Sylvia Price and Helene Korn laugh and enjoy food at a Village new member potluck event. Photo courtesy of ChaiVillageLA.

It takes a village to build community


Temple Emanuel Rabbi Emerita Laura Geller and her husband, Richard Siegel, put up a sukkah in their backyard every autumn during Sukkot. Siegel usually erects the structure and Geller decorates it with colorful paper chains. For one week, they typically eat all their meals in it.

Last year, with Siegel scheduled for a minor surgery in the middle of the holiday, he knew he could build it but perhaps not take it down. They built it anyway, and shortly after the holiday, six men and women over age 55 who walk in a nearby park once a week, stopped by Geller’s house and took it down.

“Those are the kinds of moments — even just needing to change a light bulb — that make people realize they have to move into facilities,” said Geller. “Good neighbors mean you don’t have to do that.”

Just their luck? No, it was their “village.”

The “Village Movement” began 15 years ago in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Boston when concerned community members came together to figure out how best to age in their own homes. More than 200 similar villages have since popped up around the country, providing volunteer-driven services and programming.

Geller, Siegel and the six weekly walkers all belong to Chai Village LA, with Geller and Siegel serving on its14-person steering committee. The village organized last July and now has nearly 200 members older than 55 in and around West Los Angeles. The venture is a partnership between Reform synagogues Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills and Temple Isaiah and is the nation’s first synagogue-based virtual village.

Geller believes Chai Village LA addresses a growing need in the city’s aging Jewish community that hasn’t existed in previous generations.

“People are living much longer,” she said. “There’s this new stage in life between your career, raising a family and then the end of life. People don’t just retire and get old. People are trying to figure out what this stage of life is about.” 

Ongoing communication exists among villages around the country, through the Village to Village Network, a website that promotes dialogue and best practices. There’s also an annual conference.

Villages are normally composed of people living within set boundaries who pay nominal membership fees and often hire professional staff to help train volunteers. Chai Village LA’s paid full-time director, Devorah Servi, described the village as a “chavurah,” a Hebrew word that often refers to a group of like-minded Jews who assemble to share communal experiences.

“Synagogues are more top down. We’re more bottom up. It’s very volunteer-driven,” Servi said. 

Servi has a small paid staff, but members run programs — with the exception of those that are health-related. More than 100 programs initiated and executed by volunteers — who also are members — have included gatherings focused on genealogy, photography, backyard gardening and film discussion. Servi estimates that her active member base is 80 percent aged 60s and 70s, the rest 80 and older.

“We’re tapping into the amazing talents of people who are 65, 75, 85 — even 95,” she said. “We’re not just taking care of people; we’re engaging people in community life. I can’t say people live longer this way, but they definitely live happier.”

Rabbi Zoe Klein of Temple Isaiah cited a deeper meaning for members.

“We talk often of frailty and weakness when we talk about age, but this is about power,” she said. “It is about bringing together people’s skills and passions to make a difference in each other’s lives, and once strong enough together, to use that collective power to generate real change.”

“They are not worried about losing their place in line for the next promotion, or their children’s daily dinner plans,” she added. “Rather, they have the time, means and vision to be the activists of tomorrow on today’s critical issues.”

Chai Village LA members pay $100 in annual fees, or $150 per two-adult household. They must be members of either Temple Emanuel or Temple Isaiah and are required to volunteer for four hours per month in administrative roles, chairing committees or providing services like meal delivery.

The idea for Chai Village LA was borne out of a sermon on aging that Geller delivered six years ago when she was still senior rabbi at Temple Emanuel. In it, she quoted the Beatles song “When I’m Sixty-Four,” which includes the lyric, “Will you still need me / Will you still feed me /  When I’m sixty-four.”

In the ensuing months, Geller embarked on what she billed “a listening campaign” with more than 250 congregants older than 60. Over potluck dinners in private homes, discussion groups grappled with spirituality, end of life and other health care concerns. But chief among topics, she said, was craving a sense of community from years past.

“For some, it was as simple as wanting someone to go to the movies with,” Geller said.

When a research group of congregants discovered the “Village Movement,” a clear goal emerged.

Siegel, who retired in 2015 after serving as the head of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s Zelikow School of Jewish Nonprofit Management, wrote a grant proposal to establish Chai Village LA as a virtual village connected to the national network, based on Jewish values, the first of its kind anywhere, according to Geller.

“We were surprised that none of the other villages were faith-based,” she said. “If you think about it, it’s a perfect fit for a synagogue, church or mosque.”

Siegel’s 2015 proposal won a grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, making Chai Village LA a reality. The grant will fund development and operations for three years. Beyond that, Chai Village LA will have to find partners and sponsors willing to donate, something Geller says she’s not worried about.

According to Geller and Siegel, synagogues and their fee-for-service model — like paying fees for religious services and Sunday school — is becoming dated, leading to a dwindling engagement after bar and bat mitzvahs. That has given rise to fervor among synagogues to keep young people engaged through all kinds of programming.

Siegel said the collaboration of two synagogues viewed as “competitors” is what made the proposal for Chai Village LA so cutting edge.

“This is really a cross communication type of initiative, a partnership initially between Temple Emanuel and Temple Isaiah and maybe eventually others,” he said. “It’s a new model of community organizing within the Jewish community not bound by the confines of institutional walls.”

Geller and Servi said they feel that this sort of collaboration could foretell the synagogue of the future, one involving more home-based, volunteer-run programming. They also said they would like to see programming become multigenerational. Chai Village LA is even exploring technology innovations to match volunteers and services to appeal to young people.

“The larger Jewish community has nobly focused much creativity, energy and resources on the emerging adult population, post-b’nai mitzvah through chuppah. Less has been invested in adults, and less so in the period between mid-life and frail old age,” said Klein, adding, “the period between middle age and frail old age is now significantly longer. We are the pioneers of what society will look like as people live longer. We are the pioneers of what the Jewish community will look like.”

Paul Simon says he’s may be nearing end of career, considering retirement


Paul Simon is still touring at the age of 74, but he might soon hang up his guitar for good.

In an interview with The New York Times published Tuesday, the Grammy-winning Jewish singer-songwriter said he might be “coming towards the end” of his nearly six-decade career.

“Showbiz doesn’t hold any interest for me,” Simon said. “None.”

His latest album, “Stranger to Stranger,” debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 chart earlier this month. It was the highest charting of any of his 12 solo albums.

Simon is set to finish up the American leg of a world tour in Queens, New York, on Friday — he grew up there and met his former musical partner, Art Garfunkel — before playing several dates in Europe through the rest of this year.

However, the Times story noted that Simon’s age was finally catching up with him.

“At 74, he often needs 15 hours of sleep at a stretch,” it said. “The other day, performing in Philadelphia, he looked out from the stage and was surprised to see four mountains on the horizon. When he put on his glasses, he realized the mountains were actually big white tents.”

Simon, who spoke of exploring “spirituality and neuroscience,” said he doesn’t “have any fear” of retiring from music.

“It’s an act of courage to let go,” he said. “I am going to see what happens if I let go. Then I’m going to see, who am I?”

I’m tired of people thinking I ‘retired’ from my job as a rabbi because I’m a mom


If I had a dime for every time someone asked me why I “retired,” I would be a very rich woman. Please, let me set the record straight: I am not retired, I did not retire, and I don’t plan on retiring any time soon. Since when does leaving your job to take care of your family equal “retirement?”

I would say that this transition, if it had a (good or appropriate) name (and don’t get me started on the term “off-ramping”), is quite the opposite of retirement.

It’s been almost three years since I left my post as a rabbi at a dynamic and vibrant congregation to be a mother full-time. My third child had just turned one, and I felt a profound tug towards home. I wanted to spend more time with my young children; I wanted to be a firmer anchor in their lives. And so I decided to change gears and veer away from the path I had paved since ordination.

At the time, I wrote:

“I am not retiring or taking leave of the rabbinate. On the contrary, I will continue to be a rabbi in every respect of the word. My pulpit may focus on different issues and my congregation may be a bit smaller, but it is a vital rabbinate all the same. The Torah I teach will likely be rooted in sports and toys and imaginary friends; it will be filled with itsy bitsy spiders and twinkly little stars and soaked in laughter and tears.  It is the Torah of motherhood, and while I’ve spent part of my days studying it up until now, I’ll now spend all of my days immersed in it.”

These days, I am wholly immersed in the Torah of motherhood, from the moment I wake up until the moment I go to sleep, and often many moments in between. And as magical as so many of these moments are, there are just as many that feel, well, not so magical.

As the primary caregiver, I am the point person for all things child-related and, most often, the first responder for diaper duty, tantrum defusing, meal prep, and all the other glam aspects of stay-at-home parenthood. And while I don’t adhere to any particular dress code or leave home to go to an office, I take great umbrage when the totality of what I do is not classified as “work.”

Parenting is work. Motherhood is work. Raising children is work. It must be understood that leaving a paid position to take care of one’s family is still a transition from one job to another. One job may be part of the “work force” as it is most traditionally defined, but the other is also, most definitely “work,” despite the lack of benefits, the absence of any salary to speak of, and the general lack of esteem given to such domestic roles. Child rearing is intensely challenging, utterly demanding, and downright exhausting work.

Full-time parenting is certainly not akin to “retirement,” and any mere suggestion of the pairing is actually quite offensive. (If only a full-time parent could fill his or her schedule with golf and tennis, pickle ball and pinochle!). Moreover, just because a parent leaves his or her job to care for family doesn’t mean he or she is abandoning their career! Leaving a job doesn’t mean vacating the work force forever. The path out is not one without a return; and yet, far too often, the return is near impossible to find.

It aggravates me when people assume that I left my career forever when I stepped away from the pulpit. It frustrates me when I find myself fielding questions as to why I “left the rabbinate,” and how I’m taking to “retirement.” It’s maddening, it’s demeaning, and it’s short sighted. Not only do I picture myself returning to the rabbinate, I don’t feel like I ever really left.  I am still a rabbi, even in my primary role as a mother. I am still a rabbi in the way I think and the way I act and in the way I raise my children.

I may have stepped away from a traditional career path, and I may have left the every day work of a pulpit rabbi to do the every day work of a “mother rabbi.” But far from diminishing my rabbinate, it has enhanced it tremendously. I believe I am a better rabbi now than I was three years ago.

And yet, until we as a society legitimize the work of the parent, I, and many others like me will remain on the outside, looking in—when we never should have been ushered “out” in the first place.

This article was reprinted with permission from Kveller.com, a fast-growing website for smart, savvy moms looking for a Jewish twist on parenting. Follow Kveller on Facebook and sign up for daily digests here.

When is the right time for a senior to change residences?


As a geriatric social worker for more than 11 years, Renee Gates has seen the psychological and practical issues at play in a move from one’s permanent residence — especially when it involves transitioning into a retirement community. 

“It’s actually a medical issue called Relocation Stress Syndrome or Transitional Trauma. … It’s a real thing,” Gates told a crowd of more than 100 people during a daylong event on “Housing Alternatives in the Later Years,” May 13 at Leo Baeck Temple. “These are physiological and psychological disturbances that result from the transfer from one setting to another.”

On top of the stigma attached to retirement communities, the mechanics of such a move bring about challenges. These range from a change in routine to the necessity of downsizing. 

“Instead of downsizing, I like to call it right-sizing,” Gates said, eliciting chuckles from the audience. “The process can actually be liberating. It can relieve you of stuff that owns you.” 

The theme of independence was prevalent throughout the day’s programming and served as the impetus for planning the event, according to Susan Bauman, 74, a founding member of Leo Baeck’s Community of Elders, which organized the day. 

“Most people in this group aren’t quite there yet, in terms of leaving their own homes or apartments. However, a lot of people are aware it’s coming,” Bauman told the Journal. “We’ve decided that we want to figure out our own next steps in where and how we live, rather than be at the mercy of adult children who feel responsible for picking ‘a place for mom.’ ”

Harriet Soares, 73, a clinical social worker with 20 years of experience who served on the committee that planned the event, drew on her own history and implored onlookers to take planning ahead seriously. After an ice skating accident, Soares was limited in what she could do around the house but didn’t want to leave. 

“I wanted to remain in control. I wanted to stay at home,” Soares said. “Giving up a home of many years can be painful.”

On the topic of household safety, Soares discussed how things changed after her accident. She had to consider everything. 

“I like to entertain and have company. When we first moved there, I was worried: ‘Will I still be able to do that?’ But entertaining at Fountainview is so much fun. You can have company over for dinner. You can even rent out a private dining room.” — Former L.A. City Councilmember Joy Picus, 84, a Fountainview resident

“I have a rail, but do I need a lift? I have to be more careful about electrical cords lying around. Are there [grab] bars in the shower? Do I have a nonslip shower mat? I set up a doorbell that hooked up to my phone so that I could answer the door with my phone,” Soares told the crowd. “We don’t want our self-image to change as we get older. At-risk people deny they need these things, but we can’t do that.” 

Joy Picus, 84, a former Los Angeles City Council member, tried to quell fears about the potential destination of a move. She currently lives with her husband, Gerry, a physicist, at the Los Angeles Jewish Home’s Fountainview complex, which features upscale housing for independent seniors. 

“There’s something for everyone here at Fountainview,” Picus said, beaming, to a roomful of peers. “They offer Israeli folk dancing, line dancing, Zumba, mahjong and bridge classes, and Spanish classes. I even bring in folks running for office, including half of the candidates in the runoff for the 45th Assembly District.” 

She told the Journal that her husband is partial to the talmudic study courses taught by scholar Rabbi Ben Zion Bergman. And being relieved of the responsibility of running a house has allowed Picus more time than ever to socialize, she said. 

“I like to entertain and have company. When we first moved there, I was worried: ‘Will I still be able to do that?’ ” Picus said. “But entertaining at Fountainview is so much fun. You can have company over for dinner. You can even rent out a private dining room for larger company.”

The Jewish Home reaches thousands of seniors annually through independent living, skilled nursing and Alzheimer’s disease-care residential services, as well as community-based programs.

“As a Jewish organization, we respect traditional Jewish values for all our patients,” Doug Morin, director of marketing and home care services, told the Journal. “We have the only facilities providing a kosher menu, we observe the High Holy Days, and we have synagogues on campus. It’s those little differences that make a big difference to our residents.” 

On the Leo Baeck campus, the synagogue’s Community of Elders has a mission statement: “There is a power in community …  and that’s what we are … a community. Leo Baeck Temple needs the wisdom of its elders, and its elders need each other.” While so many congregations are trying to lure millennials, the point here is not to forget the needs — and knowledge — of their more mature members.

Leo Baeck’s Community of Elders is made up of a senior group that meets regularly, enjoying a wide variety of programming and events. Bauman, who has a doctorate in psychology, co-chairs the program planning committee with Lucille Polachek. The group has blossomed over the five years since its inception, beginning with just four members. It now has upward of 120. 

“We’re made up of a lot of bright, experienced people with a lot of contacts. People our age have a lot of contacts,” Bauman said, adding that the group has managed to attract prominent speakers and presenters. Past guests have included sports journalist Bill Plaschke, as well as the three-time Academy Award-winning film composer duo Marilyn and Alan Bergman, of “Yentl” fame. 

The recent event about alternative housing was part of the group’s monthly Wednesday at the Temple series.   

“We have blossomed into a very vibrant group of leaders,” Bauman told the Journal. “This has become a supportive community of people who have gotten to know one another.”

Rabbi Avi Weiss to step down as rabbi of Hebrew Institute of Riverdale


Rabbi Avi Weiss, spiritual leader of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, announced that he will step down as rabbi of the congregation.

