Jewish Home’s makeover: yoga at 3, facials at 4

After strolling down the hall from your room for breakfast, you duck into the art studio to work on your latest ceramics project. Then you head down to the club room for a yoga class.
You have lunch, then sit in a shaded outdoor courtyard, listening to the sound of a nearby fountain and chatting with a friend. The two of you step into the salon for facials and hair styling before heading to the dining room, where you select from a choice of dinner entrees.
Oh, and by the way, you’re 84-years-old and you live in a skilled-nursing facility.

While this may not sound like life in a nursing home, it could be a typical day at the Joyce Eisenberg-Keefer Medical Center, which will be dedicated Oct. 29 as the newest facility at the Jewish Home for the Aging in Reseda. The $58.5 million, 249-bed center, the largest building in the home’s nearly 100-year history, is designed to provide emotional and spiritual, as well as physical, well-being to its residents.

“There are few, if any, skilled-nursing facilities that truly foster healthy living,” said Jewish Home for the Aging President and CEO Molly Forrest. “We firmly believe in investing in healthy living programs and facilities that reinforce life and are focused on quality living each day.”
Located at the corner of Tampa Avenue and Sherman Way, at the home’s Grancell Village Campus, the center includes three interconnected buildings. Two of them — the Hazan Pavilion and the LaKretz-Black Tower — are residential structures, while the Brandman Research Institute houses an in-patient acute psychiatric-care unit, research offices, a computer center/library, art studio and fitness room.

The center’s new acute in-patient psychiatric-care unit was especially needed given the psychological issues faced by many seniors, Forrest said. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, people older than 65 have the highest rates of suicide of any age group, and men account for 84 percent of those suicides. Forrest notes that many of the Home’s residents, whose average age is 84, have outlived spouses, siblings, friends and sometimes their children. In addition, more than 50 of the home’s residents are Holocaust survivors, who often have particular psychological issues.
The Joyce Eisenberg-Keefer Medical Center will provide a new home for 114 of the 350 individuals currently on the home’s waiting list for skilled-nursing care. In addition, 125 residents currently living in an outmoded, 50-year-old building at the Home’s nearby Eisenberg Village Campus will be transferred to the new facility. The remaining 10 beds are in the psychiatric unit.

Featuring small, intimate settings, each of the building’s five floors are divided into three donor-designated “neighborhoods” (among them, for example, Boyle Heights and Chicago) each delineated by its own color scheme and artwork. Each floor has three dining rooms — the main dining room, a smaller room for those who cannot feed themselves, and a medium-size “transitional” one for residents who are relearning feeding skills — and a family visiting room.
In addition, the floors are equipped with their own computer room/library, with a reading area, cable television, computer and phone for communal use. A “club room” on every floor offers fitness classes such as Tai Chi and stretching, while the creative studio, staffed 12 hours daily, enables residents to engage in painting, woodworking and other crafts.
“We want to give residents the opportunity to improve their lives and build on their skills,” Forrest said.
With decor more suggestive of a hotel than a skilled-nursing facility, carpeting takes the place of linoleum in hallways and resident rooms. Birch bookcases and armoires grace the interior of each room, while outside a mounted “memory box” displays personal photos and memorabilia.
Residents, visitors and staff can also patronize Gerald’s Deli, a pareve eatery featuring soups and sandwiches. And then there’s Maxi’s, a salon offering hair cutting, coloring and styling, makeup, facials, waxing and shaves.

Forrest said that the new facilities also will enable the home to hold more community programs. Brawerman Terrace, located on the roof, will be the site of future holiday gatherings, garden parties and other events, while the computer center will host classes open to the public.
The Joyce Eisenberg-Keefer Medical Center is the second major project of a $72 million campaign launched in 1999 to build new facilities and upgrade existing ones. The first project was the Goldenberg-Ziman Special Care Center for patients with dementia, which was dedicated in 2002. Next year, the home plans to begin construction of Fountainview at Eisenberg Village, a 108-unit, upscale independent-living facility. Plans also call for establishing a facility on the Westside, and potential locations are currently being considered.

L.A’s Helping Hands

Two months ago, I had dinner with a friend who lived in New Orleans. We chatted about our communities, and I reminisced about the two years I spent in her city almost 40 years ago.

Last week, I received an e-mail from the same woman, who emotionally recounted fleeing New Orleans with two children, just in front of Hurricane Katrina. Although safe, she and her family were trying to adjust, dealing with the children’s schooling and arranging housing. They had taken only two days of clothing, expecting to return home in 48 hours.

My friend’s tale is one among tens of thousands; many are far more devastating, as families are dealing with the deaths of loved ones and the loss of nearly everything they own. As New Orleans is dredged, the true scope of the devastation will be understood. Already, the evacuees realize that a return to their former lives in that wonderful city may take months or years, and that some things may never be recovered. Into that disheartening reality, the Jews of Los Angeles and elsewhere have stepped in willingly and generously to help as they can, exactly as their religion says they should. And all the fractiousness, all the confusing, competing layers of the various Jewish organizations have seemingly melted away, coordinating the relief aid very much as they were designed to do.

As one of the largest social service agencies in Southern California, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles kicked into gear to coordinate our region’s Jewish response, and to play an active role as part of the nationwide response of the United Jewish Communities.

The efforts of the voluntary community and nonprofit organizations, both sectarian and nonsectarian, have been extraordinary. Thousands of volunteers have come forward and given time and money. Clothing and food have been sent to assist evacuees in cities like Houston, Baton Rouge and Jackson, Miss.

It is a tribute to the organized Jewish community that there was never a question — but that its assistance would go to all who needed it, regardless of faith or ethnicity.

The Houston Federation, in particular, is playing a central role. With its partners in the synagogue community, the Houston federation has responded compassionately and effectively in helping to collect small items like toothpaste and soap, to distribute food and to sort clothing for those with nothing but what is on their backs.

They have helped evacuees with temporary housing and the essentials of daily living. They have counseled the traumatized, and made it somewhat easier for the bereaved.

