Friends Found a World Away

Every other year, our congregation travels to a different part of the Jewish world to meet and, if necessary, help our fellow Jews. Having traveled to Israel, Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union many times, as well as Turkey, Morocco, Spain, Argentina and Brazil, our experiences have mostly been with communities under political, demographic or economic siege. This trip was different.

Imagine this scene: We’re in Sydney, Australia, in a neighborhood known as The Rocks, where in the 18th century exiled British prisoners disembarked and experienced their new home. Most were convicted of petty crimes — poor people who stole a loaf of bread — and some were political prisoners whom England feared. After 1776, the penal colony in Georgia was no longer available, so convicts were sent to Australia, both to get rid of them and for future colonization.

In Australia, one’s yichus is enhanced by being descended from an exiled British convict. Everyone, if lucky enough, brags about it. Even in shul, on Shabbat, before we asked someone how long his family has been in Australia, a macher proudly kvells and shares his imprisoned family tree.

So, here we were, at The Rocks, chanting Havdalah, singing and swaying outdoors, with arms around each other, gazing at the incredible beauty of Sydney Harbor, proud and free as Jews. We were even joined by locals George and Adele who, though Jewish (at least George), hadn’t seen a Havdalah service in quite a while. When we finished, a woman approached and asked from where we were visiting. When we answered "Irvine, California," she asked: "Do you know Natalye and Howard Black, because I’m their machatenester [in-law]!"

"Not only do we know them, but we brought them," we answered, "and they’re right over there!"

It’s a small Jewish world, much less than "six degrees of separation." A day before, the waiter at Doyle’s Restaurant was curious about another couple on our tour, the Hemplings, and when asked by them what kind of fish does he recommend, the waiter answered: "Do you, by any chance, like gefilte fish?"

Voila — another landsman!

Although there are only 100,000 Jews out of a population of 18 million, we managed to meet many of them in both expected and unexpected places.

Of course, our synagogue visits were delightful. For our first Shabbat in Sydney, we visited Temple Emanuel, a liberal congregation, whose rabbi, Jeffrey Kamins, is from Los Angeles. A week later in Melbourne, we met Rabbi Fred Morgan born in Syracuse, N.Y., who showed us his synagogue’s incredible stained-glass windows that portrayed holidays and history. They were created by the foremost stained-glass artist in Australia.

At both synagogues, the services were familiar, albeit more formal. We were delighted that we chose liberal congregations, since most tourists only visit Orthodox synagogues since they’re in the oldest parts of the inner city and tour guides can get to them more easily. The problem is, however, that tourists, who are usually non-Orthodox, rarely meet and worship with their religious peers.

At the Jewish Museum in Sydney, we were impressed by the beautiful Star of David design in the floor, ceiling and walls. Most moving, however, was Lotte, a Holocaust survivor from Bratislava, who spoke to us and emphasized what is now too familiar a story — how a majority of European Jewish children perished. By killing them first, the Nazis hoped to put an end to future generations of Jews.

She spoke painfully , as if it were yesterday, of being called a "Jewish pig" and how ashamed she was, as a teenager, of having to undress in front of and be shaved by male Nazi officers.

Although she and other Jews generally feel safe in Australia today, they remember how only one group boldly advocated saving the Jews of Europe 64 years ago. It was a few weeks after Kristallnacht when the Aborigines League protested to Hitler’s consul in Melbourne. A few weeks before we arrived in Australia, the Aborigines were honored for their heroism by the Jewish community at Melbourne’s Holocaust Museum; Jews are now in the forefront of advocating on behalf of aboriginal land rights, including placing markers on Jewish buildings naming the aboriginal owners of the land.

Australia’s Sept. 11 was Oct. 12, 2002, when its tourists were murdered by Islamic terrorists in Bali. Australians are strong supporters of the United States in its fight against terrorism and are worried about the J.I. (Jemaah Islamiah), an Australian Islamic organization that aims to create an Islamic state in Australia "even if it takes 100 years."

When we visited the U.S. consulate in Sydney, we were briefed in regard to Australia’s strong support for the United States, as well as its ambivalence about our nuclear policy. Nevertheless, one gets the feeling that Aussies genuinely like Americans, without wanting to become like us. Their culture is slower, more laid back and easy going, in part due to an amazing amount of physical space — only 18 million people on land the size of the United States.

Physically, Sydney looks like Vancouver, and Melbourne like Chicago, and each feels its rivalry with the other. Jewishly, Sydney is comparable to Tel Aviv with its cafes and nightlife, while the more staid Melbourne is like Jerusalem — especially with the largest day school in the world (2,500 students) and a more observant population.

Historically, Jews were quite instrumental in the intellectual and economic development of Australia — no surprise to us — founding museums and universities, establishing newspapers and large businesses and finding prominence in the legal profession.

No trip to Australia would have been complete without cruising on a boat in Sydney Harbor, visiting the Opera House and strolling through urban parks, gardens and charming neighborhoods. Wherever we went, the food was delicious and plentiful, even in modest restaurants, and people were incredibly unpretentious, gracious and friendly, with a lovely self-deprecating humor.

Of course, another not-to-be-missed visit was to an animal sanctuary, where we held and watched baby kangaroos hop in and out of pouches and where we fed koala bears. The animal and plant life of Australia is vividly colorful and fascinating in its diversity.

So, too, when we traveled to the Great Barrier Reef, we were mesmerized by the bluish green clarity of the water and the fantastic fish. Some of us also met Golan Ayalon, one of the few Jews and the only Israeli in Cairns, one of the towns near the reef. He’s one of the major distributors of Aboriginal art and a friendly hippie type who liked Cairns, because it reminded him of his hometown of Eilat — full of water sports, muggy and relaxed. In Cairns, we also met a Jewish couple from Kentucky; the man’s brother belongs to a Reconstructionist synagogue in Philadelphia.

When we visited the Aboriginal village of Kuranda, we passed through forests and by waterfalls galore, captivated by birds and butterflies of every imaginable hue. We walked through rainforests, learned about making fire, listened to Aboriginal folklore and playing of the didgeridoo.

The sad history of the indigenous people of Australia was truly heartbreaking. Like our own Native Americans, they were pushed further and further inland to make way for "civilized Europeans." Then, as a "favor," they were converted to Christianity, but still treated in a segregated, second-class way. Disease and violence destroyed too many lives and families and there was forced separation of children from parents in order to "educate" them. It has left permanent societal scars. (The 2002 film, "Rabbit Proof Fence," details this misery through a true personal story describing an arrogant social policy that only ended in 1970.)

The xenophobic anti-immigration policy of Australia, only modified in recent decades, created a smug, racially insensitive and insular society that many Australians now realize was a mistake. The challenge to Australia today is accepting that, over time, it will continue to become a more Pacific Rim, less Eurocentric country, with diverse religions and races, and seeing this development as a strength.

In our closing circle, at the end of our 16-day journey, many spoke of the incredible physical beauty of the land, the vastness of each country and the genuine warmth and kind humor of the people. We shared a deep feeling for the importance of meeting Jews from all over the world — especially in these less visited Jewish communities — and how instantly we bonded with our fellow Yidden. Even more, we understood the time-honored Jewish maxim that "all Jews are responsible for one another."

Arnold Rachlis is rabbi of University Synagogue in Irvine.

Charity Makes Tamkin an ICON

Dr. S. Jerome Tamkin doesn’t keep a little black book, but he does keep a large white binder. And if you’re an educational, Jewish or health organization, you want to be listed there, because the binder tracks 32 organizations which Tamkin and his wife, Judith, have chosen to support through their Tamkin Foundation. And that’s just the major projects. It also includes a list of more than 100 additional entities which receive donations from the foundation.

“My father was very charitable and my grandfather was very charitable. My grandfather used to say, ‘There’s one thing that all the money in the world won’t buy — a good name,'” said Tamkin, rushing back to his West Los Angeles office after attending a meeting of the Board of the UCLA Brain Mapping Center.

Although 77 years old and ostensibly retired, Tamkin devotes full-time hours to his charitable endeavors. He serves on the boards of the medical schools at UCLA and UC Irvine — as well as the Scripps Medical and Science Foundation in La Jolla — and is a trustee at the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta. He also keeps close tabs on the other Tamkin Foundation beneficiaries.

“I get my kicks helping direct, finance and check on the organizations I support,” he said.

Tamkin says one of the most meaningful of his endeavors was his role as a founder of the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program. D.A.R.E. — which brings uniformed police officers to speak with kindergartners through 12th-grade students about the dangers of drugs, gangs and violence — reaches more than 36 million children annually.

In recognition of all his accomplishments, Tamkin will receive the UCLA Center on Aging’s ICON Award at a June 7 tribute dinner at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

“Jerry is very deserving of the ICON Award, which honors role models of successful aging,” said Dr. Gary Small, director of the UCLA Center on Aging. “He is someone who is vital, who is involved and who cares, and we’re delighted to recognize him.”

Although he has a strong interest in medicine, Tamkin’s doctorate is in biochemistry. While still a college student, Tamkin worked as a lab chemist for a rubber manufacturer and developed a device that could prevent fires by detecting explosive gas mixtures before they ignited.

His invention earned him a commission as a U.S. Naval officer during World War II, after which he held a series of management positions in chemical, oil and medical equipment firms. He became involved in the hospital business after he, his father and a business partner acquired part ownership in a struggling local hospital. They eventually established American Medical International, one of the world’s first and largest hospital and health care providers. After a merger, the company became Tenet Healthcare, where Tamkin continues as a retired director since 1988. He also serves as CEO of a private firm involved with oil and gas drilling.

The Tamkins, who have four grown children, focus the bulk of their monetary support on areas relating to education, health and Jewish continuity. Among the organizations on the Tamkin Foundation’s “major projects” list are the Bureau of Jewish Education, Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, Jewish Home for the Aging, Milken Community High School, the Skirball Cultural Center and the University of Judaism. The Tamkins also funded the Molecular Human Genetic Research Facility at The Technion in Israel, the Tamkin Functional Imaging Wing of the Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Building at UCLA, the Tamkin Foundation Scholarship in the School of Medicine and the Tamkin Auditorium in the new UCLA Medical Center Replacement Hospital.

One of the Tamkins’ most visible projects stands 41-feet high in the foyer of the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum. Skeletons of Tyrannosaurus Rex and Triceratops engaged in combat, also known as “The Tamkin Dueling Dinosaurs,” have become the museum’s icon.

Judith Tamkin is also involved in the health care arena, although like her husband, she started in a different field. After a career in the fashion industry, she became a certified clinical hypnotherapist who works with terminally ill patients as a volunteer with Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Involved in a host of social service endeavors, she helped found and currently directs a program for the Boy Scouts of America to involve disabled children in scouting.

Summing up the couple’s activities, Tamkin said, “That’s what we’re interested in: Trying to help other people. You know what we think being Jewish is about? To make it a better world for everybody.”

The ICON Award reception starts at 6:30, with dinner at 7:30 at The Beverly Hilton Hotel, 9876 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. For more information about the dinner, contact the UCLA Center on Aging at (310) 794-0676.

Reflections After the Fire

On May 7, at about 6:30 a.m., I was awakened by a call informing me that an incendiary bomb had been thrown through the stained-glass window of our sanctuary at Valley Beth Shalom. I rushed to the temple, only to find that our custodians, uninstructed by any temple official, had themselves rushed into the sanctuary, opened the ark, removed the scrolls of the Torah and deposited them safely in another room. A spark of holiness penetrated the darkness of our mood. Here were men and women who take care of the grounds of the synagogue, clean and prepare the classes, seminars and programs of our congregation, people mostly Hispanic and Catholic, not of our faith or our catechism, who would not stand idly by and observe without action the violation of a people’s sanctuary. We must acknowledge Marcial Cano, Martha Arelleno, Irma Buenelo and Carlos Crespian, custodians lovingly supervised by Sigfredo Barker and his daughter, Noemi Lasky. Here are people who realized in their lives the potentiality of God’s image invested in every child of Adam and Eve.

Where do you find the sparks of decency in tragedy? In the response of men and women of all faiths who, on the very next evening, gathered together in a prayer of solidarity at St. Cyril’s Catholic Church just two days after the fire-bombing. Men and women, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Baha’i, Armenian clergy, who sang and prayed and heard each others’ anguish and each others’ resolve to stand together to offer each other their houses of worship to those sanctuaries which were violated.

"How do you struggle against causeless hate?" the late Rabbi Abraham Kook asked. He answered simply, "You answer causeless hate with causeless love."

What can we learn from such incidents? Hatred is indiscriminate. It destroys synagogues, churches, mosques and ashrams. No one is exempt and everyone is responsible to protect each other. We have an antidote with which to counter the toxicity of hate. Vigilance, care, the sacred embrace of love that transcends one’s own sanctuary and enters the sacred space of our neighbors. We are Adam and Eve’s children and we share in common tears and fears and hopes. We cannot always prevent the violence, but we can always light up each other’s night.

Harold Schulweis is senior rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino.

A Reason to Smile

Attention Jewish Angelenos: now you can become more
beautiful and help Israeli victims of terror at the same time. Two programs,
Smiles in Spite of Terror and StandWithUs tooth whitening campaign, donate half
the fee from your teeth bleaching sessions goes to help fix the teeth of terror

Smiles in Spite of Terror was started by Dr. Alan Howard, a
Los Angeles dentist who felt frustrated at not being able to help Israel more
throughout the terror attacks. He made some inquiries and found out that the
terror victims were getting their dental treatment through Kupat Cholim, a
government-sponsored managed care that only provided low-end dentistry. Howard
thought he could do better than that, and he started organizing volunteer
dentists from the United States to go to Israel and offer high-end dentistry to
the terror victims free of charge at Hadassah hospital.

“The terrorists fill the bombs with nails and bolts, so when
they explode people have facial injuries and they lose teeth,” Howard said.
“The easier way to fix this is with removable dentures, but we put implants in,
which is more expensive, but it is also permanent, like having your own teeth

Since the organization started in September 2002, five
dentists (including Howard) have volunteered their services in Israel, and have
treated more than 60 patients, out of a pool of 600 victims who have applied
for treatment.

“There are over 750 people who have been killed in terror
attacks in Israel, but thousands of other victims have survived,” Howard said.
“For those who survived, we just want to give them back their smiles.”

Whitening costs $400 ($200 of which is a tax-deductible
donation to Smiles in Spite of Terror and StandWithUs) and dentists are
available in Los Angeles, Lakewood and the San Fernando Valley.

They are not the only Angelenos using their expertise to
help Israelis. In December, Max Castiel of IX Optical donated 800 eyeglass
frames to Israel, which his wife, Chantal, personally distributed in Haifa, as
part of an effort by ABSI — a French organization that helps indigent Israelis
get their sight back.

To make an appointment for bleaching, contact the StandWithUs
office at (310) 836-6140.

Networking for Jobs

It’s been nearly two years since David Lorch had a job. Currently, the former pricing analyst for an Orange County high-tech firm attends networking events near his home in Laguna Hills, does volunteer work for his shul, Congregation Eilat in Mission Viejo, and tries to maintain his hope.

With the job market showing little or no signs of improvement, Lorch is hoping to start a new networking group through his synagogue that is focused specifically on helping unemployed Jews find work. Such organizations have taken off at a handful of congregations in the San Francisco Bay Area, where the dismal job market is already considered a crisis in the Jewish community. Lorch is hoping to draw from the experiences of his peers in Silicon Valley in crafting a network of his own.

"It’s one thing to have a general group, but I think a focused group of Jews helping Jews could be more powerful, more beneficial," Lorch said. "So far, the standard stuff hasn’t worked."

Rabbi Sheldon Lewis of Congregation Kol Emeth in Palo Alto said his Conservative synagogue was a natural place for out-of-work congregants to base their support and networking activities. Their 1-year-old Project Full Employment, holds two monthly meetings and maintains an e-mail group for job leads that has attracted more than 300 members.

"I think in a community like a synagogue, we have a deep stake in each other’s welfare," Lewis said. "If we’re not ready to act in a time like this, then when?"

Lewis, a 30-year veteran of Silicon Valley, said the current economic downturn is the worst he has ever seen. At Kol Emeth, a congregation-wide appeal for job leads was part of the Yom Kippur services this year.

"I’m still finding out about people in the congregation who have been quietly facing this challenge. There are even families in which two bread-winners are unemployed together," Lewis said. "The toll is immense. I’ve seen tensions in marriages, drained self-esteem and the loss of hope."

Jill Kulick lost her job as a vice president of human resources when her Silicon Valley start-up company folded more than a year ago. Now, in addition to looking for a job, she organizes the networking group at Congregation Beth Am, a Reform synagogue in Los Altos Hills, at which an estimated 8 percent of adult congregants are out of work.

"It’s very lonely to be out there without a job," she said. "The common thread is that all of us are professionals who three years ago were in great demand. You go from a feeling of true competency and professionalism to where people don’t give you the time of day."

Like Kulick, many unemployed Jewish professionals find structure and a sense of purpose by getting more involved in their synagogues. For example, when Congregation Beth Am’s vice president of finance needed some help, Kulick knew of three unemployed chief financial officers she could call on. "I said here are our people, and they all said great, we’d love to get involved."

After a year of setting up guest speakers for the synagogue’s job networking group, Kulick and fellow organizers have shifted their focus toward establishing more personal connections between the 1,800-family congregation’s unemployed members and their fellow congregants who are in the position to help them make contacts and find job leads.

A recent dessert reception at Beth Am brought about 50 out-of-work congregants together with more than a dozen "movers and shakers" from the congregation’s own ranks. After each person briefly told their story, the group split into smaller networking units and shared resumes and suggestions.

"They got to meet with a whole constituency who never had come together as a community before," Kulick said.

Passion for Politics

Amanda Susskind doesn’t look like she was raised in Berkeley. With her tweedy, conservative suits, paired with sweater sets and pearls, the new West Coast director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) doesn’t look like she was brought up anywhere near the laid back, hippie haven.

But don’t be fooled by appearances. Susskind, 45, brings a down-to-earth, politically liberal but eminently practical style as one of the top people in one of the most powerful organizations in the country. In that role, her background has served her well.

“Berkeley in the ’60s was a place of great and open debate,” Susskind said. “Everywhere you went, whether in school or with friends or around the dinner table, there were great discussions. We were at the center of all the larger movements: free speech, the women’s movement, the anti-war movement, even the environmental movement. It was a great place to be.”

Susskind attended Stanford University and UC Hastings College of the Law, after which she moved to Los Angeles and built a career as an attorney specializing in public policy. Her passion for politics led to a run for the Assembly in 2000. Though unsuccessful, the campaign laid the groundwork for her eventual bid for the top job in ADL’s West Coast region, which she officially took over July 15.

Her duties include overseeing three West Coast offices and 35 employees, acting as spokesperson for all organization-related issues and raising funds for both the local and national offices. She has begun to refine her role as leader of one of the most influential Jewish organizations in California devoted to the task of fighting bigotry and discrimination of all kinds.

Lay leaders in the ADL describe Susskind as warm, friendly and passionate about her causes. They believe that she has the leadership ability necessary to boost the morale of an office in a slump after the dismissal last December of Susskind’s predecessor, David Lehrer.

Lehrer had been with the ADL for 27 years and was fired by Abe Foxman, the organization’s national director, without any consultation with Los Angeles lay leaders. The dismissal generated anger and confusion among both lay leaders and the West Coast staff.

The outcry and bad feelings over Lehrer’s dismissal lasted well into the spring, making a challenging year even more difficult because of increases in hate incidents and anti-Semitic rhetoric. For a new director facing such a situation, Susskind met the challenge with diplomacy and skill, ADL leaders and staff said.

Jonathan Rosenbloom, chairman of the ADL’s Valley advisory board who has known Susskind for almost 20 years, said, “She has a wonderful energy and enthusiasm that she brings to any task she undertakes. She’s passionate about the issues on which she works, whether it involves legal problems for private clients or women’s causes or, now, the ADL’s mission. What’s really admirable is how quickly she has absorbed what the ADL does and brought her own style to the leadership of the ADL.”

Nicole Mutchnik, a member of the ADL’s Salvin Young Leadership group, first met Susskind four years ago, when both became involved with the Women’s Political Committee in Los Angeles. Mutchnik was one of the more vocal supporters of Lehrer, but eventually came to serve on the search committee for his replacement. She encouraged Susskind to apply for the ADL job.

“While I was and am an enormous fan of David, when the opportunity arose to select someone from our community for the job, I thought Amanda had all the goods to become a strong leader for the ADL,” Mutchnik said. “She is part of an emerging group of young women leaders.”

“She is so fresh, despite all her experience, so unjaded, and that is not common for people in politics and community work,” she continued. “We needed someone with her strengths, someone with a confident public face, but who can also lay back and let other people shine.”

Susskind said her most profound on-the-job discovery is the depth of anti-Semitic sentiment that lurks beneath the surface of 21st century society. “I think my generation and the generations that are the children and grandchildren of the Holocaust have been really blessed with peaceful times and cursed with complacency,” she said.

“If you ask the common man, ‘Does anti-Semitism really exist in Los Angeles?’ they would say no, it’s a thing of the past, look how far we’ve come,” Susskind said. “But when you’re in a position where every day you get the reports and the e-mails across your desk, you see that it’s not a thing of the past. It’s on the rise in the world, and it’s on the rise in America, and it is very much alive and well in the Pacific Southwest region.”

The specter of the Holocaust is ingrained in Susskind’s psyche. Her father, Charles Susskind, was one of the 10,000 mostly Jewish children who were forced to flee from Nazi persecution, in what was called the Kindertransport, and found safety in Great Britain.

His mother was not so lucky, Susskind said. “My grandmother was in three different camps, including Auschwitz, but she survived,” she said. “There is a story [that] she was visiting one of my uncles in Amsterdam, and on the train going back to Germany, a German official turned to her and said, ‘Madam, you are going in the wrong direction.’ But who could imagine what was ahead. They were a well-to-do, assimilated family, much like a well-to-do, assimilated family in Los Angeles today.”

Susskind’s mother, Terry, was in London during the war, and lost an entire contingent of her family from the Lodz ghetto. Her parents met and married in London and immigrated to the United States in 1945.

“They actually came to Pasadena [first], and my mother thought she had died and gone to heaven,” Susskind said. “You can’t find two bigger patriots than my dad and mom.”

Susskind said she is impressed with the commitment of the ADL staff, which she attributes to Lehrer’s leadership, and hopes to continue building on that quality. She said that if she were to change one thing, it would be to increase the organization’s political profile.

“With my experience and comfort in the political arena, I would like to have us to have a slightly higher presence,” she said. “We need to participate in the political process, and we need to be seen as participants in the political process. “

“We need to raise people’s awareness that we are here, that we have amazing programs and resources available,” she said. “There is a belief in the greater community that Jews only care about Jews. I like to say we [the ADL] are not only here to serve the Jewish community, we are Jews that are here to serve the community.”

Chains of Support

Two days after her radical breast cancer surgery last May, Missy Stein hit that moment where all the emotional and physical implications of her condition came crashing in on her.

But then she remembered Sari Abrams’ words.

In a phone call before the surgery, Abrams, who had a similar surgery four years before, had warned Stein that there would be one day that would be tougher and bleaker than any before it. Just get through that day, Abrams told her, and you’ll be fine.

“It was really so helpful having the preparation and knowing what was coming, so I didn’t have that fear of the unknown going in,” said Stein, a 36-year-old mother of five from Aberdeen, N.J.

Stein and Abrams found each other through Sharsheret (Hebrew for chain) a year-old organization that sets up links between young Jewish women with breast cancer so they can offer support and knowledge gained through experience.

“I strongly believe in the positive effect of social support on the outcome for cancer patients,” said Abrams, who was diagnosed at 30 and again at 33, and had a baby boy when she was 37. “It’s so helpful to know that others are going through the same thing and have gone through it and survived and come out of it OK. I feel like this is my part in this chain, being part of the so-called sisterhood of breast cancer survivors.”

The match between Stein and Abrams is one that Sharsheret founder Rochelle Shoretz holds up as a remarkable success. Not only did the two have similar diagnoses and treatments, but both were the wives of rabbis.

Abrams, the wife of B’nai David Judea’s Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, answered many of Stein’s questions about the surgery and helped quell some of Stein’s fears about how to tell the community while keeping some measure of privacy when so many people wanted to help. The rabbis also spoke directly with each other.

Shoretz, an Orthodox mother of two, came up with the idea of Sharsheret after she was diagnosed with breast cancer at 28, when she was a clerk to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

“When I was diagnosed, one of the first things I wanted to do was to speak to someone my age with my background who was experiencing what I was experiencing, and it was very difficult for me to find another young Jewish woman with whom to speak,” said Shoretz, who lives in Teaneck, N.J. Eventually friends put her in touch with Lauryn Weiser, who now serves as Sharsheret’s link coordinator.

“We talked about everything from the side effects of chemotherapy to community support to coping with parents and children and husbands. I used her as a resource for everything I was about to experience,” Shoretz said.

Doing more research, Shoretz found that while there were organizations that linked cancer patients with each other, mostly based on diagnosis, none met the specific needs and experiences of young Jewish women.

“We ask women who call in what their biggest concerns are, what their biggest fears are and what they would like to speak to someone about and we do our best to find them a match,” Shoretz said. “Some women just want to draw religious strength from one another.”

Observant women might share experiences relating to mikvah or sexuality. Single women might want to talk about dating after mastectomy. Young mothers may talk about taking care of the children while on chemo. Some callers have been women who don’t have breast cancer but are carriers of the genetic mutation found in many Ashkenazim that can portend breast cancer.

About 60 women, from Chasidic to unaffiliated, have been paired up through Sharsheret so far, and the organization has fielded more than 500 phone calls from people and other organizations who want to find out more.

In its first year Sharsheret raised and spent about $100,000. Aside from a recently hired part-time administrator, the entire staff is volunteer.

The organization has come to occupy an important place in the cancer community. Early on Shoretz formed an alliance with the American Cancer Society, which she has spoken to on several occasions about Jewish issues. Sharsheret is currently featured on the Web site of UCLA breast specialist Dr. Susan Love ( This month in New York, Sharsheret is sponsoring its first conference, a symposium on fertility and cancer held at Cornell Medical School and co-sponsored by the American Cancer Society, the Cornell Institute for Reproductive Medicine and Hadassah.

At the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides walkathon, Sharsheret has a 100-person team walking in Central Park. This month, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Shoretz is busy responding to an upsurge in media interest in breast cancer among young women, who face much different prognoses and emotional issues than older women.

About 250,000 women under the age of 40 currently are living with breast cancer, and about 1,300 a year die. Among young women, the disease is often more aggressive, and often caught at a more advanced stage, than among older women.

Missy Stein, whose mother is also undergoing treatment for breast cancer, said Sharsheret’s focus on young women has been important to her.

“We’re all young people with, God willing, long lives ahead of us, and there is a vitality and upbeat attitude that I found in Sharsheret over and over that makes it an important organization for younger women,” Stein said. “To have the opportunity to walk with each other this whole crazy journey is a wonderful thing.”

Woman of the Book

Sherrill Kushner’s crusade on behalf of the Santa Monica Public Library system began with her realization that Jews are the People of the Book.

“I’ve always felt comfortable in a library,” she said. As a child, Kushner spent many happy hours in the “cozy and wonderful” Carnegie Library in her hometown of Lincoln, Neb. The library was a welcome refuge in a community (population 175,000) where the Ku Klux Klan flourished, the singing of Christmas carols was mandatory in the public schools and Jewish classmates were few and far between.

Descended from Ukrainian immigrants who came to the Midwest via Galveston, Texas, Kushner grew up in a family that emphasized community service and dedication to Jewish life. Her parents were pillars of the local Conservative synagogue, whose congregants barely spoke to the members of the anti-Zionist Reform temple across town.

“We lived at the synagogue. When you’re a minority — a real minority — you cling to it all the more.” She herself found social outlets in such organizations as Young Judaea and United Synagogue Youth. But her intellect truly blossomed when she moved from Lincoln, where there were eight Jewish students in her high school class, to St. Louis’ prestigious Washington University, where fully one-third of the student body was Jewish.

Despite her intense involvement in Jewish campus life, Kushner came to California in 1971 to join a Catholic boyfriend. By 1976, however, she was married to Ed Klein, a young physician whom she met through an ad in the B’nai B’rith Messenger. Unsure about a career path, Kushner explored teaching, journalism and consumer affairs, before “working up the nerve” to enter Loyola Law School at age 33. Daughter Alana was then 3 years old; Shana was born two years later.

“I was fortunate to have a very supportive husband and a housekeeper,” she said.

As a new attorney, Kushner gravitated first to labor law. But her struggle to help her refusenik relatives leave the Soviet Union turned her into an immigration specialist. Today, she’s proud of having helped 18 family members from Ukraine, along with eight she discovered in Argentina, obtain U.S. citizenship. Still, she’s concluded that the practice of law is not for her: “I don’t have the temperament to be an attorney. I don’t like adversarial situations.” Her current plan is to segue into a writing career. One goal is to complete “Don’t Let the Lights Go Out,” a nonfiction work for children containing rare and unusual Chanukah stories.

But the writing is going slowly. “I get waylaid, because I get enmeshed in volunteer stuff.” Back in 1981 she helped found Santa Monica’s Kehillat Ma’arav. The Conservative synagogue’s staunch egalitarianism is largely a tribute to Kushner, who opposed from the start the forming of a Sisterhood-type group that might relegate women to the kitchen. Her feminist principles also come into play when she airs her annoyance with The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Women’s Division, which she views as a form of voluntary segregation. “Aren’t we all Jews? Can’t we all give?”

Currently, it’s the city of Santa Monica that benefits from her activism. In 1998, her complaint that her local branch library needed refurbishing led to her chairing the campaign that overwhelmingly passed Proposition L, a $25 million city bond to cover the renovation of the entire system. She now serves on the committee overseeing the design of a new Main Library for downtown Santa Monica, while also raising funds for library furniture at her own neighborhood branch. Beyond this, she’s taking on the cause of historic preservation. As a founding member of the Santa Monica Conservancy, she rose before dawn this past July to stop the bulldozing of the city’s last 1880s shotgun house.

Kushner occasionally questions the focus of her energies. She wonders whether she ought to be tutoring children or helping Ethiopian Jews instead of struggling to save buildings. In the future, she may choose a different path: “I have done many, many things, and I’m not done yet.”

I’ve Heard That Name Before

Call up a Los Angeles City Council or Board of Supervisors office these days and you are likely to speak to someone called Adina, Adeena or Adena. It doesn’t matter if you are calling the office of Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky (3rd District) or the council offices of Cindy Miscikowski (11th District) or Jack Weiss (5th District). All have deputies on hand with the same name who are equipped to help citizens deal with their civic woes.

"My whole life, I had grown up thinking that Adina was such an uncommon name," said Adeena Bleich, a field deputy for Weiss. "And now I think it is funny that there are three of us all working in the similar areas. I kept hearing about Adina Solomon who works for Zev Yaroslavsky, and then when I finally met her, we had this joyous meeting and became fast friends. The other Adena I found out about when I had to call the LAPD one day, and they started telling me about this project that I knew nothing about. Finally I said something, and they said, ‘Aren’t you with Miscikowski’s office?’"

"It is definitely unusual," said Adena Tessler, who works as a legislative deputy for Miscikowski. "In my entire lifetime, I have not met that many Adinas, so to have three of them all working in municipal politics in Los Angeles is, I would say, unusual."

Although all three spell their name differently, they all share a common commitment to helping people through the political process.

"We all enjoy people, that is part of this job," said Adina Solomon, a deputy for Yaroslavsky. "We are all people people, and we really enjoy helping others."

"The name itself is supposed to mean delicate or gentle," Tessler said,"which is kind of funny when you look at the careers we have chosen. In my area, working with fire, police and public safety, I don’t spend a lot of time being delicate or gentle."

Trading Up

Investment banker Adlai Wertman was fed up with Wall Street — so he moved to Los Angeles, took an 85 percent pay cut and got a job on Skid Row. Two years later, he says he’s never been happier.

Wertman, 42, is the president and CEO of Chrysalis, a nonprofit organization that helps homeless people find jobs in order to become economically self-sufficient. It wasn’t a sudden revelation that changed his life. “I always felt what I should be doing was some sort of community or public service,” said Wertman, whose 18-year banking career included senior positions at Bear Stearns and Prudential Securities.

He said when his brother died six years ago, “I came to realize that if there were things I needed to do with my life, I really couldn’t put them off. I had made a bunch of money, but I didn’t make a difference in the world or in people’s lives.”

After serving on the board of directors of Chrysalis, he threw his hat into the ring when the agency’s top job became available. “I find this mission of helping people who are asking for a hand up to be unbelievably compelling,” said Wertman, who studies Torah weekly and is particularly moved by “Pirke Avot.”

“I can point to 100 spots in Torah and Talmud that tell you why the mission of Chrysalis is so compelling,” Wertman said. In addition to the tikkun olam work he does with Chrysalis, Wertman serves on the board of directors of his synagogue, Kehillat Israel, and on the board of governors for the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. Additionally, he is in the Wexner Fellowship Program.

Wertman isn’t asking everyone in the private sector to quit their jobs and join him — although some of his friends have. Leveraging his business connections, much of his time is spent talking to executives about hiring Chrysalis clients, making financial contributions and spreading the word. But you don’t have to be a CEO to help. “I think people will feel really good if they get involved in these issues,” he said.

Wertman likes to quote a colleague who said, “Skid Row is the rug under which L.A. sweeps its homeless problem.” Chrysalis estimates that 25,000 homeless people live within the 40 square blocks of downtown’s Skid Row. Many have not worked in years or not worked at all.

Each year, 2,000 people walk through the doors of Chrysalis’ sites in Skid Row, Pacoima and Santa Monica. About 35 percent are referred to other agencies because they don’t meet three basic requirements: sobriety, living at least in temporary housing so they can focus on employment and a willingness to take ownership over a job search. “Our best numbers show a vast majority of that 35 percent will come back later,” he says.

The people who do become clients meet with an employment specialist and enroll in a series of job preparation, job searching and interviewing classes. The agency provides computers to create resumes and search for jobs, a phone bank to call employers and receive messages and professional clothes for interviews and office work.

About 93 percent of those who completed Chrysalis’ job readiness program last year found jobs. With the agency’s retention program, 85 percent were still working six months later.

One of Wertman’s favorite parts of his work is the moment someone gets a job: They ring a bell and all work stops. Clients, staff and visitors gather in the lobby to congratulate the job-seeker, who tells his or her personal story. “That moment is worth its weight in gold for everyone here.”

Recently, four people rang the “success bell” in 30 minutes. Wertman joked that Chrysalis’ motto, “changing lives through jobs,” doesn’t really refer to the agency’s clients, “but to the people who work here.”

For more information or to get involved, contact
Chrysalis at (213) 895-7777 or visit .

On Hertzberg’s Horizon

Even though Robert Hertzberg will step down from the speakership of the California Assembly on Feb. 6, he still has plenty to say. The Sherman Oaks Democrat, as a rule, keeps busy.

On what he sees as his responsibilities, he’s fond of quoting from the Talmud: “You are not expected to complete the task; neither are you allowed to put it aside.” There is plenty of work to be done in California, from last year’s energy crisis to the needs of the Jewish community, and Hertzberg, 46, sees it all as his job. So he just keeps going and going.

Even stepping down from the speakership 10 months early is a fulfillment of this goal. “I wanted to establish a tradition of turning over the office of the speaker in an orderly way,” he says, “to allow for a smooth transition.” By Feb. 26, when the Assembly’s new crop of legislation has to be introduced, Speaker-elect Herb Wesson (a Culver City Democrat nominated by Hertzberg) will be installed and ready to see it through from beginning to end. “It’s the right thing to do,” Hertzberg says.

“Let me tell you why it’s particularly important; you know, are you someone who believes in something or are you just promoting yourself?” After six years in the Assembly, the last two as speaker, Hertzberg is ready to rejoin private life.

For the first time in recent memory, the outgoing speaker is not campaigning for another office. While he may go back into the ring sometime in the future (he’s considering a run for state attorney general in 2006), his aspirations won’t affect his activities much. Hertzberg has done the work of an aspiring politician throughout his life. Raising money for politicians and causes, working for campaigns, knocking on doors, making phone calls.

Hertzberg, who took over the speakership from his friend Antonio Villaraigosa (who lost to James Hahn last year in the L.A. mayor’s race) is one of these good government types who took on elected office out of a sense of obligation — money and access he had well before. “I had my own law firm,” he says. “I had a business in Arizona, I did office development, we had an industrial bakery, international trade in Egypt, so much.”

Now, not only is he not running for office, he has not yet decided which jobs he will be taking on once he is free of his responsibilities as speaker. But certainly it will be jobs, plural, for in addition to the law firms and investment banks eager to have this man on board, there are a few other projects close to his heart. While he’ll get to stay closer to his Sherman Oaks home without the regular commute to Sacramento, he will probably keep up the 100-plus hour weeks he worked as speaker. Ask him why and he’ll refer to the Talmud. “We did fabulous things for California,” he says, ” but now, we’re still not free to set it down.”

The Hertzberg speakership coincided with some rough-and-tumble times in California politics. Hertzberg held the Legislature together through the energy crisis and the once-a-decade redistricting process, and pushed through billions in school bonds. “I’ve been fabulously surprised at how much you can get done. Really, I knew what I was getting into. … I don’t sweat the small stuff,” he says.

He published two resource books while in office and has two other books in the works. The San Fernando Valley Resource Guide, put out by his Assembly office, will surprise any Valley-basher. The index alone is 25-pages long — from Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School to Young Israel of Northridge (plus some non-Jewish resources). And there was the much-publicized “Yiddish for Assemblymembers,” a handy 26-page booklet to help his co-workers.

In his remaining months in the Assembly — he’ll stay in his 40th District seat until the term ends in December — look for Hertzberg’s thoughts on water, electricity and the legislative process in the op-ed pages. “Before I leave I want to contribute something to the debate,” he says. He’s working on a popular history of Los Angeles, and — of course, another book — a guide to the legislative process.

“There’s two themes to what I did. One, I sought to focus on the big picture issues, the Pat Brown-esque big picture. Two, I tried to create the tools to allow us to think long term. I reorganized the speaker’s office; built new offices across the street, to give the staffers a sense of permanency, a real professional workplace with child care.” For all his big-picture work, however, Hertzberg still feels “some of the biggest achievements are small achievements, solving problems for regular folks, you know? The endgame is to make California work for people.

“Henry Kissinger said, you better do all your thinking before you get into office, because once you take office there’s no time to think. I did a lot of thinking before I ever ran for office.” Indeed, before his run for state office, Hertzberg was a local leader in the Jewish community, serving on the boards of the American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Congress and Hebrew Union College, among other commitments. He plans to “sign up” with these organizations again.

One thing he looks forward to in private life is really talking to people again. “Before you get in office, you know people, you talk to people. The minute you get elected, that minute, there’s a line outside your door. You have meetings. You hear presentations; people want things from you. After a while, the white-guy-in-a-suit from the Jewish nonprofit looks pretty much like the white-guy-in-a-suit from Chevron,” he says. He never accepted the “dialogue” model for communities working together, either. “Dialogue? What do you need a dialogue for? Dialogue shmialogue, pick up the phone. I do it every day.”

One more thing he wants to do every day — see his children. With wife Cynthia, Hertzberg has three sons, ages 10, 12 and 14. With all the plans, all the jobs, the books and the work Hertzberg has set before himself, it’s easy to forget that this is a family man with a bar mitzvah to plan.

“I worked my heart out and did what I needed to do in the Legislature, and I accomplished some great things and I’m excited. I basically spent the entire time in a full sprint. So, I’m happy I’m going home.”

The race is on to take over Robert Hertzberg’s 40th District Assembly seat, when the outgoing speaker is termed out at the end of this year. Two Democrats and one Republican candidate have filed to run for the southern Valley seat; all three are Jewish.

The Republican candidate, Connie Friedman, is a member of the Republican Jewish Coalition Board of Governors and a longtime Valley Republican activist. Friedman owns a human resources consulting firm, The Human Aspect, in West Hills.

Most observers, however, believe that the 40th District seat will go to one of the two Democrats — voter registration in the district runs 49 percent Democrat to 32 percent Republican, and 60 percent of the district voted for former Vice President Al Gore in the 2000 presidential race.

Hertzberg has endorsed his former policy adviser, Andrei Cherny, 26. A graduate of North Hollywood High School and Harvard, Cherny worked as a White House speechwriter in the Clinton administration and participated in writing the 2000 Democratic Party platform. He has also published a book on public policy.

Running against Cherny in the March 5 primary is another up-and-coming Jewish Democrat, Lloyd Levine, 32. Levine worked two years for the state Employment Development Department prior to becoming legislative director for Democratic Assemblymember John Longville. Levine’s father, Larry Levine, is a well-known Democratic political consultant and anti-secession leader in the Valley. Levine lists Rep. Joe Baca and State Sen. Sheila Kuehl, both Democrats, among his endorsements.

Cherny and Levine, are scheduled to debate the issues on Thursday, Feb. 7, at a 7 a.m. breakfast organized by The Executives, a fundraising group for the Jewish Home for the Aging. Warner Center Marriott; $20 (members), $22 (nonmembers). For reservations or more information, call (818) 774-3331. — Mike Levy, Staff Writer

Deaths in the Family

Whenever one of our writers or contributors — or I myself — use the term "Jewish community," I think of Lew Wasserman. An interviewer once asked the former MCA chairman and power broker about the Jewish community here. Wasserman shot back: "I don’t know of a Jewish community. It is nonexistent."

What Wasserman meant, I assume, was that the Jews of Los Angeles don’t cohere into a single, like-minded political mass, a "structured community," in his words. And in that he was right: If 100 Martians landed beside 100 different L.A. Jews and said, "Take me to your leader," no doubt they’d end up at 50 different addresses. Maybe 100.

But to say we’re not easily led or defined doesn’t mean there’s no there there. After all, community is not something that exists apart from our creation of it, or apart from our individual efforts to connect with those around us who share the same values, interests, history. To a certain extent, you inherit community, but more importantly you help create it.

For Rebecca Amato Levy and Myrtle Karp, that creation was a lifelong endeavor.

I met Levy several years ago while preparing an article on Passover. A warm, energetic woman, she welcomed me into her daughter Mati Franco’s Beverly Hills home with a plate of precisely shaped butter cookies she had just made. Levy, then 85 years old, was the matriarch of a vast, yet tightknit, group of Sephardic Jews, and their ever-expanding families, who had lived in Rhodes. She fled in 1939, just before Hitler’s troops murdered all but 150 of the Greek island’s 2,000 Jewish inhabitants. The community she cherished was gone, but Levy worked to recreate it by passing on its food and traditions.

Two weeks before that Passover, Levy had called a friend and said, "I feel terrible."

"Is it your phlebitis?" the woman asked.

"No," Levy said. "It’s my oven." If she was unable to cook Quajado de Spinaka de Pesach for the masses, how would they acquire a taste of the Old Country?

Fluent in Turkish, Ladino, English, French, Spanish and, of course, Greek, she passed on her traditions through books and video, but mostly through example — cooking for hundreds at Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel in Westwood, participating in an annual Rhodesli trip to Catalina, teaching the next generation the beauty of its heritage.

Myrtle Karp was a different kind of activist: intensely energetic, devoted to fundraising and organizing, and expert at both.

Her mother’s death forced her as a teenager to become the matriarch of her own family, and she lived out that role in adulthood, taking on key roles in the United Jewish Fund, Hadassah, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and Jewish Family Service.

Women of Karp and Levy’s generation rarely led in the way a Lew Wasserman did. Their power lay in volunteerism, hard work and example. They created the structure of a community through which others could express their own Jewish identity.

Myrtle Karp died Aug. 2 at the age of 92; Rebecca Amato Levy passed away on Saturday morning, Aug. 4, at her daughter Mati’s home. She was 89. No such thing as a Jewish community? Lew Wasserman’s dictum would be Greek to both of them.

Obituaries for both women are on page 33.