This is what it takes to resettle a refugee

San Diego could hardly be more different from the Kyangwali Refugee Settlement.

When Sebazira Amatutule, a native of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, arrived in California on June 10, 2015, after spending nearly two decades in a refugee camp in Uganda, he found a world where the rules were foreign to him, often in ways that surprised and pleased him.

“In Africa, you can’t move,” he said in a recent interview. “You’re supposed to have your ID, and people are supposed to know where are you going. But here, you just have your bus pass, you board your bus, not even the driver is asking you where you’re going, you just stop, you go out and you reach home.”

Though thrilled with his newfound freedom, Amatutule at first found the new rules bewildering. He needed somebody to teach him how to cross the street, how to use the bus, how to shop at the market.

Amatutule is neither Iraqi nor Syrian. Nonetheless, his story is typical of the challenges and logistical acrobatics required in plucking an individual from one part of the world as a candidate for immigration to the United States.

Refugees hoping to come to the U.S. are heavily vetted before getting permission to enter; many wait three years for their application to be processed. According to officials, if Tashfeen Malik, the Pakistani-born San Bernardino terrorist who with her husband killed 14 people, had tried to enter the U.S. as a refugee rather than with a fiancée visa, she would have had a much longer wait and more than likely the vetting process would have disqualified her.

Settling refugees here can also be a yearslong commitment.

And that’s where Jewish Family Service (JFS) of San Diego comes in. Along with a handful of other Jewish and non-Jewish organizations, Jewish Family Service branches are offering crucial initial help to refugees — whether from Africa, Asia or Syria or Iraq — in finding homes and establishing a life for their families the U.S.

San Diego’s JFS is among those on the ground floor of an international operation seeking to resettle refugees currently living in dangerous or squalid conditions. When Amatutule arrived, for example, the nonprofit connected him with a case manager, who helped him enroll his two children in elementary school, enrolled him in temporary government aid programs and helped him find a job as a landscaper.

For many TV news viewers in the United States, the current refugee crisis seemed to begin last September, when grim news began to appear of massive numbers of migrants escaping Syria to Europe, many of them dying in waterlogged rafts or unventilated trucks.

The media frenzy erupted just in time for last fall’s High Holy Days, and rabbis took to the pulpit to encourage congregations to take note. By that time, Amatutule had already spent some 18 Yom Kippurs and Rosh Hashanahs displaced by war from his homeland, which he left because of its long-running civil war.

“Six months ago, we felt we were shouting into the wind trying to get people to understand there’s a refugee crisis,” Riva Silverman, vice president of external affairs for HIAS, a Jewish refugee aid organization, told congregants at a Shabbat lunch in January at Temple Beth Am on La Cienega Boulevard.

Silverman spoke at a crucial, if understated, moment for Jewish activism on the issue. Suddenly alert to the crisis, synagogues across the Southland are now trying to decide how, if it all, they can help.

HIAS was founded in 1881, originally as a group dedicated solely to Jewish refugees — thus its name, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. By the time the number of displaced Jews had trickled to a halt after the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, HIAS’ leadership decided that rather than close up shop, it would continue by serving non-Jewish refugees.

Now, HIAS is part of the United States Refugee Admission Program, a roundtable of nine nonprofit organizations that together with the State Department form the government apparatus for refugee resettlement.

The refugee admission system varies greatly from country to country. In Canada, for example, a group of five or more people can sponsor a refugee or family of refugees to come settle in their area by taking full financial responsibility for those individuals.

The system in the United States is much more rigid. When the United Nations decides refugees should go to the United States, HIAS and the other eight nonprofits divide responsibility for the immigrants, then turn to local partners to coordinate their living arrangements.

The Refugee and Immigration Services office of JFS San Diego is one of those local partners; each month, it helps resettle about 30 refugees. (Los Angeles’ high cost of living means the government has excluded it as a destination for refugee placement, Silverman said.)

Thirty refugees may seem like a drop in the bucket when compared with the nearly 60 million refugees that today remain in international limbo. (This week, Austria came under criticism for taking only 80 refugees per day.) But for the people and organizations across North America who devote their time and resources to finding safe havens for these families, every drop counts.

“The only consolation we find is, ‘one person at a time,’ ” said Etleva Bejko, director of the JFS San Diego refugee office.

In fact, in San Diego, the diverse neighborhoods of City Heights and El Cajon have become home to robust and growing refugee communities.

For those refugees who do not have family in the region, JFS arranges airport pickup and leases them an apartment, stocking it with groceries and basic household goods. For those with families offering some help, the process starts the day after the refugees arrive, when a case manager briefs them on how resettlement works and determines their eligibility for a variety of government services.

Case manager Husam Salman, 30, likes to begin by telling clients those services are only temporary, so they are not shocked when government aid dwindles down the line.

A non-practicing Muslim from Baghdad, Salman can speak from personal experience. In 2013, he arrived as a refugee, joining a sister who had settled in San Diego with the help of JFS.

At first, he, his sister and two brothers shared a studio apartment in El Cajon, east of San Diego. He struggled to find an apartment of his own without an income stream. Soon, though, JFS helped him get a job — first at a door-to-door advertising company and later at Walmart, where he made enough income to afford to live on his own.

Six months after starting work at Walmart, his cellphone rang during a work break. It was Becky Morines, then a JFS employment specialist, calling to offer him a job as a case manager.

Salman has a law degree from Iraq, and getting an office job was a palpable step up for him. But from the beginning, he felt the U.S. was a better fit than his native country, since the legal system here works fairly and, he said, “everybody is equal here.”

“I just feel I belonged to this country because it’s so fair,” he said during a recent interview at his office. “In our country, like, no, the logic is sick. The values are different — it’s upside down.”

Salman has become something of a poster child for JFS San Diego: gainfully employed and upwardly mobile.

Despite his degree, he never practiced law in Iraq, fearing that career would make him a target for violence. But now, he hopes to find a way to obtain credentials to practice here. Morines, who has since left JFS, offered to put him in touch with her husband, a lawyer, to assist with the process.

“It was so nice [of her],” Salman said. “It’s so nice to have friends.”

Salman’s current job is part social worker, part employment agent, part therapist and part friend.

JFS San Diego is a full-service family nonprofit, providing goods and services ranging from a food pantry to a “Big Pals” program for Jewish teens.

But the program generating the most buzz these days is the Refugee and Immigration Services office, which relocated in 2015 to a satellite office in Mission Gorge, a 10-minute drive from the JFS San Diego headquarters, to be closer to the immigrant communities the organization serves.

When Saad Dawood first immigrated to San Diego from Baghdad in 2010, his JFS case manager took on the role of an informational hotline on life in America.

“I was calling him and asking if I need, like, to go somewhere, how can I get there, how to use the bus, everything, all the questions you can think of,” he said.

A college graduate in computer engineering, Dawood had no desire to leave Iraq, but then he and his sister were victims of a car bomb in Baghdad, leaving him with shrapnel wounds in his neck. Shortly after that, he was injured again in yet another improvised explosive detonation.

“After that I said, ‘That’s it.’ I mean, ‘I have to leave,’ ” he said. He left Iraq for Turkey, spending a year and nine months there before being allowed to resettle in the United States.

Even then his transition to the U.S. was not an easy one: At first, he was able to find only menial jobs.

About a year ago, he applied for a position on Craigslist for an IT support job — at JFS San Diego. In 2015, he was named the JFS San Diego employee of the year.

“There’s a reason why he was selected the employee of the year, and it goes beyond that he does great work,” CEO Michael Hopkins told the Jewish Journal during a recent visit to JFS San Diego’s newly remodeled headquarters on Balboa Avenue, about 10 miles north of downtown.

“I think in so many ways he’s an example of the work that we do, and it’s almost a reminder, when he’s fixing our computer, what we do here,” he added.

Hopkins said JFS has been flooded of late with requests for its leaders to come speak at synagogues and other local organizations about the work JFS does with refugees.

“We have had more requests than ever to be speakers, to be presenters, to better understand what’s going on,” he said. “For me, that’s the sign that there’s conversations happening outside, in our community, and people want to have the facts.”

Likewise, in Los Angeles, some synagogues are taking steps to educate themselves on the crisis.

At Temple Beth Am, HIAS’ Silverman came from Connecticut to speak at the invitation of a synagogue committee established to coordinate a response to the refugee crisis.

Taking the pulpit to address a joint service of the temple’s two main minyanim on Jan. 23, Silverman emphasized the Jewish responsibility, both historical and scriptural, to care for strangers in their midst.

“The moment we began our lives as a free people, we were commanded to have empathy for others,” she said, citing that week’s Torah portion, Beshalach, which describes the escape from slavery in Egypt: “You shall not mistreat a stranger, nor shall you oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

Even as attention to the crisis runs high, HIAS is now hedging against a backlash. Silverman reminded the audience that 31 governors had pledged to bar refugees from their states, and, in Congress, the House of Representatives passed a bill in November that would increase hurdles for refugees from Iraq and Syria seeking entry to the United States (the Senate rejected the House bill in January).

Silverman urged the congregants to help counterbalance that political tide.

“If there is only one thing you take away from my remarks this morning, it is to please educate yourselves more about refugee issues and be a voice of reason and compassion in your community,” she told the congregants seated in the synagogue’s main sanctuary.

So far, Beth Am has taken little definitive action in response to the refugee crisis. Members of the ad hoc refugee committee said it is still determining exactly how it can best help.

A few blocks east on Olympic Boulevard, IKAR, the nondenominational congregation that meets for services at Shalhevet High School, is in a similar exploratory process.

“We’re very much awake to this issue right now, and we’re just planning in a very thoughtful way where we can have the most impact in a sustained way,” said Jason Lipeles, IKAR’s community organizer.

IKAR has been scouting partner organizations that can translate goodwill into education and action.

As at Temple Beth Am and elsewhere, IKAR’s activism began around the High Holy Days, galvanized by stark images such as the photograph of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi, whose lifeless body washed up on a Turkish shore.

“All of the sudden, we are awake,” Rabbi Sharon Brous, the congregation’s founding rabbi, sermonized on Rosh Hashanah. “The world’s shofar blast. What all those numbers, stats, warnings couldn’t do — wake us up — the picture of Aylan did in an instant.”

The Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, which is independent of JFS San Diego although part of the same loosely affiliated national network, also has a long history of working with immigrant communities. Its current focus is on the Russian and Iranian immigrant communities, according to David Gershwin, a spokesman for JFS LA.

The L.A. nonprofit’s Immigrant and Resettlement Program will work to help any immigrant in need of social services, regardless of origin and religion, Gershwin said: “If they show up at our doorstep, we will help them.” But, he said, at this time they are not involved with an expansive refugee aid program of the sort being done in San Diego.

Even more refugee resettlement is going on in Canada, where immigration law allows for a group of five or more people to sponsor a refugee family by paying for the family’s expenses for one year.

If San Diego shows what can be done — albeit on a limited basis — to help refugees, a congregation in Vancouver, Canada, shows what can be done when the forces of government, faith and philanthropy align.

Rabbi Dan Moskovitz moved to Canada in 2013 from Temple Judea in Tarzana to take the post of senior rabbi at Temple Sholom in Vancouver.

Within 48 hours of Moskovitz’s 2015 Kol Nidrei sermon exhorting his congregation to respond to the refugee crisis, the congregation raised $40,000 — enough to sponsor one refugee family, he said. Subsequent fundraising matched that amount, enabling the synagogue to sponsor an additional family, as well.

The temple has entered into a partnership with the local Anglican Diocese, which was already a “Sponsorship Agreement Holder,” a status that enables it to invite refugees to resettle in the community after the Canadian government has vetted them.

On Dec. 1, 2015, congregants met the two families via Skype during a town hall meeting. At that point, Moskovitz said, any apprehensions they might have had about inviting strangers from an active war zone into their community evaporated.

“You could hear an audible sigh of relief, and you could hear people saying in a murmur, ‘They look just like us; they could be my neighbor,’ ” he said.

After completing some paperwork — several lawyers from the congregation pitched in, including an immigration lawyer — the synagogue won approval to host the families, and expects them to arrive sometime in the next three months.

Closer to their arrival, synagogue members will be called upon to assist with tasks ranging from furnishing apartments to teaching the children to ski and play hockey. “Good Canadian stuff,” Moskovitz said.

Among about 30 of the larger Reform congregations in Canada, roughly 20 have agreed to sponsor at least one family, according to Moskovitz.

“This is a mitzvah that’s repeated 36 times in the Torah, to love the stranger because we were once strangers in the land,” Moskovitz said in an interview. “I couldn’t fulfill that mitzvah in Los Angeles, but I can do it in Canada.”

Providing a welcoming countenance and a helping hand for strangers has long been part of the organizational DNA at JFS San Diego.

The organization was founded in 1918 to assist Jewish asylum-seekers fleeing the first world war in Europe, who showed up at the Mexican border with the United States, CEO Hopkins said.

About a year ago, JFS San Diego developed a strategic plan that included boosting its involvement in refugee resettlement.

“We’re actually aware of some JFS [branches] that because they are no longer resettling Jews, decided to get out of the resettlement business,” Hopkins said. “As a result of our strategic plan, we actually deepened our commitment to doing refugee work.”

He said he recognizes concerns from some community members about security, heightened by recent terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, but he said those fears generally arise from a mistaken notion that “there’s some quick way to get into the United States.”

“It’s a really arduous, long, tedious process with numerous checks along the way,” he said.

Certainly, it was no easy journey for Sebazira Amatutule. But less than a year after his arrival, he now has a regular job with a landscaping company, and his children — a fourth-grader and a seventh-grader — go to a school within walking distance of their home near El Cajon.

In fact, Amatutule now helps other refugees get acclimated to San Diego; relatives at the Kyangwali Refugee Settlement have circulated his telephone number, and now he sometimes gets calls from fellow refugees asking for assistance and information.

Recently, he got a call from an acquaintance from Kyangwali who said he was being resettled by JFS in Pennsylvania.

“I replied that you have a good chance,” he said. “Other people are crying, but you have a good chance. If they assisted you the way they assisted me, your life is going to be better.”

JFS expands its own heart in the heart of L.A.

Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS) is in the midst of what leadership is describing as a “new era,” a $36 million capital campaign that will result in the renovation of its Freda Mohr Multipurpose Center and the relocation of its headquarters there.

JFS plans to take the senior-focused site just north of the bustling intersection of Fairfax Avenue and Beverly Boulevard and more than double the facility’s size to 28,000 square feet, transforming it into the state-of-the-art JFS Lois and Richard Gunther Center deep in the heart of Jewish Los Angeles. 

The lead gift for the campaign came from the local philanthropic couple after whom the new facility will be named. Lois Gunther previously served as JFS board president and is a longtime supporter; her husband is a board member of Americans for Peace Now and New Israel Fund.

“We can’t imagine a more worthwhile organization to support,” said Richard, 90, during a phone interview from the couple’s second home in Santa Barbara. “When we look at this contribution and its historic contribution to the city, we figure this is an important place.”

The Gunthers, who have been married for 67 years and are members of Leo Baeck Temple, declined to disclose how much they donated but said that their gift prompted JFS to begin the campaign. 

“They would not have endeavored to do this without our initial gift, and we gave it with that purpose in mind,” said Lois, 87.

Initially, Lois said, the plan was to purchase a new space as opposed to renovating the Fairfax site, but the decision to renovate instead turned out to be the best move for the organization.

“They thought they were going to buy a building and remodel it. That took a year to decide that it’s not going to work, and now we feel we’re doing exactly the right thing,” she said. “Everyone is enthusiastic. First of all, the building on Fairfax is the right place for Jewish Family Service to be in the city. We’re really recognized there — it’s going to fulfill the needs, and we are going to improve something that has been part of our agency for a long time.”

JFS has raised or secured pledges for just under half of its $36 million target, according to spokesperson David Gershwin.

The nonprofit’s CEO, Paul Castro, expects the renovation to begin in February and last 18 to 24 months, with architect Jay Vanos of Vanos Architects at the helm.

The Freda Mohr Multipurpose Center, built in 1983, offers transportation for JFS clients, home-delivered meals, health care services and more. The center also houses the Eichenbaum Fitness Center, which holds group exercise classes, as well as the Hirsh Family Kosher Kitchen, a place for seniors to dine together and socialize. It was named after the agency’s first executive director. Mohr was hired in 1932 and held the position for 34 years. Mohr led the agency into the fields of mental health and older-adult services, the primary recipients of JFS offerings. The organization also serves Holocaust survivors.

The Gunther Center will have many advantages, according to Castro. For one, it will bring together the JFS staff and volunteers from various facilities under one roof. That will include those who currently work out of the organization’s rented headquarters in Koreatown on Wilshire Boulevard.

