Hearing on motion to dismiss set in Hebrew National class-action suit


A hearing on a motion to dismiss a consumer fraud case against the company that produces Hebrew National products has been scheduled for Nov. 30 in a federal court.

The hearing will be held at the U.S. District Court in Minneapolis.

ConAgra Foods Inc., which owns the Hebrew National brand, on July 26 filed the motion to dismiss a class-action suit that alleges that Hebrew National’s iconic hot dogs and other meats do not comport with the brand’s claim to be kosher “as defined by the most stringent Jews who follow Orthodox Jewish law.” The ConAgra motion states that the case should be dismissed because, among other reasons, kosher is “exclusively a matter of Jewish religious doctrine.” It also states that under the First Amendment, “federal courts may not adjudicate disputes that turn on religious teachings, doctrine and practice.”

The suit, which was filed May 18 in a Minnesota state court, accuses ConAgra of consumer fraud. ConAgra has rejected the claims.

Triangle-K, the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based supervising agency that certifies Hebrew National products as kosher, and AER, which provides the kosher slaughtering services at Hebrew National facilities in the Midwest, including in Minnesota, also rejected the allegations. Neither is named in the suit.

The suit is seeking monetary damages equal to the total amount of monies that consumers in the class paid for Hebrew National meat products.

Zimmerman Reed, an Arizona-based law firm with offices in Minnesota, solicited consumers through its website. The firm advertised a free case review for anyone who purchased Hebrew National hot dogs in the past two years or had information about the preparation of the products.

Congress holds hearing on Chasid imprisoned in Bolivia


A retired FBI official told a House subcommittee that the imprisonment of a New York Chasidic Jew in Bolivia is “state-sponsored kidnapping.”

Along with the ex-official, Steve Moore, the U.S. House of Representatives human rights subcommittee on Wednesday heard testimony from the family of Jacob Ostreicher, who was arrested a year ago by Bolivian police after it was alleged that he did business with “people wanted in their countries because of links with drug trafficking and money laundering.” Ostreicher, a father of five from the Borough Park section of Brooklyn, belonged to a group of investors that sunk $25 million into growing rice in lush eastern Bolivia.

The hearing was chaired by Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.), who said in his opening statement that the U.S. government “must do everything we can to correct the ongoing, extreme injustice being perpetrated against Mr. Ostreicher and secure his freedom as quickly as possible.”

Committee members heard from Ostreicher’s wife, Miriam Ungar, and his daughter, Chaya Weinberger. Both pleaded for Ostreicher’s release by the Bolivian government.

“He, together with all those who love him and want him home are waiting,” Weinberger said during her testimony. “We are waiting to see the demonstration of liberty on which our country is based upon,”

Moore said that “In Jacob’s case there is a complete absence of any concrete, tangible evidence on even a microscopic scale which would indicate that he had in any way shape or form participated in a crime in Bolivia. Nor is there even evidence that a crime has even been committed.”

A number of U.S. lawmakers have joined Ostreicher’s family in saying that the U.S. State Department has not provided an adequate response to Ostreicher’s incarceration.

Last week, Smith made a formal request to the U.S. assistant secretary of state of Western Hemisphere affairs, Roberta Jacobson, to personally intervene in the Ostreicher case.

Turkish lawyer: Israel offered to pay Marmara victims $6 million


Israel offered to pay $6 million to victims of the 2010 raid on the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara, a Turkish lawyer said.

Ramazan Ariturk, one of the lawyers representing 465 victims and victims’ relatives, told Reuters on Thursday that the Israeli government had made a proposal to him through an intermediary foreign ambassador in Ankara just over a month ago. He said the money would have been paid to a Jewish foundation in Turkey for distribution, and been followed by an Israeli government statement of “regret” for the raid.

Ariturk said he told the unnamed ambassador that the offer was not appropriate. The Turkish Foreign Ministry agreed with his decision, saying Israel should have contacted it directly, he told Reuters.

A senior Israeli official who declined to be named said that Israel, which indicated last year that it was prepared to indemnify victims without accepting blame, had not renewed its offer, according to Reuters.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry could not be reached by the news agency for immediate comment. Mark Regev, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, also declined to comment.

Israeli commandos boarded the Marmara, which claimed to be carrying humanitarian aid, after warning the ship not to sail into waters near the Gaza Strip in circumvention of Israel’s naval blockade of the coastal strip. Turkey broke off diplomatic relations with Israel following the incident, in which nine Turkish citizens were killed.

