Shalhevet hires outgoing head of Milken School


Jason Ablin, the outgoing head of Milken Community High School, has landed a new job at Shalhevet School, a 165-student Modern Orthodox Jewish day school in Los Angeles.

Ablin, whose official title will be coordinator of curriculum development, will be working with Shalhevet faculty and staff in an effort to help the school prepare its students with what he called “21st century skills.”

“A lot of the time teachers feel like they need to have kids do research on the Web, but they never teach them how to do it well,” Ablin said.

Ablin will be working with administrators and faculty to integrate these skills across Judaic and general studies courses.

His new job won’t include teaching, at least not during his first year at the school. But Ablin said his agreement with the school — he called it a “two-year plan” — could put him back into classrooms at some point.

“It’s very hard for me to stay out of the classroom,” Ablin said, noting that even now, in his fifth year as head of school at Milken, he is teaching a course on “Mind, Brain and Innovation” to students in the 10th, 11th and 12th grades.

His focus on preparing students with the skills they’ll need in 21st century life notwithstanding, Ablin said centuries-old texts are still very useful in teaching certain concepts.

As an example, Ablin cited the writings of Baruch Spinoza, the 17th century Jewish philosopher whose views were so heretical as to have ended in his ex-communication from the Dutch Jewish community. Spinoza, Ablin said, could be helpful for teachers attempting to teach students about the idea of “liberating one’s mind.”

“In our age of information, in our age of access, it can be hard to identify one’s own thoughts and mind from that of other people,” Ablin said.

“I think it’s very important to teach a child, to ask them, ‘What do you think?’ What do you know?’ ”

Ablin’s departure from Milken was announced in September 2011, and he will officially start at Shalhevet on Aug. 1. A member of B’nai David-Judea, a Modern Orthodox synagogue, Ablin said he felt a “very strong alignment” with Shalhevet’s mission and values.

Before coming to Milken 13 years ago, Ablin was head of the English department at the boys’ and girls’ Yeshiva University of Los Angeles high schools.

Healing the Spirit, the Torah Way


Hinda Leah Scharfstein sees the Torah as more than just the original source of halachah, Jewish law, and the earliest telling of our nation’s birth.

“The Torah takes a holistic look at the individual, and it does tend to have a sort of healing effect on people,” said Scharfstein, the executive director of Bais Chana Women’s International, a New York-based nonprofit. “I attended my first holistic Torah retreat 20 years ago, and I have been involved on a professional and personal level with it ever since, and since then I have definitely felt better. My thinking has become healthier, and I feel more whole.”

It is this view of the Torah as holistic medicine in a book, a personal well-being road map for Jewish individuals, that is the impetus behind Bais Chana’s February Palm Spring’s retreat “A Spa for Mind, Body and Soul.” In between the glatt kosher spa meals and the hikes in the Indian canyons, speakers like Rabbi Manis Friedman, a Minnesota-based Orthodox rabbi who dabbles in homeopathic and holistic healing, and Shimona Tzukernik, a teacher and art therapist, will lecture on topics like “Sharpening the Senses: Changing the Way We Look and Listen” and “Seven Foods for Emotional Well-Being.”

But Bais Chana is only one of several groups that are part of a movement to integrate ideas of Eastern medicine and emotional healing with Torah learning and kabbalah to produce a kosher alternative to new-age philosophies.

Many members of the California Orthodox community take care of their families’ health by seeing acupuncturists and homeopaths, viewing these therapies as part of the way that bodies can be kept whole to serve God. Last Sunday, the Fairfax’s Torah Ohr Synagogue sponsored a daylong seminar on “Medicine and Kabbalah” by Rabbi Yuval Hacohen Asherov, an Israeli kabbalist and acupuncturist who discussed the halachic approach to healing, and the way that a healthy person has a “flow” going through the nefesh (one’s physicality), the ruach (one’s emotions) and the neshama (one’s spirituality).

Afterward participants were able to approach Asherov for counseling about the problems or blockages in their life.

In the Pacific Palisades, a Chabad-sponsored group, The Jewish Women’s Circle of Discovery, has sessions where participants explore “renewal and rebirth on a spiritual path of personal discovery.”

Popular Australian Orthodox mystic Rabbi Laibl Wolf comes to California several times a year to lecture about how kabbalah can help people overcome stress in their lives. More Orthodox Jews are clicking on Web sites, like www.jewishhealing.com and www.paradiseprinciple.com, where they can find out about how “Jewish medicine” — the advice that our sages have written over the years about how physical and spiritual health can actually help them become aware of, to quote Jewish Healing, “the soul’s role in healing.”

“Our main goal is to inform you that there is a higher medicine for Jews, one that is replete with diagnostic methods, treatment strategies, ethical teachings and spiritual profundities,” states the mission statement on the site.

“The whole idea of many of these holistic therapies is getting to the root of the problem,” said Dr. Ya’akov Gerlitz, an observant Jew who is the Jerusalem-based founder of Jewishhealing.com and a doctor of Chinese medicine. “For a Jew, the root of his condition is the soul — it is his connection to Hashem, and therefore all healing must include the soul. If a Jew is suffering, it is not enough to heal the body, even though the physical body is very precious to God, but you need to get through to the soul to get to the core of the issue.”

Gerlitz lectures and counsels people, writes articles on Jewish healing and runs a worldwide network of Jewish healers. He developed the Sefirotic Alignment Therapy (SAT), which uses the 10 kabbalistic sefirot (spheres of divine energy) to counsel people through emotional problems. His approach is part doctor, part counselor. While he will provide homeopathic remedies to children who have chronic colds or ear infections, he will also dispense Torah advice to people who have emotional problems, like an inability to see things through or fearing death (the Torah solution to that is to write a will).

“According to Jewish law, you are required to get the best healing you can get for an illness, so it doesn’t matter if you go to a Jewish doctor or not,” Gerlitz said. “But if you are already exploring going to the core of the matter then you should go only to a Jew. Healers bring their energy into the practice, and if you go to someone who has pagan ideology, it could affect the person by bringing in tumah (impurities) or kelipot (dark forces) into the patient. For holistic therapies, you definitely want a Jewish model.”

While these therapies might not appeal to everyone, even more conservative Orthodox rabbis think that they can’t hurt.

“It should not replace normative medicine,” said Rabbi Elazar Muskin of Young Israel of Century City. “But anything that can help one find a balance in life is good, and as long as it does not violate halachah, then what would be wrong with using different methods?”

“A Spa for Mind, Body and Soul” will take place Feb
16-19 for women and Feb 19-22 for couples at the Le Parker Meridian Hotel in
Palm Springs. For more information, visit www.baischana.org/couples.html  or call (800) 473-4801.

Mind, Body and Soul


What do women want? Happiness, family and to shed those last 10 pounds. Women can learn how to accomplish all this and more at an educational conference produced by women and designed to meet the needs and wants of women.

"Exercising Your Mind; Minding Your Body," the fourth annual Women’s Community Conference, offers Southern California women a unique learning experience. A joint effort of the Hadassah Southern California Northern Area and the University of Judaism (UJ) department of continuing education, the daylong event on Sunday, March 10, aims to expand women’s spiritual and physical knowledge. Speakers, ranging from UCLA professors and Los Angeles-area rabbis to pediatricians and clinical psychologists, will tackle topics such as "The Women’s Revolution in Judaism," "What Color Is Your Diet?" and "Families and Other Unusual Life Forms."

"We want to explore health and spiritual topics that are meaningful to today’s Southern California women," said Roz Kantor, Northern Area chairperson. The conference is for women of all ages, from all Jewish movements and also non-Jewish women.

The more than 5,000 Hadassah Southern California Northern Area group members range from newlyweds in their late 20s to grandmothers in their late 80s. To accommodate the interests of all the women, the conference will present insights into all stages of a woman’s life. A new mother may be interested in seminars like "Using the Jewish Tradition to Raise Caring Kids" and "The Challenge of Raising a Challenged Child," while a mother of grown children may be drawn to "Midlife Challenges Not Midlife Crises" and "This Can’t Possibly Be My Life."

The conference not only will explore the different stages of a woman’s life, but also the different elements. Seminars will cover a woman’s mind, body and soul.

"We have something for everyone. Talks on diet and nutrition, women of the Torah, Israeli politics, stem cell research and even herbal medicine," said Debbie Kessler, the Women’s Community Conference co-chair. "Since its inception four years ago, the conference has aimed to educate women on multiple aspects of their lives."

The international Hadassah organization, over 300,000 strong, started as a women’s study group in 1912 and contributes much of its funds to Jerusalem’s Hadassah College of Technology. And so, the leaders of the Northern Area Chapter, felt it only appropriate to create an event dedicated to self-education.

"Since education is a cornerstone of our organization, it seemed fitting to start an educational day — a day for women to come together and learn," Kantor said.

To further enhance the day’s educational component, Hadassah invited the UJ to co-sponsor the event. "UJ is a renown Jewish educational institution right here in our area, and it made sense to join forces with them," Kantor said.

The UJ also saw the cooperation as an easy match. "Our mission is to provide a multitude of opportunities that enrich the lives of various segments of the population. To work with a group such as Hadassah was not only a pleasure, but a true fulfillment of this mission," said Gady Levy, UJ continuing education dean.

Levy emphasized the university’s excitement over the joint venture. "The conference provides our community with such a meaningful day of education, and the caliber of this program is something we’re very proud of," Levy said.

The UJ not only lends the conference academic prowess, but physical facilities. In past years, the conference was limited to 175 attendees, but this year’s university campus venue enables the conference to increase to 300 participants. "The event just keeps getting better and bigger. We have so many women who return every year, and now we can accommodate both returning and first-time attendees," Kessler said.

The 300 women will begin their day with a kosher continental breakfast, attend one of four morning seminars, have a kosher box lunch and then choose one of four afternoon seminars. The conference also features three keynote speakers (at the start, middle and end of the day), as well as a book sale and signing.

"Hadassah is a dynamic, 90-year-young organization, and we welcome and encourage all women to come to the conference and be a part of us," Kantor said.

The conference will run from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. at the University of Judaism, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel-Air, and is open to everyone.

Registration is $40. Same day walk-up attendees may attend on a space-available basis, and sign-language interpreters will be provided. For more information, contact Hadassah Southern California Northern Area at (818)783-3488.

Exercising the Mind


As we enter the new millennium, fitness professionals are becoming more aware of the movement toward spiritual forms of exercise. Programs like Pilates, Yoga, Tai Chi, meditation, and body work are common in fitness clubs and community centers. To keep up with today’s stressful lifestyles, we must do more than increase our heart rates and pump iron to maintain maximum health. Mind and body fitness can facilitate this by achieving inner balance and harmony in mind, body and spirit.

One way to practice mind and body fitness is through meditation. Methods of meditation were used in ancient Judaic times by focusing on certain words or prayers. Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan has written two books on Jewish meditation: "Jewish Meditation, a Practical Guide" and "Meditation and the Bible."

According to Kaplan, Judaism produced one of the more important systems of meditation. "There is also evidence that during the period when the Bible was written [until approximately 400 b.c.e.], meditation was practiced by a large proportion of the Israelite people," he maintains.

Today, meditation is becoming much more mainstream and has crossed religious barriers once associated with it. Rabbi Jonathan Omer-Man, founder and rabbi emeritus of Metivta, a center for contemplative Judaism, describes meditation as a "profound and demanding practice" which "clears the obstacles in our mind, to help us perceive the underlying realities, the divine."

Meditation produces a state of deep relaxation that has been known to reverse the stress process. Focus is key. By focusing on our breath or a mantra, we are able to quiet our minds and still our constant chatter. Meditation should be thought of as an exercise program. You would not run on the treadmill once a week and expect any results. The same is true of meditation. A regular meditation program of 10 minutes a day will produce psychological as well as physiological benefits.

The following is a basic meditation exercise for beginners:

Sit or lie in a comfortable position.

Close your eyes and relax.

Focus on your breath entering and leaving your body. (Place your hands on your abdomen; feel it expand and collapse with each breath).

At the exhalation, count each breath, from 1 to 10; repeat.

Repeat a phrase that has meaning to you. It could be a phrase from the Bible, such as Deuteronomy 4:15: "Take you, therefore, good heed of your souls." It could also be a single word, such as "Shema."

Continue the meditation for 10 to 20 minutes. If the mind begins to wander, calmly direct it back to the task.

The Editor’s Corner


My mother is87. Or is it 90? As long as I can remember, I thought that she hadbeen born in 1910, was named Miriam Euffa, and brought here from Kievas a 5-year-old by parents who were educated, and who had been partof what must have been a turn-of-the-century minority: theRussian-Ukrainian Jewish professional class. Now Medicare tells methat her Social Security card lists her year of birth as 1907.

At this point, I ask myself, what difference canit make? My mother has Alzheimer’s. The disease has ushered her intoa realm where days, weeks, years hardly seem to matter. Until just afew days ago, she resided in Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where shewas recovering from pneumonia (which she apparently contracted aftershe broke her hip and underwent surgery at Midway Hospital inJanuary, followed by three weeks of physical therapy at the BeverlyHills Rehabilitation Center in February).

Thanks to her two-month period of extended stay inthese three separate medical facilities, I have become knowledgeable(and dismayed) about hospital life for the elderly. I have watched mymother move rapidly from living as a woman who was mobile,semi-independent and trapped in the early stages of Alzheimer’s tosomeone who is now a patient, stripped bare, functioning in a stateof helplessness, or what a doctor described as delusionalpsychosis.

Is this a natural decline, one in which the bodymalfunctions and the Alzheimer’s mind quickly follows suit? Or is it,in some large measure, a fallout from our cutting-edge,multimillion-dollar corporate hospital system? I have come to believethat this health-care system, with the best intentions in the world,failed me and the aging parent I turned over to their highlyspecialized care.

I know, this could just be my way of release, anexpression of despair, depression and, yes, an underlying ragebursting through after months of frustration. My mother enteredCedars because she had been overmedicated and had become highlyagitated. Once she was admitted, Cedars’ proficient medical expertisecame into play: Tests were given; X-rays taken; new medicationprescribed. It became evident that several weeks earlier, either atMidway or at the Beverly Hills Rehab Center, water had settled in herlungs. She had contracted pneumonia, but it had not shown up before,or else no one had noticed.

Treatment for pneumonia moved into high gear, but,in the process, her mind became more disoriented. Medication for herdementia became a hit-and-miss affair as doctors struggled valiantlyto find a combination of drugs and a proper dosage that would serveher (and the nurses) well. And I rediscovered what had begun to dawnon me earlier– namely, that the operating procedures at all threemedical facilities ran counter to my mother’s particular needs. Toput it bluntly, while the pneumonia was checked, her mental stateslipped radically. She needed individual care, and that apparentlywas outside the hospitals’, and the rehabilitation center’s, range ofcaregiving — in part for budgetary (read financial) concerns, inpart for organizational reasons. Had I known then the limitations andconsequences of her hospital care, I would have limited her stay ineach medical institution to a bare minimum.

The catalog of breakdowns over the two months hasbeen extensive, but I will cite only a few. At Cedars, for example,someone had been inattentive and let my mother struggle out of bedalone. She has no short-term memory and, so, is unaware that shecannot yet walk. The result: She fell on her head. A quick trip toX-ray revealed that this 90-pound 90-year-old sustained only a bump,soreness and some swelling. No concussion, no broken neck or hip, nosevere damage. And no immediate or direct communication withme.

In part, because of this fear for her safety, thenursing staff began tying her down in a quite effective way: arestraining band across her chest and, at times, her feet strapped tothe ends of the bed frame. I walked in once at Cedars to find herscreaming frantically for help, unclear where she was (she thoughtprison) or why these people had tied her down and locked the door.She was agitated and terrified. And convinced that the nurses wereplotting against her. Why else would they treat her this way?

The nurses were clearsighted about the answers.First, she was “restrained” to protect her from falling and breakingher hip again. Second, the door was closed because she made too muchnoise, calling for assistance or simply asking for attention. Inshort, she was a nuisance, and there was neither time nor staff tofill these needs of hers. She was being protected for her own good,to be sure, but there was a strong likelihood, as her doctorsverified to me, that she also was being driven mad.

“The reality is,” explained one of the nurses, “weare not equipped to give patients one-on-one care. Someone like yourmother needs an available nurse around the clock. We don’t providethat.” Hire private nurses, one of her doctors advised me. Eitherthat or send the family to care for her.

The difficulty appears to be that the system inplace is designed for maintaining order and organizationalefficiency, for diagnosing and treating illness, for deliveringbabies and removing someone’s appendix, for heart surgery andrespiratory ailments, but not necessarily for the individual care ofthose elderly who require personal attention. “Get your mother out ofhere as soon as possible,” a staff member at the rehab centerconfided to me when I complained that my mother’s needs were oftenignored and that her bed often reeked of urine. “This place hasexcellent facilities and people for physical therapy,” I was told,”but is totally unprepared to deal with Alzheimer patients.”

The problem largely has to do with money. Theresimply are not enough funds available to cover one-on-one nursingcare. Or at least it is not given high enough priority. Hospitals arestruggling to raise dollars in order to provide decent medical care.Medicare payments barely scratch the surface of costs andexpenses.

Fault also lies with the nursing system that hasbeen put in place. Nurses rotate on 12-hour shifts and are assignedeight or nine different rooms and patients each shift. What they arenot given is a set of individual men and women whom they follow fromadmission to release. The process works against the possibility thatnurses will become familiar with the rhythm of a patient’s life, orthat they will empathize or bond with anyone in their care. It makesfor impersonality when precisely the opposite is often desperatelyneeded for many seniors.

It also leads to a reporting system that isparticularistic but rarely complete. Nurses can only report todoctors what they have observed during their shift: percentage offood eaten, medication taken, a rasping cough, agitation. But thereis little intimate linking of these facts to the rise and fall of apatient’s mood, spirits or progress. When I made these observationsto a doctor, he exclaimed, wearily, that he had been fighting thatbattle (in vain, he implied) for more than 10 years.

One evening, when I slept in my mother’s room, Iheard a woman crying for help. She was half awake, half asleep nextdoor. I looked to see if a nurse was available. Yes. Someone was atthe nursing station, another nurse in the corridor. I went back tobed. But the cries — a constant moan now from a wan, elderly,delirious woman — continued. It had become half plea, half chant. Islipped into her room, touched her forehead and held her hand. Shequieted. What she seemed to want was assurance that she was notalone, abandoned in some strange, twilight world.

In fairness, I should add that not all the nursesare inured to the plight of patients or exhibitthis form ofdistance. Two, in particular, who pulled a shift with my mother –Marlene Williams and Daisy da Silva — responded to her in verycaring ways. But then I discovered they were LVNs (licensedvocational nurses), subordinate to the RNs. They had not had time, Ithought, to be subsumed by the system.

Then there are the physicians. They are the Lordsof the Manor, but, alas, mostly visiting Lords. The doctors I came toknow at Cedars, those responsible for my mother’s well-being — JayJordan, a cardiologist and her main physician; Ronald J. Davidson, apsychiatrist and her geriatric doctor; and Martin Gordon, a pulmonaryspecialist (along with Isaac Schmidt, her surgeon from MidwayHospital) — were all splendid, top-of-the-line, well-trained, caringand straightforward. No sentimentalizing, no euphemisms. Concernedfor their patient and concerned for me.

The gap between them and the daily life of thehospital — where, for the most part, they diagnose and prescribe forpatients and seem to function somewhat like specialized consultants– is enormous. They speak to the relevant nurses, who implement thecare, but who manage patients according to rotational shifts.

What gets passed along then are literal messages,often by telephone: Do this; stop that; change the medication. Allwritten down and passed along from one nurse to another. The rest,the details, the context, the exceptions, the parenthetical asides,the possibility that something may be amiss outside the illness thatis being treated, these all fall between the cracks. There are fewlengthy exchanges — little in the way of discussion.

It will probably come as no surprise to you thatabove and beyond the hospital bills, which Medicare and my mother’ssecondary insurance mainly covered, I hired two private caregiverswho agreed to look after my mother in the hospital, each taking a12-hour shift six days a week. They were not registered nurses,though they had considerable experience caring for seniors,particularly those with Alzheimer’s. The doctors listened attentively(and with gratitude) to their comments on my mother’s health andstate of being, for these caregivers became the best and mostconsistent guide to her moods, her behavior and her health — eventhough they were outside the hospital’s regimen and were notofficially accountable or responsible for her medicaltreatment.

I realize after the fact that what I had set upwas a process of caring for the sick and dying outside the legalentity we call a hospital. Actually, it is a practice I firstobserved more than 30 years ago, when I was a young journalist inWest Africa. There, I witnessed a handful of overworked well-traineddoctors ministering to more people than seemed humanly manageable.Alongside them, an overwhelmed cadre of nurses, not trained well byour standards, tried their best to render patient care underconditions that would never pass muster in the United States.

But every family shared the burden of caring fortheir sisters, brothers, parents, nieces and nephews by moving intothe hospital room. They remained there until it was possible to bringtheir relative home — or until death silenced everyone. It is ironicto me that in the midst of high-powered multimillion-dollar medicalinstitutions, great and wonderful and humane complexes, complete withsuperbly trained doctors, that is where I now find myself.

Early last week, I spoke to my mother’s doctors.Was there any point in keeping her in the hospital? I asked. Couldshe not just as easily be ill at home? Perhaps with more dignity? Andperhaps with more personal attention, since the two women who tendedher in the hospital will take turns living and caring for her. And ifshe is dying, is it not more humane to let her live her last monthsin her apartment, surrounded by familiar objects and personal voices,than in a hospital room? A place where we can all eat and laughtogether, touching her and letting her eavesdrop on us as we play outthe cycle of our lives?

Their answers were rational, direct, filled withcommon sense. Last Saturday, I removed my mother from the hospital.We carted home an oxygen connector and a backup tank. — GeneLichtenstein, Editor

For a story with a happier ending, see WendyMadnik’s description of The Jewish Home for the Aging.