E-n-c-y-c-l-o-p-æ-d-i-a


I wonder how Jiminy Cricket would have handled the æ.

Half of the articles in the Encylopædia Britannica are now available on its website for free.  They used to be behind a $70-a-year pay wall, but, as the Chicago Tribune recently “>watch Jiminy Cricket sing the opening song:

Curiosity, people say,

Killed a kitty cat one fine day.

Well, this may be true, but hear me –

Here is what to do for curiosity:

Get the en…cyclopedia,

E-n-c-y-c-l-o-p-e-d-i-a!

En…cyclopedia,

E-n-c-y-c-l-o-p-e-d-i-a!

If you want to know the answers, here is the way.

A generation learned to spell that word from that song.  I’m sure it was THE longest word I knew how to spell at the time, though it wasn’t the longest word I knew.  That would be the 28-letter antidisestablishmentarianism, whose meaning I didn’t quite get until I was in graduate school, and which the Merriam-Webster dictionary – owned now by the Britannica Company – “>risks you run when you use it.  Harvard officially tells its freshmen that “some information in Wikipedia may well be accurate,” and THAT it’s convenient “when the stakes are low (you need a piece of information to settle a bet with your roommate, or you want to get a basic sense of what something means before starting more in-depth research),” but it’s “not a reliable source for academic research.” The Britannica – whose graphic appeal has come a long way since I donated mine to the Friends of the Los Angeles Public Library – today still employs some 500 editors, contributors and other staff, which makes Wikipedia’s paid editorial team of zero an actual ghost town. 

But the choice isn’t Wikipedia or the Britannica.  If you vigilantly take into account the accuracy of the sources you use – and in an infotainment age that monetizes ignorance, that’s a big if – then most of the information in the history of the world is available to anyone, anytime, for free on a device you can carry around in your pocket.

I have to keep reminding myself of that.  It’s a miracle that I can find a clip of Jiminy Cricket singing e-n-c-y-c-l-o-p-e-d-i-a on YouTube; that I can figure out how to type the æ that the Britannica has shrewdly kept in its brand (on a Mac keyboard, it’s option + single-quote); that I can EFFORTLESSLY learn ONLINE what an æ is (a digraph or ligature), and what it’s called (AN ash).  It’s a wonderment that I can enter the name of a website into Alexa and learn its ranking; find out what the Harvard Guide to Using Sources

Survey: Half of U.K. Jews not overly concerned by rising anti-Semitism


Nearly 70 percent of Jews in the United Kingdom believe anti-Semitism is on the rise, a new survey found, but half of the respondents are not overly concerned.

Approximately half of the 1,468 respondents said anti-Semitism was “a fairly big problem,” while another half said it was “not a very big problem” or “not a problem at all,” according to the email study conducted by the London-based Institute for Jewish Policy Research and released earlier this month.

Religious Jews were more likely than secular ones to be concerned about anti-Semitism.

The three groups considered most likely to commit anti-Semitic acts, the respondents said, are extremist Muslims, individuals with left-wing political views and teenagers.

Among the findings, 75 percent of respondents indicated that anti-Semitism on the Internet is a problem, half stated that anti-Semitism in the media is a problem, and half said they avoid wearing or carrying a distinctive Jewish item, at least on occasion, out of fear for their safety.

Asked if they feel blamed by others for actions taken by the Israeli government, nearly two-thirds of the respondents said it never or only occasionally happens.

With an estimated 300,000 Jews, the U.K. has the world’s fifth-largest and Europe’s second-largest Jewish population.

Apple to open third research center in Israel


Apple will open its third research and development center in Israel.

The tech giant's new center will open later this year in Raanana's industrial zone, the Israeli business daily Globes reported, but no official date has been set.

Apple will bring aboard some 150 employees from Texas Instruments, whose Israel branch suffered major layoffs several weeks ago.

The website Next Web had reported that Intel was offering “healthy compensation packages” to lure engineers and nearly spoiled Apple's plan to open the Raanana site.

Apple opened an R&D center last year in Haifa and also acquired the Herzliya-based flash memory developer Anobit.

Johannesburg, Ben Gurion universities to continue joint research


The University of Johannesburg has agreed to continue joint research on biotechnology and water purification with Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

The agreement signed July 8 comes despite a vote in March by the University of Johannesburg’s faculty senate to end a memorandum of understanding between the two universities after faculty members complained of Israeli apartheid against the Palestinians.

“This agreement embodies the principle of academic freedom,” a news release from Ben-Gurion University said. “It seeks to promote universities as open spaces for discussion and debate; forums for challenging orthodoxies and freedom of thought and speech.”

Scientists from the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of Ghent in Belgium have agreed to join the research programs.

Individual faculty members can arrange joint research projects with whatever institutions they choose, University of Johannesburg said in a statement.

BIRD Foundation awards $8 million for U.S.-Israel research


A foundation that works to support industrial research and development to benefit the United States and Israel will invest more than $8 million in nine new projects.

The projects approved at last week’s board of directors meeting of the Israel-U.S. Binational Industrial Research and Development, or BIRD, Foundation, include advanced developments in life sciences, information technology for medical applications, electronics, software and energy.  Among the companies participating include Pioneer (a subsidiary of Dupont), Access USA and MedStar Health.

The BIRD Foundation promotes cooperation between Israeli and American companies in various fields of technology and helps locate strategic partners in both countries for joint product development. The newly approved projects add to the more than 820 projects in which the foundation has invested some $290 million in the past 34 years. The projects have produced direct and indirect sales of more than $8 billion.

“American companies are investing considerable resources in innovation, including identifying unique solutions worldwide,” Dr. Eitan Yudilevich, CEO of the BIRD Foundation, said in a news release. “In Israel they find an inexhaustible pool of creative ideas and innovation. Synergetic connections are created between American and Israeli companies, with the assistance of the BIRD Foundation, creating a great advantage to both parties, which eventually leads to manufacturing jobs, sales and profits.”

Cedars-Sinai studies liver transplants for HIV patients


Although he was diagnosed as HIV-positive in 1991, Brent Carrillo had been well enough to pursue careers in custom stone and tile installation and interior design with relatively few health setbacks. A lifelong resident of Burbank, Carrillo moved to Portland in 2005 to enjoy a home set on half an acre of forested land.

But right about that time, a blood test revealed that Carrillo had elevated liver enzymes. He was diagnosed with Hepatitis C, but the medication he was prescribed made Carrillo’s blood so thin that he had to discontinue taking it. His condition worsened, and in the fall of 2007, Carrillo’s doctor said his liver would cease functioning in about a year.

“The doctor said there was nothing more they could do,” Carrillo said. “He didn’t give me any options.”

Like Carrillo, many others with HIV are living decades after their diagnosis, thanks to the development in the mid-90s of a new class of AIDS drugs, which drastically slow the progression of the virus. But while the threat posed by infection has declined, the danger of organ failure has become more likely.

“As treatment has improved, patients are not dying of HIV complications but from liver disease and cirrhosis complications,” says Dr. Nicholas N. Nissen, assistant surgical director of the Multi-Organ Transplant Program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s Center for Liver Diseases and Transplantation. “Individuals with HIV should know that, despite excellent control, liver disease and liver cancer are increasingly likely.”

Carrillo, 46, had resigned himself to the idea of having a year to live, but his mother, Sandy, was unwilling to accept such a fate for her son. While scouring the Internet for information, she found a study involving liver transplantation for individuals with HIV. One of the study locations was Cedars-Sinai.

The medical center is participating in a National Institutes of Health-sponsored clinical trial to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of liver transplantation among HIV-positive patients. Cedars-Sinai is one of only 11 hospitals in the country and two in the state participating in the study. The other California facility, University of California San Francisco Medical Center, is also studying the effectiveness of kidney transplantation in HIV-positive patients.

“This is a tremendously important question,” Nissen said. “Patients ill enough to be a candidate for liver transplantation are out of other options. This is the best and sometimes only option they have.”

Nissen says that many transplant centers have been reluctant to perform transplants in HIV-positive patients with liver failure because little is known about how they fare afterwards. In addition, it had been assumed that the immune-suppressing medications required for an organ transplant would “allow HIV to run wild.”

Patients who are part of the study have agreed to be monitored for effects of the transplant and immuno-suppression drugs for five years following their transplant. As with any liver transplant recipient, their status on the waiting list for an organ is based on a numerical score determined by medical tests.

“Liver transplantation is a well-established procedure,” Nissen said. “We are not comparing two types of therapy, as is often done in a clinical trial. Rather, we are evaluating how these patients do when transplanted.”

Patients admitted to the study must have a strong enough immune system and no severe infections or malignancies. Carrillo underwent a series of tests to assess his health status before being accepted to the study.

An earlier study published this year in The American Journal of Transplantation concluded that liver transplantation was “an option for selected HIV-infected patients cared for at centers with adequate expertise.” However, it involved only 11 patients. The current, multicenter study will follow 125 liver transplant patients and publish findings next year.

The biggest challenge, Nissen says, is integrating the combination of medicines this group of patients requires after transplant. The combination includes those designed to prevent organ rejection along with medications addressing HIV and other recurrent disease. “It’s not just the transplant itself, but the effect of medication on HIV…. Any change in medication would require involving [a team of] physicians.”

Cedars-Sinai has assumed some risk by being part of the trial since the hospital’s overall liver transplant results — available online to the public — could be negatively affected were the HIV positive group to show poor results.

Carrillo is glad the hospital was willing to take that risk. His condition had been deteriorating since he was accepted into the study in January. On Sept. 10, he received a new liver, and was discharged from the hospital a week later.

He says he has more energy and feels like “a whole new person.”

“This has given me another 20 or 30 years that I didn’t know I would have,” Carrillo said. “My brother has two young children, and now I have hope of seeing them grow up.”

The painful truth about teen mouth piercing


A pierced tongue may be the height of cool in some teen circles, but a new study by Israeli researchers suggests that skin piercings in the mouth may lead to an increased risk of oral health problems and even tooth loss.

The researchers from the School of Dental Medicine at Tel Aviv University (TAU), found that about 15 percent to 20 percent of teens with oral piercings are at high risk of both tooth fractures and gum disease. The resulting tooth fractures, combined with periodontal problems, can lead to anterior (front) tooth loss later in life.

High rates of fractures due to piercings are not found in other age groups, and cases of severe periodontal damage in teens without oral piercings are also rare, says Dr. Liran Levin, a dentist from TAU’s Department of Oral Rehabilitation, who conducted the study with partners Israeli army dentists Dr. Yehuda Zadik and Dr. Tal Becker.

Today, 10 percent of all New York teenagers have some kind of oral piercings, compared to about 20 percent in Israel and 3.4 percent in Finland.

Levin and his team carried out their initial study on 400 young adults aged 18-19. A review by Levin and Zadik, published in the American Dental Journal late last year, is the first and largest of its kind to document the risks and complications of oral piercings, drawing on research from multiple centers in America and across the world.

“There are short-term complications to piercings in low percentages of teens, and in rare cases a piercing to the oral cavity can cause death,” Levin said. “Swelling and inflammation of the area can cause edema, which disturbs the respiratory tract.”

He also warns that the most common concerns — tooth fracture and periodontal complications — are long-term, and can even lead in rare cases to death.

“There is a repeated trauma to the area of the gum,” Levin said. “You can see these young men and women playing with the piercing on their tongue or lip. This act prolongs the trauma to the mouth and in many cases is a precursor to anterior tooth loss.”

The study was based in Israel, and researchers questioned teens with piercings and without, asking them about their oral health, knowledge of risk factors associated with piercings, and about their piercing history, before conducting the clinical oral exams.

Ironically, Levin noted, the youngsters who opted for oral piercing were very concerned about body image, but seemed to be unaware of the future risks such piercings can cause.

According to Zadik, the best advice a parent can give a teen who wants a mouth piercing is to tell them to avoid it altogether. If your teen is insistent, however, then he warns that it is essential that piercing tools are disposable, and that all other equipment is cleaned in an on-site autoclave to help reduce infection.

After the procedure, he says the area should be rinsed regularly with a chloroxidine-based mouthwash for two weeks. And don’t play with the piercing, he warns. It should be cleaned regularly, and dental check-ups performed regularly. — Israel21c Staff

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.”

Researchers stop biological clock during chemo


Girls as young as 14 who are exposed to chemotherapy for treating breast cancer, Hodgkin’s disease, and other non-malignant diseases such as lupus, put their reproductive system at risk. The chemotherapy can trigger premature menopause and leave women infertile.

New research by an Israeli team of doctors, led by professor Zeev Blumenfeld from the Rambam Medical Center and the Technion Faculty of Medicine in Haifa, has found an effective new treatment that helps keep a woman’s reproductive health intact while undergoing aggressive chemotherapy treatment.

Blumenfeld and his colleagues have found that a monthly injection of a gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonist before and throughout chemotherapy treatment can reduce the risk of premature menopause from 50 percent to less than 8 percent.

Blumenfeld and his colleagues compared ovarian function in a group of women with Hodgkin’s lymphoma receiving a monthly injection of a GnRH agonist. The women were given the injection before the start of chemotherapy until its end. Researchers compared these women who were treated with a similar dose of chemotherapy against Hodgkin’s, but without the GnRH agonist.

