Bring your gun to synagogue


Last week’s attacks in France should be ample evidence that the late Rabbi Meir Kahane was right when he popularized the slogans, “Every Jew a .22” and “Never Again!” 

Since 2008 I have been carrying a Glock 19 with me virtually everywhere it’s legally permitted – including the synagogue I attend in St. Louis. If, Heaven forbid, a Muslim or other anti-Semite were to enter the sanctuary and begin making threats, I’m confident the event would end rapidly – preferably peacefully, as just brandishing my weapon can defuse a situation. But if I had to engage to protect the congregation, I am confident I am prepared and trained to do so.

Of course, the “intelligentsia” says more guns mean more deaths. But as author Robert A. Heinlein put it, “an armed society is a polite society.” The point of more guns is not more shootings, but less. Since the institution of gun control, every single mass shooting in the United States save one has taken place in a “gun-free zone.” When America began restricting gun rights, the murder rate and other crime rates skyrocketed – though armed defenders continue to stop violent criminals.

While two police officers were killed at the Charlie Hebdo offices, none of the civilians present were armed. Of course, France has no gun-owning culture; civilians cannot purchase and carry pistols for self-defense. But if citizens at the newspaper’s office or in the kosher supermarket that was also attacked carried weapons – or perhaps more importantly, if the terrorists knew they might be carrying weapons – the episode could have turned out differently, if it happened at all. 

Along with an increasing number of my fellow Jews, I consider my weapon a vital tool for personal protection. Jews know – or should know – what happens when we face disarmament. In the last century, that process can be described in three words: Kristallnacht, Ghettos, Auschwitz.

French Jews now face the specter of a new Kristallnacht, and they certainly cannot just expect protection from the government that welcomed and coddled their attackers in the first place.

To their credit, this time the French people seem truly incensed, but it may be too little, too late. Europe’s current version of the Nazis (the Islamists) regularly convulse with anti-Semitism, with nary a peep of real outrage from official France. In many parts of Europe, Jews no longer feel comfortable wearing yarmulkes or otherwise outwardly Jewish garb in public, for fear of inciting Muslims (as if any effort is really needed to incite Muslims.)

Of all religious, ethnic, or other social groups, Jews in particular should understand the necessity of being armed, to protect the liberty we still, thank God, enjoy. 

But the Anti-Defamation League, the Union for Reform Judaism, B’nai Brith International, and most of the other prominent voices in the American Jewish community keep parroting left-wing talking points as usual, supporting nearly every gun control proposal. 

I imagine some of the hesitance of this country’s Jewish community toward guns is cultural – supposedly, “Jews don’t hunt.” In fact, when American Jews go to Israel, many are initially jarred by the fact that there are Jews carrying guns all over the place – but they soon get used to it and even feel reassured by it. 

In fact, Israel is considering loosening its strict regulations regarding carry permits, as one response to the attack on a Jerusalem synagogue six weeks ago. Israeli Jews seem to know what those in France and America need to – that guns in pews save lives.

Sad to say, we have a history of synagogue violence here in St. Louis. In 1977, during the luncheon for Ricky Kalina’s bar mitzvah at Congregation Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel (BSKI), a neo-Nazi shot and killed one guest and wounded two others. The murderer, Joseph Paul Franklin, had chosen BSKI at random from the Yellow Pages. He perched himself on a telephone pole and fired five shots, then fled.

To my knowledge, none of the Jews in attendance at Ricky’s bar mitzvah were armed. What if several of them were? Yes, maybe Franklin still could have pulled the trigger five times. But would he have wanted to, not knowing which of the men and women he faced was packing? And would he have gotten away? 

I certainly don’t want to find myself staging a gun battle in my sanctuary. But would I prefer a massacre of my fellow congregants? Never again. 

This essay first appeared in the Daily Caller. Matthew Chase is an attorney from St. Louis. He can be reached at matthew@chaseplanet.us.

IDF to withdraw troops from Israeli communities near Gaza border


The Israel Defense Forces will withdraw its troops from southern Israeli communities near the Gaza border that are not directly adjacent to it.

Soldiers will remain on guard in the three communities adjacent to the border with Gaza, the IDF announced Sunday. The new rule will go into effect on Jan. 1, the IDF said in a statement.

“The move was made after an evaluation of the security situation, with the understanding that the protection the IDF offers to residents of Gaza border communities is optimal, and in coordination with the heads of the communities,” the statement said.

The communities are calling for a more sophisticated border fence between Israel and Gaza to prevent the infiltration of terrorists.

The forces were deployed to the southern communities during Israel’s operation last summer in Gaza.

The IDF deployed two Iron Dome anti-missile batteries near southern Israeli cities last week.

 

The Ebola-like plague of anti-Semitism sweeping the West


My parents, who have lived in Jerusalem for 22 years, recently met their new neighbors.  They are French Jews from Paris who describe themselves as refugees. ” We came to the conclusion that there was simply no future for us in France.  Jews are targets there and the government cannot and does not want to protect them. France is lost.” 

Their message resonated with me as I returned to Israel from a  speaking tour of Southern Africa.  In South Africa I watched as President Jacob Zuma and many of his secondary ministers, fulminated about the international crimes of the Israeli government in Gaza.  In Namibia, a country with only a handful of Jews and with no previous strong record of antisemitic animus, television news programs consistently portrayed a one dimensional view of the conflict, failing entirely to present the context of Operation Protective Edge and castigating the worldwide Jewish support for Israel as the primary culprit.

In Ethiopia, where I stayed for two days, almost everyone I met seemed to think that Israeli war crimes deserved international sanction and that Jews should be made to pay reparations for the destruction of Gaza hospitals and educational facilities.

In Australia, a country with a very strong record of governmental support for Israel, a cartoon in one of the country's leading dailies depicted a hook-nosed Jew reclining in a chair marked with a Star of David casually using a remote to destroy Gazan property.

And In Germany, demonstrators in Berlin – and not just Muslims – could be heard yelling “Death to Israel”, and “Zionists are fascists, killing children and civilians!” and a Berlin imam was recorded using his sermons to ask Allah to kill the Jews “to the very last one,”.

In response, the President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Dieter Graumnn said; “We are currently experiencing in this country an explosion of evil and violent hatred of Jews. We would never in our lives have thought it possible any more that anti-Semitic views of the nastiest and most primitive kind can be chanted on German streets. Jews are once again openly threatened in Germany and sometimes attacked.”

Throughout the world, Jews have felt the tremors of an upheaval that should be deeply unsettling if not shocking. For it is not simply Israeli policies which have been criticized.  Colleagues in Argentina, Brazil, Turkey, England, Italy and as far away as Iceland have reported unparalelled outbursts of anti-semitic activity and sentiment in their countries.

The steep rise in antisemitism which has emerged in the streets of  the world's capitals is a salutary reminder to us all of one of the abiding features of Western history: Antisemitism, despite the denials of governments and citizens – and our own self delusions, is a permanent feature of life in dozens of countries outside Israel that will not die. We fool ourselves into believing that it manifests only as a territorial claim or is some kind of residual spasm of a long cured illness.

For it surely is not. The disease is congenital and much like the Ebola Virus now sweeping  Western Africa  –  deadly and incurable. Despite the horrifying lessons of the Holocaust, the supposed safeguards of a powerful international human rights movement and the sanctimonious pronouncements of world leaders, the contagion of antisemitism has not been eradicated but persists in the minds of millions of people who remain convinced of a malevolent Jewish stereotype which threatens the peace of the world. 

If this is so, then where is it safe for Jews to live?

That is exactly the question that an Austrian-Jewish journalist reporting in 1895 on the polarizing anti-semitic trial of Alfred Dreyfus in Paris, came to ponder: “if France – bastion of emancipation, progress and universal socialism – [can] get caught up in a maelstrom of antisemitism and let the Parisian crowd chant 'Kill the Jews!' Where can they be safe once again – if not in their own country?

Theodor Herzl's words ring in my ears as I sit in Jerusalem and write these words.  Despite whatever you read in the world's newspapers or hear from sage voices in the commentariat, the Jews of Israel feel safe – a fact which has little to do with the use of advanced technology or the deployment of one of the world's most sophisticated armies.  United as at no time since perhaps the Six Day War, the Israelis as individuals and as a country seem to have finally grasped the fact that no territorial surrender, no peace agreements and no humanitarian gestures will appease their enemies.  That is because they accept, better than we in the Diaspora ever could, that the war against them extends beyond their borders and beyond the Middle East.  It is an age old  war of extinction, driven by the the most pernicious form of anti-Semitism and if they have to make a stand against it then they will do it in their own land, with their own resources and on their own schedule .  The determination to defeat the enemy and to make the State of Israel a true place of refuge for the Jewish people has contributed to a remarkable resilience and an unshakeable faith in the future which has allowed life in most of the country to continue, to the greatest extent possible, as normal.

I had to wonder about this as I perused my emails mid-flight on my way back from Ethiopia. 

Familiar with my somewhat frenetic travel schedule, an Australian friend asked:  “Are you home yet – wherever that might be?”

As I touched down at Ben Gurion Airport , saw the Israeli flag fluttering  in the moonlight, watched the cars pass by with blue and white ribbons attached to their antenna and witnessed the bumper stickers and posters declaring an unwavering commitment to victory, without  hesitation I wrote back: 

” Yes, I am home – and I am safe.” 


Avi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance in Los Angeles and owns a home in the Old City of Tzfat in  Israel.

Release of Palestinian prisoners no threat, says former Shin Bet head


Ami Ayalon, the former head of the Shin Bet, Israel’s secret service, says he’s not concerned, from a security perspective, about Israel’s scheduled Oct. 30 release of 26 Palestinian prisoners who had been involved in terror attacks.

In an Oct. 27 interview with the Journal in Beverly Hills, Ayalon did not endorse the release but said, “It does not present any danger.”

“Most of them are sitting in our jails more than 30 years,” he said. “They are not part of the present terror infrastructure.”

Israel agreed to the release as a pre-condition to participating in American-brokered negotiations with the Palestinians. More than 100 terrorists will be released in four groups over the planned nine-month duration of the talks.

Ayalon, who was also a commander in Israel’s navy and is a former Knesset member for the Labor Party, was in Los Angeles to raise awareness for the University of Haifa as part of the American Society of the University of Haifa’s inaugural gala at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills on Oct. 27. He serves as chairman of the executive committee at the university.

He and Amos Shapira — former CEO of El Al and Cellcom and president of the university — sat down with the Journal on Sunday afternoon to discuss current events in Israel and their efforts at Haifa University.

Regarding possible upcoming negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, the trim, fit Ayalon said he’s neither optimistic nor pessimistic.

 “I’m realistic,” Ayalon said, sternly and directly. “I don’t believe — and I hope I’m wrong — that negotiations will bring us any result.”

[Related: 

Holder to ADL: Protect rights of all, including Muslims, after Boston


In a speech to the Anti-Defamation League, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder urged Americans to protect the rights of Muslims and other minorities in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing.

“The battle for the safety and rights of all Americans — all Americans — must be our common endeavor,” Holder told a conference in Washington on Monday marking the group's centennial.

He noted that the conference was held just weeks after the Boston bombing, which killed three and wounded scores.

The lead suspects are two brothers who are Muslims of Chechen origin. One was slain in the bombing's aftermath; one is in custody.

“Our investigation into this matter remains ongoing, and I want to assure you that my colleagues and I are determined to hold accountable, to the fullest extent of the law, all of those who were responsible for this attack,” Holder said. “But I also want to make clear that just as we will pursue relentlessly anyone who would target our people or attempt to terrorize our cities, the Justice Department is firmly committed to protecting innocent people against misguided acts of retaliation.”

Holder praised the ADL for its role in combating anti-Muslim sentiment, noting that the organization initiated a friend-of-the-court brief filed by an interfaith coalition in the successful Justice Department lawsuit against a Tennessee county that sought to prevent the building of a mosque.

“This action, and many others like it, prove the department’s determination to safeguard the core constitutional protections that stand at the center of who we are as a nation – and that have always empowered the ADL to bridge divides and promote cooperation over conflict,” he said.  “As Americans, we must not allow any group to be stigmatized or alienated.”

Holder also pledged his assistance in combating anti-Semitism, which he said remains a threat.

“We delude ourselves if we believe that the dark forces have been conquered,” he said. “They continue to exist in this nation. They continue to exist in the leadership of other nations around the world who have pledged to do harm to Israel and to Jewish people in other countries. We cannot afford to dismiss this sad and dangerous reality.”

Statement from Wilshire Blvd. Temple on bomb threat


[NEWS UPDATES HERE]


Early this morning, we received a bomb threat specific to the Temple campus in the Mid-Wilshire district. Our immediate action was to close the facility and make sure all of our families and staff who attend school and work there were informed of the closure, and stayed at home. As a result, the Mid-Wilshire campus is empty. We are currently assisting LAPD and other law enforcement in their investigation.

Before opening the Irmas Campus on the Westside this morning, our security team conducted a complete search to make sure it was safe. We did so out of an abundance of caution—the threat was specifically focused on the Mid-Wilshire location. Operations there are running smoothly, and we remain extremely vigilant to ensure everyone’s safety.

We will continue to keep the congregation updated.

Rabbi Steve Leder

Barry Edwards
President

Howard Kaplan
Executive Director

Jews and guns: A day on the firing range


Susanne Reyto carefully loaded her rifle and switched the safety off. Peering into the scope attached to the top of the weapon, she pulled the trigger while former U.S. Army platoon leader Charlie Jasper looked on to ensure she was handling her weapon safely.

To their right, 29-year-old Sean Constine loaded bullets into his rifle’s magazine. Then he picked up the rifle and, having located his target — a steel plate attached to the top of a pole approximately 50 yards away — fired away.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Stern, a former member of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), corrected the shooting stance of a 20-something who’d never fired a weapon before.

They were among 25 individuals who visited the gun range at the Oak Tree Gun Club in Santa Clarita on Dec. 2 to fire rifles and handguns. Organizers of the daylong event said its purpose was to show that learning how to fire a gun can be a powerful experience that Jews, in particular, can benefit from.

“We wanted an event that was empowering, and we wanted an event that also discussed the moral imperative of Jewish self-defense,” said Orit Arfa, who organized the event. “Learning how to use a gun is, hopefully, not something that every Jew will have to take upon themselves, but we think learning how to use a weapon and not being afraid of using a weapon will influence people toward a certain courage.”

Arfa called the event timely, too, casting it as a way to celebrate Chanukah, which begins at sundown on Dec. 8 and commemorates a “Jewish victory achieved by Jewish warriors who took it upon themselves to rise up in arms.”