Weiss, who has pushed a religiously progressive agenda, made the announcement Thursday during holiday services. Weiss said his retirement would be effective next July.

He said he will continue to serve as rabbi-in-residence at the synagogue, The Forward reported.

Weiss is the founder of Yeshivat Maharat, which has graduated two cohorts of female spiritual leaders called Maharats, an acronym meaning female spiritual, legal and Torah leader.

Cantor Jay Frailich retiring after 40 years at University Synagogue in Brentwood


After 1,565 b’nai mitzvah, many  more Shabbat services and commissioning 32 major liturgical compositions during 40 years at University Synagogue in Brentwood, Cantor Jay Frailich is retiring. 

Frailich, 67, has been with the Reform congregation on Sunset Boulevard since 1974, immediately following his investiture by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion School of Sacred Music in New York. A Friday-night service was held June 13 to mark the end of his time at the temple and to honor his work. 

Originally from Minneapolis, Frailich came to Los Angeles excited and ready to accomplish his dream of commissioning composers. Four decades later, he has achieved that and more by establishing connections with his congregation and significant composers. 

Past musical partners include Craig Taubman, Maurice Goldman, Aminadav Aloni and Michael Isaacson, whose “To Recreate the World” was jointly commissioned by a consortium of dozens of congregations from across the continent under Frailich’s leadership. First performed in 2000, the piece represents the largest commission of Jewish liturgical music in history, according to Frailich.

“That was absolutely thrilling for me, to work with those [composers], also in the sense to guide them to what I wanted,” Frailich said. “But it was also challenging.” 

Aside from his work at the synagogue of about 500 member families — where Cantor Kerith Spencer-Shapiro will begin working in July — Frailich is a professor of liturgical studies at the Academy for Jewish Religion, California. 

Roughly 600 people gathered to celebrate the local cantor at the service earlier this month, including his two daughters, Lonee and Reena, four grandchildren and wife Sandy. 

Lonee Frailich, currently cantor of Temple Akiba in Culver City, grew up admiring her father’s “soulful” singing every Shabbat. She recalls his leadership in the Jewish community and the extended list of works he has commissioned. 

“The reason that I am who I am today is because of my father. He was always so happy and fulfilled in his calling as [a] cantor,” she said. “I watched throughout the years as he brought a passion for Judaism, a sense of spirituality and so much love to the thousands of congregants he served in his 40 years at University Synagogue.” 

Jay Frailich now looks to his daughter, who has followed in his footsteps, and is equally proud of her. 

“It’s pretty exciting when you have your daughter to pass the torch to,” he said. 

At the service, father and daughter sang together. Later, his colleagues added to the praise about his dedication and enthusiasm for the congregation. 

“Jay has been the heart and soul of our warm and engaging congregation for 40 years,” Rabbi Morley Feinstein said. “His love of Judaism and Jewish music has been infectious. His students have gone on to become rabbis, cantors and synagogue presidents. And his humor has kept us all smiling.”

Members of the congregation in attendance were indeed all smiles to greet and congratulate their longtime cantor at the end of the service, but sad to see him depart from his role. Joy Cohen, a member of University Synagogue for 35 years, has thoroughly enjoyed his presence. 

“He really does care about people. He knows how to keep a secret. I know people who have been helped by him. I will definitely miss him,” Cohen said. “After 35 years, it’s hard to know that you’re no longer going to hear his voice — it’s a part of services.” 

Written remarks from Mayor Eric Garcetti, and U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) about Frailich’s career were shared with the congregation.

Frailich said that, among the many compositions that he has been involved with, a couple of his favorites are “Crown of Torah” by Ben Steinberg, a Canadian composer, and Isaacson’s “To Recreate the World,” a response to the secular millennium and the changing environment. 

Recounting these experiences and more, Frailich said he leaves happy and fulfilled. 

“Whether we have prayed together, sung together, learned together, celebrated together or cried together, it has been my privilege to do these things with you,” he said during the service. “As I end the active phase of my career and transition to emeritus, my retirement should not be thought of as goodbye — I’m not going anywhere.”

Henry Waxman: Governed by tikkun olam


The rain during Noah’s flood lasted 40 days and 40 nights. The Torah was given to Moses during a 40-day stay at the top of Mount Sinai. The Israelites wandered for 40 years in the desert.

And so it seems fitting that Rep. Henry Waxman (D – Beverly Hills), who announced last week that he will retire from Congress when his term ends this year, will have served exactly 40 years in the people’s chamber. 

“People are shocked that I could ever leave,” Waxman said on Jan. 31, the day after he made his announcement. “Then they hear that I’ve been here for 40 years and are shocked at how old I am.”

Waxman turns 75 in September. During his 20 terms in the House of Representatives, he has authored some of the most ambitious pieces of legislation passed by Congress during that time, including laws making pharmaceutical products more affordable, improving air and water quality and expanding access to affordable health care. He presided over hearings confronting the tobacco industry’s claim that smoking would not harm people, the use of steroids in baseball and the regulation of conditions in America’s nursing homes. 

With a record like that, it’s not surprising that Waxman, the “dean of the Jewish caucus,” describes his political philosophy as an outgrowth of the principle of tikkun olam, trying to perfect the world. 

“We shouldn’t expect to complete it — even after 40 years — we shouldn’t try,” Waxman said. “But we should always remember the stranger and the disadvantaged, the people who need help; that’s in our tradition, [in] so many different places, and it’s a reminder that we’ve got to try to be a more just and fair society.”

But even as he took a rare moment to look back on his career, others are moving forward: With just a few months until California holds its now-nonpartisan primary elections, and immediately following Waxman’s announcement, a scrum of Democrats and independents immediately began clamoring to take Waxman’s place (see sidebar). Furthermore, at some point during the coming year, Waxman will likely identify what he’ll do with the next chapter of his career. For now, he’s said he’d like to continue working on issues he’s dealt with in Congress, and, as he told the Journal, he wants to continue to divide his time between Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles, the latter being the place where he was born, grew up and still calls home. 

“The wealthy and the powerful always have strong advocates in Washington”

Born in Boyle Heights, Waxman grew up in South Central Los Angeles, where his family owned a grocery store on Compton Avenue. His father had to quit high school when the Great Depression hit, but he instilled in Henry an appreciation for education as the key to success. 

“I was able to go to public schools, all the way through law school,” said Waxman, who earned both undergraduate and law degrees from UCLA. That instilled in him a lifelong commitment to public education. 

Similarly, Waxman’s involvement in politics began at an early age. 

“In 1952, we got on a bus from Democratic headquarters and we went to a rally for Adlai Stevenson at Gilmore field,” said Sandy Weiner, who first met Waxman in the 7th grade at Thomas Alva Edison Junior High School. Later, Waxman, who had co-founded (with future Congressman Howard Berman) the UCLA chapter of Young Democrats, encouraged Weiner to set up another chapter at Claremont College. 

The Young Democrats’ movement, Weiner said, helped Waxman advance to his first political office, a seat in the California State Assembly, which he won in 1968, by defeating 28-year veteran Assemblyman Lester McMillan in the Democratic primary. 

“It was really a major grassroots effort,” Weiner said, describing a campaign that succeeded thanks to volunteers walking precincts and making phone calls as well as to political consultant Michael Berman’s then-new practice of sending carefully calibrated mailers to specific subsets of the electorate. “A lot of the dollars were from friends and family, and it was an exciting campaign,” Weiner recalled. 

Waxman moved from Sacramento to Washington six years later, where he remained committed to speaking up for society’s most marginalized members. 

“The wealthy and the powerful always have strong advocates in Washington, but my job was to stand up for the poor, the sick the elderly, for those people who had nobody else to speak for them,” Waxman said. “If I hadn’t held hearings on the AIDS epidemic, before we even knew the word AIDS — we had an administration where President Reagan didn’t even want to say the word ‘AIDS’; they were just shunted aside.”

Waxman’s upbringing clearly helped form his orientation toward crafting legislation to help the poor and disadvantaged, as did his strong Jewish identity. 

South Central was not home to many Jewish families, so Waxman’s family attended the synagogue closest to their home, the Huntington Park Hebrew Congregation, a community that has since dissolved. Though he attended Hebrew school and became a bar mitzvah in his youth, Waxman has said that he only truly began to investigate Jewish religious practice as an adult. 

“Ethics is at Judaism’s core,” Waxman said in a speech at USC in 2006. God’s primary concern is not that we mindlessly follow ritual, but act decently. Ritual is to help us do that.”

“All those years, it didn’t make any difference.”

Although Waxman remained primarily focused on domestic policy matters, particularly relating to health, the environment and consumer telecommunications, he also worked throughout his career to strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship.

“I’ve been to Israel so many times, I’ve lost count,” Waxman, whose daughter lives in Israel, said, although when he was first elected to Congress in 1975, he had never visited the Jewish state. Just one month after taking office, Waxman joined a Congressional delegation to the Middle East, an itinerary that included Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iran. To obtain a visa to enter Saudi Arabia, Waxman had to first identify his religion and then provide evidence that he was, in fact, Jewish. Waxman obtained a letter from Adas Israel Congregation, the Conservative synagogue in D.C. where he is a member, and sent it to the Saudis, at which point his visa application was denied as a matter of policy. 

It took some work by the State Department, but Waxman made it into Saudi Arabia along with the other representatives. There, he met King Faisal. 

“I asked him two questions,” Waxman recalled. “Did he ever foresee living with Israel in the Middle East, if the territorial issues could be resolved? And why did he bar Jews?”

Faisal, Waxman recalled, said he had no quarrel with Jews; he was, however, anti-Zionist. 

“He said, ‘No, there can’t be an Israel; it has to be Palestine. It can’t be a Jewish country; Jews can live there, but it’s got to be an Arab country,’ ” Waxman said. “It was remarkable for the members on the committee to hear that.” 

At that point, Faisal wanted to turn away, but Waxman — a dogged questioner even as a new Congressman — insisted the king explain Saudi Arabia’s “No Jews Allowed” policy. 

“He said, ‘Friends of our enemies are our enemies,’ ” Waxman said, laughing at how quickly the king’s distinction between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism fell apart. “So that was a good introduction.”

Even after 40 years, Waxman views the Arab leaders of Middle Eastern nations as being as unwilling as ever to accept the presence of a Jewish state in their midst. Not too long after Bashar al-Assad assumed the Syrian presidency in 2000, Waxman once again asked about Israel and the Jews. 

“He got angry and said, ‘No, we are not anti-Semitic; we have Jews here, we like our Jews here, but it can’t be a Jewish country,’ ” Waxman recalled. “So all those years, it didn’t make any difference. It just re-emphasized for me that the basic problem for Israel is the unwillingness of a large part of the Arab population to live with a Jewish country, the State of Israel.”

Waxman said he believes the United States needs to continue to maintain and project its military strength. 

“There’s a tremendous reluctance by President Obama to be involved — and I certainly share it — in Egypt and Syria and other areas that are undergoing dramatic changes, and civil wars even,” Waxman said. “But we’ve got to figure out ways where we can be helpful and not expect that things are going to get resolved without our being part of solutions.”

As for Israel’s continued security, Waxman said the most urgent matter is to ensure that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon. He believes the present agreement — which freezes Iranian nuclear enrichment for six months until a permanent agreement can be reached — does not go far enough, and that the purpose of international sanctions has always been to prevent Iran from having even the capability of developing a nuclear bomb. 

“I am afraid the [Obama] administration has already signaled that they will live with Iran not having a bomb, but still allow enrichment of uranium, which can make a bomb possible,” Waxman said.

“I fear such an agreement is naive,” he added. 

“You couldn’t do that stuff today” 

For all that hasn’t changed over the last 40 years, some aspects of the U.S. political landscape are radically different from what they were in 1975, or even 2005. Waxman said he is “exasperated by the extremism of the Tea Party Republicans,” although he expressed some hope that more moderate Republicans might be elected and regain control of the GOP. 

And though Waxman said he has continued to have some opportunities recently to craft legislation, even as a member of the minority, the reach of that bipartisanship seems to pale in comparison to the landscape in 1984, when Waxman and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R – Utah) passed legislation easing restrictions on generic drugs in the U.S. market — thereby saving families $1 trillion over just the last decade. 

“Henry was the go-to member of Congress on health care and on the environment,” said Mel Levine, who served as a congressman from 1983 to ’93, working closely with Waxman. “He was highly respected across the board, on both sides of the aisle, in both the House and the Senate. He was just uniquely capable of accomplishing big things, in a very kind of low-key manner, ironically.” 


Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., left, gestures towards Committee on House Oversight chairman Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., during a committee hearing in 1998. The committee voted 24-19 along party lines, which is short of the two-thirds required, to grant immunity to four potential witnesses in exchange for testimony about 1996 Clinton-Gore campaign fund-raising practices.  Photo via Newscom

At key points in his career, however, Waxman flouted the status quo and broke with the accepted rules — and got results. By raising large sums of money and distributing it to colleagues, Waxman was able to advance to ever more powerful posts in Congress. At the beginning of his third term, in 1978, he was able to take on leadership of the Health and Environment Subcommittee, the position that allowed him to achieve the far-reaching amendments to the Clean Air Act passed in 1990. In 2008, Waxman again bucked the seniority system and ousted Rep. John Dingell (D – Mich.) to become chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Many in Congress have since followed this and other practices pioneered by Waxman, as have many aspiring to public office. The targeted mail techniques developed by political consultant Michael Berman — Howard Berman’s brother, whose creative reapportionment helped bolster the power of the so-called Waxman-Berman machine — have been adopted and improved upon in recent decades. 

But for longtime friend Weiner, the way Waxman first got elected to the Assembly back in 1968 — relying mostly on volunteers, running a campaign on a shoestring and shoe leather — is a relic from a time long gone. 

“You couldn’t do that stuff today. Look what Henry was up against two years ago — a guy who put up $7.5 or $8 million dollars,” Weiner said, referring to opponent Bill Bloomfield, an independent and former Republican who came within eight points of Waxman in 2012. “And also, the club movement is basically dead. So whom do you get? Either private wealth or someone who was an aide.” 

“I hope that I can be a model for others”

For the next 10 months, voters in the 33rd district will be represented by Waxman, who’ll be filling a role that some had thought he’d never occupy — that of lame duck. 

“I was numb,” Howard Welinsky, president of the Los Angeles chapter of Democrats for Israel, said, describing his reaction to Waxman’s announcement. “I expected him to stay in Congress for a long time to come. I was numb, and then I was virtually in tears.”

Waxman, for his part, said he’s content to leave now, and explained his decision as driven by concerns that are as much biological as political. 

“If I stayed longer, it would be, do we get the House back? Maybe not — then we’re still in the minority,” Waxman said. “Then I’d wait until the presidential election in 2016, with the hopes that we get the majority back and still have a Democratic president to get things done. And my biological clock is ticking, so I would be here forever, to the end. And that’s not what I wanted.” 

As Waxman watches the growing crowd of Democrats put their names in the hopper for the coastal district he represents, the 74-year-old will be considering his legacy. Some of that will be in the form of his public policy contributions — which he said are driven by essentially Jewish values of protecting the stranger and coming to the aid of the disadvantaged. 

But at other times, Waxman may be thinking about his own accomplishments as a different kind of Jewish, or American value: the kind embodied by one individual, the kind that gets passed down in stories from generation to generation. 