As reported in the journal Fertility and Sterility in January, only 3.1 percent of women in the GnRH agonist group developed premature ovarian failure. In contrast, 37 percent of the patients who did not take the GnRH agonist developed premature ovarian failure.

The researchers also found the treatment works in women with breast cancer and leukemia.

“We’ve just published a unique report of a young Israeli woman who had two bone marrow transplantations. She underwent a very aggressive chemotherapy treatment,” Blumenfeld said.

“With only one bone marrow transplantation, there is more than a 96 percent chance she would become menopausal and unable to have children. We put her on a GnRH agonist and now we were lucky to find that she is pregnant again with her second child. This is an exceptional case and probably the first worldwide of spontaneous conceptions after two bone marrow transplantations in the same patient.”

A GnRH agonist is a synthetic peptide modeled after a brain neurohormone that stimulates the pituitary gland to release hormones. The peptide has been used in a number of ways from delaying puberty in very young children to managing female disorders such as menorrhagia and uterine fibroids. It is also used in in-vitro fertilization treatment.

Doctors have long speculated that women who have been pretreated with GnRH agonists could be spared from suffering the lasting effects of premature menopause. The recent Israeli study strengthens the scientific argument.

Given to women from the reproductive age of 14 to 40 years, the GnRH agonist was able to suppress the menstrual cycle and temporarily create “a pre-pubertal hormonal milieu,” Blumenfeld said.

Due to a decreased count of platelets, a side effect of chemotherapy, the GnRH agonist injection also prevented the severe menstrual bleeding associated with chemotherapy, Blumenfeld found.

Currently, there are three other methods for preserving fertility in women exposed to chemotherapy and include preserving both unfertilized and fertilized ova. None are extremely successful. This new treatment developed by Israeli scientists could increase the likelihood that a sick woman will one day be able to conceive when she recovers.

Fertility and health is an important focus for Israeli scientists. Last year an Israeli team from Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem were the first who succeeded in removing eggs from pre-pubescent cancer patients — some as young as 5 — and bringing them to maturity before freezing them, giving the girls a better chance to one day have children.

According to Dr. Ariel Revel, from the in vitro department at Hadassah, until now scientists had thought viable eggs could only be obtained from girls who had undergone puberty.

Blumenfeld is a friend of Revel’s, and acknowledges that Israel is a worldwide leader in the field of fertility. He says that Israeli fertility clinics see in comparison to the population size more IVF cycles than any other country in the world — about 1,500 cycles per one million people.

“We think we are the leader,” Blumenfeld said. “Both the Israeli Jewish and Arab Israeli population are faced with social pressures to have more children. Maybe for this reason our reproductive technology and research is very developed.”

Karin Kloosterman is the associate editorial director of ISRAEL21c, a media organization focusing on 21st century Israel.

Books: Why choosing rationally might not be so easy


“Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions” by Dan Ariely (HarperCollins, $25.95).

Dan Ariely is an MIT professor who served beer in a brewery and dressed in a waiter’s outfit as part of his research into decision making. A leading behavioral economist, Ariely has heightened abilities to observe what’s going on around him, from tiny details to the big picture. His uncommon findings and their wider applications are presented in “Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions” (HarperCollins). Recently the book debuted on The New York Times Best-Seller list at No. 5.

Ariely has written an engaging book of social science with an eclectic, original approach. His work draws on psychology and economics, and he leads readers through the back-stories of his research. His personal back-story, which he alludes to in the book’s introduction and elaborates on in an interview, is unforgettable.

When he speaks of human irrationality, Ariely means the distance from perfection. He looks at why people are usually tempted by two-for-one specials when only one item is needed, might steal an occasional pencil from the office, have trouble turning down second helpings even when dieting or get stuck trying to eliminate possibilities in order to make decisions.

In his research, Ariely examines how people make decisions in daily life, and he shows how mistakes are both systematic and predictable, repeated over and over again. His method is to carefully watch people, pick up on the errors they’re making and then take these observations back into the lab for measurement and study. With colleagues, he conducts clever experiments that probe habits of shopping, eating, saving money and procrastinating, along with temptations to do small-scale lying, cheating and stealing. He then relates his findings to everyday life, and suggests how they might be applied — taking into account how people really behave — on a larger scale to social, political and financial policy.

“Social science is about us. I’m fascinated by mysteries so close to ourselves,” he said in an interview late last month, on the day before the book’s official publication.

The Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Behavioral Economics at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and at the Media Lab, where he heads the eRationality research group, Ariely is also a researcher at the Boston Federal Reserve Bank. He wrote this book while he was a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. The 40-year-old author is affable, energetic and thoughtful, with a worldview that’s somewhat unorthodox.

In one experiment, Ariely and two colleagues used chocolate to look at how people made choices when something was offered to them for free. Their tools were Lindt Truffles and Hershey’s Kisses, offered at reduced prices. When both were offered at a small cost, most people chose the more expensive truffles, but when the truffles were offered at a further reduced price and the kisses were free, most chose the kisses.

He explains how most transactions have an upside and a downside, but when something is free, the downside is easily forgotten. The idea of something being free provides a kind of emotional charge, so it seems even more valuable than it is.

Ariely ties the interest in “free” to the fear of loss — there’s no possibility of loss, or the sense of having made a bad decision, when something is free. He suggests that the concept of free can be applied to social policy, by making certain medical tests free to encourage people to take them, and by eliminating registration fees for electric cars to encourage people to drive them.

Ariely traces his career interests, and his particular skills in observation, back to a horrific accident in Israel. As an 18-year-old new soldier who had just joined a Nahal unit, he was with another soldier in the apartment of his commanders, who had left ammunition there, when a flare — the kind of bomb thrown to light up a battlefield — exploded. Ariely was very close to the flames and was badly burned in a matter of seconds; he backed up, only to have to run through the flames to escape. More than 70 percent of his body was seared with third-degree burns.

For the next three years, Ariely was hospitalized, with repeated surgeries (some without anesthesia because his heart and lungs weren’t functioning well), painful daily treatments to replace the bandages and intensive physical therapy. Toward the end, he could leave Tel HaShomer Hospital on occasion, dressed in an elastic suit and mask that attracted many stares.

Through all of this, he was keenly aware of everything going on around him, wondering why certain decisions were made about his treatment and that of the patients around him, noticing which nurses were most gentle and which weren’t and trying to anticipate their schedules. And he read medical journals.

“I was trying to gain some control back,” he says.

Feeling separated from society he began to observe what were once daily routines as though he were an outsider.

When he was able to leave the hospital for extended periods, he enrolled at Tel Aviv University, although over the next five years he had to return frequently for additional surgery and treatment.

Wanting to understand how to better deliver painful and unavoidable treatments to patients, he began doing research. At first, he thought about becoming a doctor, as he had seen “great models and those who completely missed the mark” and felt he would do well. However, he was advised that he wouldn’t be able to operate and that it would be very hard to serve as a doctor while facing his own medical challenges.

In 1993, he came to the United States to attend graduate school, and went on to receive a doctorate in cognitive psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a doctorate in business from Duke University. He explains that his work is now somewhere in between those two disciplines.

Looking back, he says that the injury was a “powerful, painful and prolonged experience, but it has also provided one of the most central ‘threads’ of the way I understand myself and others — and it has also sparked many of my research interests.”

Jewish researchers dispute some Pew religion survey data


American Jews are adopting and discarding their Jewish identities with increasing rapidity in a country that is becoming less white and less Christian, according to a new study of religious affiliation in the United States.

But just hours after the study’s publication Monday, Jewish demographers already were disputing some of the findings on Jews, contending that the sample is too small to draw meaningful conclusions.

The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, released by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, shows how Jews fit into a national religious mosaic that is shifting at ever-increasing speed.

It shows that more than one-quarter — 28 percent — of Americans have left the faith in which they were raised and either joined a different faith or profess no faith at all.

Some of the findings about Jews, including the high income and educational levels, came as no surprise, as they mirror the results of earlier Jewish-only population studies.

The Pew study is the largest, most in-depth survey of American religious beliefs and behaviors, putting numbers to what religious experts have long believed was happening, Pew officials say. The last time the U.S. Census asked questions about religion was in 1957.

More than 35,000 of America’s 225 million adults were interviewed, including 682 Jews. A second report based on the same data, describing America’s religious practices and beliefs, will be released in late April, followed by a third report on social and political views later in the summer.

Leading Jewish demographers, including those who worked on the National Jewish Population Studies (NJPS) of 1990 and 2000-2001, dispute some of the Pew data relating to American Jewry, particularly the figures about converts to and from Judaism.

“While we can learn a lot from this kind of survey in a general sense, in terms of Jews per se we have to be cautious because they’re such a small part of the sample,” said Jonathon Ament, assistant director of research at the United Jewish Communities and senior project adviser on the 2000-2001 NJPS. The NJPS survey included 4,523 respondents.

With fewer than 700 Jewish respondents and a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 points that Ament calls “quite high,” he said the Pew report should be “taken with a grain of salt” when it comes to its conclusions about American Jewish adults.

Pew researchers take umbrage at that suggestion, saying the sample size is statistically sound.

“From a purely statistical viewpoint, the study should be taken seriously,” said John Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum. “We have every confidence that the Jews in our study are representative of Jews nationwide.”

Finding the total number of Jews has often been a source of controversy within the Jewish community. The Pew study arrives at its own numbers, suggesting the continuing difficulty of defining who is a Jew.

Pew counted an estimated 3.8 million Jews, or 1.7 percent of the total American adult population. The NJPS counted 4.1 million Jewish adults out of a total Jewish population of 5.2 million.

Some thought the NJPS underestimated the Jewish population, including Brandeis University’s Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, which offered its own estimate of 6 million to 6.4 million.

But it was the findings on converts to and from Judaism, which involve controversial definitions — including “who is a Jew” — that drew the most skepticism among Jewish demographers.

According to the Pew study, 15 percent of America’s nearly 4 million Jewish adults were not raised as Jews. That means, Pew researchers said, they either converted to Judaism or embraced the Judaism of one of their parents or grandparents.

The study also reports that 9 percent of adults who were raised Jewish now profess another faith. Four percent of those former Jews are now Protestant, about half of them evangelicals; 1 percent are Catholic, and nearly 5 percent belong to a non-Christian faith, ranging from Islam to Buddhism to a new age religion.

Still, the report found that Jews and Hindus are the most successful at retaining their people.

More than 84 percent of those who were raised Hindu still identify as Hindu, followed by 76 percent of those raised Jewish who say they are Jewish today; 14 percent of those raised Jewish now identify with no organized religion.

Judaism, Catholicism and Hinduism are the three faith groups filled with the highest percentage of born followers. Eighty-five percent of today’s Jewish adults were raised as Jews vs. the 15 percent of today’s Jews who have joined the community. Ninety percent of today’s Hindu adults were born and raised Hindu, along with 89 percent of Catholics.

Other highlights of the Pew report include:

  • Jews are tied with Mormons as the sixth-largest faith group, each claiming 1.7 percent of the country’s adult population.
  • The largest faith group is evangelical Protestants (26.3 percent), followed by Catholics (23.9 percent), mainline Protestants (18.1 percent), unaffiliated (16.1 percent) and members of historically black churches (6.9 percent).
  • There are twice as many adult Jews as adult Muslims.
  • Jews rank fourth among religious groups most likely to marry in the faith. According to Pew, 69 percent of married Jews are married to another Jew — the same figure reported by the 2000 NJPS. Of the 31 percent of Jews married to someone of a different faith or no faith, the largest percentage, 12 percent, are married to Catholics. The faith groups most likely to marry their own are Hindus, Mormons and Catholics.
  • America’s slim Protestant majority of 51 percent will soon disappear as the country continues to become less white and less Christian.
  • Those who say they are unaffiliated comprise the fastest growing “faith” group today, followed by nondenominational Protestants, who are largely evangelicals.
  • The faith communities most heavily comprised of people who have switched affiliation include the unaffiliated, Buddhists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and members of other faiths and nontraditional Christian sects.
  • The most highly educated faith communities are Hindus (48 percent with post-graduate degrees), followed by Jews (35 percent), compared to the national average of 10 percent.
  • Two percent of America’s 1.57 million Buddhists were raised Jewish.

    When it comes to drawing a Jewish picture from the Pew study, it’s difficult to compare the results to the National Jewish Population Study because it is rare to find the exact same questions or categories in both studies.

In addition, the NJPS and other Jewish-sponsored population studies use a combination of self-identification and behavioral questions to arrive at a nuanced understanding of who is a Jew, whereas the Pew report allowed respondents to declare their own religious identity.

The conversion figures offered by the Pew study differ from those of other Jewish studies. The 1990 NJPS showed that 180,000 people had converted to Judaism, comprising 3 percent of the total Jewish population. The 2000-2001 NJPS did not report the number of converts to Judaism, so it’s impossible to make comparison with the Pew report’s statement that 15 percent of today’s Jewish adults were not raised Jewish.

“What does ‘raised Jewish’ mean?” asks demographer Bruce Phillips of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, who worked on the 2000-2001 NJPS. “To you and me it might mean someone went to Hebrew school,” but the respondents answering the Pew study were not asked to elaborate.

Similarly, the 1990 NJPS showed that 210,000 Jews had converted out of Judaism, representing nearly 4 percent of American Jewry. By the time of the 2000-2001 NJPS, that figure had risen to just above 5 percent, along with an additional 7.6 percent who said they had left Judaism for no religion.

The NJPS total of 12.6 percent is less than the 23 percent of Jews who told Pew researchers that they now professed no religion or had joined another faith. But some of that difference can be ascribed to definitions used by the study organizers.

Pew researchers acknowledge these “definitional issues,” said Green, a senior researcher on the project.

But that was not the focus of the Pew study.

“Our purpose was to look at religion in America quite broadly,” Green said.

The study was concerned with measuring how much movement there is into and out of faith groups, rather than in describing exactly what those faith-shifters are discarding and adopting or why.

“We’re not really measuring conversion,” Green said, “we’re measuring change.”

Fund assists Israeli cancer researchers


If mapping the human genome was the seminal biological work of the 20th century, then learning how to “read” those genes will define this century, said one of Israel’s top cancer researchers as he tinkers in his lab surrounded by tiny plastic tubes of DNA.

“What is really important is how genes are developed,” said Howard Cedar, a U.S.-born scientist at the Hebrew University and Hadassah Medical School.

Cedar recently won the prestigious Wolf Prize in Medicine — Israel’s equivalent of a Nobel Prize — for his work on how genes become active and inactive during the normal development of cells and how this process is compromised in cells that become cancerous.

He is among hundreds of Israeli scientists whose research has been supported by the

Briefs: Israeli team places second in international technology challenge, Jewish Community Foundatio


Israeli Team Places Second in International Technology Challenge

A youthful Israeli team won second place in an international competition to develop innovative technologies than can benefit both society and financial investors.

Competing against 20 other entries from 11 countries, the Israeli project, initiated by a professor and four graduate students from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU), aims at extracting and marketing “green” biodiesel fuel from microalgae.

The intense three-day competition, officially titled the Intel-Berkeley Technology Entrepreneurship Challenge (IBTEC) ended Nov. 15 on the UC Berkeley campus.

The Israeli group, which entered its project under the nascent company name of Negev Renewable Green Fuels (NRG Fuels), was awarded an oversized $10,000 check at the closing ceremony.

First place and $25,000 went to a German project on the early detection of breast cancer through intraoperative 3-D imaging. Brazil came in third with a navigation system for visually impaired people.

Avi Avidan, 28, who presented the biodiesel project to the judges, was elated by the second-place showing. “We were given only 15 minutes to explain our project and then were grilled for 10 minutes,” he said.

The judges were not scientists but rather some 20 top venture capitalists from the San Francisco Bay Area, whose focus was as much on the commercial potential of the presentations as on their technical feasibility and social value.

Avidan ended the evening with 10 business cards from potential investors in his pocket and serious interest from a Brazilian and a Sino-American company. He spent most of the following two days working the phone to talk to his new contacts.

Joining him in Berkeley were three fellow honor students in the MBA program at BGU — Roee Arbel, Noga Bar-El and Daniel Eisen — who jointly developed the business plan for the project.

The scientific leader was professor Shoshana Arad, a veteran authority on algae growth and genetics. She heads the Institute for Applied Science at BGU, as well as the Ruppin Academic Center in Emek Hefer, but was unable to make the trip.

Avidan, who served as an artillery officer in the Israeli army for four years, holds degrees in both biotechnical engineering and business administration and works closely with Arad.

Microalgae differs from the more familiar algae and seaweed and is often detected on the windows of aquariums, said Avidan. The unicellular plant beats all other plants and vegetables in its high oil content and CO2 absorption. It requires little space for cultivation and can be converted to biodiesel by a fairly straightforward chemical process.

Another advantage is that microalgae is now being grown in Israel in a closed system of transparent, seawater-filled tubes, rather than open ponds, drastically lowering the chances for contamination.

Avidan and his colleagues are looking for initial investments for a pilot program, followed by a scaled-up system in about two years.

The Berkeley event was the final round for the two top winners of regional elimination competitions around the world.

The biodiesel project was almost eliminated when it placed only third in the Israel competition. However, one of the two top winners couldn’t make it to the follow-up European competition in Bucharest, Romania, so Avidan’s team went instead.

There the BGU group walked away with the first prize, automatically qualifying for the finals at Berkeley.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Jewish Community Foundation Seeks Grant Proposals

The Jewish Community Foundation is again inviting innovative organizations to apply for a Cutting Edge grant of up to $250,000.

“Bottom line, what our grants committee is looking for are transformative ideas affecting a large group of people throughout the L.A. Jewish community, from religious to secular and affiliated to nonaffiliated,” spokesman Lew Groner wrote in an e-mail. “In other words, really big ideas that will have major impact in our city across the Jewish spectrum.”

This year, the foundation awarded $1.5 million in Cutting Edge grants to 10 local nonprofits working to alleviate social problems and strengthen Jewish life. The largest gifts of $250,000 over three years went to The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles for its Jewish Summer Overnight Camp Support Initiative and to LimmudLA, which in February will put on a four-day conference promoting Jewish learning and community building across religious divides.

The deadline for completed proposals is Jan. 11. To apply or for more information, call (323) 761-8705,e-mail grants@jewishfoundationla.org, or visit http://www.jewishfoundationla.org

— Brad A. Greenberg, Senior Writer

Arava Institute boosts hopes of environmentalists in Middle East


Ilana Meallem and Mazen Zoabi left a morning meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah II last spring smiling. The king had just proposed the formation of a regional science fund, and they were certain they would have access to that fund.

The two Israelis, project managers at the ” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ alt=”students of the Arava institute”>

“Will the funding from Jordan follow?” Zoabi wondered. “I don’t know, honestly, but I think it is in everyone’s interest that they fund us.”

Programs at the institute include examining pollution levels in transborder rivers touching Israel, the West Bank and Jordan; probing air pollution in Jordan, and a special two-year project with Morocco to cultivate argan almond trees that until now have grown wild only in southern Morocco.

Meallem, originally from London, and Zoabi, a Technion graduate from an Arab town near Nazareth in the Galilee region, were to go to China for three months after the conference. The purpose of the trip was to bring back technology to turn small-scale organic waste into energy for use in Bedouin villages in Israel and later in Jordan and possibly the West Bank. The technology, known as biogas energy, is not uncommon but reportedly has been best developed for small-scale use in China.

We don’t yet have a partner for this with the Palestinian Authority,” Zoabi said.

“Perhaps we could do projects with you and get more Palestinians involved in your institute,” Sari Nusseibeh, a leading Arab moderate and the president of Al Quds University outside Jerusalem, told Zoabi and Meallem. “Maybe your generation can go beyond the politics that have dragged us all down.”

In the air-conditioned, temporary conference hall not far from the path leading to the spectacular Nabatean ruins that have put Petra on the map, Nusseibeh was busy chatting with Yigal Carmon, the head of the widely read MEMRI: The Middle East Media Research Institute and a counterterrorism adviser in the administration of the late Yitzhak Rabin.

“These environment projects are great for everyone because it is a win-win situation for all sides,” Carmon said. “You see here that Jordanian politicians and various prize laureates and funders are very quick to speak with Ilana and the others because it gives them a sense of doing something good for people in a concrete way. I think we have seen enough sessions on conflict resolution; the answer is more real projects.”

Wiesel, the conference moderator and winner of the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize, said his foundation was ready to put up or raise $10 million for the regional science fund that was proposed by Abdullah. The fund would sponsor projects proposed by groups all over the region.

“I think the Arab countries are taking scientific cooperation with Israel very seriously,” Wiesel said. “His majesty the king is a true associate in this endeavor with the young people. He knows, and I know that some of them will be the leaders of tomorrow.”

Kholouel Al Dorghan, who is in her 20s and works in the Bank for Trade and Finance in Amman, said she was excited by the possibility of working in Israel.

“I met Israelis for the first time in my life here at this conference, and I felt a real buzz in the air here from the young people and the delegates,” she said. “I would be happy to do research in the Arava Institute or anywhere in Israel.”

Still, several young people who had been invited as individuals from other countries in the region preferred to remain anonymous.

“I would love to work with Israelis,” one said, “but my government would not like that at all and would harass me and my family. There must be a way for us to participate, as well. I am angry about this, but what can I do?”

Unearthing mass graves in Ukraine unveils history


In May, Ukrainian workers laying a gas pipe in a southern village dug into a buried chamber of thousands of Jews killed during the Holocaust.

That same month, a construction crew building a new office complex in western Ukraine burrowed into the corpses of several dozen more Jews.

Stumbling upon such mass graves is not particularly unusual in Eastern Europe.

Less well known is how many more “martyr sites” lie undiscovered and unmarked in fields and forests across the region — wherever mobile Nazi killing units scorched the earth in the so-called “Holocaust of bullets.”

It seems momentum is growing in the search for such sites.

French Catholic priest Patrick Desbois has pinpointed 600 in Ukraine over the past seven years, and says he may find another 1,800 as he moves farther east.

The Killing Sites Project of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem has identified from archives some 700 settlements in Ukraine and 200 in Belarus where Jews likely were massacred.

Even on Polish soil, where it seems every aspect of the six Nazi death camps has been dissected and detailed, the country’s chief rabbi says evidence is mounting that a number of unmarked mass graves remain in the country’s eastern woodlands.

“From time to time we’d hear about them,” Rabbi Michael Schudrich said. “But over the past two to three years, more have come forward…. You begin to realize we may be talking about a much larger number than anyone was talking about previously.”

Marking and memorializing these killing fields makes for far more than a historical footnote. Research may one day alter the 6 million figure of Jewish victims of the Holocaust, as recently opened archives in Eastern Europe enable researchers to fill in the blanks of what had been a virtual black hole in Holocaust research: the genocide of Jews in the Soviet Union.

With archival materials and witness testimonies casting a spotlight on what today is Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, eastern Romania and western Russia, scholars soon may be able to record a more accurate death toll from the Holocaust.

Those who still lie buried in unmarked pits may help elucidate.

The primary problem in finding the mass graves is the nature of the killings themselves, which began well before the first gas chamber was operational in Poland in 1942.

When Nazi forces invaded the Soviet Union in July 1941, paramilitary units called Einsatzgruppen, or “special-duty groups,” trailed behind, systematically cleansing the countryside of Hitler’s “Jewish-Bolshevik” enemies.

The most notorious event occurred at Babi Yar, a ravine in Kiev where nearly 34,000 Jews were shot over two days in September 1941.

The Einsatzgruppen’s own records claim responsibility for 1 million deaths; historian Raul Hilberg puts the figure at 1.4 million.

After the Holocaust, relatives who might have memorialized these killing sites were dead themselves or had fled elsewhere.

Then, as the Iron Curtain came down on Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union — which had lost 20 million of its own citizens during the war — ordered that no one ethnic or religious group be singled out for its victimization. Instead the carnage was portrayed as an ideological battle between communism and fascism.

This helps explain why the memorials the Soviets did build often were labeled generically for “Soviet victims of fascism.”

After Stalin launched his anti-Zionist crusade in the early 1950s, the topic of Jewish victimhood became taboo and those probing it ran the risk of imprisonment.

Nevertheless, members of the Extraordinary Soviet Commission to Investigate the Crimes of the Nazi Occupiers were quite meticulous in documenting the Nazis’ vast crimes, Western researchers say, and their evidence was used in court to convict alleged collaborators.

Yet while Germany became a treasure trove for Holocaust research, the Soviet Union remained closed.

Only in recent years have researchers begun to reveal the stories Soviet archives have to tell.

“Political developments in the past 20 years have enabled us to focus on an area of the Holocaust that may not have been prioritized enough,” said Philip Carmel, international relations director for the Brussels-based Conference of European Rabbis, which is pursuing an ambitious project of its own to document the Jewish cemeteries of Europe.

One of the more critical breakthroughs in researching the unmarked graves came when the vast Soviet archives on the subject were copied and transferred to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. When cross-referenced with other sources for reliability, these once-sealed archives illuminate a trail for researchers to follow and unravel the mystery of missing bodies.

A windfall of material also came from the International Tracing Service’s secret Holocaust archive at Bad Arolsen, Germany, which recently transferred its millions of images of concentration camp survivors to the museum in Washington.

Buffered by this research, the mass graves movement appears to be gathering speed.

Desbois soldiers on with his small but methodical project. Schudrich says the Polish Jewish community soon will be reaching out to non-Jewish Poles to help locate the last remaining mass graves.

The director of Yad Vashem’s Killing Sites project, David Bankier, says he and his colleagues plan to start field research next year in Ukraine.

“Why is this important? It’s important for the Jews who live in these countries,” said Bankier, who heads Yad Vashem’s International Institute of Holocaust Research. “They would like to have a gravestone on the site where their family members were assassinated. And these are the only cemeteries for them.”

But even if these graves are discovered and marked, what next?

With few or no Jews remaining in these areas to preserve and protect them, untended sites may become vandalism or looting targets.

Some marked sites already have been spotted with bits of bone lying about. Experts suspect looters went excavating for gold, jewels and other valuables.

Marking these sites “kind of identifies for them where to dig, so rather than be helpful, it does the reverse,” said Rabbi Andrew Baker, director of international Jewish affairs for the American Jewish Committee.

“If you create a memorial, have a ceremony, then go back to Israel or the United States, the concern is what happens to that site. You haven’t completed the task.”

Science of floral scents and colors blooming in Israel


Professor Alexander Vainstein is proud of his greenhouses.

Located at the Hebrew University’s Robert H. Smith Institute of Plant Sciences and Genetics in Agriculture in Rehovot, these greenhouses offer visitors both a delight to the senses and a trip to a futuristic world, where flowers emerge in different colors, with different scents and a whole new genetic makeup designed to enhance and improve the flower stock.

“You’ll see types of flowers in our greenhouses that do not exist anywhere else in the world,” said Vainstein, head of the institute. “People are stunned at what we are doing here. We have petunias, which traditionally don’t have a smell, giving off such a strong perfume that it overpowers you as you walk through the greenhouse doors.”

The greenhouses are only a small part of Vainstein’s work, however. Back in the lab, he and other researchers on the agricultural, food and environmental quality sciences faculty have discovered how to insert the scent of flowers into different foods, how to intensify the smell of perfumes and creams and how to create a natural scent with nothing more than a petri dish.

The developments, which use the same genetic engineering techniques developed in the human genome project to enhance the shape, color and smell of flowers, have generated a great deal of interest from the chemical, food and flower industries, which are not only following developments but often actively funding the work.

Vainstein, a molecular biologist, began studying the molecular mechanism of scent compounds in flowers out of curiosity.

“Smell is a very volatile thing. he said. “Flowers smell differently at different times of the day, it depends if it’s hot or cold, or whether the flower is young and old. Some plants give off strong scents, while others you have to crush before you can smell them.”

Once the team isolated and deciphered the composition of genes and proteins operating in the petals of roses and carnations, they began to genetically engineer the plants to alter scent production. Roses, for example, give off a strong and lovely scent and have major volatile scent compounds, such as germacrene D. Vainstein took the gene responsible for this compound in roses and inserted it into different plant species, such as petunias and carnations.

“It’s not that the petunias now smell of roses, but they do give off a much stronger scent than before,” Vainstein said.

In another successful project, the researchers took a gene from a small aromatic plant that grows in California and introduced it to the carnation plant, which now produces the same aromatic compound as the California plant.

They’ve also discovered how to mute scent in flowers, such as gypsophlia (baby’s breath) — a flower often favored by florists in bouquets — that have an unpleasant odor.

The possibilities for the plant breeding industry are exciting. The flower industry was worth $20.8 billion in 2006 in the United States alone, and more than $100 billion worldwide. Many flowers sold by florists today have lost their smell.

Vainstein’s research promises to be able to not only regenerate the smell in flowers like roses but also to create entirely new scents in other flowers.

What interests the chemical and food industries, however, is that the researchers have also discovered a way to introduce these volatile scent compounds into other organisms, such as yeast — which has many similarities to plants — to create a bioreactor to product these natural compounds.

“In Bulgaria, the economy is built heavily on rose oil, which they produce from roses grown over large areas, but it’s a very long and complicated process to create this oil,” Vainstein said. “We can produce the same scent compounds using a yeast bioreactor, and we do it in a petri dish.”

“We use a tiny amount of space,” he continued. “A few shelves can hold row after row of petri dishes, and there is no disease, no worries about weather or pests and a drastic reduction in manpower costs. The value for the perfume industry is immense.”

Using yeast bioreactors, flower scent compounds can also be introduced to foods, such as bread, or added to wine as it is prepared. Rose-flavored bread, perhaps, or a white wine with a hint of carnation could be possible.

Today food manufacturers often resort to using synthetic scent compounds in foods, but Vainstein’s work, which has been patented, will enable them to create and use natural compounds.

“The food industry is very interested in the potential of this,” Vainstein said. “Smell is not only what you smell with your nose but also what you taste. Through eating foods you also smell them. The aroma comes from inside your mouth to your nose passage.”

Vainstein is working with a number of international companies based in the United States, the United Kingdom and Israel and has carried out commercial trials. He declines to give details, however, because of the competitive nature of the industries he works with.

“There are a number of experiments and pilot trials going on, and we are talking to many companies about many different possibilities, but much of this work is unpublished, and we are not allowed to talk about it,” he stressed, adding that contracts are likely in the future.

Aside from scent, Vainstein’s team of 14 professors and students is also making progress in color enhancement, introducing new colors to flowers that were traditionally white. The university has already developed a number of strains of carnations in colors such as cream and pale green, and work is progressing on color enhancement of roses and gypsophila.

These transgenic flowers are being developed in only three or four locations around the world, and the Hebrew University is the only research lab in the world that focuses on both scent and color. “Most labs work with only color or scent; we work with both,” Vainstein said.

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.

My December visit with ‘lady’


“Agha isn’t here,” Khanum says as soon as I walk in through the door. “I don’t know when he’ll be back.”

Agha is her husband — dead for 35 years and buried in Iran — but she speaks about him as if he were just out running an errand.

“No point waiting around for him,” she tells me with characteristic bluntness. “Go home and do something useful.”

We’re in her room on the third floor of the Ocean Towers Convalescent Home in Santa Monica. Khanum has lived here for nearly 10 years, ever since she broke her hip and had to have it replaced by a young Iranian doctor who called all his female patients “Khanum” (Lady), because they were old, and he meant to show respect — and because this way, he didn’t have to remember their names.

Depending on whom you ask, Khanum is somewhere between 97 and 104 years old. She has bad eyes and trouble walking — what with the hip replacement and all — and she gets tired easily, but she’s otherwise in fine health.

She needs constant care, which she resents wholeheartedly and refuses often. Her mind is in good shape most of the time, but lately her short-term memory has been lapsing for hours at a time. When this happens, she can tell you about all the people she knew and places she had been to in her 20s and 30s, but she won’t recall when she last ate, or what day it is, or what the person she’s been talking to has just said.

She becomes young again, a new bride in her husband’s house, unwavering in her love and her loyalty to him.

“I’m not here to see Agha,” I tell her. “I’ve come to see you.”

I realize she has confused me with one of the many callers who used to knock at her door day or night in Tehran in the years before her husband died. They never called ahead of time, or asked permission to visit, because they knew they would not be welcome: they were either selling something, asking for money, collecting a bribe or hoping to enlist her husband’s support in some decades’ old feud with a family member.

I kiss her on both cheeks and ask how she’s doing.

“Why do you want to know?” she responds, still suspicious.

To my embarrassment, I feel relieved that Khanum hasn’t recognized me yet, that she doesn’t remember how long it has been since my last visit. So we sit — Khanum in her wheelchair, I on the edge of her hospital bed — for a while without speaking. The small television that hangs from the ceiling is tuned to one of the many Farsi-language satellite stations based in Los Angeles. Persian music blares from someone’s radio next door.

It’s only 6 p.m., but the December sky has been dark for nearly an hour.

“No self-respecting woman would be out on the street so late at night,” Khanum chides me.

Ocean Towers is one of many establishments of its kind in Santa Monica — a gray, seven-story box of a building with cement walls and a flat roof, situated, for practical reasons, within a 10-block radius of St. John’s Hospital.

We’re only 12 blocks away from Third Street Promenade with its trendy shops and overly aggressive street performers, but we might as well be in Tehran: There are three Iranian restaurants within walking distance of this building, three grocery stores, an Iranian kosher butcher shop. There is an Iranian bakery around the corner, two hair salons and an electronics store that promises — in big, bold letters painted on the windows — to crush any competitor’s price anywhere.

On the third floor, all the residents are Iranian. So are some of the doctors and nurses, the nutrition experts and physical therapists. The arrangement seems to be as much by design as by coincidence, but it suits everyone just fine. Most of the residents here know each other from the years in Iran — before the revolution forced them out of the country and sent them to a place where youth and beauty are revered above wisdom and tradition; where children are allowed to disobey their parents, or dishonor them by marrying out of their faith, or divorcing their spouses or entrust the care of their elders to strangers in bright purple uniforms who come and go every eight hours.

The visitors, too, know most of the patients. They come often, and bring Iranian food and magazines and candy. They arrive early and leave late, sometimes staying all day with a spouse or a parent because they can’t bear the guilt of what they have done to their loved ones, because they remember what it was like back in Iran, how the elderly were cared for at home, how they used to look down on people in the West — the way they tossed their parents away when they were of no more use, locked them up in nursing homes and forgot where they had put the key.

Dinner is at 5:30 p.m., and after that the latest hold-outs go home. The nurses’ shift changes, and dusk settles onto the bare hallways and narrow beds with plastic mattresses. Then the ghosts come out.

“Do you miss Agha?” I ask Khanum.

When I first started writing, I sat with Khanum for hours at a time, asking questions. I was 21 and on leave of absence from law school. I had no idea what I was going to do with my life, but I knew some stories from Iran, and had begun to write them. They were scattered pieces of people’s lives, bits of conversations I had overheard through the years, rumors that had been whispered too many times and taken on a reality that may or may not have been deserved.

Almost all the stories, however, were about my own family: we were — still are — unusually open, among Iranian Jews, about our past. Others are more guarded, more aware of the consequences of revealing themselves in a society built as much on appearances as on facts, a society where truth will, far from setting you free, most likely close a thousand doors and come back to haunt you for good.

California Jewish voters maintain liberal reputation


California’s Jewish voters upheld their liberal reputation in Tuesday’s election, despite a strong effort by the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) to focus on the Bush administration’s pro-Israel record.

While Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger won reelection by nearly 55 percent of the popular vote, 52 percent of the Jewish ballots went to his Democratic opponent Phil Angelides, according to Los Angeles Times polling director Susan Pinkus.

Even in races in which Jewish votes aligned with the majority, the Jewish margin of support was much higher.

Democrat John Garamendi won the lieutenant governor’s race by garnering 49.5 percent of the total vote, but he received 74 percent of the Jewish vote.

Similarly, Democrat Jerry Brown was elected attorney general with 56.7 percent of the vote, but was supported by 75 percent of Jews.

Statewide propositions 1A, 1B, 1C, 1D and 1E, authorizing multibillion dollar bonds to upgrade California’s infrastructure, transportation, housing availability, schools and levees, all passed, but Jewish support ran 10-16 percent higher than in the general population.

Two controversial and heavily funded propositions went down to defeat, but would have won easily if only Jewish ballots had been counted.

Proposition 86, which would have levied a stiff tax on cigarettes to fund new health programs, lost by 4 points, but won by 14 points among Jews.

Similarly, Proposition 87, which would have imposed taxes on California oil producers to fund alternative energy research, was defeated, winning support from only 45 percent of the overall voter. Sixty-two percent of Jewish voters supported the measure.

Jews constituted 5 percent of total votes, almost double their percentage of the California population, according to the Los Angeles Times poll released Thursday.GOP supporters found some cheer in the election of Steve Poizner, aJewish businessman from Los Altos, who beat Democrat Cruz Bustamante51:39 in the race for California insurance commissioner. Poiznerserves on the presidents’ council of the national Republican JewishCoalition, said Larry Greenfield, the RJC’s Californiadirector.

The Times did not poll voters by religion in this contest.

Political scientist and Jewish Journal columnist Raphael Sonnenshein of Cal State Fullerton termed the national election results “the most colossal wave of change going back to 1980.”

California was somewhat insulated from the political tsunami, thanks largely to the tone of Republican moderation set by Schwarzenegger, Sonnenshein said.

He believes that Jewish Republicans made a mistake by assuming that Jewish voters were motivated solely by the Israel issue.

“That was never true,” he said.

Andrew Lachman, president of Democrats for Israel-Los Angeles, said that both local and national results showed that Jews supported the Democratic Party more strongly than ever.”Surveys have shown that 70 percent of American Jews oppose the war in Iraq, and I believe that the Bush policy has made Israel less secure,” he said.

Local Jewish Republicans were less than happy with the election results but preferred to take the long view.

Winning Jews over to the Republican side “is a lengthy educational process,” said Bruce Bialosky, who founded California’s RJC in 2001.

“The younger generation is more open to joining us than older Jews, who have a lifelong commitment to the Democratic Party,” he said.

Bialosky defended the effectiveness of the full-page ads that RJC placed in Jewish publications in major cities, which triggered resentment from Democrats by portraying them as not supportive of Israel.

According to figures from the national RJC, he said, 35 percent of Jews supported Republicans in cities where the ads ran, compared to only 26.4 percent in cities without ads. These numbers have been questioned by Democratic analysts.

Dr. Joel Strom, immediate past president of the RJC’s Los Angeles chapter, was skeptical of the accuracy of polls on Jewish voting patterns, saying that most did not include the generally more conservative absentee ballots.

Strom agreed that large-scale changes in political loyalties are “a generational thing and perhaps we cannot expect a reversal in our lifetime.”

Jews join the quest for space commerce


In the 1968 film “2001: A Space Odyssey,” a commercial Pan Am Space Clipper flight carries civilians to the wheel-shaped Space Station V, which features a Hilton Hotel and a Howard Johnson’s. Naturally, the calls to Earth via videophone are handled by AT&T’s forerunner Bell, and the charges for the call go on American Express.

While the film’s rampant commercialism was more social commentary than foresight, recent technological advances have boosted private enterprise into a field once considered government’s exclusive domain.

Commercial space interests are now playing a critical role in the dawn of the second space age — one built on business ventures and international cooperation. Instead of Hilton and Pan Am, the corporate names associated with the commercialization of space include Budget Suites and Virgin.

A new space race by corporate interests is being fueled by the dreams — and wallets — of prosperous entrepreneurs. Their investments are leading to the kind of technological developments that seemed like science fiction a decade ago. And Jews are represented in all aspects of the field, from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen to former NASA director turned consultant Dan Goldin.
“It’s at every level. You see Jews in leadership positions as well as rank-and-file engineers and lawyers,” said Mike Gold, a Brandeis graduate who serves as corporate counsel for Bigelow Aerospace, a commercial spacecraft and space habitat company founded by Budget Suites mogul Robert Bigelow. “It’s part of the dream that a lot of people share.”

The tantalizing prospect of manned space travel was first realized by Yuri Gagarin’s flight aboard the Soviet-made Vostok 1 on April 12, 1961, which was followed by the U.S. team of Alan Shepard and John Glenn in NASA’s Friendship 7 on Feb. 20, 1962.
Immediately after the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1968, air carriers Pan Am and TWA started taking reservations for future flights to the moon; Pan Am logged more than 90,000 reservations.

The Reagan administration provided the legal framework for private space travel in 1984 with the passage of the Commercial Space Launch Act. Under government regulations, the FAA’s Office for Commercial Space Transportation oversees private space launches, while the Office of Space Commercialization, part of the NOAA Satellite and Information Service, coordinates space-related issues, programs and initiatives within the Department of Commerce.

But space tourism continued to be viewed as the stuff of “2001” until former JPL scientist Dennis Tito paid $20 million to U.S.-based Space Adventures to visit the International Space Station on April 28, 2001, with the assistance of Russia’s federal space agency. His seven-day space holiday, and that of three other space tourists, has brought the dream of civilian space flight another step closer.

But the reality on the ground is that the industry carries tremendous pressures, especially to build successful business strategies that don’t rely on a few wealthy entrepreneurs’ bank accounts.

“One of the reasons why there hasn’t been a lot of truly commercial ventures in the space industry to date are the large upfront capital requirements,” said Lawrence Williams, vice president for international and government affairs at SpaceX, who is Jewish and came to the industry through communications work for the Clinton administration and Bill Gates’ satellite project Teledesics. “That’s why typically it’s only been governments that have been involved in this.”

The first private space flight took place on June 21, 2004, when the commercial suborbital craft, SpaceShipOne, reached a point more than 100 kilometers above the earth. The estimated $25 million cost of developing SpaceShipOne, which was built by Scaled Composites and went on to capture the $10 million Ansari X Prize on Oct. 4, was underwritten exclusively by Microsoft’s Allen.
His Mojave Aerospace is now licensing the technology to VirginGalactic, which plans to send up 500 people annually on a fleet of five SpaceShipTwo ships starting in 2008. The reservation list currently stands at about 65,000 people, with suborbital trips costing $208,000 per passenger.

Companies like Blue Origin, SpaceX, Space Island Group and Bigelow Aerospace know that establishing a profitable presence in space must be based on more than just enabling passengers to experience seven minutes of weightlessness or allowing private citizens to live aboard an orbiting space hotel for a week. Industry experts say the only proven revenue stream thus far has been satellite development and satellite launches.

Alon Gany, head of the Fine Rocket Propulsion Center at Technion–Israel’s Institute of Technology, said that space investment from Israel’s private sector is tied almost exclusively to satellite technologies.

“One of the main efforts is the improvement of communication satellites. The other thing is developing specific components that are necessary for advanced satellites, like high-resolution cameras and cameras in different wavelengths, like infrared,” he said.
Risk-averse firms are looking to opportunities that can turn a profit — from satellites launches and NASA supply contracts to unique research and development in a zero-gravity environment.

“There’s all sorts of new drug treatments and biotech development that you can do in microgravity that you can’t do on Earth. It’s like opening up a whole new laboratory where all the rules are different because everything reacts differently,” Bigelow Aerospace counsel Gold said.

Gold, 33, said his work for Bigelow Aerospace is the fulfillment of a longstanding dream fed by the first space age.

“I grew up a ‘Star Trek’ fan, my grandfather worked on the Apollo missions, and I always had a huge interest in space.

Unfortunately, my interest was directly proportional to my lack of skill in the sciences, which is why I had to find my way to it via law,” he said.

Gold says that while space travel carries inherent dangers, private industry stands to lose more from a catastrophic loss than the federal government.

“Even without government regulation, we’re already highly incentivized. If we want to have industry here, customers and participants need to have a safe, reliable and affordable system in place,” he said.

As private industry prepares to stake claims in space following government’s Lewis-and-Clark-like exploration of the final frontier, many experts believe that a side benefit of putting more civilians in orbit will be a greater push for peace on Earth, especially in hot spots like the Middle East.

Israel, U.S. Act on Request for Renewable Energy


Israel and the United States will pool their scientific brainpower to find and develop alternative energy sources under a bill passed by the House and now wending its way through the Senate.

Under the proposed U.S.-Israel Energy Cooperation Act, scientists and engineers from both countries would focus on research, development and commercial use of renewable energy from solar, wind, hydrogen and biofuel sources.

The act would appropriate $20 million annually through 2012 for grants to researchers at universities and business enterprises, awarded by a newly established International Energy Advisory Board in the U.S. Department of Energy.

All the funds are to come from the United States.

In a rare display of bipartisanship, the energy act was introduced by Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) and Rep. John Shadegg (R-Phoenix), and approved by an overwhelming voice vote in the House last month.

Essentially the same bill has been sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) and 14 of his colleagues. Although the bill faces the usual committee and appropriations hurdles, Smith’s spokesman, R.C. Hammond, expressed confidence that the measure would pass the full Senate by the end of the current session.

The act received a boost from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert during his May 24 address to a joint session of Congress, when he stressed America and Israel’s common “desire for energy security” and praised the pending legislation.

Ron Dermer, minister of economic affairs at the Israeli embassy in Washington, said that the act would build on previous collaboration through the U.S.-Israel Binational Industrial Research and Development (BIRD) Foundation.

Dermer also pointed to the large pool of Israeli scientific talent, such as at the Weizmann Institute of Science, and its ability to tackle new research fields.

Similarly, Sherman noted past technological collaboration between the two countries, as in the development of the Arrow missile, and Israeli pioneer work in developing more efficient batteries, solar energy and fuel cells.

In the language of the bill, he and Shadegg stressed that energy independence was “in the highest national security interest of the United States,” and warned that the U.S. now imports from foreign countries 58 percent of its oil.

Such dependence will increase by 33 percent over the next 20 years, the legislators projected, with some of the exporting countries using their profits to fund terrorism and hostile propaganda.

In a phone interview, Sherman said that when he introduced a similar measure last year, it died in committee hearing, contrasted to the overwhelming support this year.

He paid special tribute to the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress), which has been lobbying for effective energy legislation for many years and has mobilized public support for the House measure.

Gary P. Ratner, AJCongress western regional executive director, said that his national organization had sent e-mails to some 25,000 members in support of the House bill. He urged that voters now contact their senators to advocate passage of Senate Bill 1862.

AJCongress National Executive Director Neil B. Goldstein said he was optimistic that the legislation would be passed by the Senate and signed by President Bush, noting that Senate majority leaders Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) had expressed interest in presenting the bill to the full Senate for an early vote.In a related development, American and Israeli business, academic and financial leaders will meet in Tel Aviv on Nov. 8 for a high-level Alternative and Renewable Energy Conference, according to Shai Aizin, Israel West Coast consul for economic affairs.

For information on the conference, call (323) 658-7924, or e-mail losangeles@moital.gov.il. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Anchors Let Slip Plaintiff’s Name

Two Israeli radio disc jockeys were suspended for broadcasting the first name of a woman who alleges that President Moshe Katsav sexually assaulted her. Shai Goldstein and Dror Raphael, irreverent anchors on Tel Aviv Radio, were suspended for a week following a recent surprise phone call they made on air to the former Katsav aide, who previously had been identified in the media only by her first initial “A” due to the sensitivity of the case. Before she hung up on the duo, they used her full first name. The radio station apologized for the indiscretion but noted that the name is so common in Israel that the chance that the woman had been unmasked was slim. Shai and Dror, as they are popularly known, are famous for their broadcast pranks, which have included making crank calls to Israeli leaders and even enemy countries like Iran and Iraq.

Olmert Limits Inquiry Into War

Ehud Olmert announced that his government would conduct a limited inquiry into Israel’s handling of the Lebanon war. The prime minister said Monday that a former Mossad chief, Nahum Admoni, would lead the government-appointed commission to investigate whether the military and political echelons mishandled the 34-day offensive against Hezbollah. Olmert’s decision fell short of the independent judicial commission that his opponents had called for, and which might have had the power to recommend the prime minister’s resignation. Olmert said such a probe would take too long and would neglect the need to rehabilitate Israel’s defense apparatus ahead of possible future conflicts with Hezbollah or its patron, Iran.

Poll: Israelis Want Olmert Resignation

Sixty-three percent of Israelis want Ehud Olmert to resign, according to a new poll. Results of the Yediot Achronot poll, released Friday, showed for the first time that a majority of Israelis favor the resignation of the prime minister, elected in March, because of his handling of Israel’s war with Hezbollah. The poll showed 45 percent backing Benjamin Netanyahu, a former prime minister who heads the Likud Party.

New Orleans Shul Dedicates New Torah

A New Orleans synagogue that lost its Torah scrolls to flooding dedicated a new scroll for the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. On Sunday, Congregation Beth Israel dedicated a scroll donated by the Los Angeles Jewish community through a fundraising drive by 16-year-old Hayley Fields of Hancock Park, who raised $18,000 to buy the Torah. Seven ruined Torah scrolls were recovered and buried after last year’s flood. National Council of Young Israel, the Orthodox umbrella body, facilitated the dedication.

Argentine Jews Complain Over Blocked Protest

Argentine Jewish leaders met with the country’s interior minister after left-wing activists prevented Jews from holding a demonstration against Iran.Luis Grynwald, president of the community’s central AMIA institution, and Jorge Kirszenbaum, president of the DAIA political umbrella group, talked with Anibal Fernandez for more than an hour Friday morning about an incident Thursday in which the Quebracho group blocked a street where Jews were to demonstrate. Many saw the move as anti-Semitic.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

O.C. Incidents Raise Anti-Semitism Fears


The president of a Los Alamitos high school’s Jewish students’ club came out to the school parking lot last October to find swastikas and “Jew Bitch” scrawled on her car. Across the county, a San Clemente high school student was harassed last year with anti-Jewish slurs to the point that she transferred out of the district.

These two instances in which Jewish students from Orange County were targeted by peers coincide with a broader rise in anti-Semitism, including in schools. Local Jewish groups have sounded an alarm, while the reaction of local school officials has varied.

“There has been a significant rise in the past four years in anti-Semitism generally and on school campuses,” said Dr. Kevin O’Grady, associate director of the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Orange County/Long Beach Region. O’Grady’s office recorded 43 cases of harassment and vandalism last year, nearly 50 percent more than in 2003; one-third of these involved public schools.

In its 2004 Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents, the ADL documented 1,821 cases of harassment, threats, assault and vandalism against Jews nationwide — up 17 percent from the previous year. This jump was due in part to a spike in reports of anti-Jewish harassment in American middle and high schools.

These incidents have included defacing lockers with swastikas and anti-Jewish graffiti and name-calling, bullying and intimidation in hallways and Internet chat rooms. Incidents tend to be spread evenly throughout the county, although Los Alamitos and San Clemente have the most reported cases, according to ADL research. In the northwest corridor, skinheads, with their white supremacist ideology, are actively recruiting teenagers in schools, said ADL regional director Joyce Greenspan.

School administrators are responding to these incidents with varied intensity. In some cases, their actions have been resolute. One Costa Mesa middle school principal notified police and suspended 18 students after a girl was harassed on the Web site, My Space, O’Grady said. In San Clemente, a high school principal met with Jewish leaders following reports of several incidents, and ran tolerance programming for the student body, said Rabbi Mendel Slavin of the Chabad Jewish Center of San Clemente, who attended the meeting.

At Los Alamitos High School, administrators banned clothing bearing an iron cross and other paraphernalia associated with white supremacy.

Districts have also adopted zero-tolerance policies for ethnic-based intimidation and offer sensitivity and diversity training programs to prevent problems before they arise.

“When you see that firm and clear response, you see a drop in anti-Semitic incidents,” ADL’s Greenspan said.

Other schools deny the presence of anti-Semitism on their campuses, even in the face of some evidence to the contrary.

Parents of a Tustin-area 10th-grader perceived the administration’s response to be deficient after reporting that their daughter was being continuously harassed by a fellow student.

“He’d walk by and sneeze and say ‘a Jew,’ and say ‘shalom’ and laugh,” said the 15-year-old girl, who asked to be identified only as K. “In class, I’d hear him talking and I’d hear the word ‘Jew’ and [my name] and I knew he was talking about me. He actually called me a ‘kike’ one time.”

The boy described himself as a Nazi and would talk about how Jews killed Jesus, according to K., who said she felt scared and intimidated.

She reported the harassment to a counselor and was instructed to document the incidents in a statement to the vice principal. Because she was afraid to confront the boy and his parents in a face-to-face meeting, she was told that he could be disciplined only if caught in the act.

When the abuse continued, K.’s parents met with the vice principal, who allegedly said that he would direct teachers to send the boy to the office if he made offensive comments. Not all teachers followed this instruction, according to K. In the face of the boy’s unrelenting taunting, the distraught parents removed their daughter from the school.

“What I’m most upset with are the teachers and the way they allowed it to happen, and the way that the vice principal, after receiving such a powerful statement from K., just did not respond,” said K.’s mother. “I feel that they allowed it.”

Tustin Unified School District officials denied knowledge of this incident, but stated that they do not tolerate racial or religious harassment.

“The safety and security of our campuses is our first priority,” said Ron Heape, Tustin Unified’s district administrator for child welfare and attendance. “We are not timid at all about going after these kids.”

Peer-to-peer anti-Semitism is not limited to high schools.

“Our most recent phone calls have been third- and fourth-grade related,” said the ADL’s O’Grady. In one case, a fourth grader was called “dirty Jew” by two classmates, who then wrote the word “Jew” on a piece of paper, circled it and drew a line through it.

“This is what we do to Jews,” Grady says they said.

ADL officials suspect that only a small percentage of incidents gets reported.

“The numbers are staggering,” agreed Robyn Faintich, director of the Orange County Board of Jewish Education’s (BJE) youth education program. Faintich recounted that at a recent gathering of 110 public school 10th graders, more than 90 percent said they had been targets of anti-Semitic comments, vandalism or other encounters.

“Schools are not mandated to collect data [on hate incidents] so there is no global perspective,” said Georgiann Boyd, student services coordinator for the Orange County Department of Education.

For that matter, many incidents never leave the school yard. Fear of being further ostracized prevents some students from reporting confrontations to school or community officials.

“We are aware that there is anti-Semitic activity in the schools,” said Orange County Human Relations Executive Director Rusty Kennedy. “Each year we learn of at least a half-dozen incidents in schools that we’re concerned with, and I’m sure there’s more.”

He said that while the number of cases is too small to indicate a trend, he believes that school-based anti-Semitism is comparable to hate acts in the adult community, in which Jews, African Americans and gays and lesbians are most frequently targeted.

“These things that are happening at an early age are concerning, because this is a taught or learned behavior,” said Heather Williams, director of gang victim services at Community Service Programs, Inc. “These children are learning to be anti-Semitic by their parents and people who they’ve been around for a long time.”

 

Marriage Conversion Rate Proves Low


Low conversion rates among intermarried Jewish families continue to plague those working to reverse the demographic downtrends in American Jewry.

Fewer than one-fifth of non-Jews who marry Jews convert to Judaism, according to a new study distributed by the American Jewish Committee.

The “Choosing Jewish” report, which interviewed 94 mixed-marriage couples and nine Jewish professionals in the Boston and Atlanta areas, also painted a bleak picture of Jewish involvement for those who do convert.

Many converted Jews — 40 percent — are described as “accommodating Jews-by-Choice.” They come to Judaism because they are asked to do so, and allow others to determine their level of Jewish observance, the report said. Jews in this category often have profiles of Jewish involvement similar to moderately affiliated born Jews.

Another 30 percent of converted Jews are identified as ambivalent Jews — they continue to express doubts about their conversion and feel guilty about beliefs or holidays left behind, according to the report. Their children mirror this ambivalence by thinking of themselves as half-Jews.

The report qualified only 30 percent of converted spouses as “activist Jews,” or those who identify deeply with the Jewish people and Israel. These Jews often are more committed to Jewish practice than are born Jews, and their children are virtually indistinguishable from children whose parents were born Jewish.

The findings, compiled by Brandeis University professor Sylvia Barack Fishman, have widespread implications for a community grappling with the reality of mixed marriages.

According to both the 2000-2001 National Jewish Population Survey and surveys by Gary Tobin, president of the San Francisco-based Institute for Jewish & Community Research, the U.S. Jewish intermarriage rate is between 40 percent and 50 percent.

The American Jewis Committee (AJCommittee) hopes the new data will create a road map for greater Jewish involvement among converts and intermarried families.

The breakdown of converted Jews by category shows that we should “not treat converts as an undifferentiated mass,” said Steven Bayme, the AJCommittee’s director of contemporary Jewish life.

Instead, he envisioned a sliding scale of Jewish involvement, ranging from those with a low level of affiliation to those who are highly involved.

“We should not see conversion as the end of the story,” he said. “What we’re really aiming for is converts who enrich the Jewish community through Jewish activism. We need to enlarge the pool of activist converts.”

But that requires a proactive approach.

First and foremost, Jews need to “wave the banner of inmarriage,” advocating Jewish partners whenever possible, he said. In cases of intermarriage, Bayme described conversion as “the single best outcome.”

“We need to be up front about our preference for conversion,” he said.

To that end, he talked about the role of rabbi as the “nurturer of would-be converts” and the need for Jewish family members to “be clear about values and objectives.”

In addition, Bayme advocated raising children in an exclusively Jewish household, because attempting to combine religions would be “a disaster Jewishly.”

Edmund Case, publisher of Interfaithfamily.com, which encourages Jewish connections in the interfaith community, took issue with several of these premises.

“I think there is a real danger in promoting conversion too aggressively,” he said. “If we stand at the door, a lot of people might not come in.”

Case said that accepting intermarried non-Jews who don’t convert — not just those who do — should be paramount.

“The way to have more Jewish children is for interfaith couples to get involved in Jewish life,” he said. “It’s important to see intermarriage as an opportunity and not as a negative or a loss.

“I think its important to communicate a message of welcome,” he continued. “The message we need to send to [intermarried] non-Jews is, ‘We’re grateful to you and happy to have you just as you are.'”

Case criticized the lack of money allocated to such interfaith outreach — less than $3 million a year between Jewish federations and family foundations, he said.

Bayme said “it’s a bit premature” for the AJCommittee to recommend any policy changes based on the report but that the group will discuss the findings at several upcoming meetings.

 

Wiesel’s Words of Hope for ‘Uprooted’


When Elie Wiesel spoke last year at the 92nd Street Y, teaching about Jewish texts, his quiet voice had a trance-like quality, as he shifted between classic sources, Chasidic tales and his own views of world events. His fiction is similarly powerful. Sometimes the words have the poetic feel of liturgy, holy words.

“To write is to pray,” said the Nobel laureate, who will be the scholar-in-residence May 19-21 at Sinai Temple in Westwood.

“I want my stories to become prayers. I want my prayer to become stories,” he said, quoting Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav, in an interview, when asked about the connection between fiction and prayer. “I love prayer. When words become prayer, something is added to the words. There’s purity in lashon kodesh [sacred language].”

“Wounds, too, can become prayers,” he added.

Wounds are plentiful in “The Time of the Uprooted,” an absorbing novel that moves back and forth in time, from 1940s Hungary to New York at the end of the 20th century, shifting points of view, with emotional intensity packed into memories and stories.

Ever gracious and eloquent, the author of more than 40 books spoke of his fiction and the all-too-true news of the world, with daily reports of newly uprooted souls: thousands who no longer have home addresses and are scattered far from the ground they know.

Not unlike Gamaliel Friedman, who plays the central role in “The Time of the Uprooted.” Gamaliel was born in Czechoslovakia and survived World War II in Budapest, left by his mother in the care of Ilonka, a non-Jewish cabaret singer. He escaped Budapest in 1956, leaving Ilonka behind, and moved to Vienna, Paris and then to New York, with stops in between. In New York, his closest circle is a group of exiles, each one with an intriguing story, spun with pain. Calling themselves, with irony, “Elders of Zion,” they help others who are either still in Europe or exiles like themselves.

“Once a refugee, always a refugee,” the narrator says of Gamaliel, and as Wiesel admits, could be describing the author, who feels close to fellow refugees. The narrator continues, “He escapes from one place of exile, only to find himself in another: Nowhere is he at home. He never forgets the place he came from; his life is always provisional. Happiness for him is a moment’s rest. Love never ending is the blink of an eye.”

The reader first meets Gamaliel as a child, still at home with his parents, when a vagabond storyteller visits; this begins his lifelong fascination with madmen. Later on, as a New Yorker, he is “no longer young,” walking hunched over. A ghostwriter, he makes his living by penning “love stories for shop girls, Kiplingesque adventures in exotic settings, financial conspiracies, gritty detective stories: scribbling, not writing.”

He thinks of himself as a banker, lending words to those who need them. At the same time, he is working on his own book, “The Book of Secrets,” which runs through the novel, unfinished. He is divorced, cut off from his daughters, dropped by the last woman he was involved with.

“No trees line the ways of our lives,” he notes.

His friends include Bolek, a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto; Diego, who fought in the Spanish Civil War; Yasha, who survived Stalinism, and Gad, a former Mossad agent. They are agnostics and unbelievers, yet their conversation often comes around to God. Gamaliel is also close to Rabbi Zusya, a mystic who continues to believe. Suffering is what unites the group, although, together, they try to transcend it.

In this novel, perhaps more so than in Wiesel’s many previous books, women play key roles; several have had much influence over Gamaliel. His mother is never far from his mind. With love, tempered by guilt, despair and acceptance, he looks back at his time with Ilonka and at his ex-wife and other women who have been close to him.

Gamaliel learns of a hospitalized woman who may be in her last days, seemingly without an identity, who is said to speak a language that sounds like Hungarian. He wonders if she might be Ilonka, the woman to whom he owes his life, or perhaps someone else from his past. There’s nothing about her that he recognizes and it’s not clear that she hears him. But there’s some connection that draws him back to her, and also to a young woman doctor at the hospital, who wants to hear his story.

In this novel of ideas, Wiesel explores anew themes he returns to in his fiction and nonfiction: the link between memory and identity, dispossession, friendship, the mysteries of love, the constancy of suffering, the paths of writing and storytelling.

It’s also a novel of compassion. And when there’s compassion, there’s also hope and resilience. As the author does in conversation, Gamaliel uses the phrase “And yet” as though posing new possibilities, new beginnings. On many levels, this makes for timely reading.

He says that his sense of memory grows stronger as years pass. Now, he sees some things more clearly, more urgently: “I have to work hard. I have a feeling that I haven’t begun. With all the books, there’s still so much I want to say.”

Now 77, he keeps a steady schedule of travel and lectures, along with teaching at Boston University, where he has been Andrew Mellon Professor of Humanities since 1976. Each year, he creates different courses — such as one course on banned books and another on Rabbi Nachman.

Usually, Wiesel spends his mornings writing fiction, sitting at his desk, and later in the day, turns to nonfiction and research in his library. He writes in French; the new novel is translated by David Hapgood.

The writer has no end of stories, pointing to an imagined pile under the table.

“I hear stories from people everywhere,” he said. “You can hear someone say good morning. It becomes a story by the way a person says it. There’s a story in every event.”

The master storyteller is often described as a messenger, telling of life before the war and of the Holocaust.

“I feel almost helpless,” he admitted. “I speak for many of us. It’s not easy to tell the tale, but we tried, and it didn’t change the world. The message was not really received.”

“To this day I have doubts,” he said. “Maybe if the survivors had all met and took a vow not to speak, the silence would have been so overpowering, it would have changed the world. I have a heavy heart. I don’t know where we are going. And yet, we have to overcome it. We have to create hope even when there is none.”

Sinai Temple will be hosting renowned author and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel May 19- May 21. He will be speaking to young professionals at a special Friday Night Live on May 19. He will be addressing the whole congregation at Shabbat services on May 20. And, on Sunday morning, May 21, the weekend will culminate with a teen forum with seventh- to 12th-graders. For more information, call (310) 481-3343 or e-mail Centennial@sinaitemple.org.

 

This Week – Mission Impossible


These have been the six most difficult years in Ambassador Gideon Meir’s professional life, and when I tell you what he does, you’ll immediately grasp the reason why.

Meir is deputy director general for media and public affairs in the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. What that means is he is the senior diplomat in charge of explaining and defending Israel to the world. Talk about working a tough room.

They say the people with the highest Q ratings on television are those who are most themselves in front of the camera. That explains the success Meir has had as the face of Israel on CNN, BBC, even al-Jazeera. In person, over bagels at a Beverly Hills restaurant, he has the same wry smile, the same well-modulated voice, the same ability to make you believe he is letting you and you alone in on an urgent, heretofore unheralded truth.

“A normal corporation will spend between 1 percent and 8 percent of its budget on advertising and promotion,” Meir said. “Israel, with a budget of $52 billion, is spending $8.5 million dollars on public diplomacy, on PR. In Yiddish, we call that bupkis.”

As Palestinians and Israelis faced off each night on the evening news, it was Meir who more often than not explained images of Palestinian suffering at Israeli checkpoints or Israeli soldiers facing down Palestinian rioters or the bloody aftermath of a reprisal for a suicide bomber’s massacre. As the rock-throwing first intifada became the suicide-bombing second intifada, sending image and economy plummeting, Meir’s portfolio grew even more crucial. Good public diplomacy — a government’s form of PR — became an adjunct of national security.

“You need to maintain strategic relationships with America, and convince Europeans to support the policy of Israel,” he said, explaining his job. “And this only happens if you have very good public diplomacy.”

At the same time, Meir was fighting two other battles. One was with the government that employed him. He had to convince them that in the media age, the message and the messenger mattered.

“The Palestinians speak with one voice, one message,” he said. “But an American reporter in Israel gets six different opinions from six different ministers and generals.”

Many Israeli leaders clung too much to the opinion famously voiced by the late Prime Minister David Ben Gurion: “What matters is not what the gentiles will say, but what the Jews will do.”

Meir had to convince them that transparency and explanation — not the traditional hasbara, which connotes propaganda — is crucial to winning diplomatic battles. “We didn’t learn the lessons of the first intifada,” he said. “You have to explain.”

Meir also has had to fight Israelis and Jews outside Israel who assert that the country does a lousy job explaining itself.

“I have to convince them our public diplomacy is working,” he said.

Trouble comes when well-meaning supporters take matters into their own hands. I mentioned one such effort — when one group put the carcass of an Israeli bus torn to shreds by suicide bomber on a national tour. Meir, ever the diplomat, allowed himself a wince. Not a big tourism booster, that.

The day after our breakfast, Meir is holding forth before a SRO audience of graduate students and professors in the USC Center on Public Diplomacy at the Annenberg School of Communications. The Jerusalem-born diplomat is in demand these days as a leading expert on effective public diplomacy. He has consulted with the Danes and even the Turks. Countries, he stressed, need to be marketed just like products. At his urging, Israel is in the midst of “a major rebranding,” employing the talents of the country’s top advertising minds.

“The major problem is the lack of knowledge about how Israel contributes to the quality of life” through pioneering work in medical and hi-tech research, he said.

Get that image out, and people will see Israel in a positive light.

Of course, many people would argue that Meir’s message, regardless of how it’s packaged, doesn’t matter. To spin Ben Gurion’s dictum on its head, it’s not what Israel says that hurts it, it’s what Israel does.

Many of these folks believe there is a magic, if bitter, pill that Israel could swallow to make its headaches go away. Just give up the territories, just tear down the separation barrier, just let all Palestinian prisoners free, just turn the American Israel Public Affaris Committee into a lunch-and-learn club, and the world will climb down off Israel’s back and let it go about it business in peace.

It’s easy to understand why people — even smart ones, like Harvard professors — would want these pipe dreams to be true, if only because they simplify a complex problem. It’s funny, in fact, how those who chide President George W. Bush for his Manichean thinking on Iraq and terrorism have no trouble reducing the Israeli dilemma to bad guys (Jews) versus good guys (Arabs).

No doubt Israel has brought some of its worst tsuris on itself: Its settlement policy in Gaza and the West Bank has been ruinously costly, in moral, economic and diplomatic terms, for instance.

But Israel has also faced and continues to face irredentist ideological and political forces — Yasser Arafat or Hamas, anyone? — whose claim to moral superiority at the very least deserves a coherent rebuttal. In a 24-hour media world, it means a job like Meir’s will forever verge on the impossible.

“When I go on television, there’s always a Palestinian, too, and he says, ‘If only the occupation would end…’ and everyone knows how to complete the sentence,” Meir said. ” When I go on television and I have two minutes, I have to give the context and history and background — and who gives me the time?”

 

What Do Gen-Y Jews Want? Everything


Brandeis University just released a new study of Jewish college students. It found that they’re proud to be Jewish, largely unaffiliated, attracted to Jewish culture more than religion, like diversity and don’t feel strong ties to Israel or Jewish federations.

Reboot, a nonprofit that promotes creative Jewish initiatives, just did a study of the same age group, and found that they’re proud to be Jewish, avoid institutional affiliation, are interested in Jewish culture and have diverse allegiances.

Sociologist Steven Cohen of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York did a similar study, as did Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, and they both found … guess what? Young Jews are proud, unaffiliated, pro-culture, pro-diversity and anti-tribal.

The last few months have seen a flood of studies of Gen-Y Jews — all trying to map their sense of Jewish identity, affiliation patterns, needs, hopes, beliefs and behaviors.

Why is everyone looking at the same population?

First, there are the numbers: almost half a million Jewish college students, the future of this country’s Jewish community. The very few studies on record, particularly the 1990 and 2000-2001 National Jewish Population Surveys (NJPS), indicate that large numbers of young Jews aren’t going to synagogue, joining Jewish organizations, marrying other Jews or giving money to Israel or Jewish charities.

They’re opting out, which has led to great hand-wringing and head-shaking on the part of American Jewish officials.

Yet the new studies show an up-and-coming generation that is proud of its Jewish identity and culturally creative, is coming up with new methods of religious expression and feels part of a global community linked by Jewish Web sites and blogs.

Researchers say it’s cause for cautious celebration.

“There has been a general angst about the Jewish future for the past two decades, a continuity crisis,” says Roger Bennett, senior vice president at the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, which sponsored the March 2006 Reboot study, “Grande Soy Vanilla Latte with Cinnamon, No Foam: Jewish Identity and Community in a Time of Unlimited Choices.”

Describing his study’s findings as “very positive,” Bennett says, “I hope this study assuages almost all the fear. There’s plenty to be optimistic about.”

The question for Jewish funders and organizations is what they’re going to do with the information, Bennett says.

Jonathan Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University, says that while Jewish leaders in the late 1960s and early ’70s were “very unhappy about developments in the youth culture, and took a long time to reconcile themselves to it,” today’s Jewish leadership “is inquisitive, wants to know more.

Even while the older generation “may be shocked at things like Heeb,” an irreverent youth magazine, it “sees that something is going on and is paying attention,” Sarna says.

But if all these new studies are yielding pretty much the same information, are they useful?

Yes, researchers insist. First, each study asks slightly different questions, reflecting the needs of the sponsoring organization.

For example, Hillel’s study was prompted largely by one figure from the 2000-2001 NJPS, which showed that two-thirds of Jewish college students don’t attend Hillel activities, says Julian Sandler, chair of the group’s strategic planning committee. Hillel will release its long-awaited study of Jewish college students in late May.

The statistic “troubled us immensely,” Sandler says. Hillel engaged in two years of research “to try to understand what it is that today’s Jewish students are interested in.”

Hillel already has put some of that information to work. One of the central findings of its study is that young Jews have “a strong desire to find out more about their Jewishness, especially from an ethnic perspective,” which can “be manifested in multiple ways.”

One popular way is through tzedek, or social justice work. To that end, Hillel last month sent hundreds of students on a spring-break trip to the Gulf Coast to help rebuild communities hit by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

“Tzedek will be a major emphasis [of Hillel programming in the future],” Sandler says.

Amy Sales, co-author of “Particularism in the University: Realities and Opportunities for Jewish Life on Campus,” a new study by the Maurice and Marilyn Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis, says her data, collected in 2003, helps the people funding Jewish campus activities to use their dollars more effectively.

Her study found, among other things, that Jewish college students are interested in Jewish studies, want events that have a Jewish “flavor” but are open to non-Jews and need help in finding meaningful, compelling ways to engage in Jewish life.

She and co-author Leonard Saxe used that information to propose that Hillel customize its programs for each campus and develop better relationships with university administrations, other campus groups and local Jewish communities, creating “Jewish-friendly campuses” rather than focusing on simply reaching as many Jewish students as possible.

In fact, Hillel is doing just that, incoming President Wayne Firestone says. The group is convening a Washington summit May 21-23 to bring together funders, university administrators and Jewish organizational heads to talk about how to improve working relationships on campus, the first time such a targeted meeting has been held.

Researchers from all the studies agree that today’s young Jews can be a willing and energetic audience if the organized Jewish community steps up to the plate in time, and with a message that is relevant.

“They are looking for a positive Jewish experience, and every Jewish institution that answers that and puts its faith in young people will have a rosy future,” Bennett says. “Any funder that wishes to innovate is going to prosper.”

 

A Photojournalist’s Twist on Nazi Image


A visitor to the Getty Center encounters a 1932 photomontage of Hitler, his right arm raised Nazi style. Behind him stands a corpulent German industrialist slipping wads of money into the Fuehrer’s outstretched hand.

The ironic title is “The Meaning of the Hitler Salute: Little Man Asks for Big Gift,” and the picture is part of the small but striking exhibit, “Agitated Images: John Heartfield and German Photomontage, 1920-1938.”

Heartfield was born in Berlin as Helmut Herzfeld to parents who were both ardent socialist activists. They left their four children behind to shift for themselves, when Helmut was 8, and fled Germany to avoid a prison sentence for “blasphemy.”

The boy quickly proved that he had inherited his parents’ rebellious streak. Drafted into the Kaiser’s army at the beginning of World War I, he started out by sending anti-militaristic photomontaged postcards to the front.

In 1916, soldier Helmut Herzfeld expressed his disgust for the war slogan, “May God Punish England,” by anglicizing his name to John Heartfield.

Threatened with transfer to a combat unit, the newly renamed soldier faked a nervous breakdown so successfully that he got a medical discharge.

Was Herzfeld/Heartfield partly Jewish?

Art historian Andres Mario Zervigon of Rutgers University, who curated the exhibition and is writing a book about Heartfield, thinks almost certainly not, though he is still looking into the matter.

But even in this case, Heartfield went against the norm.

“Though he was of German descent, he identified himself as Jewish,” Zervigon said.

Back in civilian life, Heartfield helped found the Dada movement in Germany and began his lifelong membership in the Communist Party.

Initially trained in advertising, he created photomontages to twist standard pictures carried by the mainstream or Nazi press into subversive attacks on the pictured dignitaries.

One of his 1929 exhibits carried the title, “Use Photography as a Weapon,” and the Getty display illustrates what he meant.

Taking a well-known picture of Hitler in the throes of an emotional speech, Heartfield superimposed a chest X-ray, exposing a neatly stacked column of gold coins. The caption reads, “Hitler, the Superman, Swallows Gold and Spouts Tin.” The last two words are German slang for talking nonsense.

One of Heartfield’s favorite targets was the rotund Hermann Goering, mocking him with his own words that “steel makes a nation strong, but butter and lard only makes people fat.”

With Heartfield and his German colleagues in the lead, photomontage became an art form, designed to sell both soap and ideology, which made a strong impression in the United States on the founders of LIFE magazine.

The same style became a major tool for agitprop, especially by the rival Nazis and communists. Heartfield never wavered in his loyalty to the party of Lenin and Stalin and turned out a series of worshipful posters in praise of the Soviet workers paradise.

He also turned to the design of book covers, and his illustrations for the German translations of Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” and John Dos Passos’ “Three Soldiers” are striking to this day.

Heartfield completed only one book of his own, which he titled, with characteristic irony, “Deutschland, Deutschland Ueber Alles” — then the first line of the German national anthem.

Following the Communist party line, Heartfield could lampoon the Social Democratic leaders of the Weimar Republic as viciously as he did the Nazis, sharpening the enmity between the two left-wing parties that paved the way for the Nazi takeover.

Knowing full well what was in store for him under Nazi rule, Heartfield fled to Czechoslovakia, where he resumed his anti-Nazi fusillade. In honor of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, he designed a montage of new Nazi “sports,” including axe swinging for judges and head-rolling for Brown Shirt bullies.

After wartime refuge in England, he returned to East Berlin in 1948, but was greeted with suspicion. For one, the party now denounced photomontage as a “formalist” art form, and communists who had spent time in the West were seen as potential traitors.

But gradually Heartfield was rehabilitated, had a one-man retrospective show in 1957, and died as an honored artist in 1968, at the age of 77.

The current exhibit brings back, with a sense of immediacy, the fierce political struggles of the Weimar Republic between the two world wars. Now that these hatreds have faded into the past, Heartfield remains as one of the innovative minds that ushered in the golden age of photojournalism.

“Agitated Images,” continues through June 25 at the Research Institute Gallery of the Getty Center. Admission is free, parking is $7, and no reservations are required. For more information, call (310) 440-7300 or visit www.getty.edu.

 

Botox Treatments Aid Stroke Survivors


Until recently, significant recovery from the physical and mental losses inflicted by a stroke was thought to be limited to a matter of months following injury to the brain, using conventional physical and occupational therapy. Now patients supplementing this with novel treatments, including an innovative use of Botox and a variation on old-fashioned plaster casts, are demonstrating that aggressive long-term therapy can increase the likelihood of complete recovery after a stroke.