Zionists of Los Angeles, a Los Angeles-based ad hoc group created by Arfa, put on the event after the original sponsor, the Zionist Organization of America’s (ZOA) Western Region, opted out before the event took place, according to Arfa. (A former executive director of the ZOA-Western Region, Arfa was fired from the position last month.)

Jessica Felber, chair of ZOA-West’s young professionals group, helped plan the event, and most of the participants included adults in their 20s and 30s who regularly attend its programs. But others turned up as well, including Reyto and her husband, Robert, who is in his 70s. 

Hired instructors included Jasper, whose service in the Army included a 2008 stint in Iraq, and Stern, a professional shooting trainer who fought in the IDF during the Second Intifada as part of an infantry unit and as a sharpshooter.

Other instructors also had connections to the IDF. Shimi Baras, a shaliach (emissary) for Bnei Akiva of Los Angeles, a Zionist youth group, was a former member of the IDF, and several participants claimed that Avichai Perez serves on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s personal security team. (When asked if this was true, he said it was classified, but showed identification indicating that he works in the Defense Department in the office of the prime minister.)

The instructors weren’t the only ones with prior shooting experience. Some of the participants drew on a range of firearm knowledge.

Constine came in with so much experience firing guns, in fact, that he became a de facto instructor, showing other participants how to hold their weapons properly. A graduate of Emory University, Constine made aliyah in 2005 with the help of Garin Tzabar, a program that facilitates serving in the IDF for Diaspora Jews. He then served in the army.

“The idea of a strong Jew very much appeals to me,” said Constine, who saw combat in Lebanon and in the West Bank while serving in an infantry unit. He currently lives in Los Angeles.

Robert Reyto may have been the oldest person in the pack, but that certainly didn’t put him at a disadvantage. Born in Hungary, he suffered through Nazi Germany and communist Hungary. During the ’60s, Reyto served in the U.S. Navy, working as a dentist in a naval construction battalion unit. 

But, for some, it was their first time handling a weapon. That included Paula Perlman, 26, a graduate of California State University, Northridge; Tamar Union, 27, college campus coordinator at the Jewish outreach group Aish Los Angeles; and Susanne Reyto.

The latter struggled to see through her weapon’s scope, everything appearing as a blur. Still, she said, she was grateful for the opportunity to learn how to protect herself. Like her husband, Susanne, 68, who was born in Budapest one week before the Nazis invaded Hungary, lived through the Holocaust, during which she hid in a cellar with her mother. 

Gunshots filled the air as the group walked past the outdoor gun club’s shotgun skeet-shooting range and approached the rifle range. As they waited in a line to rent weapons and ammunition, the gunshots startled those who had never been to a shooting range before.

Before meeting at the gun range — where they took turns firing M4 semiautomatic rifles for nearly an hour, then moved on to handguns — the group gathered at a sports-memorabilia clubhouse owned by Marvin Markowitz, who also owns Factor’s Famous Deli. There, Stern, a member of the National Rifle Association, led a training session on gun safety and spoke in strong support of gun ownership. 

Not everyone agreed. Constine said he is in favor of gun control. 

“Israel and America are vastly different places. In Israel, you need to carry a gun. Here, you don’t,” he said.

Stern also spoke about what he called the problem of American Jews viewing themselves as victims of persecution. Learning how to operate a gun is a way to change that mindset, he said.

The people who participated in the event won’t be turning into Moshe Dayan overnight, he said, referring to Israel’s famous military leader. But, he concluded, this was a step in the right direction.

In Europe, big gaps exist among security precautions at Jewish institutions


Within hours of Israel's assassination of a top Hamas commander, the situation room sprang into action, anticipating retaliatory attacks and preparing instructions to keep civilians out of harm's way.

No, the room wasn't deep in a bunker beneath Jerusalem, but thousands of miles away — and at a seemingly safe remove from the violence on the ground — in London.

It was the situation room of the Community Security Trust, British Jewry’s security agency, which was open for business within hours of Israel's killing of Ahmed Jabari last week.

The CST has long been considered the gold standard in European Jewish community security. But communities across the continent recognize that they are all at risk from anti-Semitic attacks, which often spike in the wake of Israeli military operations, and are struggling to ramp up security precautions despite the often prohibitive costs.

“There’s no telling what would ignite the next wave of attacks against our communities,” Moshe Kantor, the president of the European Jewish Congress, said at a crisis management training session that drew leaders from 36 Jewish communities to Brussels on Nov. 6, eight days before the Israeli military launched its Operation Pillar of Defense. “It could be hostilities between Israel and Iran or in Gaza or a stupid film on Muslims in YouTube. We have to assume it’s coming.”

Nine months after a deadly attack by a Muslim extremist claimed four lives at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France, European Jewish leaders are beginning to take steps to address some glaring gaps in the security capabilities of the continent's Jewish communities. But the process is hindered by the enormous costs involved and differing views of where the primary responsibility lies for ensuring Jewish safety.

Approximately half of Europe's Jewish communities have no crisis-management plan in place. Even in large communities demonstrably at risk of attack like France, which is home to Europe's largest Jewish community of about 500,000, security resources remain scarce and some congregations have virtually no protection. While CST's situation room was humming last week, the offices of the organization's French counterpart were unreachable by phone or email.

“Nine months ago, Jewish communities in Europe received a wake-up call when Mohammed Merah, a 23-year-old Muslim radical, killed three children and a rabbi in Toulouse,” said Arie Zuckerman, secretary-general of the European Jewish Fund, which bankrolls much of the EJC’s activity. “At the same time, the spike in anti-Semitic attacks coincides with a recession which is hampering communities’ ability to carry the burden of security costs.”

In Toulouse, the Otzar Hatorah school had surveillance cameras in place and a tall fence around the perimeter, but no one monitored the video feed and there was no guard, which allowed Merah to easily enter the compound toting a gun. Insiders from that community spoke of “a total collapse” immediately after the attack.

“In such an event, which has the potential of destroying a community, crisis management can restore a sense of order and enhance the community’s resilience,” said Ariel Muzicant, the former head of the Austrian Jewish community and head of the EJC crisis-management task force.

Only 20 of the 36 communities in the EJC have crisis-management programs, which determine who does what in case of emergency. In Marseille, where 80,000 Jews live among 250,000 Muslims, there is no security guard present even at prayer time and during Hebrew school lessons at the French city's Jewish community center and great synagogue. On a recent Sunday, walking into the complex simply meant pushing open the front door, which remained unlocked.

Among European Jewish communities, British Jewry is the undisputed security leader. The CST has five offices, dozens of employees and thousands of volunteers, drawn mainly from Britain’s Jewish population of 250,000. Since 2008, CST has installed about 1,000 closed-circuit cameras and digital video recorders in dozens of buildings, and has trained 400 British police officers on hate crimes.

The SPCJ, French Jewry’s security unit, did not respond to questions about its budget, size or procedures. But Richard Prasquier, the president of CRIF, the umbrella organization of the Jewish communities of France, said SPCJ had a “vast network of dedicated volunteers.” The unit is particularly visible in Paris, where Jewish schools and buildings receive robust protection by SPCJ guards and police.

The CST budget was $5.8 million last year, which it raised through donations and government subsidies. The budget is more than double that of Britain’s Board of Jewish Deputies, the country's main Jewish umbrella organization, and far larger than most European Jewish security organs. Smaller communities, most of which are less than one-fifth the size of Britain’s, can only dream of deploying security resources at that scale.

“The subject of funding for security is particularly painful for Europe’s smaller communities,” said Anne Sender, a former president of the Jewish Community of Oslo, which has just 750 members. “We simply don’t have the deep pockets that larger communities have.”

Norway's Jews spend just $87,000 annually on security — about half of what they raise each year in fees that also support education and religious services, according to Ervin Kohn, the community's current president.

Kohn launched a media campaign that persuaded the government to make a one-time grant of $1.2 million this year to protect Norwegian Jews. It was half of what Kohn had sought to ensure security at a “reasonable level” over the next few years, he said.

In response to Kohn’s efforts, a known Muslim extremist last month wrote on Facebook that he would “protect” the synagogue right after he gets an “AK-47 rifle and a hunting license.” In 2006, a Muslim extremist opened fire with a semiautomatic assault rifle on the synagogue.

Unlike in Britain, where security is largely seen as the community's concern, other European Jews see it as the government's responsibility.

“I pay for Jewish life, not Jewish security,” said Eric Argaman of Oslo, who pays about $200 a year in community membership fees. “That’s the government’s job.”

Elsewhere in Scandinavia, Jewish leaders recognize that they cannot rely solely on the government. In Sweden, with a Jewish population of about 20,000, authorities have made a one-time grant of approximately $500,000 for security at Jewish institutions — a sum that doesn't “begin to cover costs,” according to Lena Posner-Korosi, president of the Council of Swedish Jewish Communities.

In Malmo, Sweden's third largest city and the site of dozens of anti-Semitic incidents each year — including a bomb attack in September on the Jewish community center — there is only one part-time security professional, according to Jonas Zolken, regional director for Sweden at the Nordic Jewish Security Council. In Denmark, where the capital city lies just over the Oresund Bridge from Malmo, the government offers no security funding for the country’s 8,000 Jews.

“Our experience shows we need to cooperate with local police and security authorities, but ultimately can rely on no one but ourselves,” said Johan Tynell, the Malmo-born director of security for Denmark’s Jewish community.

In the Netherlands, with 40,000 Jews, the community spends more than $1 million on security without any significant help from the government, according to Dennis Mok, the community’s security officer.

“Even after Toulouse, the official Dutch position is that there is no elevated threat toward the Jewish community,” Mok said. “We, of course, have a different view.”

To free communities from depending on the threat assessments and budgetary constraints of national governments, the European Jewish Congress has been lobbying European leaders to arrange for security funding from the European Union. French President Francois Hollande and Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas already have said they would support the initiative, Kantor told JTA.

Meanwhile, the EJC announced it was establishing a continent-wide security fund, but did not specify how much would be allocated. The congress also has teamed up with the World Jewish Diplomatic Corps to help small communities lower security costs. The corps, a nonprofit international organization that aims to empower young Jewish professionals, will send its “most capable” crisis advisers “to help small Jewish communities build foundations for defense,” according to its director, Michael Colson.

Moreover, some Jewish leaders say much more can be done, even on a shoestring budget. Tynell said at the conference that Jewish professionals should be recruited as volunteer crisis managers and given responsibility for talking to the media, doing internal communications, coordinating with local authorities and even delivering kosher food to anyone who might be hospitalized.

“When these things are left to chance, the resulting mess compounds the trauma which members of the community will experience in a crisis,” Tynell said. “Prevent this or your community members will suffer for a long time.”

Syrian clashes intensify near Turkey border


NATO said on Tuesday it had drawn up plans to defend Turkey if necessary against any further spillover of violence from Syria's border areas where rebels and government forces are fighting for control.

Rebel suicide bombers struck at President Bashar Assad's heartland, attacking an Air Force Intelligence compound on the edge of Damascus, insurgents said. Activists living nearby said the bombing caused at least 100 casualties among security personnel, based on the ambulances that rushed to the scene.

“Assad…is only able to stand up with crutches,” Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, once a close ally of Assad, told a meeting of his ruling AK Party.

“He will be finished when the crutches fall away.”

Erdogan, reacting to six consecutive days where shells fired from Syrian soil have landed on Turkish territory, has warned Ankara will not shrink from war if forced to act. But Ankara has also made clear it would be reluctant to mount any major operation on Syrian soil, and then only with international support.

Syrian forces and rebels have clashed at several sites close to the Turkish border in the last week. There has been no sign of any major breakthrough by either side, though activists said rebels killed at least 40 soldiers on Saturday in a 12-hour battle to take the village of Khirbet al-Joz.

It was not clear whether the shells landing on the Turkish side were aimed at Turkey or simply the result of government troops overshooting as they attacked rebels to their north.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in Brussels the 28-member military alliance hoped a way could be found to stop tensions escalating on the border.

“We have all necessary plans in place to protect and defend Turkey if necessary,” he said.

Just outside Hacipasa, a village nestled among olive groves in Turkey's Hatay border province, the sound of mortar fire could be heard every 10-15 minutes from around the Syrian town of Azmarin. A Syrian helicopter flew high over the border.

Villagers used ropes and small metal boats to ferry the injured across a river no more than 10 meters wide into Turkey. On the Syrian side, men wearing surgical masks and gloves tended to the wounded on mats laid on the ground.

“They are burning houses in the town,” said Musana Barakat, 46, an Azmarin resident who makes frequent trips between the two countries, pointing at plumes of thick smoke in the distance.

“There are rebels hiding in and around the town and they are going to make a push tonight to drive Assad's forces out,” he said, a Syrian passport sticking out of his shirt pocket.

A crowd gathered around a saloon car, the blood-stained body of a man who had been pulled wounded from the fighting slumped across its back seat. Those with him said he had been rescued alive but died after being brought over the border.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul said on Monday the “worst-case scenarios” were now playing out in Syria and Turkey would do everything necessary to protect itself.

Gul and Erdogan, in seeking Western and Arab support, have repeatedly warned of the dangers of fighting in Syria spilling over into a sectarian war engulfing the entire region.

Turkey's chief of general staff General Necdet Ozel flew by helicopter to several bases in Hatay province on Tuesday, part of Turkey's 900-km (560-mile) border with Syria.

U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi will go to Syria soon to try to persuade President Bashar al-Assad's government to call an immediate ceasefire.

SUICIDE BOMBERS

The militant Islamist group al-Nusra Front said it had mounted the suicide attack on the air force intelligence building in Damascus because it was used a centre for torture and repression in the crackdown on the revolt against Assad.

“Big shockwaves shattered windows and destroyed shop facades. It felt as if a bomb exploded inside every house in the area,” said one resident of the suburb of Harasta, where the compound was located.

But much of the fighting in the 18-month-old uprising has concentrated around the border area.

The shelling of the Turkish town of Akcakale last Wednesday, which killed five civilians, marked a sharp escalation.

Turkey has been responding in kind since then to gunfire or mortar bombs flying over the border and has bolstered its military presence along the frontier.

“We are living in constant fear. The mortar sounds have really picked up since this morning. The children are really frightened,” said Hali Nacioglu, 43, a farmer from the village of Yolazikoy near Hacipasa.

A mortar bomb landed in farmland near Hacipasa on Monday.

Unlike the flat terrain around Akcakale, the border area in Hatay is marked by rolling hills with heavy vegetation. Syrian towns and villages, including Azmarin, are clearly visible just a few kilometers away.

“It's only right that Turkey should respond if it gets fired on but we really don't want war to break out. We want this to finish as soon as possible,” said Abidin Tunc, 49, a tobacco farmer also from Yolazikoy.

NATO member Turkey was once an ally of Assad's but turned against him after his violent response to the uprising, in which activists say 30,000 people have died.

Turkey has nearly 100,000 Syrian refugees in camps on its territory, has given sanctuary to rebel leaders and has led calls for Assad to quit.

Additional reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis in Amman, Adrian Croft in Brussels, John Irish in Paris; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Daren Butler and Ralph Boulton

Major fire under control in Jerusalem area


A major fire in the Jerusalem area believed to be arson is under control.

More than 40 firefighting squads and two firefighting planes came together to put out the fire on Wednesday near the Hadassah Ein-Kerem Medical Center. Some hospital visitors were evacuated, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Four West Bank Palestinians found nearby were arrested in connection with the blaze, which started in several places. Police believe the fire was set intentionally but have not ruled out the possibility that hikers accidentally set the blaze.

A smaller fire, requiring 20 fire crews and two firefighting planes, was contained in the Carmel Mountains.

Opinion: Obama has helped make Israel safer


Throughout a half-century of international diplomatic work, I have learned to tell the politicians from the friends and the charlatans from the statesmen. Charlatans scream. They tell you what you want to hear and call other people names. Friends and leaders need not rely on rhetoric or boisterous bravado. They produce results and act on principle. 

President Obama is such a friend and leader. In his 3 1/2 years in office he has deepened and strengthened the relationship between the United States and Israel. And today, Obama continues to implement a comprehensive pro-Israel agenda that has made Israel safer and more secure.

Under Obama, U.S. financial aid to Israel is at its highest levels ever. During the past four years, Israel has avoided becoming engaged in any substantial frontal military engagements, advanced its notable economic development and remains prepared for negotiating a comprehensive peace. Obama as president has led a mutually beneficial resurgence in the exchange of strategic technology, intelligence and cooperation between U.S. armed forces and the Israel Defense Forces.

Standing by Israel, Obama opposed the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state and blocked its recognition at the United Nations. He supported Israel’s right to defend itself and confronted head-on the now-discredited Goldstone Report that condemned Israeli defensive action off its coast. He also ordered the United States to withdraw from the Durban Review Conference, whose namesake conference was supposed to be about racism but instead became an anti-Israel hate-fest. Obama stated unequivocally that “The United States will stand up against efforts to single Israel out at the United Nations or in any international forum.”

Going even further, Obama has taken the floor of the United Nations to declare that “Israel’s existence must not be a subject for debate” and that “efforts to chip away at Israel’s legitimacy will be met only by the unshakable opposition of the United States.”

When Fatah and Hamas joined political forces and pressured Israel to enter negotiations with them, Obama told the world that “No country can be expected to negotiate with a terrorist organization sworn to its destruction,” concluding that “Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with Palestinians who do not recognize its right to exist.”

And this is also why Obama has taken such a strong stand against the Iranian nuclear program—the single greatest threat to the State of Israel and the stability of the Middle East. After years of inaction and neglect by the Bush administration, Obama constructed an international coalition to impose the most crippling sanctions ever on the Iranian regime. These sanctions have already chocked off Iran’s access to many capital markets and have had a profound effect on the way Tehran finances its nefarious operations. Covert U.S. operations targeting Iran’s nuclear infrastructure reportedly have also slowed their rate of progress.

While his opponents can talk tough on Iran, the president is doing what is necessary to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

Nevertheless, despite clear facts and substantial evidence, political partisans and opponents of the president continue a coordinated campaign to distort reality in a brazen attempt to fool the public. The same type of people who called Obama a closet Muslim and claimed he was not born in the United States now exercise linguistic calisthenics to obfuscate the truth and portray the president as hostile to the Jewish state. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Not long ago, while sitting in the Oval Office, Obama looked me in the eye and said, “My commitment to Israel’s security is bone deep.” He did not have to say it. I already knew that President Obama would never forsake the Jewish state, its security and its people. His record of performance is crystal clear and the charlatans cannot change that.

My father before me actively supported Jewish communities around the world and prior to 1948 closely worked with those establishing the modern State of Israel. For more than a half century, I have worked with successive Israeli governments and U.S. presidents—Republican and Democrat—to provide for the safety and security of the Jewish people and the State of Israel. 

My family has loved, worked, invested in and supported the State of Israel, its security and its people since before its founding. We have not always agreed with its policies, but we have always been there to support and defend its government and people. We are connected to every facet of Jewish life and want nothing more than Israel’s peace, security, vibrancy and prosperity. I am confident that President Obama shares our values and I shall confidently vote for him in November.

Edgar M. Bronfman is the former CEO of the Seagram Company Ltd. and the former president of the World Jewish Congress.

London Jewish community, already vigilant, is advised to beef up security for Olympics


Typically on high alert, London’s Jewish community organizations are being advised to take additional security measures during the Olympics.

The Community Security Trust, the charity that represents and recommends the community on matters of security, has told Jewish groups to implement or increase patrols around their buildings. CST’s guidelines also remind community groups of basic security steps such as questioning visitors to community buildings, not congregating outside and ensuring that all security equipment is working.

“We are not aware of any specific threats related to the Jewish community,” emphasized Dave Rich, the CST’s deputy director of communications. “This is the normal kind of advice we would give to people when there are high-profile events taking place in London. There might be some anti-Israel demonstrations, but we are not expecting massive disruptions.”

The London Jewish community’s security infrastructure already is highly developed, with guards posted outside nearly every synagogue, school and community building. Additionally, CST-trained volunteers help to secure major community events.

Among the concerns is that the high volume of overseas visitors expected at Jewish community venues during the Games will present a security challenge. In addition, the security alert for the entire city may be raised.

“There is no doubt that the Jewish community needs to be vigilant, but there is nothing new in that,” said Hagai Segal, a lecturer at New York University in London and a consultant on Middle Eastern affairs and terrorism. “There is no evidence of any specific targeting of the Jewish community or of terror attacks being planned in general, either.”

Pointing to the general security operation in London that is “unprecedented in British history,” he said, “When the country is better protected, the Jewish community is better protected, too.”

In the absence of a specific threat, Segal added, the Jewish community has no need to increase its security arrangements significantly, as they are already so extensive.

“The community has had to get used to having patrols around synagogues and a system for the reporting of anti-Semitism, and it is recognized as having one of the best community security systems anywhere,” he said. “The London Metropolitan Police actually uses the CST as an example of efficient community policing. The community is expert in this area, which ensures that when there are special events in the city, they don’t have to do much more.”

Similarly, he said, London as a whole had been operating at the highest or second-highest level of threat assessment since the subway and bus bombings on July 7, 2005, and is also accustomed to extensive counterterror measures.

“A lot has been learned since 7/7. The UK has become very good at counterterrorism,” Segal said.

Meanwhile, the details regarding security for the Israeli delegation to the Olympics are being closely guarded.

Efraim Zinger, secretary-general of the Israeli Olympic Committee and head of the Israeli Olympic delegation, would confirm only that the British were responsible for the team’s security and that the delegation would not be housed in a separate building in the Olympic Village.

“We are closely following the security measures taken by the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games and by the British government,” Ziniger said. “We really appreciate the enormous effort and money that is being invested. They know how to do this work and we trust them.”

He acknowledged that a large event like the Olympics was “naturally very attractive for the bad guys,” but said that the threat was not just to Israel, as the British and Americans could be targeted as well.

“There is complete cooperation in all areas, we have open channels,” Zinger said. “Those who need to protect the Games are concentrating on that and doing an excellent job. We are concentrating on our sportspeople doing an excellent job.”

The operation to secure London as a whole will be the most expensive in British history, costing $1.55 billion. Some 17,000 troops, 12,500 policemen and 7,000 security guards will be posted in the city, which has been nicknamed “Fortress London,” while an aircraft carrier will dock on the Thames River, surface-to-air missiles will be deployed at six sites and unmanned drones with surveillance cameras will patrol the skies. 

Nevertheless, the security arrangements have been severely criticized in recent weeks after it emerged that the company contracted to protect the Olympic Park and stadiums failed to deliver enough personnel. The government has deployed 3,500 more troops than originally planned and warned that more might be necessary

Nerves were rattled earlier this month after six Islamist extremists were arrested in London over a possible terror plot. Three lived just a mile from the Olympic stadium. However, the London Metropolitan Police said the arrests were not linked to the Olympics.

Netanyahu to address AIPAC as Iran speculation intensifies


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he will address the AIPAC policy conference as speculation grows about how the United States and Israel will tackle Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program.

Netanyahu’s formal Twitter feed announced his decision on Sunday to attend the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in Washington, from March 4-6.

“PM #Netanyahu to visit the #US next month and give speech at annual conference of #AIPAC,” the tweet said,

Such visits usually include meetings with the president, but there was no notice yet from either Netanyahu’s office or the White House that a meeting with President Obama would be scheduled.

The announcement comes against the backdrop of increased U.S.-led pressure on Iran to make transparent its nuclear program and speculation that Israel may strike Iran this year.

The New York Times and the Washington Post have run major articles in recent weeks saying that Israel could strike as early as April and that its refusal to give the United States advance warning is increasing tensions between the governments.

The AIPAC conference coincidentally is timed just as the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, is set to convene its board in Vienna for its semi-annual meeting.

U.S. officials have asked their Israeli counterparts to wait out the IAEA board meeting, suggesting that the IAEA report on Iran to be released then will likely be tough enough to spur an intensified international effort to isolate the country.

If your gut tells you something seems suspicious, report it


On Aug. 30, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) held its annual security meeting at its Los Angeles headquarters to advise local Jewish leaders on possible threats facing the community in advance of the High Holy Days.

United States Postal Inspector Glenn Fiene and ADL civil rights specialist Steven Sheinberg discussed “How to Deal With Suspicious Mail” and “Being Safe and Welcoming: Practical Strategies for Jewish Institutions,” respectively.

An FBI spokesman, who asked not to be identified, said no additional threats are facing the Jewish community in light of the High Holy Days, but the ADL, local law enforcement and Jewish institutions will continue to work together on preventive security measures.

“Our attitude toward combating hatred and bigotry is comprehensive,” said Amanda Susskind, ADL Pacific Southwest regional director. “We have both a preventive and responsive role.”

The briefing drew 80 representatives of synagogues, Jewish institutions and organizations, including The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Temple Israel of Hollywood and Beth Jacob Congregation.

Fiene spoke at length about mail bombs and attacks.

“We haven’t had a bomb in the mail for a couple years in this area,” he said, but he described what people should be aware of when receiving packages: whether the package came from a foreign country; if there is excessive postage or misspelled words on the envelope; if it’s bulky, lopsided, has a strange odor and/or doesn’t have a return address.

“If your gut feeling tells you something’s wrong with a letter or parcel, call us, call a local bomb squad immediately,” he said.

Sheinberg said leaders of Jewish institutions should make a “security risk profile” and can implement a strong security plan by identifying the institution’s members and neighbors, getting technology and equipment that is site-appropriate, and ensuring that everyone tasked with security is doing his/her job — otherwise, expensive technology and equipment won’t help in keeping the institution safe.

Sheinberg acknowledged that developing comprehensive security plans might contradict a Jewish institution’s mission of inclusiveness — but it’s about finding the balance, he said.

“Having an open-door policy doesn’t mean every door needs to be open,” he said. “There are ways to think about and plan for your institution so you can make the institution as open and welcoming as you’re comfortable with.”

The ADL security briefing takes place each year right before Rosh Hashanah. The event on Aug. 30 ran for three hours.

The ADL is encouraging Jewish institutions to download its security manual, “Protecting Your Jewish Institution,” available for free on the ADL Web site. Susskind said the resource is updated regularly.

Leslie Gersicoff, director of the Jewish Labor Committee Western Region, was among the Jewish leaders who attended the briefing.

“Particularly with the holidays coming again, with the upheaval in the world, as agitated as people are over the economic situation, it’s great to be aware of possible threats,” Gersicoff said in an interview. “And ADL has been a wonderful partner organization.”

Jewish camps review safety measures in wake of Ramah tragedy


It’s the nightmare of every parent—and every teacher, youth leader and camp director.

When a child dies in an accident while in someone else’s care, the agonizing questions begin: Could we have done anything different? Were all the proper procedures followed? And above all, how can we keep children safe while still ensuring that they have a fun and meaningful summer?

The Jewish camping community is asking such questions with the death of Andrew Silvershein, 16, of Davie, Fla., who drowned June 19 on a whitewater rafting trip during his first week at Ramah Darom, a Conservative movement summer camp in northern Georgia.

“For all of us in the business, this is the No. 1 thing on our mind,” said Len Robinson, executive director of the New Jersey Y Camps. “At the end of the summer, when the last child is delivered home to their parents, you feel the weight of the world lifted from your shoulders. Unfortunately, things happen.”

Everything was done correctly in this case, camp professionals say: A trained guide was in every raft, and every child was wearing a life jacket and helmet.

The current was strong, the raft overturned and Silvershein was wedged under a rock. He was pulled out, but it was too late. He was buried three days later.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Andrew’s family and friends, and with the Ramah Darom community,” said Jeremy Fingerman, CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp. “It’s clear that camps are tremendously safe places. This was just a senseless and tragic accident.”

Nevertheless, Jewish camp directors have been reviewing their safety measures.

Rabbi Paul Resnick, the longtime director of Camp Ramah in the Berkshires, said his staff immediately began re-checking the camp’s standards to make sure that they comply with the regulations of the American Camping Association, as well as of the New York Board of Health. And this summer’s programming does not include whitewater rafting.

“We certainly believe in outdoor adventure, and although there is always some risk, we believe we have a very well-trained staff, use reliable trip providers and that we are following all safety protocols,” Resnick said, adding that he also offers his sympathy and support to the Ramah Darom community.

Many camps had not started their seasons and were still running training weeks for counselors and other staff when the Darom tragedy occurred. Safety, which is always stressed, camp directors say, was underlined yet again.

Although many families of Ramah Darom campers were in touch right after the accident, some asking about particular safety protocols, Rabbi Mitch Cohen, director of the National Ramah Commission, says that none withdrew their children or canceled their registration.

National Ramah is the umbrella organization for eight overnight camps, three day camps and Ramah Israel programs.

Directors of other Jewish camps say the number of calls from parents concerned about the safety of their children has not increased. Those calls come anyway, they say.

“Parents are more involved in asking questions today,” said Robinson, who has been in the Jewish camping business for 45 years. “Industry standards have remained at the same high level since the 1970s. It’s the parents’ concerns that have changed.”

Some practical changes have been made in the past few decades, he says. Diving boards were taken out of camp pools, for example, for fear of accidents. Campers now wear life jackets, not just life belts, while water skiing. And lifesaving and rescue techniques are constantly being upgraded as knowledge increases.

