HEALTH CARE DECISION — Jews Respond: Nancy K. Kaufman, CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women


“The US Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the entire Affordable Care Act (ACA) is a huge victory for women and families across the country. This ruling means that women, seniors, children, young adults, the poor – in fact, the vast majority of the population—will reap the benefits of ACA and this historic ruling for years to come. NCJW fought hard to win enactment of the ACA and joined two amicus briefs in support of its legality. We are deeply gratified to see it upheld by the court.

“The court’s ruling means insurance companies may not charge women higher premiums than men. It means a wide range of preventive services important to women will be provided without co-pays or other out-of-pocket expenses, including mammograms, Pap tests, a wide range of prenatal screenings, well-woman visits, the full range of FDA-approved contraceptives, lactation consultations and supplies, and domestic violence screenings.

“Those with pre-existing conditions will no longer be denied insurance coverage – a provision with special significance for women, who have been denied coverage because of a previous Caesarean section or because they have experienced domestic violence or sexual assault and received related treatment.

“The decision also preserved the expansion of Medicaid to millions of poor families, though states will have the option to implement it. NCJW is optimistic that state lawmakers will understand the value of providing critical health coverage to low-income women and families and will choose to expand coverage accordingly.

“The Affordable Care Act means that no family will suffer bankruptcy due to high medical bills, and that all families will have access to routine, chronic, and emergency health care. Perhaps most important, it means that no one will die for lack of health insurance, as did an estimated 40,000 people every year prior to ACA’s enactment.”

Back to School: Parashat Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9)


With a new school year upon us, I found the following story, “What Teachers Make,” revealing.

“The dinner guests were sitting around the table discussing life. One man, a CEO, decided to discuss the current problems with education. He argued, ‘What’s a kid going to learn from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher?’

“He reminded the other dinner guests what people say about teachers: ‘Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.’

“To stress his point, he said to another guest: ‘You’re a teacher, Susan. Be honest. What do you make?’ Susan, who had a reputation for honesty and frankness replied, ‘You want to know what I make? I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could. I make kids wonder. I make them question. I make them criticize. I make them apologize and mean it. I make them write. I make them read, read, read. I make them show all their work in math and perfect their final drafts in English. I make them understand that if you have the brains and follow your heart, you will succeed; and if someone ever tries to judge you by what you make, you must pay no attention because they just didn’t learn.’ Susan paused and then continued, ‘You want to know what I make? I make a difference. What do you make?’ ”

Susan, I’m sure, could make each of us wonder, “What difference do we want to make?”

An answer to this pressing question is found in this week’s Torah reading. The Torah declares, “You shall be wholehearted with Hashem, your God” (Deuteronomy 18:13). This statement has always been so essential to Judaism that Maimonides argued that it is an overriding principle and not a specific mitzvah, therefore he did not include it in his enumeration of the 613 mitzvot of the Torah. 

Whether Maimonides’ interpretation is correct or not, what is fascinating is the context in which this verse is found. This statement is part of the prohibition that a Jew may not use divination, read omens or frequent a sorcerer in order to find out what the future holds.

So what does “you shall be wholehearted with your God” have to do with prohibiting divination? The answer is a lesson for us and for our children.

The Talmud, in tractate Shabbat 156a, declares, “Celestial signs hold no sway over Israel.” The Talmud, however, wonders if astrologers really are able to tell the future. According to the Talmud it would appear that they indeed do have such powers. But do they have the final word? The answer is absolutely “no.”

If one leaves his destiny in the hands of someone such as a fortune-teller, the Torah understood that a person would achieve nothing in life. One will always have an excuse that he or she can use for all mistakes. “I was doomed from the outset,” someone could argue.

Being “wholehearted,” as the Torah commands, is the opposite of relying on the sorcerer, because when one is wholehearted he has achieved on his own. Outside forces aren’t the determiners. This is exactly what the Prophet Jeremiah wrote in the third chapter of Lamentations. At first he blames God for the destruction of the Holy Temple. He declares, “I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of His wrath” (Lamentations 3:1). Who should we blame? It isn’t our fault but God’s wrath. But as he contemplates that charge, he begins to change his mind and says: “By the command of the Most High, neither good nor evil come” (Lamentations 3:38). And finally, Jeremiah concludes, “Let us search and examine our ways, and let us return to the Lord” (Lamentations 3:40).

