Two girls use a Bunsen burner at the URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy in Massachusetts. The camp is the model for the camp that is coming to California. Photo courtesy of URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy

Science and technology camp coming to California

Parents who want their kids to have a Jewish camp experience but also a summer of science learning soon won’t have to choose between the two.

The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) is planning a science and technology camp in California, the Union’s first such camp on the West Coast. The 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy is set to open in the summer of 2018 at a site to be determined, with organizers expecting several hundred campers in fifth through 11th grades for two-week overnight sessions.

The camp will be modeled after URJ’s science and technology camp in the Boston area, which began in 2014 and now attracts about 500 students each year. Campers explore a variety of scientific fields, such as robotics, video game design, computer programming, forensics and environmental science, all within the context of Jewish practices and values. Each student picks an area of study, along with two electives, each week.

The West Coast camp is being funded by grants from the Foundation for Jewish Camp and the Jim Joseph and Avi Chai foundations.

“We’re so excited to be able to bring this to California,” said Miriam Chilton, the URJ’s vice president for youth initiatives. “We think it will be a really powerful fit for the Jewish community.”

The URJ is exploring locations in both Southern and Northern California, Chilton said. Once a site is found, the plan is to design a camp curriculum that draws on the expertise and industries in the surrounding area: animation and film in Southern California, for example, or computer technology if located closer to Silicon Valley, according to Chilton.

“We’re still looking for the perfect location,” she said. “We’re searching for an environment where the camp can feel very intimate, where [the campers] have freedom of movement, where the facilities are top-grade, and where they can experience both the advantages of technology equipment and labs but have a wonderful outdoor space.”

Chilton said the URJ expects to have a site for the camp identified by March.

Jordanna Flores, a former assistant director of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s School of Education, Los Angeles campus, is serving as director of the West Coast camp. She has a wealth of experience leading educational and youth programs.

Flores said she hopes the science camp will appeal to kids who might not be interested in traditional Jewish summer camp.

“The idea of specialty camp is that we can reach kids who just wouldn’t find enough stimulation at a general camp and reach them through the specific thing that gets them excited and shows them how that thing can intersect with their Judaism,” she said. “A kid who loves robotics or designing video games can do it through a Jewish lens and see how those things can be Jewish.”

A goal of the camp is to bring in scientific experts — particularly Jewish ones — to talk with kids about cutting-edge research and take campers on field trips to see science at work, Flores said.

Campers will gain not only new scientific knowledge but also an understanding of how science and technology relate to the Jewish faith and people, Flores said. She cited examples such as how astronomy ties into the Jewish calendar and how biotechnology innovation in Israel prevents tomatoes from going bad during shipping.

“Education and creativity and approaching problems in a different way is part of our Jewish history, it’s part of our Jewish culture,” Flores said. “The way that the State of Israel was founded and all of the technological innovations coming out of Israel, it’s a very [Jewish] thing to approach something in an innovative way.”

A science camp in Southern California would be URJ’s second in the area, operating in the style of 6 Points Sports Academy on the campus of Occidental College, and its seventh speciality camp overall. The per-camper cost for the California Sci-Tech Academy is projected to be similar to the $3,100 cost of the sports camp, Flores said. Scholarships also will be made available, she said.

Chilton said she hopes students who attend the science camp will leave with “a sense of curiosity to want to continue to learn, and also very much a sense of pure joy. An understanding of how they themselves fit into the larger world, not only in terms of
the skill acquisition … but also how those skills help build out a strong and vibrant community.”

For more information about the URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy in California, visit

Lena Dunham to launch newsletter named after ‘old Jewish man’

Lena Dunham, creator of the hit HBO show “Girls,” is starting a lifestyle newsletter and naming itLenny — “the name of an old Jewish man,” according to her business partner.

Lenny is “the name that people call us by accident all the time on the walkie-talkie” on the set of “Girls,” the partner, Jenni Konner, told CNNMoney. “It’s also the name of an old Jewish man, and we love old Jewish men.”

Konner is a producer and showrunner on “Girls,” as well as Dunham’s close friend. The women — both Jewish — will launch Lenny together in September, and they invited people to sign up for it starting Tuesday. The subject matter will range widely and include feminism, politics, fashion and current events, they said.

Maybe it’s best that Lenny steer clear of the Jewish beat. Dunham’s New Yorker piece from March “Dog or Jewish Boyfriend? A Quiz” was widely condemned as anti-Semitic, or at least insensitive. Outgoing ADL head, Abe Foxman, said at the time that the piece “evokes memories of the ‘No Jews or Dogs Allowed’ signs from our own early history in this country.”

Dunham, who writes and stars in “Girls,” described the newsletter’s target subscribers as millennial women, or men: “An army of like-minded intellectually curious women and the people who love them, who want to bring change but also want to know, like, where to buy the best tube top for summer that isn’t going to cost your entire paycheck,” she told Buzzfeed.

Writer Jessica Grose, formerly an editor at Jezebel and Slate, will be the newsletter’s editor-in-chief, and producer Benjamin Cooley will be the CEO, Dunham and Konner said.

Dunham hinted that, Goop, the mega-newsletter of fellow-Jew Gwyneth Paltrow’s, was an inspiration. “Jenni and I have always been obsessed with Goop,” she told Buzzfeed. “We feel strongly that even if some of it is aspirational, it’s aspirations like ‘I want to know how to take care of my body and soufflé something.’”

Scoping out the senior scene

Why take Max Izenberg’s advice on what’s going on around town? Because the retired nutritionist knows what’s good for you. 

Izenberg built her career on helping people and being well-informed, qualities she’s found useful in gathering and sharing information with an extended community of Los Angeles-area seniors through Suddenly 65, her weekly online newsletter. 

“While there are many sites for seniors, nobody is doing what I do in terms of the different kinds of information offered,” Izenberg said. “Furthermore, the senior sites I came across were written for a national audience and often heavily consist of links to other senior-oriented sites. My newsletter differs in that it is custom-designed for the local L.A. audience, so the readers have specific, accessible resources and activities at their fingertips.”

The San Fernando Valley resident’s dose of events, health tips and consumer information (such as warnings against online scams directed at seniors) is sent every Thursday by subscription to nearly 6,000 people. New subscribers coming to are greeted with a video of the energetic 70-something explaining how to sign up for a subscription for access to the latest happenings for seniors, especially in the area between Burbank and Thousand Oaks.

“My mantra is that we cannot help getting older, but we don’t have to be ‘old,’ ” Izenberg said as she contemplated her second career, launched in February 2012 with her first online newsletter. It was an instant success, winning the Los Angeles Daily News’ Readers’ Choice award two years running for favorite boomer/senior newsletter.

“If you’re sitting at home doing nothing, you are going to get old,” Izenberg continued. “Without any social interaction, the experience of aging can be terrible. Boomers and seniors want to get out because they are vital, healthy and naturally curious about life. Sometimes, all they need to do is find out what’s happening in their backyard. What my newsletter does is help them do just that when planning ahead for the weekend or the following week.”

The New Jersey native raised four children in the Valley and spent a dozen years in Las Vegas with her husband of 58 years, Jerry, before returning to the area and finding her social landscape drastically changed. A number of old friends had died or moved away. Although it seemed like a simple Internet search should help the active couple connect with new friends and find enlightening activities, they found the Web remarkably lacking in “Meet Up”-type groups and social networking for people over 50.

“When I Googled ‘social resources for seniors,’ I found nursing homes,” Izenberg recalled, surprise still resonating in her voice. “When I had gotten in touch with friends still living in the area, they told me they were also having a hard time finding interesting things to do. As returning long-term Los Angeles residents, we knew there had to be things out there for us.”

After pondering the situation for two months, Izenberg came up with the idea of starting a newsletter for boomers and seniors filled with leads to events and useful information. Since then, she’s found that the process of putting the letter together, with support and feedback from Jerry and her readers, keeps her “feeling as if I’m still in my 20s.” 

Although she regularly gets tips from readers, she also exhaustively researches everything going on in communities throughout Los Angeles, from music performances to free movie screenings, live theater, dancing clubs and classes, and various activities staged at libraries, community centers and other public venues. She also networks with neighborhood councils, chambers of commerce and fellow members of JNET, a Jewish professional networking organization, to uncover leads. Izenberg even does some in-the-field research.

“When I first started the newsletter, I got a tip about the San Fernando Valley Symphony Orchestra having something going on at Canoga Park Bowl [a bowling alley now known as Winnetka Bowl],” she said. “It sounded strange at first, so I told my husband we should check it out before putting it in the newsletter. It turned out to be one of the most fun evenings we ever had. James Domine, a music professor at Pierce College and San Fernando Valley Symphony Orchestra’s music director, had a band performing at Canoga Park Bowl. We went, and the entire audience was people our age. This is exactly the kind of thing my readers are looking for.”

Her other criteria for inclusion in Suddenly 65 are that events be open to the whole public — in other words, grandchildren — and have low or no cost of admission. She recently added a list of museums in greater Los Angeles with free admission; some theaters and venues even offer Suddenly 65 readers discounts on tickets and admission.

Izenberg’s goal is to help subscribers make the most of what’s going on in their community.

“My readers are learning, for example, that a library is more than just a place to [borrow] a book, through the wonderful activities scheduled, such as lectures, computer-education classes and live performances,” she said.

“ is a valuable tool for our readers, not just for a better daily life, but also for situations like finding memorable places to take friends and family coming into town. The sky is the limit for my readers — all we need to do is put it in front of them.” 

Looking good in those genes

Your day begins with a cup of joe, and to get through the afternoon, you’ll be gulping down a few more: There’s a gene for that. 

Caligenix, a genetics-based lifestyle company in Brentwood, can help people find out whether they have that caffeine-craving gene variation, along with many others that affect health and lifestyle. The company’s services are based on the science of nutritional genetics — how genes influence metabolism, diet, nutrition and response to exercise — and begin with a simple sample of saliva.

For some time now, scientists have been saying that the future of preventive health lies in knowing a person’s genetic makeup. After the Human Genome Project was completed in 2003, many predicted that genetic testing would soon provide people with an accessible and reliable way to improve their health and lifestyle. But the ability to do so was still a long way off. 

But in May of last year, dentist Tzur Gabi and entrepreneur Eliad Josephson co-founded Caligenix, providing genetic testing, interpretation and recommendations through their network of providers, which includes registered dietitians and nutritionists, a holistic coach and a lifestyle coach. 

After collecting a sample of a client’s saliva, Caligenix sends it to a CLIA- and CAP-accredited clinical laboratory in San Diego, where it is tested for 78 genetic markers that impact metabolism.  

Within two to three weeks, the results are returned to Caligenix, where a provider interprets them, gleaning information like whether the client would benefit more from endurance training — such as mid- or long-distance walking, jogging or bicycling — or strength training; whether she is susceptible to Achilles tendon injuries, so she’ll know when and how to stretch; why he doesn’t feel satiated after a meal and has difficulty resisting dessert; and whether she is prone to particular vitamin deficiencies. After interpreting the genetic test, providers give the client actionable plans focused on nutrition and exercise. The cost to clients is between $495 and $995, depending on insurance coverage.

Gabi, Caligenix’s chief medical officer, likens genetic testing to a road map to the body. 

“Let’s say I asked you to drive to Tulsa, Okla. Wouldn’t you ask for a map? Or would you make your way without a guide?” Gabi said. “Genetic testing is the map I give my patients to get to Oklahoma.” 

Gabi’s dental practice is what he calls “genetically guided” — all of his patients receive the genetic test. His office has an in-house registered dietitian nutritionist, who develops a preventive genetic-based meal plan for each patient.

The test reveals how the body processes sugars, fats, nutrients and vitamins — all of which, Gabi said, play a role in dental health. 

“Low levels of vitamin C have been shown to be associated with an increased risk of periodontal disease, increased permeability of the oral mucosa to bacterial toxins [and] impaired immune response,” Gabi said.  

Vitamin C deficiency can ultimately lead to scurvy. The vitamin is also vital in forming the amino acids needed to produce collagen for bone formation and calcification to support the teeth, as well as for wound healing. 

“Deficiencies of protein, vitamin D or calcium may lead to the [resorption] of bone around the teeth and destruction of the periodontal ligaments that anchor the teeth to the jawbones,” Gabi said. “Women with severe osteoporosis are three times more likely to experience tooth loss.” 

Because an individual’s genes are present at birth and remain the same for their entire life, anyone can take the test at any time. 

Mor Levy, a registered dietitian nutritionist who specializes in lactation, believes that “in the ideal world, the test should happen when you are born.” Levy is a Caligenix provider who has a practice in Calabasas. 

The earlier you understand what is optimal for your body, Levy said, the more preventive action you can take. This knowledge might help parents, for example, understand the eating habits of a picky child or their sensitivity to lactose.

Levy starts by asking patients about their diet and exercise regimens. She also asks for as much of their own and their family’s medical history as they can provide. But there are often holes in this narrative, and even with a complete history, one can’t know whether a parent’s gene might be recessive in the next generation. Rather than rely on this incomplete information, Levy encourages testing, which takes the guesswork out of one’s genetic makeup. 

“Even if you do know your ancestry, that doesn’t mean you will have the gene that causes a heart attack,” Levy said.

But back to the question of coffee addiction. The gene linked to this is CYP1A2; a liver enzyme that is encoded by this gene is responsible for metabolizing caffeine. Variation at a marker for this gene results in different levels of enzyme activity and, therefore, different rates of metabolizing caffeine. 

“The test shows how quickly you metabolize caffeine,” Levy said. “If you metabolize it faster, this means your body will eliminate it quicker, thus you won’t stay caffeinated as long.” 

Caligenix’s plans for 2015 include continuing to spread awareness of the benefits of nutritional genetics through the company’s integration into many types of practices, including gyms, wellness centers and health care providers. They also offer genetic tests for the breast cancer susceptibility gene BRCA and other genetic diseases, but the primary focus is on genetic testing to improve healthy lifestyles.

“Right now, this is one more tool for [health] providers,” Josephson said. Genetic testing, he added, is “one more scientific tool to help them understand how to deal with an issue.” 

The power of two

Lee Shoag is the kind of husband who tells his wife he loves her wrinkles.

Barbara Shoag says her husband’s excess pounds mean she has more of him to hug.

But when the Reform Jews from Long Beach, both 74, took a whitewater rafting trip several years ago and found themselves easily losing their breath, the couple agreed they both needed to improve their cardiovascular health.

So, at 6 a.m. most mornings of the week, the Shoags head down to Long Beach’s Alpert Jewish Community Center to work out. Barbara, who prefers guided instruction, takes a spin or Pilates class. Lee, a more independent exerciser, uses the elliptical machine and weights. But no matter what type of exercise they each end up doing, the Shoags always make their trips to the gym a joint affair.

“We’ve been married going on 50 years, and we like doing things together,” Lee explained.  “It’s more motivating to have each other.”

When it comes to making healthy lifestyle changes, the Shoags have it right. Couples who support each other when it comes to working out, eating right and following the doctor’s orders tend to enjoy significantly greater success in getting and staying healthy than people who embark on such efforts alone, research shows. That’s especially true for people over 50, who typically face greater health challenges as they age and may be more reliant upon each other than in their younger years, experts say.

Benjamin Karney, a professor of social psychology at UCLA, has studied the issue in depth. He said couples can’t help but affect each other when one partner decides to make a lifestyle change, or is ordered to do so by a doctor. How the supporting partner chooses to respond — or not respond — to his or her loved one’s desire for change is critical to the other’s ultimate success, Karney indicated. 

“What I eat at a table, how much I eat, is powerfully affected by how much the people around me are eating, especially my intimate partner,” said Karney, a secular Jew who lives in Santa Clarita. “What I have to eat in my kitchen is powerfully affected by what my partner shops for when my partner goes to the market. Whether I have time to go to the gym depends on how much my partner is willing to do at home while I’m at the gym.”

These issues and more are addressed in an upcoming book titled “Love Me Slender: How Smart Couples Team Up to Lose Weight, Exercise More, and Stay Healthy Together,” to be released Feb. 4 by Karney and Thomas Bradbury, co-directors at the UCLA Relationship Institute. It outlines several ways partners can help each other implement lifestyle changes. These include creating an environment that is conducive to maintaining a healthy change without resorting to nagging or criticism. For example, if a better diet is the goal, the supporting partner can buy healthier food and avoid leaving junk food where the spouse might see it. If the goal is improved fitness, one could start going to the gym and invite the partner along, Karney said.

Cindi Massengale, fitness and wellness manager at the Alpert Jewish Community Center, said she encourages people who are making lifestyle changes to try and get their partner on board. That doesn’t mean couples have to do the same activities as each other — everybody has different preferences and abilities — but they can be supportive by accompanying their partner in some way, she said. Massengale said she sees many couples like the Shoags who go to the community center together, but one will work out in the gym while the other goes to the library or takes a class. 

“If they’re coming together, they’re more accountable to each other and keeping each other on track,” Massengale said. “Just getting out of the house can be the hardest part.”

One area where couples tend to make mistakes when it comes to healthy lifestyle changes is in communication, Karney said. Conversations about weight, body image and fitness can become very emotional. A spouse might interpret his or her partner’s desire to do more exercise as a criticism of their lifestyle together or might fear their partner wants to lose weight to impress somebody else. It’s important couples take time to understand each other’s perspective and unite around making a change, Karney said. This understanding approach can also be helpful when a partner is struggling to improve habits or follow the doctor’s orders.

“When you’re tempted to offer a criticism or a critique, or make a demand, try asking a question instead,” Karney said. “You might ask, ‘What makes it hard for you?’ You might ask, ‘What are your goals?’ There’s a lot of strength in being heard. … It’s a way to show your understanding, and it’s often a good beginning for making a change.”

Couples can also remind each other of why health changes are important by focusing on a vision of a long-term future together, the professor said. It’s easier to make short-term sacrifices, such as resisting a piece of chocolate cake, when you remember that you’re investing in a happy future with the person you love, Karney said.

Of course, support can come from someone other than a spouse. A six-week healthy living program for seniors run by Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles encourages participants to team up with a “buddy.” That could be a spouse, or another course participant, a friend or a caregiver. Participants set weekly goals for themselves to improve their health, and the buddy reminds the person of their goals, makes sure they’re on track and celebrates with them when goals are achieved, said Monica Dunahee, manager of senior adult education, health and wellness. 

“As you become older, its going to be harder to get fit, to eat right,” Dunahee said. “You need someone in your corner, someone to be accountable to and to celebrate with you.” 

‘The Ariela Foundation’: A family in grief chooses life

In July, Ivonne Goldberg was at the park with her 3-year-old son, Mikey, and with Nofar Mekonen, a sunny 14-year-old girl visiting from Israel. Nofar was chatting on and on about her trip to Los Angeles, her family, her school.  

“Where did you get your English?” Ivonne asked her, amazed at Nofar’s fluency. 

“It’s thanks to Ariela that I have this English,” Nofar answered.

Ivonne’s heart swelled hearing Nofar’s answer.

Nofar was referring to the Ariela Foundation, an organization that helps highly motivated and gifted young Israelis of Ethiopian origin, like Nofar, get the extra support and guidance they need to thrive. The Ariela Foundation provides Nofar with English and math tutoring, as well as science enrichment and a mentor. 

The foundation is named for Ivonne and Daniel Goldberg’s daughter, who died in a drowning accident five years ago, when she was 19 months old.

When Nofar, or the 60 other young people being aided by the foundation, talk about how Ariela has helped them, they usually use just the girl’s name, not “The Ariela Foundation.” And each time the Goldbergs hear what Ariela has accomplished, Ivonne and Daniel feel empowered and proud, knowing that their daughter, who brought so much joy to their lives, is still affecting others in a positive way. 

Daniel’s brother, Eric, runs the Ariela Foundation from Israel, and Daniel and Ivonne spend considerable hours working for Ariela US, an independent nonprofit that raises funds to support Ariela’s programs. 

“When you go through such a difficult experience, you of course reassess your priorities,” Daniel said. “The desire to do something good to express your loss in a positive way becomes very strong. We heard about using all those feelings as a motor for change, to express your loss by helping others,” Daniel said.

[For more on the Ariela Foundation, read 'Ivonne and Daniel Goldberg said they were open to all paths of healing after the June 2007 accident.

For those who might think, “I could never go on after something like that,” the Goldbergs offer an example of how to go on.

With depth and spirit, Daniel and Ivonne, and their children, Ilan, Talia and Michael — ages 15, 12 and 3 — have worked to heal themselves, and in the process they have become an inspiration to the friends, family and communities that surround them (among whom I count myself).

They have not denied their pain or hidden from it. But, at the same time, they have chosen to live. And through that choice they have affirmed their belief in their marriage and their family, they have turned to God and to people, and they have learned how to be joyous. 

They have asserted that life is stronger than death, that giving is stronger than what was taken from them.

On Yom Kippur, when tradition demands that we examine how we live, the Goldberg family is a model for how circumstances — even nightmarish circumstances — don’t have to upend guiding convictions that are backed by unwavering values. 

“We heard that a very difficult or tragic experience can have a strong effect, and it can be either positive or negative. Families can either split apart or grow together,” Daniel said, holding the hand of his wife as they sat on their living-room couch on a recent morning. “So we made an immediate decision that we were going to go through this together and become stronger as a family — in memory of our daughter and for all of us. And making that decision was very important, because it directs your actions toward that goal.”

They said they were willing to try anything anyone suggested that might make them whole again — therapy, support groups, prayer, yoga, spiritual counseling, charity, community support. 

 “One of the things we heard, but it takes a long time to understand, is that you can be both happy and sad at the same time, and being very sad doesn’t prevent you from expressing happiness,” said Daniel, 50, a documentary filmmaker currently working on a film about Crypto-Jews in Mexico and the Southwest United States —  people who retained traditions although their ancestors were forced to convert to Catholicism centuries ago.

The Goldbergs are originally from Mexico City. They moved to Toronto in 2003 and to Los Angeles in 2005 — just a few months before Ariela was born.  Ivonne, 44, is a clinical psychologist who worked in schools and private practice before she stopped working to care for her family.

“It makes me feel very happy to talk about Ariela,” Ivonne said.

She holds a small stack of Ariela’s baby books and albums on her lap.

She flips open a calendar titled “Our New Baby Daughter,” in which she meticulously documented small milestones in Ariela’s life on pink-polka-dot framed pages, starting with Ariela’s birth in November 2005.

Ariela had her mother’s big brown eyes and springy curls, and a spark that brought immense joy to the whole family. 

“She loved music,” Daniel said. “From the moment she was able to stand up, she started to dance whenever there was any type of music.”

Ariela and Talia, who was 6 when Ariela was born, shared a room, and Ivonne would often open the door in the morning to find them snuggling together in the crib. Ivonne had always wanted Talia to have a sister.

Ivonne thumbs through the books and albums as she talks, wearing the wistful smile of a mother who knows she’ll never get back those early days. Sometimes the tears flow, especially when she talks about the two sisters together.

“I got some very good advice in the beginning. Someone told me if the pain comes, let it be, and it will pass. Don’t resist it,” Ivonne said. “That was very wise.”

On a Thursday in June 2007, Ariela fell into the pool in the family’s Beverlywood backyard. She lived for four days in the hospital connected to life support. 

Through that blur of days, the Goldberg’s school and synagogue communities converged in the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center waiting room, holding prayer vigils, bringing food and keeping the family company. Friends and family flew in from Canada, Mexico and Israel. Ivonne talked to Ariela constantly, and Ilan and Talia hung drawings in her room and sang to her.

But although one doctor said he had seen miracles in these kinds of cases, most doctors offered little hope. The whole family came to say goodbye when it was clear she would not survive.

Daniel remembers vividly what Ilan, then 10, said to his sister.

“Ariela, you are going to go up to heaven, and you are going to be very close to God,” Daniel recalled, speaking through tears. “And in heaven, you are going to meet the souls of great people. You’re going to meet the souls of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and you are going to meet the soul of Moshe. Please thank them for giving us the Torah.”

Talia, 8, showered her sister in kisses.

“We’re going to give you many, many kisses,” she told her sister, “so you can take them with you, and keep them very close to your heart, and every time you miss us, you can take one of these kisses and put it on your heart,” Daniel remembered.

“It is hard to describe in words,” Daniel said. “We were devastated. We felt this emptiness, this void that nothing could ever fill. But at the same time, we knew we had to be strong for our two older kids. Friends told us, ‘You have to be strong. You have to continue living and get up for your children. They will help you. Taking care of them will help you.’ ”

The house teemed with visitors during the shivah, the seven-day mourning period. Many had advice that Ivonne and Daniel couldn’t absorb at the time but came back to later.

“One piece of advice we heard was that only God brings consolation. And we understood that God brings consolation through people,” Daniel recalls. The Goldberg kids attend Pressman Academy, and they are members of Temple Beth Am and B’nai David-Judea. Both communities stepped in with tremendous support and deep friendship, Ivonne said.

Particularly helpful were visitors — strangers, mostly — who had themselves lost children. 

One visitor had lost his daughter about 10 years before. He said he thought of his pain as a sheet of paper. “Sometimes he folds it up neatly and puts it in his pocket. It’s still there, but it’s all folded up. And sometimes he opens it up if he has to,” Daniel said. “He said there is always something that brings up the pain, so you have to accept it, but then you are able to fold it back up and put it in a different compartment.”

Perspective often came from unexpected sources, such as Ilan.

“One person during shivah came to us and said, ‘I’m sorry something so bad happened to you.’ And Ilan was sitting on the armrest next to me, and he immediately reacted. He said, ‘How do you know it’s bad? It’s very sad, but not necessarily bad,’ ” Daniel recalls. “That was an amazing thought.”

Ivonne surrounded herself with strong women. In the hospital she asked women to pray, and during shivah and for months after, she invited family and friends to sit with her.

Sometimes they sang, prayed or studied Torah. But for Ivonne, the main thing was their presence.

 “It was very scary to me to be alone with my loss. I needed people around me, and women especially inspired me. I needed to see them close to me,” she said.

The days right after shivah were the hardest. 

“There was a woman who had lost her son. And I called her a few days after shivah, and I said, ‘I can’t. I can’t.’ And she came right over, and I remember her standing by my bed, and just for me to see her — she had lost a son in a very similar way, at a very similar age, and I could identify with her. And she was standing and she was strong,” Ivonne said.

She remembers wondering whether she could walk Talia into day camp. But she did. Later, they sent Ilan to Camp Ramah, as planned, and they went to Israel as a family.

“Much advice was given to us in shivah, and one was to take care of your marriage,” Ivonne said. “And I decided that was my No. 1 priority.”

In counseling, they learned how to respect  one another’s different ways of grieving. They learned to express themselves and to listen. 

“I remember thinking, I lost Ariela, I cannot lose anyone else in my life,” Ivonne said. 

They attended a retreat for bereaved parents through Chai Lifeline, an organization that supports families with seriously ill children. They are still friends with some of the parents they met there.

“We had all of this inside of us and we had to let it out by all means available,” Ivonne said. 

After checking with rabbis, Daniel decided to say the Kaddish mourners’ prayer for a full year, not the customary one month. Ivonne remembers absorbing the power of the congregation the first time she said Yizkor, on Yom Kippur. 

“God gave us a lot of strength and faith, and that was and continues to be one of the ways in which we have been able to cope,” Daniel said. “We believe in the afterlife and in the soul, and that is part of what gives us faith.”

A few months after the accident, the Beverly Hills Moms Club, a group Ivonne and Ariela had belonged to, sponsored a backyard benefit concert in Ariela’s memory. 

For what would have been Ariela’s second birthday, in November 2007, the Goldbergs sponsored a birthday party at a low-income school, bringing in cake, a magic show and presents.

On the first anniversary of her passing, her yahrzeit, the Goldbergs hosted a Saturday afternoon get-together at B’nai David, which they called Shirat Ariela (Ariela’s Song), to thank the Beth Am and B’nai David communities and leaders. 

Because it was Shabbat, there were no instruments, and the Goldbergs had designated some friends to lead soulful singing for the hundreds of guests.

“We had no idea what was going to happen. The singing was so beautiful, and suddenly the kids began to move and to crawl and to dance, and then we were all dancing and it was beautiful. It was a simcha, and we were celebrating life, and that we were together,” Ivonne said. 

The Ariela Foundation was established about a year after Ariela died. Many people donated money after the accident and asked the Goldbergs to designate a charity.

They opened a donor-advised fund at the Jewish Community Foundation with the $10,000 that had come in. They made some initial distributions, mostly for children in hospitals, but still wanted a long-term project. At the same time, Daniel’s brother, Eric, who has lived in Israel for more than 20 years and works in international marketing and business development, had been thinking about doing something to give back. He established the foundation in Ariela’s memory and is its volunteer director. About a year later, Daniel and Ivonne established Ariela US.

The visit this summer from Nofar Mekonen and Aviva Dese, 24, an aspiring young singer also being helped by the Ariela Foundation, marked the first time Daniel and Ivonne made such a public appeal for the foundation, and to them it felt right to bring in the community that had so supported them. 

There was also one piece of advice that Ivonne resisted. People told her that true healing would happen if she had another baby.

“I didn’t want more kids. She was a miracle, she was perfect,” Ivonne said. “It was so hard for me to hear the idea that one baby could replace another baby. It made me very angry.”

But, slowly, Daniel warmed to the idea and over time Ivonne began to hear him.

“I remember thinking, I trust you, and I need to trust you because I want to survive, and I want to live again,” Ivonne said.

Michael was born on March 3, 2009.

Ivonne said that her commitment to Talia and Ilan was what initially made her want to live again, and Mikey’s birth brought in new energy.

“Every single minute with Michael has been like a remedy for each one of us. One hundred percent. I think that is what is behind everyone saying, ‘Have another baby’ — it brings the force of life back into your life,” Ivonne said.

The family tells Mikey all about the sister he never knew. He associates bubbles with Ariela, because the family has a stash of bubble bottles from memorial events.

The Goldbergs have also kept Ariela as a living presence in their family through photos and stories.

“She continues to be our daughter even though she is no longer here physically, and we love her as much as we love each one of our children,” Daniel said.

On Ariela’s yahrzeit this year, Ilan chanted a portion of Torah at Camp Ramah in her honor, and his friends stood up with him when he said Kaddish.

Talia keeps a big picture of her sister right on her desk. Ivonne said just looking at Talia brings Ariela back to her.

It’s on Friday nights that Ariela is most present with the family.

Ariela used to love the rituals before the Shabbat meal, in particular the hand washing, and always chimed in with “amen.” So, they look at a picture of her on the wall by the sink and remember her amens. And every Friday night, when Daniel puts his hands on each of his children’s heads and recites the priestly blessing, he blesses Ariela as well.

For Ivonne, just looking at her family makes her feel lucky to be alive, she said, and grateful to have so much joy and so many options ahead.

“Life is the strongest thing. There is nothing stronger than that,” Ivonne said. “The life in my children’s eyes is stronger than the death of my daughter.

“Life is stronger than death.”

For more information about the Ariela Foundation, visit ” target=”_blank”> and

My Single Peeps: Michele L.

Let this be a lesson to all of you: Michele showed up at our interview with two boxes of noodle kugel — one savory, one sweet. Can I be bought off? Apparently. The noodle kugel is her own product — well, actually it’s made from her Aunt Nonie’s recipe, which Michele packaged and is selling under the name The Kugel Co. “My vision is to introduce kugel to the world.” She wants non-Jewish kids to ask for kugel for dinner. “Kids freaking love noodles.” The product’s still not up to the “gourmet kugel standards” she wants, so she’s working with a chef from Le Cordon Bleu to help refine it. I ate one the next day for lunch — it’s not my mother’s kugel, but it’s pretty good.

Michele’s a resourceful gal. While at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, she was “on work-study the whole time.” She worked in the international programs office. “I was sending all the kids over to Italy and Spain, and I couldn’t afford to go. But through the office, I realized you could get a work permit. So I flew to London as a sophomore and got a job for the summer. It was so good that when I graduated I went back and worked for six months. I brought my girlfriend over, and we went back and traveled around Spain and Morocco.” She moved to San Francisco with a friend, simply because the friend was dating a guy there. She slept in a sleeping bag for three weeks, living in a house full of guys who were rarely flushing the toilet due to a drought. “But I was 22 — it was great.” She found a job with a dot-com startup called DigitalThink. “We went public and the whole bit, so that was real exciting. I bought myself a house in San Francisco, and I bought my mom a home in Charlotte. I was instrumental in helping them open a Schwab learning center to teach would-be investors how to invest. It was all online. Then I took a year off — I was kind of burnt-out — and tried to figure out what I wanted to do.”

She traveled, settled down for a bit — lived with a guy for three years, though it fizzled out when she realized he didn’t want to get married or have kids — and then she panicked. She was 39 and didn’t want to move back to her place in San Francisco. She thought of her family in Los Angeles. Her cousin is the host of “Antiques Roadshow.” Another cousin does stunts. Another’s an actor. So she moved. She had a couple of good jobs — one at Google, where she sold SEO/PPC services. And then another that required a lot of traveling. “I was traveling once a week. It was just a lot. Plus trying to get my business off the ground. Plus trying to stay in shape. Plus trying to have a social life.” So she made The Kugel Co. a full-time job. In her spare time she rescues and rehabilitates cats and dogs. But she’s still looking for a man.

“I find a man attractive when he has his s—- together. He needs to be successful and confident, yet kind and respectful. He also needs to take care of himself. He should be fit. Not have one of these guts that hangs out over your pants. That’s not going to work for me. I wouldn’t do well with someone who’s too religious, because I’m kind of borderline atheist. I debate the existence of God. I’m pretty liberal when it comes to social issues. And way conservative when it comes to Israel. I’m not for land for peace. And, of course, they must like dogs and cats, or otherwise we’ll have a problem.”

If you’re interested in anyone you see on My Single Peeps, send an e-mail and a picture, including the person’s name in the subject line, to, and we’ll forward it to your favorite peep.

Seth Menachem is an actor and writer living in Los Angeles with his wife and two children. You can see more of his work on his Web site,, and meet even more single peeps at

Families reading together: Two summer novels for children

When was the last time your fifth grader read a book written in free verse? How about a children’s version of life in Stalinist Russia?  These two very unusual novels for young people from two Los Angeles children’s authors make excellent summer reads and particularly good discussion starters for families to read together.

Looking For Me… in This Great Big Family

by Betsy R. Rosenthal (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, NY. $15.99)  Grades 4 – 7.

It’s not so easy to get children to read a book of poems. But there is a particular genre of children’s literature called free-verse novels that has been very successful in doing exactly that. These books offer up a succession of individual poems that tell an entire story. They contain fine characterization, tense plots, gripping conclusions, and very few words per page. They are considered perfect for reluctant readers, but also for literature lovers who like to linger on a good turn of phrase. Often these free verse novels have won the highest awards of children’s literature (see Karen Hesse’s, “Out of the Dust” or Margarita Engle’s “Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba”). Now Betsey Rosenthal, A Los Angeles author of delightful picture books, has hit the mark with her first novel, which she based on anecdotes from her mother’s poignant childhood in depression-era Baltimore.

The book is short, and each page is graced with a poem, sometimes rhyming, sometimes not—more often not. Each poem is titled and captures the distinct voice of 11-year-old Edith Paul, Rosenthal’s mother and the fourth of 12 siblings. “In my overcrowded family/ I’m just another face./ I’m just plain Edith/of no special place.”  As the young girl searches for her individual identity within her large and boisterous Jewish family, she also wonders about the type of person she can become. Rosenthal relies on extensive interviews with her mother, along with the many stories she was told as a child to recreate what life was like in the tumultuous depression years of 1936-37. This young girl sees herself only as she imagines others see her: as a “good little mother ” to her younger siblings, or a child worker in her gruff and distant father’s diner. When a caring teacher finds that spark within her that lights her way to imagining herself as the first of her family to go to college, she is able to break out of her musings about her invisibility and see into the future, knowing she is on her way “to being so much more/than just plain Edith/who’s number four.”

The Judaism practiced by Edith’s family will intrigue today’s children. Edith sincerely describes her struggles to fit in. She is pleased her family changed its name from Polansky to Paul and astonished to discover that a “dumb neighbor” thinks Jews have horns. She is also embarrassed at having to refuse a ham sandwich at a friend’s house, but then eats crab cakes with her sisters on a paper plate at home (“sometimes we cheat”). At Rosh Hashanah services, she wonders whether God is listening to her prayers (“Even though I don’t understand a word of it,/I like hearing the sounds—it’s like a visit with an old friend.”), and empathetically recounts the difficult choices made by her immigrant grandmother on the day she had to leave Russia for America.

Readers will particularly appreciate Rosenthal’s inclusion of an author’s note at the end of the book, including a black-and-white photo of young Edith Paul, along with a glossary of the Yiddish terms she has seamlessly woven within the text.

This beautifully written short poetic novel is a great choice for a young person to share with parents. Each poem is a little gem and readers will admire the author’s ability to be able to create entire characters out of just over 100 individual poems. Pair this one with Sydney Taylor’s classic, “All of a Kind Family,” for a take on what it was like to grow up in a Jewish family in the first half of the 20th century.

“Breaking Stalin’s Nose”

by Eugene Yelchin (Henry Holt and Co. 2011. $15.99) Grades 5 – 8

Artist Eugene Yelchin never imagined his first novel would win a Newbery honor medal, the highest award in children’s literature in the United States. Previously known as a fine artist before emigrating from the Soviet Union, Yelchin began illustrating for the Boston Globe and other magazines, and then moved on to picture book illustration. He illustrates his intriguing Kafkaesque novel for kids with engaging black-and-white graphite drawings that add immeasurably to the book’s disturbing atmosphere of Soviet life in the Stalinist era.

The story revolves around ten-year-old Sasha, who idolizes his father, a staunch communist, until events occur that make young Sasha question his own beliefs in the goodness of his perfect society. In fact, Yelchin dedicates the book to his own father, “who survived the Great Terror”.

In literature, a “dystopia” is defined as “an imaginary place in which the condition of life is extremely bad, as from deprivation, oppression, or terror.”  In fact, children’s literature is so full of novels describing horrific dystopian future societies, (see: “The Hunger Games” and practically every other popular YA novel) that it is astonishing that up until now, no one has yet tried to tackle this subject for children: a real life dystopic society that actually existed not so long ago. Yelchin’s short novel remarkably achieves that goal while at the same time it is deceiving in its simplicity. It begins: “My dad is a hero and a Communist and, more than anything, I want to be like him. I can never be like Comrade Stalin, of course. He’s our great Leader and Teacher.”

It must be hard for an American child who has never heard of the Soviet Union to understand just what happened there. Did children really inform on their parents? Did millions of people really revere their leader like a god? Did this beloved leader really kill his people ruthlessly while they blindly declared allegiance to him? It seems that it shouldn’t be a topic for a children’s book, but the way the author tackles the subject is appropriate and compelling and will leave young readers asking the right kind of questions about the past.

Yelchin’s narrative takes place over a two day period during the 1930’s; a period that condenses the entire Stalinist regime of terror into the experience of a young boy. The “large, happy family” life of young Sasha who lives together with 48 “hardworking, honest Soviet citizens” (who share a single communal kitchen and toilet) is shattered the day his father is arrested. He has been reported on by a neighbor who covets the extra space that will be gained when father and boy are removed. Sasha’s father’s final words to him as he is dragged away by guards are, “It’s more important to join the Pioneers than to have a father.”  The creepiness factor begins as the illustrations appear more ominous and Sasha now becomes a ward of the state. The boy must fend for himself in a place where informing on your friends and neighbors seems to be society’s highest objective. With a nod to the great Russian writer, Nikolai Gogol, Yelchin narrates the various antics that ensue when Sasha accidentally knocks the nose off a plaster statue of Stalin while proudly swinging the patriotic banner of his beloved Pioneer movement.

By the end of the novel, Sasha’s eyes have been opened to reality and he begins to rethink his place not only within the Pioneer movement, but within the only world he knows.

The anti-Semitism Yelchin experienced as a child is relived through the experiences of Sasha’s young friend, “Four-Eyes Finkelstein”  who justifiably disobeys a teacher but is sent to the principal after a “democratic” vote by his classmates. The author explains in his afterword that “fear was passed on from generation to generation. It has been passed on to me, as well. This book is my attempt to expose and confront that fear. My family shared a communal apartment. My father was a devoted Communist. And like my main character, I, too, had to make a choice. My choice was about whether to leave the country of my birth.”

This serious book is so gripping that it will not leave your mind for quite a while. Children with no knowledge of the Stalinist regime will wonder about it (and maybe check online to find out more) while others will simply see it for the cautionary tale that it is. Either way, Yelchin’s award winner will serve as a “1984” for the grade school set and will be an important conversation starter that teaches the nature of innocence in a time of great evil.

Lisa Silverman is the director of the Sinai Temple Blumenthal Library and former children’s editor of Jewish Book World magazine.

Survivor: Sol Berger

“Where are the dollars?” two plainclothes Gestapo officers demanded as they appeared without warning on both sides of Sol Berger. Sol denied any knowledge, even though the daughter of a local currency dealer was hovering nearby at the train station in Tarnow, Poland, holding the dollars he desperately needed to immigrate to Palestine. The officers led him to Gestapo headquarters where, in a small second-floor room, they interrogated him, repeatedly beating him with a rubber stick and boxing both ears simultaneously. Finally, after two hours, one said, “He’s had enough for today,” and they left the room. Bruised and barely able to move, Sol spied a small, iron-barred window in the corner. He managed to squeeze his thin body through an opening and slide down a gutter. He reached the ground and ran. It was spring 1940, and Sol was 20 years old.

Solomon Berger was born on Oct. 28, 1919, to Jacob and Rose Fabian Berger in Krosno, Poland. He was the eighth of nine children. His father’s tailor shop occupied one room in the house, the same room where the observant family celebrated Shabbat dinner on Friday nights.

On Sept. 1, 1939, Sol was awakened at 5 a.m. as the German air force dropped bombs on Krosno’s airport and factories, causing the entire city to erupt in flames. Sol and his younger brother, Michael, were drafted into the Polish army, returning home 10 days later.

In early 1940, the Gestapo required all Jews to wear white armbands with blue stars and all young men to perform slave labor. It was during this time that Sol, who had participated in Zionist activities, hoped to flee to Palestine.

After his escape in Tarnow, Sol hid with a Jewish family there for three weeks, disguising himself by wearing a wig and women’s clothes.

Back in Krosno, he was recaptured by the Gestapo and jailed with 10 political prisoners, including a Roman Catholic priest who said Mass daily and tutored Sol on Christianity, later enabling him to pass as a non-Jewish Pole. After six months, he was released.

During this time, Sol’s father worked as a tailor for the Germans, and the family was allowed to remain in their house. This ended on Aug. 9, 1942, when all Jews were ordered to report the next day to register for new permits.

That morning, before 9 a.m., Sol, his parents, three brothers, and one married sister and her family huddled together in the old marketplace. Trucks surrounded the area, along with Gestapo, SS and police. A selection began. Sol’s father was ordered to board one of the trucks, but first he put his arms around his four sons and said, “Boys, try to survive any way you can.” The trucks pulled away, accompanied by vehicles with machine guns mounted atop.

Two hours later, the trucks returned empty. (It wasn’t until 1978 that Sol discovered that the 500 elderly Jews had been executed in a nearby forest.) This time, the Nazis selected 600 young people, including Sol and his three brothers, for slave labor. They were taken to the ghetto and crammed 20 to a room. “We had to sleep sitting up,” Sol said.

Meanwhile, after standing all day in the hot sun with no food or water, the 1,400 Jews remaining in the marketplace — including Sol’s mother, sister, sister’s husband and their two children — were loaded into cattle cars and, Sol later learned, transported to Belzec, where they were all murdered.

The next morning, Sol and his brothers were assigned to work in the tailor shop. Two weeks later, his brothers Moses and Michael were sent to work as tailors at a Ukrainian SS training camp.

On Dec. 3, 1942, marching back to the ghetto after work, Sol and his brother Joshua saw Gestapo surrounding the area. They decided to split up, escape and meet in Czortkow, where Tadeusz Duchowski, the husband of a Polish family friend, supervised a construction crew.

That night, Sol slipped out through a secret passageway. He made his way to the house of Maria Duchowski, Tadeusz’s wife, who hid him for three days. Then, traveling as Jan Jerzowski, he took the train to Czortkow. Joshua never arrived.

In Czortkow, Tadeusz registered Sol as a Polish worker and put him to work building a bridge over the River Dniester. After three months, the project was completed.

Sol and about 100 Polish workers then escaped to the forest, joining the partisans and blowing up railroad tracks and highways. The group kept moving, sleeping in caves at night. “That was the hardest time of my life, surviving for 14 months,” Sol said. He had to bathe in private to avoid being recognized as a Jew, listen to partisans’ anti-Semitic insults and drink a lot of “stinking vodka.”

In March 1944, after the Russians moved into Poland, the partisans were inducted into the Soviet army. Sol, who became Ivan Marianowicz Jerzowski, secured a job as a translator in the interrogation department, avoiding fighting in the front lines.

In April 1945, Sol took a leave from the Soviet army. In Krakow, he met Gusta Friedman, who had survived disguised as a Christian, and together they decided to escape from Poland.

Sol and Gusta traveled to Cluj, Romania, where they were married on May 18, 1945. They then went to Santa Maria di Bagni (later referred to as Santa Maria al Bagno), a DP camp in Southern Italy, where Sol contacted his three surviving sisters, who were living in the United States. He also learned his brother Michael had survived Auschwitz.

But Sol and Gusta remained another three years in the DP camp, where Sol worked as an ORT instructor and where their son Jack was born on Aug. 24, 1946. They then lived in London for two years.

The family finally arrived in Los Angeles in early July 1950, and their daughter, Marlene, was born on July 21, 1951. Sol worked as a machine operator in a clothing factory, as a liquor store co-owner with his brother Michael and as a Realtor in Beverly Hills, retiring in 1992.