Even the materials used in some equipment is different. Life jackets used to be filled with a material that became unusable if waterlogged, Robinson says. The newer jackets are more resistant, and buckle easier and more securely.

“We have better and stronger materials today, some from the space program,” he said, mentioning nylon as one NASA-developed material now in wide use.

Paul Reichenbach, the director of camping and Israel programs for the Union for Reform Judaism, says the union has made nearly $750,000 worth of security upgrades to its camps over the past decade. URJ camps have new fences and 24-hour guards, and have installed gates and security lights. An Israeli security firm runs training sessions for its camp directors and staff every summer to teach them how to evacuate buildings and look for a missing child, as well as other emergency tactics.

“We have never had a serious incursion, but it’s what we do for the health and security of our children,” he said.

The URJ isn’t alone, Reichenbach stresses.

“Lots of camps have significantly upgraded their security,” he said. “Things have changed. It’s part of our commitment to families and to ourselves.”

Still, he says, children are killed virtually every summer, whether in Jewish or non-Jewish programs. A branch might fall from a tree and hit a child. In a private camp in upstate New York, a child jumped into a flooded river, three friends jumped in to save him, and all four drowned.

Seven years ago at a Jewish camp, Reichenbach recalls, someone was killed while rock climbing.

“It’s the reality we live in,” he said. “We have active programs. It doesn’t mean you stop swimming. After a tragedy you redouble your protocols and ask yourself the tough questions: Are we doing everything we can?”

Ramah Darom has “incredibly high standards,” Reichenbach noted, and they work with “an excellent company” to ensure that they get the best safety training and preparation.

Transparency is key, say those interviewed. Parents want to know the risks, how safety will be ensured and how emergencies will be handled.

Immediately after the Silvershein tragedy, Ramah Darom staff alerted the families of the other campers by e-mail and phone. Grief counselors were called in to supplement the camp’s rabbis and social workers as part of an ongoing healing process.

Fingerman says he is “tremendously impressed” with how Ramah Darom has been handling the tragedy, and with how the rest of the camping world has reached out to the camp.

More than 800 mourners attended the funeral, he notes, and many of them hugged the camp director and board chair to show support, even as they were trying to support the grieving family.

Instead of turning away from the camp, the Silversheins have created a scholarship fund in Andrew’s memory, so other Jewish children can attend camp. And their daughter, Andrew’s younger sister, is expected to return to Ramah Darom after the shiva, or week of mourning.

“The family stated how important camp was in his life,” Fingerman said. “They said he’d never want this tragedy to destroy the joy other kids could have at camp.”

Julie Wiener of The New York Jewish Week contributed to this report.

Israeli embassies threatened, may close


Four Israeli embassies may be closed after receiving serious threats.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that security at the embassies, which it did not identify, had increased to the maximum level. Security at all Israeli embassies has been increased as well, according to reports.

The ministry said in Tuesday’s statement that “a number of irregular incidents targeting Israeli destinations were recorded in the past few days.”

“At this point we estimate that a threat exists against the locations and it is being dealt with,” said the statement. “The relevant Israeli authorities are in contact with the relevant authorities in the countries in question.”

The threats coincide with the third anniversary of the death of Hezbollah senior official Imad Mughniyeh, who was killed in Damascus by a car bomb that the terrorist organization blames on Israel. Hezbollah has vowed to avenge his death.

Also out of concern following threats of revenge kidnappings, Israel’s Counter Terrorism Bureau issued a warning late last week to Israeli travelers urging them to avoid certain destinations, including Egypt, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia, Cote d’Ivoire, Mauritania and Venezuela.

Jews’ view of the pot initiative? Mixed


Marijuana is everywhere. Smokers come from every walk of life — from the college student to the cancer patient, from the wealthy older couple to the heroin addict who started out just smoking weed.

Jews care about this issue because Jews, like every other group, can be found among those who use, who dispense, who grow, and also those who disdain this all-pervasive drug. In fact, the halachah of pot is not entirely clear.

The Talmud states that the law of the land is the law. But when it comes to pot, what does that mean? State and federal rules on marijuana are rapidly changing. California has legalized medical use and decriminalized recreational possession of small amounts, but many smokers still rely on the black market. And marijuana remains completely illegal under federal law, although enforcement is inconsistent.  Now, Californians face Proposition 19 on the Nov. 2 ballot, a measure that would allow possession, purchase and taxation of marijuana for adult recreational use.

The Jewish perspective on pot is ambivalent, and observant Jews could plausibly take either side of Proposition 19, according to Rabbi Elliot Dorff, a professor of ethics and Jewish law and rector at the American Jewish University. On one hand, Judaism “is very insistent on responsibility for our actions,” Dorff said, meaning that becoming extremely intoxicated on any substance is forbidden. Any drug that harms the body is also forbidden because “in the Jewish tradition, God owns our bodies, and we have a fiduciary relationship to take care of [ourselves],” Dorff said.

On the other hand, marijuana may be more akin to alcohol — a drug that observant Jews may take in moderation — rather than tobacco, which the Jewish tradition frowns upon as dangerous and highly addictive, Dorff said. Where marijuana falls on that sliding scale is an “empirical question,” he added, and the answer may affect how Jews vote on Proposition 19. Schools, synagogues, drug control experts and law enforcement all have a role to play in providing that answer and determining the boundary between the law and making a responsible individual choice.

Cities Rule

The most distinguishing feature of Proposition 19 is how much authority it delegates to cities. Possession of up to 1 ounce would be legal statewide, but California already has made possession of that amount an infraction on par with a speeding ticket. The real meat of Proposition 19 is that cities would become free to make their own rules on regulating and taxing the commercial sale of marijuana to adults over the age of 21. 

“I think they’re trying to make sure cities can opt out, like with liquor stores [or] medical marijuana dispensaries,” said Kyle Kazan, a former Torrance police officer and member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), which supports the measure. “You can zone it away.”

Story continues after the jump.

Opponents, however, see the delegation of authority to cities as a “legal nightmare,” which has become one of the catch phrases of the No on 19 campaign.  “You’re going to have 550 different versions of this law, city by city,” said Rodney Jones, chief of the Fontana Police Department and a Proposition 19 opponent. County sheriffs will have a particular problem, Jones said, because they cross city lines and will be responsible for enforcing small differences in rules on marijuana.

But Kazan said police already handle similar complexity in enforcing various city ordinances on the sale of liquor.  And if the initiative had set a single rule for marijuana sales statewide, supporters worry that “the other side would say, ‘How dare they have a one-size-fits-all solution?’ ” said Hanna Liebman Dershowitz, an attorney and member of the legal committee of Yes on 19.

The Case for Talking to Kids

Even if only a few cities authorize sales, both sides agree that Proposition 19 almost certainly would increase overall use of marijuana in California.  It would be more widely available in stores than it is on the black market now, and it would not be stigmatized as illegal. And unless governments levy huge taxes, it would also likely be much cheaper. The real debate is whether the inevitable increase in use will be more harmful than the status quo.

Drug war veterans have long argued that marijuana physically damages the brain and other organs, but the data on that are inconclusive. “ ‘Reefer Madness’ isn’t true,” said Keith Humphreys, a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine and former senior policy adviser at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy under President Obama. “The [idea that] everyone who picks up a joint has their life ruined is absurd,” he said. 

But that doesn’t mean marijuana is harmless, Humphreys said. “I don’t deny that some people use marijuana and they’re fine, but if a million people pick up regular marijuana use, probably at least 10 to 20 percent will have significantly adverse experiences in life, maybe do badly in school, maybe get in a car accident.” Legal marijuana would be particularly harmful to high school students who are already on the verge of flunking out, he said.

Nobody knows exactly how much usage will increase, but Humphreys predicts the state could add anywhere from 1 million to 3 million new smokers. Vulnerable groups, such as teens and the poor, are particularly likely to smoke more, he said, because they have less disposable income and will be more attracted by the lower price.

Jason Ablin, head of school at Milken Community High School, has worked with high-school students for 20 years, but he’s not convinced that the status quo of criminalization is an effective deterrent, either.

“I think if kids are going to use drugs and alcohol, they’re going to find ways to acquire them — they do it with alcohol already,” Ablin said. “We have a lot of double standards with marijuana use. The association with marijuana is counter-culture, so that becomes a lot more damning than, say, alcohol,” he said.

For Dershowitz, that association is patently unfair. “As we look inward [following] Yom Kippur and the New Year, we also need to look outward to reflect on our actions as a society,” she said. Dershowitz is particularly troubled by the social and legal stigmas that follow a young person who is busted by law enforcement for marijuana, even now that the penalties have been reduced. “We should abhor a system that erases other people’s chances to turn toward the good simply because they’ve chosen an action that we singled out for disdain.”

Instead of focusing on heavy-handed scare tactics and criminalization, Ablin prefers to engage kids in a broader public policy discussion about the way society treats drugs in general. “Because I work in schools, I have a lot more confidence in kids to critically think through problems,” Ablin said. “You’re not getting anywhere with kids by talking at them. [You’ll do] much better work by listening to them.”

Exploding Knives, and Other Hazards of Kashering


Let me just start by admitting that I probably didn’t really need to put the knife directly on my burner. But it was the first time in a very long time I was kashering anything, and I had conflicting guidance from my rabbi and my mother, and I thought I needed to drop a hot metal object into my hot water urn to make it kosher for Pesach (I was totally wrong. Do not try it at home.).

How was I to know the knife would explode into my face, leaving me traumatized — though only slightly injured?

But my ignorance is exactly the point: In preparation for Passover, usually smart homemakers end up doing really dumb things with superhot materials, all in the name of removing any trace of chametz (leavened grain products). And, often, people get hurt.

“Here you have this extra cooking and extra work, while the kids are running all over the house, and the combination, naturally and unfortunately, brings in a high volume of calls,” said Tzvika Brenner, chairman of Hatzolah, an all-volunteer first-responder system operating in three Orthodox neighborhoods in Los Angeles that has been responding to emergencies since 2001.

On any normal day, Hatzolah usually gets about five calls; before Passover, that number jumps to between 10 and 15. Hatzolah has 86 trained EMTs who are able to respond within minutes, even seconds, to an accident in Pico-Robertson, Valley Village or the Fairfax/Hancock Park area and then transfer care to the paramedics once they arrive.

Most Passover calls involve burns, either from kashering or cooking accidents.

Kashering involves subjecting pots, dishes or cooking appliances to extreme treatments to eliminate even invisible traces of offending food. Those treatments usually involve heated metal or rocks, boiling water, superheated ovens and, in some cases, blowtorches.

“It’s not something we do every day, so accidents happen,” Brenner said.

And, as in my case, half the things we do don’t really need to be done, according to Rabbi Eliezer Eidlitz, executive director of Emek Hebrew Academy Teichman Family Torah Center in Sherman Oaks and founder of the Kosher Information Bureau and kosherquest.org. He said when Passover approaches, he receives twice the usual daily 100 e-mails with questions regarding kosher products and kashering a kitchen.

“The reason I went into this in 1976 was that people were going so overboard,” he said. “And it didn’t make them any more observant of halachah.”

Many women don’t trust rabbis when it comes to kashering a kitchen for Passover — they want to do it like their mothers did it or better than their neighbors do it.

Eidlitz has seen men and women strain their backs moving refrigerators to clean up any crumbs, which, he said, is completely unnecessary. Only accessible chametz needs to be removed. People blowtorch ovens, damaging the thermostat and killing the gasket that lines the door, when all they really need to do is turn the temperature up as high as it goes for about an hour.

While he lauds the impulse to be thorough about kashering, he laments that so many women can barely stay awake at seders because they’ve spent the week repapering every shelf, lining their refrigerator with heavy duty foil (thereby limiting air circulation and breaking the compressor) or covering the counters. All unnecessary, he says. If it’s clean and it’s cold it does not need to be kashered or covered. Only appliances or utensils that come into contact with heat need any special treatment.

In fact, it was from Eidlitz that I learned I hadn’t needed to kasher my hot water urn at all. I could have just cleaned the outside, and that’s it.

I’m not sure how I got it into my head that I need to drop a hot object into my urn. Heating a rock or a piece of metal and dropping it into boiling water is a standard method for kashering pots, because it causes the water to overflow, thus insuring that every part of the pot has been covered in boiling water.

I didn’t have a rock, so I decided to use a solid metal, blunt knife from my everyday stainless steel cutlery. I put the knife on the burner, and after a minute or so, I leaned over to turn the flame off.

Which is exactly when the knife exploded.

Turns out the core of the knife handle was made of ceramic or some other kind of porous composite rock. When I put the knife on the burner, the metal and the rock heated up at different rates, and the built-up energy resulted in the rock exploding out of the metal casing.

The explosion threw me backward and muffled my hearing.

Shards of something hit me straight on, and I shrieked, imagining myself forever blinded and scarred by what I thought was hot metal shrapnel all over my face, in my eyes, in my mouth.

I hobbled to the bathroom and washed off what I soon realized was a chalky substance. I had pocks all over my neck and some on my face, but I could still see — my eyes didn’t even hurt — and there was no blood or open wounds. I ended up with small burn blisters on my neck, eyelids, face and arms that were gone within a few weeks.

Brenner said L.A.’s Hatzolah has never been called for any exploding knife incidents, but there are plenty of other ways people have managed to hurt themselves.

To kasher granite or marble countertops, you pour a small amount of boiling water onto the counter. That can get kind of tricky, especially if you’re trying to keep the water from dripping onto wood cabinets or onto the floor. People often pour much more water than needed, Eidlitz said, and sometimes the water spills into their shoes, which can cause severe burns.

Brenner has had cases of people playing with the fire as they kashered. Or a man might grab a utensil he thinks needs to be dipped in boiling water, only to find out that his wife just removed it from the steaming cauldron.

Most often, Brenner, himself a responder, sees cooking accidents.

“You’re in a rush to take something off the stove or out of the oven, and many times you put it down the first place you find, not realizing it’s too close, in the reach of young children,” Brenner said.

He warns of leaving cords for hot water urns loose, vulnerable to being pulled down.

Eidlitz thinks many of the accidents, and the general exhaustion of Pesach, would be mitigated if people asked more questions about what they really need to do.

But he knows he’s fighting an uphill battle. And he admits the zealotry of Passover may have advantages.

“There is a good reason why statistically only between 11 and 18 percent of people buy all kosher food year round, but over 70 percent do for Pesach,” Eidlitz said. “And that’s because as little girls, women today saw their mothers and bubbes working their kishkes [guts] off to make sure that everything is so meticulous. And something that important gets ingrained in a person.”

Be aware of the danger of fire with Chanukah candles


Candles burning, latkes frying, lights glowing. The holiday of Chanukah is wrapped in warm and comforting images, unless you’re a firefighter. Then you recognize these seemingly innocent traditions as hazardous warnings for a December you may never want to remember.