What a lesson this is for all of us, but in particular for our children. We want them to use their own talents and not to give excuses if they fail. We want them to be able to rebound on their own and not to depend on any crutch that will only hinder their growth.

So, what should we tell our children as they begin a new school year? Perhaps something like this: “Be yourself, and achieve your best, but only achieve it ethically and morally. Never offer excuses if you don’t succeed, for that will never allow you to grow. Rather, know that we are proud of you, and if you try hard enough we know that you will achieve your goal.”

How to judge judges on judgment (election) day


It’s the evening before Election Day, and Morton and Ethel Voterstein sit down after dinner to decide how to mark their ballots.

They know whom they want for president, as well as for U.S. and state senators and representatives. It’s a bit tougher to decide on the state and local propositions, but with a little study and the recommendations of trustworthy political leaders and organizations, the job gets done.

However, when it comes to the list of Superior Court judges elected by countywide vote there is sheer bafflement. With rare exceptions, the names are unknown and so are their records of service.

With a twinge of conscience or frustration, the Votersteins skip the page. At best, they take a stab at marking some of the races based on gut instincts, which have little to do with judicial performance and integrity.

What to do? The Journal turned to a few experts for advice. One was Judge Joseph Wapner, who served on the bench for 20 years before retiring and re-emerging as the television star of “The People’s Court.”

“Every election, I get calls from around 15 people asking my advice on how to vote in specific judicial races,” said Wapner, whose son, Fred, is a current judge.

For people who don’t have a judge for a buddy, Wapner suggests first to check the assessments of the Los Angeles County Bar Association, which rates judicial candidates as extremely well qualified, well qualified, qualified and not qualified on its Web site.

Wapner also recommends checking out the endorsements of the Los Angeles Times and the Metropolitan News-Enterprise, which coves the courts and legal profession.

Veteran political analyst Howard Welinsky, chair of Democrats for Israel, acknowledges that down-ballot races are usually a tough call.

For one, judicial races are officially nonpartisan and candidates cannot list political affiliations, thus eliminating one common guideline. However, determined voters can check the Los Angeles County Democratic or Republican parties for their partisan endorsements.

For another, candidates have only two or three words to designate their occupations on the ballot.

“It’s an advantage if a candidate can put down ‘prosecutor’ or ‘law professor’ but ‘attorney’ is a negative,” Welinsky said.

People generally don’t like to admit it, but left with no other criteria, they will vote for candidates whose last names seem to put them into the voters’ own ethnic group, be it Latino, Asian or Jewish.

There is also likely to be a gender bias at work, Welinsky said, particularly in races for County Central committees of the two major parties.

“If a husband and wife with the same last names both run for a spot, the woman will generally come in way ahead of the man,” he said.

This phenomenon was particularly noticeable in 1992, “the year of the woman,” when Californians elected both Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer to the U.S. Senate. Welinsky believes that 2008 may be another such year.

Hal Dash, president of Joe Cerrell and Associates and a longtime political consultant, agrees that ethnic identification can play a strong role in voters’ choices, saying, “People tend to vote for their own.”

He is managing the campaign of Hilleri Grossman Merrit and advises her and other Jewish candidates to put their Jewish connections on their Web sites and talk to The Jewish Journal.

Edward Sanders and Carmen Warschaw, two savvy political activists, also agree that ethnicity plays a role in the voting process, but neither would cast a ballot for a less-qualified candidate just because he/she is Jewish.

“I think most voters try to be fair, but personally, if I don’t know anything about any of the candidates, I won’t vote for either,” Warschaw said.

What motivates voters is a matter of immediate concern to Tom Rubinson (photo) and Cynthia Loo, who are facing each other in the runoff for Superior Court Office 82.Rubinson is a criminal prosecutor in the district attorney’s tom rubinsonoffice and Jewish, and Loo is a Superior Court referee presiding over juvenile delinquency cases and Chinese American. On their respective Web sites, the two approach the question of their ethnic backgrounds differently.Rubinson makes no mention of Jewish affiliations or endorsements, telling The Journal that he considered his religion “too personal. I didn’t feel it would be appropriate to mention it.”