One of Waxman’s Jewish role models was in his own family. His uncle, Al Waxman, published two (now-defunct) Los Angeles newspapers, the East Side Journal and the L.A. Reporter. During World War II, Waxman said Al was “the only editor or publisher in the country that fought against the relocation camps for Japanese-Americans.”

“I think you have to follow examples that have been set by others, that you can admire,” Waxman said. “And I hope that I can be a model for others who would chart their careers in public office.”

What I learned from Henry Waxman


The news that Congressman Henry Waxman would not seek re-election to a 21st term has sent shockwaves through Los Angeles. From the environmental and health activists for whom Waxman was a hero, to the pro-Israel community where he was one of the most important allies in Congress, many are mourning the loss of a great advocate for California communities in Congress, and wishing him well as he enters the next phase of a career that has been of remarkable consequence to all Americans. For me, it has been an opportunity to reflect on my personal experiences working alongside Congressman Waxman, first as a Capitol Hill staffer, and more recently as an Assemblyman and member of the Los Angeles City Council.

Elected to the California State Assembly in 1968, and then to Congress in 1974, Henry Waxman is one of the finest legislators, not only of his generation, but to have ever served in the United States House of Representatives. His retirement is a loss, not merely to our City, our State and our Country—but to the very body to which he dedicated 40 years of his life.

Few, if any legislators, have had the kind of meaningful, significant impact on the diverse range of issues that Congressman Waxman has had.

When I came to Washington in the late 1980’s Waxman was the powerful chair of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health and the Environment, and already a legend in the hallowed halls of Congress. First as a senior staffer for Congressman Howard Berman, and more recently as a member of the California State Assembly and the Los Angeles City Council, I witnessed Waxman’s style up-close, as he championed causes ranging from health and the environment, women's and gay rights, to strengthening the ties between the United States and Israel. I was working on the Hill when he famously forced the chief executives of seven major tobacco companies to swear under oath that nicotine was not addictive. He barely broke a sweat.

But Waxman was equal parts top flight legislator as savvy political operator. Along with his friend and colleague Howard Berman, he would build an infrastructure that elected progressive democrats across Los Angeles and would turn California, then a stronghold of Republican politics, into the blue bellwether of the nation. Leaders like the late Congressman Julian Dixon, Governor Gray Davis and newly named DWP Commissioner Mel Levine have all been beneficiaries of the so-called “Berman-Waxman Machine.” More recently, I was honored to have Congressman Waxman’s support in my bids for Assembly and the Los Angeles City Council, and owe my victories in communities Congressman Waxman had ably represented in no small part to his largess.

I was also the beneficiary of their mentorship. On Capitol Hill, it can be difficult to navigate the personalities, egos and media celebrities. But Rep. Waxman, like Berman, is loved by his friends and feared though respected by his foes. He’s tough, but fair and inspires loyalty from his staff, who have gone on to remarkable accomplishments in their own right.

From both Waxman and Berman I have learned how to build coalitions around tough issues, to value of patience and perseverance in the service of accomplishing large goals. And I have sought to emulate their savvy, energy and drive in my own career, continuing their efforts to make lives better folks in Los Angeles and throughout the state.

With the departure of Congressmen Berman and Waxman, the House will have lost some 70 years of institutional memory at the end of this Congress. They have left behind a truly remarkable legacy of significant legislation; from the Affordable Care Act to the DREAM Act, from landmark clean air standards to measures that have prevented Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons capabilities, to thousands of less notable, though no less important victories on behalf of veterans, seniors, single parents and others.

As a Californian, I am grateful for Waxman’s tremendous leadership, as a friend and mentor, for his guidance over the years. Knowing Henry, the next chapter will be just as productive as the last, and I’m looking forward to what he has in store. I wish him and Janet all the best.

Possibilities for recently retired


When Rabbi Neal Borovitz retired from Temple Avodat Shalom of River Edge, N.J., in August, his congregation donated a Torah in his honor to a Reform Jewish summer camp. At the dedication service, Borovitz sat in the audience as his successor offered a sermon about the Torah’s history.

“And that’s when I realized that after two decades at this synagogue, I’m not the rabbi anymore,” said Borovitz, who is the brother of Rabbi Mark Borovitz, head rabbi and COO of the Beit T’Shuvah recovery program just outside Culver City.

After 37 years as a rabbi, Neal Borovitz, 65, was candid about the mix of feelings inspired by retirement — relief, excitement, uncertainty. His situation is shared by a growing proportion of Americans — and an even larger proportion of Jews.

Nearly 20 percent of the American Jewish population is 65 or older, according to The Jewish Federations of North America, compared to 13 percent of the general population. And as growing numbers of Jewish Americans face retirement, a number of Jewish leaders are thinking about the spiritual aspects of the transition and how they can provide Jewishly inspired guidance to them.

“I want to bring the resources of Jewish life to bear on the experiences of growing older,” said Rabbi Dayle Friedman, a pioneer in spiritual guidance for the elderly.

Last fall, Friedman launched a program of discussions exploring “the rich and complex phase beyond midlife.” Known as Provisions for the Journey: A Wisdom Circle, the project aims to help Jews between 60 and 75 navigate the aging process through a combination of discussion, text study and meditation.

For Laura Jacobs, 62, Friedman’s Wisdom Circle was just one part of a spiritual transformation that began at retirement. For 22 years she headed a company recruiting professionals for health care firms. After 39 years in the workforce, Jacobs was terrified at the prospect of retirement.

“It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my whole life,” she said. “I had no notion of what life would be like if I wasn’t working. It made me feel as if there would be nothing for me anymore.”

Befitting a woman who had built a company from the ground floor and led it for decades, Jacobs approached the problem proactively. She began by hiring a life coach, and with his help spent the next months “researching her life,” exploring new paths and possibilities, from the synagogue to the photography studio.

She now has a daily spiritual practice in which she writes down all the things for which she is grateful. And Jacobs has become a life coach in her own right, helping clients of all ages.

“I have genuinely gotten to know myself and how I think and what’s wonderful about life,” she said.

Joyce Norden had similar concerns when she retired several years ago. After spending her working life in education — first as a professor of medieval history at Carnegie Mellon University and later at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College — retirement showed Norden how much she still had to learn.

“I was an art historian who had never drawn a line,” Norden said. “But I was scared. I think it’s important to be passionate in this life, and I had been passionate about my work, and now what? What was I going to do?”

Norden turned to Rabbi Jacob Staub, a professor at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College who specializes in spirituality. She studied mussar, a body of Jewish texts dealing with ethics and moral instruction, and learned ways to connect with the divine in everyday life. Now Norden, 74, is an abstract painter, producing vibrant acrylic paintings in the styles of Kandinsky and Matisse.

“I want to live the last part of my life with the same sense of purpose I had at the beginning,” Norden said.

Helping older Jews find that kind of purpose is the objective of Rabbi Rachel Cowan’s Wise Aging Project, run under the auspices of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality in New York. Cowan says programs related to aging often bring to mind issues associated with end-of-life care, but for the recently retired, issues of purpose, gratitude and understanding can be more pressing.

Cowan, 74, teaches courses in the New York area aimed at imbuing retirement with spiritual meaning and a daily sense of purpose. Many of her classes consist of discussions inspired by secular and religious texts that address issues of identity, loss and existential crisis.

 “Judaism has a whole rich tradition of cultivating spiritual qualities,” Cowan said. “Some of them are things that are really important in growing and aging well. We work to cultivate capacities for patience, gratitude and humility.”

For Borovitz, spirituality remains as central as ever in his transition from the rabbinate into retirement. He has become an active participant in a minyan and fills his days with volunteering, activism and reflection. And while he was grateful to have been freed in August after 37 years of frantic High Holy Days preparations, he didn’t mind the request made of him by his prayer group.

“It’s nice not to have the pressure of preparing five Holy Days sermons this year,” he said. “But it’s nice that in this minyan that I’m involved in, they’ve asked me to give just one.”

Plan for future pitfalls


Changes in the economy and workforce have taken their toll on baby boomers, a generation that carries a longer life expectancy than its predecessors as well as the financial burdens that come with it.  

People are working longer and retiring later in life. Possible cuts in government spending could result in reduced payouts to Social Security and Medicare, making things even more challenging. 

The good news is that while boomers may have less time to weather the ups and downs of the stock market than younger investors, it’s not too late for them to plan for their financial future. In doing so, experts suggest considering not just financial goals, but one’s values and the type of lifestyle one desires.

For those in the “Me” generation counting on a pension, Social Security benefits or some type of mutual funds, make sure in advance that the fund will be enough to maintain a desired standard of living. Otherwise, you may have to consider working past your anticipated retirement age, according to Karen Codman, an investment adviser from Long Beach.

Take into account the fact that you won’t be working. Because of that, you may be tempted to spend more. 

“The conventional wisdom that they hear on the radio is that it’s going to cost so much less when you retire,” Codman said. “I’ve heard estimates between 50 and 70 percent of what it costs now. The reality is you now have 365 days of shopping and travel time, and most people don’t want to reduce their standard of living.” 

When you add this to potential medical expenses, you may find that you actually need more than you originally allocated. 

Ira Cohen, 54, of Long Beach has been a crane operator since 1979 and plans to retire in eight years. He is practicing living below his means now, so that he will be used to living off his pension. 

“Six years ago I had a wake-up call, and I took a look at how I was living and really simplified my lifestyle,” Cohen said. “I’m living today as if I was collecting my pension and trying to save the extra money.” 

And if you are considering retiring early, understand that sometimes it’s better to work until you are eligible to receive full Social Security payments. 

Codman said that if you have an investment portfolio, make sure that it is both diverse and tax-efficient. She advises putting funds that will be needed sooner in life in conservative investments while other money goes to riskier investments. 

Take into account how the monies will be taxed and decide if a Roth IRA fund is right for you. This will allow you to pay the taxes on these accounts up front so you won’t have to worry about it on the back end. This can help keep your tax bracket lower during retirement so your Social Security doesn’t get taxed as much, Codman advises.

Financial adviser Marc Weiss of Archer Weiss Insurance in Woodland Hills said that several of his clients are looking to only make conservative investments due to the uncertainty in the market. 

Some baby boomers also are taking out life insurance policies on their parents with plans to use the death benefits to support themselves later in life, Weiss said.

In general, both financial advisers agree that everyone should meet with a financial adviser instead of basing financial decisions solely on what they read in the paper or hear on the news. One size rarely fits all when it comes to financial planning, 

In addition to your personal financial planning, a customized estate plan is another helpful tool to help avoid problems for loved ones, according to Benjamin A. Brin, an estate planning attorney from Los Angeles.

“You actually already have an estate plan, whether you know it or not,” Brin said. “You’ve got a one-size-fits-all, supposedly free plan from the government called ‘probate.’ ”

Probate court is the process the government uses to transfer ownership of assets. An estate plan circumvents this by providing a pre-arranged transfer of your assets after death. Even if you have a will, you may still have to go through probate, and the only way for Californians to avoid the process entirely is to include a living trust as part of an estate plan. This will save your loved ones money in lawyer fees, time and court dates, as well as a lot of potential discord, Brin said.

One of the most important things to keep in mind when it comes to planning for the future, however, could be knowing the difference between money you can and can’t afford to lose, he added.

“Unless you are a professional investor, then don’t think of savings as investments; think of them as savings.” 

A ritual to honor wisdom


For many women, the transition from actively engaged 50-year-old to septuagenarian retiree is daunting. Not only are there the unpleasant physical changes of menopause, but there is the emotional challenge of watching children move away and begin their own families, while being left with the uneasy task of facing mortality.

Yet at age 60 or 70, women still have many years, if not decades, ahead of them to pursue new careers, hobbies and educational endeavors. What was missing for many was a way to celebrate this Jewishly.

Then, in 1986, the late Savina Teubal, a Los Angeles woman who was 60 at the time, created the simchat chochmah (“joy of wisdom”), a ritual that celebrates wisdom and what lies ahead in a woman’s life. In an article Teubal wrote that was included in the 1992 anthology “Four Centuries of Jewish Women’s Spirituality,” she explained how she created the ritual as a way to celebrate the transition into the next stage of life. 

“I created a ceremony, a rite of passage from adult to elder, to establish my presence in the community as a functional and useful human being,” she wrote. “The ritual also served some personal needs: that of facing my mortality, for instance … I felt that a crone ceremony filled a significant need in our society.”

In the nearly three decades since Teubal created this ritual, women in the Reform, Reconstructionist and Renewal movements of Judaism have chosen to celebrate a simchat chochmah at the beginning of either their seventh or eighth decade of life, reclaiming their importance in society as holders of wisdom and productive members of the community. 

Although there is no standard way to celebrate, many women base their ceremonies on Teubal’s blueprint. One common feature is the presence of the song, “L’chi Lach,” at some point during the festivities, as well as shared personal reflections on life from each of the participants.

Part of the preparation for the ceremony involves religious study. Women celebrating their simchat chochma often choose to focus on the stories of strong, older women in the Torah, and use that as a jumping-off point for reflecting on their own lives as mature women in a Jewish context.

Among those who have had the ritual is Nancy Federman of Westlake Village. On June 8, she and three of her closest friends — Frima Telerant, Patty Kaye and Judy Maller — celebrated their simchat chochmah together at First Neighborhood Community Center in Westlake Village, a venue that comfortably held all 200 guests and had plenty of outdoor space for dining, dancing and shmoozing after the service.

“We wanted to do something special to mark our 70th birthdays with a Jewish ritual, with each of us doing something new that we had never done before, like wearing a kippah or tallit, or reading Torah aloud in public,” Federman said.

After a service that consisted of prayers, blessings, Torah readings and shared personal reflections from each woman, there was a ceremony that involved activities such as tree planting, singing, traditional dancing and, of course, lots of delicious food. The women also gathered six barrels worth of nonperishable food items to donate to Jewish Family Service’s SOVA Community Food and Resource Program. 

The entire planning process, from start to finish, took two years, but it was worth it, according to Federman.

“To me personally,” she said, “the simchat chochmah was an opportunity to celebrate not only a significant birthday, but also to share my strong Jewish identity with family and friends, and reaffirm my faith and the mitzvot I perform. And it did just that.”

The women all met each other between 20 and 40 years ago, through a mix of religious studies courses and well-timed introductions via mutual friends.

“We realized a while ago we were the same age, born in 1943,” said Kaye, also of Westlake Village. “We celebrated our 60th and 65th birthdays with a getaway trip, but wanted to do something very special for our 70th.  We also wanted to do something Jewish. Because we are close friends, we felt that we would enjoy planning and holding this wonderful event together.”

Federman was aware of the ceremony, and shared the idea with the other women. They then watched “Timbrels and Torahs,” a 2000 film about the ritual, and started planning in earnest from there.

During the ceremony, each of the women shared their reflections with family and friends in a different way.

“I used ideas of community, transition and friendship,” Kaye said. “I spoke of my mother, who at 101, was present. I also stressed how extended family and good friends have influenced my life, and how I hopefully will continue to learn from all of them.”

Maller, who lives in Encino, spoke about a specific Shabbat experience that she and her husband had in Lublin, Poland.

“We had Sabbath services in a popular restaurant in the old city. There was a klezmer band that was rocking, and the place was packed with Polish people stamping their feet and clapping to Yiddish and Hebrew music and participating in a Jewish service. I thought of those people struggling to become Jews again in a place like Poland. This celebration was a turning point in my life,” she said.

Telerant of Westwood talked about the women who had the greatest influence on her life — her mother, mother-in-law, friends and daughters — and how they, and Judaism, taught her how to navigate the difficult intricacies of the world and the relationships within it. 

“I hope that the traditions and values of Judaism which have enriched my life are embedded in my children and that they will teach them to theirs. Living Jewishly has given shape and meaning to my life and to theirs,” she said. “Whatever the future brings, I know that I will be able to deal with the challenges ahead because of my faith, my traditions, my family and my friends.” 

Aging Creatively


As my friends and I navigate our 60s and 70s, we notice — with amusement and consternation — how our conversations have changed. Instead of talking about our kids’ college applications and the best camping sites, we find ourselves discussing back pain and long-term care insurance. The bottom-line concern, of course, is how to create the best quality of life as we age. 

My father, who died a few months ago at 94, is one of my best models for aging well. Although Dad could hardly move his body in the past year, he still made people laugh with his quirky sense of humor. He continued to use his imagination and kept sharing his philosophies about life with anyone who would listen. (Sometimes even with those who wouldn’t.)

In many ways, my father never grew up. He viewed the world with curiosity, he sought new experiences and he saw endless possibilities — as children do. I think this is the secret to aging creatively. 

Keeping that inner child alive is not always easy, says Stephen Cohn, a Burbank composer who has taught classes on creativity.

“From the time we’re children, we’re told not to daydream,” Cohn said. “We’re expected to focus on the external necessities of survival and practicality. We’re not trained to take our dreaming and our imagination seriously. And yet that is the source of all great ideas. Great art, great physics, great medicine … it all came from somebody’s imagination.”

Of course, focusing on what’s practical allows us to make decisions, raise families, manage our finances and handle day-to-day responsibilities. That’s what adults do

The problem is we become identified with a role, a job or certain physical abilities. Then, as we grow old, our lives change. A role or job ends. The activities we enjoyed — whether skiing, driving, traveling or cleaning house — aren’t as easy or aren’t possible at all. This transition can be frustrating and painful.

But along with the grief, a vitally important question might then be asked: “Now what?” 

“I think too many people buy into the societal myth that when you reach a certain age, you’ve outlived your usefulness to yourself and society,” said Ronnie Kaye, a psychotherapist and author from Marina del Rey. “Accepting that belief is guaranteed to diminish your quality of life. Why settle for that when there is a world of possibilities out there?” 

How does one discover new possibilities? How do we tap our imagination as we grow older?

Kaye suggests starting with brainstorming exercises. The purpose is to allow ideas to emerge, to bypass the practical, critical voice that often stops us from seeing outside of the box. 

Here’s an example: Ask yourself, “What do I like to do?” Write down everything that comes to mind.

Gardening! Traveling! Hugging babies! Cleaning! Hugging dogs! Skydiving! 

Don’t stop to assess whether you can still do it or whether it’s practical. Keep asking, “What have I enjoyed?” Then ask yourself, “What are my skills?” They might include balancing the checkbook, fixing things, organizing, reading, cooking or listening to other people. Write every word that randomly comes to mind — again, without judging.

OK, now use your rational mind — maybe skydiving isn’t such a good idea. Look around your home or community for opportunities to express pleasures or talents. It could be organizing the garage, coaching new entrepreneurs, taking a writing class or reading to children. The options are infinite. Consider brainstorming with others to enhance the process. 

Aging creatively doesn’t have to mean that every senior citizen takes up watercolor painting or yoga; it’s about learning to think about your place in the world differently.

When Kaye turned 65 four years ago, for example, she started to rethink her career plans. 

“After having been a therapist for 20 years, I wanted to know more, reach people in a different manner and use myself, my skills and my profession in new ways,” she said.

Her answer was to enter a doctoral program in psychoanalysis. Now, at 69, she is in the final phase of completing her doctorate at the New Center for Psychoanalysis in Los Angeles.

Kaye also described an 80-year-old friend who led a very productive life, but is now barely able to walk. Many things she used to do are impossible. After thinking about what she still has to offer, however, the woman started reading to blind people several times a week. 

“Finding a solution that would allow her to be useful and engaged, despite her limitations, was a genuinely creative act,” Kaye said.

Richard Braun, 82, is a retired thoracic surgeon from Encino. Since he stopped working, Braun, a violist, joined the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony and plays in a weekly chamber group. He also teaches anatomy on a volunteer basis at UCLA. 

“I wanted to use my medical knowledge in some way,” Braun said. “This requires me to invent stimulating ways to convey ideas. I’m so busy since retiring that my wife says I’ll have to go back to work to find more free time!” 

As an artist and art therapist, Tobes Reisel often finds herself helping seniors discover a creative part of themselves. 

“I work with many people who are not artists. I ask them to scribble with me,” said Reisel, 87, of Sherman Oaks. “They get into their childishness, and many say, ‘You know what? There’s a kid in me that isn’t having any fun!’ So we talk about how they can add that to their life.”

Creativity often evolves from one’s passions. This is definitely the case for artist Peachy Levy. At 82, the Santa Monica resident still gets commissions for creating her unique Judaic textile art. 

“I am a passionate person,” she said. “I think a lot of people don’t make time or space for their passions; their life is too frenetic. It might help to look back to your youth, to what you were passionate about. Perhaps those feelings are still there for you!”

Passion is what led Carey Okrand to want to become an entrepreneur at 60. Realizing she could go from preaching about the environment to doing something active and positive, she’s decided to start a business in Los Feliz that will be called The Refill Place. Based on an old concept of reusing containers instead of filling the earth with plastic, the idea will be for people to bring their empty containers to her store and refill them with environmentally friendly cleaning and personal care products.

“The everyday decisions and choices I have to make let me be creative,” said Okrand of Van Nuys. “Growing a business feels like working on a piece of art.” 

Discovering or inventing new possibilities at  60 or 80 isn’t the same as it was at 20 or 30. 

“To be creative at an older age,” Reisel said, “involves reviewing how you’ve lived your life and then using that in the way that is most honest and fulfilling and enjoyable for where you are now and what you can do now.” 

Aging creatively, then, involves rediscovering passions, taking an inventory of current skills and keeping in check any tendency to tell yourself that you are too old to be useful or to have fun. It means reawakening the child inside that can laugh and imagine and create something new, in spite of — or sometimes because of — limitations. 

Every day that my father woke up and remembered he could no longer drive or work or get from his bed to the bathroom by himself, I believe he asked himself, “Now what?” Then he made a choice to see possibilities. I hope I can follow his lead. 

Ellie Kahn is a licensed psychotherapist, oral historian and documentary filmmaker. She can be contacted through her Web site,

JDC CEO Steven Schwager stepping down


The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s CEO is stepping down.

The JDC announced Friday that Steven Schwager would step down as CEO at the end of June and will retire from the organization in January 2013.

Schwager has served as CEO since 2002 and has been with the Jewish international humanitarian assistance organization since 1989.

“Following careful soul-searching, I concluded that after nearly 23 years serving this marvelous organization, it was time for me to retire,” Schwager said in the press release. “I do this with the deepest of pride, knowing that the work we have done together has helped ensure that Jews around the world face their future a little less hungry, with deeper connections to their Jewish identity, and with the profound hope to build a better tomorrow.”

The closure of Motion Picture Home makes the future uncertain for residents


One day last spring, Jill Schary-Robinson Shaw was walking through a quiet, darkened corridor in the long-term care unit at The Motion Picture Home, the iconic Woodland Hills nursing home for entertainment industry veterans and their families. Hardly anyone was around — lights were dim, residents alone in their rooms — as Schary-Robinson Shaw, the daughter of Isadore “Dore” Schary, who ran MGM in the 1950s, wheeled her husband, Stuart Shaw, a resident of the home, around his desolate indoor neighborhood.

“There used to be wonderful entertainments,” Schary-Robinson Shaw said. “Pianists, musicians. But it’s all changed. Replaced by a mood of tension — a foreboding.”

It wasn’t always like this. In fact, the home, originally known as the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital, was once considered a pristine palace, inhabited by a bustling community of industry workers — like Bud Abbott of Abbott and Costello, Oscar winner Hattie McDaniel from “Gone With the Wind” and Maurice Costello, a vaudeville actor whose granddaughter is Drew Barrymore. Even amid the home’s obvious signs of decay, there is still nostalgia for a happier past. Throughout the place, memories of the home’s glory days loom large through the lingering spirits of Hollywood’s ghosts.

“Sadie, you won’t believe this,” Schary-Robinson Shaw said to a passing nurse on the ground floor of the Jack H. Skirball Health Center.

“What happened?” the nurse asked. “Don’t give me bad news …”

“It’s good news,” Schary-Robinson Shaw said with a smile. “He wants a sandwich.”

The nurse laughed, relieved.

Shaw, 82, suffers from Parkinson’s disease and related dementia, so it had been awhile since he’d asked for anything, and the request delighted his caretakers.

Lately, the only joy around here seems to be in the movie memorabilia lining the hallways — where Rosalind Russell smiles a toothy, actress smile in a photo on the Rosalind Russell Wall. But even that tends to deepen the contrast between the rollicking fantasy of the movies and the home’s now-diminished quality of life. For 70 years, the Wasserman Campus was the crown jewel of the Motion Picture and Television Fund (MPTF), serving as home to generations of elderly movie stars, producers, directors, their crews and their families. But everything changed in January 2009, when MPTF, the nonprofit that operates the home, announced plans to shutter its long-term care and hospital facilities. Long-term care was costing the fund $1 million per month, they said, and threatened to bankrupt the entire fund.

The decision to eliminate long-term care marked the end of an era. The campus would no longer accommodate the industry’s most elderly and infirm — its most vulnerable clients — a move many felt was contrary to the fund’s founding purpose. According to entertainment industry lore, the fund was created in the 1920s by affluent Hollywood stars — Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford among them — and built its reputation on a bold and inviolable promise: to always take care of industry members in need. Over the years, the home has become highly regarded, both for its beautiful setting and for its continuum of care — the promise that once a person retired, he or she could count on finishing life there.

But even as MPTF chose to close long-term care for financial reasons, the fund continued to invest in other newer facilities on campus. In July 2007, the Saban Center for Health and Wellness opened, a $20 million, state-of-the-art fitness facility that stretches over 36,000 square feet and includes the Jodie Foster Aquatic Pavilion, with its shimmering warm-water pool and a high-tech gym.

Meanwhile, in the 19 months since the closure announcement, the home’s resident population has dwindled from 134 residents to just 47; at least 33 were moved to other facilities, a dozen more resettled elsewhere on the campus, and another 60 have died. The remaining few have launched a fierce resistance, casting themselves as refuseniks in a complicated saga that has sparked moral outrage among many in the entertainment community. Bolstered by a pending lawsuit, the conflict has gotten repeated play in the press and divided the entertainment community between those who support the closure (read: the fund, its leaders and administrators) and those who don’t (the residents, their families and mainly blue-collar workers).

The battle has often been ugly. Just last week, a report from the California Department of Public Health was released, reportedly saying the fund violated state law in transferring more than 30 residents out of the facility without official 30-day discharge notices explaining their rights, including the option to appeal relocation. This is just one in a long line of twists and turns in a saga that has cast a dark pall over the fund’s once-virtuous image.

But the fund is not solely responsible for the problem. Much of the imbroglio stems from changing trends in health care: With people living longer and birth rates declining, the need for elder care is rising, along with the requisite costs, while the pool of available caregivers is shrinking. This new reality poses an additional challenge to heath-care organizations like the MPTF, which have adopted a new ethos in elder care that promotes “aging in place”  — at home, instead of in a facility.

A Moral Dilemma

But while there’s no clear villain in this fight, there are, unfortunately and indisputably, victims. Because stewing beneath the surface of all the drama is actually a profound moral dilemma: What happens when escalating costs of health care get stacked against the dignity of human beings? And what will become of the 47 residents still living in limbo, caught tragically in the crossfire?

Last April, Schary-Robinson Shaw considered her answer.

“[The fund] figured, I’m sure, let the people who are here stay …” she said, lowering her voice to a whisper, “until they are … [dead], but it changes the character of the place.”

She and Stuart have been married 30 years, and he’s been living at the home since 2008.

“We thought it would be forever,” Schary-Robinson Shaw said. So word of the closure came as a shock. “I thought, ‘Well it can’t happen. We’ll fight it,’ ” she said, adding: “Stuart heard about it and said, ‘You’ll never find me again. They’ll take me somewhere, and you’ll never know where I am,’ ” she recalled. “They sense in the air what’s going on because the energy here has changed so radically.”

Early on Jan. 14, 2009, MPTF management gathered some staff in an activity room and told them the plans to close long-term care and the campus hospital by the end of 2009. Within hours, letters were delivered to residents’ rooms stating, “No one will be moved for at least 60 days,” although some residents’ family members say social workers immediately began knocking on residents’ doors, urging them to relocate. Families were distraught — where would they find comparable care? Residents believed they would stay at the home for the rest of their lives, so many had invested in their own care by donating what savings they had to the fund; as a result, their dependence on Medi-Cal narrowed their options. Because the MPTF had Hollywood behind it — and because the presence of a campus hospital merited a higher rate of reimbursement from state and federal health entitlements — almost anywhere else residents could go would be a compromise in care.

Over 65 group could decide who wins this year’s presidential election


Many millions of dollars are being spent in both current presidential campaigns emphasizing personal qualities over clarifying the candidates’ stands on the issues. Now seniors take their politics seriously: While the 65-and-older demographic comprises only 12 percent of the nation’s population, in the last presidential election 73 percent of seniors reported that they voted—the largest percentage of any age group, according to a U.S. Census Bureau survey.

But neither candidate on the campaign trail has spoken often on issues that matter to seniors, and when they have, it’s been underreported by much of the media. So at the end of the day, how different are the candidates—and their respective political parties—from each other when it comes to issues of great importance to seniors, such as long-term care, Social Security, medical insurance and taxes?

Simply put, “the real fault lines between the two candidates’ positions are over how to treat people in the highest tax brackets. It gets to the heart of their economic philosophies,” said Leonard E. Burman, a senior fellow with the Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan Washington-based tax reform group.

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), specifically through his campaign Web site and implicitly through the official platform of the Democratic Party, would shore up the needs of seniors at the lower end of the economic spectrum. He has proposed to eliminate income taxes for seniors making less than $50,000 a year.

“This will provide an immediate tax cut averaging $1,400 to 7 million seniors and relieve millions from the burden of filing tax returns,” the official Obama literature asserts.

Additionally, Obama would rescind the Bush administration’s income tax cut (that Democrats claim has benefited only the nation’s wealthiest citizens) and apply the windfall to his social programs, together with revenues from a slight tax rate increase for those earning more than $250,000. The increase would secure Social Security—without cuts and raising the retirement age—and finance his ambitious national health care proposal.

Although seniors already enjoy universal health care through Medicare, Obama argues that the program requires some tweaking because “catastrophic expenses” were “routine” and that, as currently applied, Medicare benefits do not cover expenses for most long-term care. His goal, he told the AARP, was to ensure that the program “protect seniors and families from impoverishment and debt.”

Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) and Obama’s positions are similar regarding the estate tax—sometimes referred to by the Bush administration as the “death tax.” Both candidates would retain a reduced version of the estate tax, although McCain would reduce it more than Obama, according to Factcheck.org and Snopes.com.

The Democratic candidate has proposed to apply the tax only to estates valued at more than $3.5 million ($7 million for couples), holding the maximum rate at 45 percent. McCain would apply it to estates worth more than $5 million ($10 million for couples), with a maximum rate of 15 percent.

Unlike Obama, McCain would renew the Bush income tax cut when it expires, which the Republicans believe will give citizens more cash to choose their own health care coverage options, should they use their rebate to pay for it.

The McCain attitude shaping policy—and that of the Republican Party, generally—is that seniors can manage their own lives without the intervention of government and that they should be free to choose their own way to solve many of these concerns. The Republican Party would not offer income-tax relief to seniors with incomes less than $50,000. The GOP believes that seniors already get federal help through Social Security and Medicare and often have economic advantages over other demographic groups.

It should be noted that McCain is a major proponent of privatizing Social Security, a program he termed “disgraceful” this summer, touching off protests by seniors at his campaign appearances in Pennsylvania and Colorado.

For seniors requiring expensive long-term care, McCain would privatize services and leave choices to individuals. He is a proponent of recent state-based experiments such as Cash and Counseling or the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly, through which seniors are granted a monthly stipend from which they can choose to pay home-care workers and purchase care-related services and goods.

McCain told AARP that eldercare matters should be decided within families and that “any way we can help caregivers” offset costs through tax credits or other financial incentives should be considered as “part of an overall policy regarding health care.”

How the senior vote will affect the presidential race in November is still a matter of debate. In 2004, voters ages 65 and older went Republican for the first time in years, backing President Bush more heavily than the rest of the electorate. Many of today’s seniors were influenced by Reagan conservatism, according to analysts in both parties, and they’re better off financially than the Roosevelt-era seniors, a fact that may favor the current Republican candidate.

Both campaigns are comin’ a courtin’ the senior vote. Obama has appointed a national seniors constituency director and the McCain campaign has launched an effort to encourage seniors to talk to their peers. States with the largest proportion of seniors based on total population—Florida, Pennsylvania and Iowa—are considered “swing states,” meaning that pensioners could very well influence the outcome of the national election.

How well informed senior voters will be is perhaps the most important issue of all.

Stanley Mieses is a writer, editor and broadcast commentator based in New York.

A doctor’s visit


A visit with Dr. Eugene Gettelman, who celebrates his 100th birthday on June 17, shows how much medicine has gained and lost in the last half century.

We talked recently in the sitting room of his apartment at Westwood Horizons, an upscale retirement home near UCLA. His friend, Dr. Herb Levin, had suggested I do a column on Gettelman’s reaching the century mark.

I had met them when I was invited to speak at a monthly luncheon of retired physicians at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Occasionally, Gettelman, Levin and their friend, Dr. Fred Kahn, take me to lunch at the UCLA Faculty Center. They like to talk about politics. I’m interested in the old days of medical practice — at least their old days.

That’s what I wanted to talk about when Gettelman and I settled down for a chat. As a pediatrician practicing in the San Fernando Valley, he treated generations of children, starting from when he completed Navy service in the South Pacific during World War II. He is a lively man with a friendly and calm manner, undoubtedly reassuring to parents and children as well.

I asked him to repeat a story he had told me before, which I thought illustrated the sharp instincts, intelligence and guts that were so necessary to doctors working without today’s sophisticated diagnostic tools and drugs.

Gettelman was senior resident at Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago in the mid-1930s. In those days — hardly imaginable today — strep throat was a dread ailment that could affect the mastoid and turn into meningitis. For the children he was treating, “it was like a death certificate,” he said.

At the time, 100 Jewish physicians who had fled Hitler’s Germany were working at Reese, a Jewish hospital. One of them came to Gettelman with a German article telling how doctors there were using sulfa drugs to cure infections, a new treatment first tried in 1932.

Several children were dying in Reese Hospital from meningitis. “I had more guts than brains in those days,” Gettelman said. He called the manufacturer, Bayer, in Germany. The company air expressed a pound of a powdered version of the drug.

There were no directions with the package. The drug, Gettelman said, had never been used against meningitis. But he decided to try it.

He asked the parents. He told them their children were dying. The parents told him to go ahead. Gettelman mixed the powder with a solution in what he thought would be a safe proportion and injected it into the spine of one of the sick children.

“It worked,” Gettelman said. “With the first patient, the temperature came down.”

The story reminded me of House, television’s irascible high-risk doctor, who operates on instinct, experience and guts.

“Do you watch ‘House?'” I asked Gettelman.

“Sometimes,” he replied.

“House would have done what you did,” I said.

Gettelman smiled. “That’s exactly right,” he said.

In Gettelman’s younger days, doctors marched through the hospital in something called “grand rounds.” Held on Sunday mornings, when all the doctors were available, the rounds were led by the head of the department, dressed in morning coat and striped pants, followed by a procession of residents and interns from one hospital room to another.

They descended on patients, who must have been surprised, if not scared. The lowest-ranked intern would spell out the symptoms. The head doctor would question the usually nervous intern. Then the group would retreat to the hall, and the department chief would explain the lessons to be drawn from the case.

When he was practicing in the Valley, Gettelman visited patients at Encino Hospital in the morning, saw ill children in his office all afternoon and made house calls in the evening. Doctors knew their patients and watched for symptoms. They didn’t dismiss childhood headaches, Gettelman said. A headache could mean polio. “A belly ache could be appendicitis,” he said.

Those days are gone, he said, and with them the young doctors who opened solo offices and started treating patients one on one, becoming part of their lives. Today’s doctors’ offices are big. Some are well organized, others not.

“The personal relationship between the doctor and the patient has deteriorated,” he said.

But on the plus side, antibiotics have all but eliminated the crises Gettelman faced in his youth. These days, he wouldn’t have to play a hunch and order those sulfa drugs from Germany.

He noted approvingly that radiology has made possible huge advances in diagnosis. Gettelman keeps up on medical developments, and he attends frequent lectures and other sessions at Cedars and UCLA.

On Sunday, June 15, family and friends will gather at the UCLA Faculty Center to celebrate his birthday. Gettelman and his late wife, Rita, had two sons, Alan and Michael. There are five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

My interview was ending. We had talked for an hour, and it was lunch time. Gettelman walked to his closet and pondered which of his several sport coats to wear downstairs for lunch. He chose the camel hair.

A table had been reserved for him. He ordered the salad, and I had the turkey sandwich. We discussed politics, not agreeing all the time, but enjoying the conversation. After an hour, the dining room was emptying, and I stood up to leave.

As I drove home, I thought about all the changes Gettelman has seen and what a remarkable man he is. This was one visit to the doctor that actually made me feel good.

Until leaving the Los Angeles Times in 2001, Bill Boyarsky worked as a political correspondent, a Metro columnist for nine years and as city editor for three years. You can reach him at bw.boyarsky@verizon.net.

Some retirees make aliyah to San Miguel de Allende


This coming week, Angelenos of all races and creeds will join in Cinco de Mayo celebrations that the local Mexican American community has adopted as its major holiday (even though it is different from Mexico’s actual Independence Day, which is Sept. 16; May 5 marks a victory of the Mexican army over French invaders during the U.S. Civil War).

Two weeks later, the Jewish community will celebrate Israel’s 60th birthday, which falls on May 14, according to the Gregorian calendar but is celebrated on 5 Iyar, or May 18, this year.

Although the history of Mexican-Israeli relations has sometimes been strained — while several Central American countries voted in favor of the U.N. partition plan creating the State of Israel, Mexico abstained — the two L.A. communities get along just fine. Moreover, a growing number of American Jews have chosen to retire to Mexico, creating a different kind of dual allegiance than the one usually associated with moving to Israel.

Two of the largest American expatriate communities are located in the charming city of San Miguel de Allende, three hours north of Mexico City, and Ajijic, a lakeside community near the city of Guadalajara. The latter has a retired Reform rabbi to lead the community, while the former has gone through some turbulent times while attempting to establish lay spiritual leadership.

Just like the proximity of the Mexican and Israeli celebrations this month, in the early fall, the Jews of San Miguel de Allende celebrate Sukkot, while the city as a whole celebrates its name day. Jews join in, as well, because unlike many of Mexico’s often religiously tinged fiestas, San Miguel de Allende’s autumn celebration is not marked by pilgrimages carrying crucifixes and religious images. Instead, native residents from the state of Guanajuato and beyond flood into the narrow, cobble-stone streets of historic San Miguel dressed in traditional Native American garb, typically wearing flamboyantly feathered headdresses and dancing with abandon to occasionally frenzied drumbeats.

It is a three-day spectacle that rivals the most famous of the world’s storied carnivals, and it is capped off by a spectacular display of fireworks, featuring whirling rockets that take off from temporary pillars erected in the city’s fabled central square.

The Jewish community of San Miguel de Allende is almost as unique as the city itself, which has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site because of its distinctive beauty and history as a cradle of Mexican independence. Virtually all of its members are North American retirees: San Miguel de Allende is consistently ranked by American publications as one of the top retirement cities outside the United States for its affordable quality of life and pleasant year-round climate.

With but a few exceptions, no Jews lived in San Miguel de Allende prior to 30 years or so ago; nor has there ever been any more than the handful of Jewish children that are there today.

It is not surprising, therefore, that there is no synagogue in San Miguel de Allende. Organized Jewish life was never a priority for American Jewish retirees relocating here, compared to the city’s other attractions, including a vibrant arts community. For this reason, it is extremely difficult even to estimate the number of Jewish residents. The best guesstimates are several-hundred souls marginally identified as Jews. In the winter months, known as the “season,” the arrival of American and Canadian snowbirds multiplies this number several times over.

In recent years, an organized Jewish community of sorts has emerged. For several of the initial years, the community identified more or less with the Jewish Renewal movement. Then a traditional, egalitarian American Conservative-style minyan began operating on Shabbat mornings. For some reason, as tiny as the number of actively engaged Jews is, a serious schism developed, with the result that today, these two groups do not talk with one another.

The mantle of an organized Jewish community now rests on an entity called Shalom San Miguel, which itself has already seen splits and defections among its small board of directors. Nevertheless, Shalom San Miguel has managed to score some impressive accomplishments: It has secured a meeting place at the downtown Quinta Loreto Hotel, where services and adult education classes are held, and a sukkah is built in the courtyard.

Twice weekly classes in Talmud and Kabbalah are led by Shalom San Miguel President Larry Stone, formerly of Pittsburgh. He and his wife, Carole, also teach Hebrew to the community’s children. According to Stone, the crowning glory of Shalom San Miguel’s activities is the weekly Torah study shiur held at 11:15 a.m. every Saturday.

“In the season, we have been known to attract more than 50 people to Torah study,” he noted, adding that High Holy Days services drew similar numbers from residents in San Miguel de Allende and cities up to several hours’ drive away.

The star of High Holy Days services is clearly the Jewish community’s elder statesman, Sidney Yakerson. At 91, he blows the shofar effortlessly, sounding clear blasts whose length would be the envy of many a younger man.

Stone envisions Shalom San Miguel as an umbrella organization comprising secular individuals, as well as groups representing both Reform and Conservative services: “Ideally, we would like to see a Reform Friday night service that would complement nicely the Saturday morning Conservative service,” he said.

In the meantime, according to the organization’s weekly e-newsletter, several Shalom San Miguel families, including the few who drive to Mexico City from time to time to purchase kosher provisions, are planning to hold monthly Kabbalat Shabbat services and dinners in members’ homes. The community also occasionally invites visiting scholars-in-residence and receives visits from Chabad emissaries. .

Finally, San Miguel de Allende may not have a synagogue, but it does boast an interesting landmark building in the downtown area with the intriguing name of Casa Cohen. Adorned with a Magen David and a frieze referencing the Arca de Noe, Casa Cohen houses a decorative metalworking shop where a shopper may find a chanukiah or mezuzah for sale.

The building is owned by a Sephardic Jewish family with roots in the large Mexican city of Guadalajara. True to Mexican form, whether or not the local Cohens choose to travel to Guadalajara to celebrate the Jewish holidays, they would not be found worshipping with Ashkenazic Shalom San Miguel de Allende.

Buzzy Gordon is a travel writer who writes frequently about Jewish communities around the world.

Five ways to find your purpose after 50 or 60 or 70 or . . .


Most people can now expect to live longer. Those extra years are a great gift. But they can be an albatross if people don’t know what to do with them. A minority of people like to stay the course, whatever it is. But most people find they need to dig down to their core selves and find new goals and purposes that touch something deep inside — the kind that get them out of bed in the morning.

But how does one find a new mission at age 50 or 60 or 80? A growing array of books, courses, programs and now Web sites exist to provide suggestions, and many of them offer valuable detailed guidance, worksheets and resources. Working your way through them all can be a chore. But identifying your new purpose doesn’t have to be so major an undertaking that you never do it.

There are core ideas and principles you can use to find your purpose after 50.

Here are five tools.

Get Into Neutral

This is crucial when you leave a career. Resist the temptation to leap into the next phase of your life. Sit still. Take a timeout. Give yourself permission to decompress. The neutral zone is kind of a moratorium on old habits and thoughts. Experiencing such a “white space” can be scary. If we submit to it, however, new thoughts and fresh possibilities will emerge. It will help you redefine who you are now, not what you were. Neutral also helps give you closure on the end of your primary career, and the purposes and relationships they held for you.

Retell Your Life Story

Stories reveal things your rational minds (and resumes) can miss. If writing is hard for you, imagine you’re writing a letter to a friend or speak into a recording device. Recap in brief, or in outline style, the story of your life. As you organize the “facts” of your life, hundreds of images, thoughts, recollections and memories will begin to cross your mind. Sift and distill these for central themes, interests, activities and relationships that matter most and express who you are. Use old photos or letters. Pull out your report cards. Read what your teacher wrote about you, and not just your grades. Don’t judge. Generate data. There are clues in your past.

Use Your Verbs

This technique works throughout the assessment process. The pressures of social status make you think about yourself in nouns — the titles, labels, roles and affiliations, usually of your career. But nouns close doors. They peg people. Strip them away and get to your verbs. The challenge now is to dream not about what you want to be but what you want to do. Verbs are active and dynamic. What were you doing when you felt excited or fulfilled? Find several examples and then look for patterns in your skills and experience. That will help you redefine what you want to do now.

Write a Personal Mission Statement

Companies and organizations have these. Why not individuals? Consider writing a statement reflecting your life vision or mission. Skip tangible goals or specific projects and make a list of the values, beliefs and interests you care about the most — the motivators that guide you, fire you up and draw out your best contribution. Only when you have a strong interior sense of these broader life goals can you find the real-time contexts, life opportunities and markets in which to apply them.

Involve Others

A trusted circle of advisers can be of immense help as you seek new paths. Put friends, present or former work colleagues and family members on these personal sounding boards. Those who know you well and who are stakeholders in your success can hold up mirrors to reflect back things about you that you can’t see yourself. Such groups know collectively of more possibilities than any one person could summon. It can be a formal or highly informal group. To get a sense of how a personal board can help, gather three to four friends for personal brainstorming sessions. Open the floor to insights and possibilities with no judgments allowed. The goal is simply to turn up opportunities and use the feedback to improve your exploration of new directions in your life.

These steps are only a beginning. But they may put you on a path to a post-career life purpose that can dramatically reduce the chance of being bored in retirement.

David Corbett is the founder of New Directions, Inc., in Boston, and author of “Portfolio Life: the New Path to Work, Purpose, and Passion After 50” (Jossey Bass). Visit him online at www.portfoliolifebook.com or www.newdirections.com.

Theater: Davidson’s retirement leads to ‘Lessons’


Gordon Davidson is back where he belongs, in the director’s chair.

The man whose name is practically synonymous with Los Angeles theater, who raised the city’s reputation from a provincial backwater to the breeding ground for innovative and controversial plays, retired in the summer of 2005 as founding artistic director of the Center Theatre Group.

