Donors push Bar-Ilan to head of the class


“I wish I had 10 percent of the success with the Israeli government as I have with private donors,” sighed Moshe Kaveh, the president of Bar-Ilan University.

His sentiment is understandable. Together with Israel’s six other research universities, Bar-Ilan has been in a prolonged financial wrestling match with the country’s budgetmakers, which, Kaveh warned, could well lead to another academic strike in the fall.

On the other hand, private donations to Bar-Ilan are at a new high, with the West Coast and the Southwestern states leading the rest of the country by a wide margin.

Kaveh was recently in Los Angeles and, in an interview, gave an update on the state of both his university and of Israeli higher education.

Founded 53 years ago, Bar-Ilan is now the largest Israeli university, with 33,000 undergraduate and graduate students, double the number of a decade ago.

To accommodate expanding enrollment, professional schools and research projects, the campus at Ramat Gan has also doubled in size over the last eight years and the campus is one of the showpieces of Israeli higher education.

Although many consider Bar-Ilan an Orthodox bastion, some 60 percent of its students graduated from secular high schools and only 40 percent from religious schools.

Regardless of ideology or academic major, however, every student must spend 25 percent of the curriculum on Jewish studies.

The religious and social mix makes for some lively discussions, inside and outside the classroom, but Bar-Ilan may be one of the few places in Israel, Kaveh said, where the Orthodox and the secular can debate their different perspectives with civility and tolerance.

Bar-Ilan has also seen a boom in new facilities, mostly underwritten by private donations, with Los Angeles philanthropists contributing the lion’s share.

Facilities for studies and research in nanotechnology, medicine, brain research, psychology, languages and Jewish heritage bear the names of such Los Angeles donors as the Gonda (Goldschmied) family, Fred and Barbara Kort, Max and Anna Webb, Lily Shapell, Jack and Gitta Nagel and Milan and Blanca Roven.

Now in the works is the Digital Judaic Bookshelf Project, which aims for nothing less than a complete compendium of Jewish knowledge and thought. Its foundation is the university’s Responsa Project, with some 90,000 questions and answers on all aspects of Judaism.

Private donations now make up 20 percent of Bar-Ilan’s total budget.

“Ten years ago, I couldn’t have dreamt of the kind of support we are getting now,” said Ron Solomon, West Coast executive director.

The kippah-wearing Kaveh, 64, is a prominent physicist, who spends every summer conducting advanced research at Britain’s Cambridge University.

His area of scientific expertise is disordered systems and chaos theory, a specialty he finds useful in dealing with the Israeli government, and that brings him to the downside of his current message.

“All we have in Israel are our brains, but what we are seeing is a steady brain drain, mainly to the United States and Europe,” Kaveh said, sipping water in the lobby of the Century Plaza Hotel.

He puts most of the blame on the government’s budgetary priorities. Currently, the Ministry of Education provides 65 percent of the national university budgets, including faculty salaries, but during the last “seven bad years,” as Kaveh put it, the government has reduced support to higher education by 25 percent.

One result has been that faculty slots have been frozen at all Israeli universities, which means that retiring or departing professors are not being replaced.

Another drawback is that there are no positions available for Israelis who have finished their studies or taken faculty positions at foreign universities but want to return home.

The situation has become so confrontational, that the country’s professors went out on a three-month strike last winter, with Kaveh, as immediate past chairman of the Council of Israeli University Presidents, playing a key role in negotiations with the government.

Some figures point to the discrepancy in funding between Israeli and American universities. The Israeli government budget for all the country’s universities, with their 250,000 students, comes to $1 billion a year, Kaveh said.

By contrast, the University of California, with 10 campuses and 220,000 students, runs on an $18 billion operating budget.

Unless the Israeli government turns its attention to the problem and restores the cut funds, the country’s universities will likely shut down in October or November, Kaveh warned.

He brightened as he returned to discussing the fundamental mission of Bar-Ilan.

“We generally think of the B.A. as the bachelor of arts degree,” he said. “I like to think that B.A. stands for Ben Adam, the Hebrew term for mensch. That’s our real mission, to create a graduating class of menschen.”

Funding shortage and ignorance hurt pancreatic cancer fight


When Marilynn Lowenstein walked into shul on Rosh Hashanah two and half years ago, her friend, a doctor, took one look at her and sent her to the emergency room. Lowenstein’s skin and eyes were yellow — she was severely jaundiced.

By the time the congregation got to the “who shall live and who shall die” prayer, Lowenstein, now 62, had a probable diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.

The diagnosis didn’t surprise her. Lowenstein’s mother died of the disease at 45, and two of her mother’s uncles had also died from pancreatic cancer. But when she brought up the possibility at every annual physical, her doctors had nothing to offer — there were no early screening tests, and symptoms don’t usually manifest until the cancer has spread throughout the body.

About 95 percent of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer will die within five years, the highest mortality rate of any cancer.

While hard numbers have not yet been established, research has shown that Ashkenazi Jews are slightly more likely to get pancreatic cancer than the general population. Recent studies have linked pancreatic cancer to a mutation on the breast cancer gene that is more common in Ashkenazi Jews than the general population, and researchers are looking for further genetic markers specific to the Ashkenazi Jews.

Because of this new information, Lowenstein believes that the Jewish community should advocate for more funding and research for pancreatic cancer. A handful of new information sources and research are targeting the Jewish population. Johns Hopkins runs the National Familial Pancreas Tumor Registry, with Ashkenazi Jews as a subcategory of that group. A page on the university’s Web site has information specifically for Ashkenazi Jews.

One new study targets the Ashkenazi population as a subgroup of those in the high risk category. The pilot study, run by Johns Hopkins University, is looking for early detection markers among people who have three family members who have had pancreatic cancer.

The first two phases of the study showed success in using endoscopic ultrasound to detect early changes or lesions on the pancreas — 10 out of 109 research subjects with no manifest symptoms were successfully operated on after lesions were detected. The third phase of the study will also include blood markers, CT scans and MRIs. UCLA’s Jonsson Cancer Center is one of five sites conducting the trials.

But such research on the pancreas is relatively uncommon. Without a robust network of survivors to lobby for funding, and with many fewer people diagnosed than with more common cancers — 34,000 to prostate cancer’s 234,000, for instance — pancreatic cancer is one of the least researched and most underfunded cancers.

“We are about where breast cancer research was in the 1930s, and it’s all about the funding,” said Liz Thompson, director of Research and Scientific Affairs for PanCAN, The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.
The Los Angeles-based nonprofit funds research, advocates for more awareness among the general public and the government and runs support services for those with the disease.

About 565,000 Americans died of cancer last year, with lung cancer claiming more lives than any other form. Pancreatic cancer was the fourth leading cause, with 32,000 deaths, not far behind breast cancer’s 41,000, according to the American Cancer Society. The five percent survival rate for pancreatic cancer has remained steady over the past 25 years, while in the past 15 years the breast cancer mortality rate has dropped 2.3 percent every year. About 88.5 percent of the almost 215,000 people diagnosed with breast cancer last year will live past the crucial five-year mark, the American Cancer Society reports.

Lowenstein, who before she became sick taught French and headed the foreign languages department at Hamilton High School, has turned to PanCAN for information and support groups — support she couldn’t find in the Jewish community. While her synagogue, B’nai David-Judea Congregation, has come through with a steady flow of meals, rides and companionship, she can’t help but feel overwhelmed.

“I can’t begin to tell you how alone and scared I feel most of the time,” Lowenstein said.

She has beaten the odds so far. She’s had surgery, several different chemotherapies and radiation treatments, and is now on her second clinical trial. But the tumors have spread throughout her body.

Like Lowenstein, most people don’t detect the cancer until it has spread — and, unlike other cancers, pancreatic cancer spreads at very early stages. Vague symptoms such as abdominal or back pain, or jaundice, can be signs of pancreatic cancer, but they usually aren’t, and since the disease is relatively uncommon, doctors don’t usually go to that diagnosis immediately.

“I think that understanding the causes of the disease and developing early detection are the first steps to really preventing the disease or catching it when we can still treat it,” said Alison Klein, assistant professor of oncology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and director of the National Familial Pancreas Tumor Registry.

People with three close family members with the disease are 32 times more likely to get pancreatic cancer than the general population, and having two affected relatives increases risk nine-fold, Klein said.
Other risk factors include high alcoholic intake, smoking, obesity and age — the disease primarily strikes people who are 70 or older.

In addition to the early detection studies, Johns Hopkins is working on a “vaccine” that would train the body to activate its own immune system when it recognizes proteins from the tumors.

For now, treatments for pancreatic cancer are primitive — mostly chemotherapy and radiation treatments developed for other cancers. No drugs have been developed specifically for pancreatic cancer.

Lowenstein was among the 9 percent of those diagnosed who are candidates for the Whipple surgery, a procedure that removes parts or all of several organs. It is a difficult surgery with a long, painful recovery — and the only chance for beating the disease.

But after the surgery Lowenstein learned the cancer had entered her lymph system. Over the past two and half years, complications from highly toxic chemotherapy and radiation treatments, unresponsiveness to therapies, and continued metastases have qualified her for some clinical trials and dimmed her hopes.

Your Letters


Federation Pension

Reading the article, “Federation Faces Underfunded Pension,” in your July 30 issue, I found it to be needlessly alarmist and selective in providing facts on a highly complex subject. Most disturbing is the inaccurate lead. The Federation is absolutely not directing funds away from social services to fund its pension.

Pension policy within The Federation system is guided by professional actuarial opinions. The Jewish Federation is fortunate to have a lay retirement committee made up of experienced volunteers, including those who are well-versed in investments, actuarial science and pension plan management.

The article presents a misleading picture by comparing the L.A. experience to the plans at other selected federations. Comparing the financing of defined-benefit plans to defined-contribution plans is like comparing apples to oranges

For example, the Atlanta plan covers 60 employees. Boston has not had a defined-benefit plan since 1992. Even those federations with defined-benefit plans represented in the article and charts cover only direct federation employees and in smaller Jewish communities. On the other hand, the L.A. plan covers almost 1,000 current members, of which less than 20 percent are Federation employees. Many of the non-Federation employees’ salaries are funded by third-party sources, including public funding, not through the United Jewish Fund.

Federation and its affiliated agencies are well aware of the need for cost control. This is reflected in our annual balanced budget. By the same token, we all offer human services. High-quality human service programs are a function of recruiting and maintaining quality personnel. Personnel costs normally reflect 80 percent of the costs at human service agencies.

Using limited community resources allowed the community to avoid further reductions in program staff and to ensure that the best and brightest staff remained during the horrible recession of 1992-1993. No organization was ever forced to close services or avoid expansion of their programs to their participation in The Federation pension plan. It is a major distortion to suggest this.

Obviously, no one disagrees that it is urgent to examine the future philosophy and benefit structure of the pension plan. That is why Federation, on behalf of itself and its agencies, has put a proposal on the table in negotiations with the union to move to a defined-contribution plan for new employees.

I wonder if The Journal did more to confuse the public on a tremendously complex issue through its selective reporting and innuendo in the article.

John Fishel, President The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

Faith and Folly

I am a physician and a clinical professor of pediatrics at Loma Linda University who, like Rob Eshman, maintains a firm belief in the merits of stem cell research (“Faith and Folly,” July 30).

Stem cell research will continue regardless of President Bush’s current position, since the companies involved are multinational and research will be conducted abroad until the issue is sorted out in the United States. Some will move their labs to locations where they can carry out this most-needed research.

The United States is not the only country involved in this area. Validated discoveries, which translate into new cures, will be available to the world.

The research will get done. But even if that was not the case, is this the most pressing issue before us today?

I was also an elected delegate to the 2000 Democratic National Convention, but since Sept. 11, I am relieved that my opinion was not persuasive.

I believe the war on terror is the most important issue facing our country today.

I disagree with Eshman’s statement that, with regard to Israel, “most Jews would be hard-pressed to find a lot of light between the president’s position and John Kerry’s.”

Bush has a proven record of action, denying the so-called “right of return,” supporting the isolation of Yasser Arafat, supporting Israel’s right of self-defense, etc.

Politicians can say anything and not be held accountable for broken promises. Kerry — who feels so strongly about appeasing France, the European Union and the United Nations, who refuse to support Israel and sanction only Israel in a world full of corruption and inhumanity — cannot be relied upon to defend Israel to the degree that the Bush administration has demonstrated.

There was no mention of Israel in Kerry’s speech at the Democratic Convention.

Dr. Charles J. Hyman, Redlands

Contrary to Rob Eshman’s argument, stem cell research will not be the key deciding factor for the Jewish vote in the upcoming election. It would serve the readers well to be informed that stem cell research is still in its infancy.

President Bush is the first president to provide the federal funds for it, while at the same time limiting such funding, pending review of the relevant issues involved.

Dr. Ron Saldra, Founding Member Beverly Hills Jewish Republicans

Clarification

Our cover story “Rebirth in Russia”(Aug. 6), neglected to state that the writer’s trip was sponsored by Chabad, whose activities were largely the subject of the story as well. The Journal’s policy is to always disclose such relationships. We regret the omission.

Jewish Law Favors Stem Cell Research


Even as Ron Reagan makes a case for stem cell research at the Democratic National Convention, Californians may take matters into their own hands. In November, the state ballot will include a 10-year bond issue, which would generate $3 billion for stem cell research. If it passes, the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative would make the Golden State the golden goose of publicly funded stem cell research, generating approximately $295 million annually for stem cell research. This figure dwarfs by 10 times the $24.8 million spent by the federal government on human embryonic stem cell research last fiscal year.

While voters may still be deliberating the merits of stem cell research, authorities of halacha (Jewish law) are in favor of the technology, within certain limits. While not necessarily agreeing on their rationale, the Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist and Reform movements have all released statements endorsing stem cell research, and have made their positions known to President Bush.

If the major denominations within Judaism can agree on this issue, why are others around the nation up in arms? Because stem cell research raises questions about how life is defined and when it begins. Although stem cells are found in the body at all stages of development, the ones that seem to be most promising for research purposes are those extracted from embryos (fertilized egg cells) only a few days old. Most embryonic stem cell research is performed on excess embryos created in Petri dishes for couples undergoing in-vitro fertilization. These preimplanted embryos [also referred to as pre-embryos] would otherwise remain frozen or be discarded.

In the laboratory, embryonic stem cells are able to replicate rapidly to create a "line" of cells uniquely capable of developing into any kind of cell in the human body. These cells provide enormous potential for treating and possibly curing a host of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, diabetes, spinal cord injury, heart disease and cancer. The catch: extracting the stem cells destroys the embryo.

"While the saving of life is paramount in the rabbinic legal code, and most laws can be violated to achieve this goal, the prohibition of homicide is one notable exception," wrote Rabbi Edward Reichman, an assistant professor and physician at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine of Yeshiva University, in The Forward. "The crucial question then is this: Is the fertilized egg considered human life, such that destroying it in order to harvest its stem cells is tantamount to homicide?"

Reichman said that according to most contemporary rabbinic authorities, although one may violate the Sabbath in order to save a fetus in-utero, one may not violate the Sabbath to preserve a pre-embryo. "And since, as the Sabbath test shows, the pre-embryo does not have the status of even potential life, it may be concluded that its use for medical research, with the potential to aid in the cure of widespread human suffering, is not only permitted but laudatory," he writes. "One should treat the pre-embryo with respect, and not wantonly destroy it. It is human tissue. But it is not human life."

"The farther back you go in pregnancy, the lower the [legal] status of the fetus," notes Rabbi Mark E. Washofsky, professor of rabbinics at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, and the chair of the committee that composed the Reform Movement’s Responsum on Human Stem Cell Research. At the same time, he says, "There is a moral issue here: The treatment of a human organism at this earliest stage requires at least some consideration on our part, otherwise you can’t call the human organism sacred in some meaningful way."

Rabbi Elliot Dorff, rector and distinguished professor of philosophy at the University of Judaism, says that in Jewish tradition, embryos less than 40 days old are considered as "mere water," and do not have full status as a human life. Further, the cluster of cells from which stem cells are extracted cannot be considered a human being because these cells are incapable of developing outside the womb.

Dorff, who wrote the Conservative Movement’s Responsum on stem cell research, said the potential for saving lives takes precedence over a cluster of cells that have no potential to develop into a person.

"While we still have respect for the materials out of which life may ultimately come, the question is: Respect for what purpose? And how do you express that respect? Not at the cost of saving people’s lives," he said

To those who believe endeavors such as stem cell research cross the line into God’s realm, Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, a professor of Jewish Law at Loyola Law School, disagrees.

"The idea that we have no right tinkering with God’s work is fundamentally anti-Jewish," said Adlerstein, the Orthodox rabbi. "There are things that God fully expects mankind to do. One of those things is to use the wisdom and the tools that he gave us to expand the far reaches of the universe."

He said that finding the answers to previously undiscovered questions such as how life originates "doesn’t diminish our belief in God," he says. "On the contrary, it increases it."

Rabbi Dr. Avraham Steinberg, director of the Center for Medical Ethics at Hebrew University Hadassah Medical School in Jerusalem, expressed a similar sentiment in correspondence with Dorff. He wrote: "These wondrous genetic discoveries can strengthen one’s faith in the Creator of the world because where there are laws of nature, there is a Creator. It is a confirmation of the biblical verse (Psalms 104:24) "How abundant are your works, O Lord, with wisdom you made them all."

In the case of stem cell research, scientists hope to learn how an organism develops from a single cell and how healthy cells replace damaged cells. This knowledge holds potential for repairing or replacing damaged organs, as well as for testing safety and effectiveness of new drugs without harm to human subjects. Preliminary research in mice and other animals has demonstrated that healthy cells transplanted into a diseased heart can regenerate heart tissue. Other studies are exploring whether human embryonic stem cells can form insulin-producing cells that eventually could be used in therapy for diabetics.

"I think stem cell research is the most promising line of medical research since antibiotics," Dorff said.

In 2001, Bush ordered that the federal government fund only embryonic stem cell research performed on the limited number of existing stem cell lines, precluding federal funding for research involving production of new stem cells or research on those produced overseas. (Private research on embryonic stem cells is not presently affected.) Under pressure from critics, on July 14, the National Institutes of Health announced that it would create a bank to distribute existing stem cells, but critics say this doesn’t go far enough.

"The government should not only allow stem cell research, they should fund it generously," Dorff said.

But while Jewish leaders endorse federal funding for stem cell research, they also urge that it be performed with stringent guidelines and controls, and for therapeutic purposes only. Selecting traits to create "designer babies," for example, would be unacceptable.

"For every step God gives us of greater control over the physical parts of man, we had better be sure we have a firmer handle on the nonphysical part of man — on the neshama — on the soul," Adlerstein said. "God gave man intelligence to be able to create things."

At the same time, as "moral gatekeepers, Jews are there to remind the world that not every combination that you can produce should be produced," he added.

Save the Date: Rabbi Elliot Dorff will be the keynote speaker at "A Jewish Perspective on Stem Cell Research," a forum hosted by Temple Beth Am on Tuesday, Oct. 19, 7:30 pm.

Jewish Law Favors Stem Cell Research


Even as Ron Reagan makes a case for stem cell research at the Democratic National Convention, Californians may take matters into their own hands. In November, the state ballot will include a 10-year bond issue, which would generate $3 billion for stem cell research. If it passes, the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative would make the Golden State the golden goose of publicly funded stem cell research, generating approximately $295 million annually for stem cell research. This figure dwarfs by 10 times the $24.8 million spent by the federal government on human embryonic stem cell research last fiscal year.

While voters may still be deliberating the merits of stem cell research, authorities of halacha (Jewish law) are in favor of the technology, within certain limits. While not necessarily agreeing on their rationale, the Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist and Reform movements have all released statements endorsing stem cell research, and have made their positions known to President Bush.

If the major denominations within Judaism can agree on this issue, why are others around the nation up in arms? Because stem cell research raises questions about how life is defined and when it begins. Although stem cells are found in the body at all stages of development, the ones that seem to be most promising for research purposes are those extracted from embryos (fertilized egg cells) only a few days old. Most embryonic stem cell research is performed on excess embryos created in Petri dishes for couples undergoing in-vitro fertilization. These preimplanted embryos (also referred to as pre-embryos) would otherwise remain frozen or be discarded.

In the laboratory, embryonic stem cells are able to replicate rapidly to create a "line" of cells uniquely capable of developing into any kind of cell in the human body. These cells provide enormous potential for treating and possibly curing a host of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, diabetes, spinal cord injury, heart disease and cancer. The catch: extracting the stem cells destroys the embryo.

Rabbi Elliot Dorff, rector and professor of philosophy at the University of Judaism, says that in Jewish tradition, embryos less than 40 days old are considered as "mere water," and do not have full status as a human life. Further, the cluster of cells from which stem cells are extracted cannot be considered a human being because these cells are incapable of developing outside the womb.

Dorff, who wrote the Conservative Movement’s Responsum on stem cell research, said the potential for saving lives takes precedence over a cluster of cells that have no potential to develop into a person.

"While we still have respect for the materials out of which life may ultimately come, the question is: Respect for what purpose? And how do you express that respect? Not at the cost of saving people’s lives," he said

To those who believe endeavors such as stem cell research cross the line into God’s realm, Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, a professor of Jewish law at Loyola Law School, disagrees.

"The idea that we have no right tinkering with God’s work is fundamentally anti-Jewish," said Adlerstein, an Orthodox rabbi. "There are things that God fully expects mankind to do. One of those things is to use the wisdom and the tools that he gave us to expand the far reaches of the universe."

In the case of stem cell research, scientists hope to learn how an organism develops from a single cell and how healthy cells replace damaged cells. This knowledge holds potential for repairing or replacing damaged organs, as well as for testing safety and effectiveness of new drugs without harm to human subjects. Preliminary research in mice and other animals has demonstrated that healthy cells transplanted into a diseased heart can regenerate heart tissue. Other studies are exploring whether human embryonic stem cells can form insulin-producing cells that eventually could be used in therapy for diabetics.

In 2001, Bush ordered that the federal government fund only embryonic stem cell research performed on the limited number of existing stem cell lines, precluding federal funding for research involving production of new stem cells or research on those produced overseas. (Private research on embryonic stem cells is not presently affected.) Under pressure from critics, the National Institutes of Health announced on July 14 that it would create a bank to distribute existing stem cells, but critics say this doesn’t go far enough.

"The government should not only allow stem cell research, they should fund it generously," Dorff said.

But while Jewish leaders endorse federal funding for stem cell research, they also urge that it be performed with stringent guidelines and controls, and for therapeutic purposes only. Selecting traits to create "designer babies," for example, would be unacceptable.

"For every step God gives us of greater control over the physical parts of man, we had better be sure we have a firmer handle on the nonphysical part of man — on the neshama — on the soul," Adlerstein said. "God gave man intelligence to be able to create things."

At the same time, as "moral gatekeepers, Jews are there to remind the world that not every combination that you can produce should be produced," he added.

Giving to the Future


Financial wizard Michael Steinhardt is blunt in assessing
the future of North American Jewry.

The next generation is “mostly Jewish ignoramuses,”
Steinhardt said. “We haven’t convinced the general Jewish population of the
value of a Jewish education.”

Steinhardt’s bleak assessment was aimed not at Jews in
general, but at a select group: those who have donated at least $100,000 — and
as much as several million — to Jewish day schools.

There are only 1,800 such major supporters of the country’s
approximately 700 Jewish day schools, however, and that, Steinhardt said, is
“not enough.”

“We need to double that number,” he said.

Steinhardt was addressing the third annual Donor Assembly of
the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education (PEJE) held in Century City
from Feb. 2-4, the day school advocacy group he launched five years ago.

For the first time, those big donors mingled with Jewish
communal and day school professionals in a leadership assembly of more than 600
people, aiming to hammer out a national strategy to promote Jewish day schools.

The gathering comes at a time when many day schools, viewed
as solid foundations for lifelong Jewish identity, are strapped for funds. And
many who want to attend cannot afford the high cost of a Jewish education.

Some 200,000 children attend Jewish day schools in this
country, 79 percent of them Orthodox or ultra-Orthodox.

Among the top goals of the philanthropists was finding new
sources of money.

To bolster their advocacy effort, PEJE offered the initial
findings of a survey of 177 of those big day school supporters. They also
released the results of interviews with 65 other donors, potential donors and
day school experts.

The survey, conducted in October and November by TDC
Research of Boston, found that among current donors, 49 percent give to day
schools because they see them as vehicles to “ensure Jewish continuity” and 13
percent were motivated to give because they had a personal connection, such as
a child or grandchild in day school.

But among donors, nondonors and experts, the study found
that: 81 percent believe that day schools ensure continuity; 78 percent
supported day schools because of the Jews’ “collective future”; 75 percent
backed day schools because they “foster communities of committed Jews.”

Of those who responded, 97 percent also gave money to their
synagogue; 92 percent aided their local federation; 73 percent helped some kind
of Israel-focused program and 59 percent backed their local Jewish Community
Center.

The donors surveyed hailed from 29 states and Canada; were
usually parents or grandparents of day school students and were sat on day
school boards.

One such donor at the conference was Claire Ellman of La
Jolla, whose three children attended the San Diego Jewish Academy, a
pluralistic, 700-student school with students from kindergarten to 12th grade.

Ellman has just helped the school raise $33 million toward a
new building, the largest single effort to date in the city’s Jewish community.

Born in South Africa, Ellman said her grandfather started Cape
Town’s first Jewish day school and infused her with a love for Jewish
learning.

But she believes not all donors support education for the
same reasons.

“A lot of people are going to give to Jewish education
because they feel so strongly about continuity,” she said, “but also because of
a guilt complex” that they personally failed to teach their children Jewish
values.

The study did not reach that conclusion, though it did find
that 10 percent of donors said the most important reason to back Jewish day
schools was to teach Jewish knowledge.

Ellman, who is also vice chair of the Continental Council
for Jewish Day School Education, a program of the United Jewish Communities and
the Jewish Education Service of North America — works to build ties among the
day schools, Jewish federations, religious institutions and the general
community — welcomed the donor study.

“The study is critical, because for the first time we’ve
asked donors and nondonors why they do or don’t fund Jewish education.”

Many of those who don’t support Jewish schools said they
either were not aware of them or found them too parochial, the study found.

But the study also recommends against trying to win this
group over.

Instead, it recommends spreading the word to “neutral” Jews
who may not have any personal ties to the school, but who believe education
helps ensure a thriving Jewish community.

Meanwhile, Steinhardt pointed to statistics showing that
only 20 percent of philanthropy by North American Jews goes to Jewish causes,
down from 50 percent 50 years ago.

“What we lack is a sense of priority,” he said.

But Michael Rosenzweig, a board member of the New Atlanta
Jewish Community High School, said the fact that there are so few donors to
Jewish day schools is both good and bad news when it comes to doubling their
numbers.

“The good news” is that doubling their numbers is easy to
do, he said. “The bad news is, it’s easy to do because it’s so small.”

The Man Behind the Vision


In fall 1994, UCLA hired Dr. Gerald Saul Levey to assume the newly merged role of provost of UCLA Medical Center and fourth dean of its top-rated medical school. Levey couldn’t have picked a more precarious time for a job move.

Beset by leadership conflicts, a weak census and budget woes, UCLA was struggling to finance its famous research and teaching programs while delivering superior care in a marketplace rocked by the Northridge earthquake, a recession, managed care and declining government revenue.

Five years later, Levey’s business acumen and love of challenges have restored a clear vision, high morale and financial soundness to UCLA.

“My earliest memory is of wanting to be a physician like Dr. Rosenstein, our family pediatrician,” Levey, 62, recalls. “He made house calls, fixed my broken collarbone and saved a finger I nearly lost. I was absolutely in awe of him.”

Though Levey lived on “the wrong side of the Hudson River” during the Depression, his Jersey City, N.J., parents worked hard to support their only son’s dream.

“We didn’t have a lot of money, but my family’s passion was for me to go to college and become a physician,” Levey says. “Education, achievement and raising kids who became good people — this is what my parents’ world revolved around.”

Life grew complicated when Levey turned 18. His attorney father, an immigrant from Odessa who once chaired the Republican Party in Hudson County, N.J., died suddenly of a heart attack. His mother, a first-generation daughter of Polish Jews, joined the workforce as a secretary to support Jerry and his older sister.

“With what she earned, my mother put me through college and medical school,” Levey says. “She lived to be 83 and was a great woman.”

In addition to internalizing her value for hard work and education, Levey inherited his mother’s devotion to Judaism.

“Judaism was important in our family,” says Levey. “We celebrated all the holidays and belonged to a conservative synagogue, where I went to religious school and was bar mitzvahed.

“I still remember raising money in the little, blue tzedakah boxes,” he adds, “and the sheer excitement we felt when the State of Israel was created.”

In his senior year at Cornell University, Levey met Barbara Cohen, another strong woman who would influence his life. A quick-witted blonde who sat next to him in folk-singing class, his wife-to-be was, Levey says, “a case of assigned seating — and love at first sight.” Recalls Barbara, now UCLA’s assistant vice chancellor of biomedical affairs, Levey dazzled her with his “incredible sense of humor.”

Barbara had already been accepted to medical school at SUNY Syracuse, where she graduated cum laude as the only woman in her class. After Levey earned his medical degree from the University of Medicine and Dentistry in New Jersey, the two married in 1961. They have two children, Robin, 34, and John, 36.

Dr. Barbara Levey attributes the secret of the Leveys’ happy marriage to “reciprocal devotion.” “Jerry is honest, direct, fair and empathetic — important traits for marital success,” she acknowledges. “And, after 38 years, his sense of humor hasn’t diminished a bit.”

Not content to restrict their partnership to marriage and career, the Leveys have shouldered leadership roles in Jewish organizations, often working as a team. In the past 25 years, the Leveys served on the local boards of their synagogue, the American Jewish Committee, Jewish National Fund, and Jewish Family and Children’s Services.

“We are active on the American Jewish Committee because of their work to improve relationships with other groups,” Levey explains, “and the United Jewish Federation, because of the great things they do for Israel and the local community.”

In 1996, the Jewish National Fund awarded the Tree of Life Award to the Leveys for their longtime commitment and contributions. Last year, the American Physicians Fellowship for Medicine in Israel presented the Leveys with a distinguished medical service award for their efforts to arrange U.S. training experiences for Israeli physicians.

During Levey’s five years of leadership, UCLA’s medical center and medical school have tangled with copious challenges, which Levey admits “intrigue and frankly challenge” him. In the devastating wake of the Northridge earthquake, both institutions have vigorously rebounded under Levey’s energetic direction.

Over the past five years, UCLA has launched 19 clinics in a community-based primary-care network; attracted $500 million in private donations, with $140 million in capital gifts for building projects; increased research funding to $227 million this year; recruited 13 academic chairs; created four new departments; maintained its 10-year reputation in U.S. News & World Report as the “Best in the West” for clinical care; and continued to identify life-saving scientific breakthroughs, such as the breast cancer drug, Herceptin.

Now, in the midst of a $600-million campaign to build two new hospitals to open in 2004 on UCLA’s Santa Monica and Westwood campuses, Levey’s star has never risen higher. Designed by world-renowned architect I.M. Pei, the million-square-foot Westwood complex will blend a light-filled healing environment with cutting-edge medical technology. In Santa Monica, prominent New York architect Robert A.M. Stern is designing a 525,000-square-foot neighborhood-friendly facility to replace the existing community hospital.

“Here at UCLA, we are creating the first academic health center specifically planned for the next century,” Levey says. “Can you imagine the exhilaration connected with this prospect? We are literally testing our ability to prophesy how medicine will be practiced and taught in the new millennium. If we do it well — and we must — we will be able to provide unsurpassed care for our patients and improve the health of people around the world.

“Every day,” he says simply, “I feel that these extraordinary new hospital and research buildings will be the legacy that I leave to UCLA.”


Circle of Friends


I see that it’s time for the media to replay the perennial horror story known as The Dying Jew. “The Vanishing Jew,” by Alan Dershowitz, is a mea culpa over his son’s intermarriage. Elliot Abrams, the former Reagan administration official, has written “Faith or Fear: How Jews Can Survive in a Christian America,” a political argument against liberalism and in favor of blurring the lines between church and state. New York magazine’s cover story this week asks, “Are American Jews Disappearing?” and rounds up the usual Orthodox, Conservative and Reform suspects for the unsurprising reply: maybe. The Dying Jew has become our Loch Ness monster, a friendly nightmare story brought out during summer doldrums, a crime story without a real perpetrator.

But, this summer, such news does not stand alone: As the stories of Jewish extinction are being repeated, the women’s group Hadassah has announced a $1 million grant to fund a new International Research Institute on Jewish Women at Brandeis University in Massachusetts. Its purpose: to study the entire Jewish woman’s experience as reflected in spirituality and religion, the arts and media, Israel, the Holocaust, family and community. For the first time, an educational institution will study women’s lives as a special component of the Jewish people, discrete and real.

Naturally, this research institute lacks the sex appeal of the Dying Jew story (New York magazine will never put it on the cover). Nevertheless, to rewrite Virginia Woolf, even the press release announcing that Barbra Streisand is the think tank’s honorary chair constitutes, for women, true “news of our own.”

“As a Jewish woman, I have always been bothered by negative stereotypes about us,” read a statement prepared by the woman whose life is a Rorschach test of a Jewish woman’s acceptability in America. “[This] is the first institute in the world that focuses the spotlight on Jewish women.”

The Dying Jew stories prove why such a spotlight is needed. The unnoticed (though obvious) fact is that such accounts about Jewish extinction are written by men. If men see Jewish life as a trail that has come to the end, so be it. But women have another point of view.

Jewish men and women have had two distinct histories in America, a fact conveniently ignored until now. Men have held the license over the American Jewish experience; from men’s exploits (creating Hollywood) and stories (Roth, Malamud, et al.), we have learned about our success and our roadblocks. They’ve defined who we are.

How distinct is the Jewish woman’s experience? That’s a question the institute will help us answer. But it starts from the fact that women are two generations behind men in all indices: While Jewish men began to assimilate in the first generation, women held back. While men changed their names, gained jobs in banking and industry, intermarried, women stayed home, keeping the Jewish world intact. Our mothers and grandmothers were less distracted by American values, if only because they were less free to know them.

“We’re half the Jewish people, but our role in history has been obliterated,” Shulamit Reinharz, professor of sociology at Brandeis and director of the new institute, told me. “We’re not part of the people as men have always been.”

Though women have been integral to Zionism, the building of the Jewish state, and the creation of American communal organizations, J.J. Goldberg, in his 1996 study “Jewish Power,” barely mentions them.

This male domination of the Jewish experience must be questioned now before the Dying Jew becomes a self-fulfilled prophecy. Like a cancer patient who thinks he’s got a month to live, a people who are told that they are dying will no doubt act accordingly.

“There’s a real half- empty/half-full syndrome going on about Jewish life,” said Reinharz, who also heads Brandeis’ women’s studies department. If men are becoming either strident or giving up hope, she said, “women are energized.”

If I sound excited about what might ordinarily be an academic exercise, there’s a reason. Here’s the first think tank with the money to address a problem that goes back three generations: For all our education, energy and high- level employment, Jewish women continue to feel stereotyped, outcast and isolated within both America and the Jewish world; we use TV and movies as our mirror, only to find, as Streisand correctly implies, a world that seems to scorn us. But, now, through research and study, we finally will broaden the picture.

Reinharz said that the Institute’s first goal is to help Jewish women rethink themselves, and then to help men see the Jewish world more accurately by incorporating the truth of women’s lives. There will be scholars-in- residence, conferences and discussion of policy issues from a woman’s perspective.>/p>

Men may think the Jewish people is dying, but women are not taking that prophecy lying down.

Marlene Adler Marks is editor-at-large of The Jewish Journal. Her e-mail address is wvoice@aol.com.

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Read a previous week’s column by Marlene Adler Marks:

July 11, 1997 — Celluloid Heroes

July 4, 1997 — Meet the Seekowitzes

June 27, 1997 — The Facts of Life

June 20, 1997 — Reality Bites

June 13, 1997 — The Family Man

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