However, during the interview, he spoke at some length about celebrating his bar mitzvah in Jerusalem; his current family membership at Temple Israel of Hollywood, where he initiated a havurah group for parents with young children, and his support of the Guardians, who aid the Jewish Homes for the Aging.

By contrast, Loo listed seven Asian American organizations among her endorsements. She emphasized that ethnic identification shouldn’t be a key reason to vote for a candidate but made note that Asian Americans are vastly underrepresented in the federal judiciary.

Loo seemed more concerned about having to list her professional title on the November ballot as “referee,” although she performs the same functions as a judge.

“I am afraid that most people think of a referee as a guy who runs around in a striped shirt,” she said.

Speaking to The Journal, Loo noted that she feels a general and personal relationship to the Jewish community.

“Both of our people put a high value on education and family,” she said, adding, “I used to be married to a Jewish man. He is a really good guy and we’re still close friends.”

For information on the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s evaluations, visit http://www.lacba.org/judicialevaluation.

Who Wants to Be Israel’s Ambassador?


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Quiet on the set,” shouts a production assistant, and silence falls over the fake marble floor of a studio designed to look like a conference room in Jerusalem’s King David Hotel.

As a makeup artist dabs more powder on the forehead of Yaakov Perry, former head of Israel’s Shin Bet internal security service, the contestants on Israel’s hit reality show, “The Ambassador,” adjust their dark, tailored suits, clutch leather attache cases and eye each other nervously.

The cameras roll and Nahman Shai, the thin, bespectacled former Israeli army spokesman who is one of the show’s three judges, looks up and says in a voice as serious as war, “It’s time to decide.”

The time has come to vote another contestant off of the show, which features 14 young Israelis competing to be chosen as the best person to promote Israel’s image abroad. The show taps into Israel’s desire to be better understood on the international stage, and to replace the army generals and stiff government spokesmen on CNN’s screens with engaging, telegenic young people who might more easily win sympathy for Israel’s side in its conflict with the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world.

Shai notes that Israel has been defending its right to exist since the state was born. “The Ambassador” has brought that task into the living rooms of Israelis, who for the first time are discussing such questions as how Israel should best explain its decision to build the security fence to the world at large.

On each slickly produced episode, the contestants are presented with a different challenge, ranging from debating the Israel-Arab conflict before an audience of Cambridge University students to meeting with real-life ambassadors to conducting television interviews with French and Arab journalists.

In between the serious parts, there are also reminders that this is reality television after all, with all the requisite backbiting, scheming and personality politics.

The contestants, all between 24 and 30 years old, include lawyers, business students, an Ethiopian immigrant and both religious and secular Jews. Selected from a pool of thousands of applicants, they are attractive and well-spoken in both Hebrew and English.

Like Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice,” at the end of every episode of “The Ambassador,” the panel of judges kicks another contestant off the show. The winner will be rewarded with a yearlong job at Israel at Heart, a New York-based organization that promotes Israel’s image.

“You watch the way Israel is seen around the world and it hurts,” said Joey Low, the American millionaire who founded Israel at Heart, explaining why he agreed to the producer’s request that he provide the prize.

Yael Ben-Dov, 27, one of the show’s finalists, acknowledged the difficulty of explaining to the world images that seem to show Israel as the aggressor.

“We need to let people see the whole picture, to let people know the facts before they judge us,” Ben-Dov said.

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Jewish Candidates Vie for Court Posts


Jewish district attorneys and subordinate judicial officers are among the 36 candidates seeking to fill nine Los Angeles County Superior Court judge vacancies in Tuesday’s primary election.

One interesting Superior Court race is for Office 69, where the five candidates include two Jewish women: Los Angeles County Superior Court Commissioner Donna Groman, 48, and Deputy District Attorney Judith Levey Meyer, 37.

The election pits a Reform Jewish lesbian soccer mom, plugged into Westside gay-and-lesbian circles and the Democratic Party, against a Long Beach-based, ex-whitewater-river raft guide now prosecuting domestic violence and child abuse cases — whose father is remembered by Camp Hess Kramer alumni as the campfire-starting "Chief Texaco."