Beyond the affected region, the organized Jewish community is mobilizing across the country. Here in Los Angeles, we began our work immediately. After the hurricane, our communal network of affiliated human service agencies was convened by Federation senior staff, representing Jewish Family Service, Jewish Vocational Service, Hillel, the Bureau of Jewish Education, Jewish Free Loan Society and the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, among others, to share information and to discuss how to coordinate and how assist evacuees expected in our city. The Board of Rabbis reached out to the synagogue community to help both Jews and non-Jews from the impacted region who started to arrive.

A natural disaster of this sort creates confusion exacerbated by the difficulty in using normal channels of communication. Our Federation has stepped in, fielding calls from local residents, connecting them with friends and family in the Gulf Coast.

We also have reached out to connect local manufacturers and businesses that have offered crucial in-kind contributions of supplies and locations needed to feed, shelter and clothe, including offers of water, trucks or mobile homes. And we’ve tried to quickly and thoughtfully match those offers with needs.

We can do so because we have over many years been set up to do it. Of no small consequence is the nearly $600,000 donated by Los Angeles residents through The Federation’s Hurricane Relief Fund. Much of this money is going directly to food banks in Houston and for other vital supplies in Houston, Baton Rouge and Jackson.

Going forward, the organized Jewish community will continue to raise funds. It will continue to coordinate the collection of goods. And it will attempt to broker opportunities for volunteers who wish to do something meaningful in the healing process. This relief work to assist hurricane victims is a reminder of the importance of the social service network through which The Federation plays a lead role. Today, such efforts to help residents from the Gulf Coast are in the spotlight, but even when that spotlight fades, we intend to stay on the job.

Raising money, delivering services and building networks to help people here and around the world is what we are supposed to do and part of our daily life as Jews.

John Fishel is president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.


Southland Responds to Relief Needs

Prominent rabbis have been urging their congregations to give generously to Hurricane Katrina relief funds, the most prominent being one set up by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, which had raised more than $500,000 by early this week.

The scope of the disaster is reaching Southland Jews through media reports and other sources. At Rancho Park’s Reform Temple Isaiah, Rabbi Zoe Klein received an Aug. 31 e-mail from a congregant worried about her relatives stuck in a New Orleans hospital.

“There is nine feet of water outside the hospital where they are staying,” the message read. “They have their two children, a friend’s child and my sister-in-law’s two blind parents with them…. The generators have run out of fuel.

“They think they will be evacuated by boat to a dry area and then hope to drive out of town if they can find a car…. Would you mind saying a prayer and exercising whatever pull you have with G-d….”

In Westwood, Sinai Temple’s Rabbi David Wolpe told a Sept. 3 Shabbat audience of more than 900 that “the best way to insure both the decency and the safety of the human community is, when we are the lucky ones, to give a model of what it means to have open hands and open hearts.”

At Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills, Reform Rabbi Steve Jacobs said the hurricane’s aftermath is something that “has exposed the great poverty in America.”

Among the many temples collecting donations is the Orthodox Young Israel of Century City. “We’re going to send one check in the next few weeks,” said Rabbi Elazar Mushkin. “You do not read this [hurricane] as a judgment of God. Planets are formed, tectonic plates shift, earthquakes occur and sometime innocent people die.”

Some Sept. 3 bar and bat mitzvahs included hurricane donations, rabbis said.

Temple Ramat Zion in Northridge has collected more than 15,000 articles of clothing for shipping to Congregation B’nai Israel in Baton Rouge, La. B’nai Israel is providing shelter for 200-plus evacuees and requested clothing and baby items for immediate distribution.

Heading into the hurricane’s devastation zone were two leaders of the L.A. chapter of the emergency-response volunteer group, Hatzolah. Rabbis Tzemach Rosenfeld and Chaim Kolodny arrived in Montgomery, Ala., on Labor Day to help out for at least a week, bringing with them a suitcase loaded with kosher food.

“We never know who we’re gonna bump into,” Kolodny said.

By early this week, the situation seemed to have improved for Jewish residents and other hurricane victims who’d survived. Los Angeles Federation President John Fishel sent out an e-mail stating that most Jews appear to have been evacuated.

In addition, he had instructions for families attempting to reunite. “Any New Orleans evacuees can report their whereabouts to,” he wrote. “There may be students from the affected areas studying here in Los Angeles. If so, they are asked to contact Hillel.”

Fishel added that New Orleans’ Jewish leaders are asking Jews elsewhere to avoid contacting either the New Orleans or Houston federation staff directly, but “to do so through the L.A. Federation.”


A Tale of Two Cities Divided

On one side there is no escaping the wall: hulking, concrete and towering almost 28 feet into the sky.

Where it’s not a wall, the barrier is a mesh fence topped with barbed wire and cameras, looping around the entire Palestinian city of Kalkilya.

Just across the boundary and only a little over a mile away, in the Israeli city of Kfar Saba, the barrier is welcomed.

But has anyone in Kfar Saba actually seen the barrier? Shrugs, shakes of the head — no.

Kalkilya is surrounded on all sides by what Israel calls the separation fence, a barrier the government says it must build to protect its citizens from suicide bombers, snipers and other Palestinian terrorists.

Residents of Kalkilya say it has turned their city into a ghetto.

But Kfar Saba residents are solidly behind the wall.

"I think we need it. It’s for our security," said Dafna Subai, walking down Kfar Saba’s main shopping street with her family. "If the worst is that they have to live behind a wall and the worst for us is that we are blown up, then I say let them live behind a wall for now."

The differing views of the security fence are coming to a head as Israel and the Palestinians prepare for a Feb. 23 hearing on the barrier’s legality at the International Court of Justice at The Hague.

Palestinians argue that the fence is a land grab, taking territory they want for a future state. Israel claims the fence is necessary for security — and is perhaps the least invasive step the Jewish state can take after three years of Palestinian terrorism have left nearly 1,000 Israelis dead and thousands more wounded.

In most places the fence hews roughly to the Green Line, the armistice line from Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, which served as a de facto boundary until the 1967 Six-Day War. But parts of the fence are projected to bow into the West Bank, causing tension between Israel and its main ally, the United States.

The fence also is altering the delicate fabric of life that has emerged between Israelis and Palestinians over nearly four decades.

According to the Israeli army spokesman’s office, five suicide bombers from Kalkilya have carried out attacks in Israel. Among them was the bomber who exploded himself outside Tel Aviv’s Dolphinarium disco in June 2001, killing 21 young Israelis.

Last year, a sniper circumvented the wall by crawling through a drainage pipe, shooting at an Israeli car traveling on the nearby Trans-Israel Highway and killing a baby girl.

A portion of the concrete barrier that is now part of the greater fence project was built in late 2001 to protect Israeli vehicles on the highway from snipers in Kalkilya. Several road workers had been fired upon during the highway’s construction.

The decision to build the wall almost 28-feet high was calculated to ensure that buses would not be hit by sniper fire, said Jacob Dallal, an Israeli army spokesman.

The main problem in Kalkilya is that it is adjacent to the Trans-Israel Highway, "and therefore Israel had no choice but to build a concrete wall, which is very different from most of the rest of the fence," said Dore Gold, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

"It’s also important to recall that throughout the world you have acoustic walls next to a highway, and they don’t look much different" than the wall near Kalkilya, he added.

In Kalkilya, the fence looms large as both a physical and a practical nuisance. Opposition to it is unanimous and locals dismiss Israel’s security argument, saying attacks will continue with or without the barrier.

"Peace has to come from within. Peace cannot be established through fences and walls," said Abdullah Shreem, a Kalkilya farmer who is among those whose land is located on the Israeli side of the fence. "If a tiger is kept in a closed room, you can imagine how it will act when it is out of its cage. This apartheid wall only shows Israel thinks of us as animals — another reason for Palestinians to resist."

Before the Palestinian intifada broke out in September 2000, the residents of Kfar Saba, a palm tree-lined suburb of Tel Aviv, thronged to neighboring Kalkilya on weekends for humus lunches, bargain shopping and cheap automobile repair.

But those days are barely a memory at the Israeli military checkpoint where, until the fence was built, soldiers guarded the only way into and out of the Kalkilya.

Now the checkpoint is dominated by cement blocs topped with sandbags. A nearby watchtower is draped in camouflage netting, and army trucks and jeeps whiz in and out.

In an effort to improve the quality of life in Kalkilya, the Israeli army downgraded its presence at the checkpoint in recent weeks.

Soldiers now visit only sporadically and Palestinians pass the checkpoint freely in donkey carts, trucks and on foot.

Jessica Montrell, who heads the Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem, says that by opening up the entrance to Kalkilya, Israel is disproving its own argument about security risks.

"I think it only strengthens the argument that most of the suffering of the Palestinian population is needless and not necessarily for security," she said.

With a population of 40,000, Kalkilya serves as a center for surrounding Palestinian towns and villages. It has the main hospital in the area, and many of the teachers for area schools live in Kalkilya.

Many of the Palestinians in Kalkilya work as shopkeepers or in agriculture. Unemployment has soared, partly because of Israeli limits on the number of Palestinian workers allowed into Israel since the intifada began.

Kalkilya is a Palestinian hub for citrus fruit, boasting vast groves of orange and lemon trees, as Kfar Saba did before its rapid development in recent decades. Nicknamed the "City of Orange Gold," Kalkilya’s fortunes have suffered because of intifada violence, which has limited the transport of produce to Israel and abroad.

In August 2002, Israel’s Cabinet approved the first stage of the security fence, including the area around Kalkilya near Israel’s narrow waist. The plans made Kalkilya and neighboring Palestinian villages of Habla and Ras Atiya into enclaves enclosed by the fence.

According to B’Tselem, the decision to enclose the three Palestinian towns was made in part to appease pressure from nearby Jewish towns in the West Bank to be included on the Israeli side of the fence.

Although Habla, for example, is only 218 yards from Kalkilya, the fence construction means that residents of one area will have to drive about seven miles to reach the other.

There is a gate between Kalkilya and Habla for farmers to use, but residents say it is opened only sporadically. Construction reportedly is under way on an underground passage between Kalkilya and Habla to ease the fence’s impact on Palestinians.

Farmers like Shreem who have land beyond the Kalkilya fence must receive special permits to visit their property. Shreem also has land in Habla, and he pulls out a green, folded document from the Israeli army stating that he is a farmer with produce in the area and has permission to travel there.

But for the past three days he has not been able to go to Habla, he said, because the army closed the Kalkilya exit for what he heard were security reasons.

Shreem surveys the flock of Damascus sheep that, in pre-intifada days, he would export to Israel and the Persian Gulf states for a hefty profit. He also has rows of cedar, kumquat and olive tree saplings bordering his greenhouses.

Shreem’s property rests along the edges of the concrete wall that stretches for 1.8 miles on the western side of the city.

He said army officials told him he can no longer use the six acres closest to the fence. If he does not remove them, he said he was told, the army will demolish the greenhouses because they are too close to the wall.

Israeli officials did not relate specifically to Shreem’s claim, but Israel has said it will compensate Palestinians whose property is destroyed or expropriated because of the fence project. Some Palestinians have sought and received compensation, while others have resisted, Israeli officials say.

Shreem, for example, has refused to request compensation because receiving it would mean signing away his right to the land.

"That is something I will never do," he said.

In Kfar Saba, a city of about 80,000 where the first Jewish settlers planted citrus groves and harvested almonds and peanuts, most residents today work in high-tech or commerce. Many commute to jobs in nearby Tel Aviv.

About 10 percent of the city’s population consists of immigrants from the former Soviet Union or Ethiopia. It’s a homey city with ice cream shops and a city hall of white stucco and dark wood that dates back over 100 years, when it was a Turkish inn.

Residents are fond of their city, praising the culture and good schools.

Kfar Saba has not been attacked as much as other Israeli cities that border the West Bank, such as Netanya or Jerusalem.

But intifada violence indeed has reached Kfar Saba’s streets. On March 17, 2002, a Palestinian gunman opened fire across from a Kfar Saba high school, critically wounding an 18-year-old student and wounding 16 others.

On Nov. 4, 2002, a suicide bomber came to the city’s main mall but was stymied by a security guard who asked to check his bag. The bomber detonated his explosives, killing himself and the guard.

Miri Horvitz, a cosmetics saleswoman at the mall, was there the day of the attack.

"If the fence brings us quiet then I think it’s the best thing," she said. "I feel freer now, more relaxed."

Horvitz becomes subdued when she talks about the aftermath of the mall attack. "I was scared to leave the house for a long time," she said.

Her daughter, Hila, 24, shared her mother’s fear of attacks. Only now, after a two-year hiatus, has Hila returned to riding city buses. She also is in favor of the fence.

"I saw the fence on television," she said at the trendy boutique where she and her mother shopped. "It’s not a ghetto; it’s a security fence. I don’t think it’s as drastic as people say, suggesting it’s a ghetto and we are the Nazis."

At the open-air mall where the attack took place, there are balconies and a stone plaza with fountains where children roll with in-line skates, skateboard and ride bicycles. Trampolines are set up and children in harnesses strapped to bungee chords jump up and down.

"We feel more secure, although we know it doesn’t totally take away the risk," said Ruhama Sarussi, a teacher who visited the mall with her two sons, both on in-line skates. "We don’t want to put anyone in a ghetto, including them, but when will they let us feel secure so we don’t have to fear them?"

Inside the mall, Shlomo Shabo, a salesman at the electronics store a few feet from where the suicide bomber exploded, recalls the attack — the flesh that clung to his shirt, the thick, choking smoke and the crashing sound as television sets and appliances exploded.

"People are ripped into pieces because of these bombers. I saw it right here," Shabo said. The Palestinians "are paying the price for those wreaking havoc here. If there was no terrorism, there would be total freedom."

But the only long-term solution, Shabo said, is not a fence but a peace agreement.

In the Kalkilya neighborhood that faces the concrete wall, Nuhaila A’Wainat, a Palestinian homemaker and mother of five sons, sits in her spacious new home. It has high ceilings, a staircase with wooden railings, stone pillars and overstuffed red velvet couches. But she laments the view.

"My dream was to have a house like this. This is what we worked for all our lives," she said.

A’Wainat has a smooth oval face and her hair is covered by a beige scarf. She and her husband, a wealthy automobile parts salesman, built the house with money saved during several years of work in Kuwait.

They moved in 18 months ago, and enjoyed being so close to Kfar Saba.

"I enjoyed seeing the lights," she said. "It is Israel, but it is Palestine to me."

Now, however, she can hardly bring herself to look at the wall, which is some 15 yards from her house.

Her family feels alienated, she said, because relatives and friends fear visiting a home so close to the wall. Soldiers patrol along the wall, and people fear being shot accidentally.

"We are constantly on edge," she said. "Every little noise or movement makes us worry."

She places the blame entirely on Israel, however, rather than on Palestinians whose attacks precipitated the construction.

In Kfar Saba, the closest neighborhood to Kalkilya is on the city’s far eastern side. It consists mostly of immigrants who live in apartment blocks where the paint peels off the walls and gardens lie untended.

Their view is of white squat houses on Kalkilya’s sloping hillside. A verdant green field separates the two cities. From here, the wall can’t be seen.

Hussia, an immigrant from Moldova, wears a flowered house dress as she walks her small dog. The Arabs do not want peace, she said, and only a fence that climbs to the heavens would be high enough.

As for the security fence, she said, "Where is it? I have not seen it."

Aging: A Jewish Community Issue

When I first met Sarah, she was bent over her walker intently making her way through the gardens of the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging (JHA). While her steps were merely a shuffle, her brown eyes were lively.

I often walk through our Grancell Village and Eisenberg Village campuses to visit with our 800 residents. I frequently ask the question: “What makes the Jewish Home Jewish?”

Sarah had a ready answer.

“I am the daughter of a rabbi and the wife of a cantor,” she said. “I have outlived all my brothers and sisters. My husband is gone. And now I have outlived my children, too. What makes this home Jewish is that when I outlive this [she taps her temple] then I trust this home and the community to take care of me.”

Sarah died peacefully last year at age 101. Her words stay with me. This simple story sums up our home’s mission — taking care of our elderly — and how crucial it is to involve the entire community in their support.

We are reminded daily through advertising and news stories of the “graying” of America. With increasing life spans and a growing population of those older than 65, our politicians debate budget allocations and changes in governmental programs without sufficient consideration of Sarah and the millions she represents. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid (Medi-Cal) programs are stretched beyond capacity to meet the present and future needs. Somewhere in focusing on the numbers of the elderly, they lost sight of Sarah. We are Sarah.

A phenomenon in the graying hair of America is the whitening hair of our Jewish community. Jews are living longer than other groups in our nation. Currently, one in every eight Americans is “older” (65+). As the baby boom generation begins to turn 65, projections are that one in five people will be older than 65 by 2030. Surprisingly, our population of 85+ is growing even faster than the 65+-ers. The 1997 Los Angeles Jewish Population Survey reported that Jews older than 85 were already almost 2 percent of the population — nearly twice that of the general population.

Each year of increasing age brings challenges. Acute illnesses hit harder and long time “chronic” conditions (like arthritis or diabetes) are more difficult to manage. Walking is often dependent on a walker, cane or wheelchair. Eyesight and hearing are affected. The fear and risk of cognitive impairments grows. Isolation becomes a daily habit, loneliness an ache and the only companion television or a caretaker/housekeeper. Safety and personal security concerns limit evening outings and inhibit trying “new” activities. Ninety percent of seniors use Social Security as their primary income, and one-third of our most elderly live on less than $10,000 each year. Government resources are already inadequate. Remarkably, almost half of our oldest seniors live independently. But others, like Sarah, need help — either around the clock, or intermittently — to enjoy a life that can be enriching and fulfilling. At JHA, the average age is 90 and, like Sarah, one-third of our 800 residents have outlived spouse, siblings and children. Seventy-five percent of our 800 residents are able to receive the care of the JHA only because of welfare programs supplemented by the generosity of individual donors.

Sarah’s story, along with the sobering statistics, is a wake-up call. We cannot assume the government or someone else will take responsibility for our elderly; it is up to us. Supporting the frailest and most dependent of our seniors also demands a commitment to excellence in the quality and quantity of services provided. An old Chasidic quote rings true today: “The prosperity of a country is in accordance with its treatment of the aged.”

Choices we make now can assure that our Jewish elderly live lives of dignity and respect. We learn well from our elders, as from JHA resident Sylvia Harmatz, age 105: “How wonderful that there were people who had the foresight to build the Jewish Home. They have created a home where old people can go and spend the last years of their lives without worry. This is truly a haven.”

From another resident: “A reason to get up in the morning! Companionship, friendship. This is what I’ve found.”

Action is the next step and, like Sarah’s, it can be a small one. If you want to learn more about the needs and how to help, come and visit the JHA. Together with us, determine what you can do to make a difference today and tomorrow. Talk about aging with your peers and your children — it’s an important issue for us all and we all need to be involved. Life does not end because we get older, life ends when we stop living it.

Jewish Home for the Aging will break ground on its new residential medical center on Sunday, Feb. 8. For more information, call (818) 774-3000.

Molly Forrest is CEO of the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging.

Folk Singer Observes a Pensive ‘Holiday’

Some years ago, folk diva Chava Alberstein discovered therundown immigrant neighborhood around the south Tel Aviv central bus station.For the Israeli superstar, the area became a refuge, a place to stroll or sipcoffee unmolested by fans. The residents were foreign workers from countriessuch as China, Thailand, Nigeria and Romania.

But as their numbers swelled to replace Palestinians afterthe intifada, Alberstein — considered Israel’s Joan Baez — saw conditionsdeteriorating.

“These people are brought to Israel, their passports areconfiscated so they can’t go anywhere and they’re forced to live in the worstsituations,” she said. “You see people crawling out of the most unbelievablehovels. It’s bothered me for a long time.”

So Alberstein, 56, did what one would expect of Baez: Shepoured her indignation into an album. Her new CD, “End of the Holiday” (RounderRecords), due in stores Jan. 13,  provides heartbreaking glimpses into thelives of Israel’s estimated 200,000 foreign workers. In her song “FridayNight,” homesick Romanian men sit at dingy snack bars listening to Gypsy music.In “Real Estate,” laundromats and garbage bins are transformed into workers’lodgings in cramped south Tel Aviv. In “Black Video,” an African house cleanertapes tourist sites, rather than his shabby room, to send home with all hissavings.

Speaking from her Tel Aviv home, Alberstein said she isespecially moved by the foreigners’ plight because she, too, immigrated to Israel.

“It’s important to me that the Jews, who were temporaryresidents of so many countries, should be able to welcome the stranger,” shesaid. “I would love to give other people the chance to make Israel their home,as I’ve made this country my home.”

Alberstein, the daughter of Polish Holocaust survivors,arrived in Israel around 1950 at the age of 4. Her father, a piano teacher, wastoo poor to purchase a piano, so he bought an accordion and made Chava hisfirst pupil. At age 12, Alberstein was riveted by a Pete Seeger concert andbegged her father for a guitar; he procured for her a used one from a sailor inHaifa. Several years later, she was inspired by American folk musicians whodrew on their ethnic roots to put out her debut album in Yiddish. It wasconsidered a bold, even controversial move in the Hebrew-dominated state.

Nevertheless, the singer-songwriter went on to record almost50 albums and become one of Israel’s most celebrated folk icons, along withartists such as Shlomo Artzi and Yehoram Gaon. “She is the same age as hercountry, and she has captured its growing pangs in her music,” said SimonRutberg of Hatikvah Music in Los Angeles.

Indeed, Alberstein’s dusky alto has often served as a voiceof conscience for the Jewish state: Her “Chad Gadya,” a scathing riff on thePassover tune, admonished Israel for perpetuating the cycle of violence duringthe first intifada. The 1989 song was virtually banned from the radio and ledto canceled concerts and threatening phone calls to Alberstein.

More recently, the folk artist returned to her immigrantroots by writing songs based on Yiddish poems and recording them with theKlezmatics. The resulting CD, 1999’s “The Well,” drew critical praise in theUnited States, as did Alberstein’s cabaret-flavored “Foreign Letters,” recordedin Yiddish, Hebrew and English.

She wasn’t intending to begin a new album two years ago,when her husband, filmmaker Nadav Levitan, showed her poems he had writtenabout foreign workers.

“I thought I was resting,” she said. But then Albersteinread his work, which included “Vera From Bucharest,” about a caretaker strandedwhen her elderly charge dies. “I cried when I read the poems, and I knew I hadto set them to music,” she said.

Alberstein infused the songs with melodies she had heard onthe streets of south Tel Aviv: Romanian strains for “Vera,” for example, andAfrican rhythms for “Black Video.” But while the album is melancholy, she said,it is not about despair.

“It’s about people who are desperate, and who findthemselves in a bad place, but who are struggling to make their lives better,”she said.

The album has been well received in Israel, according toAlberstein.

“It’s accepted with enthusiasm, especially by young peoplewho realize there are so many issues we don’t deal with as we tend to obsessonly about war and peace,” she said. “Because of the political situation … weoften forget there are other people with other problems in the world. Andsometimes they are just around the corner.”

For more information about Alberstein, visit

Sweet Support for Israel

Who doesn’t love honey? Dunking apple slices in it — along with challah, chicken and everything else — on Rosh Hashanah is a favorite holiday ritual symbolizing hope for a sweet New Year. Now you can buy your honey and help Israel, too.

The Jewish Federation of Orange County is on its way to starting another New Year tradition by again urging residents to buy Israeli-made honey for their own Rosh Hashanah tables as well as contributing a jar to an Israeli family.

This year, six other Jewish communities in Western states are joining in the "Honey for the Holidays" promotion, started by the broad-based O.C. Israel Solidarity Task Force, said Bunnie Mauldin, the O.C. Federation’s executive director. "We are with you in sweetness and sorrow," reads the card that will be attached to hundreds of honey jars expected to be distributed in the Israeli communities of Kiryat Malachi and Hof Ashkelon.

Some of the nectar-filled jars, produced by the Hof Ashkelon apiary, Yad Mordechai, are also available for sale at several distribution points through October. Sites include Costa Mesa’s Jewish Community Center, Irvine’s Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School, Rancho Santa Margarita’s Morasha Jewish Day School, Santa Ana’s Temple Beth Sholom and Fountain Valley’s Congregation B’nai Tzedek. A donation in multiples of $18 is requested, with extra funds going toward worthwhile projects in Israel.

For several years, Orange County has sent aid and visitors to the two Israeli towns. Last year, their cumulative gifts provided scholarships for higher education to four families, Mauldin said.

For more information or to order jars, call the Jewish Federation of Orange County at (714) 755-5555.

Ages Up, Numbers Down at Heritage Pointe

Sam Schlesinger, 98, downloads The Jerusalem Post’s online
edition every day and distributes it to other residents of Mission Viejo’s Heritage Pointe. Vera Rabina, 63,
is the community’s youngest resident and a political asylum seeker from the
former Soviet Union. Her daily routine is to board a city bus or walk to a
nearby junior college, where she is enrolled in English-language classes.

   For six years, Evelyne Fidler, 87, also lived in the
community, enriched by the socialization of new-found friends. Rabbis came to
rely on Fidler’s adult grandson, Steve Sachse, to hoist the Torah and carry it
through the in-house synagogue during holidays.

Now, Fidler is befuddled by dementia, unable to use a spoon,
recall a friend’s last name or, as importantly, respond appropriately to a
potential emergency. Her need for 24-hour care outstrips the facility’s
licensed services. By mutual agreement, Sachse last month relocated his
grandmother to a non-Jewish board-and-care facility, licensed for Alzheimer

The 169 residents of Orange County’s only Jewish retirement
home possess a varying range of physical and mental limitations. Yet, compared
to the original occupants who moved in 12 years ago, new arrivals to Heritage
Pointe are considerably older and more frail. The average age is 89.

That demographic shift is changing expectations about
Heritage Pointe’s targeted population, which is less independent than
anticipated. Older residents are also likely to spur in the near future a
broadening of services, such as a contemplated dementia unit. Yet, despite an
over-60 county population of 13 percent that far exceeds the 4 percent state
average, there is no waiting list for Heritage Pointe’s 178 units, which
average $2,600 monthly. Occupancy has declined to 88 percent, which
administrators blame on a proliferation of newer, rival facilities that make
the county one of the nation’s most densely populated for senior housing.

The trends are presenting new challenges for the nonprofit
facility, its community-based leadership and their pledge to subsidize 20
percent of the population. Last year, Heritage Pointe supporters raised
$800,000 to underwrite in varying degrees 33 residents, contributing 7 percent
toward the facility’s $11 million annual operating costs. Private-paying
residents make up the rest. There is no government reimbursement or United Way

“If we had nothing but very old people with no money, it’s
not sustainable,” said Fred Forster, of Newport Beach, the volunteer president
of Heritage Pointe’s board. “We’ve got to have a mix. We don’t want broader
financial challenges.”

The most successful senior housing model, he said, is
assisted-living, where residents receive help for personal needs such as
dressing or showering. Other more established Jewish homes, such as Reseda’s
Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging and Encinitas’ Seacrest Village, offer a
broader care continuum, including 24-hour nursing. “We’re the new kid on the
block,” he said.

The advancing age of a still-healthy elderly population is
an issue throughout the nation, said Nancy D. Zionts, who specializes in aging
issues at the Pittsburgh-based Jewish Healthcare Foundation. The elevated
personal needs of older residents are forcing providers to redefine services,
edging closer to the environment of skilled-nursing homes, where residents
share rooms, but lack kitchens and patios.

“Five years ago, we couldn’t accept anyone who was
incontinent,” said Renata R. Loveless, Heritage Pointe’s administrator. “What
they thought assisted-living was going to be, isn’t so.”

Two-thirds of Heritage Pointe residents live independently,
filling their days with activities ranging from lectures to movies, cards and
services by itinerant rabbis. They rely on the 110-person staff only for
housekeeping, food service and bus service. About 74 residents require varying
amounts of fee-based personal services. Six are Holocaust survivors. There is a
contingent from New York and Florida, who moved to be closer to children, and a
group of former residents of Leisure World, a local retirement community.

While many older people resist moving into a communal
facility until forced by a crisis, many find their health improves with a
better diet and medication-management, Loveless said. “We have quite a few
rough moments,” she said. “Most are changed for the better. We take away a lot
of stressers.”

To ensure that doctor-prescribed diets and medications are
taken as ordered, a nurse leads the facility’s health department. Precautions
for residents rather than state regulation dictate hiring such professionals,
said Loveless, hired by Generations Management Group LLC, which also manages
two San Diego senior homes. Yet, lower occupancy required Loveless to layoff
three people in resident-serving jobs while adding two full-time marketers.

Aesthetics, though, rather than services, influence
decision-making by the children of potential residents. “It takes a ‘wow’ to
get them through the door,” she said.

To compete with fresher-looking rivals and revive occupancy
rates, a $1.2 million facelift is underway. The refurbishment will replace
care-worn carpets, add decorator paint to doorways and reconfigure a
little-used common room into a gym with equipment especially designed for the
elderly. The renovations are the most extensive since the then-incomplete
facility was purchased in 1989 for $10.5 million.

In deference to a dozen or so Orthodox residents, Heritage
Pointe keeps a kosher kitchen and its buses are stilled on Saturday. Mezuzahs
are in most doorways. Shabbat services and holidays are celebrated in a central
120-seat synagogue. Each year, about 50 teens adopt “grandfriends” as part of
their b’nai mitzvah. A small army of 900 community volunteers, organized
similarly to hospital and orchestra guilds, bring in speakers, raise
scholarship funds, shelve library books and shop for residents.

“A lot of wonderful things happen when the community is
involved and brings itself into the home,” said Loretta Modelevsky, of San
Clemente, a founding organizer and volunteer organizer. “Part of our heritage
is to take care of the elderly.”

Although no one who sought financial aide was turned away in
the last year, Loveless predicts more applicants for assistance as older
residents outlive the assets they liquidate to pay their way. Of 17 new
additions to the “scholarship” list, six are long-term residents whose financial
resources are depleted. “Scholarships” are awarded based on need. Some
applicants are rejected, such as one 84-year-old woman whose son owns
racehorses. A committee of the professional management company evaluates an
applicant’s tax records and those of their immediate family. The expectation is
that the family should contribute financial assistance before tapping
community-raised charity.

“The fact we are caring for people who are more frail is an
imperative for Heritage Pointe,” said Meryl Schrimmer, 71, of Laguna Beach, the
founding president, whose 93-year-old mother-in-law, Rita, is one of the oldest
residents. “Before, it was a social imperative to avoid isolation. Now,
physical care is even more important.”

When a Jewish home for the elderly was proposed in 1984,
some feared it would rob support from the Orange County Jewish Federation.
“Just the opposite has happened,” said Schrimmer, adding that the facility’s
eight support chapters are strengthening the Jewish community’s bonds.
“Heritage Pointe didn’t take away from anybody.”  

Better Future Tied to Secession

For decades, hard-working, committed citizens have been struggling to break the Valley free from remote politicians and uncaring bureaucrats, whose interests are focused on downtown interests with downtown influence. If we are successful, Valley independence will provide a more representative and more accountable government for all Los Angeles residents.

Declines in public safety, after-school programs, health care, education, transportation and the loss of middle-class jobs have contributed to the Valley’s sinking quality of life. Valley leaders have been trying in vain to get the attention of the downtown interests for many of these local problems.

Throughout the East San Fernando Valley, there are unpaved and unlighted streets. Crime throughout Los Angeles is increasing and murders in the Valley have increased 80 percent. In the northwest Valley’s Devonshire Division, as few as nine police cars patrol at night, with only 14 cars covering the peak activity periods.

Valley residents know that some areas of Los Angeles have nearly twice as many officers assigned to them per thousand residents. This inadequate deployment explains why police response times to emergency calls in the Valley are 18 percent slower than in the City of Los Angeles as a whole. Indeed, in many neighboring cities, police response times to emergency calls are nearly half those experienced in the Valley.

Roads and public safety are not the only examples of misplaced priorities and bureaucratic bloat. The Local Agency Formation Commission report proving the financial health of an independent Valley city and the remaining part of Los Angeles confirms that the city currently spends $1,350 per resident per year, about $250 more than the average amount spent by Phoenix, San Diego and other cities the size of the proposed Valley city.

That extra $250 per person a year is bureaucratic fat that could be eliminated with a modest amount of municipal belt-tightening. Such fiscal discipline would save about $350 million for the Valley city and could save $575 million for the remaining part of Los Angeles.

Numerous academic studies prove that budget bloat is merely a function of government size. Economists call it "diseconomies of scale." By reducing the size of government agencies, they become more efficient and better spend their resources to meet local needs.

This would be especially true if the new Valley city adopts a small, locally accountable borough system as part of its municipal charter. But if the downtown interests defeat Valley independence, there will be no real fiscal reform for any part of the city. They will see the defeat of Valley independence as validation of business as usual.

Until just recently, our voices have been drowned out by the din of continuing controversy and neglect of misplaced priorities. After ignoring the Valley’s needs for years, the downtown power brokers have finally realized that we’re serious about making real change. So, finally, they’re telling us what they think we want to hear. They’re making us promises, saying anything they can to keep us from leaving.

Now, the downtown interests are spreading fear and sowing doubt. Their focus is on generating fear — telling us "the sky is falling" — protecting their bureaucracies, maintaining their own power and preserving the status quo. But we know better. They can’t make up for decades of neglect with a few months of political rhetoric. We can see through their smoke and mirrors.

We know that a new San Fernando Valley city will work financially and be more efficient and effective than the sprawling megalopolis of Los Angeles. And we know we can put in place a local government that will be more responsive and accountable to the people of the San Fernando Valley. We know that there will be better opportunities for public participation in two smaller cities.

When Los Angeles voters take the time to study the Valley independence issue, they will find solid evidence that Valley independence provides opportunities for a better future in both the Valley and the rest of Los Angeles. About 40 percent of the Valley’s population is Latino, giving Latino leaders an unparalleled opportunity to represent their community, develop their skills and move up the political ladder.

For residents in the remaining parts of Los Angeles, Valley independence would allow elected officials to focus on settling the persistent turmoil and meeting the many needs of a growing population. With Valley leaders taking care of Valley problems, there will be more time, energy and resources to address the crime, transportation, economic development, environmental and quality-of-life issues that continue to plague the rest of Los Angeles.

Valley independence is all about accountability, local control, self-determination and opportunity for a better future for all Los Angeles residents and their families. Jewish voters understand these important principles.

All Los Angeles residents deserve a government that’s accountable, a government that’s efficient, a government that’s responsive to their needs and supports a better quality of life. Valley independence is the catalyst for that overdue change.

The Battle Over Mesivta

At a shabby, deserted golf course in an isolated area of Calabasas, a half-started construction site sits idle, and some 31 yeshiva bocherim learn Talmud at the makeshift campus of Mesivta of Greater Los Angeles.

Rabbi Shlomo Gottesman had opened the high school with nine students in 1997, hoping to transform it into a first-class yeshiva complete with dormitories, a beit midrash (study hall) and a basketball court. But, now five years later, his plans are stuck in the mud, because of a legal battle with a nearby homeowners association.

The protracted court case, which is now awaiting an environmental impact report (EIR) from the school, shows how badly a school building project can go when met with fiery opposition by the surrounding community.

The opposition first began in July of 1998, when one-third of the residents of Mountain View Estates — a gated community of million-dollar homes located a half-mile west of the yeshiva — signed a petition protesting the project and brought it before the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Among their objections were noise, traffic congestion, airborne contamination from digging at the site and "negative impact on the visual quality" of the rustic neighborhood. Representatives of Mountain View’s homeowners association even staged a protest for visiting members of the county’s regional planning commission on at least one occasion.

Despite the residents’ objections the board granted Mesivta a conditional-use permit. But the fight wasn’t over. Following the ruling in 1999, Mountain View sued the County for awarding Mesivta the conditional-use permit without an EIR. Last year, the homeowners won in the appellate court, which ordered Mesivta leaders to cease construction until they could come up with a full EIR. Gottesman said he hopes to have the document completed by the end of the year.

Gottesman said he is "disappointed but not heartbroken" by the legal battle. "Our momentum has slowed down but it hasn’t been lost," he said. He hopes that the homeowners association’s new board of directors — rumored to be voted in soon — will be able to conduct better relations between the two groups.

But could the whole process have been avoided if Gottesman had worked with the homeowners’ group prior to embarking on the project?

Initially, Gottesman had been surprised at the objections. He had intended to be a good neighbor, he said, meeting with Calabasas city officials and representatives of the community of Hidden Hills — but not with those at Mountain View. After the battle began in earnest, Gottesman told The Journal in August 1998 that he could have done things differently.

"I admit it was a mistake on my part, not to get in touch with them earlier," Gottesman had said. "Now the hard-earned funds for teaching Torah are instead being used to pay legal fees."

Several current and former members of the Mountain View Estates homeowners association board were contacted for comment, but all declined to speak to The Journal.

Despite the unfinished campus, the school has managed to attract 31 students this year, split among the ninth, 10th and 11th grades. Mesivta even graduated its first class of seniors last June, although there will be no such class this year because of the county’s restriction on enrollment for the 1999-2000 school year.

Currently, the school employs three teachers fulltime and eleven parttime, plus a trio of kitchen and ground staff. Most of the students live on campus in rudimentary dormitories, although a few commute in from the city with their teachers.

A majority of the infrastructure has been completed, Gottesman said, for what will be an 11-building campus, including grading the property, installing retaining walls and constructing the paved areas for several buildings. They have also put in a sewer system and conduits for water and gas lines.

That work, plus the initial purchase of the 8.5-acre property and legal fees, amounted of $2.5 million, Gottesman said — nearly all of the money raised to date. The rabbi said he has additional commitments that should bring in another $400,000, but will need to raise $6 million on top of that to complete the project.

"There’s a lot of money yet to be raised. We have no mortgage and we have taken no loans, but if we have to we will take out a construction loan," Gottesman said. "The advantage of the project is we don’t need one lump sum, because there are 11 small buildings instead of one big one, so we will be able to go in phases."

"I certainly see a challenge ahead but I am optimistic," Gottesman said. "I think as soon as people see action, action begets action. The action of construction begets the action of donation."

Stay Connected

Orange County. At least 60,000 Jewish residents creating over 20,000 Jewish households spanning 800 square miles. Within the borders of this vast area, we can find about 25 synagogues, great Jewish day schools, numerous Jewish organizations … and you.

In May, The Jewish Journal of Orange County launched its premier issue. As the “numbers” person for The Jewish Journal, I know that the statistics listed above mean a target market for advertisers. But far more importantly, I believe they prove that O.C. Jewry deserves an independent Jewish news source that facilitates your connection to Jewish life.

Being Jewish means so many different things to different people. But, in today’s world, most of us will agree that time is precious. There are only 24 hours in a day for work, school, commuting, synagogue meetings and events, theater tickets, doctor appointments, ballgames, PTA, working out, Mommy-and-Me classes, attending luncheons, fundraisers, sleep. We are active, involved, charitable and just barely keeping up with our demanding lives. We are a busy community and a diverse group, but we are neither too busy nor too diverse to stay connected and informed.

The Jewish Journal of Orange County will enable you, with your hectic schedule, to sustain your connection to the O.C. Jewish community and the broader Jewish world. We will be there for you when you have a free moment — to share award-winning news, analysis and opinions; to sit with your children and read our Kids Page; to connect with your heritage and your community. We will be there for you, as we have been there for the L.A. Jewish community for over 16 years. All we ask of you is to subscribe.

In order to serve the O.C. Jewish community, The Jewish Journal of Orange County needs subscribers. Due to post office regulations for periodicals, we will be unable to continue without your paid subscription. The staff of The Journal is committed to reaching and serving you, but we need you to do your part. I urge you to subscribe.

Please purchase a year (12 issues) subscription for $18. Go to today and subscribe. The process is as quick as the speed of your Internet access. Unlock the door to the community and let The Journal work to meet your needs. Read it. Share it. Talk about it. Buy it for your friends, your kids and your parents. When The Jewish Journal of Orange County is delivered directly to your home, you can stay connected at your leisure and in the privacy of your own home.

It says in the Talmud that knowledge is power. This knowledge is not intended for personal gain but rather to share with others bringing us closer to the source of knowledge. Let’s get closer, stay connected and watch the O.C. community thrive. For only $18, you can receive a year’s worth of The Jewish Journal of Orange County. We cannot, and will not, continue this effort without you, our reader. You decide. Subscribe to The Journal and stay connected to the Jewish community, from Orange County to Israel.