AJWS expands focus on Ebola prevention, education


When the magnitude of the Ebola crisis became clear in August, Ruth Messinger, president of American Jewish World Service (AJWS) and her team contacted the 10 Liberian organizations AJWS supports to ask whether the agencies would like to change course from other social service activities to focus on the evolving emergency.

“We could alter your grant and increase the resources you have if you would like to become a part of a brigade of community health workers,” Messinger recalled offering the groups; she spoke on Nov. 18 with Rabbi Sharon Brous, founder of IKAR, before a small audience at the home of AJWS board member Bill Resnick and his husband, Michael Stubbs.

All 10 organizations agreed, and in August AJWS launched a special emergency response fund with the goal of raising $1 million, of which more than $850,000 has already been collected. AJWS’ aim is to combat a climate of fear and misinformation by disseminating accurate information to communities across Liberia, where AJWS has collaborated with and funded grass-roots organizations since 2003.

Prior to the Ebola crisis, AJWS primarily directed its grants toward organizations assisting marginalized communities — first the efforts of activist Leymah Gbowee, whose work with women helped end a civil war in 2003 and eventually earned her a Nobel Peace Prize, and later a range of organizations working to end discrimination against women and to provide underprivileged populations access to natural resources.

However, the fast-moving devastation of the Ebola epidemic necessitated an immediate shift in focus, Messinger said. Organizations such as Mano River Women’s Peace Network, Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa, Foundation for Community Initiatives and Bassa Women Development Association have changed course to assist in the national effort.

Where AJWS normally focuses primarily on defending the rights of women, LGBT people and other marginalized groups, it is now working with its partner organizations to spread information about Ebola prevention and treatment , with people reaching out house to house or broadcasting over  the radio and by targeting community leaders, including local ministers and imams. To increase the availability of accurate information, workers from these organizations are also training other Liberians to be community health advocates.

The Ebola crisis “is much more than a health problem or a public health problem,” Messenger said. “It is a system-wide challenge to a barely shaped and formed government.”

By example, Messenger quoted a recent exchange with AJWS’ only Liberian staff person, Dayugar Johnson: “Our kids are out of school without knowing when they will return. There is a partial closure for a lot of things: Most clinics and hospitals are still closed, schools at every level are closed, some business are closed, etc.

“The Ebola outbreak has placed a lot of strain on me and my family,” Johnson added. “We have had to change our way of life and daily routine to the point that our neighbors who were not taking the outbreak seriously felt somehow offended when I asked their children and them to stay at their house and stopped the children from playing together.”

Since the outbreak began, this sort of skepticism about the existence of Ebola, its source and its treatment has made it difficult for health groups to implement a consistent and deliberate response.

Imagine if you were part of a group in your congregation charged with washing the bodies of the deceased, Messinger pressed, “and all of a sudden there are basically, and sometimes actually, masked personnel from a government you don’t trust or from the West telling you that these practices must stop immediately.

“It is a constant challenge for all of us to really put ourselves in the minds of other people and think about how they see this,” Messinger continued. “You would have to have a big level of trust and analytic understanding to believe that you should, in fact, suspend everything you do.”

For that reason, Messinger said, she finds it difficult to believe in the accuracy of the tallies of confirmed Ebola cases and of the deceased. Some Liberians, she said, are probably continuing to practice their traditional burial customs despite being urged otherwise.

Nevertheless, Messinger cautioned against the hysteria American politicians and the media here have helped create. “Everything you read about this crisis needs to be taken as both a piece of the truth and not at all the whole truth,” Messinger warned.

“The scariest thing about this, both internationally and locally, is that day by day, every second story about Ebola is exactly the same as a story about HIV or AIDS in the 1980s,” she said, referring to the widespread dissemination of false information and pseudoscience.

“Everyone who asks you about Ebola spreading in this country, there is just a very simple thing to ask them: Have you gotten your flu shot? You can go to any drugstore in Los Angeles and get your flu shot today, and you should do that, because many, many, many more people in this country will die of the flu than will ever see Ebola,” Messinger said.

At closing, Rabbi Brous emphasized that there is a silver lining to the United States’ renewed focus on African health and politics. “There is a humanizing element here that is very powerful,” Brous said, “and we who care about global human rights issues and humanity outside of our daled amot — as we say, our immediate circles — should actually be taking advantage of the heightened sensitivity right now, and instead of using it to be fearful about the spread of Ebola locally, [use it] to awaken people to a sense of responsibility globally.” Messinger and AJWS know this to be true. 

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


Reports: Child Abuse on the Rise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For a list of resources, visit http://www.lachildabusecouncils.org/, http://www.jfsla.org or http://www.vistadelmar.org.

— Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Senior Writer

Christian University Establishes Jewish Studies Program, Jewish Scholarship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Senior Writer

Baca Shares Israeli War Visit at El Cab

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

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

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

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

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

— Brad A. Greenberg, Senior Writer

African AIDS fight uses Israeli circumcision skills


In a clinic in Swaziland, Israeli doctors have been training their counterparts in male circumcision, hoping expertise in the ancient technique will help in the battle against the modern scourge of AIDS.

The United Nations announced last year that the procedure could reduce the rate of HIV transmission by up to 60 percent. It was in Israel, with its experience performing adult male circumcision on a wide scale, that the international medical community found an unlikely partner in the global fight against AIDS.

“Israeli medicine and public health are positioned as a real asset in African countries,” said Dr. Inon Schenker, a director of Operation Abraham, the consortium that sent the doctors to Swaziland and plans to send more training teams to Africa. “They recognize the expertise and experience gained in Israel over the past decade, where close to 100,000 [adult] male circumcisions have been conducted.”

Israel’s accidental expertise in conducting large-scale numbers of adult male circumcisions came with the mass wave of immigration from the former Soviet Union, which brought with it a dramatic rise in men requesting the procedure.

To meet the demand, Israeli hospitals set up special circumcision clinics in five hospitals throughout the country. In turn, Israeli doctors gained unique experience in performing a high number of procedures efficiently.

It’s a model organization, such as the World Health Organization (WHO), and the United Nations would like to see it replicated in Africa as a tool for helping combat the spread of HIV.

Answering the call has been Operation Abraham, a team of Israeli doctors and AIDS educators — Jews, Muslims and Christians — who this year made three training trips to Swaziland, in what is considered a pilot program that they hope is just the start of their work. The organization has had requests to do a similar training program in Uganda, Lesotho, Namibia, Kenya and South Africa.

Their work is sponsored by the Jerusalem AIDS project and the Hadassah Medical Center, and they hope to recruit surgeons from abroad.

Dr. Eitan Gross, a pediatric surgeon at the Hadassah hospital in Ein Kerem, who was in Swaziland and is the medical director of Operation Abraham, said he was surprised initially to hear that surgery could play a role in preventing the spread of AIDS.

Research has shown that male circumcision reduces the chance of HIV infection. Experts say the scientific evidence has shown that specific cells on the penis foreskin appear to be targeted by the virus. It also has been found that an unremoved foreskin can trap the virus on the skin, making infection more likely.

Gross said he was moved by his time in Swaziland, which has one of the highest rates of HIV infection in the world. The average life expectancy in the country has plummeted to 31 years.

“People came of their own free will,” he said. “There was no publicity to draw them…. When we spoke to the men who came, many of them in their 20s and 30s, they told us about living amid the epidemic and what it’s like to see so many people die.”

Although nearly 30 percent of the world’s men are circumcised, the practice is quite rare in many southern African countries, where AIDS has become pandemic.

Dr. Jamal Garah, an Israeli Arab pediatrician, was among the Israeli doctors in Swaziland. He has experience in performing male circumcisions, usually on babies or young children in Israel’s Muslim community.

“It’s fitting that our project is named after Abraham,” he said. “It symbolizes a measure of unity to give the message to other people that we can work together.”

Officials from the WHO traveled to Jerusalem in 2006 to gather information on Israel’s expertise in the field.

“The circumstances in which adult male circumcision are done in some institutions in Israel are generally of a high standard with few complications,” said Dr. Tim Hargreave, a leading British urological surgeon and WHO technical adviser, explaining the organization’s interest in Israel’s experience.

Drawing in part on Israeli methodology, Hargreave helped author the WHO manual on male circumcision, which along with a teaching course, is being used as part of government male circumcision programs in several African countries.

Dr. Kiron Koshy was one of the doctors working in Swaziland who was trained by the Israeli team. He now conducts as many as 15 male circumcisions a week at a Catholic mission hospital near the Mozambique border — more than twice the rate he was performing previously.

“I have now learned the technique, and I can work faster,” Koshy said in a phone interview from Swaziland. “There are a lot of people coming in for the operation, and I think the numbers are only going to increase.”

Meanwhile, in San Francisco, Don Abramson, a former chairman of American Jewish World Service who has been advocating for the project, said he hopes it will help galvanize Diaspora Jewry to fight one of the world’s biggest problems. One of his ideas is to encourage Jews around the world to donate money to Operation Abraham whenever they attend a bris.

“My message to Jewish families is that a bris affirms the Divine covenant relationship with the child, but also demonstrates that their friends and family who care about the child celebrate that the child is healthy enough to have a bris,” Abramson said. “A contribution to Project Abraham demonstrates a desire for others to be alive and healthy, as well, and could be a life-saving act.”

Sculpture? It’s a Klapper! Ballet in Bel Air


On the Town

Dr. Robert Klapper is one amazing guy. He’s a world-renowned orthopedic surgeon whose patients include Dustin Hoffman, Sasha Baron Cohen and Brett Ratner. He holds numerous patents for surgical tools. He is an avid surfer. He sculpts pietas out of imported Italian marble from the same quarry that Michelangelo used. And, at the opening of his exhibit at his own art gallery this past Saturday night, we overheard someone saying that he is always upbeat and cheerful. Always.Dr. Robert KlapperTrue to form, Klapper was charming the socks off of his patients (Elliot Gould was the only recognizable face), friends and supporters at the Klapper Gallery on Beverly Boulevard in the shadow of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where he is the Clinical Chief of Orthopedic Surgery. Raised in New York, educated at Columbia and Cornell and now living in several homes in the southland, the good doctor is a Jewish mother’s dream come true.

Sadly, Klapper’s own mother was not there to bear witness to what he appears to consider his greatest accomplishment: a gallery full of gleaming white half-finished Michelangelo-inspired marble statues. His mother-in-law was there and she’s a huge fan of The Jewish Journal.

The exhibit, titled “Michelangelo’s Slaves,” pays homage to the great artist’s unfinished slaves lining the walkway leading up to the monumental David. Klapper was particularly taken by the slaves’ struggle to break free from the stone surrounding them and has mimicked that style in every one of his sculptures.

The subjects he decided to chisel out of the incredibly heavy slabs of stone shipped to Los Angeles from Carrara in large boxes, called coffins, reflect the doctor’s scattered interests: Abraham, “The Sixth Sense,” The Surfer, “Ghost,” Noah, Mary, Pieta…

It seemed odd that a Jewish man would be moved to lovingly recreate a pivotal moment in Christian iconography, but then the artist explained that a mother losing her son is a universally touching subject.

And Klapper is all about touching: touching people’s lives as a healer and touching people’s hearts with his art. This man may not be the next Michelangelo, but he sure is enjoying life a great deal more than the notoriously melancholy and dissatisfied Renaissance man.

— Dikla Kadosh, from The Calendar Girls blog

Scene and Heard …

When Daniel Pearl visited Mumbai, India for the first time, he was elated to discover a local jazz club, where he was invited to share his musical talent by playing alongside the regulars. The late journalist’s father, Judea Pearl, shared this anecdote at a sumptuous Indian feast of sag paneer and curry at the home of Dr. B.K. and Mrs. Veena Mod in Beverly Hills, where Judea and his wife, Ruth Pearl, were honored. Indian dignitaries, the Hon. Vilasrao Deshmukh, chief minister of Maharashtra, and the Hon. Ashok Chavan, cabinet minister of industries and culture paid tribute to the Pearls’ work through the Daniel Pearl Foundation, which promotes cross-cultural understanding through journalism and music-Daniel Pearl’s favorite pursuits.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) was honored with the California Distinguished Advocacy Award for his public policy work on behalf of cancer prevention. Allan and Dorothy Jonas and Helene Brown hosted the American Cancer Society benefit Aug. 8 at the Regency Club. Waxman is known, among other things, for sponsoring a controversial bill banning federal funding for the Red Line subway in response to a methane gas explosion in the Fairfax district in 1985. When underground tunneling was deemed safe again, he introduced a bill lifting the ban, which passed unanimously in September 2006. He is also widely recognized for his hard-hitting approach to fighting the tobacco industry.

After my fellow Calendar Girl Dikla Kadosh wrote a critical review of a June 28 Sababa party in Hollywood, the disgruntled organizer bombarded her with angry e-mails disputing her report that attendance was low. An acquaintance of ours attended the most recent Sababa bash on Aug. 9 and informed us that once again the party suffered from slim attendance. Coincidence, or catastrophe?

Bel Air met the ballet, Chanel and Wolfgang Puck on July 24 when Robin and Elliott Broidy hosted 360 guests at an American Ballet Theatre (ABT) fundraiser dinner. Co-chaired by Avery and Andy Barth, Lori and Michael Milken and Laura and Jamie Rosenwald, the event raised eyebrows and $325 grand. Four-thousand red and white roses bloomed toward the stars while lilies and gardenias floated in the pool. ABT’s principal dancers performed scenes from “Sleeping Beauty,” “Gopak” and “Don Quixote” atop a stage covered in cascading ivy and flanked by phalaenopsis orchids. Wolfgang Puck Catering nourished guests Sheriff Lee Baca, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, Florence and Harry Sloan and designer Monique Lhuillier with sweet corn risotto and miso-glazed salmon, while ladies in designer drapery were careful not to spill.


From left, hosts Elliott and Robin Broidy with co-chairs Lori and Michael Milken

How one Boston synagogue met the challenge of the cantor’s sexual abuse


As an attorney representing several victims of sexually predatory Catholic priests, Mark Itzkowitz has witnessed the church’s pedophilia scandal from an almost too-close-for-comfort vantage point.

“Some of the details are absolutely horrifying,” said Itzkowitz, 49, who lives in the Boston area. “I’ve seen things that have made my blood run cold.”

Not long ago, Itzkowitz’s life took a surreal turn when he found himself confronting clergy sexual abuse from a different perspective: The problem had come home to roost in his own synagogue.

Robert Shapiro, the esteemed, longtime cantor of Temple Beth Am, a Conservative synagogue in Randolph, Mass., was accused of repeatedly molesting a mentally challenged congregant, a woman in her late 20s and early 30s when the incidents allegedly occurred between 2001 and 2003.

When the news broke in early February 2003, Beth Am was within days of again renewing the then-70-year-old Shapiro’s contract.

“The people in the synagogue would have followed him to the ends of the earth,” Itzkowitz said. “He had been there longer than the rabbi — more than 20 years.”

Once the shock of the disclosure wore off, Beth Am leaders regrouped and tried to figure out how to manage the situation. That involved not only ensuring that criminal, civil and moral justice would prevail but also preventing the congregation from disintegrating.

In-house guidelines were nonexistent. And attempts to find advice from officials at the Conservative movement’s headquarters were unsuccessful, according to both Itzkowitz, the synagogue board’s attorney, and its rabbi, Loel Weiss.

While Jewish morality is founded on the Torah and other sacred texts, “synagogues aren’t Coca-Cola or IBM churning out specific policies and procedures on right and wrong,” Weiss said. “There is a certain expectation that in a religious institution, people will act properly. But what could have been written on a piece of paper? My mind doesn’t think in those terms.”

Weiss said the little practical information he found that helped guide him through “this hell,” as he put it, was contained in a book about a suburban New Jersey congregation whose rabbi had become involved in a major crime.

“It confirmed my instincts that we needed to give people in the congregation a chance to share their sadness,” Weiss said. “Remember that even before the allegations had been confirmed, people were basically sitting shiva for a longtime cantor who was in many cases a friend of theirs.”

The task faced by Beth Am was daunting: While the case was being investigated internally — and by the police — the rights of the alleged perpetrator and the victim and her family had to be preserved. Meanwhile, the congregation had to be protected. So Shapiro was suspended with pay pending completion of the police investigation.

That probe ultimately revealed that the victim had been assaulted at the synagogue, at Shapiro’s home, in his pool, in a car and elsewhere. Shapiro was allowed to be alone with the woman because he was a trusted friend of her family, who eventually sued Shapiro, as well as Beth Am, Weiss and the former congregation president.

The latter three defendants were dismissed from the suit after the judge determined they could not have known that Shapiro posed a risk, according to news accounts.
Regarding damage control at Beth Am, Itzkowitz said he resolved to do the opposite of what the Catholic Church had done when its priests became embroiled in controversy.

Rather than circling the wagons, stonewalling and failing to acknowledge the community’s anguish, Beth Am officials would be forthcoming, compassionate and responsive, he said.

Since Shapiro had privately tutored many bar and bat mitzvah students, several parents were concerned that their children might also have been victimized. Synagogue representatives were able to assuage their fears, however, noting that there was no evidence of other incidents involving the cantor — at Beth Am or elsewhere.

“This was not a case where somebody passed the buck to us,” Weiss said.

Shapiro originally was charged with seven counts of rape, but as part of a deal with prosecutors, he pleaded guilty in September 2005 to 14 counts of indecent assault and battery on a mentally retarded person. He was sentenced to one year of house arrest and 10 years probation.

Last year, a civil court jury ordered Shapiro to pay $5.2 million to the victim and $750,000 to her parents — an award that will total $8.4 million, including interest, according to the lawyer representing the victim and her family.

“If there is such a thing as a victory in this case,” Itzkowitz said, it is that Beth Am remained intact.

The 400-family synagogue lost no congregants during the ordeal, except the victim and her family.

“And until they come back,” Itzkowitz added, “we haven’t really won.”

An attorney representing the family did not respond to a JTA request for comment, and an attorney representing Shapiro said his client would not comment.

In the wake of the incident, the synagogue has instituted a policy aimed at preventing another one. Beth Am clergy are now prohibited from being alone in the synagogue with any individual, child or adult.

“It’s good in theory,” Weiss said, “but it doesn’t work from a practical standpoint.”

That is one of the many lessons — practical, moral and spiritual — that have been learned in the wake of the Shapiro case.

Weiss and Itzkowitz came away with a renewed sense of affection and admiration for the Beth Am community, which they said responded with courage, restraint and cohesiveness.

But because of his vocation, Itzkowitz encountered the ordeal from a unique perspective. As an attorney, he had already seen his share of lives ruined and houses of worship shattered by sexually predatory clergymen.

And as a result, he offered this sobering advice to any congregation: “Don’t think it can’t happen to you.”

What’s So Bad About Torture?


Suppose your child were kidnapped.

She is buried alive with a limited air supply. Police arrest one of the kidnappers. Indeed, he was on a store videotape luring the child and then abducting her. Witnesses saw him put the child in a car. His handwriting is on the ransom note. He admits he knows where she is but remains stubbornly unresponsive.

The police by-the-rules interrogation moves slowly, it seems, against the clock. The kidnapper’s record and demeanor indicate clearly that he would respond to graduated pain. The only way to save the girl is to intimidate and physically hurt this man.

If your child’s life were on the line, would you condone rough treatment?

In our society, the parent does not make this judgment. The civil authorities properly do. Because, for one thing, parents might want to kill this person with their bare hands, even after torture had done its job. And that would violate the due process that is fundamental to our system, which properly protects civil liberties, even when a life is at stake.

Our government, too, has an interest in saving this child’s life in this situation — and in doing almost anything necessary to save lives that are in imminent peril. And the minute you accept that, you understand the folly of blanket prohibitions against torture when confronting terrorism.

The situation here is analogous to the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, when the Clinton administration naively used the criminal justice system to prosecute the perpetrators, as if their act were an isolated crime, rather than go after the terrorist organization that launched their mission.

How, then, does our Western system apply to the global war on terror?

To answer that, it helps to recognize the scope of terrorism, which is more varied and pervasive than many commonly realize. The terrorists will not always be Islamists. And, even now, not all Muslim terrorists are religious zealots lining up for virgins in heaven.

The anti-Soviet Muslim groups in Chechnya are more nationalistic than religious. Many secular Palestinian groups want to destroy Israel, not conquer the world for Islam.

Still, our primary concern in the years and, possibly decades, ahead is mainly with the Islamo-fascists who would indeed use violence to impose Islam — whether they are part of an organized Al Qaeda-like group or lone rangers.

The military supremacy of the United States with the fall of the Soviet Union ended the era of classic war, with military forces that engage on land, air and sea, culminating in a defined victory for one side. Instead, smaller nation-states or, more likely, renegade movements that may or may not find sanctuary in states will lack the “rationality” that constrained other bad guys of times past, like the former Soviet Union.

They won’t heed, as did the Soviets, the nuclear deterrent of mutually assured destruction. Nor would they ascribe to the economic rationality that inhibits an ambitious China and other ascendant powers that look beyond military hegemony.

In contrast, consider how a mullah in Iran responded recently when asked whether Iran ought to explode a nuclear bomb in Israel, given that so many Arabs live in Israel, in the West Bank and in adjacent countries. Thousands of Arabs would be killed, if not immediately, then through radiation disease and toxic cancers. The mullah was unmoved, because he said the key was simply killing the Jews in Israel and destroying that country.

This is not your father’s Cold War-style conflict. And this scary Iranian theocracy could look moderate compared to Islamist terrorist gangs that stalk us, who would lack even the arguable constraints that moderate Iran’s behavior. Even Iran must deal with Russia and Europe, and its anti-Semitic president still has a public to answer to at home.

President Bush, for all his proper focus on national security, has not sufficiently explained the peril of today’s asymmetric warfare. We’re not talking about an old-style IRA explosion that would kill several uniformed British soldiers or even about the targeting of civilians, including children. Regardless of what was found in Iraq, Americans do face an ongoing threat from weapons of mass destruction — nuclear, biological, radioactive and chemical — that could sicken, maim and kill vast numbers of noncombatants at a blow.

Torture truly could be a lesser evil when the stakes are this high.

Even so, torture could not be justified if it falls short by any of three measures that have been articulated recently by law professor Harvey Rishikof, who heads the national security strategy department of the National War College in Washington, D.C. Rishikof, who does not object to torture under all circumstances, lists these possible objections to torture: pragmatic, political and moral, which I will deal with one by one.

The Pragmatic Objection I, the Reciprocal Golden Rule: We shouldn’t torture, because we don’t want our soldiers and civilians treated that way when they are captured.

This precept certainly holds in normal warfare, For example, one side is deterred from using biological weapons for fear the other side would retaliate in kind. But no matter how nicely we interrogate terrorists, their side will never reciprocate. Their core value is that enemy soldiers have no rights either as combatants or even as fellow humans, and that civilians are no better than soldiers.

The Pragmatic Objection II: Torture does not work or is even counterproductive. Take the case of a civilian suspect who falsely confesses to a murder or a terrorism suspect who falsely implicates others in a nonexistent plot.

I accept that torture does not produce assured results, especially if it isn’t carried out both thoughtfully and rarely. But what about the case when it does work?

The argument over capital punishment offers a helpful analogy. Opponents of capital punishment, for example, argue that it is not actually a deterrent. But what if you could show them, say, just one person who was deterred from murder?

When I confronted actor Mike Farrell, a crusader against the death penalty, with this possibility, he quickly acknowledged that it didn’t matter, because he was morally opposed to capital punishment, regardless.

This was an honest and telling response. The lack-of-deterrence argument simply is a convenient rhetorical stratagem. I regard the pragmatic argument against torture the same way.

What if you show that torture is, in some circumstances, utilitarian? After all, how can you possibly know that in all cases torture will never work? My guess is that the pragmatic objection to torture morphs really into a more reasoned political or moral objection.

The Political Objection: There is an indisputable downside for the United States if we are perceived to condone torture. Yes, some U.S. soldiers deserved to be punished for what happened at Abu Ghraib. It was a stunning setback to our national image.

And it’s possible that some people have been wrongly imprisoned in Guantanamo. Many more have not. And we have gained information from prisoners there that has helped us apprehend key terrorists and prevent significant loss of life.

Besides, the people who hate us, hate us. No matter what we do, large segments of the Islamic world believe the worst about us, even though Americans have fought and died in Asia and Europe to help Muslims — from Bosnia to Afghanistan to Iraq. And of the countries around the world that sit in judgment on Guantanamo, nearly all have engaged in torture. And in many cases, I’m talking about their police, who use torture to investigate street crimes, as well as making it an instrument of state oppression against unarmed and peaceful dissidents.

The Moral Objection: It’s wrong to torture. Morality is intrinsically good but is the moral course clear?

Here we come full circle to the original scenario, that of the child whose life is in imminent danger. Except multiply that child by 10, by 100, by 1,000, by 1 million. What about a biochemical attack that could be hours away? The possibility is not far-fetched. Consider, too, the long-term increases in cancer rates in the wake of a terrorist nuclear attack and the profound damage to the environment.

The goal is prevention, not responding after the fact… after thousands or even tens of thousands have died, and hundreds of thousands and their offspring are toxically doomed. To prevent such a calamity, would it be moral not to torture?

The Geneva Accords intended for such formal military conflict certainly might not fit well to the instance of interrogating terrorists operating outside of nation-states. Under Geneva, even temporary exposure to heat or cold or sleep deprivation would be off limits.

Are we to avoid degrading treatment? Are stress techniques forbidden? Critics of the United States have classified as torture even techniques that leave no permanent marks and do no lasting physical harm. Writer Mark Bowden, author of “Black Hawk Down,” for one, does not the regard the manipulation of fear and anxiety as torture. Neither do I.

Consider the case of an Al Qaeda terrorist who did not respond for months to conventional interrogation. His interrogators eventually manufactured a fraudulent photograph of his wife and two children, with the Arabic caption, “They need their father’s love.” He broke, providing valuable information. Was this beyond the pale?

What if, in the future, a brain scan could yield lifesaving information? (We’re not talking Dr. Mengele here.) Would that “invasion of privacy” or “violation of due process” be going too far?

Critics constantly group into the word “torture” practices that stop well short of ripping people’s fingernails off or mutilation. Is it OK to be mentally intrusive or hassle a detainee psychologically?

According to Rishikof, interrogators, under certain evolved and tortured definitions of torture, can’t even scare or threaten someone.

Let me be clear: I am not in any way advocating that our government should torture a criminal who commits arson or bombs the store that fired him. Even though that looks like terrorism, these acts are fundamentally crimes. And torture should never be used as punishment, , although it might be used to apprehend terrorist perpetrators, as was reportedly done by the CIA following the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut that killed CIA employees. My argument concerns what to do about a terrorist organization, and ultimately, doing what’s necessary to prevent a terrorist attack.

Opponents of torture talk about a worrisome, slippery slope, but the more worrisome and dangerous slide may be on the other side, when anything outside of “Adam 12” and the reading of Miranda rights becomes unacceptable.

Arnold Steinberg is a political strategist and analyst who serves on the Board of Visitors for the National Defense University. This article represents only his personal views.

Israel Security Experts Advise L.A.


The topic was terrorism. “How underprepared are we in the U.S.?”

“Very.”

That exchange, between an emergency care physician at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and Dr. Jonathan Halevy, director of Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, was part of an ongoing effort in Los Angeles to change the answer.

Almost immediately after Sept. 11, El Al’s legendary security became a model for improving procedures at American airports. Now the scope has broadened, and Los Angeles hopes to learn from Israel’s hard-won knowledge of terrorism, prevention and response. Local officials for law enforcement, private security and medical care are reaching out to their Israeli counterparts for answers: What do we do if, or when, it happens here?

“[Suicide bombing] is likely to start happening here,” says Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff Mark Seibel. For 10 days in late April, Seibel traveled throughout Israel with deputies and LAPD bomb-squad members, visiting sites of previous attacks and going through the paces of prevention and response with Israeli national police.

“There’s things they do there that we can do here,” Seibel says. Though he could not share details of law enforcement tactics or plans, Seibel did offer one area where local agencies are taking cues from Israel. “Patrolmen get briefings from the bomb squad twice a year on the procedures of the bad guy,” in order to know what to look out for, and civilian versions of those briefings are presented to high school students. Seibel believes the average Israeli high school student has a level of awareness of danger signs equal to any patrol officer in America. “They share information fantastically, distribute every piece of information immediately,” said Seibel.

Since returning from Israel, the deputy sheriff has worked with the L.A. County Terrorism Early Warning Group, a six-year-old task force, presenting what he learned in Israel to police and fire departments and representatives of all agencies responsible for safety throughout the county. “The bad guys are a network team,” he says, “In order to respond well, we need to respond in kind.”

That sentiment is echoed by Amotz Brandes of Chameleon Consulting, Israeli American security experts based in Canoga Park who co-sponsored a security forum in March, with the Israel Economic Mission, called, “Collaboration of Knowledge in the Age of the Terrorist Threat.” That conference attracted 170 attendees from law enforcement, public institutions and corporate security groups. Brandes calls the techniques and technology of security “the most important product Israel has to offer.”

In addition to more effectively sharing information with other agencies, Brandes recommended that local security officials overhaul the way they look at security. “The basic thing police and the public sector have to learn is to look at security in a more targeted fashion,” he said. “American law enforcement has a lot of procedures, but no goal. In Israel, there is a goal, but few procedures.”

Even the Israelis, of course, cannot prevent every attack. Los Angeles has much to learn from Israel’s similarly hard-won expertise in responding once the deed is done. That is where Halevy hopes to be of service. He took to the road in June, visiting hospitals across the United States with a lecture on “The Impact of Urban Terror on Hospitals: The Jerusalem Experience.” In his presentation, the doctor walked his L.A. colleagues through every step, from the first call to the post-cleanup arrival of the politicians, that his hospital has developed and repeatedly put into action after a “mass casualty event (MCE).” An MCE may be natural, unintentional or intentional; intentional may be conventional or unconventional. Hospitals must prepare for every scenario, and Halevy added this chilling addendum: “We have an official alert that hospitals are targets.”

At Cedars-Sinai, 100 doctors listened carefully and took notes. Halevy described a cabinet in his emergency room, holding an extensive, color-coded list of toxicological agents with protocols for treatment in the event of a mass exposure. In the audience, above the sound of quick, careful note-taking, a doctor’s voice could be heard, whispering to a colleague: “That’s a good idea.”