Sol has been married to Gusta — now Gertrude — for 67 years. They have four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Sol began telling his story publicly in 1992, after promising his brother to do so when Michael was dying of lung cancer. For the last 20 years, Sol has been speaking three times a week at The Museum of Tolerance and the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust as well as to student, military and police groups.

“I realized I must tell my story, as much as it hurts,” Sol said.

In a new network, Jewish cancer survivors are finding the understanding they need

Roni Bibring was 15 when she was diagnosed with leukemia. Four years later, her treatment completed, she says her biggest challenge—having lost touch with many of her friends—is making new friends who understand what she’s been through.

“Most people don’t even realize that they’ve completely lost touch with you and that’s the thing you need the most,” said Bibring, of Englewood, N.J. “They think because you don’t text them every day that you don’t want them in your life, but you might not even be conscious,” adding that “You could be asleep for days in a row.”

Through R-Mission, a support network for Jewish cancer survivors that held its inaugural event in New York last month, Bibring is finding people who do understand.

“I have a lot of scars, and they would never judge me for it because they probably have similar things on their body, too,” said Bibring, who is featured on the group’s website. “Just not having to be judged and to have friends that understand why you look a certain way is the best part.” 

Cheryl Greenberger said her work as a psychologist at Chai Lifeline, which provides support and a camp for Jewish children with life-threatening illnesses, spurred her to create R-Mission—as in remission—as a Chai Lifeline program.

“What people were asking for and looking for was a way to connect with other people who could relate to them and understand them in a way that even close family members and close friends couldn’t relate to them,” Greenberger said.

The group’s website,, includes a discussion forum open only to those who have registered, as well as a resource section with links to everything from cancer research foundations to support groups to organizations that give scholarships to young people who have had cancer.

Although events will be held in New York, Greenberg points out that the discussion forum can reach a global audience. More than 100 people already have registered, many of them from outside the United States.

An online community, she says, gives “people the opportunity to really be open and honest with the questions they had without publicly announcing themselves.”

Bibring says she is glad to meet people who have had experiences similar to hers.

“All of us went through the same thing,” she said. “They understand what you are going through and they are not going to ditch you. They are there for you when you aren’t feeling well.”

Melanie Kwestel, Chai Lifeline’s director of communications, anticipates that R-Mission will draw its initial members from Chai Lifeline. But she says the goal “is to reach people of all types of cancer beyond just pediatric cancer, and with online advertising we can reach a bigger audience.”

For now, the majority of those involved in R-Mission are Orthodox, but through online advertising and word of mouth, officials hope to reach Jews across the denominations.

David Pelcovitz, a professor of psychology and education at Yeshiva University’s Azrieli Graduate School and a member of the R-Mission advisory committee, said a stigma long surrounded cancer. In Yiddish, cancer was referred to as “yenem machla,” an affliction from the other world.

“It was almost too dread a reality to even face and name,” Pelcovitz said. “We’ve come a long way since then, and this is another example of being able to openly discuss, openly support, and to openly name the monster.”

The stigma, however, remains and it is most prevalent in the Orthodox community, Kwestel said, pointing in particular to a culture in which matchmakers are common. Before the couples meet, they learn much about one another’s background.

“There are people who aren’t going to date someone who had cancer, but it’s just not acceptable in the non-Orthodox community to say that,” Kwestel said.

Unlike Sharsheret, a nonprofit founded a decade ago to focus on young Jewish women who have or were treated for breast and ovarian cancer, R-Mission is the first Jewish organization dedicated to connecting Jewish survivors with all types of cancer, according to Greenberger.

Kwestel says that many who have survived cancer are seeking a sense of community.

“Sometimes people say I’m not religious, I don’t do Shabbos, I don’t do kosher but I’m Jewish,” she said. “There’s still this feeling of affiliation and there is a feeling that in any kind of traumatic situation, we look back to our families and community.”

Bibring says that she is excited that R-Mission has been working closely with survivors to ascertain their needs.

“It’s like we are building our own organization by the means that we have. I think it’s awesome; it’s the best thing you can ask for,” she said. “Different people have different needs, so it’s nice that they are asking us.”

Greenberger wants R-Mission to be a program “for survivors by survivors.”

“I hope that we will develop a strong community where no one will feel alone anymore when they complete treatment, and that people will feel like there is a place they can go where people understand them,” she said. “We really want to empower survivors.”

My Single Peeps: Aviv A.

Aviv, 34, shows up to our interview dressed to the nines. He’s wearing khakis, a blue chambray shirt and a plaid blazer. He’s wearing Gant — a label I like a lot. And I appreciate how fastidious he is about clothing. “When you work in video games, everyone around you is a nerd or geek. They all wear the same shorts and T-shirts. Two years ago, I decided to start dressing like a grown-up. I find I get compliments from everyone. I know what I like, and I’m very picky, so it usually just works out.”

He works as a video game animator. “I make them, but I don’t play them. I do it all day at work; I don’t want to do it when I come home. I prefer to cook or read a book.”

Aviv was born in Israel but spent most of his childhood all over the world. “I grew up in Africa, Italy and Portugal, so I was more exposed to Western culture and traditions and ways of thinking. In Israel, it’s very different, and I have a hard time fitting in there. [It’s] a very rough-and-tumble place.” Yet after graduating from high school in Nairobi, he went back to Israel to serve in the army.

He’s an intellectual. Growing up, he said, “My father insisted that there was an unlimited budget for books and knowledge. Know as much as you can, think, discuss politics and philosophy. It’s almost a sacred duty to do that. Epicureans are the most appealing to me. In America, we’re taught happiness can be bought; philosophy teaches you about friendship and the value of sitting around, talking and [eating] good food.”

He’s a small guy, but athletic. “People seem to love hiking here for some reason, but I consider it just walking.” He hikes to relax and takes Krav Maga to work out. “I like the pragmatic nature of it and the fact that I can hold my own in a fight if it comes to that.”

But when it comes to women, he was, in his own words, “a late bloomer. Maybe because I moved around so much.

“College was a very different experience here than what was expected in Israel. In Israel, it’s your time to start getting serious; here, it’s your last party before you start work. I spent all my time studying, working or being in the lab.

“I was married eight years ago in New York City. I met her through a friend in college. I didn’t take New York well. I was always stressed out and always on edge, and we just stopped spending time together. I wanted to get out and go somewhere else, and she wanted to stay in New York. I think one of the reasons we didn’t work out is because we didn’t talk to each other. We were different people, and we were stressed out and worried about jobs, and we didn’t take the time to stop and smell the roses.

“You can’t really appreciate something that’s [of] value until you lose it. My parents didn’t have a good relationship. They were always at each other’s throats, and the lessons I took from them was what not to do. And the lessons on what to do, I’m still figuring out. I think it’s communicating and spending time together. You have to take a day or two and turn the phones off and just talk. I spent a lot of time on my own, so I can appreciate being alone, but I don’t like it. I miss having someone to talk to.”

I’m guessing that after this article comes out, Aviv will have plenty of women to keep him company.

Seth Menachem is an actor and writer living in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter. You can see more of his work on his Web site,, and meet even more single peeps at

10 groups awarded for fostering inclusion of disabled in Jewish community

The Ruderman Family Foundation announced its ten inaugural Ruderman Prize in Disability winners, for fostering full inclusion of people with disabilities in the Jewish community.

The foundation, which initiated the prize this year, received more than 150 applications representing seven countries. The winning organizations receive $20,000.

“Awarding the prizes is the genesis of a legacy that we believe will support and promote new opportunities for people with disabilities in the Jewish community,” Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, said Tuesday in a statement.

“These ten award winners offer a vision of a world with full inclusion, where people with disabilities have the same opportunities for employment, education, religion, and enjoyment of their communities as those without disabilities. These grants will nourish and nurture that vision.”

Recipients include organizations that pair professional dancers with the disabled in Israel; work for the inclusion of the disabled into Mexico’s Jewish community; integrate the developmentally disabled into the Israeli Defense Forces; and create a more welcome environment in synagogues for the disabled.

The winners are the Vertigo Dance Company; SHALVA: The Association for the Mentally and Physically Challenged Children in Israel; Norwood Ravenswood; MetroWest ABLE; Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center of San Diego; Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Boston; Kadima; Jewish Family Center Adain Lo; Reishit School; and ASKIM Israel: National Association for the Habilitation of Children and Adults with Intellectual Disabilities.

The story of Titanic survivors Leah and ‘Filly’ Aks

When Titanic departed on its first and last voyage from Southampton, England on Wednesday, April 10, 1912, 18-year-old Jewish immigrant Leah Aks and her 10-month-old son, Philip were on board.

Passover had concluded the day before. On sailing day, Leah was pleased to find that the third class was not completely booked; she and Philip had a cabin all to themselves.

Leah was born in Warsaw, Poland. In London, she had met Sam Aks, a tailor who was also from Warsaw. They were married there.

“In London he was barely making a living,” wrote Valery Bazarov, historian for the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, in a piece about the family for HIAS. “A cousin who lived in America visited him in London and told him that if he came to America he’d make money very quickly. So he came over, got a job and soon saved enough money to bring Mrs. Aks and the baby over.”

Sam settled in Norfolk, Va. and entered the scrap metal business. In Titanic: Women and Children First, author Judith B. Geller indicates that all the money Sam earned was used for Leah and “Filly’s” trip to join him. Their arrival in Norfolk would mark the first time Sam would meet his son.

Though Leah and Filly were booked onto an earlier ship, Bazarov explained that Leah’s mother convinced her to wait a week and travel on Titanic, considered the world’s safest liner.

Four days into their journey, after the ship struck an iceberg, Leah and Filly followed other third-class passengers to the bottom of the third-class staircase at the rear of the ship.

At 12:30 p.m., the crew permitted women and children in this group to make their way to the boat deck. When crew members saw that Leah and Filly couldn’t get through the crowd up the stairs, they carried the two. Leah and Filly made it to the boat deck, part of the first-class area of the ship. Madeline Astor, the young wife of millionaire John Jacob Astor, covered Filly’s head with her silk scarf.

According to Bazarov, a distraught man—who had been rebuffed by the crew when he attempted to get into a lifeboat—ran up to Leah and said, “I’ll show you women and children first!”

The man grabbed Filly and threw him overboard.

Leah searched the deck until someone urged or pushed her into lifeboat 13. She sat in the middle of the Atlantic with 63 others in number 13, a broken woman. Hours after Titanic went down and the cries for help from those dying in the water faded away, the liner Carpathia arrived at daybreak.

Leah searched the deck of Carpathia in vain for her baby. Despondent, she took to a mattress for two days. Titanic survivor Selena Cook urged Leah to come up on deck for air. When she did, she heard Filly’s cry.

Unknown to Leah, Filly had fallen into lifeboat number 11, right into another woman’s arms. In Geller’s account, the woman is presumed to have been Italian immigrant Argene del Carlo. Her husband was not permitted to follow the pregnant Argene into the lifeboat.

“Argene shared her warmth with Filly through the long night,” Geller writes. “Toward morning she began to believe that God had sent this child to her as a replacement for Sebastino (her husband) and a brother for the child she carried in her womb.”

On the deck of Carpathia, the woman who had cared for Filly since Titanic sank refused to give Leah the child.

Leah appealed to the Carpathia’s captain, Arthur Roston, now put in the role of King Solomon.

In an e-mail interview with The Observer, Gilbert Binder, the husband of Leah’s late granddaughter, Rebecca, described what happened next.

Binder said that Filly was returned to Leah because “she identified him as a Jewish baby and he was circumcised. The (other) woman was Catholic and Italian and her male child would not have been circumcised.”

After their arrival in New York, Leah and Filly were taken to HIAS’ shelter and remained there until Frank could come for them.

“Leah Aks gave birth to a baby girl nine months after arriving in this country and intended to name her Sara Carpathia,” in honor of the rescue ship, Binder explained. “The nuns at the hospital in Norfolk, Va. got confused and named the baby Sara Titanic Aks. I have a copy of her birth certificate.” Sara was Binder’s mother-in-law.

Leah lived until 1967; her son, Filly, until 1991.

Marshall Weiss is the editor and publisher of The Dayton Jewish Observer.

Survivor: Miriam Rothstein

“I don’t know where I am.” After three days and nights in a cramped cattle car, Miriam Rothstein — neé Farkas — was thrust onto the Auschwitz-Birkenau platform. Her sister Margaret and Margaret’s three children were sent to one side,  her brother Baruch to another. Where was Rachel? Only a year and half older, Rachel was like her twin. Suddenly a man in a crisp SS uniform, wielding a whip and accompanied by a German shepherd — later she learned he was Dr. Josef Mengele — called, “Here, here, gypsy girl,” pointing her in yet another direction. She heard an orchestra playing and saw prisoners with shaved heads and striped uniforms. “They look like crazy people here,” she thought. At last Rachel caught up as they were pushed into a big hall. It was June 1, 1944; Miriam was 23.

Born in Satu Mare, Romania, Miriam was born ninth of the 11 children of Gershon, a businessman who never laid a hand on any of them, and Gittel, a homemaker who regularly brought food to the poor. The family was educated and observant.

When Miriam was 4, they moved to Yasinya, a village in the Carpathian Mountains, then part of Czechoslovakia, where her mother’s well-respected and wealthy family lived. But life changed after Hungary annexed Czechoslovakia in March 1939. Miriam’s studies were interrupted and the family business was shuttered.

Miriam lived in continual fear. Hungarian soldiers appeared everywhere; one even stalked her. Often, from a distance, she glimpsed other Jews running from the nearby Polish border toward Russia. Then, in August 1941, Jews lacking Hungarian citizenship were apprehended. “We heard that they were shot,” Miriam said.

In March 1944, with the Germans controlling Yasinya, Miriam’s family learned that all able-bodied Jews were to be rounded up. At their mother’s urging, Miriam and Rachel boarded a train for Uzhorod, a city in Transcarpathia, then part of Hungary, where older sister Margaret and brother Baruch lived.

But in April, the Jews in Uzhorod were ordered to report to the ghetto there. Miriam and Rachel instead hid in a shed for three days until Miriam feared they would be discovered and shot. She changed into a two-piece red silk dress, attaching her mother’s diamond ring to an inside button, and the sisters entered the ghetto. It was an old brick factory, overcrowded and unsanitary. “I wished we would leave,” Miriam said. Finally, at the end of May, they were lined up and squeezed into cattle cars, headed to Poland.

In the big hall at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Miriam’s clothes were ripped from her body, the red dress with its concealed diamond tossed into a huge pile. Her head and other areas were shaved, and her vaginal cavity was searched for hidden jewelry. She was handed another dress, with no regard for size.

The group was then moved to Lager (camp) C, a huge bloc that Miriam heard held 1,000 women. That evening they were given “soup,” one pot to be shared among five people. Miriam, however, spotting worms, refused her portion. Everyone slept on the floor. Miriam used her dress to fan Rachel, who was faint from the heat. From outside, they heard people screaming.

There was no work, only “appel,” or roll call, where they had to line up, again by fives. “Every day, people were taken out: one, two, three, four and out. They went straight to the crematorium,” Miriam said. They could see the flames and smell the burning flesh. Miriam was always afraid, but more afraid that she’d lose Rachel than for herself.

In September, Miriam was selected for work and directed to a different bloc. When Rachel was not called, Miriam began screaming. “My throat got infected,” she said. In the evening, however, Rachel sneaked in. The next morning, the group was taken by train to an area near Krakow, where they built a shelter for 50 girls, a bed of branches with a canvas covering. At night, Miriam and Rachel huddled together, with one sweater over the branches and another covering them.

Work consisted of digging anti-tank trenches and later laying cable. Miriam felt lucky to have two kind, high-ranking SS officers overseeing them. The accompanying Latvian guards, however, were harsh, twice gratuitously whacking Miriam with a rifle and constantly threatening to shoot the girls.

By January 1945, with the Russian army approaching, the SS officers dismissed the Latvian guards, gathered up food and escaped with the girls. After days of walking, they reached a large estate. The officers then departed, telling the girls to remain hidden.

But Miriam, Rachel and another girl ran away. In the bitter cold, with a full moon shining, they finally came to a farm where they slept in the barn until Russian soldiers liberated them.

Eventually Miriam and Rachel returned to Uzhorod. There Miriam learned her parents, sister Margaret and youngest brother Yehuda had been killed. Baruch had survived, as had her other siblings, many of whom had previously left for Palestine or America.

Later, living in Podmokly, Czechoslovakia, Miriam met Herman Rothstein, a guard for the Czech president. They married in 1946 and their daughter Vera was born in 1947. In 1949, they immigrated to Israel, where their son, David, was born in 1953. A year later, a challenging form of tuberculosis, which attacked Miriam’s bones, prompted a move to Chicago, where Herman had relatives. Their youngest daughter, Mindy, was born there in 1957.

Miriam and Herman moved to Los Angeles in 1992. Herman died in 2000, and Miriam currently lives at the Jewish Home for the Aging. Because of a bad eye, she can no longer read, which she misses, but she enjoys playing Bingo and attending the rabbi’s talks.

Miriam regrets never telling her story to the Shoah Foundation. She’s also sorry she never learned the names of the kind SS officers. But with three children, seven grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren, she says, “I had a wonderful life. All the best for the children.”

You, with a kid

I’ll never forget asking my therapist the following question when I found out I was pregnant: “Who am I going to be?”

“You,” she answered. “With a kid.”

That was comforting that day, on that couch, staring at those Matisse prints, being that person who was terrified of mom jeans and my life thrown into a bouncy house to sprain its ankle and barf.

Now, that’s not so comforting.

In fact, there are days I don’t want to be just me, with a kid. I want to be a version of me that knows how to cook, so I won’t be defrosting gluten-free microwaveable burritos and calling it dinner. That’s right, preservatives and cost overruns, my friends. I’m not proud. But I had a baby, and I didn’t become that lady who subscribes to Real Simple, and I don’t understand what it means to “blanch” or even “julienne” a vegetable.

What’s more, I also didn’t become a fun, wildly animated lady. I’m still the pretty serious, reading a book on the history of fonts, inhibited, never even sings karaoke kind of lady. The woman who swings her child upside down over a sandcastle as she does a perfect Cookie Monster voice? I didn’t become her, and now sometimes I want to.

I’ve seen progress, which I’ll get to.

(And by the way, “progress” is just the kind of buzzword therapists love. It’s their catnip. It sounds very self-reflective, but not grandiose.)

The rush of love for your kid, not to mention the constant exposure to other parents to whom you can’t help but compare yourself, can make you feel like a real bummer, like you aren’t doing it right or aren’t doing enough, or having enough fun, or serving enough kale. If you can’t cook or maybe teach the essentials of good pitching technique or tutor in algebra or even play a decent game of hide and seek, you might be hard on yourself, as I can be, because I just want to be good, like a kid just wants to be good. I just want to be ebullient and have a minor in childhood development and maybe another in the art of drawing with sidewalk chalk. Is that too much to ask?

I am who I was before, and I wasn’t exactly making balloon animals and singing songs that require accompanying hand gestures.

What my therapist didn’t mention, because her purpose in that moment was to stop me from panicking about changing, is that what I used to be wasn’t all that glamorous, and that maybe a few changes would do me good.

My son loves rocks, loves trucks, loves being outdoors, loves watching motorcycles whiz by. I don’t inherently enjoy any of these things. The progress is that I’m starting to get it. A pile of rocks has its charm.

Last night, my son stopped his tricycle on the sidewalk and spread himself out on a bed of rocks, staring up at the sky. He motioned to me, and I spread myself out on the pile of rocks right next to him, and we both looked up, saying, “Sky. Trees. Airplane. Birds.” And I genuinely enjoyed the feeling of those rocks against my back, the setting sun on my face. There are times I see a motorcycle and genuinely find myself thinking, “Those are cool.”

Who is this? Did I change a little? Open myself to the little wonders a toddler digs because I want to love him the right way, and to do so I have to get dirty? Am I making the slowest, most imperceptible progress toward being one of the moms I admire? Have I become so lame at expressing myself I just ask a series of rhetorical questions meant to point toward some conclusion? I am still who I was, because I was always decent at experimenting, failing, trying again.

Looking up at the birds, that sounds idyllic and all for most people, but it was just never my thing. Now that my son is my thing, so are his birds and his rocks. I’m just me, with a kid, and grass stains on my heels.

Teresa Strasser is a Los Angeles Press Club and Emmy Award-winning writer and the author of “Exploiting My Baby: Because It’s Exploiting Me”( Penguin). She blogs at

Seth Menachem is on paternity leave and will return at the end of April.

The high cost of how women relate to money

There are a number of topics society has told us we aren’t supposed to discuss in mixed company. Religion, for example, has long been a forbidden subject between people of different faiths. Politics is mostly swept under the rug among people of different parties. Money, something that we all have feelings about, has never been a polite conversation piece.

Enter Kate Levinson, a San Francisco Bay Area psychologist and author of “Emotional Currency: A Woman’s Guide to Building a Healthy Relationship With Money.”

As Levinson explains in her book and during her numerous “Emotional Currency” workshops, we need to start talking about money and examining our feelings about it.

“Whether you have a lot of money or a little bit of money, we all have emotional reactions to money,” Levinson said. “We make better financial decisions when we’re aware of what these financial decisions are.”

Levinson said many people have guilt about having too much money or shame about never having enough. Even though they might understand that they have those feelings, few people are aware of why they have them.

Just like personality itself, emotional currency develops in a variety of ways — starting in our biology, she said.

“I think we’re born with innate tendencies, psychologically, and we’re born with innate tendencies toward money,” Levinson said.

Family often has a major impact on our thoughts about money as well, she said.

In her book, Levinson writes about how her mother’s wallet was always open (figuratively) for her to take money when she needed it as a child and young adult. But she said she didn’t have that same financial arrangement with her father. This common occurrence during her adolescence, she said, was one of the many instances that shaped her own views on money as well as her relationship with her father.

The first step in understanding your emotional feelings toward money, Levinson said, is to talk about money thoughts, concerns and opinions with a friend or someone trustworthy. She attributes some money issues, such as compulsive shopping or hoarding money, to underlying emotional reasons. In many cases, bringing the problem out in the open can pay dividends in overcoming an issue one has with money, she said, adding that suppressing these feelings might lead to further trouble.

“Just acknowledging the feeling helps us find a better solution,” Levinson said. “Not acknowledging the feeling keeps us stuck in behavior that may not support us and may be self-destructive.” 

As the title suggests, Levinson’s book focuses heavily on how women react to money. Using anecdotes from clients as well as her own personal experiences, she links a lot of her theories to behavioral examples as well as general feelings women have toward money.

Although women are increasingly becoming breadwinners and sometimes the major moneymakers in their families, men have dominated — and still do — the topic of money in the household, the office and society, Levinson said. Because of this discrimination, men and women have developed different feelings toward money.

Levinson said that certain sensibilities regarding money are characterized as either more masculine or feminine. Objectivity, logic and reasoning are more generally attributed to masculine sensibilities, whereas emotionality, empathy and compassion are more closely associated with feminine ones, she said.

However, Levinson isn’t blaming men for the nature of women’s relationship with money. Rather, she said she is identifying a societal trend. And while she acknowledges that there is a difference between the genders when it comes to money, there doesn’t necessarily have to be. Levinson recommends that men provide more support to the women in their lives. Fathers, for example, should be open to discussing financial issues with their daughters to break down some of the feelings of inequality.

She also encourages men to examine their own relationship with money in relation to society.

For all of the advice and exercises Levinson offers through her book, she said “Emotional Currency” doesn’t tell readers how to feel about money. Instead, she lets readers discover that for themselves.

“The book doesn’t have any prescriptions,” she said.

That said, Levinson stresses the importance of understanding unique feelings toward money and taking back control of those feelings.

“Money is very concrete, and it does not magically take care of itself. You have to attend to it,” she said. But, “If you pay too much attention to it, it will take over your life,” she added.

Levinson has researched the emotional and psychological effects of money since she wrote her dissertation. And yet, she said she doesn’t feel cured of her own money problems. But she does feel like she now understands how she will react in many situations involving money. And that is a satisfying feeling, she said.

“I feel like money has a saner place in my life and that it’s not in charge so much,” Levinson said.

For more information, visit

Brides reflect: the most important takeaways for wedding planning

On my wedding day last fall, I was very nervous. My husband and I planned our celebration, to be held in Chicago, entirely on our own and all the way from Boston. We were also combining a Russian-Jewish family with a Sabra-Israeli family, and members of each took long flights to the U.S. for the wedding.

Needless to say, there were cultural and logistical difficulties from the start. Add to that the typical “Murphy’s Law” of weddings (our rabbi’s computer broke on the day, deleting all the notes he made for our ceremony)—and it was a stressful prologue to the big day.

While the actual wedding was ultimately a happy occasion, looking back, there were things I wish I had known or done differently to ease my stress during the planning stages.

JointMedia News Service decided to collect advice from a few brides to save future ones unnecessary angst. Follow their advice, and aside from potential technological glitches, your wedding day should be stress-free and extra special.

Hire a wedding planner: it will save you money

“We used a wedding planner, which I would highly recommend to other brides if you find the right one for you,” said Amy Beth Green Sayegh, an actuary from Chicago, Ill., who got married in August of 2010. Using the planner turned out to be cheaper, Sayegh said, because she was well acquainted with the vendor packages in the area, and knew how to get the biggest bang for the buck.

Sayegh saw the value of a planner’s experience first hand when she decided to select a photographer on her own. At their reception, the photographer wasn’t cooperative. He later refused to deliver on a promised photo-book and lost some of their pictures.

Make your friends and family more than just spectators…

Nurit Friedberg, a social worker from Cincinnati, Ohio, got married in June of last year. She said it’s important to involve both families in the celebration. “We accomplished this by inviting both of our rabbis to co-officiate…They were able to give us great advice on how to incorporate special details in the ceremony, such as my husband’s Zaidy’s tallit or my great-grandmother’s candlesticks.” For Friedberg’s ceremony, her grandmother wove the chuppah, her aunt created the ketubah, and family friends were involved in other aspects, such as playing the music. “Everything was more meaningful because it was created by someone we love,” she said.

Yael Mazor-Garfinkle married her husband in July 2011 in Lawrence, Mass., and asked a close friend from cantorial school to officiate their wedding. “She took our vision for our ceremony and transformed it into a communal celebration.” The wedding processional was sung by the bride’s sister, the groom’s aunt, and the officiator, and was accompanied by the groom’s uncle on guitar. The couple also asked seven sets of loved ones to read personally written blessings.

… but be prepared for the ensuing difficulties

Still, sometimes incorporating different families into one celebration, and ultimately one life, can be difficult. Sayegh’s husband is Sephardic and a son of immigrant parents from Syria and Egypt. Initially her in-laws were worried about losing their son and it took time for everyone to establish a good relationship. “One thing my mother kept repeating, starting very early on in the process, was that weddings bring out the worst in people…be prepared for that,” she said.
Remember, your wedding day is about YOU and your beloved; make it a day you will love
Alexander Polatsky and Inna Yalovetskaya from Phoenix, Ariz., got married in May of 2010 in an Orthodox ceremony, despite the fact that their families were mostly secular. “It was so hard to plan an Orthodox ceremony with parents who were so not into it. They knew nothing about it, they’ve never even seen one,” Yalovetskaya said. The bride’s mother found the experience especially stressful and weird, and had a minor emotional breakdown before the ceremony.

“We had a difficult time picking a rabbi who would want to do an Orthodox ceremony but would understand that the people would not be Orthodox and that the entire party hereafter would be held at La Mirage, which is a non-Kosher restaurant,” Polatsky also said. They also struggled to find an affordable kosher caterer to supply food just for those guests who require it.

At the end of the ceremony, the bride’s mother relaxed and decided she actually liked the wedding. “Make the wedding that you want to have for yourself and the one you want to remember. It’s ok if it’s the wedding that everyone else wants as long as it’s the wedding that you want.” At the same time “try to be nice and accommodating as possible because it supposed to be for the whole family,” Yalovetskaya said.

At my own wedding, everything ultimately came together into the most beautiful day of our lives. The rabbi somehow ad-libbed a wonderful chuppah ceremony, my parents got over “losing” their only daughter and I married my best friend.

As Sayegh beautifully said, “it’s your life together that’s important, and the marriage, not the wedding day.”

Your sedentary life is getting old

One of the best anti-aging activities you can do for your body is exercise. For years, it has been widely accepted that we start getting slower, weaker and more fragile with age. But more recently, this has been proven otherwise by studies on the cellular process of aging and the impressive performances of older athletes.

Most research is now showing that when it comes to your fitness, if you use it, you lose it far less quickly. And you’ll also age more slowly and have a higher quality of life in your later years.

It can certainly get a bit more difficult to jump, sprint and move just as powerfully as you may have been able to do when you were younger. But most of the fitness loss can be drastically slowed by engaging in regular bouts of physical activity through adulthood and into your older years.

Muscle strength

Weight lifting machines are perfect for introducing a senior to exercise, especially because there is significantly lower risk of falling or injury.

Cardiovascular endurance

Treadmills can easily be used by seniors and can actually help with building both cardiovascular fitness and balance, as a rail is there to help. Elliptical trainers and bicycles are also good for cardiovascular endurance, and for beginners, a recumbent bicycle is a great option.


Rather than simply riding a bicycle at a set pace, seniors should attempt to include a few intervals that involve hard breathing and burning muscles. This will help to boost the slowing metabolism.

Bone density

Bone grows stronger in response to loading and impact. While impact-sprinting on a treadmill may be difficult for seniors, loading of the bones and spinning along the long vertical axis is a very good idea, and can be achieved with exercises such as squats, overhead presses, chest presses or lunges.


While many yoga classes require a degree of balance that can be difficult for seniors, a beginner yoga class is the perfect activity for improving flexibility. In addition, a full-body stretch routine can be included after exercise, when the muscles and joints are more warm and pliable.


For an aging individual who is just getting into exercise, I’d recommend starting with the following routine, three to four times per week:

• Warm up for 10 minutes on a recumbent bicycle, alternating 2 minutes of easy pedaling with 2 minutes of hard pedaling.

• Perform a full-body stretch, including flexibility moves for the upper and lower body such as arm circles, leg circles, toe touches, reaching for the sky and torso twists.

• Do a full-body circuit on exercise machines that consists of 2-3 sets of 10-12 repetitions of chest press, seated row, shoulder press, pulldown, leg press, leg extension and leg curl.

• Finish with abdominal bracing on the ground, which simply involves lying on the ground with the knees bent and feet flat on the floor, then pressing the low back down and tightening the abs, holding for 5-10 seconds, releasing, and then repeating for 10-12 repetitions. This does not involve low-back bending and extending, and can build abdominal strength while being easier on the spine.

Remember, it’s never too late to start exercising.

Surivor: Greti Herman

In the pounding rain, lined up five abreast, Greti Herman — then Margit Berger — and her parents were marched from Hungary’s Csillaghegy Ghetto to the nearby train station. As they walked, her mother motioned for her and her father to remove five of the six threads that attached the yellow stars to their canvas raincoats. They arrived early evening, into “a big chaos,” according to Greti, as the Hungarian gendarmes — the police force — shoved people into the waiting cattle cars, tossing their belongings in after them.

Amid the pushing and shouting, as her mother instructed, Greti dashed across the street, in the semi-darkness, and lay down in a rain-filled ditch. Her parents joined her. A half-hour later, after the train connected with a second one filled with Jews from surrounding villages, it departed, headed, they later learned, for Auschwitz. It was July 9, 1944, Greti’s 21st birthday.

Greti was born in Vienna in 1923, the only child of Aladar and Irma Berger. The modern Jewish family lived comfortably. Her father, a mechanical engineer, manufactured sports equipment.

Things changed after Nazi Germany annexed Austria on March 12, 1938. Greti was soon banned from school. Some nights, Nazis pounded on the family’s apartment door, forcing them outside, on hands and knees, with a bucket and brush, to clean up anti-Semitic graffiti.

Later that year, Greti and her parents moved to her paternal grandparents’ farm in Pomaz, Hungary, outside Budapest. Greti was taught to sew until she learned Hungarian and enrolled in school. Meanwhile, her father was ordered to make ski poles for the Hungarian army.

In 1942, the family built a small house on the Pomaz farm property. In 1944, Greti’s mother returned to Vienna, smuggled out her own father and brought him to live with them. One morning in early April, after the Nazis had invaded Hungary, Greti walked into her grandfather’s bedroom to discover he had hanged himself. His note said he refused to wear a yellow star.

Soon after, the family was relocated to the Csillaghegy Ghetto, outside Budapest. They lived in one room. Greti commuted by train to Szentendre, where she sewed bread sacks for Hungarian soldiers all day.

On July 8, 1944, the ghetto residents were told they were being relocated the next day for work. Only those in mixed marriages, non-Hungarian citizens and people vital to the war industry were exempted. Greti approached Laszlo Endre, Csillaghegy’s gendarmerie commander (not to be confused with Laszlo Endre the vicious Nazi collaborator later convicted and hanged) to ask about exemptions. He offered to smuggle her out, but Greti refused to leave without her parents.  The next day the family escaped the train to Auschwitz by hiding in the ditch.

After the train departed, Greti and her parents removed their yellow stars and walked to the home of a Jewish Romanian woman they knew. She hid them in one room, insisting on silence when her boarder, a shoemaker, was there.

Soon after, the Romanian woman went to Budapest, at their request, to get money from a Christian woman who had sold Greti’s mother’s fur coat. She never returned. Greti’s mother was sick, and they hadn’t eaten in two days. Greti then donned her mother’s glasses and scarf and headed to the gendarme’s office.

“For God’s sake, are you still here?” Laszlo Endre asked. That night, by his plan, Greti and her parents climbed out their window at midnight and walked to a prearranged spot at an old brick factory. The gendarme met them there, dressed in civilian clothes. He quietly led them back to the Csillaghegy Ghetto, where a few families, exempt from deportation, were living. They remained there for two months, until the ghetto closed.

Janos Kovacs, a locksmith, then hid them in a workshop behind his house. He had hollowed out a space in the wall, which could be accessed by pulling out the oversize drawers of worktables abutting the wall. At night, when the Nazis were conducting surprise raids, Janos pulled on a string that reached from the main house to Greti’s big toe, alerting them to climb into the wall cavity. This happened two or three times.

In March 1945, they heard on Voice of America that the Russians were entering Hungary. They then spotted them riding down a nearby hill on their small horses. “We were very happy,” Greti said.

They returned to Pomaz, where they restored their house, which had been stripped and heavily damaged by Russian soldiers.

Soon Greti met Ernest Herman, who had been the lumberyard manager and who had lost his wife and son at Auschwitz. Three years later, in 1948, they married. Meanwhile, Greti, with other survivors, testified on behalf of Laszlo Endre, who had been arrested by the Russians, and secured his release.

Greti and Ernest remained in Budapest, where Greti gave birth to Tom in 1948 and Pini in 1951. (Pini is now a demographer and also blogs for In 1956, after the Hungarian Revolution, the family fled, eventually arriving in Los Angeles. Ernest, who died in 2008, was an engineer, and Greti worked her way up from entry level to executive at Beneficial Standard Life Insurance Co.

A 20-year survivor of pancreatic cancer and survivor of two strokes, Greti, now 88, manages apartment buildings and actively volunteers for Shelters for Israel. Additionally, she enjoys taking photographs as well as cooking and hosting Shabbat dinner every week for her family, which now includes two sons and their wives, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

“I do what I can,” she said.

Cooking for AIDS patients Is chicken soup for grieving mom’s soul

Several days before Mollie Pier’s son, Nathaniel, died of complications from AIDS, she joined together with his doctors, Nathaniel and his longtime partner, Michael, as the couple exchanged rings and vows in his hospital room.

After Nathaniel died on Dec. 27, 1989, Pier stepped up her volunteer work on behalf of gays and lesbians, leading groups for parents within and outside the Jewish community, and helping to found Project Chicken Soup, for which several dozen volunteers cook and deliver kosher meals twice a month to people with HIV in Los Angeles.

“There was a terrible sadness that permeated my entire days,” Pier, now 91, said of the period following Nathaniel’s death. “But I was determined to continue working on behalf of gays and lesbians and people with AIDS, in his memory.

“My son was one of the first doctors in New York who treated people with AIDS,” she continued. “I like to say that he helped people with his knowledge of medicine, and I help people with my knowledge of cooking.”

Story continues after the jump

Pier, an avid baker who still leads the baking team at Project Chicken Soup, has done much more than that. After her son came out to her in the early 1980s, she addressed his fear of rejection in a letter: “I said, ‘You are my son, I love you, and I’m proud of you, and any way of life that makes you happy makes me happy, too.”

Pier became a leader in the Los Angeles branch of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), and in a similar group founded for Jews through Valley Beth Shalom. She moderated discussion groups, gave speeches and, before each performance by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, baked up to 600 cookies for members to enjoy. “In my PFLAG group, I was the first mother to lose a son to AIDS, so I was asked to lead a group for people who also lost loved ones,” she recalled.

Pier had already been helping temple sisterhoods cook brunches for people with AIDS when, after Nathaniel’s death, she began gathering with volunteers to provide more of such meals in a kosher kitchen in Hollywood. The effort, known as Project Chicken Soup, began, she said, with 20 clients, gleaning funds early on from The Jewish Federation when Pier reported that “these people didn’t just need counseling, they were very sick and very poor and needed food.” 

Pier still spends up to four hours calling clients two Fridays a month to ensure they’ll be home for their Sunday food delivery. “I’ve had a strong connection to tikkun olam since I was a child, and this work provides me with a spiritual connection to my son,” she said.

‘We’re here to make other people’s lives easier’

Many people avert their eyes when they walk by the homeless.

Hanne Mintz opens her hand, her heart and her home.

Four years ago, Mintz, 68, found Ryan, 20, living on a park bench near her house, and after they bonded over her bullmastiff, she took Ryan out to breakfast and offered him a bed in her home. 

“Maybe I’m an ax murderer,” Ryan said.

“Maybe I’m a child molester,” Mintz shot back.

“You have to trust yourself and take those chances,” Mintz said. “The worst thing that can happen is it doesn’t work out.”

Ryan, who had no family to fall back on, had come from New Hampshire to pursue acting. Mintz gave him a job operating audio software in the translation services company she founded 20 years ago and still runs.

Today, Ryan is doing stand-up comedy in Boston, and he’s in touch with Mintz regularly.

The fact that she took Ryan in didn’t surprise Mintz’s daughter, Marina, who says her own friends routinely still come over to hang out with Mintz, as they have since they were kids. Mintz also loves to go salmon fishing and camping and is president of a bullmastiff club. 

Her warmth emerges the moment you meet her — she is a hugger, and her eyes sparkle with interest in others.

Story continues after the jump

The bags are moved by pickup truck to the church’s former nursery school annex, where the pantry distributes more than 5.5 tons of food every month on an annual budget of about $70,000. Every Monday and Friday morning, starting at 7:30, families come to the door, some from close by and others from as far away as Santa Clarita. There, they meet volunteers like Rabinowitz and a rotating roster of children and teens who come to lend their hands.

“When a kid gives out a bag of food for the food pantry, there is what I call a magic moment,” Rabinowitz said later that morning. “It’s when a kid’s eyes go from the bag of food he’s holding to the face of the person he’s giving it to.”

Rabinowitz retired 30 years ago — from the grocery business, coincidentally — and he fills his weeks mostly with volunteer work. A decorated World War II veteran, Rabinowitz spends Mondays with fellow veterans, Tuesdays volunteering in a hospital’s medical library, and on Wednesdays he accompanies his wife to the Braille Institute, where he helps pack Braille books to be sent to developing countries. On Thursdays, the Rabinowitzes go bowling (his typical score is about 145).

But the pantry is Rabinowitz’s primary commitment. “Of the whole ball of wax, this is the most important thing I do,” he said.

On Fridays, Rabinowitz is the go-to guy. He decides how many cooked eggs go into bags for people without kitchens (two), whether donated bagels should be packaged with donated tubs of cream cheese (yes), and is the one who had to tell one regular pantry visitor that he would not be going home with the 12 boxes of cereal he had asked for.

Rabinowitz is always ready with a joke, mostly about the beautiful younger women who staff (and rely on) the pantry. “Get me the telephone numbers of pretty girls,” he told a volunteer, with a wink and a nod.

“Everything’s gotta be light,” Rabinowitz said, explaining his tendency to crack wise. “Nothing heavy. These people have enough heavy in their lives.”

Remember Us project means they’ll never be forgotten

There was a moment while preparing for her bat mitzvah when Rebecca Hutman feared the occasion would not live up to its importance. She wasn’t settled at a shul, and the experience was feeling kind of rote. That’s when her mother, Samara Hutman, suggested Rebecca join the Remember Us Holocaust B’nai Mitzvah Project, which would send her the name of a child who perished in the Holocaust that she could recite out loud at her bat mitzvah.

“It was the first thing that felt tangibly important,” Rebecca said.

Rebecca had found her hook — a way of honoring another Jewish child, Victoria Farhi, who never had the chance to read Torah because she died in the French Vel’ d’Hiv roundup. Plus, the two girls had something in common: They both were born in the Parisian suburb of Neuilly, where Hutman spent the first seven months of her life while her father, production designer Jon Hutman, was working on the Hollywood movie “French Kiss.”

“I could relate to this young girl who was frozen in time and feel the immediacy at this one point of my life as I was passing the benchmark at which she ceased to live,” Rebecca said.

Story continues after the jump

She spoke about Farhi in her d’var Torah, and, in lieu of gifts, requested donations to genocide prevention programs. Along with her own $2,000 in savings, Rebecca split the funds between Jewish World Watch and American Jewish World Service.

But something still wasn’t right.

“I felt like I had taken on this obligation, and it couldn’t end with my bat mitzvah — because when you say you’re taking on somebody’s life, that’s not a one-night event.”

Then something unexpected happened. After mother and daughter returned from a visit to Washington, D.C., where Samara’s father-in-law had been appointed to the national board of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, they learned that Rebecca’s school, Harvard-Westlake, was seeking parent volunteers to coordinate a Yom HaShoah tribute. Samara leaped onboard, and, modeling from the b’nai mitzvah project, stuffed 250 bags with the names of perished Jewish children and yahrzeit candles to distribute at the event. At the secular school’s event, they ran out of bags.

Soon after, thanks to her friendship with the b’nai mitzvah project’s founder, Gesher Calmenson, Samara was appointed to the inaugural national board of Remember Us, and she immediately started dreaming of what they could do next.

“My whole life, I wondered who I would have been in the Holocaust,” Samara said. Would I have been a brave, righteous person? Or would I have been so terrified that I would have hidden? This was a way to approach the subject with attributes that I would wish to have.”

Samara recruited four local women and their daughters to help dream up ways they could expand Remember Us.

“Here we were working on Holocaust memory, remembering children who had perished, but their peers who had survived were living all around us,” Samara said.

The group created the intergenerational Righteous Conversation Project, pairing teens with local Holocaust survivors. The idea is for the survivors to share their stories with the young, who then become “vessels of memory.”

Their first event was held at Harvard-Westlake last February, during which three pairs of teens and survivors appeared on stage in conversation. The model has since been repeated at IKAR and Pacifica Christian High School in Santa Monica. In June, the teens and survivors convened for a weeklong workshop about modern injustices. By its end, they had produced one program focused on acceptance of gay families and another on ethical consumerism, which they then “gifted” to both Jewish and secular organizations (the former went to Hebrew Union College’s Institute for Judaism and Sexual Orientation at USC and to the San Francisco-based group Colage, for people with an LGBT parent; the latter to the Orthodox social justice organization Uri L’Tzedek and the product-review Web site

Samara now serves as the paid executive director of Remember Us, the umbrella group for both the B’nai Mitzvah and Righteous Conversation projects. And although the organization has received nearly $22,000 in donations, they’ve got plans for expansion and have three grant proposals in process.

But something else is changing: Rebecca is approaching high school graduation and will soon leave home. Working together has been both “beautiful and stressful,” Samara said.

“If we fight about anything, it’s this,” Rebecca added, “because we’re both so passionate about it. We don’t fight about trivial things — and this isn’t trivial.”

“You know,” her mother chimed in, “I was talking to a Jewish donor about this, and he said, ‘Why do you do this?’ and I said, ‘To me, these survivors are living Torah.’ ”

Are you ready for an MBA?

Thinking of returning to school for an MBA? If so, you have lots of company. Highly ranked MBA — master of business administration — programs remain extremely competitive, despite the economic downturn. This is true not only for the full-time and part-time MBA programs that are geared toward people who have between two and eight years of work experience, but also for executive MBA programs tailored for more seasoned workers. 

When earned for the right reasons, an MBA degree surely is a career booster and a ticket to a career change. But you need to distinguish yourself from the competition and show you have done your homework before a good school will admit you. And while your GPA and test scores must be competitive for the programs you apply to, schools also want assurance that you are informed about your field of choice or the role you hope to fill if you want to change careers. In addition to all that, you also need to show you are a good fit for their school. How to do all that? Here’s a brief primer:

Define Your Goals for the MBA Degree and Beyond

Investing the time and energy in this process is essential because schools require you to make a logical and plausible link between where you have been in your career and where you want to go. For example, consider how transferable the skills you already possess will be to your new field or function. If you’ve been in the nonprofit sector and want to become a business consultant, you may already have strong sales, organizational and people management skills. Another example: Applicants from the military often have leadership and operations management experience, both of which are highly desirable in the business world.

Career changers also need to demonstrate plausible links to their new industry or function of choice: Where and when have you worked with people in this industry? What experiences do you have that point to your potential to succeed in this area? What steps have you taken to gain knowledge, experience and a network in your new field? Showing proactive, enthusiastic preparation for your career shift could include acknowledging obstacles you expect to face as a newcomer to the field as well as your plan to address them. This insight underscores both your knowledge of the field or function and your maturity — both of which the schools will look for.

Goals are, quite simply, front and center in the minds of the admissions committees. Make sure they are front and center in your mind as you prepare to apply, too.

Research the Schools That Are Right for You

Don’t be blinded by a school’s “star status.” Each year, hundreds of talented and smart applicants are dinged from Harvard, Stanford, UCLA and other top programs because, quite simply, there aren’t enough seats in those programs for everyone who might otherwise qualify. Instead, research the programs that are right for you. Look for schools whose educational approach, specialty tracks, curriculum flexibility, recruitment possibilities, location, financial aid options, extracurricular clubs and student life will prepare you to achieve your goals and suit your educational needs, learning style and, yes, even personality.

The Internet makes most of this work very easy, but it does take time. Scour the schools’ Web sites for information about recruitment, academics and the student body. Check out each school’s career services, such as mentoring programs, resumé review and career workshops, and find out which companies recruit and hire there. (Recruitment options are most pertinent for applicants to full-time programs, as applicants to executive and part-time MBA programs continue working throughout their programs or have other jobs waiting for them.) In essence, make sure that the schools where you apply send grads in the direction you want to go.

Visit the schools if possible, and/or attend receptions and informational events hosted by the schools. Time your visits so you can sit in on classes, meet students and get a feel for campus life. Third-party organizers, such as, Top MBA, and The Economist’s Which MBA?, also host both in-person and virtual MBA fairs. hosts online Q-and-A’s throughout the year. You can also learn more about schools by reading Businessweek’s MBA section, Poets and Quants, and MBA50. Talk to current students and/or recent alumni, and read student blogs, often published on the school sites, to get a feel for campus life as well as for the personalities and vibe of the students who thrive at that school. Can you see yourself fitting in with those students and the student culture?

Determine Your Qualifications

MBA programs admit students based on many factors. These include intellectual horsepower, professional savvy and acumen garnered from work experience, and qualities such as leadership, emotional maturity, communication skills and other traits. The main litmus test for the strong quantitative skills required by MBA programs remains the Graduate Management Admission Test, the GMAT. For the top programs, your score ideally should be in the 80th percentile in both the quantitative and verbal parts of the test, or about a 700 or higher. And yes, you can retake the GMAT (schools “count” your best score) as well as take additional quant classes (but better get A’s!) to show that while you might not test well, you can still do a regression analysis without fainting.

Beyond numbers, you also need to show impressive work experience, not only in terms of title or quantity but also in impact. Be prepared to demonstrate how much you have contributed and what impact you have had in ways you can quantify. If you have the focus, determination, stick-to-itiveness, collegiality, initiative and maturity that MBA programs prize, chances are you will have found an opportunity to have made a difference. That’s the impact schools want to see.

The most important qualifications schools prize in their applicants are leadership, teamwork, integrity, analytical talent, initiative, organizational ability and communication skills. No one is expected to demonstrate all of these in equal measure, but make sure you can highlight them through specific examples (with a focus on the last three years) in your professional or personal life, and point to notable and quantifiable achievements.

Schools also value diversity, but that goes beyond race and gender. You can show diversity by highlighting how you have overcome particular challenges, demonstrating the unique ways you have contributed at work, and revealing your specialty backgrounds, personal interests, cultural or geographic roots and defining values, as well as how they will help make you an asset to the class. 

Applicants who think through their goals, research appropriate schools and determine their qualifications first will have the best shot at gaining a seat in a coveted program. l

Retraining programs get unemployment bump

Courtney Myrick, 27, trained to be a massage therapist several years ago but found that customer service jobs paid the bills. After 10 years in the industry, however, jobs became scarce and less stable. 

After a layoff in June, Myrick enrolled in BankWorks, a free program administered by Jewish Vocational Service of Los Angeles (JVS), where she learned about banking regulations, balancing cash flow and assessing customer needs.

“I love it; I love the company benefits,” said Myrick, who now works as a bank teller for Wells Fargo.

Myrick finished the six-week program on Nov. 16 and was hired a week later through a job fair coordinated by JVS. 

“[You] have to give a lot of commitment,” Myrick said about BankWorks. “It’s like a job, just you’re not getting paid for it.”

Hundreds like her have been flooding certificate programs at JVS, Santa Monica College (SMC) and other local institutions. Enrolling in two- to six-month courses that teach a variety of specific skills, these adults — who range in age from their late 20s to their early 60s — all share the same motivation: desperation. 

“We’ve been seeing the return of adults to education for three years now,” said Vicki Rothman, a faculty member at SMC who also heads its career services department. “A good 80 percent of them were already employed, had B.A.’s and had lost jobs. At first, people tried to get back into their own market, but the job market went so down in Los Angeles they figured if they came to community college and did a short program and retraining, it would get them back to the market.”

SMC has a number of short-term programs to get people back in the workforce, including recycling and resource management, photovoltaic solar paneling and digital media, Rothman said. Ironically, people thought the medical industry was hiring and trained to become nurses, but California now has a glut, “and many nurses are not being hired and are leaving the state,” she said.

Rothman said she also advises both women and men to look into opening a family day-care center, which can provide a nice income. She has guided many recently unemployed to SMC’s early childhood education program, which prepares them to be preschool teachers as well as open their own day-care centers.

Representatives for the certificate programs say job prospects for recent graduates have been good so far. Solar paneling and digital media grads are getting hired, and Rothman noted a slight upswing in employment in Los Angeles County.

“Originally, when the employment market was good, we’d get adults who just wanted to finish their bachelor’s to get ahead, at night. But the minute people started losing jobs, people were coming in droves. It made a huge impact on managers, office workers, lawyers; people are willing to make such changes now,” she said.

At JVS, the focus has shifted from helping people with career happiness and advancement to people looking for a job, said Melissa Jarvis-Prieto, a JVS spokeswoman. She said they have especially seen an influx of people in their 30s to 50s.

At JVS, the strategy is to train people for similar industries. They have directed people who had worked in the mortgage industry to their BankWorks program, and people who were laid off from construction jobs into a green construction program, Jarvis-Prieto said. 

In response to the increasing need, JVS partnered with local community colleges to offer programs in cyber-security and green construction, and changed their BankWorks program from an eight-week course to six weeks. They have also focused attention on their MatureAbility program, which provides counseling and skills-building to job seekers 50 years old and older, Jarvis-Prieto said. 

Lisa Meadows, BankWorks’ program manager, said that the older age of the students makes the classes more successful. “That maturity is being shared in the classroom,” she said.

Many students avoid retraining until all options run out — unemployment, job contacts and savings, Meadows said. Recently, a student with a master’s degree from USC and a successful career in the entertainment industry enrolled in the program after being unemployed for a year and half. Now he works as a personal banker at Chase. 

By and large, laid-off adults have not been choosing to go back to graduate schools, especially not Jewish ones, according to educators interviewed for this article. Graduate school faculty and administrators at American Jewish University (AJU) and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) noted applicants’ concerns about covering tuition costs and taking on more debt, leading many to defer graduate school for another time.

Nina Lieberman, dean of AJU’s nonprofit management program, an MBA program for working executives, said that many applicants are cautious about getting a degree because of their concerns about job insecurity. “They don’t want to take on more debt” in this economy, she said. 

At HUC-JIR, the aggregate age of enrolling graduate students has actually been younger in recent years — as opposed to the older students in certificate programs — due to fears from undergraduates that rabbinic and cantorial jobs wouldn’t be available, according to Deborah Abelson, director of admissions and recruitment. Abelson said those jobs do exist, but students were so wary that they often opted to stay in graduate school to avoid job searching in a dismal environment. 

Abelson said that interest in rabbinic and cantorial study is less affected by the recession, because it has always been more of a personal calling than an economic decision. 

“With rabbinical school, when they’re drawn to it, they’re drawn to it,” she said.

Survivor: Donna Tuna

Suddenly, midday on Sept. 1, 1939, Donna Tuna — then Golda Tajchman — spotted planes flying low over her small town of Ryki, Poland, machine-gunning the inhabitants, who were running, panicked, in all directions. Donna, along with her mother, sister Regina, and younger twin siblings, Feige and Avrum, raced to the riverbank. They stood in the water the entire night, hidden by tall grass, watching the wooden structures of the shtetl erupt in flames. The next morning she returned with her family, to find her father had been killed and their house burned to the ground. “I felt I was 200 years old, and I was not even 12,” Donna recalled.

They retreated to their aunt’s house. A few days later, German soldiers marched into Ryki and pounded on doors. “Juden raus!” (“Jews out!”) they shouted. Donna peeked through the keyhole and saw soldiers putting people on trucks. She also saw them shoot her great-grandfather because he was not running toward the trucks fast enough. “I was so scared,” she said. The family inside the house, however, was spared.

Born on Sept. 24, 1927, Donna was the sixth of eight children in her religious family. Her father, who was in the grain business, prayed twice a day, and her mother baked every Thursday night for Shabbat. Donna remembers living “in a beautiful house on a beautiful street.” When the war broke out, Donna’s older brother Henry and older sisters Saba, Pola and Karola were living in Warsaw.

Saba took Donna to Warsaw. There, hearing that Jews were escaping to Russia, Donna, Karola and Saba, along with Saba’s husband and his two siblings, went to the train station. They traveled east, getting off at a small town and walking to a Russian border crossing. The guards, however, denied them entry. They stayed at the crossing for six days, walking around all day and sleeping on the frozen ground at night. Finally, more and more people arrived, and they broke through the barrier.

Donna’s group walked until they reached Ogrodniczki, a village near Bialystok in Soviet-controlled eastern Poland. They registered to work in Russia and were put on a cattle train, sitting on the floor of a car that had frozen walls and an iron stove in the center. Whenever the train stopped, they gathered wood. After a month, near the end of 1939, they arrived in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia.

They were given one barracks room for the six of them. They were also given a saw, a tree trunk to cut for firewood and a tar-coated pail for washing. They melted snow for water. Donna attended school and did chores, including standing in line for hours for bread. More than once, in weather 30 degrees below zero, so cold her hair froze, she had to hold her place in line all night.

In spring 1941, Saba became very ill. The group, then including Saba’s baby, Alex, boarded a train for Mogilev, a warmer city in Belarus. In June, however, the Germans attacked, and Saba’s husband was drafted into the Red Army and killed almost immediately. Donna and Saba, along with the baby, went to the crowded station to flee on a train; it was packed, but they managed to snare a place on the steps, riding outside the car. Their trip lasted weeks, according to Donna, before they arrived in Chelyabinsk, east of the Ural Mountains.

Donna again attended school. She owned one dress, a navy one, with buttons, which she wore frontward one day and backward the next. On days when she washed the dress, she stayed in bed all day. As a student, Donna was allowed only 200 grams — about 7 ounces — of bread a day. Sometimes she came home from school so hungry she couldn’t do her homework.

In fall 1943, old enough to work at age 16, Donna procured a factory job, which raised her daily allotment to 800 grams of bread.

One day, in May 1945, people poured into the streets, dancing and celebrating the war’s end. Donna registered for permission to return to Poland. The process took months, and, during one visit to the registration office, she met her future husband, Izak Tuna, a fellow Pole.

Finally, in the summer of 1946, Donna and Izak traveled to Strzegom, in southwestern Poland, where they were married in a civil ceremony in March 1947. Their daughter, Sofia, was born the same year. In 1951, they moved to Wroclaw, where their son, Mark, was born in 1956.

In 1957, the family was finally given permission to leave Poland for Israel. There, Donna learned that her mother, sister Regina and twin siblings had been taken to Treblinka. Donna’s other siblings survived, including Henry, who helped sponsor their move to Los Angeles in 1960.

Donna studied English and business machines at Fairfax High School and then worked at J.J. Newberry and Fedco, retiring in 1982. Izak worked in the aerospace industry.

In 1965, they became U.S. citizens, officially changing their names to Donna and Mike (Izak had become Miroslaw in Poland). They also bought a house, where they still live.

In 2004, Donna and her husband returned to Poland with Sofia and Mark to visit their birthplaces. Donna refused to travel to Ryki.

Today, Donna, now 84, spends time reading magazines and classic novels. She takes walks and also cooks healthful soups.

She and her husband have always resided near Fairfax Avenue. As she told her daughter in 1960, “These are my family. I will live always with the Jewish people.”

My Single Peeps: Sarica C.

I’ve become fascinated with meeting single peeps who are only children. Sarica is one of them. Whatever negatives there are growing up without siblings, the positives are immediately apparent. Sarica, like others I’ve met, is overachieving, confident and a natural leader. She also happens to be really smart. After graduating with a degree in biology and working as a data analyst at a biotech company, she was confronted by one of the Ph.D.’s there, who said, “Don’t get me wrong — I love that you’re here, but what are you doing here? You have so much potential.” Sarica realized the Ph.D. was right, and she quit her job and went back to school. She tells me, “Basically, since day one at pharmacy school, I realized it was my calling. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it earlier.” She hit the ground running at USC.

“While I was in pharmacy school, I started my own organization, called the Student Industry Association, and the purpose was to introduce students to opportunities for jobs within the biotech and pharmaceutical industry.” That led Sarica to work for the world’s largest biotech company, “which changed my life. I love what I do now. I’m a medical educator — going around teaching doctors about the biotech company’s clinical data. I’m not in sales. I’m a true educator.”

For a girl who grew up with no Jewish friends in an entirely non-Jewish neighborhood of Simi Valley, she’s had no problem reconnecting to Jews. She’s going to be the chair of the Young Women’s Division of the Guardians of the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging; she’s involved with Jewish Federation, Young Jewish Professionals; and charities for her alma mater and one called Operation Blankets of Love, for shelter dogs. “My friends always joke around that if I have a free moment, they’re surprised. But I always keep myself busy with social and volunteer activities. I’ll host a Shabbat dinner; I’ll go to someone’s birthday party; I’ll throw a baby shower … people say I missed my calling as a party planner. I should be social chair of whatever I’m involved in.”

If this comes across as bragging, it’s not. She’s not the self-absorbed type. She just loves being involved with organizations and people. She enjoys introducing people to others.

I ask her about what kind of guy she’s looking for, and she jokes, “With two legs.” But there’s some truth to it. She adds some adjectives, “Driven, ambitious and nice,” but in terms of looks she says, “I don’t care if they’re tall or short or fat or skinny. I’m really not that picky. Obviously I need to be attracted to them, but I can be attracted to someone fat, short or bald.” I grab on to this and start pointing out various funny-looking men in the Starbucks. “Would you date him? How about that guy with the creepy mustache?” She says yes to all of them except the homeless guy — and it’s more about his lack of ambition than his pungent odor.

I wouldn’t believe Sarica was so easygoing had I not spent time with her in Israel last month on a Jewish Federation trip. She gets along with everyone. “That’s something I value. I don’t have a lot of enemies.”  “Do you have any?” I ask. “No, I don’t have any. I don’t think I have any. Not that I know of, anyway.”

So now I’m not sure if I’m more interested in finding her a husband or an enemy. But if you’re interested in either, let me know.

If you’re interested in anyone you see on My Single Peeps, send an e-mail and a picture, including the person’s name in the subject line, to, and we’ll forward it to your favorite peep.

Seth Menachem is an actor and writer living in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter. You can see more of his work on his Web site,, and meet even more single peeps at

Israel’s Mr. Basketball is also Mr. Goodwill

Selected 12th overall in the 1965 National Basketball Association draft, Tal Brody passed on the American Dream so he could help change the landscape of Israeli sports—turning down the Baltimore Bullets for a spot on Maccabi Tel Aviv.

“It was a challenge to take a team that never went past the first round of the European basketball championships to another level, and I’m very happy I took up that challenge because we won the championships five times,” he told JointMedia News Service.

The first of those five European titles came in 1977, when Brody—the team captain—was carried off the court on the shoulders of fans celebrating a historic victory over heavily favored CSKA Moscow. He declared afterward to a TV announcer: “We are on the map! And we are staying on the map— not only in sports, but in everything.”

These days, the man nicknamed “Mr. Basketball” in Israel has a very different opponent—those who continue to take shots at the Jewish homeland. Last year, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman appointed Brody as the first-ever international Goodwill Ambassador of Israel.

“I’m very proud that they chose a sportsman to take on that position,” Brody said in a phone interview from Miami (where he visited Dec. 12-17) arranged by the Consulate General of Israel to Florida & Puerto Rico. “It’s basically speaking on the [school] campuses and trying to go up with the facts against the fiction about a lot of things which are said about Israel, and having good discussions with the students.”

The ambassador’s latest journey

Brody, 68, takes diplomatic trips once every 4-6 weeks on behalf of Israel. On this particular mission, he visited the new campus of the David Posnack Jewish Day School in Davie, Fla., and was also at an event that he called “a page out of the history” of U.S. basketball, with 330 people—including Hall of Fame big man Dave Cowens—in attendance.

At the Posnack school, whose basketball team happens to be coached by former NBA guard Kenny Anderson, Brody said he was in contact with current New York Knicks’ star forward Amare Stoudemire—who made headlines in 2010 by visiting Israel and exploring his possible Jewish roots, then considered playing for Maccabi Tel Aviv before the resolution of this year’s NBA lockout.

“Although we’re happy that the NBA is going to have a season that we can watch, we’re disappointed in Israel because we lost [New Jersey Nets’ guard Jordan Farmar, who was playing with [Maccabi Tel Aviv] up to now, and the fact that if the NBA wasn’t going to have a season there was a good chance that Amare Stoudemire was going to join our team for the second half of the year,” Brody said.

‘Presenting Israel beyond the conflict’

Brody, who was born in Trenton, NJ, and starred at guard for the University of Illinois, said he works with both Jewish and non-Jewish organizations—from Hispanic, Christian, African American, and other circles—in his position as goodwill ambassador.

“When I’m coming in to the States, I’m presenting Israel beyond the [Arab-Israeli] conflict, our normal and daily lives in Israel,” he said. The Christian community, Brody said, is “more and more getting together and backing Israel, and helping to stop all these BDS boycotts, sanctions against Israel.”

Nevertheless, Brody must fight the numerous “misconceptions” about Israel that exist around the world. He highlights how Israel is the only country in the Middle East that gives full rights to women and homosexuals—not an Apartheid state, as it is commonly alleged.

“On the [college] campuses, Christians or African Americans who have never been to Israel, they sort of think that we’re like South Africa, which is so far from [the truth],” Brody said. “So when I come, we have these discussions and they get a better understanding for what Israel is, and what it isn’t.”

When asked by students why Israel doesn’t “give freedom of movement to Palestinians,” Brody explains that until the Second Intifada of 2000, there was never any type of security fence and that movement between the Palestinian Territories and Israel was unrestricted, wtih large numbers of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza working in the Israeli building industry.

However, once Palestinian suicide bombers attacked the country’s citizens, killing more than 1,700 Israelis—including Jews, Arabs, Muslims, Christians and Druze, infants and seniors, in pizza parlors, buses and hotels—more security was needed, he tells students.

“Try to picture yourself, in the morning, getting on a bus to school … and all of the sudden a young guy gets on who is brainwashed, who thinks he’s going to heaven with 72 virgins waiting for him, and your only benefit is ZAKA (volunteers responding to tragedy in Israel] to pick up your limbs and put them in a bag for a decent burial,” Brody said.

‘The sports capital of the Middle East’

When he speaks to crowds, Brody said he also calls Israel “the sports capital of the Middle East”—and with good reason. He explained the “60-40-20” system for remembering the country’s athletic history—60 years since first participating in the Olympics; 40 years since 11 Israeli athletes were massacred at the Olympics in Munich, Germany; and 20 years since Israel won its first Olympic medal, in Judo.

Since its breakthrough two decades ago, Israel has received medals at each Summer Olympics, with most of its success coming in martial arts and watersports. But Israel isn’t a fish out of water when it comes to winter sports, either—its junior ice hockey team (13-year-olds) recently placed first in its group at the world championships in Canada.

“We don’t even have ice in Israel, they practiced on rollerblades,” Brody said.

“Very few people realize that we’re so intense about sports, which is part of our lives,” he said.

The rise of Israeli basketball

Although the Knicks’ Stoudemire didn’t take the plunge, a handful of NBA players signed contracts with professional teams in Israel during the U.S. league’s labor dispute. Brody explained that American players consider Israel a real option “because they know that they can play basketball and have an excellent life,” adding that “they choose Israel sometimes above other countries in Europe.”

Maccabi Tel Aviv has a $20 million budget—about a third of the NBA salary cap—but that hasn’t stopped the club from attracting NBA players like Farmar, who is now back with the Nets.

Another indicator of the rise of Israeli basketball is the success of former Maccabi Tel Aviv star Omri Casspi—the NBA’s first Israeli-born player—who averaged 9.5 points and 4.4 rebounds per game in two seasons with the Sacramento Kings, and is expected to have a more prominent role this season as a starting forward for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

“Everybody hopes that he’ll be getting more playing time,” Brody said of Casspi.

Brody said that when he watched Casspi play at the 2010 NBA All-Star weekend in Dallas, in a game pitting the league’s top rookies against the top sophomores, Casspi “looked like he belonged there. He belonged on the court.”

“I think he can prove himself, he has the ability and he has the ambition, he has the drive, he’s a hustler, and I think the coaches like him,” Brody said. “Sometimes he gets overanxious because he wants to play more, but you live and learn.”

However, beyond contributing on the court, Brody takes pride in how Casspi has spoken at various synagogues and Jewish organizations since joining the NBA, while inspiring fans all over the country to come to games with Israeli flags.

In that sense, Brody—the government-appointed ambassador—considers Casspi an “unofficial ambassador.”

“I think every Israeli that goes abroad is a goodwill ambassador, and especially Omri,” Brody said.

At 95, Kip’s Toyland owner ready for more fun and games

On a chilly Monday morning in late November, the sunlit patio outside Kip’s Toyland in the original Farmers Market was awash in anticipation. Reporters and city officials milled about, and passers-by with cameras hovered among the tables and chairs. A birthday surprise was in store for Irvin “Kip” Kipper, the shop’s founder and namesake, who had turned 95 a few days prior.

If someone had told Kipper what all the fuss was about, he might have scowled, laughed incredulously and bid everyone go home. After all, he sums up his six-decade career this way: “No big deal.”

That’s not what Kipper’s family, colleagues and customers say. Opened in 1945, Kip’s Toyland has been a fixture of the iconic market at Third Street and Fairfax Avenue for 66 years. The baby boom-era shop preceded Toys R Us and has thrived despite the explosion of big-box stores that now dominate holiday shopping. Generations of local families have stayed loyal, always returning to find that oldie-but-goodie on Kipper’s colorful shelves.

Kipper still tends the shop six days a week, opening its glass double doors at 9 a.m. His eyesight is fading, so he catches a ride every morning with his wife, Gertrude Kipper, relatively spry at 92. The only reason he didn’t go in to work on his 95th birthday last month is because it fell on a Sunday.

At the original Farmers Market, where old-fashioned diner stools and metal counters seem not to have changed since the 1950s, Kip’s Toyland is in its element. Little is different about Kipper’s formula from when the shop first opened. He still stocks the classics: Barbie dolls, Tinker Toys, model airplane kits, Lincoln Logs, Frisbees, watercolor paint sets and Clue.

“My dad is just an encyclopedia of knowledge about toys from the 1940s onward,” said Kipper’s son Don Kipper, 65. But only toys that embody his ideals. “The only toys he’s ever sold that get plugged in are Lite-Brites and Easy-Bake Ovens. He believes in toys that teach kids to be creative, that make them use their imaginations, that let the whole family interact during playtime. He has stayed true to that all these years.”

Among the Toyland’s brightly lit aisles, you won’t find toys that encourage violence. No video games, either. The closest thing to “trendy” is a plastic rendition of Kilowog’s Transforming Moto-Jet from the recent “Green Lantern” movie.

Kipper is soft-spoken, with a self-deprecating smile. His untamed eyebrows call to mind a real-life Doc Brown from “Back to the Future,” a toy wizard in his lab.

Born in Fort Worth, Texas, Kipper grew up in a large family of Russian immigrants. The clan moved to Los Angeles early in his life. Kipper’s father worked in the scrap metal and produce businesses, along with several of his uncles. They often took young Kipper along to help deliver fruits and vegetables to grocery stores.

Kipper had few toys growing up. Most of his fun was improvised and outdoors — playing catch, whipping together a team for baseball. “That taught me what was fun and good for the development of children,” Kipper recalled.

During World War II, Kipper served in the Army Air Corps and flew a bomber in Italy. After the war, he yearned to do something lighthearted that would lift his spirits and those of others. He and Gertrude wanted to open their own business. They bought a quaint novelty shop in the old Town & Country Village across Third Street, where Whole Foods and Kmart are today, and decided to sell toys.

The couple ran the store together until Gertrude left to raise their sons, Don and Robert. In 1956, Kipper was invited to move across the street, into a building then known as the Dell. Tales from the ensuing decades are almost too plentiful for him to recount.

On a visit around the year 2000, the Duchess of York brought her entire security team into Kip’s Toyland.

In the postwar 1940s, when rubber first became widely available, Kip’s was one of the first shops in the area to sell multicolored balloons. “People were standing in line all the way around the corner, waiting to buy a balloon for 25 cents,” Gertrude recalled.

And in 1952, shortly after his father opened a restaurant at the Farmers Market, a 10-year-old Bob Tusquellas received his first Lionel electric train set as a gift from Kip’s. “It was the best Christmas present I’d gotten in my life,” recalled Tusquellas, 69, the longtime owner of Tusquellas Fish & Oyster Bar, Tusquellas Seafoods and Bob’s Coffee & Doughnuts at the market.

Tusquellas struck up a friendship with the kindly toy store owner and, over the years, often sprinted the 100 or so yards from his father’s stall to Kipper’s open door. He wasn’t alone: Crowds of children, enthralled with Kipper’s elaborate Lionel train display, would press their faces to the window to watch the sleek locomotive wind among mountains, valleys and farms, Tusquellas recalled.

The restaurateur has since returned to Kip’s with his own children, and now his grandchildren. He still holds Kipper’s work ethic in the highest esteem.

“Kip is what the Farmers Market is all about,” Tusquellas said. “He is my mentor and my professional model. For all of us here at the market, he’s our hero.”

A retiring figure with a slight stoop and a sly wit, Kipper speaks modestly about his life’s work. “Gratitude is the word that comes to my mind,” he said, when he considers his business and family. “I’m grateful and I’m thankful. I feel that gratitude every day.”

Of all the toys he’s sold, he’s still most fond of the items he has stocked since the store opened: Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs. These classic building blocks — no batteries, controllers or chargers needed — are also, perhaps not coincidentally, his top sellers. “When we sold those, we knew the kid was going to get a whole lot of fun out of them,” Kipper said. “That’s the kind of thing we always took pride in.”

These days, Kipper and his wife work mostly in a back office, overseeing inventory and paperwork. Two younger generations of Kippers — Don and his daughter, Lily Kipper, 23 — are among the small staff that manages the front counter.

Kipper says he’ll keep working as long as he can. He doesn’t think about retiring. Why walk away from a good thing?

He isn’t worried about keeping the shop in the family, either. He doesn’t want his sons to feel burdened with the responsibility. “I would never tell Don, ‘This is yours now; take care of it.’ He has to want to,” Kipper said. “That will develop. And I’ll try to be wise in the way I let it develop.”

On the morning of Nov. 21, family members, friends and city officials clapped as Kipper, looking a bit bewildered, was led to the patio outside his shop before a cluster of cameras and a cake. City Councilman Tom LaBonge presented him with a proclamation recognizing his “dedication to providing smiles to children of all ages,” LaBonge said, to cheers and applause.

Kipper shook his head in disbelief as Gertrude clutched his arm. “Oh boy,” he marveled, like a kid in a toy store.

My single peeps: Aimee L.

Aimee was born and raised in Memphis, Tenn., but went to college in upstate New York to get as far away from the South as possible. “Memphis was kind of racist and conservative, and I felt like there was a different world out there that I wanted to check out. When I was 12, I went to New York and thought, “Dang, this is the place for me.” All traces of her accent are gone, until I hear her say “dang.” Let’s face it, even without the accent, you’d never hear a New Yorker say “dang.”

“I’m an artist. As a way to kind of integrate my creative self with supporting myself and being a grown-up, I moved into design.” She works at an architecture firm. “I’d technically call myself an environmental designer more than an interior designer. It’s about looking at spaces as a whole environment and designing every part of it.”

After living in various cities, she settled in Los Angeles eight years ago. “New York had changed. It wasn’t the bohemia it had once been. I went on dates with investment bankers. And the city was turning into a mall — there was a Gap on every corner.”

She flew to Los Angeles to look at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, and when she saw the mountains from the plane, she said to herself, “I’m moving.”

“The first few months, I felt like all these shingles that had encased me while living [in New York] fell off. I like a little bit of a softer lifestyle. A softer city. Not that L.A.’s so soft. [But] New York takes itself so freaking seriously.

“I love L.A. I feel like it’s a city with a sense of humor. There’s so much irony and wit — just in terms of the architecture, colors and signage — and layered on top of that, all the crazy people. I think it’s super beautiful in and among all the ugliness. Whereas New York and San Francisco are already established who they are as cities, [in L.A.] you can put up a hedge and never know there’s a restaurant or store back there. Because L.A.’s so huge, and this kind of massive amoebic monster, L.A. doesn’t need to be one kind of thing. I can be in one part of town and there are roosters crowing, and in another part of town it’s urban. I can do something in one part of town that might be a success and something in another part of town that might not be a success.”

Aimee is looking for a youthful guy between 36 and 42. “I’m the typical Jewish woman who never finds herself attracted to Jewish men. Well, I mean I do. But it’s hard. It’s complicated. I can’t handle a mama’s boy. He needs to be somewhat developed, and — this sounds so cheesy — on a path of self-awareness, growth and inner reflection. Just an interesting dude. He doesn’t have to party all night. He can be interested in gardening.

“I feel like what I’m good at, and really passionate at, is just making things. My fantasy is to have a beautiful piece of property — doesn’t have to be huge — but has a house and a studio and a big wooden table where I can work on my stuff. And in my dream, everyone’s barefoot. The one thing I like is working on multimedia. One day I like working on pottery, next day making jewelry, maybe that afternoon I’m painting. I’m a crafty/arty girl. I just want to be making stuff … and selling it. And maybe teaching a little. And ideally there’s a kid or two in there somewhere. And I’m cool with adopting.”

If you’re interested in anyone you see on My Single Peeps, send an e-mail and a picture, including the person’s name in the subject line, to, and we’ll forward it to your favorite peep.

Seth Menachem is an actor and writer living in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter. You can see more of his work on his Web site,, and meet even more single peeps at