Turkey, meanwhile, is preparing to charge four senior Israeli military officials responsible for the raid on charges of ordering their soldiers to intentionally kill, wound and abduct, the Turkish daily Sabah reported Wednesday. The military leaders are also charged with encouraging torture and the looting of personal belongings.

Katsav denied new hearing in rape conviction sentence


An Israeli Supreme Court justice denied a new hearing for former President Moshe Katsav to request a reduction in his seven-year prison sentence for a rape conviction.

Supreme Court Justice Esther Hayut on Sunday denied the motion for a new hearing, meaning that the only possibility that Katsav has for a reduction of his sentence is through presidential pardon.

Katsav, who was elected president by the Knesset in 2000 in an upset over Shimon Peres, resigned in the wake of rape allegations shortly before the end of his term in 2007. Peres succeeded Katsav in the post and continues to serve.

Israel’s Supreme Court upheld Katsav’s rape conviction and prison sentence last November.

Listen, will you?


You are driving, looking for an address, when your wife tells you to ask someone. You refuse, but you finally make it to your destination — two hours late. Are you familiar with this scenario?

When it happened to me, we were going to our first Shabbaton in Pennsylvania, got lost somewhere in Cherry Hill, N.J., and barely made it to the hotel before Shabbat.

It seems like an international rule. Men don’t ask for directions. Now we have been saved by the all-knowing GPS. The only problem is, when it starts giving you directions, for God’s sake, you realize it’s a woman’s voice.

In “You Just Don’t Understand” (William Morrow, 1990), Georgetown linguistics professor Deborah Tannen’s essential guide to the different ways men and women communicate, she analyzes the case of a woman who was recovering from surgery at a hospital. She kept complaining and asked to be moved to her home. But after a while she told her husband that she was not comfortable there either and was still suffering. Her husband suggested she should return to the hospital, and to his great shock, she burst into tears, accusing him of not loving her and wanting her out of the house.

What happened here?

The ailing woman wanted her husband to empathize with her, not offer solutions. Tannen explains that when women are faced with a problem, they first seek understanding and compassion, to know that the other side commiserates with them and listens to them. But men equate the inability to solve a problem with weakness, so when men are in the same situation they feel that they must solve the problem.

This communication gap is demonstrated very sharply in this week’s parsha. When Rachel, Jacob’s beloved wife, sees that her adversary Leah keeps delivering one child after another, she turns to him with an impossible request: “Grant me children or I will die.” The enraged and perplexed Jacob answers: “Can I replace God? He is the one who prevented you from having children.”

Rachel then goes on to offer him her maidservant as a surrogate mother and the issue seems to have been settled, but the sages of the Midrash don’t let Jacob off the hook that easily. They read into that conversation much more than meets the eye. Jacob, they say, was punished for his behavior by the sibling rivalry that tore his family apart and eventually humbled his children from Leah, as they had to bow down to Rachel’s own son, Joseph.

Let us reconstruct the full exchange.

Before Rachel comes to speak to her husband, she is engulfed in feelings of sadness and frustration. She has no children, whereas Leah, the once rejected wife, now has a seat of honor as the mother of Jacob’s growing family. She feels estranged and alienated. She doesn’t see in her husband’s eyes the same sparkle that was there before. She then tries to convey her emotional turmoil to him. If I have no children, she says, I am dead. She either threatens to commit suicide or she is saying that she is as good as dead, without her husband’s love and outdone by Leah.

What Jacob should have said was something like, “I know how you feel.” Sure, she would retaliate with: “No you don’t. You have your children, and you’re not a woman so you will never know what it means to be barren.” But to that he could have answered: “You are right, but I remember how my mother’s eyes would fill with tears when she spoke about her sterility.”

Then he could have segued into her thoughts on what should be done, and she would probably say that he should pray for her, spend more time with her, or (as she eventually did) consider adoption or a surrogacy.

Instead, Jacob got angry.

Angry? With your beloved wife? A woman in distress?

Yes, because he felt threatened.

Here is a problem he cannot solve; a baby he cannot deliver. And he answers accordingly: “This is not my role; it is God’s role.” And as if this was not enough, he adds: “He has not granted you children.”

Now, Jacob might have emphasized the word He to indicate that it is God’s responsibility and not his. But Rachel hears the emphasis on you, and understands that he is not concerned because he has his own kids, it is you — Rachel — who has a problem.

What a terrible misunderstanding and miscommunication. And what an important lesson to all of us, especially men, to be better listeners and to try first to understand our conversational partner and only then offer, if applicable, a solution.

Haim Ovadia is the rabbi of Congregation Magen David of Beverly Hills (magendavid.org), a Sephardic Orthodox synagogue. You can reach him via e-mail at hovadia@gmail.com.

Hearing-Loss Growth Speaks Volumes


Catherine Strick didn’t know she was losing her hearing until five years ago when she went for her first annual physical and took a routine hearing test. Now, the 44-year-old accountant readily admits she has trouble hearing, and says people are quick to notice.

“My husband gets frustrated,” she said. “The people I work with are always repeating themselves. My cellphone is on maximum volume so people can almost hear my conversations.”

There are many reasons why people experience hearing loss — congenital ear deformities, tumors, chronic diseases, side effects of some medications, viral infections of the inner ear, and blunt trauma. However, the majority of hearing loss cases can be attributed to the simple act of growing old. As the population ages, the National Institutes of Health says hearing impairment is a growing public health concern. Nearly 28 million Americans alone currently have trouble hearing, according to the NIH, and that number is expected to double by 2030.

In addition to age, noise is also to blame. Baby boomers are experiencing hearing loss earlier than previous generations as a result of too much time spent listening to loud music, living in noisy, urban environments, and working in fields like construction or welding.

“Every time people are exposed to loud noises for sustained periods of time, they are at risk of losing hair cells in the inner ear or cochlear,” said Dr. Hamid R. Djalilian, an assistant professor of surgery at UCLA. “Stereos and personal music devices turned to a loud level can cause damage to hearing over time. Once people get to the age of 50 and 60, when the age-related hearing loss starts, they have already lost many hair cells and the cumulative effect starts affecting them more severely.”

The normal ear contains about 15,000 hair cells, said Dr. John House, president of the House Ear Institute, a nonprofit research and education organization in Los Angeles. The hair cells are nerve endings that, like the pianos on a keyboard, control the high and low frequencies of sound.

“These nerve endings convert vibration to an electrical impulse which travels to the brain where it is interpreted as sound,” he said.

Hearing loss often takes up to 10 years to be detected because damage to the hair cells occurs over time.

“As we age, we lose hair cells, especially in the higher frequency range, and it’s those higher frequencies that help us distinguish words,” said Dr. Andrea Vambutas, medical director of the Apelian Cochlear Implant Center at the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System in Manhasset, N.Y.

Progress to combat the effects of hearing loss is being explored on many fronts. “At the House Ear Institute, we are doing research into hair cell regeneration,” House said. “Some day we’d like to be able to regrow those little hair cells and reverse hearing loss.”

Although research has shown that hair cells can be regenerated in deaf animals, Djalilian says it will be years before tests are done on humans.

Cochlear implants, are surgically implanted devices that include a headpiece, speech processor, receiver and an implanted stimulator. They are generally used in people with severe to profound hearing loss in both ears. The implants take over all the work of transmitting external sound to the brain. In the next five years, newer models are expected to restore hearing in frequencies that conventional hearing aids do not help, meaning more people will benefit.

An auditory brainstem implant that bypasses the ear and hearing or auditory nerves altogether, and is implanted directly on the brainstem, is offering hope to patients who are deaf as a result of tumors in both auditory nerves. It includes an external microphone and battery pack, but Vambutas says hearing different sounds at high or low frequencies is still difficult.

People who experience the most common age- or noise-related hearing loss can benefit now from the significant advances that have been made with digital hearing aids. They are smaller, and more powerful, audiologist Barbara Olsen said, and can be programmed to suit an individual’s hearing loss. They reduce background noise interference, which was common among older analog models, and cancel out annoying feedback. Newer ones can also adjust automatically to the environment the wearer is in, whether it’s a noisy office or a quiet living room.

“It makes it more palatable for people,” she said.

Despite the newer technology, only 25 percent of people who need hearing aids actually wear them.

Jean McCarthy of Sayville, N.Y., was hesitant to wear a hearing aid until three years ago because her mother had such a difficult time with the old, larger analog type.

“I went through so much with my mom. If she walked in a room with four or five people in it, she could hardly stand it. Everything was magnified. Every noise sounded 10 times louder than it was. I really didn’t want to deal with it.”

In fact, McCarthy didn’t seek help until her children convinced her to. Now, that she wears a digital hearing aid, the 74-year-old retired school nurse said, “I’m amazed at how wonderful it is.”

Vanity is another reason people won’t wear hearing aids.

“Most people don’t like wearing hearing aids because they don’t want to appear old or deaf,” Djalilian said. The cost of hearing aids can also be prohibitive. Most are not covered by insurance, and can run anywhere from $400 to $3,000 per ear depending upon the hearing aid.

Unfortunately, avoiding treatment can impact not only the individual, but also their loved ones, said Richard Carmen, an audiologist and author of “How Hearing Loss Impacts Relationships” (Auricle Ink Publishers). Relationships become strained when there is constant miscommunication and self-denial of a condition that is easily treated. “It leads to a tremendous amount of frustration. That wears down family relationships very quickly.”

Rosemary Briggs of Massapequa Park, N.Y., got her hearing aids after “my husband said you’ve got to do something. It’s getting everyone upset that you’re not hearing.”

Now, nearly 20 years later, she says her children still get frustrated with her: “My children should be more patient.”

Strick, who is one of Briggs’ daughters, agrees. “I should realize that I know what it’s like for me, but I don’t,” she said.

And despite her own awareness, Strick says she still isn’t ready to wear a hearing aid herself.

“It’s like wearing glasses. When you start wearing them, you say this is amazing. But then you become so dependent on the glasses that you can’t function. Say I wear a hearing aid and I can’t hear without it. What happens when I go to the beach or swimming in the pool? Will I not be able to wear them and then I won’t be able to hear my kids? My feeling is, until it gets to the point where it’s really bad, I won’t do it.”

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

Preventing Hearing Loss

Like eating right and daily exercise, taking care of your hearing is part of living a healthy lifestyle. Here’s what you need to do to protect your hearing and prevent hearing loss in the future:

• Turn down the volume when listening to the stereo, using iPods and other personal music devices. If you’re using headphones or tiny earbuds that fit in the ear canal and the music can be heard by people other than you, it’s probably too loud.

• Wear ear plugs or other protective hearing devices during rock concerts or noisy events like car races. Protect your ears when playing or working in noisy environments like hunting, during construction, or at home, mowing the lawn, using a leaf blower or chain saw.

• Ask your physician for regular hearing exams.

• See your doctor immediately if you experience sudden hearing loss.

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

PowerPoint Purim


 

Sometimes it’s hard to hear the reading of the Megillat Esther over the raucous screeches, foot stamping and grogger spinning that come following the reading of Haman’s name on Purim. Often the reader of the megilla has to wait until the noise subsides before continuing.

But for the deaf and hard of hearing, the opportunity to even listen to a megilla reading is often simply not even a possibility.

Given that fulfilling the mitzvah of Purim requires that we hear the reading of Megillat Esther, the Orthodox Union (OU) has come up with a unique way for the deaf and hard of hearing to participate in the mitzvah.

Our Way for the Jewish Deaf and Hearing Impaired, the OU’s National Jewish Council for Disabilities Program, will provide a PowerPoint megillah reading to some 50 synagogues across the United States and Canada.

How does a PowerPoint megillah reading work?

The program is distributed on a CD-ROM, and projects visual graphics onto a screen, along with the text of the megillah in both Hebrew and English. And when Haman’s name is read, special graphics appear, giving the cue to go wild.

The program, which was implemented last year in 20 synagogues nationwide, has also proved popular with the elderly, those with poor eyesight who have difficulty reading the text of the megillah and with young children. As a result, some Jewish day schools have begun incorporating the program as a teaching aid in the lead up to Purim.

Any synagogue can participate in the program by providing a $100 donation to Our Way. The money goes toward developing resources for the deaf and hearing impared.

For more information, visit

Community Briefs


Couple Airs Mideast Views at
Caltech

The Middle East conflict came to the Caltech campus in Pasadena
last week, when Adam Shapiro and Huwaida Arraf presented a talk on “Eyewitness
to Occupied Palestine.”

Shapiro, a Brooklyn-born Jew, and his wife, a Palestinian
Arab, are founders of the International Solidarity Movement, which has garnered
some headlines by interposing “international activists” to protect Palestinians
against the alleged brutality and excesses of the Israeli army.

Shapiro gained a measure of fame last March, when he joined Yasser
Arafat at his besieged headquarters in Ramallah and was asked to share
breakfast with the Palestinian Authority leader.

The two-hour lecture-discussion proceeded in a civil and nonconfrontational
style, according to Robert Tindol of the Caltech public information office, who
attended as a neutral observer. The generally pro-Palestinian crowd listened to
a litany of alleged Israeli brutalities inflicted on a generally peaceful Palestinian
population.

Some counterbalance was provided by four members of the StandWithUs
pro-Israeli grass-roots organization, according to founder and president Roz
Rothstein, “We asked pointed, respectful questions … and the Jewish students
on campus were enormously grateful that we attended.” Rothstein acknowledged
that the two speakers gave a “very personal and effective,” if one-sided,
presentation.

The talk was sponsored by the Caltech Y as part of its
Social Action Speakers Series. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Foundation Awards $371,000 in
Grants

The Jewish Community Foundation, the largest Southern
California Jewish philanthropic organization, recently announced that it had
made 11 grants worth $371,000.

The grants will go toward construction and renovation
projects at several Jewish community facilities, ranging from preschools to
senior housing to boarding schools.

“We are committed to supporting a wide variety of building
projects which strengthen the core of our local Jewish community,” Foundation
Chief Executive Marvin I. Schotland said in a news release.

The awards were approved in June and announced in late
December. The gifts represent about one-third of the $1 million the nonprofit
group earmarked last year for local charitable organizations through Foundation
Legacy Grants.

Among the award recipients:

Menorah Housing Foundation, which owns and operates 13
residential buildings for low-income seniors, received $50,000 to open a
41-unit Echo Park apartment complex last October.

Aviva Family & Children’s Services received $50,000
for construction and renovation of high school buildings to accommodate
expanded special education services.

Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles was awarded $36,000
to help underwrite a new shelter in Van Nuys that will serve up to 75 women and
150 children annually.

  B’nai David-Judea Congregation received $40,000 to
upgrade an existing building.

Mesivta of Greater Los Angeles, a nonprofit Jewish boys
boarding school, was awarded $25,000 toward the construction of a new building
at its Calabasas location.

Grants will be paid out until 2004. — Marc Ballon, Staff Writer

Hearing on Heschel Property Delayed

The new Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School West campus in Old
Agoura may take longer than expected to come to fruition. The first public
hearing, originally scheduled last month, will now be held on April 2,
according to the Los Angeles County Planning Department. The hearing will focus
on the 71-acre property’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR). While the school
plans to build on only 15-18 acres, the Old Agoura Hills Homeowners Association
is concerned about the Chesboro Road location causing excess traffic, unwanted
noise, the effect on wildlife and changes to the community.

Currently located near the Liberty Canyon exit of the
Ventura Freeway, Heschel West serves 144 children in transitional kindergarten
through fifth grade. The day school purchased the new property four years ago
so it could  accommodate 750 students from preschool through ninth grade.

Although the delay will extend the approval period, Rick
Wentz, executive vice president of the Heschel West School Board, is not
discouraged. “It’s an inconvenience, but [the hearing process] can get held up
for a multitude of reasons,” he said. “This is just one of those times.”–
Sharon Schatz Rosenthal, Education Writer

Tu B’Shevat Time: Hundreds of people
turned out on Jan. 12 for the Tu B’Shevat Festival at Camp JCA Shalom in Malibu.
The Festival included performances by the Klezmer band The Shirettes,
informative booths on conservation and alternative fuel vehicles, an art contest
and, of course, tree planting, above. The next community-wide Tu B’Shevat
Festival will take place Sunday, Jan. 18 at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in
Simi Valley from 11:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. For more information, call (805) 582-4450
or visit www.brandeis-bardin.org

Beth Olam Cemetery


Beth Olam Cemetery in Hollywood, one of the most venerable and historical Jewish cemeteries in Southern California, is in danger of being abandoned and padlocked.

Beth Olam is the Jewish section of Hollywood Memorial Park at Santa Monica Blvd. and Gower St. It is in bankruptcy and repeated attempts to find a new owner have so far failed, according to David Isenberg, attorney for the bankruptcy trustees.

A motion by the trustees to abandon the property will be heard at 9:30 a.m., Dec. 10, in the U.S. Bankruptcy Courtroom, 1345, located on the 13th floor of the Roybal Federal Building, 255 E. Temple St. in downtown Los Angeles.

Anyone wishing to speak at the Dec. 10 hearing must file written comments with the court no later than Nov. 28. A copy of the trustees’ motion is available to the public in the office of the Clerk of the Bankruptcy Court, located at 300 N. Los Angeles St., first floor, in downtown Los Angeles.

City Council member Jackie Goldberg is among those trying to save the cemetery. For information, call her field office at (213) 913-4693. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor