Awaiting transplant, family rallies with hope


Michael Goldberg’s heart is working just fine.

The University of Washington professor teaches a class on romantic comedies. From “Annie Hall” to “Pretty Woman,” he leads his students on a tour of film’s fondest genre.

What Goldberg needs, however, is a new kidney, and it’s not the first time. His lone kidney is a failing transplant from nearly two decades ago.

It all started when he was a 15-year-old living in Los Angeles. He was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, a disorder in which the pancreas stops producing insulin, a hormone that converts sugar into energy. Blood sugar levels rise, causing excessive thirst and urination, as well as potential organ damage down the line. 

Looking back, he wishes he’d taken better care of his body after the diagnosis. 

“I was probably not in good control for three or four years,” Goldberg said. “It was a combination of I was a semi-alienated 15-year-old, and I had ADD.”

A 2.0 senior year GPA didn’t stop him from enrolling at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he found a good doctor and started to regulate his condition. But in 1986, while earning his doctorate at Yale, he was diagnosed with kidney disease. 

He got married and took a professor position in the Seattle area in 1993. Soon after, his failing kidneys finally gave out.

“I had to go on dialysis suddenly,” he said. “There were a lot of complications, and
it was tough.”

He began going to the Northwest Kidney Centers three days a week for the blood-cleansing treatment, which involves a machine artificially filling the role of the kidneys. Blood is drawn from the body, typically through a vein in the arm, then cleaned and streamed back in. 

In addition to needing a new kidney, doctors told Goldberg he needed a new pancreas. This promised to cure his diabetes, a pancreas-based disease, but ruled out the prospect of a living donor. He was put on the waiting list for a pancreas-kidney transplant in 1995. Just nine months later, he received the organs from a cadaver donor — a recently deceased teenager whose parents wanted their son’s organs to live on.

Goldberg in his office on the Bothell campus of the University of Washington, where he teaches history and film.

The new kidney fit right in for 17 years, which is outstanding for a cadaver donation. But the powerful medication that organ recipients must take can eventually be toxic to the new organs.

“Most kidneys fail not because your body rejects them,” Goldberg said. “It’s because you’ve been scarring the kidney through the immunosuppressant drug.”

In fall 2011, the lab results came in: The pancreas was in good shape, but Goldberg needed another kidney.

He went back to the Northwest Kidney Centers, but this time for training rather than treatment. He and his wife, Elizabeth de Forest, learned how to do home dialysis and set up shop in their bedroom in August 2012.

Home dialysis is done five nights a week and takes about five hours a night. De Forest throws on a lab coat and latex gloves and inserts a needle into her husband’s fistula, a surgically created passage where a vein has been connected directly to an artery. The vein is about as thick as a piece of licorice — strong enough to be drawn from night after night.

A preschool teacher by trade, De Forest took the year off to be by her husband’s side. “I’m pretty much on call if anything happens,” she said.

Studies have shown that home dialysis can reduce stress on the heart and improve survival rates. Still, 90 percent of dialysis patients prefer to go to a center. Many cite a feeling of safety that comes with having the process done by professionals.

But, for Goldberg, there’s no place like home. He loves having his wife and two sons, Asher and Jonah, around to support him. There’s a flat-screen TV in the bedroom, with boxes of DVDs on one side and boxes of syringes on the other.

“It can be stressful at times but, you know, usually we’re used to it,” said Asher, 14.

“It’s not just him on the machine,” said 12-year-old Jonah. “It’s sort of like all of us.”

Michael Goldberg and his wife, Elizabeth de Forest, setting up the home dialysis process.

Goldberg attends the Reform Temple B’nai Torah in Bellevue, Wash., where he has relied on the clergy as a source of support since learning that the transplant was giving out.

“Even though I was really sick, I was trying to make it for Saturday services,” he said. “My blood pressure was going up and down — people were always looking out for me. But just to be there was so important. I really feel my faith helps me get through this stuff.”

An especially tough stretch came around the time his son Asher was turning 13. On the Friday night of the bar mitzvah, Goldberg was in such terrible shape that he had to leave and lie down. At the following day’s ceremony, though, he got up and danced.

“The bar mitzvah became this remarkable moment,” he said. “It really felt like a blessing.”

Goldberg’s parents, Irving and Esther Goldberg, live in Encino. His father was so touched by his son receiving the first kidney that he started a nonprofit called Transplant for Life.

“I felt I had an obligation to return my expertise in a way that would help increase organ donation,” the elder Goldberg said. “Transplant for Life was based on the mission of increasing donor awareness among the interfaith religious communities in our nation.”

They provided speakers for synagogues, churches and mosques and distributed kits that included sample sermons and prayers. For years they participated in the annual National Donor Sabbath, a three-day observance that encourages a nationwide dialogue about organ donation. This year’s Sabbath ran from Nov. 15-17.

While the transfer of organs can be contentious in Jewish culture, Transplant for Life found wide support.

“We researched all denominations of the Jewish community: Reform, [Conservative], Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox,” Irving Goldberg said. “We had close to an 80 percent positive response.”

The only real resistance came from the ultra-Orthodox, but even there, some approved of the process so long as specific criteria were met.

Transplant for Life was eventually absorbed by the Transplant Recipients International Organization.

The organ waitlist looks a lot different now than it did in 1995. There are more than 120,000 people who need an organ, and about 18 of them die each day. What once took six to nine months can now take up to five years, depending on blood type. For Goldberg, whose blood type is A, it’s two to three years, but he doesn’t even know where he’s at on the list.

The alternative to the waitlist is finding a living donor. Often family members or loved ones volunteer to help out. Goldberg found out the first time around that his close family members have positive cross-matches, meaning his antibodies will reject their blood cells. 

He had a donor lined up last spring, a friend whose kids attend school with his, but doctors discovered a rare condition in her kidney that meant she wasn’t a candidate. 

Donating a kidney traditionally required the removal of a rib. Now there’s a less invasive laparoscopic procedure with improved success rates and recovery time. Research shows giving a kidney doesn’t affect long-term health or lifespan. 

“You never know, there are people now donating kidneys who don’t know anyone,” Goldberg said, referring to so-called altruistic donations. “They just say, ‘I want to donate a kidney,’ and get connected.”

For now, it’s five nights a week on the machine. 

“It can be a challenge,” Goldberg said. “It’s emotional. I think we deal with it really well. You’re dealing with your body — you’re dealing with needles and blood and those sorts of things.”

But like any good professor, Goldberg tries to keep things in perspective.

“I was talking to the cantor a couple days ago. He was saying that for people who have a larger spiritual outlook — whether religious or just based on concern for a larger purpose in the world — it’s easier to fight off the feeling of self-involvement about your condition. Mine is bad, but there are worse things. Look outward. Ask yourself not just why you want to live, but what do you want to do that day in the world? Look beyond yourself.”


For more about Goldberg’s story, visit http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/michaelgoldberg

Following her heart: A Yom Kippur story


This is what Ava Kaufman was wearing when she negotiated with God while in a seven-week coma following a heart transplant: a white turtleneck leotard with a white leather miniskirt, and white thigh-high boots.

In her hallucination, she was sitting in the palms of two giant outstretched hands, and this is what she told God:

If you let me continue to be Jade’s mom, I’ll give back.

Not exactly how most Jews might picture talking to God as they sit on tightly upholstered chairs in air-conditioned sanctuaries on Yom Kippur, invoking images of heavenly hosts and sheep before a shepherd and books of life and death.

But it is exactly what Yom Kippur is about, if we understand it to be a day of introspection and renewal that guides us toward scraping away what doesn’t matter and turning toward living what does.

God accepted Kaufman’s offer, and now — three years after she received in transplant surgery the heart of a 17-year-old boy, on her 58th birthday — she is still Jade’s mom, she is giving back, and in the process she is pretty sure she has narrowed down the exact reason God put her on this Earth.

“I’ve always been a rebel. I do things my own way, but I get things done and I do them honestly and fairly, and I think that is why this happened to me — because God had a plan for me,” said Kaufman, who is in the process of founding Ava’s Heart, a foundation to support heart transplant patients.

“I needed to get out of the life I was in before, and since I’m a very dramatic person, God made it all be dramatic so I would have a story to tell, so I could help people.”

Kaufman’s self-published book, “Heartless,” which she wrote with her friend, reporter and author Jason Thomas, will be released on Amazon later this autumn, and she plans for some of the proceeds to support Ava’s Heart. She speaks, through the Donate Life speakers’ circuit, to schools and other groups about the importance of organ donation and blogs on her experience at Modernmom.com. She also spends every Friday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s Heart Transplant Patient Evaluation Clinic, peer-counseling people awaiting transplants.

Kaufman was raised in suburban New York in a traditional Jewish household, and still has the mien of the Beverly Hills player she was four years ago. At 61, she is valiantly fighting off wrinkles (more about her treatment for that later). Her dark, straight hair is probably neither of those things when left alone. A French-tipped manicure crowns fingers swimming in diamond rings. At 5 feet 3 inches tall, she still has the body of the professional dancer she was for decades, and she shows it off in skinny jeans and black heels, a purple silk blouse and a shabby-chic rose-colored blazer. She has a wry sense of humor and an easy laugh, and speaks with the confidence of a New Yorker and the poise of a performer.

But while she looks very Rodeo Drive, that isn’t her life anymore.

Before she got sick, Kaufman lived on $27,000 a month from a high-end furniture delivery and installation business she ran with her then-husband. Their clients included the Beverly Hills Hotel and the Four Seasons, as well as celebrities, and they lived in a four-story house with killer views east of Doheny Drive, north of Sunset Boulevard.

Now, Kaufman lives on a friend’s ranch in Fillmore, in the Santa Clara River Valley, where Jade, her 14-year-old daughter, does independent online school and rides her horse, Daisy, hours every day. They live off $1,478 a month in disability payments, supplemented by a modest malpractice settlement.

And she has changed along with her circumstances, Kaufman said.

“It’s weird — when you’ve been through something like this, there is no way you can’t look at life differently. You just do, because you’ve been so close to death and all you want to do is be able to walk, or to hold a toothbrush and brush your own teeth, or kiss your child or hug your child,” Kaufman said.

She said she’s learned to let go of her type-A personality tendencies, as well as of the pretenses and judgments of her old life.

“I’ve totally given up trying to control anything. I just leave it up to God,” she said. “I guess I enjoy everything more. I always enjoyed life; I always had energy and a lust for life, but I approach everything in a much calmer way than I did before.”

While she has reached out to her donor family, they are not yet ready to meet her. So she thanks them in her head every day for giving her the gift of life when hers was nearly snatched from her.

Around September 2008, Kaufman’s hands became unbearably itchy, especially around her knuckles. She went to the Beverly Hills dermatologist she saw regularly for Botox and Restylane injections, and the doctor prescribed a topical ointment for eczema and psoriasis. Kaufman was starting a new teen-fitness business and getting a divorce, so her doctor thought the itchiness might be stress related.

Over the next four months, she went to the dermatologist several times as symptoms worsened. Her nails grew thick and her nail beds starting turning black; her skin started to harden, and the rash spread to her back and shins. The doctor prescribed steroids, which helped a little, but never ordered any blood analysis. By January 2009, Kaufman’s body started swelling, and she says she started feeling weaker and weaker — and as an avid exerciser and black belt in tae kwon do, she knew her body well. She went to her internist.

The doctor immediately recognized the symptoms of an autoimmune disorder and put Kaufman through a battery of tests. The tests showed a problem with her muscles, so she sent Kaufman to a rheumatologist. The rheumatologist was in the process of running more tests to narrow the diagnosis down to dermatomyositis, an inflammatory disease that attacks the muscles, when, over the course of about two weeks, Kaufman got dramatically weaker.

“During that last week at home, I started thinking, ‘If I

die, what is going to happen with Jade? Who would she be with?’ ” she said.

At this point, Kaufman was using a walker and having trouble breathing. By the time a friend rang her doorbell to pick her up for her appointment to get a muscle biopsy, she crawled down the stairs and collapsed before she got to the door. An ambulance took her to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

It wasn’t long before doctors figured out that the dermatomyositis had attacked Kaufman’s heart — a rare occurrence — and destroyed it in about a week. She underwent surgery to hook her up to a ventricular assist device and an external pump kept her heart going. She was also on a respirator. But Kaufman continued swelling, blowing up to 200 pounds. Her normal weight is 110.

She was also heavily drugged and sedated, and has almost no memory of those days.

Kaufman, left, says thoughts of daughter Jade, right, kept her from letting go while she was in a coma. Photo courtesy of Ava Kaufman

“All of my friends are in show business, and not one of them bothered to take any pictures of me like that,” she said, laughing. “They told me, ‘We knew you’d be upset, because you’re so vain.’ But, really, everybody thought I was going to die.”

They even brought Jade, then 11, to say goodbye.

Though the doctors weren’t sure she would make it, even with a transplant — the disease could attack her new heart as well, and she was seriously weakened — Kaufman was listed as status 1-A on the transplant list, the highest priority.

After just 10 days on the list, the heart of a 17-year-old boy was helicoptered from Bakersfield to Cedars, and Kaufman underwent transplant surgery on Feb. 21 — her birthday.

She didn’t even know she had been a candidate for the transplant until she woke up from surgery and was told she had a new heart.

“I remember being woken up, and I remembering being surrounded by gazillions of people, and I remember my sister being there. Everybody was saying, ‘You’re a miracle! Just hang in there!’ And my sister said Jade was fine, and then they put me in an induced coma for seven weeks,” Kaufman said.

During those weeks, she remembers looking for the light and looking for her mom, gone five years then, and for her grandparents and her friend Jim.

She remembers people talking to her and hearing music, and she had some terrifying hallucinations. She remembers wondering which was harder — what she was going through, or being in a concentration camp.

And she remembers being pulled back by Jade.

“There was one day where I wanted to let go. Everything seemed so overwhelming and so confusing and so uncomfortable and so painful, I just figured it would be easier to let go. But then my daughter kept pulling me back. I would think about her, and I knew I just couldn’t leave. I knew there was no one that would love her the way I love her and understand her,” she said, breaking down at the memory. “So I made a deal with God. If he would let me be Jade’s mom again, really be her mom, I would spend the rest of my life giving back. I wouldn’t care about how much money I made — just let me be her mother,” Kaufman said.

Just before she woke up, she felt Jade’s breath on her face and sensed the outdoorsy smell of Jade’s hair when she pulled off her riding helmet. She imagined the two of them in a beautiful garden with flowers and waterfalls and women in bright Indian silk dresses.

But it was a different picture when Kaufman woke up.

She couldn’t move. At all.

The dermatomyositis had stripped her once finely tuned body of nearly all muscle.

“I was literally trapped in my body,” Kaufman said.

She had a feeding tube through her nose and was intubated, so she couldn’t talk. She demonstrates how she would lie with her arms pinned at her sides, clicking her tongue to get the attention of a nurse.

It took three weeks to be able to wiggle her fingers.

“When I was lying there like that, I said the serenity prayer like a million times, and I said ‘Shema Yisrael’ 3 million times,” she said.

She was in the intensive care unit for two months, then in the cardiac unit for two weeks and on the inpatient rehab floor for another month. She describes the pain and the indignities of those weeks of not being able to do anything on her own.

“I feel like I went through the worst of old age, and it’s horrible,” Kaufman said.

Top-quality care and a solid support system of friends and family kept her going.

Her friend Linda, about Kaufman’s age but already a grandmother with no kids in the house, gave Jade a home for months, though Jade said she did a fair amount of bouncing around. Kaufman’s sister and brother flew in from New York and took responsibility for medical decisions.

With Kaufman’s personality, it wasn’t long before she had hospital workers hanging out in her room, just for fun. One doctor would time his rounds to end in her room Monday nights so they could watch “24” together. The Jewish chaplain at Cedars came to see her regularly and played the flute for her.

She focused on rebuilding the body she was once so proud of.

“I was grateful that I was given the heart and the gift of life, but I wanted to walk again. I wanted to be a person again,” she said.

Kaufman is convinced her training as a dancer gave her the discipline she needed to do the hard work of rebuilding her muscles. During the ’70s and ’80s, Kaufman had been a backup dancer for Gloria Gainer, Donna Summer and Johnny Hallyday.

She also had some experience with recovery — she was treated for breast cancer in 1996, and had a hip replacement (professional hazard for a dancer) in 2005.

Now, she hoped to work her way up to lifting small weights — but first she had to be able to lift a banana off the counter without dropping it.

“It took me six months to be able to do this,” she said, showing how she would slowly lift off a chair and straighten her legs to push herself up to standing.

As soon as she was able to move on her own, she started making good on her pledge to give back. She got involved in the Donate Life Foundation to become an advocate for organ donation. She made rounds in the cardiac unit, visiting with transplant patients, and then she began meeting with patients at the Cedars Heart Transplant Patient Evaluation Clinic.

At the clinic, pretransplant patients go through a one-day evaluation, where they meet with doctors, social workers and psychiatrists to determine whether they qualify for a transplant. In addition to qualifying medically, those waiting for a transplant need to live — or move to — within 70 miles of the hospital, and they need someone who can take care of them for about three months after surgery. They need to have insurance and not have neared their lifetime maximum, and they need to be able to pay for their medications — usually between $800 and $3,000 a month, which most insurance covers, but often requires a significant copayment.

“We have to conserve our resources, so we know that we’re giving hearts to people who have the resources to care for themselves long term,” said Jenna Rush, who runs the evaluation clinic.

Cedars performed 76 heart transplants last year — more than anywhere else in the world — and has done nearly 700 heart transplants in its 22 years. Status-2 patients, those who are able to live at home while waiting for a heart, wait an average year-and-a-half through Cedars. About 10 to 15 percent of patients die waiting for a heart. Los Angeles, however, offers a fairly good supply of organs because of the size of the region, but the wait in other areas of the country is generally longer.

As part of their evaluation, patients meet with Kaufman.

Kaufman and dance partner Craig Morris competing in the 1998 Emerald Ball Dancesport Championships in Los Angeles.

“Ava can answer questions I can’t answer,” Rush said. “She can identify with patients and help them picture life beyond heart failure. … Sometimes, if patients are having trouble making decisions, they will ask if they can talk to her again.”

It was at the clinic that Kaufman and Rush came up with the idea for Ava’s Heart. They had both seen too many patients die or need second transplants after they stopped taking anti-rejection drugs when insurance fell through, or if they lost Medi-Cal when they went back to work.

The clinic once had an account of $100,000, now depleted, to help people bridge those gaps, and to pay for things like relocation costs to move closer to the hospital.

Kaufman has already completed most of the paper work for Ava’s Heart — she is just waiting for her IRS tax exempt number — and already has several doctors and Rush signed on to be part of her governing board, in addition to some businesspeople and Thomas, the co-author of her book.

Kaufman did some fundraising around the AIDS epidemic, and she plans to start with some of her own friends to seed the program. She has ideas for an Ava’s Heart fashion line, and thinks she can get people to donate salon services to help pamper patients and their caregivers. She hopes to get on the circuit of inspirational speakers.

She is also thinking about her own future.

“I wanted to start a nonprofit to help all these people, but I also had to find a way I was going to make a living. I don’t have to become a multimillionaire again, but I need to support my daughter,” she said.

When Kaufman got sick, her financial situation also began to fail. She and her husband were going through a divorce. The teen-fitness business she had begun to set up before she got sick fell apart. 

She had PPO medical insurance through 2009, and then was on Medi-Cal and now is on Medicare, which covers most of her costs. Cedars forgave some of her $4.5 million hospital bill as a charity case, she said.

Her family helped with the rent, first at a Wilshire Boulevard apartment and then at her friend’s ranch in Fillmore. She is now covering rent on her own.

A small settlement from a suit she brought against the dermatologist has also helped.

She learned during her illness that dermatomyositis shows up in the fine print in the waiver she signed when she started getting Restylane injections in 2006 to fill in laugh lines. She was advised that it was futile to sue Restylane, and was equally discouraged from suing her dermatologist, who over four months never took blood work, never sent her to another doctor and never connected the dots to Restylane.

But a state law caps pain and suffering awards at $250,000, and most lawyers didn’t think it would be worth their time. Even after Sands and Associates in Beverly Hills took her case, Kaufman said a judge at the Santa Monica Courthouse told her that doctors always win in Santa Monica. But Kaufman rejected an offer of $20,000 and went to arbitration. She is legally barred from disclosing the settlement amount, but she says it was a modest fixed number that left her with a small sum to set up her nonprofit and work on her book.

The writing process has been therapeutic and helped her get to know herself, she said. She has also taken up ballroom dancing.

“I was a jazz dancer, and I could never do now what I did then. But I’m just so happy that I found some form of movement that fills my soul. When the steps and the music and your body all come together, it is an amazing feeling.”

And she has focused on her relationship with Jade.

“Once I started to get well and was able to be her mother again, we talked about it a long time. She said, ‘It can’t be like it was before, because I’ve been on my own and had to take care of you, and I worry about you every day.’ So it took a while for us to find a balance.”

Three years out, Kaufman said she is finally feeling whole again. Her body is strong, and while dermatomyositis is a chronic disease and can return, she is in remission now and doesn’t spend time worrying. She stays positive and looks only forward.

“The whole thing is so surreal to me, still, that this is where I am in my life. But there is a part of it that is kind of really nice,” she said. “It’s hard to explain — I feel so not like me, but so like me. I guess I kind of feel like me when I was 20 — when you have a whole life ahead of you and you don’t know what is going to happen, and you have these incredible dreams. And I just feel like I’m going to make all these dreams I have come true now.” l

Ava’s Heart:
” title=”http://donatelife.net/register-now/”>http://donatelife.net/register-now/

Halachic Organ Donor Society:
” title=”http://www.uscj.org/images/Organ_And_Tissue_Donation.pdf”>http://www.uscj.org/images/Organ_And_Tissue_Donation.pdf

Union for Reform Judaism:
” title=”http://curriculum.jrf.org/books/time-prepare?page=1″>http://curriculum.jrf.org/books/time-prepare?page=1

Fixing broken hearts in Israel


Just two days earlier but a world away, 8-year-old Salha Farjalla Khamis said goodbye to her parents and four siblings in her village on the African island of Zanzibar.

Later, in a hospital in the Tel Aviv suburb of Holon, tears roll silently down her cheeks as she watches an Israeli nurse attach the wires of an EKG monitor to her small body.

“Mama!” she cries out as the Israeli nurse, an immigrant from the former Soviet Union, tries to soothe her in a language the little girl does not understand.

“Don’t cry, no pain,” the nurse says in broken English.

Salha is on her second trip to Israel for an operation to remedy a heart defect that she has had since birth. Brought by the Israeli humanitarian organization Save a Child’s Heart, she is one of 2,600 children who have benefitted from the program launched by an American Jewish immigrant to Israel to provide cardiac surgery for children from the developing world.

The story of the effort begins in 1996, when a charismatic cardiac surgeon from Maryland named Amram Cohen started treating patients from outside Israel and using his home, and those of his patients and friends, to host them.

Since then, patients from 42 countries have been helped by the organization, nearly half of them Palestinian children from the West Bank and Gaza. Others have come from Iraq, Nigeria and Romania.

Save a Child’s Heart also trains medical staff from developing countries, and leads surgical and teaching missions abroad.

Dr. Lior Sasson, the organization’s lead surgeon and head of the cardiothoracic surgery department at the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon, operates on the children on his own time. He helped perform the organization’s first surgery 15 years ago with Cohen, who was then his mentor.

Just six years later, Cohen, who had operated on some 600 children through Save a Child’s Heart, died of high-altitude sickness while climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, a country from which many of the treated children come.

This August, the organization will hold a fundraising climb in Cohen’s memory at Kilimanjaro that it hopes will bring in $1 million.

“These are children who would otherwise be doomed to die within a few years and suddenly are getting their lives back, and their parents again live with hope,” Sasson said.

“And when it comes to the Palestinian kids, you see how Palestinian families go from seeing Israelis as sworn enemies to seeing how we all join forces to save these kids together. It’s better than 1,000 diplomats. We are working with people. They get to know us, we get to know them.”

In May, the organization was recommended for special consultative status with the U.N. Economic and Social Council. If granted, Save a Child’s Heart will be able to participate in various U.N. forums, including the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

A child’s surgery and post-operative care typically costs $10,000, all of which is covered through donations to Save a Child’s Heart.

“My baby needs surgery. She loses weight all the time. She needs to get better so she can play with the other children,” says Mati Ali, 27, who had never been on an airplane and knew practically nothing about Israel before a doctor referred her to the program.

Fathma, her 3-year-old, is dressed in her best clothes — a maroon dress sprinkled with pink flowers.

Soon the children are bundled into taxis en route to Wolfson Medical Center, where they will meet up with fellow new arrivals from Angola.

Sara Mucznik, 28, who immigrated to Israel from Portugal last year and now does marketing for Save a Child’s Heart, helps translate for the Angolans.

“Their lives are about to be forever changed,” she says, speaking at the bedside of an 11-year-old from Angola who is having blood drawn.

Many of the volunteers at the hospital and the house are young Jews from abroad.

Upstairs from the African patients, Palestinian patients are attending a weekly clinic. The long corridor is filled with mothers wearing floor-length black dresses and headscarves and holding babies.

Akiva Tamir, the pediatric cardiologist who oversees the clinic, says the Palestinian patients are fortunate because their proximity to Israel means they will be treated at a younger age, before damage from either congenital or acquired heart disease has time to intensify.

Godwin Godfry, a 31-year-old general surgeon from Tanzania, is in the midst of a six-year stint training in Israel. When he finishes, Godfry will go back to the city of Mwanza on the shores of Lake Victoria in northern Tanzania. He will be one of the only pediatric cardiac surgeons in the country.

“In our hospital alone, we have a waiting list of 300 children to be treated for heart disease,” he says, but no doctor is available to treat them.

“Here you learn how things should be done,” Godfry says.

At Wolfson’s pediatric intensive care unit, most of the beds on a recent day are occupied by children recovering from surgery performed by Godfry’s mentor, Sasson.

Smiling from a bed in the far corner is Zeresenay Gebru, 15, from Ethiopia. Earlier in the day, he had surgery to replace the battery in a pacemaker he received from Save a Child’s Heart when he was 6.

“I would like to thank all the doctors and the volunteers,” the teenager says, adding that he wants to be a cardiologist. “They gave me my heart back.”

New Holocaust restitution project launched


A new Holocaust-era restitution project will work to identify individuals whose property and assets were confiscated by the Nazis.

Project HEART—Holocaust Era Asset Restitution Taskforce, a new initiative of the Jewish Agency for Israel with support from the government of Israel, was announced Wednesday.

The project will begin by attempting to identify individuals with potential claims regarding types of private property for which no restitution was received after the Holocaust. If restitution has already been made to a victim or their heirs, that property would not be considered eligible under the program.

“Because of the immeasurable damage that was done to Jewish individuals and communities from the time their property was confiscated, Project HEART was put together as an initiative to reach out to those whose pain we can never imagine, but whom we can assist in the process of gathering data, which will hopefully and ultimately aid them in retrieving what is rightfully theirs,” said Bobby Brown of the Jewish Agency, a native New Yorker who has been active in the field of Holocaust restitution for more than a decade. “Belated, yet vital steps to partially redress the terrible wrongdoing committed during the Holocaust era in relation to asset restitution are now being taken with Project HEART.”

A questionnaire to determine eligibility can be found on Project HEART’s website http://www.heartwebsite.org.

CAT scan of Jimmy Carter’s heart


Smith Barney doesn’t manage this portfolio. My heart does.


A conservative, long-term investor, I’ll still admit to my sometimes ridiculous attraction to the highs and lows of risk.
Question is: How much can
I — or anyone — really handle?
 

At 22, I’d fearlessly seek the beta — or risk factor — in anticipation of the alpha — or excess — returns. I’d diversify my portfolio, but often follow a hot dot, whose value would quickly double, drop, then creep back up. When the market tanked? I reveled in my seemingly endless time horizon.

 
My strategy began to shift after some market volatility, which, combined with maturity lent a better understanding of my own assets and risk tolerance. I became more moderate, investing in diverse, well-researched stocks for a longer-term gain.

 
Still, my rate of return seemed nominal.

 
At times, I’d considered leaving the market altogether, but trusty advisers would encourage me to stay the course.

 
Investment decisions are best executed without emotion, they’d say.
Yeah, right, say I.

 
See, Smith Barney doesn’t manage this portfolio. My heart does.
Disturbingly analogous to the omnipotent stock market, in dating, the alpha of a long-term relationship drives us to invest even more: our hearts, minds, bodies and souls.

 
We’ll work diligently to review and build our personal assets (be it career, hobbies, looks, personality or all of the above); establish our search criteria (determine characteristics of a partner); and perform severe — if often frustrating — due diligence (dating the gamut to find that sometimes elusive, but impassioned and fabled, soul mate).

 
As our investment pool in this feverish search shifts, so do our emotions and risk tolerance — often dramatically. And sometimes unexpectedly.

 
High-risk (newbie) investors might trade short-term losses (“just hanging out”) for long-term gains (dating for crazy love). Moderates (more mature) might accept some risk (getting back out there post-burn) for higher ultimate returns (falling in love … again). Lowest risk takers (seasoned cynics) may seek the safest route (maybe even … gulp … settling).

 
At 22 and for a while thereafter, the process was thrilling. Working to build my own assets, I was myself an actual beta — figuring my way and learning fancy investment terms while marathoning my lifestyle.

 
My diversified portfolio included mostly my peers: the drummer, the elevator crush who made me blush, the student, the party-guy who might actually call, the tree-hugging college friend, and even the swamped getting-established professional. My relationships gave me butterflies and stomachaches, but I withstood the volatility, hoping for high returns.

 
The alpha on these short-term buys sometimes seemed negligible, but experience built my assets for the long term. It also lowered my risk tolerance — a dangerous bout in my maturing stage, wherein people have paired off, leaving bounds of skeptics.

 
What was “edge” seemed like attitude; opinions became stubbornness. “Stability” translated to boredom; “Fun” often meant noncommittal. And as I became more selective, my investment pool downsized.

 
Uh oh.

 
Determined still, I went moderate-to-low with lower-betas who seemed ready to commit: the great guy my age, the goal-oriented (too busy) professional and the creative guy who knew how to channel it.

 
Ratings seemed positive, but earnings ultimately disappointed. Our stock split, and hearts got broken.

 
Perhaps my search criteria was askew; I considered old standbys, friends; I diversified madly to mitigate losses, but my risk skyrocketed with my diminishing tolerance and time horizon.

 
Should I seek growth or the undervalued stock? Hedge? Strattle? Bail out? Or, shoot endlessly for off-the-chart heart-jumps that put me in the red, then black within a matter of days?

 
Not quite ready to index, I sought value with potential growth. I still sought the beta.

 
After a market slump, and bordering the defeatist pull-out, a tip off to a charming, intelligent (younger) option surfaced. I’d stay the course for long-term growth, I thought.

 
First, it was blissful and fun; carefree and light; we’d stay up late and dance around who liked whom. He called me “hot” instead of pretty, bought me chocolates and wrote me sweet cards. He called too late.

 
And the best part: he believed in “the one.” The one!

 
Things were swell until liabilities in my beta’s limited repertoire emerged. He struggled to fully identify with me. My skin felt comfortable; his was still filling out. He wasn’t cynical, which, to me, meant he didn’t reflect…. Or maybe, at 25, hadn’t yet lived.

 
Despite my short-term disappointment, I’d already learned to sell out sooner in lieu of a more “appropriate” investment.

 
See, while he was still diversifying, I was — apparently — ready to focus my assets.

 
General rule says: the greater the risk, the greater the return. And in today’s rough relationship market, determining risk tolerance may indeed help assuage some long-term “damage.” Problem is: it may also risk a lower alpha.

 
And that’s no fun.

 
Maybe — ultimately — we’re all just betas making our way; our yields to maturity are just different.

 

Dara Lehon, a freelance writer living in New York City, can be reached at dlehon@yahoo.com.

Taking Women’s Health to Heart


 

Nancy Kearson knew she had high blood pressure, but she wasn’t aware of any other health problems until a friend urged her to see a physician four years ago. That exam may have saved her life.

Kearson, who at the time was 53 years old and working for a demanding CPA firm, discovered she was at high risk for a heart attack. Her doctor prescribed cholesterol-lowering medication and baby aspirin daily, and suggested changes to Kearson’s diet.

“I was surprised that the risks were as great as they were,” she said. “I thought I had good health and would always have it.”

Heart disease, often perceived as a men’s health issue, affects more than 6 million women in the United States. According to the American Heart Association, heart disease claims more lives among women than cancer, killing one woman every minute. Yet only 13 percent of women consider heart disease their greatest health risk. In an effort to encourage women and men to learn more about heart disease prevention, February was designated as American Heart Month under President Bill Clinton, who himself recently underwent a bypass operation.

“Heart disease is the leading killer of women. [Yet] it is predictable and preventable,” said Dr. C. Noel Bairey Merz, medical director of the Women’s Health Program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. In the case of breast cancer, she said, “We empowered women to pay attention — to go in and get screening and to demand that they be treated and taken seriously. Now we hope to do the same with heart disease.”

Becoming familiar with risk factors and controlling lifestyle choices are the first steps in combating heart disease. Risk factors include cigarette smoking, high blood cholesterol or blood pressure, diabetes, physical inactivity and a family history of heart disease. Research suggests that women can lower their heart disease risk by as much as 82 percent through lifestyle changes (see sidebar).

Screening is equally important.

“Just as they do for a mammogram, women should make an appointment to have a heart-risk assessment each year,” Bairey Merz said.

The assessment looks at weight, blood pressure, overall cholesterol level, the level of HDL (good) cholesterol and other factors to determine risk levels. After receiving results, women need to follow with action, Bairey Merz said.

Kearson now sees her cardiologist, Bairey Merz, regularly to have blood work and prevention consultations. She also changed her diet, left her high-stress job to open her own practice and takes morning walks every day.

“I realized my [previous] lifestyle came with a price,” she said.

Earlier this month, the American Heart Association announced new guidelines for preventing heart disease and strokes in women, which highlights the need to adopt healthy lifestyle habits throughout life, rather than waiting for a problem to occur.

“The concept of cardiovascular disease as a ‘have or have not’ condition has been replaced with the idea that [it] develops over time and every woman is somewhere on the continuum,” said Lori Mosca, director of preventive cardiology at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center and chair of the group that developed the guidelines.

The guidelines also address treatment, recommending that its aggressiveness be linked to whether a woman has low, intermediate or high risk of having a heart attack in the next 10 years. For high-risk women, aspirin and drug therapy are recommended. Quitting smoking, getting 30 minutes of daily vigorous exercise, eating a heart-healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight are lifestyle changes recommend for all women.

Bairey Merz said that women must be assertive to get proper care. Women suffering from heart disease are twice as likely to die from it as men, but are less likely to be evaluated for cardiac symptoms — such as heart palpitations, chest pains and shortness of breath — and may receive less aggressive treatment once diagnosed.

There are now several national efforts designed to increase attention to women’s heart health. They include the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women campaign; the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s The Heart Truth program; and Sister to Sister: Everyone Has a Heart Foundation’s National Women’s Heart Day.

Bairey Merz hopes that these efforts will result in increased vigilance — and decreased deaths.

“Society in general has not valued women’s health as much as men’s health,” she said. “We need to be our own advocates.”

 

A Challenge to Cowards


 

In the play “2 Across,” a man and a woman — who have nothing in common but their crossword puzzles — are on a 4:15 a.m. train leaving San Francisco International Airport for the East Bay. She takes crosswords (and life) very seriously; he treats everything like a game. By the time they reach East Bay 80 minutes later, their lives have changed. And it all starts with the man taking the first step: making a light comment to her.

It got me thinking about the times in my life when I failed, for various reasons, to take that first step of reaching out to someone I wanted to meet. Coming back from college one day, I struck up a conversation with an attractive woman my age at the bus station. We had a nice rapport but when it came time to part, I couldn’t bring myself to ask for her number. So our brief relationship ended there — and, of course, I’ve never seen her again.

This was back when I was still shy. I’ve since gotten over my shyness. These days, I’m perfectly comfortable crossing the room to ask for a supermodel’s phone number while she’s chatting with Hugh Grant. After all, she can meet wealthy and famous movie stars any day. How refreshing would it be for her to hang out with a struggling Jewish writer. I’d even let her use my apartment’s parking space and access to the building’s washer and dryer. I’m a giver.

But say I had reached out to that woman at the bus station that day, asked for her number and called her. There might have been one of many responses. She could have said, “Thanks but I’m already in a relationship.” She might have said, “Thanks but I’m not interested.” She might have offered her phone number but when I called it, I find I’m connected to her local police department.

Of course, something positive might have resulted, as well. We could have gone out, hit it off, entered into a long-term relationship, gotten married, had kids, lived happily every after.

The point is, I’ll never know what might have happened with that woman who could have turned out to be the love of my life — simply because I was too chicken to ask for her number. And when you think about it, my cowardice doesn’t make sense, because in a situation like that you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. It’s all about taking that leap of faith and reaching out.

OK, so if you’re rejected, perhaps your self-esteem takes a little hit. If you’re rejected a lot, perhaps it gets bruised. And if you experience nothing but rejection, maybe your self-esteem ends up in the trauma ward of Love General Hospital. But enough about my pain.

Eventually someone is going to open her arms and her heart.

Let’s get back to that supermodel. How many times have we read interviews with supermodels, gorgeous actresses and other high-profile beauties, in which they complain that they sit home alone, because for whatever reasons — fear, intimidation, assuming women that lovely must already have boyfriends — they’re just not asked out on dates?

Well, I say to my fellow male daters — let’s end that fear here and now. Whether she’s an average woman doing a crossword puzzle on a commuter train, or Gisele Bundchen doing a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue shoot on a Jamaican beach — reach out. Put those insecurities on hold.

The Talmud states: “To facilitate a union between man and woman is as difficult a task as parting the Red Sea.” Granted. But if you don’t take that first step, the union is downright impossible.

“2 Across” is on stage at the Santa Monica Playhouse through Dec. 19. $25. 8 p.m. (Fridays), 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. (Saturdays), 6 p.m. (Sundays). $25. 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica. For tickets, call (800) 863-7785.

Mark Miller has written for TV, movies and celebrities, been a professional stand-up comedian and a humor columnist for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate. He can be reached at markmiller2000@comcast.net.

 

Silence Is Golden


A saleswoman, driving home in northern Arizona, sees a Navajo woman hitchhiking, stops the car and invites the Navajo woman to join her.

As they drive, the Navajo woman glances repeatedly at a brown bag on the front seat between them.

“If you are wondering what’s in the bag,” the saleswoman offers, “it’s a bottle of wine. I got it for my husband.”

The Navajo woman is silent for a while, then nods several times and says, “good trade.”

Chauvinism, of one kind or another, probably has always been with us. This week’s Torah reading, Parshat Vayera, for example, appears to lend itself to the charge of male chauvinism. The Torah tells us that the three angels who came to visit Abraham brought news that Sarah would give birth to Abraham’s son. Sarah laughed when she heard this, whereupon God chastised her, saying to Abraham, “Why is it that Sarah laughed … is anything too hard for the Eternal?” (Genesis 18:13-14).

Our sages point out that this sharp response seems strange considering that in last week’s Torah reading, when God told Abraham that he would have a son from Sarah, he, too, laughed, yet in that instance God was not critical at all.

Why the different treatment? Could sexual discrimination be at the heart of the disparity or something else? Perhaps we can find our answer in a suggestion made by the late Hannah Levine, wife of the late saintly Rabbi Aryeh Levine, known as the Tzadik of Jerusalem.

Hannah Levine suggested that the story of the Shunamit woman and the prophet Elisha mentioned in the haftorah for this week’s Torah portion can help solve our question. The story relates that the woman’s young son came running in from the field in great pain screaming, “My head! My head!” and then died. The woman took the boy, placed him upon Elisha’s bed in the room that she had prepared for the prophet in her home, and set out to find the prophet.

The woman then asked her husband to provide a chariot and driver for her so that she could find Elisha. Puzzled, he wanted to know why, to which she replied with one word, shalom. When she finally reached the prophet, he saw her from afar and sent his assistant to find out if everything was well with her, to which she answered only one word: shalom. The story continues that Elisha knew something was wrong, went back with her and revived the child.

We, however, must wonder why the Shunamit woman responded to each query with the one word, shalom, when everything was the antithesis of peace. Hannah Levine suggests that this teaches us a lesson. For a miracle to work, one cannot drown it in everyday verbiage. Once it is subsumed by ordinary reality, the miracle will not occur.

Rashi, the classical medieval biblical commentator, offers a similar observation in regard to Abraham and Sarah. Sarah’s laugh reflected ordinary incredulity. She scoffed. She verbalized. As her words indicate, she did not believe such a promise could be fulfilled.

Abraham’s laugh, the Torah tells us, “was in his heart” (Genesis 17:17), but it expressed delight. Not a torrent of words but a simple, heartfelt laugh, reflected firm belief that the promise would be fulfilled.

What a powerful lesson for us who live in this information age, besieged by torrents of words. If we would realize that it is not so much what we say but what we do and what we feel in our hearts that can cause miracles to happen, then, like Abraham, we could influence a whole world for good.

This column originally appeared in The Journal on Nov. 14, 2003.

Elazar Muskin is rabbi of Young Israel of Century City.

The Forbidden Food


I was casually walking through the meat aisle at the local supermarket yesterday morning looking for kosher chicken when I saw her holding a package of frozen shrimp.

Her hair was long and sun-bleached blonde, and her eyes were blue like the sky. I knew she wasn’t Jewish. My heart was racing like a klezmer band on speed, and I wondered what the kosher chickens might have said if they knew how badly I wanted her. The son of a rabbi, they’d probably quip. It figures.

A few months ago the story would have probably ended there. I’d have picked up my kosher chicken, a few 12-packs of Diet Coke, some Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey and been on my way. I’d have forgotten her by nightfall and remembered her the next morning when I sat down to write. How many shrimp could fit between those glossy pink lips? I might have wondered.

Okay, truthfully, I’m still thinking about it now. Four? Maybe five? Not since the bar mitzvah incident with Debbie have I been able to fully get shrimp out of my mind.

Debbie was one of the popular girls in my Hebrew School, and I had a big-time crush on her. Although we rarely talked, she accepted an invitation to my bar mitzvah party. As the night waned, I did the unthinkable: I asked her to dance. She agreed, and I did my best to hold her tight. I was a man, I imagined, and my luck with girls was sure to change.

So I looked into her eyes and said, Do you think, maybe, probably, a girl like you, I mean not you, would ever think about going out with a guy like me, I mean not me?

She batted her eyelashes and said, Of course not. You’re too shrimpy. A moment later she realized the potentially lasting effects of her words and added, I didn’t mean that in a bad way.

I was devastated. I remember crying on my mother’s lap later that day. Am I really too shrimpy? I asked her.

She smiled and said the same thing millions of mother’s have said to their less-than-perfect sons: Just be yourself Danny. That’s all girls really want.

Pish posh, I thought. No girl wants a shrimp. But I was wrong. The hot blonde apparently liked shrimp just fine.

Even a few months ago, I was afraid to indiscriminately approach beautiful women. I imagined that even the pitter-patter of my heart and my distinctly Jewish sex drive didn’t give me license to say hello. And if I did say hello, I was sure she’d look at my scrawny frame and say something like, Scram.

So late one Shabbat night in early June, I took fate into my own hands. I called my father — the rabbi — and told him my plans. I’ve decided to make a movie. It’ll be called: ‘A Sensitive Guy on the Road: Fifty Dates Across the States.’ I’ll date one woman in each of 48 states and Washington, D.C., and hopefully find true love.

That’s a bad idea, he said.

It gets better, I promised. I won’t kiss any of them for 49 dates.

Then I will ask one of them on a 50th and final date, and hopefully, you know, give her the big smootcheroo.

A reality show without sex, he said. That’s the worst idea I’ve ever heard.

It’s not a reality show, I promised. It’s a critique of reality shows. I want to find out if women are willing to give a nice, sensitive, albeit short guy like me a try.

It’s still a terrible idea, he said.

The hot supermarket woman walked towards me. Closer. Closer. Eyes squinting. Still closer. Shrimp in hand. Inspecting me, judging me, making my heart flutter. Touching me with a treif hand. Sure, she touched just my shoulder. But her hand was treif nonetheless. And I liked it!

Excuse me, she said. Weren’t you on the front cover of the newspaper last week? You’re that sensitive guy, right?

I blushed. She smiled. My heart melted. Yep, I responded. I knew I should have said something funny or profound like: I’m sensitive, but I swear, I’m no shrimp cocktail, Or maybe: Sensitivity can mean so many things. Instead, I just stared at her smile. I was at a loss for words.

Yep, I said again.

That’s so cool, she said.

Wow, I thought. She thinks I’m cool.

And in that moment of pure stress and elation, I forgot about all the heartache that girls, mostly ones at Jewish sleepover camp, had caused me. I put aside my ego and my insecurities, put down my kosher chicken, swallowed hard and went for it: I really like your thighs …I mean, I mean your eyes. I like your eyes. They’re blue like the sky.

She smiled. Do you want my phone number? she asked.

I was speechless. But before I knew it, she had copied her number onto a gas station receipt and handed it to me. It was that easy. I had spent 22 years thinking I had to be tall and Scandinavian to get a goddess like her. Twenty-two years believing that short Jewish guys just couldn’t do crazy things like that unless their names are Woody Allen or Philip Roth. And all this time, it was simple: let them know I’m sensitive. Just throw it out there.


Dan Jacobs currently resides in Western Massachusetts. He will soon return to Los Angeles to live. You can learn more about his journey on his Web site:

A New Relationship


A relationship with a new city is like a relationship with a new guy. At first, you compare a lot — my ex had better nicknames for me; he made the bed in the morning. My ex was the one for me, and now I’m just marking time before becoming that old lady in line at the bagel shop who talks to her slippers.

You feel in your bones the sudden drop in comfort level with this new entity. You have to close the door when you pee. You have to explain who people are when you’re gossiping about them. You have to take it from the top. It’s a tedious process. And you wonder why we all know one of those couples who should have broken up a long time ago before they got in a rut and furnished it at IKEA.

Now, as for my comparison, settling into a new city can be similarly jarring. I’m not sure which I’ve done more of, but I know I’m not the only one with a trail of broken leases as long as her trail of broken relationships.

I’ve dug up and planted and dug up and replanted more roots than an obsessive-compulsive gardener.

And now I’m at it again, trying to make a go of it with this slick Pat Riley of a city called Manhattan. And as always, the relationship got off to a rough start, and I wanted nothing more than to go home. And my new therapist gave me her home number. And I didn’t know if I had lost my ability to start over.

It’s been six months since I relocated for work, "taking a break" from the love of my life, Los Angeles.

I didn’t want to love again, but it turns out we’re adaptable creatures. The other day, someone asked where to get a good cheesecake, and out of my mouth, smooth as ricotta, came "Junior’s in Brooklyn has the best. And they ship." And I let myself feel pretty good for knowing this, and for passing as a local more often than not, and for saying "Brooklyn" like I could tell you how to get there on the 4.

This city has won me over like a guy you go on a mercy date with but end up marrying because he remembers how you take your coffee and what size shoe you wear. It’s the little things that slowly weasel their way into your heart, that make you feel at home.

I have the name of a Chinese delivery place in my cellphone and need only speed dial my way to a dumpling delivery.

I hail a cab as easily as I used to parallel park.

I could tell you what cast members have been replaced in "Hairspray" on Broadway. I can find Broadway by foot.

Now I love my Lakers like Shaq loves his Escalade. Still, there’s something about finding your seat at Madison Square Garden that makes you feel like you’ve got this town wired. Sadly, you have to watch the Knicks once you get there, but if I can learn to love this city, maybe I can at least duty date its basketball team.

On the right night, I can climb out of my 400-square-foot apartment and sit on my fire escape and look down the block at doormen leaning on awning posts. I can watch little doggies in little sweaters strolling the Upper East Side, a neighborhood immortalized not only by "Breakfast at Tiffany’s" but also by famous fictional resident, Carrie Bradshaw.

I know how to describe a location as being "on 67 between one and two," instead of saying "on 67th Street between First and Second avenues." I know that Central Park starts on 59. Like I said, these are small things, but like the small apartments and small grocery store aisles here in the Big Apple, they grow on you.

Maybe that’s the only way to fall for a place as hard and humid and expensive and compressed as this one. You endure the hard parts so you can experience the simple pleasure of saying Brooklyn like you mean it.

How do you go from wanting to hurl yourself off the Staten Island Ferry to thinking you might just want to dock here for awhile? You let yourself. And having done so, I’m starting to think it might just be that simple with relationships, too. And here is the most deeply buried lead in the history of singles columns: I’ve got what some might call a "new boyfriend" in this new city (and by "some" I mean people without a crippling fear of commitment).

And that’s how I can tell you relocation is something that happens inside. It happens when you make up your mind to stop expecting a parade down Fifth Avenue and just let yourself stop and smell the toasted nuts on the corner.


Teresa Strasser writes from Manhattan where she is a feature reporter for Fox’s “Good Day Live.” She’s on the Web at www.teresastrasser.com.

The Festival of Lite


Yes, the time of the fatty foods is upon us. But eight days of latkes and jelly doughnuts can be the least of problems for those who celebrate their holidays by eating out.

“The bad news is, most restaurant meals are high in calories and fat,” said nutritionist Anita Jones. “If you’re like most people in Southern California, we tend to eat out a lot.”

Even “heart healthy” or “light” menu options can be filled with hidden fat, sodium or other dangers for those on special diets or trying to eat healthy. While nutrition labels have been required by federal law on all packaged foods since 1994, the secrets of a meal prepared in a restaurant kitchen stay in the kitchen.

At a recent seminar for patients at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Jones laid out some ways to get healthy food at favorite restaurants. “It’s really about consumer demand,” she said. “You have to speak up and let them know you want healthier dishes.” She also recommended common-sense alternatives like sharing or taking home portions of large entrees, or requesting that salt, oil and other undesired items be left out of the prepared foods.

The recent trend toward keeping down carbohydrate intake has left many diners still unaware of potentially dangerous levels of fat in their restaurant meals, Jones said. Even pasta or chicken dishes labeled with a heart or other “healthy” symbol can contain upwards of 70 grams of fat — approximately equal to one stick of butter — when they are cooked and drizzled in oil. She cited olive oil in particular as a common, healthy ingredient that diners should still watch out for if they are concerned about fat intake. “What looks healthy may not be,” Jones said. “On many menus, salads can be the highest fat options.”

Since 1991, Jones and her colleagues have been analyzing the nutritional content of restaurant meals throughout Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties.

The result is the “Healthy Dining in Los Angeles” restaurant guide (Healthy Dining Publications, $19.95), with weight and health-conscious options from more than 80 restaurant menus, from the Acapulco in Azusa to the Whole Foods Market in Woodland Hills, in addition to coupons and 40-plus recipes from restaurant chefs. Broken down according to fat, cholesterol, sodium, protein and carbohydrate content, the menus allow diners to plan ahead and eat healthy meals out. The menus also make clear which special requests are necessary to make the meals healthier, particularly items that patrons should ask that no added salt or less oil be used in preparation.

At the Cedars-Sinai seminar, representatives from a handful of local restaurants offered samples of recommended dishes. Real Food Daily restaurant offered some of its vegan fare, while Chaya Brasserie chef Shigefumi Tachibe showed off his Organic Tofu Caesar salad. Tachibe said that based on customer requests for healthy dining options, the lower-fat and lower-sodium dish has replaced a more traditional mix as the standard Caesar salad at his restaurants.

“Restaurants are the weakest part of the whole nutrition world,” Jones said, who added that the trend is changing as savvy diners are asking for healthier food. “Chefs are artists, they’re creators and they are really rising to this challenge.”

With the right information and an accommodating kitchen, even your favorite restaurant experience this Chanukah can be a festival of lite.

One Day More


This week, we break the linear reading of Torah to honor the holy day of Shemini Atzeret, the eighth day of assembly, a day added to the seven days of Sukkot. Midrash Rabbah (29:36) explains Shemini Atzeret by way of an analogy: A king invites the whole country to a feast. When it is over and the people are returning home, he turns to his children and begs them to stay a little bit longer saying: "Your departure is painful to me."

We have gathered with God to celebrate the feast of the earth’s bounty, and now God says to us: "Wait, don’t go just yet. Spend one more day with Me, for your separation pains Me."

One way to understand this is to note that in Deuteronomy 14:22-16:17, the Torah reading assigned to Shemini Atzeret, the holy day itself is not mentioned. We can read about Shemini Atzeret in Leviticus (23:36) and Numbers (29:35-39), but not here. Why? Because staying with God one more day should be an act of love rather than an act of obedience. God wants us to stay with Him, and we want to stay with God.

Shemini Atzeret, then, is a day to linger with God. And what does this lingering involve? We are to come before God with "whatever your heart desires — cattle, flocks, wine, alcoholic beverage, or anything that your soul wishes; you shall eat it there before God and rejoice — you and your household" (Deuteronomy 14:26).

Notice the difference between whatever your heart desires and anything that your soul wishes. The heart desires things: cattle, flocks, drink. The soul wishes for company: eating before God with your loved ones. The heart rejoices when it has something to rejoice over. The soul rejoices when it has someone to rejoice with. For seven days we rejoice over the bounty that God has given us. On the eighth day we rejoice with God.

See this in terms of the midrash above. The king invites the whole country to his feast. When the feast is over, the people leave. His children, too, prepare to depart, but he says to them: "Linger with me yet another day, for your departure pains me. Being separate from you distresses me." Only his children are invited to stay with the king; only those most intimate with God feel the call to stay one more day.

But isn’t Shemini Atzeret obligatory on all of us, and not simply those who feel called by God to God? Yes, God is calling each of us — even if we don’t hear the call. The obligation to linger gives us the opportunity to hear the call. It is as if once the din, tumult and partying of Sukkot has quieted down we can finally hear God calling to us: stay with Me one more day.

What is staying with God? The Kotzker Rebbe once asked, "Where does God dwell?" He answered his own question saying: "God dwells wherever you let God in." Staying with God means staying open to God; staying open to God means seeing the Divine in, with and as all that is. It is realizing that God is ein sof (unbounded) and that there is no thing that is not God — for that would put a limit on God. Rejoicing with God means rejoicing with your family and the world. Rejoicing with God means embracing the world with godliness.

Why just one day? Because "one day" means "this day," and "this day" — today — is all we have. Our sages tell us to do teshuvah (repentance) one day before we die. Since we don’t know when that day is, one day becomes today. The same is true here. God is saying to us: "I am glad your heart rejoices in all the things I have given you, but now put those things aside and rejoice in Me and My company." If you rejoice in the company of God today, you will rejoice with God forever, for today is the only day you ever have.

The Circuit


Challah if You Need Me

Last month The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ ACCESS program along with The Brandeis-Bardin Institute and numerous L.A. area singles organizations co-sponsored the Shabbat at Sunset Communitywide Dinner. The event may have been the follow-up to last year’s successful “Shabbat by the Sea,” but what really made the occasion special was that it heralded the arrival of New York Rabbi David Woznica, who has brought East Coast flair to The Federation fold as the executive vice president of Jewish Affairs. Weaving jokes into his sermon, Woznica –previously of the 92nd Street YMCA in Manhattan, where he facilitated a lecture series graced by Alan Dershowitz and Elie Wiesel — gave the 200 unattached in attendance a heart-to-heart on staying afloat in Bachelorville and Bacheloretteville.

Rodeo Drive

The Concours on Rodeo fundraiser raised $7,000 for The Amie Karen Cancer Fund for Children (AKCF) at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, which treats cancer, leukemia, sickle cell disease and AIDS-related illnesses. AKCF also funds Camp Rainbow, a sleep-away camp for critically ill children and their siblings.

Con at Cannes

The Circuit attended a private screening — cast members and friends only — of “Festival in Cannes,” hosted by Henry Jaglom.

Shot on location during the 1999 Cannes International Film Festival, the film is his most accessible and entertaining movie yet.

“Festival” — starring Greta Scacchi, Ron Silver, Anouk Aimée and Maximilian Schell — uncovers desperation and duplicity in the entertainment industry. Stealing the movie is Zack Norman (born Howard Zuker) as a charming con man who wheels and deals up and down La Croisette. “Festival” marks Jaglom’s fifth collaboration with Norman.”It’s always delicious working with Henry,” Norman said.

A “Festival” highlight: Schell — after a prolonged, enthusiastic reunion with William Shatner (as himself) — walks away asking, “Who was that man I was just hugging?”

“That encounter was real,” Jaglom said. “They had played together in ‘Judgment at Nuremberg.’ Maximilian, in his brilliance, improvised that line.”

“Festival in Cannes” screens Nov 3, 7:30 p.m., AFI Film Institute Festival 2001, Pacific Theatre, 6443 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood.

Affair of the Heart

Philanthropist Marshall Ezralow was honored by The Heart Fund at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Mark Litman, Heart Fund chairman and Dana Carvey, the evening’s host, graced the gala, which took place at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Ezralow, who was elated to be honored, believes now is a paramount time to support research in this area.

“We are three or four years away from solving 90 percent of heart-related problems,” Ezaralow told The Circuit.



Aries Rising

Producer Fred Wolf threw a grand opening reception for his Aries Gallery, at the Fred Wolf Films building in North Hollywood.

Victor Haboush, Robert Reagan, Nola Figen Perla, and Wolf, whose paintings chronicle the lonely life of a cartoony, yellow-colored milquetoast of a man, rang in the NoHo gallery with a show of their works. Perla’s work is based on snapshots of her family, of Ukranian-Jewish heritage.

Exhibit runs through Nov. 30. For information, call (818) 846-0611.



Free For All

Jewish Free Loan Association (JFLA) has been awarded a $100,000 grant by the S. Mark Taper Foundation. The grant will go toward the JFLA’s community-wide, non-sectarian Kopelove Family Short-term Home Healthcare Loan Fund, which makes available interest-free loans of up to $5,000 to patients in need of home healthcare while recovering from illness, injury or surgery. In addition to the grant, the program has received.

The Lessons of Yom Kippur


Today you die. No one pronounces that horrible sentence on Yom Kippur, but it is true. Yom Kippur reenacts death. We wear white, like the shrouds we will one day be buried in. We do not eat, wash, procreate; we are as corpses. We recite the “Unetaneh Tokef,” filled with graphic, even gruesome images about our death.

On this day you learn to love. Remarkably, Yom Kippur is also a day filled with images of love. God will care for us, gather us up, listen to us, love us. We stand together, we weep with the force of reconciliation. We pound our hearts, as though we were once again trying to get them to beat. We are resuscitated to love.For Yom Kippur ultimately is about two lessons, one of eternity and one of fidelity. The lesson of death is clear. We live as if we have forever. Day by day, time dribbles through our fingers. Yom Kippur seeks to make our own death real to us, so that we will, in the words of the tradition, “use each moment wisely.” If we can believe – not intellectually but in our guts and in our souls – that we will die, perhaps we have a chance to really live.

Yom Kippur is also about distance. We proclaim God’s unity, we understand oneness to be the greatest ideal of our tradition, and yet we live fragmented lives. We pull away from those whom we love; we create divisions in our own communities and in our own souls. On Yom Kippur all of Israel is to stand as one before God. As the Sefat Emeth teaches, Moses returned with the second set of tablets, the whole set, to teach Israel that brokenness should be the prelude to wholeness.

Can we live and can we love? Can we become shalem (whole) and have shalom (peace)? Yom Kippur asks those questions because these are the questions that measure each soul. God’s love is our hope; to feel it is our task. May this year be a year of life, of gentled hearts and opened eyes.

First Impressions


I was smitten the first second I saw him — the astrophysicistwho broke my heart.

It was a chilly night at an outdoor party, and his Nordic face waslooking up at the stars, no doubt contemplating the elusive nature ofgamma ray emissions and incommutable variables. He sat with his armsfolded over his big, fuzzy turquoise fleece jacket while I plotted mymove. I took the seat next to him and racked my brain for somethingto say, finally settling on “Nice fleece. Fleece is warm.”

Oh, great, I thought; I’ve shown all the conversation acuity of aslice of herring. Still, it broke the ice, and we talked for hours.He was brilliant, he was charming, he bore a striking resemblance toa member of the Baldwin family, and not once, not once, did he offerhis shivering new companion the fleece.

Could I have predicted, after just five minutes, that this paragonwould eventually leave me cold? Maybe.

With more sense (and perhaps fewer martinis), I may have been ableto see past the flood of pleasing visual stimuli, past my absurdprojection of our atom-smashing Baldwinesque children. I may havebeen able to hear what his actions were telling me — that this was aman, less malicious than distracted, who would not even think tooffer me shelter.

In the last year and a half, I’ve thought a lot about that firstmeeting, much the way you replay that second before a car wreck,wondering why you didn’t see it coming, why you didn’t swerve or hitthe brakes or pay attention.

One of the few American axioms that my Yiddish-speakinggrandfather chose to learn — and repeat often — was “seasonschange, people don’t.” In other words, the man who at first doesn’tthink to offer you his fleece will not magically morph into thegiving, sensitive man you’d like him to be.

These days, I try to be alert for early harbingers of heartbreak– and remember my grandfather’s words.

A few months ago, I met a man and gave him my phone number. When Ididn’t hear from him for two weeks, I figured that he wasn’tinterested or that he lost the digits in some sort of horrible housefire. When he finally did call, he said that he had been busy; hethen casually inquired about my weekend plans. I thought, “No way,pal,” and swerved right out of the way of that particular wreck. Ifit takes a man two weeks to call for the first date, how “busy” is hegoing to be before the second date? Or on my birthday? Or when I’mstranded somewhere with a flat tire?

You might say to me, listen Lady Heartbreak, Princess of Doom,you’re taking this first impression thing way too far. And I may be.But, for now, I’d rather be a little neurotic than a lot sorry.

And it’s not only flaws that I recognize from a careful study of afirst encounter.

I met Bill in an acting class. We were all supposed to introduceourselves, and when it was his turn, he stood on his chair, rippedoff his shirt and launched into an over-the-top monologue about howhe always wanted to have a raven tattooed on his chest. The incidentsort of loses its spontaneity in the retelling, but I could not stoplaughing. I knew right away that Bill was both creative and fearless.We didn’t quite click romantically, but he is one of my closestfriends and, certainly, my most amusing.

I’m not saying I have a crystal ball, or that I have becomeperfectly adept at surmising the compatibility of potential mates.It’s still difficult to really take in all of the initial datawithout automatically dismissing the bits of information I don’tlike. But I’m trying to be both more alert and more realistic.

The next time that I’m shivering and looking for warmth, I’ll waitfor the season to change — because people usually don’t.