This will make it easier for visitors to meet with social workers, Castro said, highlighting one of the many reasons he is excited about the change.

“So, this is going to be our anchor place, where we will put down roots. We will be there for generations or more,” he said. “This is a really exciting time for us; this is something we had hoped for, and through the generosity of the Gunthers and others who have stepped forward as a result of this campaign beginning, we’re looking at the realization of this in the next couple of years.” 

The Jewish flavor of the neighborhood — the Freda Mohr building is located at 330 N. Fairfax Ave., near a variety of synagogues, kosher eateries and the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust — is part of the appeal of transforming the Fairfax site into an official headquarters, according to Gershwin.

“The JFS building itself is home right in the heart of the Jewish community, Fairfax and Beverly,” Gershwin said in a phone interview. “This represents a new era for JFS, one of the most widely recognized and most philanthropic organizations in Los Angeles here for 160 years … to have a distinct one-stop shop, a readily identifiable home, in the epicenter of the Los Angeles Jewish community, even though we do serve a wider population. 

“It’s a new era for JFS, and it’s going to be better for the agency and it’s going to be better for JFS clients and a beacon of hope for families in need.”

Castro spotlighted plans to construct a three-level underground parking structure, which he said would be available to neighboring operations during the evenings. The site will also house multiple meeting centers that JFS hopes other organizations will use. The second and third floors of the three-story building will feature outdoor terraces, and the building’s aesthetic, based on an illustration provided to the Journal, also includes strong vertical elements and an overhang.

Ultimately, Castro said, the goal is to draw on the Jewish concept of welcoming strangers into one’s home. 

“The idea is to create an atmosphere where visiting people feel that it’s warm, where seniors can come in and wander around,” Castro said. “We will have meeting spaces on all three levels, used by clients and staff, and we want to create a hub of activity and a sense of ownership by all who are coming in to use it.

“Because it’s a community building, we want it not to feel like an office but really to create a feeling that we are part of that neighborhood, part of that community and that everyone who comes in is welcome.”

Moving and shaking: Rabbi Cantor Hillary Chorny, BJE and more

Temple Beth Am held an installation ceremony for Rabbi Cantor Hillary Chorny and recognized Associate Rabbi Ari Lucas on Dec. 13.

Chorny, who was raised in San Diego, joined the staff at the La Cienega Boulevard Conservative congregation as cantor in August. She is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in New York, where she completed her Cantorial Investiture, Rabbinical Ordination and a master’s degree in sacred music.

Lucas, a New Jersey native, has been part of the Beth Am community since 2012, and the event marked his promotion from assistant rabbi to associate rabbi. “It was a wonderful moment for the entire community to celebrate a great relationship, and we’re excited about what we are building here,” he said in a phone interview with the Journal. 

Among those who attended the ceremony at Temple Beth Am were Cantor Nancy Abramson, director of the H.L. Miller Cantorial School and College of Jewish Music at JTS; Beth Am President Mike Cohn and Beth Am Senior Rabbi Adam Kligfeld.

Builders of Jewish Education (BJE) honored former board presidents Earl Greinetz (2002-2005) and Elaine Lindheim (2005-2008) Jan. 8 during its annual gala, raising more than $400,000 in support of the Jewish education nonprofit in the process.

Milken Family Foundation, in recognition of its annual Jewish Educators Award, which honors outstanding educators, also received honors. 

From left: Gil Graff, BJE executive director; Rhea Coskey, gala co-chair; honorees Elaine Lindheim and Earl Greinetz; Janet Farber, gala co-chair; and Alan Spiwak, BJE president. Photo by Mark Lee. Moments to Remember

“It was a wonderful bringing together of the community, which is really what BJE is all about,” Miriam Prum Hess, BJE’s director of donor and community relations, said in a phone interview.

The event was held at Sinai Temple in Westwood and drew more than 400 community members, day-school leaders and others, including Jay Sanderson, CEO and president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles; Les Bider, Federation board chairman; Susie Fohrer Dehrey, Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles executive vice president; and Samara Hutman of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust.

Among those representing the education community were Robert Wexler, American Jewish University president; Joshua Holo, dean of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion campus in Los Angeles; Ron Reynolds, California Association of Private School Organizations executive director; Jody Myers, CSUN professor of religious studies; UCLA professors Todd Presner, Sarah Abrevaya Stein and Mark Kligman; and Leon Janks and Gary Weisserman of Milken Community Schools.

Dr. Noachim Steve Marco has been hired as Los Angeles Jewish Home’s chief medical officer.

“The Jewish Home has a well-deserved reputation of providing the highest quality of care to those it serves,” said Marco, former vice president of medical affairs at Northridge Hospital Medical Center,  as quoted in a Jan. 9 press release. “I hope to help facilitate that ongoing mission as the Home continues to expand, providing services to seniors in the community and in-residence.”

Dr. Noachim Steve Marco. Photo by Steve Cohn

The Los Angeles Jewish home is a provider of senior home-care services for more than 5,000 individuals every year through its community-based and in-residence programs.

President and CEO Molly Forrest welcomed Marco to the team in a statement: “In addition to his impressive medical credentials and experience, Dr. Marco brings to the Home the compassionate care that we are known for,” she said. “We are privileged that he has joined the Home’s clinical staff and know the seniors he cares for will greatly benefit from his medical skills and knowledge.”

Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS) has received a $40,000 grant from Bank of America Charitable Foundation as part of a foundation initiative that has allocated $930,000 to 28 Los Angeles-based nonprofit organizations that are “helping individuals with basic human services and building better financial lives,” according to a Jan. 12 JFS media release.

A social services agency, JFS is using the funds toward its JFS Family Violence Project and its Shelter Services program. The former “provides essential counseling and assistance for survivors of domestic abuse,” according to a statement. “In 2013, JFS Shelter Services helped a total of 421 adults and 218 children toward self sufficiency.”

Debby Barak, JFS board president, welcomed the grant.

“Through the Family Violence Project and our Shelter Services program, JFS plays a critical role in providing hope and opportunity to victims of abuse, regardless of religion, ethnicity or background,” Barak said, as quoted by the release. “This generous donation from the Bank of America Charitable Foundation will enable us to continue to assist victims of intimate partner violence, allowing them to regain their independence and rebuild their lives.”

Raul Anaya, Los Angeles market president at Bank of America, praised the work of JFS.

“Bank of America shares Jewish Family Service’s mission to help people across basic human services and strengthen the health of our community,” he said, as quoted by the release. “Our grant to JFS will help the agency provide critical supportive services to survivors of domestic abuse, putting them on a path to financial stability while meeting their immediate needs.”

The Bank of America Charitable Foundation provides grant money to agencies that work in the areas of jobs, housing and hunger.

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email

Tikkun Olam: Retired, but not from good deeds

Retirement hasn’t stopped Sharon Mayer from working, and she’s not alone. The Sherman Oaks resident is part of a growing number of seniors out in force to volunteer with the regularity of a job. 

Nationally, the numbers are significant: The Corporation for National and Community Service in Washington, D.C., predicted in a 2007 report that the number of volunteers 65 and older would jump from almost 9 million at the time to more than 13 million in 2020, according to United States Census data.

In the case of Mayer, she has volunteered every Tuesday for the past six years at Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles’ (JFS) SOVA Community Food Resource Program in Van Nuys, applying her skills as a former social worker to help serve her community. 

SOVA provides free groceries and support services to more than 12,000 people each month. Mayer got involved after a career that involved working in Child Protective Services, health care policy, and as chief field deputy to Mike Feuer, L.A.’s current city attorney, who was a councilman at the time.

“I was looking for something that could use some of my own skills and that was really giving directly to people in need,” she said during a recent interview in SOVA’s Valley food pantry in Van Nuys. 

After retiring, she sat in on a meeting with JFS and Feuer, at that time a member of the state Assembly. 

“I was just kind of sitting there and I went, ‘Oh, wait a minute. I can do that.’ It just seemed to call my name,” she said.

JFS has 800 volunteers overall, 60 percent of whom are baby boomers, and that number has been on the rise, according to Sherri Kadovitz, community outreach/volunteer coordinator. 

Other local organizations have seen a large baby boomer turnout as well. The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles found that 75 percent of volunteers responding to a 2012-2013 survey for its children’s literacy program, KOREH L.A., were over 50, according to Barri Worth Girvan, director of community engagement programs and government affairs for Federation.

David Levinson, founder and executive director of Big Sunday, said many boomers started volunteering with their kids years ago and now are continuing on their own.

“We’ve always had a lot of baby boomer volunteers,” he said. “Now, with [their kids] growing up, many of the baby boomers have a bit more time on their hands to volunteer and help. It’s a nice time and age to give back.”

The Corporation for National and Community Service’s study explained things another way. It found that the propensity to volunteer rises with increases in education, and that the baby boomer generation is more highly educated and has had more opportunities than previous generations.

Margaret L. Avineri, JFS director of integrated clinical and community services, said the boomer generation is particularly drawn to volunteering because “they are at an age where they have a lot to give and they still have a lot of energy, and are looking for a way to connect with the community.”

And JFS is trying to strengthen that bond. Two years ago, it received a three-year grant from the California Community Foundation related to Farsi-speaking immigrants in the baby boomer generation.

“We’ve worked to involve them in the nonprofit world and trained a large number of them,” Avineri said. “Now they can go out and communicate with other Farsi speakers and help them.” 

Mayer, a grandmother of six who also volunteers twice a month at the downtown Central Library leading art and architecture tours, has found that most of her fellow volunteers at the SOVA pantry in Van Nuys are of her generation: “It’s the same crew. It’s really nice because you come in and you see the same people and we share, what’re your kids doing, that kind of stuff.” 

They’re drawn by the difference they can make in the lives of hungry people.

“I think what’s really special about SOVA is that we’re not just a food bank. We have other agencies that come in here and see our clients,” Mayer said after meeting with a first-time client. “For example, the gentleman I just spoke with looks like he will be eligible for Medi-Cal and food stamps. So I can take him over, he signs up and he’ll see somebody today who can actually take that application without him going to the welfare department.”

Mayer uses her past as a social worker to help her with her current position at SOVA at the resource center. 

“We basically are kind of the first person that somebody will see when they come to SOVA for the first time. So we’ll take down their information and we basically explain to them how SOVA works — how many times they can come a month, the different resources that we have as an agency.”

Retirees such as Mayer take the work they do for JFS seriously, Avineri said.

“People treat it like a job, an obligation. We know we can count on them,” she said. “What’s most remarkable is the level of commitment. Once you’ve been exposed to the work, you can’t just do it one time. Sharon is extremely giving and lovely in every way, and certainly committed. Our programs would not survive without volunteers like her.” 

She added: “People cannot say enough how much this work adds to their quality of life. The idea of tikkun olam is real for our volunteers.” 

Mayer said her work at SOVA has had its ups and downs, but has always been worth it.

“The rewarding part of the work is to actually see the relief on people’s faces when I tell them, ‘I’m getting some information from you and then you’re going to get food. This is it.’ 

“One of the most difficult things is to see people who are really embarrassed by coming in and how difficult it is for them,” Mayer continued. “I think it’s our role to alleviate that and to let them know that there but for the grace of God go any of us, and that this is a place that will help.”

Moving and Shaking: ADL’s Entertainment Industry Awards, Bend the Arc gala

Actress, producer and philanthropist Roma Downey, who was born in Northern Ireland, speculated that Jesus must have been Irish, too.

“Many wonder if Jesus was Irish. He never got married, he lived at home until he was 30, and his mother thought he was God,” she said, speaking to a crowd of approximately 500 people who gathered at the Beverly Hilton May 8, where Downey and her husband, Mark Burnett, received the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) 2014 Entertainment Industry Award.

“That’s how you know he was Jewish,” came the muttered response of someone in the audience.

The ADL Entertainment Industry Award, an annual honor given out by the ADL, is awarded “to individuals based on leadership and extraordinary innovation in the entertainment industry,” an ADL statement said.

“It’s an acknowledgement of the commitment that Mark and I share with the ADL, a commitment to help people and build bridges,” Downey said as she accepted the award.

The evening spotlighted the religiously themed work of Downey and Burnett. Together, the Hollywood power couple produced the 2013 cable miniseries “The Bible.” This year, they released the film “Son of God.”

Burnett is the producer of some of reality television’s biggest shows, including “Survivor,” “The Voice,” “Celebrity Apprentice” and “Shark Tank.” Downey is known for a decade of work on the television series, “Touched by an Angel.” Her production company, LightWorkers Media, creates children’s programming.

In a statement, the ADL praised the honorees, saying their productions “support the organization’s work … fighting hatred of all kinds.”

The evening netted more than $1 million for the ADL’s Pacific Southwest chapter, which serves Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and Kern counties.

ADL National President Abraham Foxman presented the award to Downey and Burnett.

In an interview, Foxman told the Journal the entertainment industry promotes ADL-cherished values.

“People look and watch and respond to entertainment in ways they don’t respond to anything else,” he said.

Indeed, the evening highlighted the coming together of two worlds. Foxman; ADL regional director Amanda Susskind and ADL regional board chair Seth Gerber joined DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg; “Survivor” host Jeff Probst; model-actress-television personality Brooke Burke; Gary Barber, the chairman and CEO of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer; and Israeli film producer Avi Lerner.

Neither of the honorees is Jewish, but Burnett said his upbringing taught him to embrace other faiths. He said he’d never heard the notion that Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus — it was not until later in life that he discovered that some people actually thought that way. He credited the ADL with not just improving his work, but with making him a better person.

Previous winners include Katzenberg and filmmaker Steven Spielberg.

David Nahai; his sister, Linda Nahai (left); and his wife, Journal columnist Gina Nahai; attended Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice’s gala, at which David Nahai was an honoree. Photo by Cheryl Stern

Social justice organization Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice held its annual Pursuit of Justice gala on May 18 at the George C. Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits, where it honored environmental activist and community leader David Nahai and Rock the Vote and its co-founder Jody Uttal.

Nahai is the husband of Journal columnist Gina Nahai.

Rock the Vote and Uttal received the inaugural Andrew Goodman Award, a joint honor between Bend the Arc and the Andrew Goodman Foundation, named for the Jewish activist who was murdered by members of the Ku Klux Klan in 1964 for registering black voters in Mississippi.

“We’re so proud to honor Jody Uttal and Rock the Vote with the Andrew Goodman Award — their tireless work to expand the electorate and engage young voters keeps alive the legacy of volunteers like Andrew Goodman, and is critical to upholding our basic right to vote,” Bend the Arc CEO Stosh Cotler said in a press release. 

“My brother Andrew lost his life in the Voting Rights Movement,” David Goodman, president of the Andrew Goodman Foundation, said in a statement. “Fifty years later, the right to vote is under attack again, and it’s inspiring to join with Rock the Vote, Bend the Arc and others who are working to ensure that all American citizens have access to the ballot.”

The Pursuit of Justice gala raised more than $100,000 for Bend the Arc, a Jewish organization that conducts advocacy, leadership training and philanthropy around domestic political issues. Voting rights is currently one of the organization’s key issues. Joellyn Weingourt, senior development officer at Bend the Arc, said in a phone interview that the funds will be put toward the organization’s “overall work and vision on a national and local level.” 

More than 200 people attended, including State Assemblymember Richard Bloom, City Attorney Mike Feuer, City Controller Ron Galperin, City Councilmember Mike Bonin, and former city controller and current congressional candidate Wendy Greuel

From left: Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS) board president Terry Friedman; Luis Lainer and his wife, Lee Lainer — she received the 2014 Anita and Stanley Hirsch Award; JFS COO Susie Forer-Dehrey; and JFS CEO Paul Castro. Photo by Jonah Light

Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS) honored Lee Lainer during its 21st annual awards dinner May 12 and celebrated the social service agency’s 160th anniversary. The event took place at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

Lainer received the Anita and Stanley Hirsh Award, in recognition of her “decades-long leadership, dedication and generous support,” according to a JFS statement. 

She is a practicing psychoanalyst who treats individuals and couples, with an emphasis on adult adoptees. A longtime member of the JFS board of directors, Lainer developed the first JFS public relations committee and has contributed to the advancement of JFS counseling programs, the statement said.

Additional honorees included Dorothy and Ozzie Goren and their close friend Lillian Raphael for their longstanding commitment to JFS, including leadership and generosity that has helped the agency support others in need.

The dinner raised more than $1.1 million. Community member Shana Passman chaired the event.

JFS, which began as the Hebrew Benevolent Society, has locations throughout the region. It serves 100,000 people each year, supporting the elderly, homeless, hungry, disabled and others. 

— Brett Warner, Contributing Writer 

From left: Hillel 818 Vice President Mark Lainer; former Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle and Hillel 818 President Earl Greinetz. Photo by Judith Alban 

Former Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle met with Hillel 818, a collaborative that covers programming at California State University, Northridge (CSUN), Pierce College in Woodland Hills and Los Angeles Valley College (LAVC) in Valley Glen, on April 2.

Lingle served as the Republican governor of Hawaii from 2002 until 2010 and was the first Jew to hold the position. She graduated with a degree in journalism from CSUN in 1975. During the spring semester, she returned to teach a senior seminar on public policy at the university.

During her talk with Hillel students and leadership, Lingle focused on how CSUN has changed since she was a student there, specifically noting the increase in diversity on campus and the development of new facilities, including the Valley Performing Arts Center. 

Hillel 818 Director Judith Alban told the Journal that “learning about Gov. Lingle’s connection to CSUN, her Jewish connection, her community connection and her experiences as the first Jewish and female governor [of Hawaii]” made the experience a memorable one.

Additional speakers included CSUN Students for Israel President Avital Marzini

Hillel 818 President Earl Greinetz hosted the event, which was attended by approximately 30 students, leaders and campus professors. Hillel 818 Vice President Mark Lainer was among those who turned out for the event.

— Jordan Novack, Contributing Writer

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email

Social services come to shul

What would you do if you had to talk someone out of a suicide? Or advise someone facing an eviction? Or help a person who just went bankrupt?

For today’s clergy, forced to deal with issues both pressing and profound, these are not just theoretical questions. Due in part to the repercussions of the Great Recession, the local synagogue has increasingly become a place where people in crisis come first.

That’s why a newly expanded program, called the Ezra Network, funded jointly by the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles (JCFLA) and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, provides casework, counseling, vocational help, legal assistance, informational workshops and more inside synagogue doors.

The Ezra Network — Ezra means “help” in Hebrew — is a partnership among several local agencies. It groups 15 synagogues into clusters of two to four based on geography, and staffs each cluster with a full-time social worker from Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS) specially trained to deal with crises and familiar with the range of services available locally. A roving job counselor from Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) and a legal counselor from Bet Tzedek Legal Services split their time among the synagogue clusters as well. 

Lori Klein, Federation’s senior vice president of Caring for Jews in Need, said it makes sense to offer these services at congregations.

“People turn to their synagogue as their community — they feel a sense of comfort and affinity, whereas they may feel a stigma in a social services site,” she said.

And while some may view congregations simply as houses of worship, many operate more as community centers with a wide range of programming. The Ezra Network ( only furthers that role. 

“The nature of synagogues is changing because the nature of what people want from Jewish life is changing,” Klein said.  “We have the philosophy to meet people where they’re at.”

The Ezra Network launched in 2011 as a pilot program under the name Caring Community. It’s been enabled by a three-year, $185,000 grant from JCFLA and about $1 million so far from Federation. 

What began with two congregations has expanded in terms of services and synagogues. Last year, the program added its South Bay, Laurel Canyon and Mid-Wilshire clusters. There also are pre-existing clusters on the Westside and in the West Valley. All participants are currently Reform and Conservative congregations, but conversations are taking place with Orthodox synagogues about launching a cluster this year, Klein said. 

On average, there are about 100 interactions per cluster per month, including phone and in-person interactions, according to Klein. That figure includes multiple exchanges with the same person. Most are related to financial need due to a job loss or a business failure, but people are reaching out for help with virtually everything.  

In one synagogue, after seeing three people in a row with bereavement issues, a social worker started a bereavement support group. A Bet Tzedek representative arranged for a workshop on advance health care directives at another congregation, after witnessing the need. Other hot topics, Klein said, include help for elderly parents, children with special needs — especially adult children — and parents of teens.

The free, confidential services are available for anyone Jewish in the community, not just synagogue members.

The Ezra Network has become an essential — and lifesaving — part of the offerings at University Synagogue in Brentwood, according to Rabbi Morley Feinstein, whose congregation was one of the first to join the network more than two years ago.

He said the synagogue receives calls all the time from people in the community desperate for help, whether they need assistance with rent or financing for eyeglasses that Medicaid won’t cover. Recently, an Ezra Network social worker was able to help a veteran who came in looking to build his skill set to find employment. 

“It’s funny — three years ago we didn’t have this program, and now I would wonder how could we serve this congregation without it. It’s become so essential as times have gotten so difficult,” Feinstein said.  

“It makes sense for us to have this, as a synagogue that’s community-focused, to have this soft place to land.”

Shutdown may affect Jewish social services

Congress’ failure to authorize discretionary spending for the new fiscal year won’t only impact about 800,000 federal workers or the Americans looking to visit national parks. It may also affect local Jewish social service organizations that rely in part on federal funding. 

That, too, though, is uncertain.

“We don’t know what is going to happen,” Paul Castro, CEO of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS), said just hours after the shutdown began. “We spent the morning trying to communicate with our funders to find out what they know.”

The funders Castro spoke with are the state and local government entities that JFS relies upon to provide some services such as meals and transportation programs for seniors. Castro said that if these entities requested funds from the federal government before Oct. 1 — the day the shutdown took effect — some of JFS’ at-risk programs could run for a few more weeks without interruption. Ultimately, though, JFS won’t know for at least a few days exactly how this will play out if Congress doesn’t reach an agreement quickly.

JFS’ annual budget is $30 million, and $5.55 million of that comes — directly and indirectly — from the federal government.

Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, echoed Castro’s concerns. 

“With the shutdown, the cash flows of our most important social service agencies are at risk,” he said. “If this goes on for an extended period of time, it will definitely impact our social service agencies.”

As for Jewish Vocational Services, whose goal is to help people overcome barriers to employment, it issued a public statement that “programs and services remain fully operational with regularly scheduled hours.”

The last time Democrats and Republicans could not agree on a spending resolution to fund parts of the federal government was over the budget for the 1996 fiscal year, when President Bill Clinton and a Republican Congress clashed over spending levels, largely over Medicare, shutting down parts of the government for 26 days.

This time around, the issue preventing an agreement is again a major health care initiative, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), President Barack Obama’s signature piece of legislation that was passed in 2010.

Republicans in the House of Representatives are attempting to tie any new spending bill to a one-year delay for parts of the bill and a requirement that Congressional members and their staffers must purchase insurance on the ACA’s new health insurance exchanges, which opened on Oct. 1

Despite the shutdown, much of the federal government will continue to operate as normal, including programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the military.

Even if Congress reaches an agreement in the coming days or weeks, Castro is concerned about a future potential conflict that could again pose funding problems for local Jewish agencies. Before Oct. 17, when the federal government is predicted to eclipse the “debt ceiling” (the level of debt Congress has authorized the government to accumulate), Democrats and Republicans will either have to raise the debt ceiling or risk many spending promises not being fulfilled.

“Even in resolution we know that is only going to be for a few weeks,” Castro said. 

Moving and Shaking: Ziering family honored, IRF elects new president, JFS honors former president

Marilyn Ziering and Placido Domingo meet at Temple Beth Am’s gala honoring the Zierings. Photo by Steve Cohn Photography

Temple Beth Am honored the Ziering family for its generosity to the Los Angeles Jewish community, Israel, the arts and numerous philanthropic organizations around the world on May 29 with a concert gala that featured performances by Placido Domingo, Melissa Manchester and Cantor Magda Fishman.

“Giving back was not a choice; it was a necessity,” Marilyn Ziering said, accepting her award on stage with her four children — Michael, Roseanne, Ira and Amy — at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills. 

The event — titled “Nobody Does It Better” — drew rabbis, cantors and community leaders. Beth Am’s Senior Rabbi Adam Kligfeld made the presentation to the honorees.

Among many highlights, Spanish tenor Domingo performed “Besame Mucho” (“Kiss Me a Lot”). Following Domingo’s first performance, Kligfeld quipped, “The real question is: ‘Can he do Kol Nidre?’” 

Marilyn’s late husband, Sigi Ziering, was a German-born Holocaust survivor and founder of the international medical supplies company Diagnostic Products Corp. He was a past president of Beth Am and served in lay leadership roles with American Jewish University (known as University of Judaism at the time) and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

Rav Yosef Kanefsky

The International Rabbinic Fellowship (IRF), a Modern Orthodox rabbinic organization, recently elected congregation B’nai David-Judea’s Rav Yosef Kanefsky as its president.

The group of Orthodox rabbis who come together for serious study of Torah and halachah, named Kanefsky, former secretary of IRF, president during the rabbinic organization’s annual conference. The event was held in New York on May 20-21.

Kanefsky, whose congregation is located in Pico-Robertson, said he welcomed the opportunity to lead an Orthodox organization that has “an alternative voice, one that is far more embracing of other kinds of Jews, far more sensitive to our relationships with non-Jews, far more open to our acceptance of the strides women are making within the Orthodox community.”

His appointment was effective immediately following the conference. 

From left: JFS Los Angeles Board President Terry Friedman, honoree David O. Levine, philanthropist Anita Hirsh and JFS Los Angeles CEO Paul Castro. Photo by Jonah LIght

Jewish Family Service (JFS) of Los Angeles honored its former president, David O. Levine, at the organization’s 20th annual awards dinner on June 3. 

Levine received the JFS Anita and Stanley Hirsh Award for his dedication and commitment to JFS Los Angeles. A member of the board since 2004, he previously chaired the JFS facilities and public policy committees and served as president of the board of directors from 2010 to 2012.

In addition to Levine’s extensive involvement with civic, religious and philanthropic causes, the JFS honoree has served as chief of staff to real estate developer Jerry Epstein since 1987. 

Held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, the event was organized by co-chairs Shana Passman and Tami Kupetz Stapf, and it featured musical entertainment by Hershey Felder (“George Gershwin Alone”).

For nearly 160 years, JFS has provided social services to individuals and families of all ages, ethnicities and religions, regardless of their ability to pay. JFS programs include the SOVA Community Food and Resource Program; the Café Europa social club for Holocaust survivors and the Aleinu Family Resource Center, which assists with substance abuse, domestic violence and more.

From left: Outgoing NCJW/LA President Amy Straus and incoming NCJW/LA President Shelli Dodell. Photo courtesy of NCJW/LA.

The National Council of Jewish Women/Los Angeles (NCJW/LA) installed Shelli Dodell as its incoming president during its annual meeting, board installation and volunteer awards event on June 2. The organization also named its 2013-2014 board of directors.

A grass-roots group of volunteers and advocates, NCJW works for social justice on behalf of women, children and families. It owns and operates Council Thrift Shops, which are a key funding source for NCJW/LA programs and services throughout the city.

A NCJW/LA lay leader, Dodell has previously served on NCJW/LA’s board of directors and as vice president of its Women Helping Women program, which offers counseling services, support groups, an annual clothing giveaway and more.

Sunday’s event took place at the NCJW/LA Council House on Fairfax Avenue.

From left: Debbie Boteach, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Dr. Mehmet Oz, David Sterling. Award Recipeint Oz poses with Boteach, his wife Debbie and gala host Sterling before the event. Photo by Andrew Walker/Getty Images.

Jewish community leaders, philanthropists, cultural figures and others turned out for the The Inaugural Champions of Jewish Values International Awards Gala this month.

The June 4 event at the Marriot Marquis in New York City featured Rabbi Shmuley Boteach as the evening’s keynote speaker.

Honorees included Eli Wiesel, who received the Champion of Jewish Spirit award; Miriam and Sheldon Adelson, who were named the Champions of Jewish Identity and Dr. Mehmet Oz, who was recognized as a Champion of Human Life. Technology investor Kevin Bermeister and David Sterling, chairman of Sterling and Sterling, co-hosted.

Called “the most famous rabbi in America” by The Washington Post, Boteach recently published his newest bestseller, “The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering.” Meanwhile, Holocaust survivor Wiesel is the author of more than 50 books, including “Night;” American casino magnate Adelson has made more than $100 million in contributions to Birthright Israel and Oz is a famous surgeon, author and television personality.

Proceeds benefited American Friends of Rambam Medical Center (AFORAM) and This World: The Values Network. Based in New York, AFORAM aims to support and support The Rambam Health Care Campus, one of the premiere medical institutions in Israel. Build around the teachings of Boteach, The Values Network uses mass media to bring Jewish values into the mainstream culture.

From left: Sheldon Adelson, Miriam Adelson. Gala honorees the Adelsons pose on the red carpet before the event. Photo by Andrew Walker/Getty Images.

Rabbi Joshua Fass delivers the keynote address at Yeshiva University's 82nd commencement exercises. Photo courtesy of Yeshiva University.

Yeshiva University (YU) awarded an honorary degree to alumnus Rabbi Joshua Fass last month.

“Heroically and astonishingly, YU transmits a unique and noble approach, a derekh ha-chayim [way of life], a mesorah [tradition] that resonates this extraordinary synergy,” Fass said on May 30, delivering the keynote address during YU’s 82nd commencement exercises. Hundreds of students from YU graduate schools were presented their degrees, before YU President Richard Joel conferred an honorary degree upon Fass.

The ceremony took place at the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Committed to helping Diaspora Jews move to Israel, Fass is co-founder and executive director of Nefesh B’Nefesh. Since its founding in 2002, the organization has helped more than 36,000 Western immigrants actualize their dream of settling in the Jewish State.

Based in New York and serving more 6,400 students, YU undergraduate schools offer a dual curriculum comprising Jewish studies, liberal arts and science courses.

Moving and Shaking acknowledges accomplishments by members of the local Jewish community, including people who start new jobs, leave jobs, win awards and more, as well as local events that featured leaders from the Jewish and Israeli communities. Got a tip? E-mail it to

Eric Garcetti: Keep an eye out for seniors

The small turnout at the Los Angeles polls for the mayoral election on May 21 is cited as evidence that most Angelenos don’t care whether City Hall is open, closed or simply blown away. But two days after the election, I visited a Jewish Family Service (JFS) senior center on Fairfax Avenue and got a different picture. 

As I watched women and men enjoy a cold chicken and salad lunch, witnessed them attending a class and saw their sparkling exercise room, I understood how city government, which helps finance the center, is a vital part of these people’s lives. It was clear to me how much the success or failure of Mayor-elect Eric Garcetti will mean to them.

The center I visited — the JFS Freda Mohr Multipurpose Center — is one of 16 such city-funded facilities in Los Angeles. They provide meals, either delivered to the home of someone in need or at 100 dining centers; help for battered old people; counseling and other assistance to the aging and diminishing band of Holocaust survivors; transportation; and some health care, including advice and screening for ailments. These services are financed with increasingly limited funds that come from Washington, Sacramento and L.A. City Hall, and are administered by city departments. Washington sequestration and Sacramento and L.A. budget cuts have diminished the money. That gives the city administrators, headed by the mayor, a difficult job in allocating the funds.

I had asked Nancy Volpert, director of public policy for Jewish Family Service, to put me in contact with people for a column on the impact of the city election on the Jewish community. Jewish Family Service has been on my Jewish Journal column beat for several years, especially after the Great Recession made large numbers of unexpectedly unemployed Jews of varied ages and economic statuses dependent on its services. Volpert suggested I visit the JFS Freda Mohr center, check out its services and talk to Paul Castro, the chief executive officer of Jewish Family Service, who happened to be touring the facility the day I went.

Seniors, Castro told me, “are overlooked in terms of poverty.” This is surprisingly true in the Jewish community, despite its traditions of community help and the perception of affluence — too often false — that clings to it.

“A lot of them don’t have family,” he said. “They don’t want to become institutionalized; staying home is very important to them.” Among the very poor, he said, are Holocaust victims who have outlived their families and friends.

“I think what the new mayor will do is make the safety net a priority on his agenda,” Castro said. “He needs an agenda that addresses this. Poverty is not acceptable.”

The JFS Freda Mohr Multipurpose Center does much more than address poverty. It offers a full day of challenging and interesting activities to men and women whose talents and energy are often overlooked by a society preoccupied by youth — or the appearance of youth. The center gives seniors a chance to blossom.

When Jewish Family Service was appealing for funds at the L.A. City Council, its leaders brought along center regular Louise Lelah. “They were cutting expenses for senior day care,” she told me. With some pride, Lelah said, “I gave my bit about these centers. If they are closed and people are stuck at home, it will cost the government more money.” That would be for additional medical and mental health care, the result of isolation and neglect.

Garcetti, then a city councilman, talked to her afterward. “He’s a down-to-earth man,” she said. “I was really surprised. He said, ‘If you need anything, this is my card.’ ” 

So, she voted for Garcetti, as did senior center regular George “the Engineer” Epstein. That’s the name on the card he gave me, which also identifies him as an author, lecturer and player. Player of poker, to be precise, and a teacher of the game, running several poker classes a year. He invited me to join one, but I explained I had no head for cards.

Epstein, an MIT graduate, was an aerospace engineer for many years, working on major projects for The Aerospace Corp. and other firms. Drawing on his experience devising materials to protect people, buildings and missiles from projectiles, he figured out how to fill potholes in a way that would last longer.

Epstein contacted the office of City Controller Wendy Greuel, Garcetti’s opponent in the mayoral election. He said he talked to her aides a couple of times, but nobody got back to him. “A real leader makes sure people working for her are responsive,” he said. With that, he began campaigning for Garcetti at the Mohr center and other senior groups he attends.

Places like the JFS Freda Mohr Multipurpose Center and its regulars didn’t occupy much time in a campaign focused on the middle class. The big topics were bad traffic, potholes, quality of life and other matters that cropped up in polls and focus groups. Garcetti offered a vision of Los Angeles resembling the trendier parts of his Hollywood district — clubs, restaurants and galleries, along with new high-tech business to be populated, I assume, by Angelenos as stylish as he is. These were among the constituencies that elected him.

But also on his side were the seniors who need the city-funded social services network, who need the intellectual and social stimulation, nutrition and transportation provided by their centers. Louise Lelah and George Epstein and others — frequent and dedicated voters — will be keeping their eyes on the new mayor. If I were Garcetti, I wouldn’t disappoint them.

Bill Boyarsky is a columnist for the Jewish Journal, Truthdig and L.A. Observed, and the author of “Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times” (Angel City Press).

Letters to the Editor: JFS, Jackie Robinson, Doheny Meats

Twice Wounded

How terribly unfortunate that a Jewish communal professional who has done more than anyone else to raise awareness about domestic violence and abuse of all kinds, and whose efforts have revolutionized the way these topics are dealt with within a segment of the Jewish community previously underserved, should be smeared in this way (“JFS Denies Sheltering Abuser,” April 19). As your article reported, the allegations against Debbie Fox were based on sloppy, sensationalistic reporting. The scandal here is that such a consummate professional should have to defend herself against such mudslinging, which, while it may sell newspapers [in Australia], has done damage to the very agencies and individuals who work so hard to protect the vulnerable in our community.

Miriam Caiden
Los Angeles

Revisionist History?

Dennis Prager (Letters, April 19) cites Yehuda Bauer’s statement — “Nowhere in Christian thought or in Christian history was there ever a plan to kill the Jewish people” — to back his own argument that “no mainstream Christian institution or theology called for the extermination of the Jews” (“Lessons of the Holocaust,” April 12).  But Jews in the Rhineland who were in the way of the rampaging First Crusade in 1096 would not have drawn any comfort that there was no “plan” to kill Jews at that time. For those Jews who refused to convert to Christianity, the effects were the same as if there had been a plan.

I believe that if Prager had lived closer in time to the Crusades and to the Spanish Inquisition, he would not have made the argument he has developed. I also feel that we should be careful before using the present-day Holocaust as a standard for our historical miseries.   

Barry H. Steiner
Political Science Professor
California State University, Long Beach

School Reform: The New New Deal?

Raphael J. Sonenshein aptly focuses on how school “reform” proposals — favored by the Obama administration as well as by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa — divide centrist Democrats from their traditional teacher-union allies (“The Ultimate School Test, April 19). The above-named politicians also favor cuts to Social Security (via the chained Consumer Price Index), as does Rep. Nancy Pelosi.  

This anti-New Deal trend began with the Clinton administration, which deregulated banks and the telecommunication industry, implemented anti-union free trade agreements and even sponsored measures favoring financial derivatives, to cite but a few examples.

The New Deal, and now public education and other domestic “entitlements,” are no longer sacrosanct with mainstream, or even liberal, Democrats. Will Franklin Delano Roosevelt soon be rolling in his grave? 

Gene Rothman
Culver City

Jackie Robinson Piece a Home Run

As a Dodger fan from when they first moved to L.A. from Brooklyn, I read with great interest professor Michael Berenbaum’s piece (“Jackie and the Jews,” April 12). The professor’s piece could only have been enhanced if he had mentioned that Detroit Tiger — and late Pittsburgh Pirate — slugger “Hammerin’ Hank” Greenberg, a New York Jew, was one of only two players on opposing teams to welcome Jackie Robinson into professional baseball. 

Marc Yablonka

Doheny Meats Scandal Far-Reaching

As someone outside of the Los Angeles area, my only thought is: Would I be able to trust anything that the RCC has certified? At present, I would say no (“Doheny Meats Might Change Hands, Again,” April 19). Please remember that Doheny’s “Glatt Kosher” certification was still present even after the RCC knew that not all items that were sold should have had this certification. Also, at the meeting between Mike Engelman and the RCC, the only other person was Shlomo Rechnitz. This looks like the RCC already knew about Doheny’s actions and had been trying to find someone to buy Doheny.

David Sibert

From Israel, With Gratitude

Thank you, Shmuel Rosner! As always, you present the message we need to hear (“Seven Thoughts for Yom HaAtzmaut,” April 19). As a nine-month new immigrant to Israel, we are so blessed to witness Israel’s continuing miracle. The Memorial Day and Independence Day observances and celebrations in Israel are inspiring. Our neighbors and neighborhood of Baka, German Colony, Old Katamon in Jerusalem is so beautiful. People from every nation and background, all types of synagogues and community institutions. What a blessing. Happy 65th anniversary of her independence to Israel!

Rabbi Gershon Weissman

Former JFS director of children and family services rejects report she shielded Australian abuser

When veteran social worker Debbie Fox’s name appeared in Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald on April 10, the story about her claimed she was doing the unthinkable: protecting a known abuser of children.

The story purported to quote from an e-mail she wrote to an unnamed sex offender in November 2011. “I have no idea how anyone found out,” she was quoted as saying, “but calls are coming daily from many sources. So far, we’ve been protecting you.” 

Fox worked at Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS), until budgetary pressures led her to resign late last year. Most recently she was the agency’s director of children and family services. She also served as director of the Aleinu Family Resource Center, an arm of JFS serving the local Orthodox community. 

Fox, who is internationally known as a leading authority on child abuse prevention within Orthodox communities, confirmed in an interview with the Journal that she wrote the e-mail quoted in the Herald, but said the Australian newspaper took it out of context in a way that misrepresents its intent. 

Speaking on April 14, Fox stated that her e-mail was not about protecting the offender from prosecution or from the local Orthodox Jewish community. 

Rather, Fox said she was informing the offender of what he already knew: that if he did not follow through with the evaluation and treatment that he and JFS had come up with, the victim, who had first brought the offender to Fox’s attention, would go public with what the offender had done to him 20 years earlier in Australia. 

The complete chain of e-mails, Fox said, make clear that she and Aleinu had no intention of protecting the offender from such exposure, and Fox said that each e-mail she sent to the offender also was copied to the victim and to a rabbi on Aleinu’s Halachic Advisory Board (HAB), a group of Orthodox rabbis who work with Aleinu on its cases and protocols. 

“The victim, the offender and the rabbi were all notified of every communication,” she said. 

The Herald’s story is just one of many published about abuse within the Australian Jewish community, and it comes at a time when revelations and prosecution of sexual abuse within Orthodox Jewish communities around the world are on the rise. 

This story could draw further scrutiny of the work of Los Angeles’ HAB, which has been considered by many Orthodox experts as a model for treating abusers because of HAB’s close cooperation with law enforcement. Critics, however, see HAB’s work as undermining reporting requirements by presenting itself as an alternative to law enforcement. 

Since the early 2000s, when three sex abuse scandals in Los Angeles’ Orthodox Jewish community received broad press coverage, Fox has been working on a number of fronts to prevent sex abuse. 

A licensed clinical social worker, Fox created a program that aims to educate children, parents and educators about how to prevent and respond to child abuse. She worked with the HAB rabbis to devise a “conduct policy” that has been introduced in Jewish schools and camps. And she oversaw the growth of the HAB to its current size, with 11 local rabbis from across the Orthodox community now working on a volunteer basis on some particularly sensitive issues.

Fox is herself a mandated reporter — if she has reason to suspect child abuse, she must inform authorities — as are JFS and Aleinu. But the HAB, Fox said, only intervenes in cases of child abuse where there is no reportable offense, and has taken on between 25 and 30 cases of alleged or confirmed child abuse in the past eight years. 

Fox said she was contacted in 2011 by a victim who was seeking to force the man who abused him decades earlier in Australia to go before the HAB. 

The offender, now living in Los Angeles, admitted to the abuse, but Fox said that when she called the L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services, she was told there was nothing to report locally because the offense took place decades earlier and in another country. Fox said she also encouraged the victim to call police in Australia, but he declined to do so at the time, citing personal reasons. 

For a victim of abuse to decline to report an offense, even years later, is not unusual in insular Orthodox communities. That is, Fox said, what drives the HAB in the work that it does. 

In 2011, both the victim and the offender — both of whom provided statements to Fox, but declined to be interviewed by the Journal either by phone, e-mail or in person — were in “100 percent agreement,” Fox said, both about what took place decades earlier and what had to happen going forward.

Under threat of exposure, the offender underwent an in-depth assessment to determine whether he was still a danger to children. 

Such evaluations, used frequently by the HAB, can last up to 50 hours and involve lengthy questionnaires, a lie-detector test and other examinations. 

This one, however, ended up being atypical, Fox said: The assessment found the offender had offended in the past but had not reoffended in “more than 20 years.” 

The outside evaluators recommended the offender undergo therapy with an expert in the field, Fox said, and in accordance with the victim’s wishes, disclose his past offenses to his own rabbi. The offender is now required to meet with that rabbi on a monthly basis. 

The offender complied, Fox said, and the victim told her he was completely satisfied with the results of the HAB’s involvement. 

The other unusual aspect of this case, Fox said, was that the offender took, in his words, “a significant period of time” to complete the evaluation and to get set up with treatment. 

Too long, as Fox made clear in her e-mail of Nov. 21, 2012. 

“We have NEVER had any evaluation take nearly this long,” Fox wrote in the e-mail obtained by the Herald, reminding him that he had to complete it “for [his] security.” 

Fox declined to share the entire e-mail chain with the Journal, but read the text of those that preceded the one obtained by the Herald to a reporter over the phone. The e-mails were insistent that the offender move forward with the agreed-upon assessment and treatment regimen. 

“Every communication was about following through with the protocol,” Fox told the Journal. “When he [the offender] did not follow through in a timely manner, what I said is, ‘I can’t protect you.’ 

“The victim is going to just let everybody know that this is what you’ve done 20 years ago, and I’m not going to stop it,” Fox added. “I can’t protect that. That is what the e-mail said.” 

Fox has many supporters within the Orthodox Jewish community, but some advocates for the sexual abuse victims are critical of her work with the HAB. 

 “Why do you need an advisory board? Why do you need gatekeepers?” asked Ben Hirsch, a spokesperson for Survivors for Justice, an organization that educates and advocates on issues related to child safety. “Duplicating the job of trained law enforcement professionals serves no purpose other than the occasional cover-up.

“The only thing rabbis should be doing is to tell people to report all incidents of abuse directly to the authorities — even when there is no legal requirement to do so — and to offer public moral support to victims who do report,” Hirsch added. 

Richard Baker, one of the reporters who wrote the Herald article, said this week that the unnamed offender is now under investigation by detectives in Sydney for acts committed against four victims when they were children. 

Australia has no statute of limitations on criminal charges of sexual abuse against children. 

JFS brings seders to seniors

For 34 years, Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS) has been holding seders for senior citizens across the Los Angeles area, sponsoring services and feeding those who have nowhere else to go during one of the most widely celebrated holidays on the festival calendar. 

This Passover tradition continued on March 10, when JFS hosted seders for 600 attendees and 120 volunteers at Temple Beth Am near Pico-Robertson, Temple Ramat Zion in Northridge and Hollywood Temple Beth El in Hollywood. 

“People are very gracious and appreciative of the fact that they have a place to go and be part of a seder and part of a community,” said Sherri Kadovitz, community outreach and special projects coordinator for JFS. “They’re older adults, and a lot of them don’t have a lot of family here. They are happy to be with friends and that JFS provides this service every year.” 

The services were nondenominational and open to the public, who could register through local senior centers. Volunteers this year included children under 10 years of age, students from Milken Community High School and older adults in their 70s. 

The Temple Beth El meal was geared toward the Russian-speaking community, while Temple Beth Am brought Holocaust survivors together. The third, at Ramat Zion, had no specific target audience. 

Rabbi Helene Kornsgold, who led the seder services for the first time at Ramat Zion, where she is religious school director, said she became involved through Kadovitz, who is a member of the congregation. 

“I really enjoy Passover, and I think everybody should have the opportunity to experience a lively, thorough seder,” she said. “I thought I would be able to provide a meaningful experience for some people if it’s their only seder this year.”

The rabbi said it’s important for everyone to be part of the holiday in some capacity because “regardless of what traditions people do, they remember Passover. They remember being with their families and celebrating the holiday. It seems to be one of those things that sticks with people. It’s a good thing that [promotes] positive Jewish memories.”

JFS has been working with food services company Catering by Brenda for more than 10 years to provide the traditional Passover meals. During the event, there was entertainment as well. A klezmer band performed at Temple Beth El, while singers performed Yiddish music at the others. 

Monique Gibbons was one of the volunteers who helped set up, serve food and participate in the seder this year. The JFS board member, who goes to Temple Beth Am, said, “The seniors get a kick out of it, and they have a great time. It’s a lot of fun. …We have people that come back and volunteer year after year, so we’re friends.”

Gibbons added that due to the seder program, seniors have been able to find their own community and come together during Passover. 

“We are Jewish, and this is what our ancestors have done for thousands of years. It’s nice to see that it’s still important to people,” she said.

Rabbi Gabriel Elias of Congregation Mogen David has led services for the JFS seders more than five times. He said he does it because he likes to help people and give everyone a glimpse into the Jewish past. 

“If we didn’t do it, some of [the seniors] would never do it at all. A lot of them are Russian and Iranian immigrants, and unfortunately they didn’t experience Passover because they weren’t free to [in their countries]. They now have the opportunity to experience something that’s part of their tradition. What JFS does is clearly important and beneficial to the Jewish people.”

The community seders held on March 10 aren’t the only Passover events JFS is involved with this year. The organization is also distributing kosher-for-Passover food through its SOVA Community Food & Resource Program and providing additional meals throughout the holiday. In general, JFS assists more than 100,000 people every year through its numerous programs and food pantry, according to Kadovitz.

Kadovitz said she appreciated the chance to be involved with the seders this Passover. 

“It’s a wonderful experience. I’m thrilled that I am part of this,” she said. “It’s very enriching and very rewarding.” 

Senior service providers wary as New Year approaches

They’ve weathered five years of economic crisis, relentless state budget cuts and growing demand for their services. Now, social service providers for seniors in the Los Angeles area are bracing for a new slew of challenges in 2013.

From federal budget negotiations and the looming “fiscal cliff” to state-level pilot reforms of Medicaid — known in California as Medi-Cal — these are uncertain times for seniors, their caregivers and the agencies that help them. 

“We’re not really sure how it’s going to play out,” said Paul Castro, CEO of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS). “We try as best we can to anticipate and plan, but it’s a very uncertain environment and there’s so many parts to it.” 

At the top of most agencies’ watch list is the “fiscal cliff,” the dramatic concoction of federal spending cuts and tax hikes slated to take effect Jan. 2, unless Congress agrees on an alternative. Programs in line for automatic cutbacks include nutrition services for the elderly, funding for in-home care providers, low-income heating assistance, and social and legal support for the vulnerable. The sum of these reductions — $55 billion for all nondefense spending — could have devastating consequences for millions of older Americans, providers fear.

In Los Angeles, JFS says federal cutbacks, if they go ahead, would hamper the agency’s ability to help seniors, particularly those living in poverty. The organization receives federal dollars for numerous programs, including in-home nursing care for the sick and frail; community dining and home-delivered meals; and free transportation services for seniors who need help going to medical appointments, meal sites and elsewhere.

Of those, nutrition services are the most critical for low-income seniors, many of whom rely on the agency for their meals, JFS public policy director Nancy Volpert said. If automatic cuts go into effect, the agency will be unable to feed 83 seniors out of the 1,040 it serves daily. 

“If someone loses food, that is an existential problem,” Volpert said. 

Barbra McLendon, public policy director for the California Southland chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, said state budget cuts over the past few years have already caused programs to shrink and sometimes even shut down, including adult day care facilities for people with dementia. 

“There’s no more fat to be cut,” she said. “They would be cutting into direct services that people depend on.”

Still, McLendon and JFS officials said they remain optimistic Congress will strike a deal before Jan. 2. They also pointed to positive news at the state level. Voters’ approval in November of Proposition 30, which cleared the way for temporary tax increases, should prevent more funding cuts for senior services in the state budget, they said.

Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield (D-Van Nuys) agreed the budgetary outlook for the state has improved with the passage of Proposition 30. Nevertheless, ongoing shakeups of health-related programs affecting seniors, including a new effort aimed at keeping ailing elderly people in their homes, will need to be monitored closely, he said. 

And if big cuts kick in on the federal level, the system could come tumbling down.

“If the feds take us over the cliff, that could cost us $5 [billion] or $6 billion, and we’re back to the drawing board,” Blumenfield said.

Even if federal lawmakers stave off an immediate fiscal catastrophe, the long-term outlook for programs critical to seniors — including Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security — remains shaky. With the nation facing an unwieldy $1 trillion deficit, large social programs are a conspicuous target. 

Republicans, who control the House of Representatives, have already proposed smaller annual increases in Social Security payments, capping Medicaid spending and raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67, or turning it into a voucher program.

Jim Specht, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Redlands), said the congressman believes reforms to Medicare and Social Security are necessary to avoid the programs’ financial collapse in the future.

“Both the entitlement programs, particularly Medicare, are on a course now to run out of money over the next 10 years or so,” Specht said. “Mr. Lewis believes you cannot just allow that kind of a fiscal problem … to continue.”

The fiscal cliff, and the automatic cuts it would imply, pose a greater threat to current seniors than proposed entitlement reforms, Specht said. Changes to Medicare and Social Security supported by Lewis would not affect people now over 55. For younger people nearing retirement age, reforms would be phased in, he said.

Lewis “is not interested in reducing any benefits for current seniors,” Specht said.

Still, U.S. Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills) said,“Seniors ought to be worried and aware of proposals that have been put on the table. I’m hoping that President Obama will be able to push back hard enough not to get them into law.”

Meanwhile, Los Angeles senior service providers said they are uneasy over another critical issue dependent on action by Congress: reauthorization of the Older Americans Act. The almost 50-year-old legislation authorizes federal funding for a wide range of senior services, including Meals on Wheels and home-based care programs, which is funneled through the Administration on Aging to state and local entities. It was due for renewal in 2011 but remains in limbo.

“It should have been done months ago. It has been introduced, but it’s just not going anywhere, which is a problem,” Volpert said. 

Failure to renew the act means agencies that receive federal funds to help seniors are not sure how to plan for their future, McLendon said. 

In California, another development is adding to the cloud of uncertainty, although there is hope it could bring about positive change. The state is one of 15 across the country participating in a federal pilot project that aims to shift so-called “dual eligibles” — people who qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid — into managed care. Officials say the change will reduce costs while providing beneficiaries with better-quality care.

Los Angeles is among five counties setting up the plan, which affects some of the poorest and sickest Californians, most of them elderly. About a third of the state’s 1.1 million dual eligibles live in L.A. County. Under the project, expected to start some time next year, local health plans L.A. Care and Health Net would be in charge of financing and delivering both medical and social services to dual-eligible patients. Currently, individual providers, such as JFS, are compensated directly by the government based on the number of services they provide.

Castro said JFS and other organizations in Los Angeles that run programs for seniors are anxious to ensure the transition doesn’t wipe away the current infrastructure and leave the elderly without access to services they’ve depended on for years.

It’s “a dramatic change in the service landscape,” he said. “The question is how much money will the state fund the health plans to do this kind of work, and how much will the plans be willing to spend on these clients, particularly those who are most fragile and imply the most cost?” 

Blumenfield echoed those concerns.

“We’ve really got to watch the implementation and make sure it helps seniors and doesn’t harm them,” he said. “The devil is in the details.” 

JFS announces program, staffing cuts

Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS) announced layoffs in some areas and expansion in other areas of its operation Oct. 16, saying it was looking to position JFS for success as it responds to shifts in how programs are funded.

“JFS must evolve to help ensure the safety, health and well-being of the vulnerable clients we serve is protected in a sustainable way,” said Paul S. Castro, CEO of JFS. “In this time of transition, JFS has reduced administrative costs and staffing, increased fundraising efforts and is pursuing new service models where funding is stronger and more certain.”

JFS serves about 100,000 clients of all backgrounds a year and has a budget of about $30 million. 

Sixteen managerial, administrative and union staffers received layoff notices, and another eight employees were offered reduced hours, which will save JFS around $800,000 annually. The cuts will reduce, but not eliminate, programs for the homeless, for seniors at the Valley Storefront as well as counseling and social work services for the Orthodox. 

“Each of these areas represent a vulnerability for the organization, and have a history of not meeting their bottom line. The agency has always absorbed those losses, and now we’re looking at a point in time where it doesn’t make sense for us to do that,” Castro said.

The squeeze comes both from instability in local, state and federal funding, as well as sluggish fundraising and donors making gifts to specific programs, Castro said.

At the same time, JFS is expanding in areas that are receiving increased government funding, specifically health care and mental health. Some of the laid-off staff will be offered positions for new programs in those areas.

Both the Valley Storefront in North Hollywood and the Pico-Robertson Storefront will cut hours and services, effective Nov. 16. Valley Storefront’s Senior Center director care was laid off, and it will lose one day a week of senior programming. Other services, including the daily meal program, will remain at five days a week.

Pico-Robertson will have some of its counseling programs cut to three days a week. Aleinu Family Resource Center, which serves the Orthodox community, was reduced from five to three days a week, and its director, Debbie Fox, was let go. Management of Aleinu will be distributed among other layers of administrators, Castro said. The client base will still have access to social workers on the off days through SOVA Community Food and Resource Program, which runs out of Pico-Robertson and has counselors on site.

The senior programs at Pico-Robertson and senior programs at four other sites have government contracts and will continue to operate five days a week. The newly reduced Valley Storefront senior program does not receive state funding and is entirely dependent on private donors.

Gramercy Place, a family homeless shelter that JFS has operated for 25 years, will be converted into a domestic violence shelter. Castro said that homeless services are primarily funded by federal dollars, which has become a shaky source of funding. Government funding for domestic violence is more stable, and JFS has more expertise and infrastructure in the area of domestic violence than in homelessness.

In areas of growth, JFS recently announced a two-year, $3.6 million contract, through the Affordable Care Act, which will bring together hospitals, mental-health professionals and care facilities under JFS leadership to provide community-based services to reduce unnecessary re-hospitalizations among seniors.

Two other new programs will assist the frail elderly and disabled in integrating into California’s new managed care system and in receiving home-based services to avoid institutionalization. County funding will help JFS expand mental health services for the Farsi-speaking community.

All of these, Castro said, are areas that seem, for now, to have stable funding, unlike the areas that were cut.

“These are staffers who have been part of the JFS family for quite a long time. Throughout the agency, people are watchful in terms of what this means. We would love to give assurance that this will never happen again, that this will be the fix. What we are clear on is that we can say that we will keep our eye on what trends look like,” Castro said.

The Circuit: Jewish Family Service, BJE, Lainer Distinguished Educator Award

From left: JFS CEO Paul S. Castro, JFS board member Abby Leibman, honoree Sheila J. Kuehl and JFS board president David O. Levine.

The Jewish Family Service (JFS) Family Violence Project raised funds and awareness on Jan. 27 during its second annual Empowerment Celebration, which honors the birthday of Abby J. Leibman, co-founder of the California Women’s Law Center and newly named CEO of MAZON, and the memory of Nina C. Leibman, who was murdered by her husband in 1995 just after a court order had gone into effect to force him to move out of her home. At the event, JFS recognized former state Sen. Sheila J. Kuehl for her decades of work to help victims of domestic violence.

From left: BJE Executive Director Gil Graff with Lainer honorees Andrea Leonard (Temple Adat Elohim), Simin Imanuel (Yeshivat Yavneh), Lois Bell (Adat Ari El) and BJE Early Childhood Education Services Director Esther Elfenbaum. Photo by David Miller Studios

From left: BJE Executive Director Gil Graff with Smotrich honorees Carolyn Rosenfeld (Temple Adat Elohim), Tara Farkash (Temple Adat Elohim), Vivian Belmont (Adat Ari El), Tali Soffer (Adat Ari El), BJE Early Childhood Education Services Director Esther Elfenbaum and honoree Orly Hershtik (Gan Israel, Tarzana). Photo by David Miller Studios

BJE, formerly the Bureau of Jewish Education, honored three teachers with the Lainer Distinguished Educator Awards in front of more than 300 educators at the 31st annual BJE Bebe Feuerstein Simon Early Childhood Institute on Jan. 10. BJE also presented Smotrich Educator Awards to preschool teachers who created innovative curricula.

COMMUNITY BRIEFS: Child Abuse, Christian University Jewish Program, Lee Baca

Reports: Child Abuse on the Rise

In the last several months, reports from around the country have been confirming what child welfare experts feared: Economic hard times bring a drastic increase in child abuse and domestic violence. Newspapers nationally are reporting 30 percent to 50 percent increases in some regions of the country; in Los Angeles, both Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services and Jewish Family Service (JFS) report spikes in their clientele.

April is national Child Abuse Prevention month, and the need this year is clearly more urgent than ever.

“If somebody is stressed out and afraid they are going to lose their job, or feel they can’t provide for their family, they may bring that stress and tension and anxiety home, and they might find themselves snapping and doing things they wished they hadn’t,” said Cathy Engel-Marder, a social worker who is a board member of the Westside Child Trauma Council, a chapter of the Los Angeles Child Abuse Council, a resource organization to help educate about and prevent child abuse.

Engel-Marder emphasized that the Jewish community cannot consider itself immune to the problem. Abuse can enter a Jewish home just as easily as any other, and dealing with it openly is important.

“In the Jewish community you are living up to a certain reputation about being a good family, a good parent,” she said. “In some segments of the community it is hard to air your problems, because there are certain expectations and reputations.”

Parents who feel they are losing control have many resource options, Engel-Marder said.

Both the City and County of Los Angeles have hotlines that can direct parents to relevant resources (311 is the city hotline, 211 is the county), as well as a number for anonymously reporting child abuse (800-540-4000).  Jewish Family Service offers both prevention and intervention programs — parenting education, child safety workshops, school-based counseling, family therapy and case management, all on a pay-what-you-can basis. JFS works with schools and the Board of Rabbis to educate teachers and community leaders about what to look for and how to help families who might be suffering from domestic abuse.

A JFS crisis hotline — (818) 505-0900 — handles cases of imminent danger, and a central intake number – (877) 275-4537 — channels people to the services they need, according to Nancy Volpert, JFS director of public policy.

Engel-Marder works for Home Safe, a division of Vista Del Mar Child and Family Service. Home Safe social workers intervene to catch families before they descend into abuse by conducting free weekly in-home visits and offering parenting classes, family therapy and case management services that hook families up with other resources.

“When a family feels like it needs support and wants to make sure it’s doing the right thing for its kids, before it reaches a point where there is a serious problem, that is where we go in,” Engel-Marder said.

Vista Del Mar — (888) 228-4782 — offers comprehensive services for children at risk, from counseling, support groups and case management to a residential facility for traumatized children, according to Sylvia Moskovitz, vice president of development and community relations at Vista Del Mar, which was founded in 1908 as the Jewish Orphans Home.

When a court is threatening to remove children from a home, Vista offers a comprehensive slate of services and support to help the parents improve home life in any way necessary to keep the family intact. When children need to be removed, Vista runs a foster care/adoption service.

Four children die every day in the United States as a result of child abuse, and 3 million reports of abuse are made annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Those statistics will almost certainly rise in 2009.

For a list of resources, visit, or

— Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Senior Writer

Christian University Establishes Jewish Studies Program, Jewish Scholarship

Pepperdine University in Malibu, with 8,300 students and a 125-foot cross on its front lawn, has established a new undergraduate Jewish studies institute and a scholarship for Jewish students at its graduate school of public policy.

The new programs are aimed both at attracting Jewish students and teaching students of all faiths about Jewish culture and history. There are currently about 160 Jewish students in the undergraduate school and five graduate programs.

“One of the things we’re very interested in is our students having a much better understanding not only of ancient Israel and biblical Judaism, but also a much better understanding of what is going on in the world today,” said Rick Marrs, Pepperdine’s dean of the undergraduate Seaver College.

Pepperdine is affiliated with the Churches of Christ, an independent, conservative branch of Christianity that believes in the New Testament as the ultimate uniting factor for all Christians. Undergraduate students are required to attend weekly chapel services or religion lectures, and must take three courses in religion.

In the graduate and undergraduate schools, a Judeo-Christian ethic is woven into all the studies and the campus environment, according to vice chancellor Michael Warder. No alcohol is allowed on campus, and the dorms are gender separated.

That values-centered environment can be attractive to students of all faiths, Warder said, and proselytizing is not part of the Pepperdine ethic.

“Theologically, Judaism and Christianity share a lot in common, and Pepperdine, although a Christian university, is welcoming of people of different faiths,” Warder said.

Jewish members of the School of Public Policy’s board of visitors established an endowment of $100,000 to fund Jewish students.

“Pepperdine is teaching the people who are going to lead our country in the next generation, and it is doing that without the partisan political bent that most major universities have, but more with an ethical and moral understanding that you don’t find in a lot of other universities,” said Jay Hoffman, one of the funders of the scholarship.

Pepperdine is also initiating the Diane and Gil Glazer Institute of Jewish Studies with a $1.86 million, three-year grant from the construction billionaires, who also support many Israel-related causes.

The school is in the process of hiring a Jewish studies professor who will begin teaching in September 2009. In addition, the school is entering into partnership with American Jewish University, which will provide adjunct professors to lecture at Pepperdine. This summer, students will travel to Israel on subsidized trips to study Biblical archaeology, and law students will also make trips to Israel to explore dispute resolution.

Marrs says at the end of three years the school will host an international conference with Jewish, Muslim and Christian scholars and leaders to explore issues of world peace. He is also hopeful that the Jewish Studies Institute will continue beyond the initial three years that were funded.

“I think this is good for the relationship between Jews and Christians, and good for theological understanding,” said Vice Chancellor Warder. “I don’t think it’s possible to understand what it means to be Christian without understanding the Old Testament and Jewish history.”

— Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Senior Writer

Baca Shares Israeli War Visit at El Cab

In the middle of Israel’s war with Hamas, L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca made a weekend trip to the Jewish state. Baca had worked closely over the years with the Israel Defense Forces and Israeli police, and he wanted to see for himself the situation on the ground and show that he supported Israel’s response to daily rocket attacks from across the Green Line.

“The visit was a stark reality,” Baca, a Christian who has worked closely with Muslims and Jews, said recently to a breakfast crowd at El Caballero Country Club in Tarzana. “How the Israelis manage in this is a miracle. How the international community can sit back and launch their criticisms is astounding. The Palestinian people have got to understand that violence is not going to achieve peace.”

Baca spoke candidly for about 45 minutes with about 80 members and guests of The Executives, a Valley-based support group for the Jewish Home for the Aging. His audience included L.A. City Councilman Dennis Zine, past president of The Executives, former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg and L.A. city attorney candidate Carmen Trutanich.

Baca’s trip to Israel was his fourth since 2003. What struck him most, the sheriff said, was a news report in which a grieving Palestinian mother was asked whether she was angry with the Israelis. She said she was, but that she was also furious with Hamas for instigating the war.

“I’ve talked to many Palestinians because I caught a lot of hell when I came back,” Baca said. “Obviously I chose a side. I told them I could choose your side if you don’t fire rockets and send suicide bombers into another country. All you are doing is making the problem more difficult to solve.”

— Brad A. Greenberg, Senior Writer

The hip Jewish museum by the Bay, Nagler new JFS chief

The Hip Jewish Museum by the Bay

The new Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco is a hip amalgam of modern art. Daniel Liebeskind’s peculiar architectural dazzle looks like a giant Rubik’s Cube in metallic steel, standing on its tip beneath the city’s downtown skyscrapers. Beside it is the Jessie Street Power Substation, a brick and terra cotta structure in the classical revival style, a landmark building first erected in 1881 that Liebeskind adapted to the project.

The juxtaposition of the historic with the cutting-edge is an odd sight, but it does represent a spectrum of Jewish experience as a kind of past-future metaphor. The architecture — and the art — are a way of linking tradition with what is current. But once you enter the museum’s whitewashed asymmetrical orbit, the image of Judaism projected feels — well, not very Jewish.

Not that the current exhibitions aren’t provocative, interactive or innovative. Inside the new building is “John Zorn Presents the Alef-Bet Sound Project,” where various musicians and composers have written music based on the kabbalistic meaning of Hebrew letters. The result plays to great atmospheric effect inside the angular room with 36 diamond-shaped skylights that positively glow.

“In the Beginning: Artists Respond to Genesis” is the most comprehensive exhibit, featuring a combination of historical art (Chagall, Rodin, etc.) and newly commissioned installations, where artists meditated on the modern relevance of the Genesis story. These creations are edgy, experiential and even abstruse.

Alan Berliner’s experimental film plays across separate horizontal screens that randomly flash words from Genesis in English. At the touch of a button, the word roll stops and somehow always forms a perfect (and poetic) sentence. If “God” comes up, thunder strikes and a montage of dramatic images from Jewish history play in montage (think: Holocaust).

While the offerings are stimulating and sometimes strange (check out Trenton Doyle Hancock’s “In the Beginning There Was the End, in the End There Was the Beginning,” about half-human, half-plant creatures attacked by jealous half-siblings who are then swallowed by the earth and become “Vegans”) the Jewish content is sparse.

Where is Jewish history? No destruction of the Temple? No Babylonian exile? Not even Ellis Island? No, there’s only William Steig, The New Yorker cartoonist who created “Shrek.” And don’t expect a Zionist ode to Israel. In this museum’s version of Judaism, Israel might as well not exist. And as far as any instructive on Jewish religious observance — that’s pretty much limited to some audible Torah chanting as you roam around and a couple of Torah books sitting on a table for your reading pleasure (that is, if you’re fluent in Hebrew).

Here, the closest you’ll get to Shabbat is a pair of candlesticks in the museum gift shop.

Jeff Nagler Assumes JFS Presidency

Jeff Nagler is bringing his movie business mojo to Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS). The Warner Bros. Studios vice president was recently installed as JFS’s new president, an office that will surely benefit from Nagler’s experience managing operations of both Warner Bros. television and features departments.

A graduate of UCLA Law, Nagler has a history of nonprofit work both in the arts and public policy. Along with Nagler, nine new board members were installed at the June 16 event at JFS headquarters; they include Colette Ament, Ira Cohen, Vicki Gold, Bryan Moeller, Steven Paul, Marvin Perer, Lisa Ribner, Toni M. Schulman and Meridith Weiss.

Nessah Celebration for Israel Has ‘Soul’

(From left) Bruce Hakimi, Consul General of Azerbaijan Elin Suleymanov, Joe Shooshani, Beverly Hills City Councilmember Jimmy Delshad, fashion designer Bijan. Photo by Karmel Melamed

With modern dance performances and live Israeli music, as well as shofars blasting and lights flashing, nearly 700 local Iranian Jewish members of Nessah Synagogue celebrated Israel’s 60th anniversary through their sponsored gala concert, “One People, One Soul,” on July 1 at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. In addition to video presentations interspersed with the live performances, the event featured popular Israeli singer David D’Or, who performed Jewish prayers, Israeli folk songs and even an Italian operatic ballad.

Notable guests at the concert included Beverly Hills City Councilman Jimmy Delshad, DWP General Manager H. David Nahai, talk radio host Dennis Prager, Iranian fashion designer Bijan and Azerbaijan Consul General Elin Suleymanov.

— Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

Holocaust survivors in L.A. are still struggling

Joshua “Joe” Knobler used to go salsa dancing three times a week. He used to play cards with the guys every day. Now, 88, with both his health and finances failing, he sits home all day in his drab one-room apartment in Valley Village watching television.

“Television is my life,” he said.

A Holocaust survivor who spent five years in Buchenwald, Knobler was married and divorced twice; both spouses are now deceased, and he is estranged from his children. He leaves his apartment door open all day, but no one stops by to say hello.

Knobler says he doesn’t have enough money each month to buy food, get his clothes cleaned or purchase more than a single $5 can of bug spray to fight the cockroaches infesting his apartment.

Knobler used to make a decent living as a tailor. His industrial Singer sewing machine sits in the corner of his one-room apartment, now overcrowded with a queen-size bed, a hospital bed, a dresser and a couch. He explains that the sewing machine is broken; he can’t afford a new needle.

He receives $939 in SSI (Supplemental Security Income) each month and pays $639 in rent. Of the $300 remaining, he spends $30 for the telephone, $60 for cable television and another $30 for medication, mostly for pain pills. He’s had two back surgeries, one only 10 months ago, and lives with debilitating chronic pain. He has $2.44 in the bank.

“I don’t get from nobody,” he said.

But that’s not exactly true; Knobler has been a Jewish Family Service (JFS) client for the past 10 years, part of the Survivors of the Holocaust Program. He receives eight hours a week in home care services, a monthly $100 Ralphs gift card and $50 a month in taxi vouchers. Additionally, a bag of groceries from SOVA is delivered to his apartment once a month.

Knobler, in fact, receives $2,500 a year in support services, an amount that has been capped for all indigent Holocaust survivors by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which provides $914,000 to JFS in Los Angeles annually to assist needy survivors.

But Knobler has actually received $5,300 in services already this year, thanks to two funds specifically earmarked for emergencies and other essentials for the estimated 3,000 poverty-stricken Holocaust survivors in Los Angeles.

For Knobler, these additional expenses included ambulance transportation (not reimbursed by Medi-Cal because of an unknown glitch in his citizenship papers filed in 1951, a problem being rectified by JFS) and new glasses.

One fund was created by Roz and Abner Goldstine, longtime JFS board members, who donated $250,000 after reading about the plight of Los Angeles’ 3,000 indigent Holocaust survivors in a story last year in The Jewish Journal.

The fund, donated through The Jewish Federation’s Premiere Philanthropy program, provides $50,000 a year, with the first year’s contribution matched by a grant from the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation.

With the Goldstine fund and with the ongoing $2 million Morgan Aging With Dignity Fund created six years ago by money manager and former Jewish Federation chair Todd Morgan, JFS is able to provide indigent survivors with additional home care hours (usually a weekly maximum of eight) and to cover such emergency expenses as utility bills, medications, transportation and other necessities.

“The need is great,” said JFS Associate Executive Director Susie Forer-Dehrey, adding that last year’s Jewish Journal article “shed light on how important it is to take care of survivors.”

In addition to the Goldstine’s gift, Forer-Dehrey noted that The Journal story triggered more than $20,000 in additional donations, much of it in small amounts, including one envelope with two crumbled dollar bills.

There are an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 Holocaust survivors living in Los Angeles, according to Federation spokeswoman Deborah Dragon. Of these, 3,000 are determined to be financially needy, a figure based on a United Jewish Communities Report published December 2003, which found 25 percent of Holocaust victims in the United States living in poverty.

The Claims Conference defines needy as someone with income no more than 200 percent above the federal poverty level. In 2007, for a single person, that amounts to $20,420, with no more than $20,000 savings. For a couple, the amount is $27,380, with no more than $30,000 in savings.

And, perhaps surprisingly, the number of indigent survivors is increasing, more than six decades after the Holocaust.

“The whole population is living longer, and so are Holocaust survivors,” said Paula Fern, director of JFS’ Holocaust Survivor Program. Of the approximately 600 survivors that JFS is assisting, many are in their 80s and 90s, and five are more than 100 years old.

Fern explained that as they become older, they become frailer. As a result, they need more home care, which includes help with laundry, cleaning, bathing, grocery shopping, doctor visits and errands.

Also, according to Fern, survivors suffer from many more chronic illnesses than most elderly people, including heart disease, diabetes and asthma and breathing diseases. These are debilitating as well as costly, as they necessitate an average of 10 to 15 prescriptions monthly.

For survivors living on fixed incomes, these expenses add up. Plus, rents, as well as the cost of food, transportation and utilities, are increasing.

“There is a huge lack of affordable housing,” said Fern, who noted that there is great resistance among Holocaust survivors to enter assisted-living facilities, whose institutional settings, no matter how cheerful and home-like, trigger unpleasant memories.

While JFS helps survivors with their psychosocial needs, Bet Tzedek addresses their legal issues. It is, in fact, the only Jewish legal services agency that offers free assistance with reparations, pensions and other benefits from Germany and other European countries.

Currently, Bet Tzedek has about 750 open files in their Holocaust reparations program.

Holocaust survivor Rosalie Greenfield fills out claims for reparations from the Hungarian government
Holocaust survivor Rosalie Greenfield fills out claims for reparations from the Hungarian government during a summer 2006 clinic run by Bet Tzedek. Photo courtesy of Bet Tzedek

“Justice moves slowly,” said Wendy Marantz Levine, deputy director of litigation. She explained that some cases have been open 10, 12 and even 15 years and are still awaiting responses.

Super Sunday Aims at Aiding Programs

In 1999, Alexander Khananashvili left behind his prosperous life as a Moscow doctor to immigrate to the United States with his wife and two daughters, hoping for a better future. He came with little money, no job prospects and no knowledge of English.

With the help of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Khananashvili and his family quickly found their footing. Within two days of their arrival, the former doctor and his wife met with a social worker from Jewish Vocational Service (JVS), a Federation beneficiary agency.

The social worker spoke to them at length about life in America, giving them information on everything from opening a bank account to enrolling in a medical plan. Within a few weeks, Khananashvili had several job leads, courtesy of JVS, while his wife enrolled, for free, in an English-language class offered by the agency.

Subsequently, The Federation awarded scholarships worth tens of thousands of dollars to enroll the Khananashvili daughters in Jewish day schools and Jewish camps, which, Khananashvili said, has helped cement their Jewish identities.

“The Federation improved our lives,” said Khananashvili, now a 48-year-old social worker and Beverly Hills resident. “They gave us our start here and protected us under their shield. We’re very grateful.”

During the past 30 years, The Federation has helped 30,000 Jews from around the world settle in the greater Los Angeles area. On Feb. 26, The Federation will hold its annual Super Sunday megafundraiser to support its 22 beneficiary agencies, including the Refugee and Resettlement Program that helped the Khananashvilis, as well as myriad other programs.

For the fundraiser, an estimated 1,900 volunteers will gather from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. to staff phones at three sites: The Federation’s headquarters at 6505 Wilshire Blvd., the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus in West Hills and the Torrance Marriott. They will be making calls to potential donors, with the goal of raising $4.7 million.

Craig Prizant, The Federation’s executive vice president for financial resource development, said he hopes this year’s Super Sunday fundraising will break its record by $200,000 over 2005. He said he feels optimistic, because many local Jews have profited from the sizzling real estate market, enabling them to give more generously. In addition, The Federation has identified and plans to contact the growing population of Jews in the West Valley, including West Hills, and in such South Bay cities as Manhattan Beach and Torrance.

Still, “the needs are always going to outweigh what we can raise,” Prizant said.

That’s especially true for Jewish Family Service (JFS) and Jewish Vocational Service (JVS), two Federation beneficiary agencies that have been particularly hard hit by cuts in government funding.

The JFS Gramercy Place Shelter, for instance, has lost about $180,000 in federal and state money over the past two years, a huge financial hit, according to Paul Castro, the agency’s executive director. The 57-bed homeless shelter, which, Castro said, “seems to be chronically at risk,” has managed to stay afloat only because JFS has filled the gap with private donations. However, because of the government shortfall, JFS has not been able to expand the existing programs or introduce needed new ones at a time when demand for services has skyrocketed, Castro said.

In this age of budget deficits, JFS and other local nonprofits increasingly rely on funds generated by Super Sunday and other private-sector initiatives to maintain present service levels, Castro said.

“When you look at what’s happening with government funding, you’re seeing a bigger expectation that private donors will take a greater responsibility for meeting the safety net,” he said. “And Super Sunday is an important example of how this community is working toward that reality.”

JVS also has seen demand for its services outstrip resources to provide them. In 2002, for instance, the agency’s staff included eight full-time job developers tracking down leads for clients. Today, JFS has one full-time and one part-time employment developer.

Reduced funding has forced JVS to move away from individual sessions for resume writing and interviewing. Instead, said Vivian B. Seigel, JVS chief executive, much of the training is now done in a group setting.

In light of those realities, she said, Super Sunday’s importance to JVS should not be underestimated.

“We look at the money generated by Super Sunday as extremely important,” Seigel said. “It has enabled us to reach out to families we know are living below the poverty line and to offer important services, ranging from help in finding jobs that pay a living wage to college tuition scholarships.”

Among those calling prospective donors will be the Khananashvilis, who, in addition to making pitches, will make their own donation, just as they have every year since coming to America.

“We like being able to give back,” Khananashvili said. “In the beginning, it was only $10, but $10 for us was maybe more than $1,000 now. It was a lot of money.”

To volunteer for or make a donation to Super Sunday, call (866) 968-7333.


The Circuit

Clothes That Care

The Family Violence Project of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS) launched its first Clothesline Project exhibit in recognition of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The exhibit, on view at the Bell Family Gallery of The Jewish Federation at 6505 Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, is co-sponsored by JFS, The Jewish Federation and the Gabe Kapler Foundation.

Colorful T-shirts hanging on a clothesline, once a symbol of domesticity, have become an unusual but powerful call to join the fight to end domestic violence. This exhibit is a collection of T-shirts, each designed by a survivor or child-witness of domestic violence, that tell the artists’ stories through pictures and words.

The opening reception on Oct. 10, attended by more than 100 people, featured Lisa Kapler, wife of Boston Red Sox player and Los Angeles native Gabe Kapler, who was also in attendance. Lisa Kapler grew up in Southern California and was abused by a violent boyfriend when she was a teenager.

“One of the strongest messages of the Clothesline Project is that this kind of brutality can happen to anyone, anywhere,” she said.

The Clothesline Project originated when 31 shirts were displayed on a village green in Hyannis, Mass., in October 1990. Since then, more than 7,000 women and children have created artwork exhibitions worldwide, with exhibits in 41 states and five countries.

The Clothesline Project exhibit will be open to the public until Dec. 31. Admission is free. For more information, contact Sherri Kadovitz at (323) 761-8800, ext. 1250 or visit

Lending a Hand at a Community Seder

I’m spending Passover in Chicago — home of the Cubs, the
Bears and the whole Davis mishpachah (family). Mom’s serving up chopped liver,
chicken soup, matzah balls, matzah kugel, gefilte fish — and those are just the
appetizers. We’ll drink wine, read the haggadah and belt out our never-ending
version of “Chad Gadya.”

It’ll be a feast of freedom, family and what else — food.
One of my favorite holidays, Pesach does more than bring loved ones together,
it brings us together with spirit.

As an L.A. transplant, I don’t always make it home for the
holiday. I’ve stayed in SoCal and sedered with friends, friend’s parents, even
my rabbi.

But the first year after my UCLA graduation, I found myself
sederless. My friends went home, Hillel was full and I couldn’t afford a
synagogue seder on my assistant’s salary. I couldn’t buy a box of matzah
without a coupon, let alone drop a Ben or two for a hard-boiled egg at a pricey
shul. I asked for a discount, but even half price was half too much.

I cried. I called my parents. I cried again. Spending
Passover alone was devastating. The story of Exodus seems far less sweet when
it’s just you and a jar of gefilte fish.

I’ve since learned that no one needs to go without a seder.
For 26 years, Jewish Family Service (JFS) has hosted community seders.
Sponsored by JFS’ Clarence Gerber Memorial Passover program and B’nai B’rith,
the events are a haven for people with few funds or far away families.

For just $3 a person, seniors, students, immigrants,
single-parent families, HIV/AIDS patients and anyone feeling lonely at the
holiday can attend seders at one of three sites.

Having been sederless once myself, I decided to lend a hand
at the Etz Jacob location last Sunday. Two-hundred-and-forty guests, mostly
seniors, arrived at noon. Alongside 30 other volunteers, I poured grape juice,
waited tables and most importantly, pointed out the bathrooms.

The Etz Jacob seder was just one of many L.A. community
seders open to seniors, immigrants, single parents, and those in need. JFS and
B’nai B’rith sponsored two additional pre-passover seders at Temple Beth Am and
Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus. The Jewish Single Parent Network held a
potluck seder on second night, USC Hillel held a free arts seder on April 8,
and The Workman’s Circle will conduct a seder in Russian, Yiddish and English
on April 11. Many synagogues also offered a match program, where host
congregants opened their own homes to those without a seder.

To ensure everyone felt welcome, the Etz Jacob seder was
conducted in Yiddish, Russian and English. Even the haggadahs were

At first, the guests seemed to listen more than participate.
But once we rounded Dayenu, those seniors let loose. They were singing and
clapping, even tapping their feet. Most seemed delighted by the afternoon.

“Such a mitzvah.” “Such big matzah balls.” “This cake’s so
good, I’m wrapping some up in my napkin for later.”

Still other guests did some kvetching. “The room’s too hot.”
“The water’s not cold.” “Where’s the tea?”

And I’m glad they did. To me, their complaints meant we
provided a seder that felt so much like home, our guests made themselves at
home. They felt comfortable enough to speak their minds.

While serving one table, I spilled a bowl of chicken soup.
It hit the floor, so technically no guests or polyester pantsuits were damaged.
Still, one man called me a “clumsy fool.” The woman next to him gave him a

“It was an accident,” she said. “But maybe if she wasn’t so
skinny, it wouldn’t have happened.”

I couldn’t stop smiling. And not just because I suddenly
felt thin. I knew these guests were celebrating the holiday like they would
have at their own seder tables — sitting with friends, speaking in Yiddish,
kvelling about the rabbi, complaining about the heat and retelling the story of
Exodus as they had so many times before. It was no longer a charity seder in a
big ballroom, it was just their seder.

The Passover haggadah says, “Let all who are hungry enter
and eat, and all who are in distress come and celebrate the Passover.” It’s
nice to know that people in Los Angeles are doing more than just reading those
words. Â

Q & A With Paul Castro

Paul S. Castro, executive director of Jewish Family Service (JFS), has spent his career working on behalf of the disadvantaged and disenfranchised. The 22-year JFS veteran, who became chief executive in 2000, has watched the agency grow exponentially over the past couple decades. Under his direction, JFS has worked aggressively to diversify its funding sources and has increased its endowment from $2 million to more than $7.4 million. JFS, which employs 430 full- and part-time employees at 25 locations throughout Greater Los Angeles, offers counseling, supports the elderly and disabled, provides housing for the homeless and feeds the hungry, among other services. The agency helps more than 60,000 people annually. Castro, a genial man who holds a law degree from Loyola University, said he is proud to oversee JFS as it celebrates its 150th anniversary. With budget cuts looming, though, his joy is tempered. As government tightens its proverbial belt, Castro worries it is the poor who will get squeezed the most. He spoke to The Journal about JFS’ prospects in these tough times.

The Jewish Journal: What are JFS’ most interesting new initiatives?

Paul Castro: Our most interesting new initiative is called a NORC, or Naturally Occurring Retirement Community. A growing segment of the senior population are now "aging in place" in their own neighborhoods. They want to live independently in their own homes, so the NORC will bring our services to them, creating a virtual retirement community. As the baby-boom generation ages, I believe the NORC concept of independent living will become the norm. We are one of just a few pilot programs in the country, supported by a grant from the federal government.

JJ: What are your biggest concerns?

PC: My biggest concern is whether we will be able to raise sufficient funds to keep the safety net strong for the thousands of people who rely on us. My biggest frustration is trying to convince our policymakers to look beyond the dollars and cents and see the implications of severe cuts in social programs. A strong safety net is good social and fiscal policy. For example, it’s much cheaper to provide in-home care to seniors than place them in nursing homes.

JJ: Do you find it ironic that more people than ever need JFS services because of the faulty economy yet government funding is getting slashed?

PC: For the social service community, this is the "perfect storm." At the center of this storm is the growing demand for services. A slow economy has made donors more conservative in their giving and low returns on investments have forced many foundations to cut their grants significantly. And now government is struggling to close funding gaps that are in the billions.

JJ: If funding gets dramatically slashed, how will JFS respond?

PC: It depends on where they cut and how much. But significant reductions in funding would mean reductions in services. There is no way around that, but we’ll do our best to maintain the highest level of service we can.

JJ: What services has JFS cut in the past couple years?

PC: We have made some cuts in our counseling programs. Funding for counseling has diminished or remained flat for a number of years now. Our costs continue to go up while our revenue lags farther and farther behind. We are seeing more clients who can’t pay and fewer clients who have insurance. It is a challenging situation, but we have no plans for future cutbacks.

JJ: How is JFS changing the way in which it lobbies Sacramento?

PC: We need to be proactive in protecting our clients and we can’t do it alone. The key is to build coalitions. I recently attended a meeting in Sacramento with representatives from The Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Committee, the Jewish Public Affairs Committee and other social service agencies. The purpose of this meeting was to build a coalition to fight cuts in MediCal.

JJ: How has JFS managed to survive 150 years?

PC: JFS has survived by continually adapting to change. As an organization we have been fortunate to have strong lay leadership with a vision of a responsive and proactive JFS. Whether helping a poverty-stricken community during the Great Depression or resettling refugees after World War II, JFS has persevered in its mission to strengthen and preserve individual, family and community life. I believe this tradition will carry us over the next 150 years.

JFS Marks 150 Years of Help in L.A.

Miss N., 20, was homeless, the daughter of divorced parents who did not financially support her. Although weak and underweight, she struggled to complete a business course in order to obtain a job and become self-sufficient.

Her fate remained precarious, however, until caseworkers from what was to become Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS) stepped in to supplement her income. The funds allowed Miss N. to board in a good home until she could support herself.

That was back in 1932, decades after JFS became this city’s first charitable organization in 1854. Now Los Angeles’ largest private nonprofit social services agency is still providing the same kind of personalized care for more than 60,000 clients annually, inincluding the homeless and the mentally ill.

This month at the Skirball Cultural Center, JFS celebrates its 150th anniversary with a simple but moving exhibit, “Still Listening,” which tells its story mostly through case histories like Miss N.

On a wall of collaged social workers’ reports, viewers learn of Mr. Y. and Mrs. S., employees of a traveling Ukrainian chorus stranded in Los Angeles after their troupe folded in 1927. Case workers promptly verified the performers’ New York address and arranged for them to receive affordable transportation home.

Another report, dated October 1947, describes how family therapy empowered the parents of a “rebellious, overly sophisticated adolescent who … prefers the dance halls of the beach area to the Girl Scouts.”

Interspersed throughout the exhibit are original works by contemporary artists and the case histories that inspired them (see sidebar on page 11).

“By clustering a quantity of short, meaningful documents, we hear the voices of those served and get a sense of how these small, individual moments had a huge impact on people’s lives,” said artist Benny Ferdman, who designed and curated the show with Shari Davis.

That impact continued as the agency grew from a one-room office staffed by a single volunteer to more than 50 programs run by 476 employees, with an annual budget in excess of $24 million.

An exhibit video features interviews with current clients: For example, Bita (who requested that only her first name be used) is a 32-year-old Iranian immigrant who felt overwhelmed after her family left their spacious Isfahan villa in 2002.

The Jewish orthopedic surgeon, who had faced job discrimination in Iran, told The Journal about how her mother suffered debilitating fevers a month after arriving in Vienna for processing. The diagnosis was grim: her breast cancer, previously in remission, had returned and spread to her lungs, bones and liver.

“They said if you want to treat your mother here, you will have to stay in Vienna for a long time and you will have to pay for everything, even though we had no insurance and couldn’t afford it,” Bita said, in the cramped but elegant Pico-Robertson apartment she now shares with relatives. Another problem was that, according to her understanding, Iranians were required to remain in Vienna for at least six months before traveling to the United States.

Enter JFS, which arranged for the family to immediately fly to Los Angeles and for the patient to begin chemotherapy weeks before her government benefits came through. Nevertheless, she died in the intensive-care unit two months later, leaving Bita’s sister and father — subsequently diagnosed with prostate cancer — paralyzed by grief.

“I was so sad, but I understood I had to support them,” said Bita, who put her medical studies on hold to run the household.

A JFS social worker lessened the burden by providing bereavement counseling for the family; she also hooked Bita up with English classes to help her resume studying for exams she must pass to practice medicine in the United States. “Jewish Family Service was there for us minute by minute,” Bita said.

Across town in North Hollywood, another JFS client, 84-year-old Joshua Knobler, sat on his neatly made bed in a shabby single apartment that, despite his best efforts, is infested with cockroaches. Vibrant and robust despite two back surgeries and a bypass operation, the retired tailor was unsentimental as he recalled life’s hard knocks: six years in Nazi concentration camps, two divorces, four estranged children, a fall that left him in chronic pain and a drunk driver who totaled his car five months ago. He can’t afford to replace the car, which is why he rides the bus to his card games in Plummer Park and Spanish dancing at a club on Sherman Way.

Making ends meet is a struggle for Knobler, who subsists on a monthly Social Security payment of $917, $513 of which must pay the rent. Eviction could mean ending up in a Medi-Cal home.

“They take everything away from you when you go into those places,” he said. “They don’t take good care of you. You die there.”

To avoid that fate, Knobler relies in part on Elinor Marks-Gordon, clinical supervisor of JFS’ Holocaust survivors’ program, who is trying to find him a subsidized apartment. She’s also provided taxi vouchers, money for prescriptions and an aide who cooks and cleans for him twice a week.

“Joshua is totally on his own,” Marks-Gordon said in a phone interview. “But he wants to remain independent for as long as he can.”

Across from the video installation at the Skirball, severe, black-and-white photographs show 12 of JFS’ 30 founders, who represented half of Los Angeles’ Jewish population of 1854. On June 21 of that year, the businessmen gathered at Joseph Newmark’s whitewashed adobe house to create a Hebrew Benevolent Society for people in need, both Jewish and non-Jewish. The benefactors included Kaspare Cohn, whose mansion became Los Angeles’ first Jewish hospital, and Solomon Lazard, whose dry goods store appears in another vintage photograph.

“The image conveys the rough, crude quality of L.A. at the time,” Davis said of the photo. “Murders occurred often, everyone owned guns and gambling was rampant. It was against this rough and tumble backdrop that JFS’ founders came together with the very refined idea of establishing an aid society.”

Four bulletin boards chronicle how the organization evolved, focusing on issues such as tuberculosis after World War I, Holocaust refugees in the 1940s and domestic crises at mid-century. (“Is your marriage on the rocks?” a 1950s brochure queries.)

On a recent Wednesday afternoon, Florence Candee, who was born in the Kaspare Kohn hospital in 1923, tacked a postcard to the bulletin board upon which visitors are encouraged to recount their own JFS experiences. The card described how her parents struggled to maintain their produce stand on Temple Street until the agency granted them financial aid. Her father went on to found his own business in the Los Angeles produce market.

A new JFS program, Parent Empowerment Unidas, is enabling other Angelenos to become self-sufficient. Maria Gonzalez, a 33-year-old clerk, is among approximately 15 Latina mothers who attend the Unidas support group at Rio Vista Village, a subsidized housing project in East Los Angeles. Last Friday, she clutched a worn, Spanish-language copy of “Chicken Soup for the Soul,” which she’s reading in the group, as she outlined how the program has transformed her from a recluse to a more conscientious single mother.

It all began when she started speaking to participants about her own childhood.

“My father used to drink a lot and spend all our money,” she said. “We always lived in other people’s houses, and they didn’t want us there.”

Gonzalez repeated the cycle by marrying a drug addict and moving her children from house to house until she obtained the Rio Vista apartment in 1997.

“But I was always depressed, and I wanted to be alone,” she said. “I would keep the kids in their rooms so they didn’t bother me…. [Or] I would use profanity and scream at them.”

After joining Unidas six months ago, the sharing and self-esteem exercises boosted Gonzalez’s confidence and led her to more appropriately discipline her children.

“The group offers a comfort zone for the women,” said Hugo Garcia, Unidas’ social service coordinator.

Finding a comfort zone was also key for Marlys Nunneri, a 65-year-old born-again Christian, who attends group therapy at JFS’ Family Violence Project. Wheezing as she climbed a short flight of steps to her Canoga Park condominium, she said her partially paralyzed diaphragm is a reminder of how her ex-husband shot her, point blank, with the gun he kept under his mattress in 1999.

“The blow was indescribable,” she said. “The bullet went right through my heart.”

It was the culmination of 47 years of battery that began soon after Nunneri met her ex-husband, a Teamster, at age 13. After she became pregnant and married him two years later, she used makeup to hide bruises inflicted when he kicked her with his steel-toed boots.

“He spit at me, slugged me, shoved me, held a knife to my throat,” she said. “But I never talked about the abuse.”

The change began when a JFS social worker visited Nunneri in the hospital in 1999 and gave her a voucher for four free counseling sessions. Although initially hesitant about psychotherapy (and a group called Jewish Family Service), the devout Christian started attending group and individual sessions. Encouraged by her social worker, she began publicly speaking about her experiences and became active with Women Against Gun Violence.

“I went from being a shy, retiring person who didn’t think she could make it on her own to someone who is out in the world,” she said, beaming. “It’s like Jewish Family Service saved my life. They really gave me the confidence I needed to make a new life.”

For information about JFS, call (323) 761-8800. For information about the exhibit, call (310) 440-4500.

Who Will Care for Our Aging Adults?

Life isn’t so easy for Genia Cohen. The 68-year-old widow lives in a low-income apartment in Hollywood. She finds it difficult to get together with her sister, her only living relative in the area, who’s also suffering from the aches and pains of age.

But Cohen is one of the lucky seniors, who benefits from a variety of public and private services: She visits the Freda Mohr Senior Service Center on Fairfax to exercise three times a week and lunch weekly, and receives assistance coordinating the bewildering array of available programs through her Russian-speaking case worker at the West Hollywood Senior Center.

Yet agencies like the ones that work with Cohen and other seniors have more clients than they can afford to serve. What will happen over the next 30 years, when — thanks to higher life expectancies and millions of baby boomers advancing in age — the population of adults over 65 doubles?

By the year 2030, 70 million adults, or 20 percent of the nation’s population, will be over the age of 65. And when you consider that the number of seniors who are most frail and in need of services — those over 85 — is expected to climb from over 4 million today to 8.9 million in 2030, you have to wonder what our future will bring.

In the Jewish community, the trend is even worse: with a median age of 42, the Jewish population is seven years older than the general one according to the 2000 Jewish Population Study. Here in Los Angeles the number of area Jews over age 65 has almost doubled in the previous 20 years, a 1997 Jewish Federation survey found. By 2020, the report projected that those 65 and over would comprise 31% of our community.

Is the nation — and our community — prepared for the growing, changing needs of a rapidly aging population? What will those needs look like? And how will they be provided both logistically and financially?

In order to fulfill the needs of an aging population we first need to redefine the very concept of aging, says to Susie Forer-Dehrey, associate executive director of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS).

“The way we look at older adults needs to change,” she said. “The notion that someone goes off to a skilled nursing facility and their life is over is antiquated. These are people who have a lot to offer our community, our children and our society.”

Forer-Dehrey points out that the majority of older adults do not live in institutional settings. In fact, 95 percent of older Americans live in their homes within the community, and most prefer it that way. Because of this, she said, “the way older adult services are set up now has to be rethought.”

The future will see a host of “increasing needs likely to collide with shrinking public resources,” according to a Los Angeles city task force looking at the delivery of services for seniors.

Sandra King, chair of the National Council on the Aging and former director of Los Angeles’ JFS, who served on the task force, said, “Policymakers haven’t given sufficient attention to this issue. The vast numbers of people who will need services, attention and planning have not been recognized.”

One of the major issues raised by the city report was the “dire shortage” of housing that is affordable, connected with services and set up in a manner that supports the physical requirements of seniors. For example, frail elderly may encounter problems navigating in their own homes. Many of these barriers can be eliminated by making modifications, such as installing wheelchair ramps and walk-in showers. Yet when these modifications are not made, the difficulties may unnecessarily cause seniors to move to an institutional setting.

More complicated is the issue of housing availability and cost. “The average rent in Los Angeles is $1,000 for a one-bedroom apartment,” said Steve Wagner, director of operations and property management for Menorah Housing Foundation. “If you live on a fixed income in an area of rising rents, there’s going to be a problem.”

Menorah Housing maintains 15 buildings throughout the city that provide one-bedroom apartments to low-income seniors, and are funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Eligible residents pay 30 percent of their income for rent. Each building has an activities director and provides on-site classes, nutrition programs and other activities. The newest of Menorah’s buildings, a 65-unit complex completed in Santa Monica two years ago, drew 3,500 applicants.

“HUD funds about five new buildings per year in all of Southern California,” Menorah President and Executive Director Anne Friedrich said. “Obviously the supply doesn’t meet the demand. There just isn’t enough money available.”

Friedrich’s refrain seems to be expressed by almost everyone involved in the delivery of services to seniors.

Promptly at 9 a.m., 82-year-old Vicky Levy begins her exercise regimen on a treadmill, bicycle and step machine at the Eichenbaum Health Center, located at the Freda Mohr Center on Fairfax Avenue. Levy started visiting the JFS-run center after she was widowed four years ago. In addition to the exercise facilities, the center provides Levy with home-delivered meals and a network of friends.

“It’s a pleasure and a blessing to have a place like this,” Levy said of the center. “I can get out of the house and have something to do besides sit in front of the TV. People care about us here.”

Levy is also a client of the Multipurpose Senior Services Program (MSSP), a program funded by Medi-Cal for low-income seniors who might otherwise be eligible for nursing home care. This program enables Levy to manage at home and stretch her limited Social Security check, the majority of which pays for rent. MSSP helps provide Levy with a package of services that includes taxi coupons to help her get to and from medical appointments, and twice-monthly house cleaning. Her case manager, a social worker at the Freda Mohr Center, helps Levy manage benefits and paperwork and assure that her needs are being met. A separate Medi-Cal-funded program, In-Home Supportive Services, provides Levy with a caretaker for about four hours per day who brings her home from her exercise session and assists her with shopping, cooking and bathing.

A nonsectarian agency, JFS is one provider of MSSP services in Los Angeles. Bernie Gruenbaum, director of MSSP Case Management for JFS, notes that this is a costly program, but one that is cost-effective for the state because it is much less expensive than nursing home care. This year, Medi-Cal reimbursement rates were cut 5 percent, so JFS and other MSSP providers are struggling to continue serving their existing clients. Yet many potential clients go unserved. According to the Medi-Cal Policy Institute, MSSP can only serve one in five people who might benefit from the program. And demand is assured to increase.

For those unable to live independently, the demand for assisted living and skilled nursing facilities will also rise dramatically. According to the City of Los Angeles report, five times the current number of seniors currently residing in nursing homes — a number equivalent to the population of Glendale — will require nursing home care in 2030. Yet, in a 1998 federal study, nearly one in three nursing homes nationally were found to have serious or potentially life-threatening care problems. California had twice as many reported deficiencies as the national average.

The Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging (JHA), which this year received a zero deficiency rating from the state’s Department of Health Services (meaning that they had no deficiencies ) has a waiting list of about 350 for skilled nursing care, including its state-of-the-art Alzheimer’s unit. JHA houses 800 residents with an average age of 90, and is currently constructing new facilities that include 249 beds. A Westside campus is under consideration.

How will these services — both individually and communally — be paid for? Only one-third of seniors can support the cost of care until the end of life. According to Businessweek, a 65-year-old who retires today and lives to 85 can expect to pay around $100,000 for health care, while those who retire a decade from now will pay at least twice that.

Meanwhile, employers are eliminating or scaling back health care coverage for retired workers. About half of U.S. seniors have any sort of job-based coverage, down from 50 percent nearly a decade ago. Even many of those seniors who accumulated what they felt would be adequate retirement savings have seen their nest eggs diminished by low interest rates and the stock market crash.

These factors will lead to more reliance on Medicare and other publicly funded services. At JHA, for instance, 80 percent of residents are on Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program that provides health care coverage for low-income people without health insurance. Spending for Medi-Cal, which is funded by the state’s general fund and matching federal funds, has more than doubled in the past decade. For Medicare beneficiaries (those older than 65), long-term care is the single largest component of direct health-related out-of-pocket spending, followed by spending on prescription drugs.

Who will provide these services? The pool of professionals involved in care giving fields is shrinking. Nationally, there are shortages of licensed vocational nurses, registered nurses and certified nursing assistants, the people who provide the bulk of bedside care. These challenges will require innovative solutions. One such approach is a partnership between Jewish Vocational Services and the JHA to train low-income immigrants and refugees as certified nursing assistants. Another is a cooperative effort among JFS, four local colleges and several other agencies that serve seniors to address the shortage of geriatric social workers by steering social work students toward that field.

Is the Jewish community prepared for an aging population?

“We’re having the discussions,” said Miriam Prum Hess, vice president for planning and allocation for The Jewish Federation. “Our agencies are really rethinking senior services and the way that they’re providing them. The whole issue of NORCs is a perfect example of trying to be proactive and test new models.”

Prum Hess is referring to the Naturally Occurring Retirement Community, an innovative model for serving seniors that involves a geographic concentration of older adults who wish to “age in place” by remaining in their long-time homes as they grow older. A combined effort between the Jewish Federation, the Jewish Community Relations Committee and JFS has resulted in a half-million dollar allocation from the federal government for JFS to service a NORC in Los Angeles, the first such grant to be made in California. The NORC includes two areas: the city of West Hollywood and the Park LaBrea apartment complex.

“The idea is to provide services to seniors where they already are,” says JFS’ Forer-Dehrey. “We feel this is a model that we can take into the future.”

An assessment is underway to determine what services seniors need, what’s currently available and whether existing services are accessible. Based on the results, new services may be created such as recreational activities, counseling, transportation, preventive health care and in-home support services. JFS is applying for future grants in other parts of the Los Angeles area.

“We’re moving in the right direction — we need to get there faster,” says Forer-Dehrey. “The problem is being paid attention to by those who work in aging, but the whole community needs to take this on as well.”

As the community takes on this issue, it would behoove us to keep in mind the words of Molly Forrest, CEO of the Jewish Home for the Aging: “The choices we make today are the choices that we will live by tomorrow.”

When Violence Hits Home

The Jewish community in the West Valley and surrounding areas was rocked Feb. 5 by the murder of William and Bertha Lasky, former members of Temple Solael. The elderly couple died in their West Hills home from cuts and stab wounds, victims of an unknown intruder.

According to Detective David Lambkin of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), firefighters responded to a call from a monitored fire alarm system in the house and found the bodies in the master bedroom and several areas of the house set ablaze. The time of the couple’s death and other details of the crime have not been released, and autopsy results have been sealed pending further investigation. Lambkin said that police have established that Bertha went shopping on Sunday and that family members had been in contact with her in the early afternoon.

Lambkin said the motive for the killings is still unknown.

“We have no evidence at this point that it was a follow-home [murder],” the detective said. “They didn’t drive a Lexus or Mercedes like you expect to find in a follow-home, but we have not ruled it out. Right now, without any witnesses we’re processing the forensic evidence and following up on anyone connected with the family who might be able to identify a suspect.”

The Lasky family declined to speak to The Journal, but sources at Temple Solael confirmed the couple had been early members of the congregation. According to reports in the Los Angeles Times and Daily News, William, 76, a retired cable company executive, and Bertha, 73, a docent at the Getty Center Museum, were longtime residents of the area and had just returned from a cruise.

Although the Laskys’ murder was unusual for their quiet West Valley neighborhood, more than 7,000 people were victims of violent crime in the Valley just in the past year, according to the LAPD. Counseling victims of violent crime is crucial to recovery, said Sally Weber, director of Jewish community programs for Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS).

“Research shows that people who participate in crisis counseling within the first six months of a trauma fare much better than people who don’t,” Weber said.

Weber said a number of JFS staff workers have been trained to do crisis intervention for both natural disasters and human-generated trauma and have handled cases from the shootings at the North Valley Jewish Community Centers to bank robbery victims. Counselors meet with victims as well as families and co-workers in order to help them process their reactions and return to a normal degree of function.

“There are a very normal set of reactions to trauma that, while people are experiencing them, can make you feel pretty crazy,” Weber said. “Common reactions include a profound sense that the world is completely out of control and that there is nothing you can do to protect yourself or your loved ones; flashbacks, which can be very intense, and a fear of being out in similar places or exposed to similar dangers. It can also affect relationships with family members and friends who did not experience the crime. People are often very supportive in the beginning, but then they don’t understand why [the victim’s reaction] is going on so long. That’s why outside help is so important.”

Weber said counseling is especially critical for crime victims who have experienced other crimes in the past, for example survivors of the Holocaust.

“The problem with trauma is it rips the scab off previous traumas,” she said.

In addition to the JFS, Weber said she often refers crime victims to Compassionate Friends, a support group for the families of those who have lost a child, or the Victim-Witness Assistance Program, a division of the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office that provides comprehensive services to victims and witnesses of crime, including counseling referrals and help for victims to collect court-ordered restitution from perpetrators.

For many Jewish families, who tend to live in more affluent areas of the Valley, crimes like the Lasky murder are so rare that safety is taken for granted. Lambkin warns that this can be a serious mistake.

“It’s unfortunate, but at this point we’re telling people to be cautious of any strange vehicles or persons in neighborhood,” Lambkin said. “Do not open the door for anyone unless you know who they are. Also, be aware of who is around you when you are out and about. I know it’s hard in this day and age because people are so preoccupied or talking on their cell phones, but you really need to be observant.”

Police are asking anyone with information about the murder of William and Bertha Lasky to contact Detective David Lambkin or Detective Tim Marcia at (213) 485-2921.

If you or anyone you know has been the victim of crime and needs help, please contact one of the following agencies:

Jewish Family Services (323) 761-8800

Victim-Witness Assistance Program of the L.A. City Attorney (213) 485-6976

Compassionate Friends (877) 969-0010

Making ‘Waves

Visiting Anne Stern at her modest one-bedroom West Hollywood apartment, you quickly learn that she is very proud of her artwork. On the walls of her apartment hang her creative accomplishments – a prize-winning collage, an oil landscape, tiny acrylic still lifes of a covered challah and flower bouquets – all of which she is eager to talk about in her charming British lilt, a vestige of her Wembly upbringing.

What Stern, in her mid-80’s, might not tell you up front is that she has spent many years living alone on a fixed income, and is a recipient of Jewish Family Service’s (JFS) Home Delivered Meals, a quarter-century-old program that delivers seven balanced entrees a week to homebound seniors. Last week, with the help of Israel Humanitarian Foundation (IHF), JFS greatly modernized its program by purchasing a supply of microwaves that will be given to more than 300 senior citizens in the program.

“Microwaves are safer than conventional ovens, which the elderly might neglect to turn off,” said Joan Mithers, director of community programs and staff training at JFS, a beneficiary agency of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Eligible candidates for the Microwave Meals Program are 60 years of age or older, and they suffer from illness, disability or frailty that keeps them homebound and unable to drive. Many of them are also Holocaust survivors, and are socially isolated without any direct family support. Those on the program will now receive a microwave and seven meals for each day of the week.

IHF donated $65,000 to expand JFS’s long-running Home Delivered Meals Program. In addition to the microwaves, a significant improvement to the program is a machine called the AmeriPak 245 filled-tray sealer, a conveyor belt designed to add efficiency to meal packaging.

Overseeing the entire process is Carrie Hornby, director of food and nutrition services, who runs the Hirsh Family Kosher Kitchen.

“This machine can do over 600 meals an hour,” said Hornby, who plans the menu cycle, which has the approval of the Department of Aging for both the city and county, as well as the city of West Hollywood’s counterpart.

The meals, which are blast frozen for preservation, are delivered by JFS twice a week. Choices vary from week to week – ranging from roast chicken to turkey cacciatore to the occasional beef dish, and featuring desserts from fruit to pumpkin or chocolate marble cake – but always strike the recommended balance of protein, vitamin A and vitamin C. Hornby said that the kitchen is required to provide the seniors with about one-third of recommended daily nutritional allowances, but in reality, they have been fulfilling almost half.”Our intent is that they remain independent in their home as long as possible,” said Hornby, who said that the Hirsh Family Kosher Kitchen routinely serves 105 people a day.

At the Microwave Meal Program’s launch last week, even JFS office staff were getting into the spirit of the program, as Valerie Chavez, assistant executive to Director Paul Castro, volunteered some time to help prepare food at the Hirsh Family Kosher Kitchen.

Frederick Simmons, who has served on the IHF Board for 25 years and expressed his enthusiasm for the new project, was also on hand for the microwave project’s kickoff.

“I’m a lawyer. It is very rewarding to think we’re making something happen that otherwise wouldn’t. It’s not only important to do good, but to be seen doing good you’re inspiring people to become involved,” said Simmons.

Established in 1960, IHF, whose slogan is “The Charity of Choice,” prides itself on being a direct conduit between donors and a specific area of philanthropy. IHF supports more than 120 projects related to Israeli life, and provides services for humanitarian causes, educational programs, medical care and research, youth-in-need and the elderly.

IHF first became involved with the JFS project about a year ago. “We have various avenues from which we get our funds. One donor who passed away wanted to help the elderly Jews of the Pico-Fairfax area. We couldn’t have thought of a better cause,” said Geoffrey Gee, national campaign director and executive director of IHF’s Western Region.

Gee, a past president of University Synagogue and a past board member of The Jewish Federation, explained that IHF’s goals are “project related, not program related,” which means that now that they have helped subsidize improvements to the JFS program, IHF will move onto other projects, which includes one with Cedars-Sinai Medical Center that will assist the Jewish elderly.

Back in West Hollywood on this sunny weekday morning, JFS staff install Ann Stern’s new cooking appliance. Stern seems a little perplexed by the demonstration of this new technology, but the facilitators of this project will make sure that she is well-schooled in the art of preparing food via electromagnetic waves. Stern is asked how she feels about the extra layer of convenience the microwave should add to her life, and the retired Saks Fifth Avenue employee’s response is as candid and unpretentious as the paintings on her wall: “I’m happy I’ve got it, but I can’t tell you yet till I use it.”

A Breach of Faith?

Jewish Family Service (JFS), a beneficiary agency of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, announced earlier this week that it will sue Pacific Bell and Pacific Bell Directory on several counts, including gross negligence, invasion of privacy, and breach of covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The lawsuit stems from fallout over the phone company’s failure to act responsibly after Pacific Bell Directory had included the address of a San Fernando Valley JFS shelter in white pages and 411 listings. JFS had requested that the address of its shelters remain anonymous, since they act as safe havens for battered women and children seeking immunity from domestic violence situations.

According to the plaintiff’s complaint, by publishing the JFS shelter’s address in its July 1999-2000 Valley white pages directory, the agency claims that Pac Bell “endangered the lives and safety of the Shelter’s clients and staff by disclosing the Shelter’s highly confidential address to the public.”

At a press conference, JFS and their legal representation — Loeb & Loeb LLP, and The California Women’s Law Center — spoke at length as to what motivated the lawsuit: primarily the damages incurred by JFS, and the phone company’s indifference toward the situation, even after admitting to its error.

Lisa Brooks, JFS director of development marketing, explained that JFS first learned about the mishap in January — five months after the directory’s publication — when the mother-in-law of a domestic violence victim showed up at the Valley clinic’s doorstep. Upon further investigation, JSF learned of the other listings Pacific Bell had passed the address along to, which include the Donnelley Directory (not named in the lawsuit).

“We were appalled, and our immediate directive was to evacuate the shelter,” said Brooks.

Because of the error, JFS had to immediately abandon the shelter and relocate six women and 11 children staying at the facility.

Brooks emphasized how life-jeopardizing the publication of the address was to the clients. Marci Fukuroda of California Women’s Law Center added, “We know that the initial period of separation after fleeing a batterer is the most dangerous time for a woman and her children. In fact, 65 percent of women who were murdered by their partners had taken steps to physically separate themselves” from the abuser. JFS stated that to their knowledge the unauthorized listing had not attracted any abusers to the site.

JFS expects Pacific Bell to pay for all of the financial burden since losing the housing facility. The error has already cost $960,000 and the agency is now forced to look for a new grant to subsidize the facility and for a new building to occupy in a marketplace that is substantially higher than when they leased the old location. Because of these undetermined costs, the agency has yet to put a number on how much in total it will sue the California-based phone company for.

“Damages are only part of the problem,” said Brooks. “We believe that this is not the first time that Pacific Bell has done this,” she continued, citing similar incidents involving two Bay Area shelters and another in the LA area. “Pacific Bell, it appears, has been doing this over and over and over again. The time has come for Pacific Bell to be accountable.”

Said attorney Diane B. Paul of Loeb & Loeb, “Pacific Bell admitted that they know about it. They know what they did is wrong. We’re shocked that they’ve been so unresponsive. We heard absolutely nothing from them. That’s why the filing of the lawsuit.”

When reached by phone, Pac Bell spokesman Steve Getzug told The Journal, “It was very unfortunate. We accurately publish millions of listings every year and we would never intentionally publish customer information that we were asked to withhold.”

Getzug added that until Pacific Bell reviews the complaint, it is not at liberty to comment on the case.

The 24-Hour Jewish 911

Help has arrived. Thanks to a special program funded by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, callers can get immediate personal and family crisis assistance, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A social worker at the Jewish Family Service (JFS), a Federation agency, will be on call to give information and assistance at any time.

Callers who reach the Federation’s main number after business hours will receive a recorded message with referral numbers for 24 hour emergency assistance. Aside from the JFS number, there is one for Cedars Sinai Medical Center in case of medical emergencies, and a number for urgent press inquiries. It’s not 911 — there’s already one of those — but it truly is the Other 911.

From 8:30 am to 5:30 pm Monday through Thursday, and until 3:30 pm on Friday, the JFS can be reached at (323) 761-8800. After hours, the JFS number is (800) 284-2530. The Federation’s main switchboard is (323) 761-8000.

Now, for quick refrigerator magnet reference:

Jewish Federation 24-Hour Line:..(323) 761-8000

JFS Business Hours:………………….. (323) 761-8800

JFS After-Hours:…………………………(800) 284-2530

Rob Eshman, Managing Editor

JFS Opens New Center for Seniors

Seniors in the San Fernando Valley will have greater access to mental-health and day-care services, thanks to a generous donor and the newly expanded facilities of the Jewish Family Services’ Valley Storefront in North Hollywood.