Now he has resumed his craft, not at the Mark Taper Forum, the site of many of his triumphs and some failures for 38 seasons, but at the more modest venue of the Strasberg Creative Center’s Marilyn Monroe Theatre in West Hollywood.

Davidson has taken an hour off from the final rehearsal of Wendy Graf’s “Lessons” and, sitting in a hastily borrowed office offstage, he appears physically little changed from our last interview seven years ago.

At 73, he remains lean and distinctive, and his signature prominent black eyebrows continue to set off his enviable shock of white hair. Davidson seems weary as our conversation begins, but he becomes more animated as he talks about his new play, the joys and sorrows of retirement, and his ongoing exploration of what it means to be an American Jew in the 21st century.

“Lessons” is a two-character play about Ben, a man in his 70s, played by Hal Linden, and a 40-something rabbi, Ruth, portrayed by Larissa Laskin.

“Ben remembers his Orthodox grandfather, how as a boy he was drawn to and also repelled by his constant davening,” Davidson explains.

“Ben’s father returns from World War II, suffering from post-traumatic stress, and rejects all religion. Ben’s mother is mainly interested in being an American; she’s a ‘watered-down Jew,’ who has both a Christmas tree and a menorah,” he continues.

Ben enjoys dancing and baseball, has no connection to Jewish life, but one day someone convinces him to take a trip to Israel and suggests the name of a teacher for some basic Hebrew lessons.

The teacher is Ruth, a rabbi, who has lost her calling and her faith after her daughter, in Israel to celebrate her bat mitzvah, is killed in a terrorist attack.

Ruth now makes a living teaching Hebrew, but her new elderly pupil soon grows bored with the lessons. One day, Ben announces that he wants to have the bar mitzvah he missed as a boy and asks Ruth to prepare him for the rite of passage.

“It’s a provocative play,” Davidson says. “It’s about the nature of faith and the mystery of religion, the mystery of God and Torah. The play doesn’t preach; it has no easy answers.”

Davidson says that he has discovered some parallels to his own heritage in the play.

“I guess we’re the prototype of the American Jewish family,” he reminisces. “My paternal grandfather, born in a small town near Kiev, was Orthodox, my father was Conservative, and I’m Reform.”

He remembers vividly as a Brooklyn-born youngster visiting his grandfather in Hartford, Conn. One of young Gordon’s tasks was to tear a roll of toilet paper into individual tissues, so that the old man wouldn’t have to desecrate Shabbat by performing menial chores.

There is another family angle to how Davidson came to direct “Lessons.” His son Adam, who won an Oscar with his first short film (“The Lunch Date,” in 1989), had directed an earlier version of the play in 2005 for the West Coast Jewish Theatre, which is co-presenting the current production.

Two years later, the Jewish Theatre and The Group at Strasberg suggested a revival with the same director, but the younger Davidson was tied up with a television series and sent the script to his father for consideration.

The elder Davidson was fascinated by the play’s concept, but both he and playwright Graf felt that the drama needed major surgery, particularly in the character of Ben.

“The result is that we now have an entirely new play,” Graf says.

How does a famous father feel about coming off the bench to pinch-hit for his son?

“I was very proud that he asked me to take over,” the father replies.

When Gordon Davidson retired after 38 years and 300 productions at the Taper, later adding the Ahmanson and Kirk Douglas theaters, he was hailed as much for his personal characteristics as his professional achievements.

“Gordon is just a huge mensch,” playwright Tony Kushner said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “He’s what the word means. And he’s haimish.”

Kushner’s “Angels in America” was one of the most celebrated works nourished by Davidson at the Taper, but it was only one in a long list of distinguished plays he produced or directed in Los Angeles, as well as on Broadway.

Among them are “The Kentucky Cycle” which, with “Angels in America,” won back-to-back Pulitzer prizes for drama; “In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer,” “The Trial of the Catonsville Nine,” “Zoot Suit,” “Children of a Lesser God,” “I Ought to Be in Pictures” and “QED.”

He also met with less rapturous receptions — well, he bombed — with two Shakespearean plays, as director of “Hamlet” and producer of “Julius Caesar.”

Davidson sees himself as an integrated human being, who does not like to compartmentalize himself as a Jew, an American or an artist.

But given his own heritage, the prominence of Jewish playwrights and his large Jewish core audience, inevitably a considerable number of his productions touched on Jewish themes.

Among them were “The Deputy,” his first play at the UCLA Theatre Group, the Taper’s forerunner; as well as Taper productions, “The Dybbuk,” “I Ought to Be in Pictures,” “Number Our Days,” “Tales From Hollywood,” “The American Clock,” “Green Card,” “The Immigrant” and “Ghetto.”

Davidson’s own Jewish connection has been strongly reinforced by his wife, Judy, who was raised in an observant and Zionist family and who heads her own arts-oriented public relations company.

The couple lives in Santa Monica, in a house once owned by émigré screenwriter Salka Viertel and the one-time social center for such illustrious exiles as Thomas and Heinrich Mann, Bertolt Brecht, Lion Feuchtwanger, Arnold Schoenberg, Bruno Walter, Franz Werfel and others.

Briefs: L.A. Koreans and Jews protest anti-Semitic cartoons published in South Korea;


L.A. Koreans and Jews protest anti-Semitic cartoons published in South Korea

Leaders of the Korean and Jewish communities in Los Angeles have joined forces to vigorously protest anti-Semitic cartoons in a book published in South Korea and translated into English.

A typical cartoon depicts a newspaper, magazine, radio and TV set with the caption: “In a word, American public debate belongs to the Jews, and it is no exaggeration to say that [U.S. media] are the voice of the Jews.”

The publication in question, which is in comic book format, is one in a series titled, “Distant Countries and Neighboring Countries,” and is designed to teach young Korean students about other nations.

It was written by Lee Won-bok, a popular South Korean university professor and author, and the book’s English translation has reportedly sold more than 10 million copies.

“I don’t have words to describe the outrage I feel,” Yohngsohk Choe, co-chairman of the Korean Patriotic Action Movement in the U.S.A., told the Los Angeles Times.

Choe was among leaders of the large local Korean American community who met last Friday with Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Choe added, “The depictions are explosive. They have the potential to harm good relationships with our Jewish American neighbors in Los Angeles.”

Cooper said he had written the publisher of the book, asking her “to carefully review the slanders in this book that historically have led to anti-Semitic violence and genocide,” and “consider providing facts about the Jewish people, our religion and values to young South Koreans.”

The publisher, Eun-Ju Park, answered by e-mail that she would check into the matter “more closely and correct what needs to be corrected,” a response Cooper considered unsatisfactory.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Jewish liaisons for Bush and Clinton outline work in ‘the real West Wing’

Noam Neusner, who served as Jewish liaison and special assistant to President George W. Bush, said last Thursday that while the president welcomes comments from major Jewish organizations on matters of national policy, “it was kind of crazy” for the Union of Reform Judaism to pass a resolution condemning the Iraq War.

Neusner and Jay K. Footlik, who was President Bill Clinton’s Jewish liaison, spoke at Sinai Temple at the 2007 Rabbi Samuel N. Sherman Memorial Lecture. Titled, “The Real West Wing,” the event was co-sponsored by StandWithUs and moderated by Rabbi David Wolpe.

It is the job of the Jewish liaison to advise the president on a wide range of issues, including such things as lives of Jews in the military, allegations of proselytizing or arranging the annual White House Chanukah party. Footlik said some people believe that the Jewish liaison works for Jewish community, rather than for the president. He pointed out that American Jews are “not shy” about telling the White House their feelings.

In response to a question about anti-Semitism in America, both men said that in spite of the impact of President Jimmy Carter’s recent book, support for Israel remains solid, but they stressed “you can’t take it for granted.”

Each cited examples of their administration’s commitment to Israel and the Jewish people and expressed confidence that regardless who wins the 2008 elections, American support for Israel will remain strong.

— Peter L. Rothholz, Contributing Writer

Milken schools chief announces retirement

Stephen S. Wise Schools went into high gear to find a successor for Dr. Rennie Wrubel, who last week announced her intention to retire from the position of head of school of Milken Community High School and Stephen S. Wise Middle School on June 30, 2008.

Wrubel, 62, has headed the schools for 10 years, during which time she has increased enrollment, made both the academics and Judaic studies more rigorous and built up the Jewish culture of the school, according to Metuka Benjamin, director of education for Stephen S. Wise Schools.

“She has been a great asset to Milken and really helped develop and build Milken,” Benjamin said. “She brought it to the next level.”

On Feb. 22, Wrubel sent a letter to Benjamin, explaining that she and her husband, who is 10 years her senior, longed to spend more time with each other and with family. Her daughter and son-in-law live in Israel with three children — a 4-year-old and twin 10-month-olds.

“Leading Milken for these past 10 years has been the highlight of my 41 years in education. It has been far more than a job to me; it has been an act of love,” Wrubel wrote, saying the decision to retire was one filled with emotion.

Milken is planning an international search for the position in the 16 months before Wrubel retires. With its $30 million campus, challenging academics and robust programming, the school aims to compete with L.A.’s best prep schools.

A search committee is already in formation, and administrators have hired Littleford & Associates, a consulting and executive search firm that has worked with the synagogue and its schools in the past and understands the culture and needs of the school, Benjamin told parents in a letter. John C. Littleford has already visited the school to conduct focus groups to develop a leadership profile for the position.

Once candidates have been identified and narrowed down, small groups of parents, teachers, alumni, students and administrators will have a chance to interview semifinalists and give input to the search committee. The committee aims to make a final recommendation by February 2008.

— Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Education Editor

Police Chief Bratton warns terrorism will be threat for the rest of our lives

“Terrorism, like crime, is going to be with us the rest of our lives” LAPD Chief William Bratton told Rabbi David Woznica at an open forum at Stephen S. Wise Temple Monday night.

“Since we are a likely target, we share intelligence with the FBI and the governments of Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and Israel. We know we must trust one another and learn from each other.”He went on to reassure his audience, however, stating that “we are highly regarded for our capability and creativity, and there’s no place as well prepared as this place.”

Educational programs help seniors fulfill postponed dreams


Retirement brings with it the promise of time to pursue interests and passions postponed due to work and family pressures. But many retirees discover that fulfilling a dream requires replacing the old work-a-day discipline with a new structure.

Regardless of age or physical condition, intellectually curious seniors have many opportunities in the Los Angeles area to participate in an educational program that fits their needs in an enriching, stimulating and affordable environment.

In the Los Angeles area, lifelong learning programs such as PLATO, SAGE and OASIS each provide a framework for mature men and women in search of new challenges and new friendships with like-minded people. These college-based programs vary widely in their approach, so selecting the organization best suited to your needs and aspirations is important.

PLATO Society

The PLATO Society of UCLA is the best known and most prestigious of learning programs for seniors in Los Angeles. PLATO, an acronym for Perpetual Learning and Teaching Organization, is an independent, self-financed program under the auspices of UCLA Extension.

Founded in 1980, PLATO has a membership of about 420 men and women, mostly in their 60s and 70s. Several members are significantly younger, like the woman who left PLATO to have a baby, while others are older, like Seba Kolb-Tomkins, who answered the mail for Eleanor Roosevelt’s syndicated “My Day” column.

PLATO is not a lecture series and features no instructors. Instead, the program offers what it calls “study/discussion groups,” or S/DGs, which deal with a wide range of subjects.

Each group generally features 14 participants, and a different member is responsible for making a presentation and leading the discussion during each weekly meeting. Among current PLATO members are former lawyers, doctors, teachers, professors, psychotherapists, journalists, business executives and artists, as well as a one-time ballerina and a flight attendant. Regardless how accomplished they were in their careers, “members leave their titles at the door” and are addressed by first names only.

The curriculum is planned by a coordinator and a co-coordinator — any PLATO member willing to devote the time and energy can become a coordinator — and the subjects are limited only by the members’ interests. Topics can range from astronomy to zoology.

Among the 26 different subjects currently offered are “A Matter of Opinion,” which examines the way the media influences national policies; “Middle East Quagmire: Part I — Zionist Thought”; “Shakespeare Then and Now,” comparing the original plays with their treatment in films and musicals; and “Natural-Born Killers,” which studies earthquakes, hurricanes and other natural disasters.

PLATO follows the UCLA academic calendar, which is divided into three 14-week semesters. A new selection of S/DGs is offered each semester, although some of the more popular topics may occasionally be repeated. There are no formal requirements for membership in the PLATO Society beyond intellectual curiosity and a willingness to devote the time necessary for meaningful participation. Annual dues are $425, and members may audit UCLA classes with the permission of the instructor.

For many members, PLATO plays a very significant role in their lives. A retired advertising executive who lost his wife to cancer said that PLATO saved his life, and a former Philadelphia broadcaster said, “It provided access to like-minded people when we first arrived in L.A.”

Although not intended to be a social organization, PLATO has also helped a number of single and widowed members to establish new relationships.
In addition to the groups, the society offers a variety of special programs and benefits, such as monthly lectures from distinguished speakers such as LAPD Chief William Bratton; Frank McCourt, author of “Teacher Man” and “Angela’s Ashes,” and L.A. Cardinal Roger Mahoney.

An annual conference regularly addresses a topic of vital concern (this year PLATO is scheduled to examine the state of health care in America), and a special three-day retreat at an off-campus residential setting during spring break provides society members with an informal learning experience.

The PLATO Society is located at 1083 Gayley Ave., adjacent to the UCLA campus in Westwood. For more information, visit Online social scene clicks with younger set

Composer Martin Bresnick’s classically unique style turns 60


Please don’t think that Martin Bresnick is having a “Goodbye, Mr. Chips” moment.
Sure the acclaimed composer and teacher celebrated his 60th birthday last month with a series of concerts and the release of a new CD of his music, “The Essential Martin Bresnick,” performed by a gang of his former students, centered on the Bang on a Can All-Stars and his longtime academic home, the Yale School of Music.

But he’s not the “grand old man” nearing retirement taking a retrospective look back at a parade of his students through a Vaseline-coated lens of memories.

“Well, there is a little bit of that,” Bresnick says, leaning back in the booth in a midtown diner where he has been sampling the apple pie. “But I don’t think of myself in that role. For most of my teaching career I haven’t been that much older than my students. It’s only recently that students stopped calling me Martin. I’m not an authority figure, and our work revolves around a sense of communal discovery.”

Bresnick likes to cite a famous Zen koan about teaching: “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”

But he is also highly attuned to the teacher-student interplay. He cites as an example his own studies with the great composer Gyorgy Ligeti (coincidentally, also a Jew).

“He was one of the greatest composers of our era,” Bresnick says. “You learn from what he said about things, but also from what he did. I had that as an example. It’s a way of saying, ‘I am a real composer and people who study with me know that.'”

And it is as a composer that Bresnick wants to be known. He doesn’t downplay the importance of teaching. On the contrary, it is an integral part of the ethos in which he was raised by his Yiddishist, socialist family.

“Teaching for me has always had a strong social component,” he says. “It’s part of giving back. I came out of a working-class family in the Bronx and was given a tremendous opportunity by others. I had it ingrained in me that you serve and have to share.”

That’s a lesson he was taught growing up in the Amalgamated Co-ops.

“I had a very devoted secular Jewish upbringing,” Bresnick says. “My family were dedicated Yiddishists, I was sent to the Arbeiter Ring [Workmen’s Circle] elementary school. My family ran the gamut politically from anarchist to liberal Democrats. I can still read Yiddish, and my aunt, Phylis Berk, is a well-known Yiddish singer. My mother, at 85, is still a professional storyteller who travels around the country talking about life in the shtetl.”

It was a wonderful milieu in which to grow up, but not so hot for learning classical music, he admits.

“When I was little, my parents had very few classical records,” Bresnick recalls. “I could memorize very quickly. Somewhere out there is a disk with me singing snippets of ‘Barber of Seville’ and ‘The Nutcracker,’ which were the two classical records they had at first. But they recognized that I had a talent, and they got me a couple of records when they could. The first time I ever heard a woodwind quintet was when I saw one live at the age of 9 on a school trip. I was completely dumbfounded by the bouquet of timbres.”

It was the beginning of a career and a calling.

“I would listen to a Beethoven symphony when I was 7 and feel that I understood what was intended,” he says. “I had some comprehension of the point of [writing] a symphony. And I felt, ‘I can do it too.’ I think I understood that it had something to do with what it means to be a human being.

“Music for many people at that age is a wonderful refuge. It offers them an ordered world. As a composer, you are making a world.”

On the other hand, Bresnick was also participating in the world around him. As a teenager, he played rock guitar, graduated from the High School of Music and Art at 16 “as the youngest beatnik ever,” he adds with a laugh, and was in grad school on the West Coast by 20. He saw Jimi Hendrix live, still admires Cream as “a great chamber-music group” and gigged as a working musician.

Even today, Bresnick “listens to everything,” and his own compositions have a uniquely American eclecticism.

“It’s Ivesian,” he says, citing the great American maverick, Charles Ives, “It’s totally democratic; everybody’s got a right to belly up to the table and contribute.”

Bresnick is a composer who can juxtapose the repetitive structures of minimalism with Stravinskian harmonies, who can use a Willie Dixon blues riff as the jumping-off point for a Brahmsian chamber piece, who can write movingly for marimba and orchestra.

If you ask him if there is any musical style that he would reject out of hand, he smiles and says, “I’m ready to accept almost any influence into my domain. My ‘border guards’ may ask them to show their passport first, though.”

He admits to excluding only one major late-20th-century movement.

“I’m not that interested in conceptual art,” he says. “Most of it has revealed itself to be poorer conceptually than any physically based art. I believe in the line from William Carlos Williams, ‘No ideas but in things.’ I like the pleasures of the physical world, and if I can embody something in the world of music, that’s good enough.”

Above all, he wants to be known as a composer first and foremost.

“No question about it,” he says emphatically. “I’ve never thought of myself any other way. I love teaching and I’m glad to be well-regarded as a teacher, but I have no doubt of my own self-identity.”

Anyone who hears Bresnick’s music, live or on disk, will agree.

“The Essential Martin Bresnick” featuring the Bang on a Can All-Stars, is available on the Cantaloupe Records label.

American-style retirement for Israel’s seniors


The photos in the brochures and on Web sites are all different yet somehow similar: A group or a pair of elegantly dressed older men and women sit or stand against a backdrop of flowers or greenery, their graying hair carefully coiffed, their faces clear-eyed and smiling, their teeth white and perfect. These are portrayals of the world of retirement homes or, as many prefer to call themselves, senior citizens’ residences, in which — at least according to the pictures — happy seniors live out their autumn years playing bridge or billiards, strolling through gardens and sipping coffee in the company of vivacious friends.

Although old-age homes have always existed in Israel for those who cannot care for themselves, it is only in recent years that the American idea of retiring to a comfortable community of seniors has taken off here. Over the past 20 years, retirement homes have sprung up all over Israel, and each seems to be trying to outdo the next in the level of luxury, services and amenities offered.

“There are now more people over 65 in Israel than there are under 25,” said David Ditch, CEO of the Ad 120 chain. “The population is getting older, but physically they’re still young because medicine has advanced so much. The standard of living has gone up, and the elderly population has a lot of free time and is looking for ways to fill it.”

Official government figures bear this out. According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, there were 670,000 people age 65 or over in Israel in 2003, comprising almost 10 percent of the population. This proportion was more than double the 4.8 percent in 1955 and is expected to reach 12.7 percent, or 1.2 million people, by 2025. Life expectancy in Israel has risen to 77.5 for men and 81.5 for women, more than five years higher than it was in 1980.

But with increasingly long lives come other challenges. Fully 25 percent of Israel’s elderly live alone, and while their health may be good, loneliness and boredom can eat away at their days. Retirement homes promise a range of social and cultural activities in a supervised setting. But before rushing out to book a place for grandma, there are some factors to take into consideration.

“When someone comes to us and says they want to put dad in a home, the first question we ask is, ‘Why?’ and the first thing we do is meet the person to see what they want,” said David Danhai, who set up and runs Yad Lakashish, a free advisory service for the elderly. “If the children say dad is lonely, we look at why he’s lonely. He may already live in an apartment but shut himself off from his neighbors because that’s his personality. A closed-off person will be just as closed off living in a home. Or he may be lonely because he doesn’t know where to go to find activities and meet people his own age. We show such people how to use the resources they already have in their area, such as the local day center for the elderly, golden-age club or public gardens. It is no small matter for an elderly person to move out of the home where he has lived for most of his life. It’s traumatic and drastic, and a step that shouldn’t be taken lightly.”

There are two types of retirement housing in Israel, and the differences between them are significant. First are old-age homes (batei avot), which are licensed and supervised by the Ministry of Social Affairs. While many people think these are only for the feeble and bed-ridden, in fact many of them are designed for the independent senior who wants to be taken care of.

Ministry conditions dictate that these homes must provide three meals a day (and two snacks) in a dining room, have a certain ratio of staff to residents, clean residents’ rooms daily, keep strict hygiene in the home’s laundry, among other stipulations. An old-age home might have a greater or lesser range of activities for residents, and medical supervision is ever-present. Residents generally live in one- or two-room apartments, which may have an electric kettle but no cooking or laundry facilities. All apartments have emergency call buttons, and staff check in on residents if they do not show up for a meal.

Residents pay an entry fee of NIS 130,000 to NIS 220,000 (approximately $31,160-$52,745), as well as monthly maintenance fees of NIS 5,000 to NIS 7,500 (about $1,200-$1,800). This entry fee depreciates to nothing within three to five years. The ministry’s Web site (www.molsa.gov.il) lists some 190 licensed old-age homes across Israel.

The second type of retirement housing is sheltered housing (diur mugan). This category is unlicensed and unregulated, but that does not mean it falls short. On the contrary, it is into this category that luxurious retirement residences such as Ad 120 fall. And it is this category that has grown so dramatically over the past two decades.

Sheltered housing buildings are essentially private apartment buildings for seniors with some — or a lot of — extras. Residents live in one-, two- or three-room apartments which, unlike old-age homes, have a kitchenette and cooking facilities and in some cases space for a washing machine. Apartments are cleaned weekly and have emergency call buttons, but daily checkups on residents are not necessarily made. Sheltered housing buildings usually have swimming pools, gymnasiums, game rooms and libraries and offer a wide variety of activities, including arts and crafts, exercise classes, concerts and lectures. In some homes, lunch in the dining room is included; in others it is extra. Some add coffee and cake in the afternoon.

Residents pay a deposit of NIS 530,000 to NIS 1.8 million (around $127,000-$431,000) for their apartments, as well as a monthly maintenance fee that can range from NIS 3,000 to NIS 5,000 (approximately $720-$1,200). The deposit depreciates by 2 percent to 4 percent annually for 10 to 12 years, and what is left is given to the residents’ heirs.
Each sheltered housing or old-age facility has a separately run Ministry of Health licensed nursing division for residents who need chronic care.

Rabbi Ending Long Hitch in Military


Losing Rabbi David Lapp to retirement is “like losing someone on the battlefield, someone who suffered the mud and the pain and the loneliness with you,” said Maj. Rabbi Carlos Huerta, the Jewish community chaplain at the U.S. Military Academy.

Lapp is retiring as head of the Jewish Welfare Board’s Jewish Chaplains Council after 24 years. The father of three and grandfather of 10 will remain at his post until a replacement is found.

Lapp’s proudest service achievement, he said, is his transdenominational prayer book, first produced for the U.S. Army in 1982. Before then, “there was a siddur that the armed forces produced, but it had sections for Reform, Conservative and Orthodox,” he said. Lapp collaborated with rabbis from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the Jewish Theological Seminary and Yeshiva University, on it.

That’s part of Lapp’s modus operandi of supporting all Jewish chaplains in the military, and through them, Jewish soldiers — no matter their denomination. There are 28 chaplains on active duty in the Army, Air Force and Navy and 43 reservists — a number that has held steady for the past decade.

During his stint at the Chaplains Council, Lapp helped the Army provide ready-to-eat kosher meals for soldiers in the field. Before 1990, kashrut-observant soldiers had to make do with regular military rations, Lapp said, eating what they could, swapping the rest with other soldiers when possible.

Fellow chaplain Huerta, who performed the first Passover service in Baghdad in 2003 after Saddam Hussein was ousted, recalled that “Lapp got me my wine, matzah and gefilte fish for the seder.”

Born in Austria in 1931, Lapp recalled that after the 1938 anschluss restrictive laws were quickly placed upon Austria’s Jews. Lapp was first transferred to a Jewish school, then taken out of school altogether when it became too dangerous. His father was forced to work in a labor camp.

After the November 1938 Kristallnacht — the rioting against Jews and especially Jewish merchants — his American relatives, including his father’s sister in Brooklyn, sponsored the family’s visa.

Lapp was 9 when his family arrived in the United States. He went on to study political science and religious education at Yeshiva University and was ordained at the Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary in 1957. He studied chaplaincy at the Command and General Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan., and the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa.

After receiving a commission in the Army Chaplain Corps in 1958, one of his early assignments was as an assistant chaplain in Munich. There, along with providing programs for Jewish personnel in Munich, Augsburg and northern Italy, he served as stockade chaplain at Dachau.

Lapp said it was strange to return to the region: “On the one hand, I wanted to be there to show that the Nazis didn’t get rid of me as they wanted. On the other hand, I wanted nothing to do with them. But after a while, you realize they aren’t the same people, they’re the children.”

During Lapp’s chaplaincy, he said, “we had conferences with just kosher food just because we could — to show we’re here.”

Another coup during Lapp’s stint in Germany was a Jewish conference held in Berchtesgaden, Hitler’s mountain retreat. The Army converted one of the buildings into the Gen. Walker Hotel, where Lapp held a gathering for Torah study, attended by about 500 Jewish men and women.

Ten years later, he returned to Germany as 1st Armored Division chaplain at Nuremberg. There he supervised 33 chaplains, managed religious programs of all faiths for eight communities and served as budget administrator for religious activities of the division.

Lapp served in Vietnam in 1966-67 as deputy field force chaplain, ministering to troops assigned to two divisions in II Corps Highlands Area. He retired from active duty in 1982 with the rank of colonel and was awarded the Legion of Merit by the Army.

Huerta described the chaplains’ need for Lapp: “As a chaplain, I talk to soldiers, but who do I talk to? Without Rabbi Lapp, we would have gone by the wayside.”

 

Spectator – Fiddle Dee Dee and Oy Vey!


Like any good Southerner, Brian Bain eats moon pies and punctuates his sentences with “y’all.” But Bain is also Jewish, which colors his experience as a third-generation Southerner in a unique way.

In his documentary film, “Shalom Y’all,” Bain set out to explore exactly what being both Jewish and Southern actually means. Bain travels through the buckle of the Bible Belt, stopping in small towns where once-thriving Jewish communities have now dwindled to single-digit populations, and he juxtaposes these with flourishing communities in places like Atlanta. He visits genteel mansions still occupied by aging Jewish Southern belles and explores the legacy and the part Jews played in historical Southern milestones, including the Civil War and the Civil Rights era.

“Truthfully, my grandfather really was the catalyst for the journey,” Bain said in a phone conversation from Dallas, where he relocated after his New Orleans home was damaged by Hurricane Katrina. He was referring to Leonard Bain, a retired traveling hat salesman and silent film editor who was 99, in 2002, when the film was made. The elder Bain has since died at the age of 101.

“Growing up, I remember him telling us stories about his travels through the South and spending the Sabbath away from home with Jewish merchants, and how he had this interesting connection with other Jews from the South. I really wanted to get my grandfather on film and just talking to him reminded me of the bigger story of the Jewish South.”

“Shalom Y’all” explores issues of identity and submersion into a larger culture. It is, in many respects, a quirky documentary filled with characters and incidents that might be at home in a Christopher Guest film. In Natchez, Miss., there is Zelda Millstein, who still dresses in Antebellum hoop skirts, and Jay Lehman, a grocery store owner who sells pickled pigs feet and who, as a younger man, participated proudly in the Natchez Confederate Pageant — a homage to the pre-Civil War era. Then there is the older Natchez couple whom Bain interviews sitting in the pews of their synagogue, which once boasted 200 families. Now they get five people for Friday night services.

“Except when the student rabbi comes,” says the husband. “Then we get eight.”

Bain hopes to return to New Orleans as soon as his home is habitable, and he says he has high hopes for the future of the Southern Jewish community.

“Young people have left and found new opportunities, and my parents’ generation is pushing toward retirement, but I think it is going to be interesting period of rebuilding for the Jewish community” in the South, he said. “I am optimistic because the community is strong and tight knit, so I have no doubt that it will persevere.”

The Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring is screening “Shalom Y’all” on Feb. 19 at 6:30 p.m. at 1525 S. Robertson Blvd. For more information, call (310) 552-2007, or visit

Israeli Government Gets on With It


Israel is resigning itself to politics without Ariel Sharon.

Shock gripped the Jewish state last week when Sharon was hospitalized with a massive stroke, turning to fears for the worst when he underwent repeated surgery.

Doctors said it could take time to ascertain whether Sharon had suffered cognitive damage or permanent paralysis on the left side of his body from the Jan. 4 stroke. At press time, it also was not certain that Sharon would recuperate at all — his condition was such that it could deteriorate at any moment.

Still, a prognosis took shape whereby Sharon could survive but in a form of forced retirement. Sharon’s chief surgeon, Dr. Jose Cohen, said this week that Sharon had a “very high” chance of surviving.

“He is a very strong man, and he is getting the best care,” the Jerusalem Post quoted Cohen as saying. “He will not continue to be prime minister, but maybe he will be able to understand and to speak.”

As the prime minister lay in a post-operative coma Sunday, his temporary replacement, acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, chaired the weekly Cabinet meeting.

“We hope that the prime minister will recover, gain strength and with God’s help will return to run the government of Israel and lead the State of Israel,” Olmert said.

While noting that doctors’ reports from Jerusalem’s Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center at Ein Kerem had given a “glimmer of hope” as to Sharon’s chances of recuperating, Olmert said matters of state were as robust as ever.

“We will continue to fulfill Arik’s will and to run things as he wished,” he said, using Sharon’s nickname. “Israeli democracy is strong, and all of the systems are working in a stable, serious and responsible manner. This is just as it should be and how it shall continue.”

With general elections looming on March 28, the 60-year-old Olmert has his hands full. But he received an early show of support with a weekend phone call from U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

There was also an internal reprieve from the Likud Party, which decided against resigning from the government, reversing a decision made before Sharon suffered his stroke last week.

“Now is not the time for such moves,” Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, one of four Cabinet members from the Likud, told Army Radio.

A Channel 10 television survey issued after Sharon was stricken predicted that his new centrist party, Kadima, would take 40 of the Knesset’s 120 seats in the election if it is led by Olmert. But analysts suggested the showing reflected short-term public sympathy.

The political correspondent for the newspaper Ha’aretz, Aluf Benn, recalled the aftermath of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination in 1995, when opinion polls showed his successor, Shimon Peres, as a clear favorite for re-election. In the end, Benjamin Netanyahu defeated Peres by the slimmest of margins.

“Instead of presenting himself as pressing ahead with Rabin’s path, Peres made the mistake of insisting that he was an autonomous candidate,” Benn said, suggesting Olmert, the former mayor of Jerusalem, was wise to portray himself as a reluctant stand-in for Sharon.

Yet the Channel 10 survey found that Peres, should he lead Kadima, would perform better than Olmert, taking 42 Knesset seats.

Though Peres quit the Labor Party last year to back Sharon, he has yet to formally join Kadima. But he voiced support for Olmert, who advanced the idea of a unilateral Israeli pullout from occupied Gaza prior to Sharon’s public embrace of the strategy.

“He supported the policies of Mr. Sharon and even occasionally was ahead of him,” Peres told Britain’s Sky Television. “The policies for peace, the continuation of the policies of Sharon, will have my full support.”

 

The Jewish Seat


Seven American Jews have served on the Supreme Court of the United States of America.

Make that eight — if you include Sandra Day O’Connor.

O’Connor, who announced her retirement from the bench last week, isn’t Jewish (you read it here first). But her legal opinions have had a profoundly positive effect on American Jewish life, which underscore the potential impact of the person President Bush nominates to replace her.

Appreciation is pouring in for O’Connor from streams of Judaism that rarely flow together. Orthodox groups have lauded her for her moderation, while more liberal denominations have praised her swing vote on issues dear to them.

“Justice O’Connor so often has been the decisive vote on the court in support of fundamental rights: religious liberty, civil rights, reproductive rights key among them,” wrote Robert Heller, chair of the Union for Reform Judaism’s board of trustees.

For many years, there really was such a thing as “the Jewish seat” on the nation’s highest court. The first Jew seated on the court was Louis D. Brandeis, nominated by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916. A native of Louisville, Ky., Brandeis graduated Harvard Law School at age 20, and soon established a reputation as a brilliant defender of progressive rights, championing trade unions and women’s suffrage, among other causes.

As Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted in a recent article on Jews in the court, Brandeis, who was not religious, was renowned for his ardent sense of ethics and social justice. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s name for him was “Isaiah,” after the biblical prophet.

President Herbert Hoover appointed Benjamin Cardozo to the court in 1932. The descendant of an illustrious Sephardic family, Cardozo wrote extensively on the relationship of law to social change, defending most of the New Deal measures against the court’s more conservative justices.

Following Cardozo, who died after serving six years on the bench, Roosevelt appointed Felix Frankfurter, a Harvard Law professor who helped found the American Civil Liberties Union, joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and defended labor unions, as well as anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti.

Frankfurter adhered to Cardozo’s dictum that “the great generalities of the Constitution have a content and a significance that vary from age to age.” In a day and age when the term “activist judge” was a compliment, not a curse, these two men had a tremendous impact on the lives of less fortunate Americans.

President John F. Kennedy appointed Arthur Goldberg to the court in 1962, following Frankfurter’s retirement. Goldberg, the youngest of 11 children born into a poor immigrant family, was also a staunch defender of organized labor. A World War II veteran, he went on to serve as secretary of labor, U.S. representative to the United Nations and ambassador at large.

When Goldberg resigned to become U.S. ambassador to the United Nations., President Lyndon Johnson appointed Abe Fortas to the court. Fortas was also a champion of individual rights, a man who stood up to Sen. Joseph McCarthy during the Cold War and argued successfully in Gideon v. Wainwright for the right to publicly funded counsel for indigent defendants.

The lone, liberal “Jewish Seat” became the plural “seats that happen to be filled by Jews” when President Bill Clinton appointed Ginsburg in 1993 and Stephen Breyer in 1994. There was no great political or social upside for Clinton in choosing a Jew, and certainly no downside he had to brave. During Brandeis’ tenure, by contrast, one justice refused to be in the same room with him.

Breyer, for his part, looks little like a crusader for the separation of church and state in the court’s two recent decisions on public displays of the Ten Commandments. Breyer voted with the strict separationists on the court in one case and with those favoring the display of religious symbols on public property in the other.

O’Connor, ironically, adopted the purer position, arguing for the separation of church and state in both cases, ending up once on the winning side and once with the losers in the 5-4 decisions.

Over her entire career, O’Connor, more than any other justice, was able to discern the middle ground in socially divisive cases. This mattered for the nation at large, but also for a Jewish community that is more and more split — perhaps not 50/50, but passionately so — on complex issues like school vouchers, religious symbolism, affirmative action and abortion. She was a justice who could fairly and firmly assert a consensus that helped bridge divides within our community and between Jewish Americans and others.

Consider her lucid opinion striking down the display of the Ten Commandments in a Kentucky courtroom. “Those who would re-negotiate the boundaries between church and state must therefore answer a difficult question,” O’Connor wrote. “Why would we trade a system that has served us so well for one that has served others so poorly?”

It is a conservative argument in defense of a cause liberals hold dear.

Bush needs to put forward a name in the O’Connor mold. To paraphrase O’Connor herself, why trade someone whose judiciousness has served us so well, for someone whose rigid ideology may not?

 

The Social Security Fix: Pay Back Funds


President Bush has proposed the biggest transfer of wealth in history. He plans to use trillions of dollars in contributions to the Social Security

Trust Fund to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy and other administration spending priorities. And he does not want to pay the money back.

The Social Security system works by requiring Americans to make regular contributions to a trust fund. Currently, with more workers contributing to the trust fund than retirees receiving benefits, the Social Security Trust Fund should be accumulating a surplus. If the Bush Administration would leave the trust fund untouched, there would be no Social Security “crisis.”

According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the trust Trust Fund to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy and other administration spending priorities. is projected to accumulate a surplus of $5.8 trillion by 2020. Combined with future employer and employee contributions, full benefits could be paid for decades to come. The CBO, for example, estimates that without any changes to the system, there would be enough assets to pay growing benefits until at least 2052.

The real threat to Social Security is that President Bush and Republicans in Congress have raided the trust fund to pay for tax cuts and soaring government spending. Over the last four years, the Republicans have taken almost $500 billion from the trust fund to pay for tax cuts, the war and other government expenses. According to the latest estimates from the CBO, the Republicans plan to divert an additional $2.2 trillion from the trust fund over the next decade.

In Los Angeles alone, $64 billion paid into Social Security for workers' retirements will be spent by the government over the next 10 years. That's $15,000 per each worker in the 30th Congressional District.

President Bush and his congressional allies do not want to pay this money back. Instead, they are saying the system is in “crisis” and that privatization and steep cuts in benefits are needed to “save” Social Security.

Listen to what President Bush said just this month about the Social Security Trust Fund: “Some in our country think that Social Security is a trust fund — in other words, there's a pile of money being accumulated. That's just simply not true. The payroll taxes going into the Social Security are spent. They're spent on benefits, and they're spent on government programs. There is no trust…. And we'd better start dealing with it now.”

In his State of the Union Address in 1998, President Clinton proposed that Congress “reserve every penny of the surplus” to ensure the long-term viability of Social Security. This gave rise to the concept of a “lockbox” that would protect the Social Security Trust Fund from federal spending.

And President Clinton, with the cooperation of Congress, delivered on his promise. By 2000, the last year of his presidency, the federal government was not using a single dollar of the trust fund to pay for government operations.

Five years later, the lockbox has been broken and the trust funds stolen. Instead of talking about how to save the trust fund, President Bush presumed in his 2005 State of the Union Address that it's already spent, warning that “in the year 2027, the government will somehow have to come up with an extra $200 billion to keep the system afloat.”

President Bush and the Republican leadership in Congress are the trustees for people's hard-earned Social Security contributions. We need to start asking them some blunt questions. What have they done with the surplus? Why have they squandered the retirement nest egg of American families? And why weren't they more careful or responsible?

The answer to the problems facing Social Security is not to cut benefits or privatize the system. That's a betrayal of millions of honest families who have played by the rules and trusted President Bush and the Republican leadership to do the right thing.

Instead, the answer is three simple words: “Pay it back.”

Rep. Henry Waxman is a Democrat representing the 30th Congressional District in Los Angeles.

Your Letters


Federation Pension

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Fishel, President The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

Faith and Folly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Charles J. Hyman, Redlands

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

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

Dr. Ron Saldra, Founding Member Beverly Hills Jewish Republicans

Clarification

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

Federation Faces Underfunded Pension


Faced with a pension shortfall of $20 million, the organized Jewish community’s largest philanthropy finds itself forced to divert millions of donor dollars to employee retirement benefits, rather than to needed social services.

To cover the underfunded pension, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and its 13 beneficiary agencies are slated this year to contribute $5 million to retirement plans, up from $4 million just two years ago. That means about 10 cents of every payroll dollar now goes to pensions, a higher percentage than at many other federations.

By contrast, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia spends about 3.5 cents on pensions, the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston about 4 cents, the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta about 4.5 cents and the UJA-Federation of New York 6 cents.

In addition to restricting cash that could be used for other purposes, the Los Angeles Federation’s underfunded pension has caused headaches for the agencies gaining their independence from the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCC) , a Federation beneficiary agency. The pension shortfall means that the Westside JCC, the Zimmer Children’s Museum and Valley Cities JCC might be responsible for paying off their share of the pension liability, a financial burden that could saddle them with tens of thousands of dollars in extra costs.

"I’d say it’s a concern, but I wouldn’t characterize it as a big concern," Federation President John Fishel said of the underfunded pension program, adding that the agency would cover all present and future pension payments owed to 120 retirees and 956 current employees.

However, agency heads speaking on background said the pension shortfall had made it more difficult to hire people, give raises or expand programs. They also worried that the relatively high contributions they’re now making could persist for years, putting a long-term financial strain on their organizations.

Whatever size the concern, it isn’t unique to The Federation. Corporate America has also experienced pension problems in recent years. Billions of pension fund dollars invested in the market vanished when the high-tech bubble burst and stocks plummeted.

Although Wall Street has come back some, U.S. businesses recently reported a pension shortfall of $278.6 billion, said Loretta Berg, spokeswoman for the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. in Washington, which is charged with protecting private-sector pensions of 44 million American workers and retirees.

California counties and cities are also struggling with pensions. Orange County, for instance, has shortfall estimated at $1 billion.

The amount of an unfunded pension liability often reflects how much money a company would need to pay off all earned retirement benefits if it terminated its retirement package.

Pension expert Lou Kravitz said The Federation’s shortfall, along with many companies’ pension problems, would likely disappear or shrink considerably in the next five to 10 years, as the stock market and interest rates rise as expected. Typically, pension liabilities move in the opposite direction of stocks and interest rates, said Kravitz, a former member of The Federation’s pension committee and head of the retirement plan consulting firm, Louis Kravitz and Associates in Encino.

"The amount of underfunding goes up and down, so it’s not something you necessarily should lose sleep over," he said.

Jack Klein, Federation executive vice president and chief operating officer, said his agency has addressed the agency’s pension shortfall by gradually raising plan contributions over the years and by changing the mix of stocks and bonds in which retirement dollars are invested. He also said The Federation and its agencies have 30 years to pay down the underfunded pension plan, more than enough time.

"I think The Federation, agencies and lay leadership have done a very good job of managing the pension fund," Klein said.

Agency executives agree — to a point. The Federation’s pension plan is "a great benefit that has kept people in the Jewish community, but it might be proving too expensive to maintain at its current level," said Andrew Diamond, president and chief executive of Aviva Family and Children’s Services.

Mitch Kamin, executive director of Bet Tzedek, another benificiary agency, said the plan has been great for worker retention. However, the costly benefit could be less appealing to more junior workers who might prefer the flexibility and portability offered by other options.

In an attempt to cut pension costs, The Federation has proposed modifying retirement plans for new employees, although benefits for current staff would remain intact.

Instead of offering new hires so-called "defined-benefit" plans, which guarantee an annual fixed income, The Federation now favors "defined-contribution" plans. Under those plans, employers set aside money for workers to invest in stocks and bonds of their choosing.

However, with defined-contribution plans, "the risk of the pension is in the hands of the employee," said Brett Trueman, a professor of accounting at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. In other words, if the market falters and wipes out workers’ nest eggs, corporations and nonprofits have no obligation to make up the losses, he said.

Locally, most nonprofits appear to have retirement plans that are both less generous and less costly than The Federation’s. A recent survey of 252 mostly Southern California nonprofits found that nearly four out of five offered benefits, but only 6 percent had defined-benefit plans like The Federation’s, said Pete Manzo, executive director and general counsel for the Center for Nonprofit Management in Los Angeles. That’s down from 13 percent a decade ago, he said.

"Nonprofits want to maximize their program activities, just like for-profits want to maximize shareholder value," Manzo said. "So they want to cut or contain costs."

Federation President Fishel said a lack of consensus among The Federation and beneficiary agencies led the organization to stick with the defined-benefit plan until now. Beginning in the early 1990s, The Federation reduced contributions from 6.6 percent to 3 percent and later to 1.5 percent. At the time, organization executives believed that the pension fund was flush or overfunded.

Jon Lepie, chief negotiator for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 800, the union representing about 450 Federation and agency workers, said it appeared The Federation may have acted irresponsibly by lowering contributions. Without that tinkering, The Federation might have avoided the underfunding problem and the need to move away from defined-benefit retirement plans, which give workers more security and often more money than other options.

Fishel said the philanthropic agency used the savings from the lower rates to help "stabilize" Federation and agency programming that experienced significant funding cuts in the early 1990s. Later, The Federation and the agencies dipped into that money to raise salaries across-the-board. Klein, The Federation’s COO, added that the organization’s pension contributions have always exceeded legal requirements.

Union officials representing The Federation and beneficiary workers have reacted unenthusiastically to The Federation’s proposal to scrap defined-benefit pensions for new workers, although they have not ruled out accepting the offer as part of larger negotiated settlement.

"If we’re forced into cutting employment benefits because of management incompetence, shame on them," Lepie said.

Local 800 President Jeff Rogers said that The Federation had failed to live up to its contractual obligation to invite a union representative to pension committee meetings over the years. The presence of a union member might have "protected the pension," he said.

Klein declined to respond to Rogers’ charge, saying that it was inappropriate to do so at this time, because of the ongoing negotiations with the union.

Officials at the United Jewish Communities, the umbrella organization for the nation’s federations, said they had no information on the types of pension plans offered by individual members. However, several federations appear to have healthier retirement funds than the Los Angeles Federation’s.

The Atlanta Federation offers defined-benefit pensions like the local Federation’s but has no shortfall.

The Philadelphia Federation offers defined-benefit pensions to its employees and workers at 13 beneficiary agencies. The plan, which is underfunded by $1.5 million, offers benefits that are in some cases about half as generous as the Los Angeles Federation’s. Still, four agencies have recently dropped their defined benefits in favor of defined contributions, said Angela Falcone, Philadelphia’s chief financial officer.

The United Jewish Federation of San Diego County, like Atlanta, Boston and New York, has no underfunded pensions. The organization offers its employees a 403(b), the nonprofit version of a 401(k), and a defined-contribution plan.

Reflecting on the Los Angeles Federation’s situation, Elias Lefferman said change is in order. The president and chief executive of Vista Del Mar Child and Family Care Services said beneficiary agencies could no longer afford to set aside an increasing percentage of donor and grant dollars for underfunded pensions.

"We need a new plan," he said.

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