American F-35 stealth fighter jets arrive in Israel

Two F-35 stealth fighter jets touched down in Israel for a handover ceremony from their American pilots to their Israeli pilots.

The planes arrived five hours late for the ceremony on Monday after being delayed in Italy due to fog.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter was in Israel for the arrival of the airplanes. Earlier in the day, Carter met in Tel Aviv with his Israeli counterpart, Avigdor Liberman, and they “discussed the depth and strength of the U.S.-Israeli relationship and reflected on the unprecedented defense cooperation between our two countries over the last eight years — including robust developments on missile defense, counter-tunneling, cyber security and intelligence sharing,” according to the U.S. Department of Defense.

Carter and Liberman also discussed “regional security challenges in the Middle East,” as well as the campaign to defeat the Islamic State terrorist group.

“Both sides reaffirmed their commitment to the U.S.- Israeli defense relationship and the United States’ unwavering commitment to Israel’s security in the future,” the Department of Defense said.

During the handover ceremony, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Carter for coming to Israel.

“It’s a sign of your personal commitment to Israel’s security on many fronts,” Netanyahu said, adding: “And I wish to thank as well, along with all the people of Israel, President Obama. Israel is your best and most reliable ally in the Middle East — in my opinion beyond the Middle East. We will always remain so. Thank you, Secretary Carter.”

Following the handover, Netanyahu and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, along with Israeli military officials, affixed the symbol of the Israel Air Force on the planes, which are known in Israel by the moniker “Adir,” or Mighty.

Each plane costs about $100 million. An additional six planes will arrive in the coming year.

Last month, Israel ordered 17 more of the advanced aircraft under the 10-year, $38 billion U.S. military aid package for Israel signed by Obama in September. Most of the aid must be spent in the United States. The F-35 is built by Lockheed-Martin.

Auschwitz railcar finds new home on expanding Jewish trade campus

The 90-foot wooden train car that made its way earlier this month to a dusty hillside in Granada Hills once shipped entire communities of Jews from Warsaw to their inglorious end at Auschwitz. 

But in its new home on the campus of the Jewish Educational Trade School (JETS), it serves a very different purpose: to help inspire the Jewish youth who attend the vocational academy. A June 5 dedication ceremony unveiled the memorial and helped raise funds for a 300-bed expansion project at the live-in trade school, set to break ground in the next two months.

“These walls recorded the cry of our brothers and sisters,” said Toni Luskin, a professor at the school, speaking to a crowd of 500 in the school’s courtyard before black curtains were pulled aside to reveal the railcar. She called JETS a “symbolic repudiation of the Third Reich” for the part it plays in training Jewish tradesmen. 

The school’s purpose is to take young men, mostly yeshiva dropouts or alumni with troubled backgrounds or disciplinary histories, and prepare them to take up a trade. It trains Orthodox youth to be everything from emergency medical technicians to plumbers and programmers. 

The railcar takes its place as the school prepares to erect three new buildings that will increase its square footage more than fivefold, from 18,000 to 100,000 square feet, according to JETS founder and director Rabbi Mayer Schmukler, who started the school in 2005 with seven students.

He said the new buildings would include “all kinds of shops,” including electrical, HVAC, refrigeration and plumbing, as well as a film production wing that includes a movie theater and a state-of-the-art kosher kitchen. It also will add space for 303 people in dormitory facilities that more than triple the occupancy of the current, 82-bed campus.

A digital image of one of the new buildings planned at the JETS campus. Image courtesy of JETS

The former Chabad rabbi operates on the principle that many Jewish youth are not cut out to be lawyers and doctors, and the best thing for those youngsters is to learn a trade while maintaining their connection to Torah scholarship. He’s confident the new buildings are only the first whiff of a boom in Jewish vocational education.

“In 10 years, we’re going to have 50 schools like this throughout the world,” he said in a phone call with the Journal. “We’re revolutionizing Jewish education.”

After the unveiling of the railcar, a tearful affair, guests headed into a tent on the site of one of the future buildings, where the mood immediately flipped as a klezmer band took the stage to play songs from “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Speaking to the black-tie crowd at dinner, Schmukler said the school would integrate the Holocaust memorial into its educational mission by using it as a meditative space where students can go to gain a sense of perspective. He said it had already had the desired effect with one JETS student who had arrived only recently and still persisted in blaming his parents and society for his problems.

“He walked in that train and he got a kick in the pants,” Schmukler said. “He got a lesson in life that changed him.”

The car not only commemorates Jewish blood spilled in Europe, but also stands on the site of the former North Valley Jewish Community Center (JCC) where, on Aug. 10, 1999, a white supremacist opened fire and wounded five. 

Speaking at the unveiling, Los Angeles City Councilman Mitchell Englander, who represents the northwest San Fernando Valley, said he “grew up at JCCs” and considered the JETS campus “holy ground.” He said that as the chief of staff for former Councilman Greg Smith, who represented the district, he fought to make sure the JCC building remained in Jewish hands rather than being torn down and replaced with residential units, as one developer had suggested.

Yet the site was not the first or even the second choice to house the train. Stanley Black, the wealthy real estate developer who paid for and procured the railcar — the last such car in the care of the Polish government, according to Luskin — told the unlikely story of its arrival to the audience at the unveiling.

The developer said that after seeing a Nazi cattle car on display in Mexico City, he felt he had to bring a similar memorial to Los Angeles. When he located a suitable train car, he began to make arrangements for its arrival with the help of fellow L.A. developer Severyn Ashkenazy, who has close ties with the Polish Jewish community.

By Luskin’s telling, the Polish government agreed to part with the train car after “intense negotiations and a significant outlay of funds” furnished by Black.

Before long, the train was on a cargo ship headed through the Panama Canal from Poland to California. Now, Black had a new problem: where to put 90-feet of metal and decaying wood.

At first, he called Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Museum of Tolerance on Pico Boulevard, to see if there was room there. There wasn’t.

“The boat’s still coming through the Panama Canal,” Black said. “I gotta think of something else.”

He tried to involve Hillel at UCLA and the USC Shoah Foundation. No luck.

“Now it’s past the Panama Canal,” he said. “It’s coming fast.”

Finally, he got in touch with Schmukler, who happily offered a spot on the sunny, nine-acre campus. The car came ashore at San Pedro, south of downtown L.A., and proceeded to the JETS campus.

“It ended up coming here for a special reason — because we’re going to take it and make it alive,” Schmukler said at the fundraising dinner.

Black is a major donor to the JETS expansion project, and one of the buildings will be named for him and his late wife, Joyce. Schmukler declined to say how much the school had raised or intended to raise for the construction project. 

But at the fundraiser, Max Webb, a 99-year-old Holocaust survivor and real estate developer, pledged to donate $500,000. Another donor, inventor Maurice Kanbar, who had promised to donate $1 million in 10 percent installments, said he had decided instead to write a single $1 million check after being moved by the railcar dedication.

Kanbar wasn’t the only one moved by the event. After climbing a wooden platform to peek into the darkened interior of the railcar, which was adorned with a mezuzah and a memorial lamp, Rita Korn wiped away tears while recounting her father’s journey aboard a similar train to Auschwitz. She said putting her hands on a Nazi cattle car is, in a strange way, “almost like touching my parents.”

“Right now, it hurts,” she said. “I don’t know why. It’s been so long.”

Jewish Educational Trade School: Training for a trade

For the first time in his life, Reuven Zulauf is making lists — the type of lists that can never truly be completely checked off. 

“Every morning, I go outside and I play an inspirational song — we call it a nigun — a song that touches your soul, inspirational music,” said Zulauf, a sandy-haired 17-year-old from Brooklyn who would probably prefer to be anywhere but cooped up in a rabbi’s office talking about lists. 

“I play the same song every day. I go outside in the sun, and I say, ‘What are you going to accomplish today? What are you going to work on to be, like, a better person?’ ”

Zulauf began thinking about these things last year when he started at his new school, the Jewish Educational Trade School (JETS) in Granada Hills. 

For the last seven years, JETS has allowed students who might not prosper in a traditional yeshiva system to earn their high school diploma or pursue an equivalency certificate while training for a vocational trade, such as automotive or aircraft repair, plumbing, construction, electrical wiring or computer graphics. 

The curriculum at this “yeshiva trade school,” which boards 50 of its 90 male pupils, includes Judaic studies. JETS life also reserves plenty of time for extracurricular activities, such as martial arts, weight training, music and lifeguarding.

Many of the students at JETS — young men between the ages of 16 and 21 — are like Zulauf and have neither a high school degree nor the ability to study for hours on end at a traditional yeshiva. Until they find an educational setting that meets their needs, they bounce from school to school; often educators and family members can’t figure out what to do with them.  

Now the school has plans to expand. Founder and director Rabbi Mayer Schmukler expects JETS to break ground on a $15 million campus expansion midway through 2013. It will include the construction of dorms, a multipurpose room, 21 classrooms and a pool. In addition to having the space to accommodate 300 students, JETS will open what Schmukler says will be a first-of-its-kind kosher culinary school. Farther down the line, JETS hopes to open a nursing school and open up a division for girls. 

The completed campus will boost the current square footage from 15,000 to more than 92,000 and will develop a land parcel adjacent to what once was home to the North Valley Jewish Community Center, site of a deadly shooting in 1999. 

The irony is not lost on Schmukler. 

“We have taken that terrible act and made something so positive out of it,” the rabbi said. “The kids who have succeeded, the parents and uncles and aunts, tell us, ‘Wow! You should see my kid. You should see my nephew. He’s doing amazing!’ ”  

Count Zulauf among the ranks of JETS success stories. He has developed a passion for numbers and an interest in business and is set to enroll at Los Angeles ORT College. Having failed his GED exam twice, he’s about to try for a third time. 

“This time I’m really going to do it,” he said.

Of this, the JETS leaders are certain.

“We’re very proud of Reuven. He’s changed so much,” said Rabbi Naftali Smith, co-principal who directs the academic, vocational and extracurricular curricula at JETS. “We try to have a support system for each kid so that each kid paves a career path that works for them.”

“In today’s society, there’s a major demand for kids who are not going to go to yeshiva, for kids who are not going to be lawyers or doctors,” Schmukler added. “[These kids] are falling through the cracks. If you go to a high school, you don’t find anybody trying to sell a kid to go to trade school.”  

Several of the vocational classes are held off  campus in such places as the Van Nuys Airport and the North Valley Occupational Center-Aviation Center in Mission Hills. Businessmen and entrepreneurs frequently come to campus to lecture. 

Schmukler often cites the proverb, “Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime.” Even if the students are not destined to become surgeons or attorneys, the fact that they’re training for a trade arms them for life in the real world. 

In other words, JETS is teaching them to fish. 

“Let’s go back a couple of years even in Jewish history. There’s nothing wrong with being a tailor or a shoemaker,” Schmukler said. “The idea that everybody has to be a lawyer or an accountant has changed. We have so many kids who cannot do that. We have so many kids who are becoming tradesmen and are making a living. Even if the economy is bad, people still need a plumber. They still need an electrician.” 

Underlying the training is the notion of fostering success, which increases a student’s self-confidence and appreciation of his own worth. JETS doesn’t measure achievement in a student’s GPA; the teachers want the students to find their niche, recognize something they’re good at and do it well, according to Schmukler. 

“The most important thing is these kids learn to love themselves,” he said. “Once that happens, it’s like magic. The rest happens all by itself.”

Students have arrived at the school with little to no direction and gone on to become contractors, insurance agents, Realtors and paramedics. More want to come. 

JETS, which started seven years ago with seven students, now has a waiting list of nearly 200. 

“If we had the space, we could have 300 kids who would come tomorrow,” Schmukler said, “because a school like this does not exist anywhere else in the world.” 

On a late Wednesday afternoon, just before Thanksgiving, Schmukler could be found strolling the grounds of JETS, poking into classrooms and greeting students — usually with a hug and a, “How are you?” Schmukler knows all the students personally and makes a point of hanging out with them, sometimes late into the evening, talking or playing music. 

“When things get hard, the pleasure is to go and spend time with the kids and really see the effect we’re having on them, and it all becomes worth it,” he said. 

He shares the credit for JETS’ success with his staff, including co-principals Smith, who had co-founded a similar school in Canada, and Rabbi Mendy Seewald, who coordinates the school’s yeshiva program and Judaic studies. 

The staff, he says, are talented and dedicated, fully aware that their directive is to care for and nurture their charges. When counselors ask Schmukler what is expected of them, he tells them that if a kid has not had dinner, their counselor is expected to break into the kitchen at midnight and prepare an omelet. 

But won’t that act get the counselor in trouble?

“Oh yeah, they’re going to get into major trouble,” Schmukler said. “But the kid is going to know you went on the line for him because he didn’t eat dinner. Then you know you have him.”

Iran claims successful test of its air defense system

Iran said it successfully test-fired a domestically produced anti-aircraft missile system.

The Ra'd air defense system, a midrange missile system, hit a large flying target and destroyed it, the Iranian Fars news agency reported late Monday.

“The indigenous system has been manufactured to confront advanced U.S. jet fighters,” Iran's Press TV reported.

Fars quoted Revolutionary Guard Gen. Ali Fadavi as saying the missile system “can reach the entire Persian Gulf coastline and beyond where the U.S. bases are.”

The announcement of the successful test comes a day after an Iranian Revolutionary Guard senior commander threatened to launch a pre-emptive attack on Israel and said that any attack by Israel on Iran could start “World War III.”

The commander, Amir Ali Hajizadeh, also said that in the case of such a war, Iran also would attack American military bases because, he said, “We cannot imagine the Zionist regime starting a war without America's support.”

Israel has threatened to strike Iran's nuclear facilities in an effort to prevent the Islamic Republic from building a nuclear weapon.

Orthodox youth not immune to high-risk lifestyles

A few weeks ago, Joel Bess gathered his group of 15 teenage boys and took them to the funeral of a 21-year-old who had died of an overdose. Like the teenagers, the youth who died was Orthodox and didn’t fit the yeshiva mold and wound up on a path of high-risk behavior.
After the funeral, Bess — the son of a prominent rabbi who spent his teenage years and beyond in a whirl of self-destruction — asked the boys to write their own epitaphs on pictures of blank tombstones.
“I wanted them to think about how people would remember them and what they would say about their lives,” said Bess, who is now 29, a father of three and has a strong relationship with his own father.
Bess knows how hard it is not to fit in, to fall and then to muster the strength to move toward health of body and soul.
“Almost all my friends ended up dead or in jail, and I’m trying to prevent that with these kids,” he said.
He has been meeting weekly with the boys for about nine months through Issues Anonymous, a group he helped found.

My son, the plumber. Amen.

On a hot abandoned Granada Hills playground surrounded by waves of wheat-colored brush, Rabbi Mayer Schmukler looks around and sees the future. Rather than the overgrown jungle gym and dusty rows of red Little Tikes cars at the site that once was the North Valley JCC, he sees a soccer field, a refurbished pool, maybe tennis courts behind the new dorm buildings.
Last year, Schmukler, a Chabad-trained rabbi, brought 15 boys to this eight-acre site to pilot JETS — Jewish Education Trade School. This year he’s got 35 boys praying, studying Torah and training to be carpenters, plumbers, chefs and elevator repairmen.
Schmukler is keenly aware that a Jewish vocational school faces some deeply ingrained prejudices.
“Everyone feels that if a Jewish kid has to become a plumber it’s a sad situation, that really he should be a lawyer or an accountant, or a rabbi,” Schmukler says.
But some kids aren’t cut out for academic rigor. Leaving them in a mismatched environment often leads them toward self-destructive paths to failure.
“We take kids that maybe have low self- esteem and show them they are good at something — or we make them good at something — and show them they can make it in this society,” said Schmukler with a smile that never leaves his eyes or his mouth, hidden though it is in his untamed beard.
JETS doesn’t take the most hard-core cases. Boys have to be drug-free for 12 months to get into the program, and there is mandatory drug testing every two weeks.
But some of his kids come from broken homes, or have emotional, learning or behavioral challenges. Most of them live on campus in classrooms converted into dorms.
JETS, an independent nonprofit, employs teachers, social workers, dorm counselors and a psychologist. Students get personal counseling, and classes in ethics and time management and organization as well as high-school equivalency preparatory classes.
It was the combination of industry and ethics that won Schmukler a California Regional Consortium for Engineering Advances in Technological Education grant and award from the National Science Foundation in May 2006.
Most of the trade classes are offered at College of the Canyons, an accredited community college in Santa Clarita that provides work force training.
Last year, the boys built a skateboarding ramp. This year, they’re building a house, from computer modeling to reading the blueprints to carpentry, plumbing, electricity and the finishings.
Some of the classes, such as cooking, take place at JETS. The school is building a state-of-the-art kosher kitchen, and hopes to open a kosher culinary school to the public.
On Shabbats when they stay in, boys prepare meals for each other. They have also taken trips to the Grand Canyon and Northern California.
Schmukler’s approach to discipline is to help the boys self-motivate. Smoking, for instance, is not prohibited. But boys can only smoke alone, and only in designated spots that might be a half-acre from the action. There is no wake up call in the morning — boys need alarm clocks to rouse themselves. Free time is scheduled up with classes in kickboxing or karate, and a whole set of bikes and the old JCC gym facilities are available to the guys.
Schmukler has bigger plans for the campus, and he is a strong fundraiser. He worked for years as the development director for Chabad’s Russian program, where he first set up teen centers in West Hollywood. JETS has an annual budget of about $1 million, and Schmukler works his connections well. He’s already raised $5 million for the purchase of the campus and got an adjacent parcel donated.
Schmukler is also giving space to the JCC for offices and some programming, and is working out further arrangements with them. He says he wants JETS to be a center for Jewish unity, especially because no one can forget the 1999 rampage by Buford O. Furrow, who wounded five people at this JCC and then killed postal worker Joseph Ileto.
“Because of that I really believe something positive has to come from here,” Schmukler says. “Judaism is positive, and if you open up with something positive, we’ve won.”
For more information, visit or call (323) 228-5905.


Issue Anonymous is one of several new programs that have emerged in the last few years to serve the Orthodox community, giving kids, their parents and local high schools more resources and options than have ever been available in Los Angeles.
At Issues Anonymous, the boys can express themselves freely — which they did on the blank tombstones.
“To our beloved son, we loved you and we wish we could have been there for you,” one of them wrote.
“He died on the road to recovery. He meant well and he tried hard. Had he lived longer he would have made some big differences. He will be missed by the select few that he touched.”
“We loved you, and we will miss you. You were a good friend, son and brother. You really were nice and smart.”
And then simply, “I hope I rest in peace.”
For these youths, the introspection and repentance of Yom Kippur is a full time, ongoing pursuit.
For nearly two decades, it has been an open secret in the Los Angeles Orthodox community that some kids are turned off by religious observance and high academic standards, and they end up turning to truancy, alcohol, unsafe sex or drugs.
Once on that path, many of the boys feel let down or pushed out by their schools, families or both. They feel hated by the community, and especially lost because they don’t feel they belong anywhere else. They call themselves screw-ups, and worse.
Some of them take a high school equivalency exam — or not — and get sent off to Israel or to yeshivas outside of Los Angeles. Some land in rehab, in jail, on the streets — or dead.
They are Sephardic, Ashekenazic and Persian. Their families are Chasidic and Modern Orthodox.
And to those who know them well, they are loveable boys who just need someone to believe in them.
“I think the community needs to embrace these kids with love,” says Debbie Fox, director of Jewish Family Service’s Aleinu Family Resource Center, who brought Bess in to start Issues Anonymous when four mothers approached her looking for help.
“I know that people are afraid that the kids will influence others. But that doesn’t mean we don’t create a place for them,” she said. “It means we need to look at how to balance things and how to do things safely and acknowledge that they are part of our community. We cannot sacrifice these kids — and they’re really beautiful kids.”
Los Angeles’ Orthodox community now offers some organized solutions for these boys — though none have been put forth for girls, even while most observers agree that, too, is needed.
The Jewish Educational Trade School (JETS), a vocational boarding school for boys who weren’t cut out for the academic rigor of yeshiva, started meeting last year at the North Valley Jewish Community Center. This year 35 boys spend part of each school day studying Torah and high school equivalency, and part of their day learning trades, such as elevator or air conditioning repair, or construction.
But JETS doesn’t take in the hard-core boys. Students have to have been drug-free for at least a year, and they are tested regularly.
Boys who are currently using drugs are welcome at Issues Anon and Aish Tamid, an organization Rabbi Avi Leibovic founded six years ago to provide a welcoming environment and support services.
Leibovic’s latest venture is Pardes/Plan B, a program that combines Torah study, outdoor adventure, counseling and high-school equivalency preparation. The program started in mid-September and, so far, the reports are positive.

Pardes: School, But Not
Pardes meets at Congregation Shaarei Tefila on Beverly Boulevard, where the boys pray every morning. Then they go out on a trip — hiking, bowling, boating — all the while imbibing bits of wisdom from their teacher, Rabbi Ari Guidry, and a social worker who has had years of experience with this population in New York.

“The rabbi is awesome,” says Aharon (boys names have been changed to protect their privacy). “He’s not like a typical rabbi. He knows how to treat us — like the humans that we are.”
Aharon has always been a good student and hopes to go to college; he is excited about the academic subjects being taught by End Result, an organization with great success in running classes in juvenile detention centers.

Aharon’s mother is glad he chose Pardes.

“Pardes is not going to be top-notch academic experience, but for me it is much more important that his soul is intact,” she said. “I believe that this year he can work on himself; he can set his own spiritual compass to know in which direction he needs to go to find true happiness in life.”

She is one of the mothers who approached Fox last year to start Issues Anon, after she realized that Aharon was doing drugs, taking the car out in the middle of the night when he was 14 or 15, and messing up in school.

“Anything I tried to do in terms of controlling him and where he was going and what he was doing didn’t work,” said Aharon’s mother, who also attends a parent support group offered by Aish Tamid.

Leibovic, a 33-year-old YULA graduate who can personally relate to what these kids are going through, was one of the first in Los Angeles to try to organize programs for this population. He started with post-high school young men and then expanded to the younger set.

Aish Tamid has Shabbat programs, career fairs, study groups and the popular Teen at the Bean, a weekly discussion and study session at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf on Beverly Boulevard.

Mostly, Leibovic, a father of six and a full-time attorney, has made himself and a growing staff of social workers and counselors available to the boys and their parents at all hours, giving individualized guidance about everything from rehab centers to family therapy to finding employment.

Leibovic is still trying to find funding for Pardes. Young men who have been through Aish Tamid programs donated a van worth $22,000. Pardes only has enrolled a half-dozen students.
Leibovic is hoping eventually to fill the van with 13 kids. He said he knows of about 10 kids in need who aren’t in any program, but are still holding out to get into one of the local yeshivas, which historically haven’t dealt well with these kids.

“There is no way that any one school can cater to all of the students we have in our community,” said Rabbi Avrohom Stulberger, dean of Valley Torah High School. “A school’s job is to be as broad as possible and needs to see themselves as embracing and accommodating as they can be. But as good as a school can be, there is no way we can do it all.”

While high school principals are grateful for programs like Pardes and JETS, they know there is work to do in making such programs acceptable to the boys and their families.

“I think there is still a stigma in the eyes of the children about going to these schools,” said Rabbi Dovid Landesman, principal of YULA. “We have to work on the psychology to make kids accept that these schools are more suited to their needs, because I really think both of these schools [Pardes and JETS] are a bracha to the community.”

Issues Anon: Steak and Free Expression

Yossi has managed to stay at YULA through his senior year, with an inclusion aid to help him through Attention Deficit Disorder. He started smoking marijuana at summer camp after 10th grade, and then he started popping his dad’s Atavan and Valium.

“I really messed up my whole 11th grade year, but I was on drugs so I didn’t care,” he says.
He fights with his father, but has a close relationship with his mother. She got him into rehab, which allowed him to stay in school. Yossi’s been clean 90 days.

He attributes much of his success to Issues Anon, the Jewish Family Service Wednesday night group that Joel Bess runs with social worker Howie Shapiro.

“This is the one thing I look forward to every week, and it’s really helped me a lot,” says Yossi, at a recent dinner at La Gondola.

The boys were there to celebrate milestones — some had just started school, some were chalking up months of sobriety, some were just happy to still be getting up in the morning. (All of them were grateful for the glistening heaps of ribs and giant sized steaks on their plates.)

Some of the boys wear kippahs and some don’t, some have spiky coifs or buzz cuts, and several of them sport large Jewish stars around their necks and pants sagging well below their hips.
Regular meetings start with the boys jotting down an issue, all of which are then read aloud, without revealing the source, and discussed. The guys give each other advice about how to get through their issues.

Tonight, many of them note their sobriety counts — a year and half, 90 days, two months — “and I better start feeling some of those changes promised,” one of them quips to Bess.
“I threw out all of my stuff two weeks ago,” another announces, to the applause of the group.
“Damn, you should have given it to me,” another jokes.

“My mom kicked me out again,” a boy says quietly.

“Cool! Are you sleeping at my house tonight?” his friend asks hopefully.

Behind the jokes, the cursing and goofing off, the kids are there for each other.
“If you see these kids sitting in the back of the classroom goofing off, you get one impression,” says Shapiro, the social worker. “But when you hear them talking about what they don’t get from their parents or how they fell through the cracks, it’s really amazing the depth with which they can describe what they are feeling and what they need. But the school administration and the parents don’t see that depth. They just see the GPA and the drug use.”

The kids in the group have become close friends and relate easily to Bess, who runs a division of an infomercial company and has a hip style the kids are comfortable with. They call him or knock on his door at all hours, and he welcomes them.

“I feel like I can do things now. Before I wasn’t able to do anything,” says Zev, who has been clean for a year and half and is being schooled at a private home in the valley.
Zev is one of many siblings from a Chasidic home. He has an abusive father and a supportive mother. When he was only 9 or 10 years old, he got his first taste of weed in shul on Simchat Torah.

He’s 15 now but looks a lot older, with a scraggly beard, big eyes that hold your gaze, and a quiet voice.
He is a leader — several boys say it was Zev who got them started on drugs. Now, at Issues Anon meetings, they turn to him for support in staying sober. And it was Zev who instituted the idea of starting each meeting with gratitude — going around and saying something positive about your week, or your life.
Tonight, Yossi is proud of 90 days sober. And like the other boys around the table, his goals are basic.

“I just don’t want to f*** up anymore,” Yossi says. “I want to get my life together and to be able to go through stuff without relapsing. I just want to be able to function like a normal person.” (323) 634-0505 (323) 761-8816