The combination of kids running around, mom attempting recipes of deep-fried treats and dad trying to bring a cheerful glow to the home often amount to a disaster zone for pans spilling, wires sparking and candles falling.

According to a U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) study, national fire loss for December is estimated at $990 million across the United States annually. Each year, these losses result from an estimated 128,700 fires that required a fire department’s direct response. These “December fires,” as the local firefighters refer to them, cause an average of approximately 1,650 injuries and 415 fatalities.

The USFA cites cooking as the leading cause of residential building fires in December, accounting for 41 percent of all the blazes. The agency explains that “cooks in the kitchen may find themselves distracted with holiday guests, entertaining and last-minute details. Unfortunately, these distractions can turn into fire hazards all too quickly. Over half (54 percent) of December residential building cooking fires are the result of either the food or the equipment being left unattended.”

These December fires also account for some of the most expensive and dangerous types of accidents, because they are often located at places and times where lots of people are congregated in the heart of the home. The USFA also notes that nationally “during this period, the daily number of residential structure fires caused by children playing fluctuates but remains around 40 per day” and increases throughout the holiday season as children are left unattended around candles.

But the Festival of Lights would be hard pressed to abandon the candles that so define the festival. Although Hillel and Shammai may have once disagreed on candle order and lighting direction, never did they consider abandoning the custom.

Candles, however, are what fire departments cite as being the catalyst for 3 percent of all residential building fires during the holidays. As the initial heat source in these cases, candles lead to residential building fires when they are left unattended or are lit next to flammable items. More candle-related fire incidents occur in December than in any other month.

Community members are becoming alarmed by these trends. The Orthodox Union (OU) was prompted to issue a statement concerning fire safety during Chanukah as part of its initiative, “Safe Homes, Safe Shuls, Safe Schools” program. Emanuel Adler, OU Synagogue and Community Services Commission chair, announced: “Any fire has the potential to do severe damage, but the pain increases when fire transforms a joyful holiday like Chanukah into a tragedy. Chanukah presents us with the opportunity to sensitize the community to dangers associated with use of fire in many of our observances.”

At Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s preschool, fire safety and stressing to children that candles are for grownups is an important component of teaching youngsters about the holiday, said Elizabeth Cobrin, an assistant teacher. As the teachers light the matches before saying the prayer, they say, “matches and fire are,” and the kids scream back “hot, hot, hot,” Cobrin said.

Rabbi Jack Abramowitz, associate director of OU’s department of synagogue services, emphasizes: “It is incumbent upon parents to be aware of the environment surrounding the candles, as well as what their children and pets may be up to. It’s always important to know what your children are doing, but it’s absolutely imperative when you have half a dozen fully loaded menorahs blazing.”

The Los Angeles Fire Department warns everyone to be aware of some basic safety precautions when using candles anytime of the year.

Street smarts safety program helps Orthodox kids combat abuse


Thirteen first-graders sit on the rug in their classroom at Shalhevet School, several with their hands raised. A guest speaker has just asked, “What would happen if you got lost at Toys ‘R’ Us? Who would be someone you could ask for help?”

“Someone who works there,” one of the children calls out.

“Good. And how would you know who works there?” the speaker responds, holding up a picture of a cashier wearing a blue vest.

The speaker, Marlene Kahan, is a volunteer who has come to present Safety Kid. The program — its full name is the Aleinu Julis Child Safety Program — was developed by the Aleinu Family Resource Center, the arm of Jewish Family Service that reaches out to the Orthodox community. Safety Kid’s goal is to teach day school children about safety issues — including sexual abuse — in a culturally sensitive manner.

Visual aides show boys and men wearing yarmulkes, as well as women in skirts and children walking to synagogue. Discussions about strangers who might come to the front door mention not only the UPS man, but “the man who comes to collect funds for Eretz Yisrael.” The instructional cards are currently being adapted for use in non-Orthodox Jewish day schools as well, and will likely be introduced this school year.

The Safety Kid program is the latest in a series of proactive programs Aleinu has developed over the past few years to protect children from abusive situations and to help parents and institutions know how to handle such crises when they come up.

While in the past abuse was not openly discussed in the Orthodox community, Aleinu has made it a priority to bring the problem to the forefront so that children, parents, teachers and rabbis can deal with it in an informed and intelligent manner. The Los Angeles agency has become a national leader in the Orthodox world in creating these programs and policies.

The urgency for such programs became apparent over the last several years, when incidents of sexual or emotional abuse in Orthodox schools, shuls and youth groups were described in articles in the Jewish press.

The number of incidents in the Orthodox community doesn’t exceed the national average, but within the past two years, there have been high-profile incidents in Boston, New York and Los Angeles. Aleinu Director Debbie Fox, who developed Safety Kid with colleague Wendy Finn, says that the program was produced in response to such episodes.

“We wanted to do something to help by providing tools which could help prevent future occurrences,” Fox said.

More than five years ago, Fox began working with Aleinu’s Halachic Advisory Board to develop a conduct policy for school administrators and teachers. The policy stipulates appropriate and inappropriate behavior, both verbal and physical.

School personnel also receive training on how to spot and report signs of abuse. Since its introduction in 2002, the policy has been adopted by 28 Los Angeles-area schools. Torah U’mesorah, a national umbrella organization for Orthodox schools, adapted and adopted the policy for its 700 constituent schools.

But Fox wanted something specifically geared for the children — a way to give them tools to help prevent incidents. She first tried adapting material produced by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, but found it didn’t resonate with Orthodox audiences.

When she shared her concerns, Aleinu board member Mitch Julis and his wife Joleen came forward with a grant to adapt the materials, and Safety Kid was born. The couple has since pledged funding for the next four years.

The program involves a 45-minute classroom presentation, given by a trained volunteer; a 10-minute video; and a take-home kit containing a coloring book, DVD, mouse pad and magnet. Prior to the student presentations, the school principal is introduced to the materials and a parent workshop is held.

Nettie Lerner was hired by Aleinu a year ago to bring the program to local schools.

“This is revolutionary in the Orthodox community,” she said. “Historically no one talked about abuse. Now we have a way to prevent [problems] and empower children.”

Safety Kid, named for a character on the DVD, teaches “The ABCs of Safety,” which include such strategies as asking for help in troubling or dangerous situations; bringing a friend when going places; checking with parents before changing agreed-upon plans; telling parents or other trusted adults when someone has done something to make them feel uncomfortable; and safely exploring the Internet.

Children are taught the difference between a surprise (something good that will eventually be revealed) and a secret (something that feels bad, that is not supposed to be shared). They are encouraged to yell “no,” run and tell a trusted adult if someone asks them to do something they shouldn’t. They learn the difference between “OK” touches and “not OK” touches.

Kahan, who addressed the Shalhevet first-graders, is one of 16 parent volunteers who travel to different schools to present Safety Kid. “I hope they learn to think before they act — to not be so impulsive,” says the mother of three. “Maybe you can save them from some situation.”

Organizers acknowledge the fine line between empowering and frightening. “We make sure not to scare the kids,” Lerner said. “We give them tips for safety and things to think about.”

Lerner said that every Orthodox school in Los Angeles received the presentation during the 2006-2007 school year. This school year, Safety Kid will be presented at Conservative and community day schools, using materials with modified graphics. Future plans include developing a pre-school program and one for older children.

The program has already attracted interest outside of Los Angeles. Fox has received inquiries from counterparts in Chicago, New York, Montreal, London, Phoenix, San Diego and Seattle.

“The community has acknowledged the issues,” she said, “and we have provided a way that works to prevent problems and empower children.”

Family Safety Day will be held at Shalom Institute, September 8, 34342 Mullholland Highway, Malibu. For more information, call (818) 206-2222 or visit http://www.grodanlaw.com and click on seminars.

Biometric sensor makes the Web safer for children


The statistics are enough to alarm any parent.

According to a recent survey, one in five children online have been approached by a pedophile and received unwanted sexual solicitations. At the same time, the San Diego Police Department reports that two in five abductions of children ages 15 to 17 are Internet-related. The U.S. government estimates that at any given moment there are 50,000 pedophiles prowling Internet chat rooms looking for children to befriend and meet.

And if that’s not worrying enough, more than 20,000 new images of child pornography are posted on the Internet every week, and that pornography, disturbingly available and often sent unsolicited to young children, is becoming increasingly graphic and violent, according to child protection agencies.

In the March trial of a pedophile, Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein told the court: “Every parent’s worst nightmare is just one mouse-click away. Parents who let their children use the Internet without supervision might just as well drop them off alone on the most dangerous street in the world.”

Scared? It’s the natural response, as is the impossible instinct to hover constantly behind your child as he surfs. But now, an

After Agoura eruv dismantled, residents ask ‘What’s up with that?’


Construction of an eruv in the Conejo Valley was nearly complete last month when area residents began complaining to public officials about aesthetics and safety concerns as well as a lack of proper permits. Last week the eruv’s organizers ordered all remaining portions along the enclosure’s 5-mile perimeter be dismantled.

“We are sorry that mistakes were made and that the eruv was put up in an incorrect way,” Eruv Committee spokesman Eli Eisenberg told a hostile crowd of about 60 Conejo residents during the Oak Park Municipal Advisory Council (MAC) meeting on Jan. 23.

The Agoura Eruv, a project conceived by a small group of local Chabad congregants, covered portions of Agoura Hills and Oak Park, as well as a small sliver of Westlake Village. The Oak Park segment of the eruv had been taken down prior to the Jan. 23 meeting, and on Jan. 25 the Eruv Committee officially ordered the elements in Agoura Hills and Westlake Village dismantled.

Emotions have died down considerably since the removal of the eruv, a project that took three years of planning and cost at least $25,000. Still, questions linger about how such a commitment of time, money and expertise could have ended so badly. And after the Oak Park MAC meeting, many Conejo residents are wondering whether the Eruv Committee will try again.

“I’m happy now that it’s down,” said Tom Hughes, president of Morrison Estates Owners’ Association, representing a development of 360 luxury homes in Oak Park. “Nobody liked it,” he added, calling it a “blight” and questioning its safety.

An eruv, which literally means “blending” in Hebrew, uses a monofilament line strung across utility poles as well as existing boundaries, such as mountains and freeway walls, to transform a public space into a symbolic private one.

Observant Jews put up eruvs to allow themselves boundaries in which they can carry children and keys, for example, or push strollers and wheelchairs without violating the laws of Shabbat.

Consultant Howard Shapiro, who served as project manager of the 50-mile Los Angeles Eruv and consulted on three others, was contracted by the committee to design the Agoura Eruv. Shapiro used existing boundaries whenever possible and noted that up to 70 percent was contained by such borders.

Construction on the Agoura Eruv began during the last week of December 2006. Shapiro hired a contractor who installed the eruv, giving the contractor’s name as Rafael Farias of Coast to Coast Installation, and saying he had worked with Farias on four previous eruvs.

In Oak Park, where the utilities are buried underground and only light poles edge the roads, additional 20-foot poles, called lechim, had to be erected to string the monofilament line. Residents objected to the obtrusive appearance of the poles, especially along Jacobs Court near Lindero Canyon Road. Plus, several poles were placed on private property without prior permission and others were attached to street signs. Residents also felt the line itself, in an area with few overhead wires, was unsightly and hazardous.

Shapiro attributed part of what he called the “lynch mob” reaction of many residents to a clash of cultures.

“This is a different community,” Shapiro said. “In L.A., there are overhead wires everywhere. No one’s going to care. Here it’s very noticeable.”

Shapiro also said that he thought Tom Block, an Agoura Hills resident who initiated the eruv and organized the committee, understood how the finished eruv would look, having toured the area several times together.

“But it’s one thing to talk and another to see,” said Shapiro, who maintains that the eruv was installed correctly.

Block, a formerly secular Jew who has become more religiously observant over the past 15 years, admitted that in hindsight he didn’t really understand what a “lechi,” or pole, was.

But perhaps most problematic were the permits. Block submitted permit applications to the cities of Agoura Hills and Westlake Village, both in Los Angeles County, and, for Oak Park, to the Ventura County Transportation Commission.

He also submitted a plan to Southern California Edison, which has jurisdiction over all the light poles that would be affected, with a detailed map of the entire area to be enclosed by the eruv. On the permit itself, however, only the city of Agoura Hills was listed, with Oak Park and Westlake Village left off.

“Everyone was on the same page and knew it was for the whole area I had mapped out,” Block said, calling it an “accidental omission.” But when a few vocal neighbors in Oak Park started making a fuss, Ventura County revoked the permit, saying it had been contingent on Southern California Edison’s permission.

Some residents were also upset that three red-tailed hawks, which are protected by the Migratory Bird Act, had been downed, one fatally, by injuries that could be consistent with flying into a wire. The birds were discovered between Dec. 28 and Jan. 7, according to Oak Park resident Peggy Abate, which correspond to eruv construction dates.

“To me, it’s not an issue of whose fault it is. There were mistakes made by everyone involved,” Block said. “I’m willing to take responsibility.”

The Agoura Eruv would have served the bulk of families who attend Shabbat services at Chabad of Agoura Hills and Chabad of Oak Park, both part of Chabad of the Conejo. But committee spokesman Eisenberg emphasized that construction of the eruv was not a Chabad undertaking.

“Rabbi [Moshe] Bryski made it clear from the very start that he would only support the eruv if it is done outside of Chabad as a community-based effort,” said, referring to Chabad of the Conejo’s executive director.

Since the Eruv Committee never officially incorporated, Bryski agreed to lend Chabad’s name to the permit and insurance applications and to provide rabbinic advice as needed.

Eruvs are not new to Los Angeles. In addition to the Los Angeles Eruv, which comprises a large portion of the San Fernando Valley, smaller ones exist.
Also, after four years of negotiation, an eruv was recently approved for the Venice area, extending along the coastline. In the West San Fernando Valley, an eruv enclosing a 25-square-mile area is expected to be completed in late February.

Fate of Santa Monica apartment building embroils rabbi and residents in legal battle


One late afternoon in October 1978, Hertzel Illulian, a Chabad student from Brooklyn, was silently praying mincha outside the Intercontinental Hotel in Tehran. He took three steps back after reciting the Amidah, the service’s central prayer, and found himself surrounded by a wall of men, secret police dressed in street clothes.

They threatened to cart him off to jail, eventually dismissing him and taking a local Iranian Jew instead.

This was a period of massive unrest in Iran, as pro-Ayatollah Khomeini supporters engaged in often violent street demonstrations against the shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who had imposed martial law and whose tanks and troops patrolled the streets. But Illulian, then 19, didn’t feel scared.

“I was courageous,” he said. “I had the purpose to save Jewish children.”

He was an official Chabad student shaliach, or emissary, working on behalf of the Brooklyn-based National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education, and armed with the coveted blessing of Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Schneersohn. This was the beginning of his now-legendary mission to help transport about 3,000 young Jewish Persians, most ranging in age from 12 to 19, using I-20 student visas, from an increasingly dangerous Iran to safety in the United States.

Today, Illulian, a rabbi active in the Los Angeles Persian community, finds himself embroiled in a different kind of revolt. It’s taking place in the normally laid-back city of Santa Monica. And while the two factions aren’t lobbing Molotov cocktails or overturning and burning cars, emotions are running at a fever pitch, and angry accusations are being vehemently fired off in both directions.

On one side are the residents and supporters of the Teriton, a 28-unit, three-story garden apartment building designed by architect Sanford Kent in 1949, which sits on almost an acre at 130-142 San Vicente Blvd. It is around the corner from Ocean Avenue, across the street from Palisades Park and the bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean.




Built in the midcentury Modern Vernacular style, with a flat roof and smooth stucco exterior, it actually consists of two low-rise buildings surrounding an L-shaped landscaped courtyard. It was sold for an estimated $10.5 million last April.

On the other side is Or Khaim Hashalom, a nonprofit religious organization, whose name means Living Light of Peace, and which was incorporated last January. It allegedly purchased the building.

The members want to evict the existing tenants, tear down the building and replace it with 40 units, plus a synagogue and possibly a day care facility for refugees from the Middle East, according to real estate and land-use attorney Rosario Perry, the group’s spokesperson and lawyer. Illulian identifies as the organization’s spiritual leader.

In this current confrontation, as opposed to the life-threatening danger he experienced in Tehran over 30 years ago, Illulian appears less confident. “I didn’t know it was going to be such a thing,” he said.

On its face, this “thing” — first brought to light in a series of stories on The Rip Post, a blog and Web site written by veteran Los Angeles journalist Rip Rense — is a typical battle between developers and tenants, between advocates of free enterprise vs. supporters of slow or no growth.

But ever since a “notice for pending demolition permit” sign was posted without prior warning on the Teriton’s lawn on Nov. 10, 2005, both sides have mobilized forces and escalated the battle, invoking what many say are self-serving interpretations of city and state laws. The demolition sign was posted in November at the time of a sale that ultimately fell through.

Particularly perplexing is the role of Illulian. He is a rabbi so observant that he doesn’t eat or drink anything outside a kosher sukkah during the entire eight-day harvest festival. He is a rabbi so revered that Iranians he rescued in the late 1970s and early 1980s, such as Los Angeles attorney Philip Nassimi Alexander, utter accolades like, “He’s a great man, a truly great man.”

Yet as the rabbi of Or Khaim Hashalom, his new nonprofit organization, he is so vague and seemingly dismissive of what should be an exciting and worthwhile venture, that many people suspect its true mission may be less than magnanimous.

Here’s what’s happening (See timeline below for specific dates):

The tenants and their supporters are claiming that the Teriton is eligible to be designated a Santa Monica city landmark. If this occurs, residents such as 85-year-old Kit Snedaker, a former food and travel editor of the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, who is retired and living on a fixed income and selling items on eBay to make ends meet, could remain in the two-bedroom apartment she shares with her cocker spaniel, Joe. So could Louis Scaduto, an architect who spent five years on a waiting list before he moved into the Teriton in 1997. Nathalie Zeidman, 91 and suffering from cancer, could also stay, as well as about 50 others, young and old, retired and working, some paying current market rates, others living in lower-cost rent-controlled apartments.

Building Battle Timeline

Nov. 10, 2005

“Notice for pending demolition permit” is posted on the Teriton’s lawn. K. Golshani and Asan Development are listed as the applicants. Because a building older than 40 years old is slated for demolition, it is automatically placed on the next city of Santa Monica Landmarks Commission meeting agenda.

Nov. 14, 2005

The Landmarks Commission, in its monthly meeting, reviews the Teriton’s eligibility. Chair Roger Genser requests the item be returned with more information. The demolition permit is subsequently withdrawn.

Jan. 30, 2006

Or Khaim Hashalom files with the California Secretary of State’s office as a religious nonprofit corporation.

April 2006

Tenants receive notice that Or Khaim Hashalom has purchased the Teriton and that rent checks should be made payable to Pacific Paradise Realty, the new management company. Kathy Golshani is listed as the contact.

July 2006

Landmarks Commission places Teriton on its July 10 meeting agenda.

July 7, 2006

Rosario Perry, attorney representing Or Khaim Hashalom, sends a letter to the Santa Monica city attorney declaring that under state law, Government Code Sections 37361 and 25373, the Teriton cannot be designated a landmark because it is owned by a religious nonprofit.

July 10, 2006

Representatives of both sides speak at the Landmarks Commission meeting. Barry Rosenbaum, senior land-use attorney for Santa Monica, points out that Or Khaim Hashalom has not yet held a mandated public forum but that the City Attorney’s Office will examine the statutes. Meanwhile, Landmarks Commissioners approve a motion to obtain more information on the Teriton property.

Aug. 11, 2006

Or Khaim Hashalom holds a public forum at the Gateway Hotel in Santa Monica to explain why the Teriton is exempt from landmark designation and to allow the public to respond.

Sept. 11, 2006

The Landmarks Commission unanimously votes to nominate the Teriton for landmark designation, pending further study. Perry announces that if the Teriton is approved as a landmark, he will file a lawsuit on behalf of his client.

Nov. 13, 2006

Landmarks Commission, on the basis of a more detailed historical assessment, as well as a recommendation from the Santa Monica Planning Division staff, will make a decision regarding the Teriton.

Landmark or Historic District Designation Criteria:
http://www.qualitycodepublishing.com/codes/santamonica/view.php?topic=9-9_36-9_36_100&frames=on

California Code Section 37361(c):
http://www.aroundthecapitol.com/code/code.html?sec=gov&codesection=37350-37364

— JU

The Teriton, as a building more than 40 years old and slated for demolition, is automatically being evaluated for landmark status. That process began in November 2005. But whether it meets at least one of the six criteria necessary for landmark designation — from exemplifying elements of the city’s cultural history to representing a significant example of a notable architect’s work — is questionable.

An impartial preliminary historical assessment, prepared by an outside consultant selected by the city and presented at a Sept. 11 Landmarks Commission meeting, states: “Nonetheless, because of its lack of individual historical and architectural merit, the property does not appear eligible for local landmark designation and, therefore, no further investigation into its historical and/or architectural significance is warranted nor recommended at this time.”

Despite that, the Landmarks Commission nominated the Teriton for landmark status, pending a more detailed report, as well as a recommendation from the city Planning Department. Commission chair Roger Genser defended the decision, noting that the commission also relied on a 1983 report by noted architectural historian Paul Gleye, which points to the Teriton’s significance as part of the San Vicente Courtyard Apartment Historical District.

Concurrently, Or Khaim Hashalom, through lawyer Perry, is claiming that the Teriton is exempt from landmark designation under California law, because it is owned by a nonprofit religious entity. The statute (Government Code Section 37361(c)), which allows religious organizations to alter or destroy historic buildings, was passed in 1994 in response to a decision by the Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco to close nine parish churches that had been damaged in an earthquake. It was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2001. The law has been used only once previously in Santa Monica, on behalf of the First Church of Christ Scientist, a pre-existing religious establishment, at Fifth and Arizona streets.

In a mandatory public hearing Aug. 11, Or Khaim Hashalom laid out its case. Perry, flanked by what he introduced as the organization’s executive committee — Illulian, another bearded rabbi in full Chasidic garb and five other kippah-wearing men — claimed economic hardship and an inability to pursue the nonprofit’s religious mission if the Teriton isn’t demolished and a larger building constructed.

Perry told the residents in attendance, “You are giving up your homes so people can come here, but we feel that you are more able to re-adjust to new housing than refugees from the Middle East.”

He entertained inquiries and comments from the audience. However, in response to specific questions about Or Khaim Hashalom, including its history, purpose and standing as an actual synagogue, Perry answered, “We are not here to answer questions about our organization.”

That’s the frustration. No one connected with Or Khaim Hashalom is forthcoming, and no factual and consistent information about the organization is available.

Various legal documents list three different addresses for Or Khaim Hashalom: Perry’s office, Illulian’s office and a lighting company on Jefferson Boulevard. On one deed of trust, Perry is listed as both the president and the secretary. On another, Rouhollah Esmailzadeh, the owner of the lighting company, signed as president. Illulian himself, after some hesitation, said he thought Or Khaim Hashalom’s president was “A.J.,” referring to Esmailzadeh’s son. He added, “I don’t know the technicalities. You have to ask Rosario [Perry].”

Many, like Teriton resident Scaduto, believe that Or Khaim Hashalom is “a blatant case of fraud.”

Rabbi Illulian’s response to this accusation was: “I think it’s unfair, just because people want to stay in this building and pay the price they paid 20 years ago. We’re doing everything within the system … legally, with God’s help.”

Rabbi Jeffrey Marx of Santa Monica Synagogue, who attended the hearing, was affronted by what he saw as a display of black-hatted rabbis paraded out to make a clear business venture look like a pious endeavor.

“Do they think everyone is an idiot?” he asked.

What about the claim of bringing in refugees? Illulian, who was raised in Milan, Italy, by parents born in Tehran, has a bona fide track record in this area. It was his idea to bring almost 3,000 young people out of Iran, working tirelessly from 1978 to about 1982 to accomplish it.

Sholem Hecht, rabbi of the Sephardic Jewish Congregation and Center in Queens, N.Y., who accompanied Illulian on his first trip to Tehran and assisted in the rescue, said, “There’s no question he played a very special role in the history of Iranian Jews in America.”

But in 1982, Illulian moved to Los Angeles, married and changed his focus. He became rabbi of Chabad Persian Synagogue in Westwood. Later, about six or seven years ago, he recollects, he founded and moved to JEM, Jewish Educational Movement, which is located in the former YMCA building Beverly Hills and which hosts a synagogue, as well as sports, educational and arts programs and camp experiences for youngsters. He is currently JEM’s rabbi.

Illulian is no longer affiliated with Chabad. According to Rabbi Chaim Cunin of Chabad of California, “He was dismissed some 10 years ago for personal reasons, which were not made public.” Cunin refused to elaborate. Illulian said he believes he was not dismissed.

Illulian has eight children ages, 14 to 24, and lives in Beverly Hills.

While he has worked in his family’s former furniture business in the past, he says he is a full-time rabbi. Still, he maintains an office in a medical building on Wilshire Boulevard near Crescent Heights Boulevard. Records from the Los Angeles County Assessor’s Office show he purchased a commercial office building on Wilshire Boulevard in December 2005 for $4.4 million.

When questioned about his new plan to bring in refugees, Illulian is vague. But according to Rezvan Armian, a social worker at Jewish Family Service in Los Angeles who oversees Iranian immigration, individual people cannot resettle immigrants; it must be done through HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) and the U.S. Department of State.

“Hertzel Illulian resettle? There is no way,” she said.

Illulian, however, claims he is helping small numbers of Jews escape from Iran and has been quietly doing this work since 1982. “I can’t say exactly what I’m doing, because I can’t endanger the lives of Jews in Iran,” he said.
So how are these ventures being financed? Who is paying for the claimed refugee rescue work? Who is funding the purchase of the Teriton? How does Or Khaim Hashalom expect to cover demolition and construction costs?

According to Illulian, the backers are supporters of Or Khaim Hashalom who wish to remain anonymous. Because it’s a religious nonprofit, the organization does not have to make its financial records public.

The building’s seller, Erwin Mieger, president of Teriton Investors LLC, said the buyer of the Teriton was a single individual. He also confirmed that the person who was trying to buy the building in November, when the notice of pending demolition sign was erected and before Or Khaim Hashalom was incorporated, was the same person who purchased it in April.

Dennis Golob, the Los Angeles attorney who represented Mieger’s company in the transaction, identified that buyer as Rouhallah Esmailzadeh, listed on one document as Or Khaim Hashalom’s president. Golob said he was unaware of the involvement of any religious organization. When told about Or Khaim Hashalom, he replied, “That’s really, really interesting.”

Or Khaim Hashalom, however, is the name listed as the owner in documents at the Assessor’s Office and the Recorder’s Office.

A number of roads also lead to a building on Westwood Boulevard. That’s the address of Novin Kathy Golshani, a real estate broker and owner of Pacific Paradise Realty, who represented the buyer in the transaction. She also requested the demolition permit, according to Santa Monica records.

Two people listed as local partners on Golshani’s Web site are also involved. An attorney at the same address, Douglas Weitzman, also represented the buyer. The name of a contractor, Asan Development, owned by Sasan Samimi, was also listed on the demolition permit request.

“So many buildings are torn down all the time, and there is no noise about it. I don’t know why this is such a big deal,” said Golshani, whose Web site promises, on its list of 10 commandments of real estate, “We shall walk away from any illegal and unethical transaction.”

Ultimately, the Teriton’s eligibility for landmark status will be decided by the Santa Monica Landmarks Commission at its Nov. 13 meeting. A determination on whether Or Khaim Hashalom fits the definition of a religious entity and meets the requirements necessary for landmark exemption will be decided separately by the City Attorney’s Office.

According to Barry Rosenbaum, city senior land-use attorney, “There are serious unresolved questions of whether the property owner is entitled to the protections of the statute.”

As for Illulian, he strongly prefers to focus on his early work in the late 1970s and early 1980s and on the thousands of Persian Jews whom he helped resettle both directly and indirectly and who are now living in Los Angeles. He sees himself as the man behind the extraordinary growth of “Tehrangeles.”

Illulian refers to the tumult surrounding the Teriton as “a little thing.” He said, “That’s not the important part of my life. I’d rather forget about it.”



Teriton resident Kit Snedaker, 85, with Cocker Spaniel Joe in her two-bedroom apartment in the Teriton. She has lived there since 1979.

Parent Wins School Pesticide Battle


A new law that bans that use of experimental pesticides in schools is the latest achievement of Robina Suwol, a Jewish anti-pesticide activist.

The law, which took effect last month, grew out of a presentation two years ago before an L.A. Unified School District (LAUSD) advisory committee of which Suwol was a part.

As Suwol recalled it, a researcher asked to use LAUSD school sites to test an experimental pesticide.

“The woman said, ‘We use less [pesticides] and they’re stronger [so] therefore they’re safer,'” Suwol said. “We all kind of laughed and politely declined.”

But in the back and forth, the researcher mentioned that a school site had already been secured in Ventura County for the experimental product.

“That haunted me, and I began to research it,” she said.

What Suwol said she found was an arena of murky practices and documentation. It wasn’t clear that experimental pesticides were being used at any schools, she said, but it also wasn’t clear that they weren’t or that they never had been — or that they wouldn’t be tried at school sites in the future. So she decided to do something about it.

Suwol soon met with various environmental and public health organizations to marshal opposition to experimental pesticides in schools: “Everyone was on board that this was a curious loophole.”

Assembly member Cindy Montanez (D-San Fernando) agreed to author the legislation, which became Assembly Bill 405. Assemblymember Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys) backed it, as did organizations including the California Medical Association, the state PTA, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, and many others.

An early critic of the effort was the state’s own Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR), which has responsibility over these matters. At the time, officials there characterized the proposed restrictions as potentially redundant, confusing and over-reaching.

While permission to test can, in fact, be granted to experimental pesticides whose safety has not been determined, these permits “are time-limited, relatively few, and are closely controlled under very specific and restrictive conditions,” said Glenn Brank, director of communications for the Department of Pesticide Regulation.

He added that the department “has never allowed an experimental pesticide project at an active school facility, and we never would.”

Suwol said she had trouble obtaining data from the department about experimental test sites. Brank insisted, however, that such data is publicly available on request.

As it happens, even the researcher whose comment prompted Suwol’s quest contends there was a misunderstanding. This different version of events was reported by a pesticide industry news e-journal on Pesticide.net called Insider, which identified the researcher in question as UC Berkeley entomologist Gail Getty.

Getty told Insider that she did indeed give L.A. Unified a presentation on an anti-termite poison that she was researching called Noviflumuron. But as for the Ventura County school test site, Getty told Insider that it was an abandoned school building fenced off from the public due to extreme termite damage — though she acknowledged that she did not mention this fact during her Los Angeles presentation. She added that her aim was simply to make LAUSD aware that a potentially helpful product was in the works. In the end, Getty told Insider, her test in Ventura never happened anyway. Noviflumuron received EPA approval in 2004.

Whatever the case, as far as Suwol and the legislation’s backers are concerned, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Lawmakers passed AB405 in 2005 and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the bill into law. The Department of Pesticide Regulation says it fully supports the new regulations in their present form. The bill was eventually amended to avoid the problem of creating potential legal hurdles if a school used a widely accepted product, such as bleach, in ways not specifically mentioned in regulations.

Suwol’s interest in the subject of pesticides dates to 1998, when a worker accidentally sprayed her 6-year-old son, Nicholas, with a weed killer as he walked up the steps of Sherman Oaks Elementary.

“I saw someone in white near the steps,” said Suwol, then “Nicholas yelled back at me, ‘Mommy, it tastes terrible!'”

Nicholas suffered a severe asthma attack afterward. Suwol started meeting with doctors and scientists, and she began raising concerns with L.A. Unified officials. At first she was treated like one more crazy mom, but she persisted, eventually getting the attention of the school board, where she got backing from board members Julie Korenstein and David Tokofsky.

In some cases, she made officials consider the obvious: Why should pesticides be sprayed when children are present?

Today, Suwol heads California Safe Schools, an L.A.-based nonprofit that advocates lower-risk pest control in schools, including barriers and natural predators, and keeping parents and school staff informed when poisons must be used. Its advisory board includes directors of various environmental organizations, including Dr. Joseph K. Lyou of the California Environmental Rights Alliance and William E. Currie of the International Pest Management Institute.

At L.A. Unified, her efforts bore fruit in the 1999 creation of the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) system, which recommends a more holistic approach to eliminating pests and weeds than simply dousing them with poisons. It was before the district’s IPM oversight committee, on which Suwol sits, that she first heard from the pesticide researcher and became convinced there was a problem that needed to be addressed.

The governor’s office and others, Suwol said, “recognized that this was a situation that, even if it happened in just a few instances, should be stopped.”

 

This Time They’re Ready for the Wave


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Women’s Lib Rises in Wake of Disaster

Some 50 South Indian villagers are spread out along the sandy beach. Women clad in brightly colored saris converse in groups, while men repair fishing nets. Teenage boys playfully tackle each other.

Then, the residents of Vellakoil get some news from fellow clansmen: Dangerous weather is on the way.

A year ago, when the tsunami hit, 19 died in this village of less than 500; 14 were children. And everyone’s house and belongings were washed away.

This time, they are ready.

As the storm descends, men, women and children fan out, each with a task. Some run into the Sea of Bengal to save those stranded in the water. They use rafts and life preservers made of readily available local materials, such as empty plastic water bottles and bamboo branches. Using makeshift stretchers — blankets stretched across tied bamboo — others carry the injured to a first-aid station.

Welcome to an emergency preparedness exercise organized by an Indian nonprofit, with support from the American Jewish World Service (AJWS).

The effort was launched about a decade ago in another part of India, after a devastating earthquake, through Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP), which stands for “self-learning through empowerment.”

Funds contributed after last December’s devastating tsunami are helping to pay for training and travel to make the program work. The idea is for villagers to help teach people from other villages, a concept central to the ideology of nonprofits funded by AJWS.

Vellakoil residents are serious about the drill. Beforehand, they proudly announce their duties — monitoring weather systems, performing first aid, documenting damage — to a group of visitors.

Of course, it’s hard to prepare for a tsunami that strikes on a clear day and sweeps inland across 4 kilometers of land, as happened here a year ago. But the planning already has paid dividends. Even though the region and the village suffered severe flooding during recent rains, residents successfully removed themselves and their belongings out of harm’s way.

This exercise begins and ends with villagers lined up along the beach, their arms outstretched as they pledge loyalty to their village and to each other.


In disaster drill, Vellakoil residents use supplies at hand — water bottles and bamboo — to fashion a rescue raft. Photo by Howard Blume

When they first performed the exercise about a month ago, at least one resident broke down in tears as memories resurfaced. Just two weeks before, a man who had lost two sons in the killer wave hanged himself. On this day, one woman recalls trying futilely to save two grandchildren.

For some, however, the emotions are beginning to subside. Several teenage boys wear excited smiles as they carry the “wounded” to safety.

Even psychological benefits are no small thing.

“Now we have confidence that we can escape,” says Kuppamanikkam, the woman who lost two grandchildren. “Now we no longer have to fear.”

Some Places To Give
A partial listing of organizations involved in tsunami relief

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
Web site: http://www.jdc.org/

American Jewish World Service
Web site: http://www.ajws.org/
45 West 36th Street, 10th Floor
New York, NY 10018-7904
Tel: (212) 736-2597
Regional: (415) 296-2533
Toll free: (800) 889-7146

Church World Service
Web site: http://www.churchworldservice.org/
Regional office: http://cwscrop.org/californiasouthwest/
2235 N. Lake Ave Suite 112
Altadena, CA 91001
Tel: (626) 296-3195
Toll Free: (888) CWS-CROP or (888) 297-2767

Doctors Without Borders
Web site: http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/
333 7th Avenue, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10001-5004
Tel: (212) 679-6800
Local: (310) 399-0049

Global Fund for Children
Web site: http://www.globalfundforchildren.org/
1101 Fourteenth Street, NW Ste. 420
Washington, DC 20005
Tel: (202) 331-9003

Global Greengrants Fund
2840 Wilderness Place Ste.
A Boulder, CO 80301
Tel: (303) 939-9866

International Medical Corps
Web site: http://www.imcworldwide.org/
919 Santa Monica Blvd. Ste. 300
Santa Monica, CA 90404
Tel: (310) 826-7800

International Rescue Committee
Web site: http://www.theirc.org/
122 East 42nd Street
New York, NY 10168-1289
Tel: (212) 551-3000

Mercy Corps
Web site: http://www.mercycorps.org/
Dept. W
3015 SW 1st Ave.
Portland, OR 97201 USA
Tel: (800) 292-3355

Oxfam

Web site: http://www.oxfamamerica.org/
26 West Street
Boston, MA 02111
Tel: (800) 77-OXFAM or (800) 776-9326

Some Places To Give
A partial listing of organizations involved in tsunami relief

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
Web site: http://www.jdc.org/

American Jewish World Service
Web site: http://www.ajws.org/
45 West 36th Street, 10th Floor
New York, NY 10018-7904
Tel: (212) 736-2597
Regional: (415) 296-2533
Toll free: (800) 889-7146

Church World Service
Web site: http://www.churchworldservice.org/
Regional office: http://cwscrop.org/californiasouthwest/
2235 N. Lake Ave Suite 112
Altadena, CA 91001
Tel: (626) 296-3195
Toll Free: (888) CWS-CROP or (888) 297-2767

Doctors Without Borders
Web site: http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/
333 7th Avenue, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10001-5004
Tel: (212) 679-6800
Local: (310) 399-0049

Global Fund for Children
Web site: http://www.globalfundforchildren.org/
1101 Fourteenth Street, NW Ste. 420
Washington, DC 20005
Tel: (202) 331-9003

Global Greengrants Fund
2840 Wilderness Place Ste.
A Boulder, CO 80301
Tel: (303) 939-9866

International Medical Corps
Web site: http://www.imcworldwide.org/
919 Santa Monica Blvd. Ste. 300
Santa Monica, CA 90404
Tel: (310) 826-7800

International Rescue Committee
Web site: http://www.theirc.org/
122 East 42nd Street
New York, NY 10168-1289
Tel: (212) 551-3000

Mercy Corps
Web site: http://www.mercycorps.org/
Dept. W
3015 SW 1st Ave.
Portland, OR 97201 USA
Tel: (800) 292-3355

Oxfam

Web site: http://www.oxfamamerica.org/
26 West Street
Boston, MA 02111
Tel: (800) 77-OXFAM or (800) 776-9326

Some Places To Give
A partial listing of organizations involved in tsunami relief

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
Web site: http://www.jdc.org/

American Jewish World Service
Web site: http://www.ajws.org/
45 West 36th Street, 10th Floor
New York, NY 10018-7904
Tel: (212) 736-2597
Regional: (415) 296-2533
Toll free: (800) 889-7146

Church World Service
Web site: http://www.churchworldservice.org/
Regional office: http://cwscrop.org/californiasouthwest/
2235 N. Lake Ave Suite 112
Altadena, CA 91001
Tel: (626) 296-3195
Toll Free: (888) CWS-CROP or (888) 297-2767

Doctors Without Borders
Web site: http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/
333 7th Avenue, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10001-5004
Tel: (212) 679-6800
Local: (310) 399-0049

Global Fund for Children
Web site: http://www.globalfundforchildren.org/
1101 Fourteenth Street, NW Ste. 420
Washington, DC 20005
Tel: (202) 331-9003

Global Greengrants Fund
2840 Wilderness Place Ste.
A Boulder, CO 80301
Tel: (303) 939-9866

International Medical Corps
Web site: http://www.imcworldwide.org/
919 Santa Monica Blvd. Ste. 300
Santa Monica, CA 90404
Tel: (310) 826-7800

International Rescue Committee
Web site: http://www.theirc.org/
122 East 42nd Street
New York, NY 10168-1289
Tel: (212) 551-3000

Mercy Corps
Web site: http://www.mercycorps.org/
Dept. W
3015 SW 1st Ave.
Portland, OR 97201 USA
Tel: (800) 292-3355

Oxfam

Web site: http://www.oxfamamerica.org/
26 West Street
Boston, MA 02111
Tel: (800) 77-OXFAM or (800) 776-9326

Don’t Get Lazy on Kids Summer Safety


Several years ago, before a rash of abductions made the headlines, before widespread sexual abuse in the clergy became news and before Michael Jackson was acquitted, five women got together to brainstorm a way to help children protect themselves from abduction, abuse and exploitation.

Mothers Advocating Prevention (MAP) developed a safety education program based on information gathered primarily from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Over the past four years, trained educators have taken the interactive, age-appropriate presentations into classrooms in public schools across the Palos Verdes Peninsula, reaching thousands of children.

In 2002, at the request of Jewish Family Services of Los Angeles, MAP safety educators trained mothers from Los Angeles day schools and helped create materials appropriate to the Orthodox environment.

Susan DiLeo, who serves on the executive board at Congregation Ner Tamid in Palos Verdes, is MAP’s executive director. She talked with The Jewish Journal about how parents can help keep their kids safe over the summer, and all year long.

Jewish Journal: What is the basic message MAP teaches kids?

Susan DiLeo: We teach children to follow five specific, simple safety rules we call the ABCs of safety:

A — Asking for help teaches them that if they get separated from a parent in public they need to know who ‘safe helpers’ are and how to find them. They need to find a cashier, law enforcement, or mom with kids.

B — Bring a friend simply is the buddy system; a child or teen alone always is a more vulnerable target.

C — ‘Check first’ teaches kids that they must let parents or guardians know where they are going and whenever there’s a change in plans. This rule is especially important for situations when kids are not with their parents — lessons, sports practice, parties, play-dates, etc.

D — Do tell. If someone says or does something to a kid that makes them scared or uncomfortable, they need to tell a trusted adult right away. And finally,

E — Explore the Internet safely. Many kids are more knowledgeable about computers than their parents. But household rules need to be followed about where they’re allowed to go online.

We explain how following these rules help children avoid being tricked by someone who might try to lure them, and we discuss various tricks predators use.

JJ: What happened to ‘Don’t talk to strangers’?

SD: We don’t recommend teaching ‘Stranger Danger.’ If a child is lost in public, their ‘safe helper’ most likely will be somebody they don’t know. Children see their parents talking to strangers all the time, which leads to confusion. Ask a child what a stranger is to them, and you’ll see how ambiguous the term is. Do they think the mail carrier is a stranger? My kids don’t. Most importantly, sexually abused children usually are exploited by somebody they know, not by a stranger.

JJ: What should parents know about summer camp?

SD: The ABC rules apply whether at camp, school or out in public. But parents should check out camps and summer programs carefully. Ask the director about background checks on individuals working there; make sure there’s adequate supervision and a proper camper/counselor ratio, especially with very young children. Inquire about all activities, field trips and transportation arrangements. I like to get recommendations from friends whose kids have already attended certain camps.

JJ: Some parents are uncomfortable talking about sexual abuse.

SD: Yes they are, but they don’t need to go into great detail. First, parents should discuss with their kids who trusted adults are in their circle of family and friends. These are people who might pick the child up from school unexpectedly, or whom the child could go to with a problem. Children need to know that they can discuss anything with their parents. We tell kids that their private parts are just that — private — and if somebody touches them in any way that makes them uncomfortable, they should tell a parent or trusted adult immediately, especially if that person tells them to keep it a secret. That’s a real red flag.

JJ: Parents tend to worry more about little kids, but aren’t middle school kids at greater risk?

SD: Yes, once kids hit middle school, they generally have more freedom to be away from home without direct supervision. Being out independently is new and exciting, and it can lead to riskier behavior. This makes the safety rules even more critical. We hear in the news all the time about teens and young adults who go missing.

JJ: What about the Internet?

SD: This is a crucial part of our program and one that parents are very concerned about. We teach kids never to give out personal information, to send pictures of anyone, or to make plans to meet in person somebody they met online. We show upper-grade children a video that demonstrates how savvy, online predators can find a person with only the smallest bits of information. You’d be surprised how kids leave clues in chat rooms about where they live without even realizing it.

Susan DiLeo and Julie Brown are founding members of Mothers Advocating Prevention as well as certified Safety Educators. For more information, visit ” target=”_blank”>www.meganslaw.ca.gov, and for more safety tips visit

Dive Into Home Swim Lessons


One of the biggest dangers for children during summer is drowning. Some people think enclosing a pool with a fence or covering it with a pool cover will render the area safe, but fences are accidentally left open and covers can be left off.

The only real solution is to teach children water safety and swimming, and the time before summer hits is the best to teach kids to swim. But you don’t necessarily need a school or private teacher.

4 months to 24 months

The age we recommend introducing children to swimming is 4 months old. At this age, babies are not really swimming, but they can move underwater and learn not to be afraid of the water.

Until the age of 2, it’s hard for a child to pick up his/her head and breath while swimming. What you should teach an infant to do is — after falling in the water — how to turn around and swim to the side of the pool. Even though, it is hard for them to climb up at this age, they can get to the side of the pool and cry for help.

The way we work with babies is by counting one, two, three, blowing air on their face — so they will close their eyes and mouth by reflex action — and then we take them underwater. After the baby is comfortable in the water and under the water, we start working on kicking. Hold their legs and move them up and down to get the baby used to the motion.

Next we let a baby sit on the side of the pool, hold them, count to three and put the child under the water for two seconds. By that point the baby should be kicking. If not, repeat the above steps over again. It is important to stay very calm with your baby and do everything slowly so the baby will feel comfortable and secure.

Ages 2 and Up

Older than 2, there are a few different ways to teach swimming.

1) Throw the kid into the water.

While this is the old way and could be very traumatic, it actually works 70 percent of the time. The other 30 percent, the child becomes very traumatized, and typically it is then very hard to acclimate them to the water after that experience. I don’t recommend this method. Even though it is fast, the dangers are greater than the rewards.

2) Learning with floaties.

This is an easy technique to teach, but could be very dangerous. Since the child learns to rely on the floaties, if your child ends up in the water alone he/she won’t be able to swim. This method is fast, but the transition to swimming without them could take very long. The way to do it with Floaties is to teach the kids to kick with straight legs over the water and to make long strokes with outstretched arms while their face is in the water.

3) Teach kids to swim without floaties from the beginning.

(Please note: children need to be held and supervised closely at all times in the water until they know how to swim. It is OK to use floaties when the kids are just playing in the water.)

First stage: Teach the child to put his/her face in the water. Then teach the child to kick while holding the edge of the pool or steps. From there, teach your child how to do long strokes with hands while sitting on the steps. After mastering these skills, move to the second stage.

Second stage: Stand two feet away from the steps and tell your child to put his/her face in the water, push and swim to you. Slowly, take another (and another) step back so your child can swim to you. Be aware that this takes time. You have to go through the basic steps over and over again before you let your child try on his/her own. In practice, we hold the child by the hips, letting him or her practice arm strokes and kicking.

Usually, if the child is not afraid to put their face in the water, we can teach him or her to swim in six to 12 lessons of 30 minutes each. It could take you a little longer.

Gal and Galia Yardeni are sports teachers with bachelor’s degrees in sports education from Wingate University in Israel. They own and operate a swim school in Los Angeles and specialize in early childhood development. Galia Yardeni was an Israeli swim champion. She teaches kids through fun and games. For more information, call (310) 739-7257.

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Schools Adopt Guide to Block Sex Abuse


A national group representing more than 700 Orthodox day schools recently adopted sexual abuse prevention guidelines that were developed by a department of the Jewish Family Service (JFS) in Los Angeles.

Nearly all of the two dozen Orthodox schools in Los Angeles had signed on to a similar policy last year aimed at preventing and reporting verbal, emotional, physical and sexual abuse. Torah U’mesorah, The National Society for Hebrew Day Schools, adapted its new policy from the one implemented in Los Angeles.

“We need to develop a culture of creating safety,” said Debbie Fox, director of Aleinu Family Resource Center of JFS, which wrote the guidelines. “It’s not only, ‘don’t abuse the child,’ but watch the way you talk with them, watch the way you correct them or encourage them to change, watch the teasing that goes on.”

A version of the policy will be discussed at a training session for camp directors next week, and Fox encourages parents to ask camps whether their counselors have signed on to the guidelines.

Last summer, when the abuse policy was in its final draft form, David Schwartz was accused of molesting 4-year-old boys at an Orthodox day camp in Culver City. He is currently serving one year in a residential facility, after which he will be on probation for five years.

The Schwartz case was one in a string of abuse incidents that has rocked the Orthodox community over the last few years. Locally, Rabbi Mordechai Yomtov is currently on probation after serving a year in prison for molesting boys at Cheder Menachem school in the La Brea area.

Nationally, an Orthodox Union report found Rabbi Baruch Lanner guilty of widespread and long-term sexual, physical and psychological abuse of teens in three decades of work at the National Conference of Synagogue Youth. Lanner is free pending an appeal after being sentenced last June to seven years in prison for sexually abusing two girls when he was principal of a New Jersey yeshiva in the 1990s.

The Lanner case, in particular, opened up Orthodox channels of communication regarding the abuse issue and led to an increased vigilance among institutions.

The high-profile cases went along with what Fox was seeing through the lens of Aleinu’s caseload. When Fox came three years ago, the Orthodox Counseling Program, which recently changed its name to Aleinu, had 11 cases. Today it has about 50 clients and a program of placing social workers in schools, through which it serves about 150 children a week.

In addition, Aleinu runs Nishma, a hotline that was initially conceived as a spousal abuse line, but, like Aleinu, has broadened its mandate after receiving a wider range of calls.

“What we deal with every day are the problems, but that is not an indication that the Orthodox community has significantly more problems than anyone else,” Fox said. “It is an indication that we are creating an environment where we can face these issues and invite them to come forward, so we can deal with them as well as we can.”

One of the issues she saw was sexual abuse. Early last summer, Fox convened a meeting with the Halachic Advisory Board of Jewish Family Service and the Rabbinic Council of California’s (RCC) Family Commission, two groups that work closely together.

With input from parents, educators, mental health professionals and the scrutinizing panel of rabbis, plus endorsement from leading halachic authorities, Aleinu developed the Conduct Policy and Behavioral Standards for Orthodox Schools.

The policy goes further than forbidding sexual contact or even the use of explicit language, materials or sexual innuendo. It warns teachers and staff never to be secluded with a child. There is strong wording against the use of physical force and any unwelcome physical contact, as well as against making any comments about a student’s body or clothing.

Teachers and staff are warned against denigrating students or attempting to manipulate students through psychological means, and they are forbidden from instructing students to keep secrets from parents or administration.

All teachers, staff, administrators and clerical and custodial staff are required to sign the guidelines.

When abuse is suspected, either at home or in school, Aleinu guides the family through the legal system and makes sure all their needs are met — from finding a Jewish foster home, if necessary, to making sure a carpool is arranged to going into the school to talk with teachers, principals and other students.

Rabbi Berish Goldenberg, principal of Yeshiva Rav Isaacsohn-Toras Emes and chair of the RCC’s Family Commission, noted how far the Orthodox community has come in tackling difficult issues openly.

The embrace of an Aleinu social worker and the adoption of the abuse guidelines at Toras Emes — where much progress has been made in the last few years away from an old-school style of education — are indicative of the community’s newfound willingness to combine modern psychological sensibilities with a strictly observant mindset.

Goldenberg attributes the leap to the growing roster of problems today’s families face and an awareness that professional help is neither treif (non-kosher) nor a shandah (humiliation).

“And there are many Orthodox people in the mental health professional world today, so there is more trust,” Goldenberg added.

The advisory board rabbis, who themselves go through psychological training, are available around the clock to answer halachic questions and counsel clients. In one instance, a rabbi sat in on a counseling session to answer a 16-year-old girl’s question about whether testifying against her father violated the mitzvah of honoring your parents. Another time, a rabbi and social worker together counseled an abused wife who wanted to know whether she was required to go to the mikvah to perform the ritual bathing that would make sex with her husband permissible.

When Schwartz was sentenced, both Goldenberg and Rabbi Gershon Bess, one of the most respected rabbis in the city, spoke in court to offer support to the victims. When Schwartz is released in February, he will be — willingly or not — in the jurisdiction of the RCC’s beit din (rabbinical court), which might impose limits on where he may go to shul, which simcha (celebration) he may attend and whether he may enter public restrooms alone.

Like all of Aleinu’s programs, even the beit din’s monitoring will most likely have a restorative angle, guiding Schwartz through therapy, for example.

“The beauty is that the rabbis are so sensitive to mental health issues and to understanding what we do so clearly, that their response is very sensitive to the issues of the person,” Fox said. “It’s a beautiful thing.”

For more information on Aleinu or to sign up for “Keeping Our Campers Safe,” on Thursday, June 26, 9-11 a.m. at 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, call 323-761-8816.

Going Forth as a Driver


On May 7, exactly 16 years minus 5 1/2 hours after his birth, my son, Gabe, took his driving test at the Winnetka Department of Motor Vehicles office.

"Are you nervous?" the test instructor asked.

"Yes," Gabe answered.

"Don’t be, or we’ll both be dead."

I, too, was nervous. Nervous that he wouldn’t pass the driving test. And nervous that he would. And so, while he demonstrated his ability to start, stop, turn and back up in a straight line, I paced inside the building and out, like an expectant father outside a maternity ward, not allowed to witness the actual birth.

And birth it is. Of an adult. With a newly bestowed sense of independence and responsibility.

As a parent, I fear for his safety.

"It’s 100 percent guaranteed every new driver will have an accident," our insurance agent said. And, already, Gabe has put a major gash in the front fender.

"That’s your free one," my husband, Larry, said.

Worse, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that two out of five deaths among U.S. teens result from motor vehicle crashes.

Legally and technically, Gabe has been prepared by Valley Bob’s Driving School. And while the name may not inspire confidence, the school has ably provided the requisite hours of classroom and behind-the-wheel instruction, as well as extra defensive driving training. Plus, Larry and I spent more than 50 hours driving with him.

Emotionally and spiritually, Gabe has been prepared by his Judaic studies class at Milken Community High School. There, he created a driving amulet, a project that acknowledges this all-important rite of passage in the life of every 10th-grader.

According to Rabbi Bob Baruch, Gabe’s Judaic studies teacher, "The big theme in the 10th-grade curriculum is lech lecha, going forth. God says to Abraham, ‘Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.’ Obtaining the driving license is part of the going forth for yourself."

Baruch explained to the students that amulets are magic charms that give people power and protection.

"They come from the Jewish folkloric and superstitious tradition but also have deeper spiritual meaning to people," he said.

The project, now in its second year, was created by Judaic studies teacher Andrea Hodos and artist-in-residence Benny Ferdman and incorporates both symbols and Torah verses.

"Our goals are celebrating independence; acknowledging the need for protection, both from God and from inner demons; and recognizing responsibility. They actually spell CAR," Hodos said.

And so, on a small rectangular piece of wood, the students designed their amulets, first selecting a Jewish symbol with significance to them. Students chose lions, unicorns, hamsas (an amulet shaped like a hand), elephants and other symbols that they traced onto a piece of copper. Next, they made the symbol stand out by repeatedly tapping the area outside the design with a nail before attaching it to the amulet.

"This isn’t easy. You have to beat it, to shape it to your will," Ferdman said.

Gabe chose an endless knot, which, to a parent, is a perfect depiction of adolescence.

"My journey is just beginning, but it never ends," Gabe explained.

Students added one to three verses of Jewish text pertaining to independence, protection or responsibility, which they engraved, usually cryptically, with a wood-burning pen. Some selected "their eyes were opened" (Genesis 3:7) or "you shall be a blessing" (Genesis 12:2). Gabe chose the concept of pikuah nefesh (the saving of lives).

"Nothing is more important," he said. "When you’re driving, you have to have respect for the power you control."

In addition, students added a traffic sign such as No U Turn, Keep Right or One Way, which they glued onto the amulet.

"Look at traffic signs as symbols. Turn the road into a poetic experience," Ferdman said.

Gabe took Maintain Top Safe Speed.

"You can’t ‘wuss out,’" he said.

They also added other personal symbols, often indecipherable to others.

"The owner of the amulet is the only one who needs to know what it means," said Ferdman.

On the last day of class, the students received their finished amulets, which Ferdman had shellacked and fitted with a key ring. Together with Baruch, they recited the "Shehecheyanu," marking this milestone which, in our culture, short of sexual initiation, most says adult.

As a parent, I realize I cannot accompany Gabe on his journey. Nor can I always protect him. But I hope that this amulet, which he has attached to his key chain, will protect him by reminding him of who he is and what he believes, by reminding him that he as well as the others on the road are created b’tzelem Elokim (in the image of God).

And I hope, as God says to Abraham as he sets off on his journey, that Gabe, too, "will be a blessing." To his family, his community and, most of all, to himself.


Jane Ulman lives in Encino with her husband and four sons.

Latkes That Last


Finally! You can now say goodbye to those weird frozen triangles of premasticated potatoes that pass for latkes after Chanukah has ended and the frying pan and grater have been packed up. Scientists at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa have come up with an alternative way to preserve food, which promises to keep latkes frying-pan fresh — even months later — without extreme heat, chemicals or freezing. Instead, they zap the food with pulsed shockwaves — a process that takes a second, but kills microbes, harmful enzymes and bacteria. Since no chemicals are used, the flavor of the food remains the same, but its shelf life is increased exponentially.

"There is really a great need for alternative preservation methods in order to get safety and shelf life," said Dr. Hadassa Zuckerman, a lecturer in food engineering and biotechnology at the Technion, who helped develop this system. "There are many materials that cannot be preserved by heat or other methods because then they lose their functional properties."

Latke eaters are not the only ones who are going to be able to welcome this procedure. Shockwaves are also being used to preserve biological materials such as blood and plasma. "Without this system, it takes approximately one week to preserve plasma," Zuckerman told The Journal. "Our method takes a few seconds."

Zuckerman called this preservation method "revolutionary" and said that they are still testing its uses.

"We were convinced that latkes were only worth eating fresh out of the oven," she said. "Now we may all have to reconsider that notion."