One such patient is art curator Meg Perlman, who not too long ago spontaneously applauded at a jazz concert, clapping her hands together for the first time in 19 months. This was another small triumph in her major recovery from a stroke that had initially paralyzed her left side.

Caused by a clot or a ruptured blood vessel in the brain, stroke is the leading cause of severe disability today. In the United States alone there are now some 5.4 million stroke survivors, with nearly one in three suffering from permanent disabilities.

“When I went to medical school, the prevailing view was that you lose nerve cells and that’s it, you’re not going to get better. We know now that’s not true. The brain is plastic. It can remodel itself,” said Dr. Steven Flanagan, associate professor of rehabilitation medicine at New York’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and the neurophysiatrist treating Perlman.

One recent study showed that therapy could benefit patients who had suffered a stroke more than a decade earlier.

“It’s not something magical that happens in the brain and everyone will recover,” he warns, “but the brain has a greater capacity to recoup from injury than we thought in the past.”

Dr. Steven R. Levine, professor of neurology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, admits that medicine “still doesn’t know the underlying mechanisms in different phases of stroke recovery.”

Such understanding would make it possible to individualize treatments for most effective results. On the horizon, experiments in mice and some early human trials show promise for enhancing stroke rehab with stem cells, growth hormone, amphetamines, even Viagra.

“Not everyone will improve,” Levine said, “but you never say never and you never take away hope from people.”

Anatomy of a Recovery

Stricken at the young age of 53, physically fit and intellectually active, Perlman has been a prime candidate for total recovery. She’s come a long way since her stroke in August 2003 while vacationing in the south of France. When she awoke on what should have been another day in paradise, she was semiparalyzed and confused. Her husband, author Doug Garr, immediately understood what had happened.

“Her left side was immobile. The left side of her face was frozen,” he recalled. “I recognized it as a stroke because I had seen my father have a stroke two weeks before he died.”

Perlman spent two weeks in intensive care at one of France’s leading teaching hospitals, then was transferred to Mount Sinai’s brain injury rehabilitation unit for another six weeks. There, days filled with physical and occupational therapy helped her reprogram her nervous system to regain control over posture and movement on her left side, and to relearn vital everyday tasks.

Better known for cosmetic enhancement, Botox injections immobilize key muscles in stricken arms or legs, allowing physical therapy and exercise to extend range of motion and flexibility. Effects wear off, so the Botox is reinjected every three months for a year or more. In Perlman’s case, it was the second dose that allowed her left hand to flex out enough to applaud at a concert, after successful attempts during therapy sessions at home.

With research in rehabilitative medicine generally underfunded, doctors don’t have data from large clinical trials to properly assess new treatments. Often patients proceed by trial-and-error, sampling therapies from the exotic to the high-tech; Perlman has had mixed results with acupuncture and with an electrical muscle stimulation device called a NeuroMove.

Then again, low-tech plaster of Paris has proven extremely effective. Called “serial casting,” a monthslong treatment involves stretching affected muscles with a series of plaster casts on an arm or leg for weeks at a time, followed by physical therapy to secure gains in flexibility. Perlman’s latest leg cast had just come off when she was able to stretch the toes on her left foot out and wear a shoe.

By all her therapists’ accounts, Perlman has shown exceptional resolve in fighting the fatigue, discomfort and frustration that are part of stroke recovery.

She has also had to battle the severe depression that a stroke leaves in its wake.

Flanagan observes that depression should be treated early and aggressively in stroke patients.

“We know that happy patients do better in rehab than sad patients,” he says. “We have to help them get the most out of their time in therapy.”

Fuller recovery from stroke takes a loyal, experienced team of therapists. With them, Perlman still keeps up a rigorous schedule of five physical therapy and two occupational therapy sessions a week at home.

“I expect to be 100 percent back,” she said. “I won’t stop until I am.”

She’s thankful for her “wonderful personal team,” including the friends and clients who rallied to her side after she was stricken.

Also appreciated: an occasional boost from strangers.

“I was walking to a restaurant with my cane. A short, Russian-looking man came up to me and said: ‘Did you have a stroke?’ I said ‘yes.’ He jumped up in the air and said: ‘So did I and look at me!'”

Steve Ditlea writes for the New York Daily News.

Nation & World Briefs


Israeli Mystic Was 104, 106 or 112

To many Jews, he was the celebrity of the century, a mystic with mystique.

No one knows exactly the age of Rabbi Yitzhak Kadouri, who died of pneumonia late last month. The official statements of the Israeli religious party Shas, for which he served as charismatic figurehead and sage, said he was 106 years old. But other accounts spoke of 104 or 112.

Neither was it precisely possible to quantify Kadouri’s contribution to the Orthodox canon. Unlike other leading rabbis, he left no great writings and never specialized in founding yeshivot.

Yet, close to a quarter-million mourners, including Israel’s chief rabbis and political notables, attended Kadouri’s funeral in Jerusalem on Sunday, Jan. 29, bringing the capital to a halt as his coffin was borne through the streets.

Israeli President Moshe Katsav eulogized him as “one of the outstanding leaders of the Jewish people in the past generations.”

Kadouri was the first name in kabbalah — a discipline which, almost by definition, fits those who seem more ethereal than others.

Well before the Kabbalah Centre in Los Angeles began recruiting superstars like Madonna, well before kabbalah was well known outside the secretive circles of Jewish mystics, Kadouri was studying it, prognosticating and even concocting his own talismans.

The Iraqi-born rabbi was an icon to Sephardic Jews, who attributed special powers to even the most mundane items — such as chairs and food — that he touched. Kadouri contributed to this image with a lifestyle at once virile and ascetic. A resident of Jerusalem’s impoverished Bukhari Quarter for most of his life, he chain-smoked cheap cigarettes with little apparent impact on his health, and was married twice — the second time when in his 90s, to a woman half his age.

Katsav called him “a symbol and example to all of the repudiation of materialism.”

His influence was important to the hordes of politicians who would seek Kadouri’s counsel, especially around election time. In 1996, Shas leader Aryeh Deri persuaded Kadouri to endorse the party, and it went on to major gains in the Knesset.

Kadouri’s support also helped Benjamin Netanyahu, a Shas ally, win the premiership in 1997.

“What interested him was that the religious parties would help the people of Israel and the Torah world,” Deri said.

Israel Continues PA Contacts

Israel’s acting prime minister said ties to the Palestinian Authority would continue as long as it is not led by Hamas. Ehud Olmert said the monthly transfers of taxes levied on behalf of the Palestinians by Israel would continue, but on a case-by-case basis, as long as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas remains independent of Hamas, the Islamic terrorist group that won parliamentary elections last month. Addressing a Tel Aviv economic conference, Olmert said that withholding the tax transfers, which he had considered, would only “play into the hands of the extremists.”

The Palestinians have several weeks to form a new Palestinian Authority government. Abbas has tried to assuage international concerns by proposing that he keep control of security forces even if Hamas ministers are appointed.

Gaza Farmers to Get Retraining

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem plans to retrain evacuated Gaza Strip settlement farmers. The university announced this week that around 100 farmers evacuated from Gaza would receive advanced training at its Faculty of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Quality Sciences. The government-funded studies begin March 5 and will last between six and 24 months. The project is intended to give the evacuees high-level professional training and help them return to work and re-establish farms.

Settlements Are Really Expensive

Settlements have cost Israelis more than $14 billion, not counting military expenditures, an independent Israeli study said. The study, released last Friday by the Research Institute for Economic and Social Affairs, also said the government spends twice as much on settlements as it does on local authorities inside Israel. The institute, funded by a German group that backs Israel-Arab dialogue, took 18 months to calculate the costs of four decades of settlement in areas claimed by the Palestinians. The government refused to provide assistance. There are about 250,000 settlers now living in the West Bank.

New Genealogical Center Opens

An institute devoted to Jewish genealogical research and study opened this week in Jerusalem. Described as the only one of its kind in the Jewish world, the International Institute for Jewish Genealogy at the Jewish National and University Library, is headed by Yosef Lamdan, a former Israeli ambassador to the Vatican. According to Lamdan, the institute will focus on teaching, research and collaborative projects of practical benefit to family historians. Jewish genealogy has gained immense popularity across the Jewish world over the last two decades, and especially since the rise of the Internet.

Emma Thompson Backs Anne Frank Site

Actress Emma Thompson helped launch a new Web site connected to the Anne Frank museum. Thompson placed her name on a leaf at the Amsterdam museum last week. Visitors to the Web site www.annefranktree.com can attach a story or a poem about what Anne Frank means to them to a cyber “chestnut tree,” a replica of the tree that sat outside her attic.

Briefs courtesy Jewish telegraphic Agency.

 

The Circuit


Leaving a Legacy

Fariba Nourfshan of Beverly Hills and Holli Rabishaw of Tarzana were among 22 young women selected to participate in Hadassah’s recent Young Women’s Legacy Mission to Poland and Israel. The program was designed to connect young women with their Israeli heritage and the numerous projects of Hadassah.

Chair for Thomas

It was standing-room-only when Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s President and CEO Thomas M. Priselac was named the inaugural recipient of the Warschaw Law Endowed Chair in Health Care Leadership, a permanent academic research chair devoted to furthering leadership, research and education in healthcare public policy and management. Officials and physicians who joined in the festivities following the ceremonies included L.A. Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa and West Hollywood Mayor Abbe Land, who were among the speakers. Carmen Warschaw, a life trustee of the Cedars-Sinai board of directors, and her son-in-law, John C. Law, Cedars-Sinai board chair, along with Law’s wife, Hope, endowed the chair.

“With Tom Priselac’s depth of expertise and passion for quality health care, this endowed chair will advance health care policy and delivery in California and the nation,” Law said.

Priselac began his association with Cedars-Sinai Health System more than two decades ago, serving as executive vice president until 1994 when he was appointed president and CEO. Priselac also serves as an adjunct faculty member of the UCLA School of Public Health. He is a past member of the American Hospital Association board of directors, chairs the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce Health Committee and is a member of the board of trustees of the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science.

“The endowment will allow me to continue supporting the well-being of patients through the development of policy initiatives, new research and education, which I hope will ultimately lead to improved health care coverage in California,” Priselac said.

Rabbi in the House

A special family dinner and concert was held Jan. 21 at Temple Beth El of San Pedro featuring Jewish composer and musician Cantor Wally Schachet-Briskin, who is known for his teaching and appearance each summer for “Hagigah” at the Union for Reform Judaism’s camps Swig, Kutz and Newman. Schachet-Briskin, who is cantor at Leo Baeck Temple in Los Angeles, appeared in honor of the installation and consecration for Rabbi Charles Kahn Briskin, as spiritual leader at Temple Beth El.

Saluting Soldiers I

More than 850 people, including many of the most prominent leaders of the Jewish community, gathered at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills to honor the brave men and women who serve in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). The Friends of the IDF Western Region held the event to raise funds for an auditorium, library and synagogue at the soon to be built new REIM Base in the Negev.

The gala dinner was co-chaired by Cheryl and Haim Saban and included a live satellite hook-up with soldiers stationed near Gaza. The evening’s special guest speaker was Avi Dicter who recently retired as head of Shin Bet. By the end of the evening, the gala dinner had raised nearly $4 million — with many additional pledges and commitments under discussion — for recreational facilities at a new army base in the Negev, reported the group’s director Miri Nash.

Even in Beverly Hills, it’s not every day that someone gets up to pledge $1 million to a good cause, to say nothing of two successive million-dollar donors. It happened at the 25th anniversary celebration, when the Saban and his wife announced their gift, almost as a throwaway line.

Not bad for an ex-corporal in the IDF, who was surrounded by a platoon of respectful Israeli ex-generals.

Next in line was Leo David, former chair of the Western Region, who proclaimed that anything Saban could do, he could do and added another million bucks.

Dichter, a rising star in Israel’s Kadima Party, warned that the “terror states” of Iran, Syria and Lebanon had not given up on their hopes to destroy the Jewish state. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Saluting Soldiers II

The Chanukah e-mail from an American Jewish soldier in Iraq put it succinctly: “We have a hard time getting things here,” wrote Army Staff Sgt. David T. Silcox.

He was thanking Jewish community volunteers in Los Angeles and Connecticut for the Chanukah gift packages sent to Jewish troops in Iraq as well as soldiers in Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar through Operation Far From Home.

“We also sent little gifts for the soldiers, so they can send those to their children,” said Jewish community activist Adeena Bleich, who created Operation Far Home last Passover with her parents, Linda and Phil Bleich, who live in New Haven, Conn.

“Jewish solders need to know that we’re here and we’re thinking of them,” Linda Bleich said.

Operation Far From Home has received 500 Jewish music CDs from the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, plus donations from former California state Assemblyman Bob Hertzberg and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), as well as support from several L.A. area shuls and schools. One seventh-grader at Hillel Hebrew Academy wrote to the troops: “I admire what you are doing for our country.”

Rabbi Elazar Muskin of Young Israel of Century City said he likes Operation Far From Home because, “it’s our responsibility to support our soldiers overseas who are defending democracy for us.” — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer