your fingers. Rinse with water.

Next, apply a mask in the same circular massaging motions.

“It’s important to choose one that’s formulated for your skin type,” Kirsch said. For example, if your skin is dry, you’ll want to use a hydrating mask.

While the mask does it’s magic, draw a warm bath.

“Put a drop or two of essential oils in the water,” Kirsch said. “Soak for a while in the bath, then exfoliate with a body scrub. Try using a loofah mitt and massage in circular motions.”

Then rinse and be careful getting out of the tub since it will be slippery. Apply a moisturizing body lotion.

It’s important to wait 48 hours after shaving or waxing before using a body scrub and don’t use it on any areas that have cuts or nicks.

Remove your mask by rinsing with lukewarm water. Apply a moisturizer using circular massaging motions — and don’t forget your neck.

Use pumice to smooth away hard or rough spots and calluses on your toes, heels and the bottoms of your feet. Apply a moisturizer.

“Give your regular moisturizer an enriching boost by breaking open a Vitamin E capsule and mixing it into the lotion,” Kirsch said.

The final step in your at home spa experience, Kirsch said, is to climb into your bed, nestle under the comfy covers and listen to music for a while.

“You should feel totally rejuvenated and stress free,” she said.

And if for some reason you don’t, you can try again — and again — until you get the hang of it. In this case, there’s absolutely no harm in trying.

“These lovely things you can do at home for yourself can really elevate the quality of your life,” Pierce said. “They can make a woman feel sexy, cherished, valued, calm and better able to cope. They allow you to embrace yourself.”

Beth Gilbert is a New York-based writer.

The Fastest Therapy in the West


First there was speed dating. Now, there’s speed healing.

Welcome to The Ten Minute Method, a new form of condensed counseling offered by a Chatsworth therapist that promises to be both fast and affordable at $18 a session.

You may be thinking: 10 minutes? That’s just long enough to rearrange the throw pillows on the couch, pick at your cuticles as you fixate on a poorly framed Matisse print and hear, “We have to end now,” as your shrink eyes the clock on the end table. Not so, according to Richard Posalski, a licensed clinical social worker and marriage, family and child counselor who invented The Ten Minute Method.

“When people know they only have ten minutes, they’re prepared to crystallize what’s going on with them in a straightforward manner,” says Posalski. “In conventional therapy, roughly 75 percent of the time can be just venting and never getting to the problem.”

After 30 years in the business — Posalski was a social worker for the Jewish Big Brothers of Los Angeles and a member of the field faculty of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion before going into private practice — he says less “clutter and confusion” helps him use his intuition to get “right to the heart of the matter.” The therapist describes his counseling style as “Jewish pragmatic.”

So far, he’s conducted about 80 10-minute sessions and has helped patients with a wide range of problems, from one woman’s question about how to handle her sister’s holiday visit, to a mom’s inability to let go of anger at her son’s little league coach. Sessions, both in person and over the phone, deal with “everyday” issues, the type of concerns people are always approaching Posalski with at parties, as in: “This dip is great. By the way, have you ever treated anyone deathly afraid of flying?” Being approached at social events only reminds the counselor that most people have at least one question they’d love to ask a professional.

“There are all kinds of people that want help but would never get into therapy. Either it’s too time-consuming or too expensive, or maybe for the average person, the notion of having their psyche probed is a deterrent,” he explains.

If the idea of a 10-minute therapy session calls to mind those massage therapists who set up chairs at holiday office parties or in front of the health food store, that’s no coincidence. In fact, that’s how the counselor got the idea, watching a masseur set up his chair in the lobby of a local bed and breakfast. He thought, with limited time and resources wouldn’t a talk be as good as a rub?

“I just want to help people feel better,” he says. “And you don’t have to feel crazy to take advantage of a therapist.”

Posalski’s Web site is www.The10minutemethod.com. He can be reached for appointments at (818) 773-9988.

 

Our first annual big list o’ mensches


To its detractors, Los Angeles seems very much like a modern-day Sodom or Gomorrah — besotting civilization with a trash culture of celebrity murder trials, reality TV and movies that trade on violence and superficiality. Even to Angelenos, the city can be trying and sometimes disheartening. Our metropolis seems almost biblically plagued with crawling traffic, battling gangs and stratospheric home prices; with a vast divide between rich and poor, between legal and under-the-table and between cycles of boom and bust — as well as with fires, earthquakes and mudslides. And yet, by the standard that should have saved Sodom — 10 righteous souls (we consider families as one) — Los Angeles’ future shines bright at the dawn of 2006 C.E. For Los Angeles is amply provided with tzadikim — good people who do good work in the community. The men and women featured here — beginning what we intend to make an annual list — are just a sampling of what is worth celebrating in our community.

MENSCHES

Saul Kroll: Healing Hand at Cedars-Sinai


 

“Our rabbis speak of yetzer hara and yetzer hatov, man’s dual inclination toward evil and toward good, and what you make of your life depends on which you follow,” Saul Kroll observes.

Kroll is a firm believer in yetzer hatov, and the 87-year-old Westside resident translates it into practice six days a week as an emergency room volunteer at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Although “retired” for almost 20 years, Kroll puts in a full workweek doing whatever needs to be done.

“People come into the treatment area and I greet them, help them fill out forms, check what rooms are available and help them undress,” he said in a phone interview.

“I always try to encourage them, to tell them that they are in the best of hands, to lift their spirits,” he said. “That’s the greatest mitzvah.”

Sometimes the work is physically difficult for an octogenarian, as when “you push a 250-pound woman going into labor up a ramp in a wheelchair,” he said.

But Kroll believes in putting his aches and pains, including spinal injuries, aside.

“Either you let your medical problems control you, or you control them,” he philosophizes.

To Dr. Joel Geiderman, co-chair of the hospital’s emergency department, Kroll’s dedication “is unbelievable. He never asks anything for himself. He is selfless, truly one of the righteous.”

While the typical Cedars-Sinai volunteer puts in four to eight hours per week, Kroll’s norm is between 35 to 40 hours. Barbara Colner, director of the medical center’s almost 2,000 volunteers, has calculated that Kroll has worked 24,400 hours since starting his stint in 1987. She isn’t sure whether or not this represents an all-time record.

When Kroll does miss work, it’s often to drive a 90-year-old neighbor with breast cancer to her medical appointments.

He is just as conscientious in his religious observances. “I’ve gone to shul three times a day since my bar mitzvah,” he said, and during High Holiday services at the hospital he is the unofficial greeter, kippot and tallit dispenser, and also chants the memorial prayer.

“Saul is amazing, he conducts his life with the energy of a 20-year old,” noted Rabbi Levi Meir, the hospital’s chaplain.

Kroll also unfailingly shows up at the daily morning minyan at nearby Temple Beth Am.

“He is one of our stalwarts and we take great pride in him,” commented the temple’s Rabbi Joel Rembaum.

The one period during which Kroll missed his minyans was World War II, when he served with a B-29 bomber squadron in the Pacific. But even there, he organized High Holiday and Passover services for Jewish servicemen on Guam.

Kroll was born on the day following the World War I armistice, Nov. 12, 1918, grew up in a small town near Pittsburgh, and started managing a sporting goods store at age 17.

After the war, Kroll went to work rebuilding auto engines and, in the 1950s, he and a partner opened an automotive and body shop.

His wife, Selma, died in 1994. Kroll proudly cites the professional careers of his two children and four grandchildren.

His parting advice: “Don’t tell someone, ‘OK, call me if you need any help.’ Just go on over and help.”

Saul Kroll

MORE MENSCHES

Avi Leibovic: Guardian Angel of the Streets

Jack and Katy Saror: Help Knows No Age

Joyce Rabinowitz: A Type Like No Other

Jennifer Chadorchi: The Hunger to Help

Karen Gilman: What Makes Her Run?

Steven Firestein: Making Magic for Children

Yaelle and Nouriel Cohen: Kindness Starts at Home

Moshe Salem: Giving a Voice to Israelis

David Karp: A Guide for Unity in Scouting

Karen Gilman: What Makes Her Run?


 

To try to figure out all the volunteer projects social worker Karen Gilman is involved in — and where she finds the time to do them all — is to sift through a complex maze of stories of individuals who need help, or organizations that need help, or a volunteer staff that needs organization, or funds or whatever she can give.

For her job, Gilman is a social worker, who deals with parents of developmentally disabled children ranging in age up to 3.

“Some of my work-work interferes with my volunteer work,” she joked.

That volunteer work is vast. She served as the sisterhood president of Temple Israel of Hollywood and currently co-chairs its AIDS lunch project, which distributes food once a month. Gilman is also social action chair for the Western Federation of Temple Sisterhoods, which presents the women’s positions on legislative policy.

She also works with Shane’s Inspiration, a nonprofit group that creates handicapped-accessible playgrounds around Los Angeles, and serves on the Special Olympics Mini Meet committee, as well as Fiesta Familiar, a yearly training program for parents of children with disabilities.

There’s more — like volunteering at her temple gift shop and working with the day school children on volunteer projects — but the real questions are: How does she do it? How does she not get burned out?

By way of an answer, she tells stories of second-graders who donated money anonymously so a poor person could celebrate Purim, the school lunch lady who called her to find out what to do for a severely lactose-intolerant child on pizza day and the parents who advocate for their children and “turn their pain in something for their families. That keeps us going,” she said, although even the mere question of what motivates her is curious to her.

“Once in a while, someone will do something out of the kindness of their hearts for someone else,” she said. “When you’re able to pull together the research and make something happen for someone, and they can utilize the resources, it’s gratifying.”

That’s Gilman’s main motivation. She was raised by socially conscious and politically active parents and grandparents in Chicago.

“They set the stage that this was the right thing to do,” she said.

“She doesn’t seek the limelight,” said Rabbi John Rosove of Temple Israel of Hollywood. “She really does it modestly. She just cares a lot — she knows she has the ability, and she knows a mitzvah and how to do it.”

That’s why the temple decided to surprise her by honoring her — only her — last year.

“They really shouldn’t have done it,” Gilman said, more embarrassed than upset. “Everyone works together on all these projects, and no one person is more deserving than another for praise. The highest form of giving charity is doing so anonymously, so it’s not really good to draw attention to oneself in one’s charitable work.”

For Gilman, volunteering is a team effort, one that requires motivating others to join her: “They are doing something good together with their friends, you get to spend a great time together with your community and it will make you feel good. People love giving anonymously and selflessly. Usually, Jewish people are easy to convince. They usually understand the concept of charity pretty well.”

Karen Gilman

MORE MENSCHES

Avi Leibovic: Guardian Angel of the Streets

Jack and Katy Saror: Help Knows No Age

Joyce Rabinowitz: A Type Like No Other

Saul Kroll: Healing Hand at Cedars-Sinai

Jennifer Chadorchi: The Hunger to Help

Steven Firestein: Making Magic for Children

Yaelle and Nouriel Cohen: Kindness Starts at Home

Moshe Salem: Giving a Voice to Israelis

David Karp: A Guide for Unity in Scouting

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