The Los Angeles Times endorsed Groman, while the small but well-read legal community newspaper, Metropolitan News-Enterprise, endorsed Levey Meyer.

The News-Enterprise reported that when Groman was a court commissioner at the Inglewood Courthouse, she was, "chased out of Inglewood by virtue of a blanket affidavit policy of the District Attorney’s Office."

A blanket affidavit — which is used sparingly — is when a judge or court commissioner is considered so difficult for deputy district attorneys or defense attorneys to appear before that cases going before that judge or commissioner receive blanket, automatic requests from the district attorney or defense council for transfer to another judge. Since that time, Groman has been at the Airport Courthouse near Los Angeles International Airport.

The New York-reared Groman, who is active with her life partner at Temple Beth Chayim Chadashim near the Fairfax district, said she wants to emphasize "a real need for diversity in the legal community." Groman said that unlike Levey Meyer, she has sat on a judge’s bench for seven years as a court commissioner.

"Why take the risk of putting somebody on the bench that [lacks such experience]?" Groman said.

Levey Meyer is blunt in her opinion of Groman. "My opponent has been criticized for lacking on some temperament skills, as when the entire District Attorney’s Office would not let her hear their cases in the Inglewood Courthouse," said Levey Meyer, who grew up attending Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

Groman said the district attorney’s affidavit action in 2002 was sour grapes by district attorneys displeased with her denial of at least two prosecutors’ request for more time through a trial continuance.

"I denied them continuances on trials they were not ready on, so they started affidavting me," Groman said. "It was a disagreement over judicial rulings I made."

Groman’s supporters include unions, gay activists and familiar Democratic/gay political names such as state Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Los Angeles) and Assemblyman Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood) but no law enforcement endorsements.

Levey Meyer’s supporters include District Attorney Steve Cooley, three Los Angeles City Councilmembers and three county supervisors, victims advocates and 11 police unions, including the LAPD’s Police Protective League.

In other Los Angeles Superior Court races, candidates include Deputy District Attorneys Daniel Feldstern, Jeffrey Gootman and Laura Priver. They are running for separate posts in Departments 18, 29, and 52, respectively. Superior Court Referee Daniel Zeke Zeidler is running for Office 53.

Raised in the Conservative Mogen David synagogue on Pico Boulevard, Gootman, 49, prosecutes major crimes in the Antelope Valley’s Lancaster Courthouse.

"I think my first formal priority [as a judge] has got to be violent, predatory street crime," said Gootman, a married father of two who attends Congregation Beth Shalom in Santa Clarita.

Feldstern, 49, has been a criminal prosecutor for 18 years and lives in Calabasas with his 9-year-old son and his wife, Deputy District Attorney Lisa Kahn, head of the office’s forensic science section. Based at the Glendale Courthouse, he works in the hardcore gang division and also has worked in the major narcotics and special investigation units. If elected, Feldstern said he would, "pay attention to victims’ rights, tough and fair sentencing and efficient administration."

Priver, 45, was raised Presbyterian, but she and her Jewish husband, an attorney in private practice, have raised their two sons Jewish.

During Priver’s 20-year career as a prosecutor, she has successfully handled 80 trials, including those for sex crimes, murder and child abuse. She also has worked as a trial deputy and administrator, which she said has taught her the importance of "appropriate judicial temperament."

"I would like the public to understand and know that overall, the system does a good job," she said. "And I think one way to show that is to be a good judge."

Before Zeidler was named a dependency referee at Edelman Children’s Court in 1998, he was an attorney in private practice, representing abused children. Growing up, he was as an active United Synagogue Youth teenager in Ventura County.

His mother is Jewish cookbook author and Journal contributing writer Judy Zeidler, whose namesake, Zeidler’s Café ,is at the Skirball Cultural Center .

Zeidler, 40, lives in Larchmont Village with his partner of the past 13 years. Before moving there, Zeidler was elected twice to the Redondo Beach School Board.

Zeidler wants to be a judge partly to expand his role in reforming court administration.

"As a referee, I’m limited in the involvement I can have in court administration," he said.