Healthy, kosher hot lunches rare in L.A. Jewish schools


On a Thursday this past March, at around 11:40 a.m., the alluring scent of chicken schnitzel – freshly breaded and pan-fried — wafted through the parking lot of New Community Jewish High School (NCJHS) in West Hills.

The source was a truck from Alex Felkai’s kosher catering company, Kosher on Location. Though the company does the majority of its business over the weekends, catering elegant weddings and bar and bat mitzvahs, to keep his core staff busy during the week, Felkai had been selling lunch at NCJHS – every day except Friday – since the school opened 10 years ago.

But when NCJHS’s approximately 370 students (including one of Felkai’s children) return to school this fall, the kosher lunch truck won’t be there.

“We tried,” Felkai said, explaining that the cost of preparing and serving sandwiches and salads, burgers and burritos to the approximately 80 students, faculty and staff who bought lunch from the truck, was prohibitive.

“It was a difficult decision, but I never really made money on it,” Felkai said. “I kind of did it hoping that things would grow.”

In Jewish day schools across Los Angeles, Felkai’s story is a common one. With the first day of classes less than a month away, NCJHS isn’t the only high school that may not offer an in-school alternative to bringing lunch from home.

The Yeshiva University of Los Angeles (YULA) Girls School’s caterer is going into his third year, but the campus of the boys school on Pico Boulevard doesn’t have a kitchen or a cafeteria, nor is the school planning to build one anytime soon. At Shalhevet, a Modern Orthodox high school located on the corner of Fairfax Avenue and San Vicente Boulevard, the caterer who had been cooking in the kitchen during the last academic year just left.

“We’re busy interviewing caterers for next year,” Robyn Lewis, the new executive director at Shalhevet High School, told the Journal on Aug. 6.

On the whole, elementary schools seem more committed to providing a hot lunch program for their students, even if only a minority of students opts into the program.

Schwartz Bakery is about to start its third year providing food at the Yavneh Hebrew Academy, an Orthodox day school in Hancock Park.

“After working with our nutritionist, and after working with the school on a number of issues, we are very happy,” Yavneh Executive Director Lev Stark said.

According to Stark, about one-third of the approximately 470 students are signed up for the school lunch program.

At Yavneh, lunches can be bought in advance on a semiannual basis or purchased for $6 per day. The hot lunch program at Valley Beth Shalom Day School (VBSDS) in Encino offers parents and students more flexibility, to the point that students can choose to eat as few as two meals each month, or eat a hot lunch every single day.

“Overall, the parents appreciate the program,” said Gabrielle Baker, a mother of two students at the school who has been coordinating the hot-lunch program with another volunteer parent.

In addition to the flexibility, Baker said that parents appreciate the convenience of not having to make lunch for their children every day and feel that the food prepared by the synagogue’s in-house caterer, Starlite Catering, is reasonably nutritious.

“The only complaint is the cost,” Baker said. While it’s cheaper to purchase meals in advance, students can pay a little over $7 for a day’s lunch. “But there’s only a very limited amount that we can do to bring cost down.”

That’s because, Baker said, the food at VBSDS has to be certified kosher, and kosher food – and kosher meat in particular — is expensive.

Yavneh’s Stark also said cost was a hurdle to overcome.

“The big problem is the combination of trying to get a fantastic meal for $5. No one wants to pay $10 a meal,” he said. “This is where we worked very hard with Schwartz to make sure that it’s a viable business for them,” and that students still get a healthy and tasty meal that’s affordable.

Or, at least somewhat affordable. While Yavneh students pay $6 for lunch if they buy it that day (less if they sign up at the beginning of each semester), elementary school students attending schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District this fall will, by comparison, pay $1.50 if they buy lunch at school.

That lower price is due in part – but only in part — to the lower cost of non-kosher ingredients. It’s also a result of the subsidy (27 cents this year) the district receives from the United States Department of Agriculture for every meal it serves. The district receives more when it serves meals to the 80 percent of its students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches.

But the low prices also undoubtedly stem from the district’s being able to work on a massive scale. Compared to the LAUSD, which has more than 640,000 students in about 1,100 locations, each of Los Angeles’s private Jewish day schools is a boutique-sized operation.

“It just doesn’t work when maybe 80 kids eat,” said Felkai, who said that if NCJHS had been willing to charge all the students a lump sum of money (he said about $800 per year), he would have been able to feed everybody and make a profit.

“You have to make enough money to cover all the costs,” he said, “and if you only have a small volume, you just couldn’t do it.”

When a Jewish high school approached Brenda Walt to prepare lunch for its 200 female students, Walt, who runs her catering company from a synagogue’s kitchen, turned them down.

“It’s very, very hard because they really want it [the food] for nothing,” Walt said. The modest student volume also limits her ability to hold down per-meal costs.

Stark said Yavneh doesn’t mandate all of its students participate in its hot-lunch program, and that he didn’t know of any Jewish schools in Los Angeles that did so.

“But I do know if they did, it would solve the hot-lunch problem,” Stark said.

To keep their school-based caterers in business, small private Jewish schools at least should consider ways to protect them against the challenge of competition from other food vendors.

Randy Fried owns R House Foods, the catering company that recently left Shalhevet after occupying the school’s kitchen for a bit less than one year. Fried said he decided to leave the school in part because too few of the school’s approximately 200 students and faculty bought lunch at school for him to make a profit.

“By the time we got there,” Fried said, “the culture that existed was that 20 percent ate at school.”

Most students, Fried said, ordered food to be delivered to Shalhevet, and the most popular choices appeared to be fried chicken and pizza from kosher restaurants nearby.

Nancy Schiff, the school administrator at YULA Girls High School said that they specifically don’t allow students to order food to be delivered to the cafeteria.

“That would take away from Dudu,” the in-house caterer, who serves a made-to-order breakfast and a variety of set-meal and a la carte options for lunch, including sushi, wraps and various “kid-friendly foods” like lasagna, grilled cheese and quesadillas.

Students at YULA Girls School are allowed to bring their own lunches from home, of course; a few years ago, the overwhelming majority of the students at Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy did just that, leading the school to seek out a new caterer, who is going into her second year at the Orthodox elementary school in Beverly Hills.

Every Friday is pizza day at the Orthodox elementary school; getting the crust right took some tweaking.

“At the beginning of the [2011-12 school] year, we tried out all whole wheat [pizza crust],” the school’s principal, Jeffrey Tremblay, said last May. “Didn’t go so well there. The kids were picking off the cheese, and that’s about it.”

That Friday, a few minutes before their lunch period ended and the middle school girls entered the cafeteria, a few boys headed back to the kitchen window for another slice.

“After the seconds,” Tremblay explained, “then they can, if they’re still hungry, they can pay for a third if they want to.”

To Tremblay, that sixth-grade boys want a bit more pizza at lunchtime is a sign that the school’s caterer is doing her job well – better than the previous caterer, who served only canned fruits and vegetables. But nutritionists see second helpings as problematic.

“It’s not like in the Los Angeles Unified School District, where there are certain nutrition standards,” said Leeann Smith Weintraub, a registered dietician in Los Angeles who works with children enrolled in private Jewish day schools and in public schools. At private Jewish schools, she said, “there tend to be a lot of issues with portion sizes and not really getting a good balance between the food groups.”

The menu, Tremblay said, is still a work in progress. This fall, Hillel students who buy lunch at school will be able to serve themselves from a salad bar that has improved from last year, when the only vegetables were mixed greens, cucumbers and tomatoes.

“Now, we’ve added onions, sprouts, garbanzo beans for protein,” Tremblay said. “And low-fat and nonfat dressings only.”

Still, nearly everyone — nutritionists, parents and even school administrators — agrees that bringing a homemade lunch could be the healthiest choice for any student.

“My friends’ children take their food to school,” said Maryam Maleki, a registered dietician who works with Jewish and non-Jewish clients. “They would rather their children take their food to school because it’s healthier, and they’ll sparingly allow their children to eat the food at school.”

That perfectly describes Chavi Wintner, a mother of two young students at Hillel. “I like to know what’s in the food that I make,” Wintner said, over a late-morning breakfast of oatmeal and unsweetened decaf iced coffee.

Her children don’t participate in Hillel’s hot lunch program; instead, Wintner packs lunches that always include some fresh fruit and might feature some roasted vegetables or a sandwich of melted cheese on bread.

Still, Wintner was very vocal in the push to eliminate the vending machines selling Gatorade at Hillel. “I think that nutrition is part of the school’s responsibility to teach,” she said.

Groups praise child nutrition law, with qualms


Jewish groups praised the renewal of a law funding school meals, but expressed concern that it was financed in part by money designated for food stamps.

The approval in the U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act means the bill—which had been subject to some last minute wrangling—is ready for enactment by the president.

The bill extends for another ten years funding for school lunches and breakfasts for children from families that depend on the meals, estimated at 4.2 million households.

The passage “is an important achievement that will improve the lives of millions of children,” said Rabbi Steve Gutow, the president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the public policy umbrella for the Jewish community.  “This bill is an acknowledgement that in a nation as bountiful as ours, no child should worry about when their next meal will be.”

The JCPA was at the forefront of an interfaith coalition lobbying for passage.

Other groups that had sought the bill’s passage included the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center and the National Council for Jewish Women.

All three groups in their statements praising passage expressed regret that some of $4.5 billion in funding was drawn from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamp benefits.

“By imposing what amounts to a $60 per month cut in SNAP benefits for a family of four, Congress hurts the very families that this legislation is designed to help,” the RAC said. “Cutting SNAP benefits during the third consecutive year of rising poverty rates negates the positive impact of a strong Child Nutrition Reauthorization. We call on Congress to act immediately to restore SNAP benefits to the level of funding that recipients were told they could rely upon until 2018.”

<font color = green>Brine enthusiasts get in a pickle — or two</font>


A couple of months ago, I was in a New York diner with my husband and in-laws when I had a minor epiphany. We’d just placed our orders and the waiter had brought over our drinks, along with the requisite plate of pickles. My mother-in-law took one look at them and turned to my father-in-law. “Joe, are those goyishe pickles, or are they half-sours?” she asked. Acting as taste-tester, my father-in-law dutifully bit into a spear, and assured her it was kosher.

“Goyishe pickles,” I thought, and smiled. Instinctively, I understood what she’d meant. There are Jewish pickles, and there are most certainly non-Jewish pickles. I was raised in a Jewish home, one that took Jewish food quite seriously. But even as a sweet gherkin never entered our house, the concept of Jewish versus goyishe pickles had never been raised aloud.I assumed my mother-in-law’s term was her own invention. But that was before I heard about a class at Chabad of the Conejo called “The Art of Kosher Pickle Making,” and before I spoke to the Kosher Pickle Rabbi — Rabbi Shmuel Marcus, executive director of Chabad Lubavitch of Cypress/Los Alamitos.

It all started with Marcus’ visits to an elderly friend’s home. After many visits of laying tefillin together, Marcus learned his friend had once been in the pickle business. The man, who was retired, still made pickles at home, and offered one to Marcus.”I had a taste, and they were fantastic,” Marcus said. “I started coming back every Thursday. I’d put on tefillin, and I’d get a pickle.”

Last February, it occurred to the two that kosher pickle making would be one Jewish lesson Marcus’ Hebrew High students might appreciate, but “we didn’t expect it to blow up as it did,” Marcus said. Parents were as interested in the class as the kids were, and Marcus quickly followed up the Hebrew High class with a general class a month later. It included about 50 people, and about 15 percent of them were non-Jews, by Marcus’ estimation.

Since then, interest has only grown. They have created a booklet now used by some private schools to guide students through the experience. Marcus says he’s heard from curious parties as distant as Florida.

The workshop teaches people the history of the American kosher dill, how to make their own pickles, as well as what makes a “kosher” pickle (answer: kosher salt), and what makes a goyishe pickle (answer: vinegar).

So I guess my mother-in-law didn’t make up the term. But I told Rabbi Marcus about that day in the diner, and apparently I’m not the only one with a pickle story.

“As a Chabad rabbi, you do more than one program in your life,” Marcus said, “But with ‘Kosher Pickle Making,’ no one could just call and tell me ‘Put us down for two people.’ Everybody had a song and dance: ‘I’m coming because my grandmother’ … or ‘I’m coming because my daughter….’ A lot of people who come, there’s a pickle connection. Everybody’s got pickle baggage.”

Nov. 13, 8 p.m. $15. Conejo Jewish Academy, 30345 Canwood St., Agoura Hills. (818) 991-0991. chabadofconejo.com.

— Keren Engelberg, Contributing Writer

Food for Thought


The only thing worse than going to most luncheons is having to write about them — blow-by-blows of well-meaning, well-deserved appreciations and thank yous and speeches that go on too long.

So on my way over to the Luxe Summit Hotel in Bel-Air last month I decided I wasn’t going to write more than a brief about this year’s Milken Family Foundation Jewish Educators Awards luncheon.

But here’s the thing: This event really is one of the most inspiring afternoons on the local Jewish calendar.

Maybe it’s because teachers are so notoriously underappreciated. And the event, which focuses solely on teachers and principals in our day schools, makes everyone in the room want to pump their arms and let out a big “Woo-hoo!”

The luncheon is well produced, featuring videos of the surprised recipients learning of the honor during assemblies at their own schools. These films of celebrating, table-banging kids — and shocked and teary-eyed teachers, getting drawn out hugs from colleagues — are the centerpiece of the luncheon.

And then after lunch we got to hear from the five recipients themselves; each received a $10,000 prize. In their allotted two minutes they did what they do so well: teach.

Rabbi Berish Goldenberg, principal of Yeshiva Rav Isaacson-Torath Emeth Academy, told about the troublemaker kid who got called into the principal’s office for the 50 billionth time. But this time, after the same lecture, he came out, changed his ways and within months became a model student.

What did it?

During the principal’s ranting and raving, the secretary buzzed in with a phone call. And the principal told her, “Sorry, I’m meeting with somebody very important now. I’ll have to call back.”

Somebody important. That’s all the kid heard.

Next up was Vivian Levy, who has taught third grade at Sinai Akiba Academy for 30 years. She told of the bearded fellow who approached her recently and said, “Don’t you remember me?”

And then she did. He was the kid who couldn’t sit still, whose hyperactivity had made school unbearable for him.

“You believed in me,” he said to her. “And you helped me to believe in myself. I was a handful in third grade, and you encouraged me and told me I could do it.”

Today, he is an emergency-room physician.

“What a perfect match for his learning style,” Levy said.

Chaya Moldaver, the beloved second-grade teacher at Yavneh Hebrew Academy, analyzed the patriarch Jacob’s trait of wanting blessings for his descendants. That, she said, is what inspires teachers to pass the heritage from one generation to the next.

Robin Solomon is up to her second generation of students at Adat Ari El Day School — and she hopes to retire before the third starts arriving. She said her decades as a kindergarten teacher have taught her that teaching is not magic — it’s simply about loving children, and helping them love Judaism.

And then there’s the educator I will always think of as Dr. Powell. Twenty years ago, Bruce Powell was my principal at Yeshiva University of Los Angeles, the first of three high schools he helped establish in Los Angeles. He also was founding principal of Milken Community High School, and four years ago founded The New Community Jewish High School, which has gone from 40 students to 270.

Back when Dr. Powell was my principal, he taught us that when you give a speech, you always grab the listeners with a good joke or a story. So I was a bit surprised when he opened with a potentially dry episode in which the sages of the Mishnah try to distill Judaism into pithy bullet points. But then came his own distillation: “It’s really all about lunch.”

Which was his way of saying so much more. How Judaism is about community (sharing lunch), tzedakah (providing lunch), nurturing others (making lunch) and standing up for your identity (matzah sandwiches for lunch) — and being willing to ask for a major donation (over lunch) for something other than yourself.

And this event — this lunch — lunch epitomized the common denominator of Jewish community through education.

Where else would you end up with a tableful of black hats right next to a table with a woman rabbi?

They eat the same food. They nod at the same words of Torah. They bentsch (say the blessing after meals) together.

Go find that anywhere else — and I mean anywhere.

And here’s a fitting postscript. One of last year’s recipients, Maimonides Academy Rabbi Mordechai Dubin, who teaches fourth graders and music, used his $10,000 award to produce a CD for kids. Its title is “I Made This World for You”; each of the 14 songs is based on a portion in the book of Genesis. This selection, along with the follow-up song, “I Believe,” based on Maimonides 13 principles of faith, have become hits in day schools across the city, and even the country. As a result, children as young as 3 are now quoting from Genesis and Maimonides.

So great teaching begat recognition, which begat more great teaching. And more recognition. And in the world of teaching, where recognition is not always easy to come by, that’s worth writing about.

 

Coffee Co-op Brews Mugs of Peace


In his three decades at the helm of the Thanksgiving Coffee Co. in Fort Bragg, California, Paul Katzeff has pioneered the process of buying coffee beans directly from Third World growers and funneling money back to them after sales to promote economic self-sufficiency and social justice.

But Katzeff had never helped Jewish coffee farmers, who don’t usually figure in the ranks of those growers.

That changed with the recent release of Mirembe Kawomera, or “Delicious Peace,” a Fair Trade — and kosher — coffee produced by a new cooperative of Jewish, Muslim and Christian coffee farmers from the Mbale region of Uganda.

“We think this coalition is unique in all of Africa,” said coffee farmer J. J. Keki, leader of the 700-member Abayudaya Ugandan Jewish community that is at the core of the project.

It started 18 months ago when Katzeff got a phone call from Laura Wetzler, the Uganda coordinator for Kulanu, a Washington-based Jewish charity that promotes community-empowerment projects around the world. Wetzler travels to Uganda every January to help the community maintain its projects.

She asked Katzeff if he would be interested in buying five sacks of coffee from a group of local growers that she was trying to help.

“I rolled my eyes and said to myself, ‘Oh, here’s another young person touched by the poverty,'” said Katzeff, a Bronx native who cut his organizing teeth in the 1960s working with the East Harlem Tenants Council and organizing black workers in Mississippi.

“Then she said, ‘I’m from Kulanu, and I’m working with a group of Jewish coffee farmers here,'” Katzeff continued. “I said, ‘Come on, you’re kidding,’ and she said, ‘No.'”

Katzeff thought Wetzler must have called him because he, too, is Jewish, but she said she was just working her way through coffee companies and his was 41st on the list.

Then she told him she represented a cooperative of 400 coffee farmers organized by Keki, who was going door-to-door asking his Muslim and Christian neighbors to join the Abayudaya Jews to improve their general lot. The co-op was trying to circumvent price gouging by local middlemen and was looking for a foreign market.

Wetzler told Katzeff about the Abayudaya, descendants of a Ugandan general who adopted Judaism in the early 20th century. Today the Abayudaya are helped by various foreign Jewish organizations; they have a school, a synagogue and several small-scale economic projects and the community raises money through Jewish tourism and selling crafts and CDs of its music.

Katzeff was intrigued.

“I said, ‘OK, I’ll buy all you’ve got, every single bit,'” said Katzeff, who had changed his own business practices following a 1985 trip to Nicaragua, when he realized “that the coffee industry was living off the sweat and blood of the coffee farmers.”

He began guaranteeing what has become known as a “Fair Trade price,” which he said is “20 to 40 cents a pound higher” than the usual price coffee farmers receive from the major companies and which doesn’t change with market fluctuations.

The idea that he could use his company to help Jews in Africa — Jews who had joined forces with Muslims and Christians — impressed Katzeff.

“They made a conscious decision to increase the size of their pie and share it for a better life, as opposed to what governments all over the world want them to do,” he said.

Coffee growing is the main income-producing crop of the Abayudaya and their neighbors, Keki noted. But coffee prices had dropped, and the farmers were discouraged.

“I thought, ‘We all do agricultural work, so let’s form a cooperative and sell our coffee together,'” Keki said.

After Keki formed the co-op, Wetzler made the connection with Katzeff and located a nearby cooperative that already had Fair Trade certification. Keki’s group buys from the local farmers and funnels the coffee through that Fair Trade co-op, which processes it and sends it to California.

Katzeff visited Uganda to sign the contract, spending Shabbat with the Abayudaya Jews. He said he was astounded by the primitive equipment the locals worked with. It takes 100 tons of “cherries,” or raw coffee fruit, to yield 37,500 pounds of green beans, the amount the co-op managed to produce this past year.

Keki and Katzeff signed a three-year agreement guaranteeing Fair Trade prices for all the coffee the cooperative can produce. Eighty percent of the money is put in an escrow account to be plowed back into developing the co-op’s infrastructure, with the goal of doubling output by next year. A dollar surcharge on each pound sold will be sent directly to the cooperative — hopefully yielding a further $30,000 this first season.

“I hope it will help us buy food and clothes and send our children to school,” said Keki, who has spoken widely in the United States, and is aware of the significance of his interfaith effort.

“Here we are using religion in the name of peace,” he said. “We hope that wherever our coffee goes in the world, it will promote peace.”

Noting that the cooperative has a Jewish president, a Christian vice president and a Muslim executive secretary — and that one-third of its board is made up of women — Katzeff describes the venture as “a shining light for peace” in the region.

Delicious Peace coffee is available at www.thanksgivingcoffee.com.

 

The Circuit


ADL Rock and Rawls

About 900 supporters of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL)
filled a Century Plaza Hotel ballroom on Dec. 7 for its 90th-year bash, an
anniversary evening capped off with a masterful performance by crooner Lou
Rawls.

“We stand for the civilized human beings of the world,” said
ADL Pacific Southwest Region Chair Bruce Einhorn, a federal immigration judge.

His half-hour opening speech stirred the ballroom crowd as
he said the ADL will fight for an Israel, “with Jerusalem as its capital, and
we will not retreat from that goal.”

The ADL gave a Lifetime Achievement Award to Billy and
Tootsie Veprin, who in their 62.5 years of marriage have remained strong ADL
funders.

“I’m almost speechless, almost,” said retired real estate
executive Billy Veprin. “Tootsie and I love you all.” 

The event’s keynote speaker was Canadian writer Irshad
Manji, the Muslim author of “The Trouble With Islam: A Wake-Up Call for Honesty
and Change,” which is coming to U.S. bookstores in January.

Manji gave a provocative speech in which she outlined
Islam’s historic anti-Semitism, especially in the Middle Ages during the
Islam’s golden age. While she noted that, “the Quran reminds us that the Jews
are an exalted nation,” Manji said that independent Islamic thought now is
nonexistent, aided by what she said were non-Muslim, “Islamo-facists — those
who romanticize Islam.”

“Our version of independent thinking died on our watch,”
said Manji, adding that Muslims today are practicing not an abundance of
tolerance but “just enough tolerance.”

After the speech Rawls covered “They Can’t Take That Away
From Me,” the tune made famous by Rawls’ old friend and staunch Israel ally,
Frank Sinatra.  

“We like to be around groovy people,” Rawls told the crowd,
before giving his trademark, low-voice “Hi baby” greeting to a woman at a table
near the stage. — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Slick YICC

Young Israel of Century City’s (YICC) Dec. 6 Night of Comedy
& Soul fundraiser brought about 300 admirers to West Hollywood’s Pacific Design
Center for music, slick sushi, elegant chocolate and clean, sophisticated
humor.

“I’m much more ambitious when I’m setting the alarm clock
than when it’s going off,” comedian Gary Gulman said.

Fellow clean comic Wayne Fetterman’s “guy” adaptation of
Janis Ian’s weepy 1975 high school girls anthem, “At Seventeen,” had the
lyrics: “And those of us who chose debate, would sit at home and … meditate.”

Jewish hipster musician Peter Himmelman performed
customized, impromptu songs and asked the audience if they wanted to hear a song
about his love for his wife or one about his father’s death, saying, “Both
songs are equally valid; they both serve Hashem.”

Among the synagogue members enjoying the laughs and
chocolate were the Museum of Tolerance’s own Rabbi Abraham Cooper and his wife,
Roz.

“Jews are best when they can laugh at themselves,” he said.
“A good place to start is the shul.” — D.F.

Happening at Hakim’s

Persian Jews in their early 20s to late 30s bought bags of
food and toys to the house of prominent general surgeon Dr. Saeed Hakim on Dec.
7 for a fundraiser for Persian Jews United (PJU) and One Degree of Separation,
a Persian student and young professional organization. The food and toys were
collected to distribute to needy children through Jewish Family Service of Los
Angeles (JFS) and the SOVA Food Pantry program.

Hakim’s daughter, Melinda, organized the event — which
featured a delicious buffet and a jazz band in the living room — after being
inspired by a friend in Baltimore who holds annual Chanukah fundraising parties
for needy children.

“I wanted it to be a Chanukah holiday party that was
something fruitful,” said Melinda Hakim, who is a medical resident at the
Doheny Eye Institute.

Mastaneh Moghadam, the Farsi liaison for JFS, briefed the
crowd about social services for the Iranian Jewish community.

“Through the family violence project and programs dealing
with violence against women, we have been able to provide programs in Farsi for
the victims of domestic violence,” Moghadam said.

She also noted that JFS provides referral services and case
management and therapy for the Iranian community. — Mojdeh Sionit, Contributing
Writer

Read Around the
World

Although J.K. Rowling has managed to lure kids away from the
television screens with her “Harry Potter” books, all around the world it seems
that getting kids to read is still a battle for educators and parents. On Dec.
5, Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy decided to fight that battle with a vengeance
by joining thousands of schoolchildren in a special reading project sponsored
by Scholastic (the publishers of the “Potter” series) called “Read for 2004,”
in which students read aloud for 2004 seconds (approximately 33 minutes).

The school invited guest readers such as grandparents,
aunts, uncles and other adult family members or relatives to join in the fun by
reading their favorite books aloud to the class and then speaking to the
students about why reading is so important. The classes involved had their
names added to a Scholastic interactive world map.

“This is part of an ongoing plan to increase reading and its
integration into the daily lives of the students at the school,” said Rabbi
Boruch Sufrin, the school’s new principal. “Reading is such an integral vehicle
educating our students.”

For more information about Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy or
a personal tour, call (310) 276-6135.

Sonia’s Story

On Nov. 18 at the University of Judaism, award-wining writer
Sonia Levitin spoke to the University Women of the University of Judaism.
Levitin was born in Berlin during the Nazi era, and her family escaped when she
was 3 years old. She has written more than 40 books, many of which reflect the
Jewish experience throughout history. At the event, Levitin spoke about her
latest book, “Room in the Heart,” a story of Danish resistance to the Nazis
told through the voices of two teenagers.

Humanitarian
Hostesses

When hostesses are united wonderful things happen. On Nov. 1
United Hostesses Charities (UHC) held its 61st annual dinner dance at the
Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel, where Marilyn McCoo and Billy David Jr. were the
high-octane performers. The event honored the 10 past recipients of its
Humanitarian Award and recognized their outstanding contributions to
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and the community. The group supports the
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center division of cardiology and the groundbreaking
research of director Dr. P.K Shah, as well as the Didi Hirsch Community Mental
Health Center. The organization’s newest project is its UHC Cardiac/Stroke
Emergency Care at Cedars-Sinai .

Minds over Milken

While the community was all in a tizzy about the recent
Milken video scandal, at Milken Community High School, students were just doing
their thing — learning, studying and creating excellent science projects.

On Nov. 12, the American Society for Technion-Israel
Institute of Technology in collaboration with Milken Community High School held
its third annual Excellence in Science Awards Dinner at the Four Seasons Hotel,
where students Noam Firestone, Judy Reynolds, Sara Meimin, Raquel Cedar, and
Bobby Kanter received awards for their exceptional perseverance and innovation
in researching the science topic of their choice.

At the event, Technion professor Wayne Kaplan spoke about
how the Technion was a critical partner in Israel’s security, life sciences and
high technology.

Bright Bregman

Milken is not the only school whose students are being
recognized for their fabulous academic achievements. On Dec. 3 Valley Torah
High School senior Josh Bregman was nominated to compete in the national
Principal’s Leadership Award (PLA) scholarship program, sponsored by the
National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) and Herff Jones,
Inc. If Bregman is one of the 150 national PJA winners this spring, he will
receive a $1,000 college scholarship.

Bregman is an all-rounder at Valley Torah. He has been the
Student council secretary, varsity basketball manager, yearbook editor and an
active Boy Scout. This fall, he plans to travel to Israel for a year abroad and
then return to study business at Yeshiva University.

“Bregman has demonstrated excellence in the classroom and in
his community,” said Gerald A. Tirozzi, the executive director of the NASSP.
“NASSP is proud to recognize such an impressive young person.”

Bazel Draws Sabra Artists to Encino


Hanging out with a group of Israeli artists at a hot new cafe in Encino may not be the same as sitting on Dizengoff in Tel Aviv, but the conversation is as close as it gets for Los Angeles. Tempo is still great for Middle Eastern food and music, but now Cafe Bazel appears to be the spot for late-night carousing.

Named for a Tel Aviv street full of cafes like this, Bazel’s menu has Theodore Herzl on the front cover because it was in the Swiss town of Basel that he conceived the Zionist movement. The Bazel on Ventura, which has been open for six months, has shakshuka, beet salad, rugelach, tea with mint leaves, waitresses in tight black T-shirts and other women in tight black leather who arrive and sit right in front of the join and make you watch them eat. Long black limos are parked out front, facing off against a Lamborghini and a Mercedes on the other side of the boulevard.

Tonight we’re here with Roni Cohen, an Israeli artist who is telling friends about her new show at the Bank Leumi.

Cohen, who moved to Los Angeles in 1997, was a foreign press photographer during the 1973 war in the Golan and Sinai. An accident near the end of the war wrecked her leg and her camera and she went to study with Ran Schori at Bezalel Arts. She also studied in London and New York and began working in a variety of textures, showing at the Shafrai and Mabat Galleries in Israel.

In 1991, her house on Rehov Bialik in Ramat Gan was rocketed by a Scud missile (she wasn’t home, having escaped to Beersheva). With a damaged life and broken heart, she painted through waves of despair and hope. Working in red and black, signifying drums and explosions of not only war but of new energy, she began expressing what she calls "emotional and industrial landscapes."

Her show features abstract forms on large compressed felt rugs, acrylic and collage, and serigraphs and etchings of Jerusalem and Safed.

"I know the soul is here," she says pointing to her head. "I have a new life now, new friendships, new ideas — new everything."

Cohen teaches early childhood education at Stephen S. Wise Temple, and has a son in high school in Agoura Hills. She has had 11 solo shows in Israel and California and is a resident artist at the 825 Gallery on La Cienega Boulevard.

Back at Bazel, it’s after midnight and Israelis are still pouring in for dinner. The sidewalk tables are packed and the men’s bathroom has a widescreen television showing MTV. Deejays Shai and Ariel play Morcheeba and Zero 7 hipster beats behind the coffee bar. There is no alcohol here yet, but fruit shakes are popular. You can get Israel toast and Schnitzel Panko until 3 a.m.

"Tempo is forever," sculptor Uriel Arad says. But now this is his place.

Every time an artist comes to Los Angeles, like Israeli stand-up Naor Zion, who recently played the Wilshire Ebell Theater, "the place to be after the show is over is Cafe Bazel, for real," Bazel manager Nicki Zvik tells me. "This place will be jammed like it’s no tomorrow."

Cohen is drinking cappuccino with friends Eytan Rogenstein and Arad. Other friends of hers come to Encino from the newer Jewish communities of West Hills and Calabasas. One says the atmosphere at Cafe Bazel reminds him of being on Dizengoff because, "You see everybody."

But his friend disagrees.

"It’s the only place on this entire street," he argues, "so it doesn’t remind me [of] anything."

"Everybody and his opinion," says the first artist.

"Plus it’s too wide, Ventura," continues the second.

Cohen’s friend, the sculptor, also "works in construction, like everybody else."

Looking at the long black sedan parked near his table, he jokes, "I came in that limo." Then adds, "I’m driving it."

Directors, painters, football players, even actor David Hasselhoff comes to Bazel, according to Zvik. He says Hasselhoff claimed the warm chocolate cake the finest dessert he ever had in his life.

However, a shooting in the parking lot a few weeks ago slowed business for a bit.

"Ihiye b’seder" ("It will be okay"), Cohen tells Zvik at the coffee bar.

"It’s already b’seder," the manager assures her.

Roni Cohen’s art appears from Oct. 14 through Nov. 21 at Bank Leumi, 16530 Ventura Blvd., Encino with a reception Oct. 14, 5:30-7:30 p.m. Cafe Bazel is at 17620 Ventura Blvd., Encino, (818) 728-0846.


Hank Rosenfeld is a folk journalist.

Leonard Green


Leonard I. Green, founding partner of the West Coast’s largest leveraged buyout firm and board chairman of the Los Angeles Opera, died on Oct. 25 following complications from heart surgery in Venice, Italy, where he was vacationing. He was 68.

Green, who co-founded the New York investment banking partnership Gibbons, Green, van Amerongen in 1969, became known as a pioneer in management-led, nonhostile leveraged buyouts, called "the friendly takeover."

In 1980, Green opened the firm’s California office. He left in 1989 to open Leonard Green & Partners, which acquired Big 5 Sporting Goods, Carr-Gottstein Foods Co. and Thrifty Corp.

Green, an opera aficionado, became a founding director of the Los Angeles Opera in 1986. He served as its president and chief executive from 1998-2001, when he was elected chairman. During this period, donations doubled from $8.5 million in 1998, when he recruited tenor Placido Domingo as artistic director, to $17.7 million this year. Green was also on the board of the Music Center of Los Angeles County.

The Philadelphia native earned his bachelor’s degree in economics from Cornell University in 1955, an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Graduate School in 1956 and a law degree from Loyola University in Chicago in 1965.

Green is survived by his daughter, Suzanne; his son, Steven; and a grandson.

Community Briefs


Dems Take Breather in Bel Air

Instead of debating the finer points of the Oslo peace accords or discussing the impact of Sept. 11 on Jewish America, Democrats for Israel-Los Angeles (DFI-LA) will focus their attention instead on enjoying some kosher food and congenial conversation at their Summer Garden Party on Aug. 25 from 4-7 p.m. The group’s annual event, to be held this year at a private home in Bel Air, will also feature the election of a new executive board and one of the last opportunities to relax before the upcoming election season.

Rep. Brad Sherman and L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky will be among a slate of Jewish Democratic officeholders expected to attend.

DFI-LA is the voice of the Jewish and pro-Israel community in the Democratic Party. And while Democrats hold a variety of stances on Israel, DFI-LA maintains a pro-Israel posture and supports “security-related decisions of the government of Israel, whether left or right,” according to Paul Kujawsky, incoming DFI-LA president.

Admission to the Summer Garden Party is $15, but high school and college students, and anyone registering as Democrat at the door, will be given free admission and six-month membership. 11225 Homedale St., Bel Air. For reservations, please call (310) 285-8542. — Adam Wills, Associate Editor

Aiding and Abetting Recovery

Rabbi Juda Mintz feels that we are a community in denial about our social ills.

“Unfortunately, the vast majority of 12-step groups are held in churches. Very rarely at synagogues,” he says. “Either consciously or unconsciously, our community does not think addiction is a Jewish issue.”

Mintz, an Orthodox rabbi, hopes to correct that on Aug. 25 with his inaugural 12-Step Jewish Service, where he will combine prayer, song and discussion to combat addiction.

A practicing rabbi for 35 years, Mintz, 60, has dealt with his own “dark, deep and deadly” addiction: Internet pornography. Mintz had served as a pulpit rabbi in Canada, a Jewish chaplain at Emory University and worked at New Jersey’s Congregation B’nai Torah for 17 years, where he says he came to terms with his “sexual addiction.”

“It potentially can kill one’s ability to be intimate with another human being and with God,” says Mintz, who for the past five months has been living in Los Angeles at Beit T’Shuvah, the residential rehabilitation campus with a Jewish spiritual component. Executive Director Harriet Rossetto considers Mintz a model resident grappling with “the crack cocaine” of the 21st century. “This is a major problem and it’s time to talk about it,” she says.

Mintz wants to take what he is learning there and help others.

“I just want people to engage in a service where they can celebrate Judaism and not feel guilty by the addiction they have,” Mintz says. “Addiction has nothing to do with the weak-willed. It’s an incurable disease. Nonetheless, one could live, in remission, a full productive happy life.”

As a group leader, Mintz feels that he has the edge because “the most effective person to deal with an addict is someone whose been there themselves.”

Just as the Jewish community may be in denial of its social problems, Rossetto believes that some rabbis fall prey to the emotional hazards of their vocation.

“The stereotypes have to go,” Rossetto says. “We project onto our rabbis our needs for perfection. We deify them as people without these kinds of problems, but nobody teaches you in rabbinic training what to do with your own negativity, lust and lashon hara.”

Mintz, recently divorced with three grown children, hopes to nurture his program from a daily endeavor to a physical center.

“He wants to take what has been the most difficult thing in his life and use that as his next mission,” Rossetto says. “We support him in that.”

For now, Mintz’s approach to his project is that of a person in recovery — one step at a time.

“It’s turned into a blessing,” Mintz says of his problem, “that will allow me to what I hope and pray will bring recovery to a lot of people.”

The 12-Step Jewish Service will be held on Aug. 25 at Kenesset Israel Congregation, 2364 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverlywood. Brunch is included. To R.S.V.P., call (310) 922-2605. –Michael Aushenker, Staff Writer

UAHC Opposes Secession

The Executive Committee of the Pacific Southwest Council of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) passed a resolution on Aug. 14 opposing the secession of the San Fernando Valley and Hollywood from the City of Los Angeles.

The resolution rejects secession “because the central argument for secession is a privatistic appeal to narrow self-interest, which is contrary to the Jewish spirit of communal mutual responsibility,” the resolution states among one of its reasons.

The Pacific Southwest Council of the UAHC is the first major Jewish organization to publicly oppose secession.

“We feel serious concern about a balkanization of communities which could pit the rich against the poor,” says Esther Saritzky, regional UAHC president.

The resolution also expresses concern over the effects of secession on the poor, labor unions, nonprofit organizations and neighborhood councils.

The resolution calls upon Reform congregations in the City of Los Angeles to sponsor educational events to inform their members about this issue.

For further information, contact Rabbi Alan Henkin at(323) 653-9962 or e-mail ahenkin@uahc.org . — Staff Report

Varsity Blues


As the summer draws to a close, Jason Kahan feels anxious and excited: soon his firstborn, Aron, is to begin his freshman year of college at UC Santa Barbara.

"On one hand, I recognize that he’s going to a good school and it’s a great opportunity for him," admits the psychologist from Playa del Rey. "But at the same time, it’s very difficult to imagine that come Sept. 23, we’re going to drop him off and he won’t be in house anymore. It’s pretty heavy duty."

Whether the distance is 100 miles or 1,000 miles, the experience of letting a child go off into the world can be just as stressful for parents as it is for the child, if not more. From nursery school to college, parents are having separation anxiety over issues such as safety, religious observance, independence and social concerns.

This year, Beatrice Levavi of Los Angeles will send her third of seven children off to college. She’s already sent Reuben to NYU, and this year, 18-year-old Max will leave home to join his big sister, Rebecca, at Brandeis. "It always feels as though someone is cutting off a limb," jokes Levavi, who works in public relations at Shalhevet High School. "At some level, it doesn’t get any easier. You feel this intense pride that they can function independently. At the same time, you feel this stark terror that you haven’t prepared them enough."

While Levavi admits that losing the presence of a child changes the family dynamic, in her own experience, the bonds have remained as strong as ever. "What you save on food bills, you spend on phone bills," she says. The advent of e-mail and Instant Messaging has also helped the children keep in touch with their older brothers and sisters.

Because her son has participated in a number of summer programs on the East Coast, actress Sarah Jane Schwartz of Hollywood Hills isn’t quite as apprehensive about Trevor’s departure for Princeton University. Schwartz is more worried about her son’s physical safety. Trevor spent this past summer at an internship in Washington, D.C.

"In a way, that was a bigger leap because while he lived in the dorms of George Washington University, he was pretty much on his own as far as getting around, and that was scary for us," Schwartz says. "This summer we were anxious to hear from him out of concern, but when he goes to Princeton, we’ll want to hear from him out of curiosity." Schwartz says that Trevor is very passionate about his Judaism and plans to become involved with the school’s active Hillel.

Ellen Greenberg of Beverly Hills has mixed emotions about seeing her daughter, Blair, off to Ohio University. "It’s difficult. In one respect, I’m going to miss her, but in the other respect I think it’s a very healthy thing for her to spread her wings, live on her own and learn self-discipline," says Greenberg, who works in the film industry. Since Blair flourished as a student at Beverly Hills High School, Greenberg is confident that her daughter will continue to prosper academically. In addition, Blair went to summer camp back east, so Greenberg feels that she’ll adjust quickly to being away from home. Her biggest concern is that Blair will leave behind the culturally rich city of Los Angeles. "She’s going to a very small college town that has one movie theater. There are no malls, no department stores and all the activities are campus-driven. I have a feeling she’s in for a culture shock," says the Beverly Hills resident.

Empty-nest syndrome isn’t unique to parents of college students. Parents of preschoolers also experience a loss when their children begin their early education. Alissa Block is adjusting to the fact that her 2-year-old daughter, Rachel, will start preschool in a few weeks at B’nai Tikvah in Westchester. After a six-month stint of caring for Rachel and her baby brother at home, Block is ready to go back to work as a legal recruiter. To ease the transition, she is currently helping Rachel assimilate to the school a few hours each week.

"It’s bittersweet," Block admits. "I’m excited for her, but it definitely pulled at my heartstrings when I saw her be aloof and not having friends, yet, while the other kids paired-off." Block is confident that both she and Rachel will adjust to the new situation, as she’s watched friends go through the process with their own children.

Heidi Birnbaum, who already went through the preschool experience with her 5-year-old son, isn’t worried about sending Jessie, her 2-year-old daughter, to Temple Etz Chaim preschool in Thousand Oaks. "I’m actually excited," admits Birnbaum."I haven’t had any free time since my son was born, because we don’t have any other family out here to watch the kids." The Agoura Hills resident is also comforted by the fact that her child will only be gone three hours per day.

As Kahan continues to prepare his son for his new life in Santa Barbara, he is comforted by the fact that Aron will be relatively close by. While his child is "not overly religious, but Jewish in his heart," Kahan is also relieved that Aron plans to be active in UCSB’s Hillel program.

While Levavi jokes that her house will be "much quieter, much neater and much less interesting" when Max leaves this fall, she feels that the process is a natural progression.

"As much as [children] are the most important things when they’re in the house, they can’t be the sum total of your life because that’s too big a burden on them," she says. "Everyone has to shift, and the family restructures itself. You begin to accept it as a healthy stage of their life and you just pray that you’ve put enough into them that they’ll flourish wherever they’re going."

Hints for Parents of College-Bound Kids

1. Find out if the school has a parents’ weekend and get information on it.

2. Ask your child if he/she would like to come home for the High Holy Days or Thanksgiving.

3. Make sure you have your child’s new address so that you can send mail and care packages.

Some schools have prepackaged goody baskets with things like laundry detergent, shampoo, a toothbrush, school supplies and study snacks that parents can send to kids.

4. Some synagogues offer college care packages for various Jewish holidays like Chanukah and Passover.

5. Get your child’s e-mail address. This is a great way to keep in touch without bombarding your son or daughter with phone calls.

6. Feel free to send reminders of home, like local newspaper clippings, homemade cookies and photos from recent family events.

7. If your child is far away, sign up for frequent flyer programs available through various airlines.

8. Try to keep your emotions at bay when you talk to your child. Remember, he or she is the one going through the biggest adjustment.

9. Talk to friends who are in the same situation so you can commiserate, if needed.

Overweight and Counting … Down


Reena Dulfon, 14, trudges home every day after school, and no matter how much she begs, her mother won’t pick her up in the car. Robin Dulfon is not being a mean mom, but is helping Reena accomplish her goal. And though Reena sees this 30 minutes of daily exercise as a chore — after all, it’s all uphill — she’s secretly proud of walking the distance.

Mother and daughter have twice participated in Dr. Lydie Hazan’s eight-week PowerPlay Program for overweight and obese children and teenagers.

When Reena first entered the program a few years ago, she was a shy and baggy-outfitted 12-year-old, weighing 170 pounds, unsure if this would be just another boring visit to the doctor. But her single mom, a registered nurse, is acutely aware of the health issues involving overweight children.

“She made me do it,” Reena said, “but it was fun.” They learned about nutrition, how to read labels and count calories, and did aerobics, hip-hop and other exercises.

“It worked! The first week I lost a couple pounds, and then lost one pound a week,” said Reena, who is now a svelte 146 pounds and still counting … down.

Obesity in children is no small matter, but a health crisis of epic proportions. According to a July 2000 Newsweek article, one out of three children in this country are seriously overweight.

That statistic seems hard to believe, until you look around. Go to any mall or playground and see the results of a fast-food, fried-food diet. Children as young as 3 are being referred to Hazan, and that’s not exactly what she had in mind when she started her clinic.

“I thought I would make a difference to the older children, but I have 6-year-olds crying in my office because they are so ashamed [of] getting teased at school. I have a 7-year-old in the program that weighs 242 pounds.”

Five years ago, as an energetic Los Angeles emergency-room pediatrician, Hazan began to notice the correlation between severe asthma attacks and obesity.

“To give you an idea of the enormity of the epidemic, kids would come into the E.R. and have to be intubated [have a tube inserted to help breathing] twice a year. One night a girl almost died because we couldn’t tube her, she was too big,” Hazan said. “After that, I swore I would make sure she lost weight.”

Hazan found, however, that there were no resources for overweight and obese children in Los Angeles. And it wasn’t only Los Angeles; the entire country was lacking.

Eventually, Hazan hooked up with the Center for Disease Control’s Dr. Bill Dietz, a pediatrician specializing in overweight and obese children.

“By talking with Dietz, I soon found out there were no immediate solutions available, so I started thinking about long-term [solutions]. I developed PowerPlay based on that,” Hazan explained.

PowerPlay is a comprehensive eight-week weight-loss program that combines medical, psychological, nutritional and physical treatment, and that seeks a balance between what goes in and what goes out. A child cannot double his exercise routine for a day and expect to pig out the next, although, Hazan confesses, there are some compromises. But consistency is key, for both children and parents.

“Lead by example” is Hazan’s mantra for what she believes makes the program work. “When a child enters the program, the whole family begins to lose weight,” she said.

As a first step, Hazan gives each child two medical screenings, during which health problems, such as type-two diabetes, are often detected.

“It used to be that type-two diabetes was considered an adult-onset disease, but no more,” Hazan said.

After the medical screenings, the program provides nutritional consultation with a licensed dietitian, daily fitness classes, group and/or individual therapy, art and music therapy and continual progress assessments of both child and parent. Hazan estimates a weight loss of 10 to 30 pounds can be accomplished during the eight-week session.

“When talking to the parents, I try to demystify the whole stigmata — that weight is health — and that’s it.”

Still, Hazan fights against cultural and societal pressures. She finds the stigma attached to being overweight crosses all cultural boundaries, a little less for African Americans, a lot more for Latinos, and a whole mixed bag for Jews.

Being overweight or obese is a “huge epidemic among Orthodox Jews,” Hazan admitted. “And especially among Orthodox girls,” for whom Hazan has developed a special program.

“First of all, there are no healthy places to eat. All of the kosher restaurants serve fried foods on white or rye breads, with huge portions. Secondly, there is Sabbath, a celebration where instead of a three-course meal, there are four-course meals that start on Friday and continue until noon the next day. Challah is loaded with calories,” Hazan said.

Nevertheless, Hazan has developed a few tricks. “I’ll talk to the kids and work out a compromise for Sabbath. ‘OK, you can have half a portion of kugel, if you take a walk afterwards.'”

“I know why doctors avoid this [issue],” Hazan sighed. “It’s a very frustrating field. Kids stop losing weight, stop being motivated, and you have to be the cheerleader, the evil endorser of the program. Parents love me for that, because their child must be accountable to me.”

Robin Dulfon couldn’t agree more, appreciating that her daughter “knew I wouldn’t be nagging her anymore.” She added, “I’m such a believer in this program, I want Reena to do it again!”

Reena isn’t so sure about that, but both agree that PowerPlay is effective. Her weight loss “makes me happy,” Reena said, “and makes me look better. My friends at school really didn’t say much about it, but my family members said, ‘Wow! You look good.’

Bounce Back to Life


Before a rare bacterial infection ruined his body, Christopher McMillian was a top student in Cindy Berger’s fifth-grade math class at Wilshire Crest Elementary School. He loved soccer and biking. He coached basketball. "He was always smiling and making people laugh," says Berger, a member of Temple Beth Am.

But on a Thursday morning in early February, the 10-year-old African American woke up with a stomachache. Within hours, he had all the symptoms of meningitis: blinding headache, high fever, stiff neck, sensitivity to light and vomiting. When he couldn’t feel his hands or feet, his mother rushed him to the emergency room.

By the time Berger visited him in the ICU, Chris’s limbs, normally light brown, were black and shrunken. "He was crying a lot and trying to understand what had happened," Berger recalls. "I couldn’t stop thinking about him. I couldn’t sleep at night." On March 1, Chris’s limbs were amputated. That same day, Berger wrote a letter to friends, relatives and Beth Am congregants pleading for donations to help Chris’s family with his expensive rehabilitation; his mother also needed basic items such as food, a telephone and bus tokens.

Berger’s effort is one of the many undertaken to support Chris, including a June 30 basketball tournament at the Milken Campus in West Hills.

In March, Berger mailed out 1,000 copies of the letter and convinced her principal to open a tax-deductible school account for Chris. The response was overwhelming. At least $40,000 poured in from Beth Am members; more than $60,000 followed after Berger arranged for Chris to be profiled on TV and in the Los Angeles Times. Within a couple of months, more than $100,000 was deposited in the boy’s special-needs trust.

Meanwhile, Lakers star Shaquille O’Neal visited Chris and bought the McMillians a new van.

Even before he lost all his limbs, Chris was no stranger to adversity. His mother was a teenager when she had him. Only 18 months later, Chris’s father, 20 years old, died of a rare cancer.

Chris’s paternal grandmother, Marguerite, a registered nurse, has been his legal guardian since 1997; she has stayed at his side over the past few months, through his nine surgeries and skin grafts.

"I live to take care of this little boy," Marguerite told The Journal during Chris’s daily physical therapy session at Shriners Hospital for Crippled Children in Los Angeles. Chris’s father was her only child, and Chris is her only grandchild. "We pray together often. I tell Chris that nothing can replace what he lost, but we can try as best we can for him to have a good and productive life."

Members of the Jewish community are continuing to help Chris achieve that goal. After reading about McMillian in the Times, Jonathan Hay, a junior at Valley Torah High School, spearheaded "Bounce Back to Life," the 24-hour basketball event on June 30 to pay for Chris’s prostheses. Over the years, Chris will need up to 10 state-of-the-art sets of fake limbs to accommodate his growing body, says Hay’s father, Jacques, who’s helping to organize the event.

Jonathan says shyly that his older siblings inspired him to take action. In 1992, his brother, Joshua, was working as a ball boy at Cal State Northridge when he learned that a star basketball player had been disabled in a car accident. Joshua then raised $27,000 to purchase the man’s prosthetic legs. Two years later, Hay’s sister, Jalena, founded Camp Chesed, a free summer program for Jews with disabilities. "I also wanted to make a difference," says Jonathan, who’s convinced NBA teams to donate signed basketballs to auction off at the marathon.

Marguerite is grateful for the support. "It definitely makes things easier," she says. "It lets us know we’re not alone."

The basketball marathon begins at 9:30 p.m., Sat., June 30. To sign up for the tournament or to pledge money for points, call Jacques Hay at (818) 349-3932. To help Cindy Berger with her continuing efforts on behalf of Chris, call (310) 837-1348.

UCLA Football Player Keeps Kosher


Eyoseph Esi Efseaff is a rising star as offensive lineman on the UCLA football team, but when he arrived at the campus on his initial recruiting trip, he startled the coaches with an unexpected request.

He was hungry, said the 6-foot-3-inch, 282-pound athlete, but, he insisted, the food had to be strictly kosher.

Unfortunately, it was a Friday evening, and the frantic coaches learned that all nearby kosher restaurants were closed for Shabbat. Finally, they tracked down some prepackaged kosher meals at the UCLA hospital.

Efseaff, an 18-year-old freshman, is not Jewish. He is a Russian Molokan, one of a group of Christian dissidents who broke away from the Russian Orthodox Church in the 17th century. They refused to recognize the religious supremacy of the czar and follow the Bible literally — including the dietary laws detailed in Leviticus.

Molokan in Russian means "milk-drinker," an appellation derived from the group’s defiance of the prescribed Orthodox fast days by drinking milk.

An outstanding football and track star in his high school in Portervile, near Fresno, Efseaff was courted by most Pac-10 football teams. He picked UCLA, he said, because the presence of a small Molokan and large Jewish community in Los Angeles would assure a ready supply of kosher food.

On campus, he orders his weekly supply of kosher food on Mondays, stores it in a small refrigerator in his dormitory room, and microwaves the meals as needed.

On the road, the team flies in kosher food if it’s not available locally, and Efseaff bring along his own paper plates and plastic utensils when he travels.

Bruin offensive line coach Mark Webber is high on his freshman star, on and off the field.

"To have that kind of discipline that he has in his spiritual life and his diet and all that, it tells you something about the man," Webber told the Los Angeles Times. "He’s a different young man. He’s all business, very intense, and that’s just the way he plays."

The freshman’s great-grandparents on both sides immigrated from Russia to California, where most of the estimated 20,000 ethnic Molokans in the United States live.

Efseaff grew up on a farm with two brothers and five sisters. His father, Esi, is somewhat worried about his son’s departure to the big city.

"We don’t want him to just go off where he never comes home again," said the father. "Our religion, our people, we’re very tight. We want him to marry of his own faith. It’s very diverse there [at UCLA]. We’re being very cautious and taking each step cautiously with a lot of prayer."

Young Efseaff is not only muscular but smart, graduating from his high school with a 3.9 grade point average. He is planning on a career in sports medicine but has already ruled out a future with an NFL team.

Most NFL games are on Sundays, and he will not play on his religion’s prescribed day of rest.

Family Dinners


"Give me the ‘A,’" my husband, Larry, says.

"There’s no ‘A,’" answers Danny, 10.

"Then give me the ‘R,’" Larry responds.

"No ‘R,’" says Danny, as he gleefully draws a circle for the body.

I’m sitting at Maria’s Italian Kitchen on a Sunday evening, eating and watching my husband and my four sons, ages 10, 12, 14 and 17, play multiple games of Hangman. Or, as my husband prefers to call it, "Stump the Dad."

This is a family dinner. This is what health-care professionals swear will protect my sons from a life of drug, alcohol and tobacco addiction.

This is what I swear will have me begging for an extended stay at UCLA’s Neuropsychiatric Institute.

"So," I interrupt, looking to start a conversation, "What do you think about carbon dioxide emissions?"

"Mom…" they moan in unison, rolling their eyes.

"What about salmonella in ground beef?" I ask, vowing to bring along some reading material next time.

But it could be worse. For one thing, I didn’t have to cook this dinner. For another, they’re not calling each other names ("Dirty Diaper" is this week’s epithet of choice) or making rude bodily noises (which usually involves some kind of competition).

According to Robert Putnam, author of "Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community," family dinners occur 33 percent less frequently today than in 1970.

And for many good reasons.

First, let’s talk about the logistics. Let’s talk about the fact that my husband, who, thankfully, is not Jim Anderson or Ward Cleaver, generally returns home after 8 p.m.

Let’s talk about the fact that I generally spend my late afternoons and early evenings picking up carpool, schlepping some child to karate or piano or the orthodontist as well as watching — or feeling guilty about missing — a soccer or baseball game. And that’s before someone invariably pipes up with "Oh, I forgot to tell you that I need 24 kosher cupcakes (or car repair mesh wire and five 3-foot strips of balsa wood or one dozen large, live crickets) for school tomorrow."

Plus, let’s talk about the fact that, for me, cooking — from the preliminary trip to Ralphs to the postprandial cleanup — is about as enjoyable as pulling up weeds, having my gums scraped or standing in line to ride Pirates of the Caribbean.

There’s also the fact that there is not a single dinner menu that appeals to the two vegetarians, the one pescetarian and the three omnivores (one of whom eats only "white" foods) that comprise my family.

Growing up, of course, we were forced to eat whatever was served. Occasionally — and my mother will confirm this — this meant tongue with raisin sauce or pheasant with fresh buckshot or, the worst, wax beans, which even the dog, who sat vigilantly under the table, refused to touch.

In Judaism, the family is sacrosanct; it is the primal, civilizing building block of society. And our tradition mandates that the family, this cohesive and essential unit, engage in certain culinary celebrations — from the weekly Shabbat dinner to the annual seder, from the bar mitzvah banquet to the wedding feast — with certain requisite and ritualistic foods. But nowhere is there a commandment, not in any of the 613 mitzvot, requiring us to sit down together regularly for an evening meal.

No, the concept of family dinners is a modern myth, a psychological and sentimental hoax perpetrated on us already overextended and overburdened mothers by people who have forgotten the taste of tongue with raisin sauce. By people who don’t watch Woody Allen movies. And by people who also think that quality time and home schooling are viable — and valuable — ideas.

So just say no to family dinners that require more than 10 minutes to prepare or pick up and that require the skills of air traffic controllers to coordinate.

And forget that National Merit Scholars, those academically talented high-schoolers who excel on the PSAT test, share the one characteristic of eating dinner with their families at least three times a week.

Instead, remember that what’s truly important is to give our kids a sense of stability and solidarity. To make them feel loved and protected. To nourish them emotionally and physically.

This doesn’t happen at prescribed times with preplanned, multidish meals featuring the four food groups.

No, this happens serendipitously and unexpectedly.

It can happen over a dinner of Team Cheerios, at a table with mismatched bowls and disposal-chewed spoons. It can happen during a spur-of-the-moment midnight run to Krispy Kreme. It can even happen on a Sunday evening at Maria’s Italian Kitchen over pizza, chopped salad and uninterrupted games of Hangman.

Ask Wendy


Passover Denial

Dear Wendy:
My 10-year-old daughter attends Hebrew school at our Reform synagogue. She recently reported that her religion teacher said that the Passover miracles never happened and that she saw a TV show “proving” that the splitting of the Red Sea was the result of a volcanic eruption. The teacher intends to show the video to the class. Meanwhile, my daughter is distraught and feels that she won’t enjoy the seder this year thinking that the story of Passover is a fraud. I’m not sure what to do.
— Perplexed

This teacher has unwittingly offered you an opportunity to impress upon your daughter how dramatically different people’s beliefs can be. She is entitled to her point of view. (Even though she should never have been allowed within a mile of your daughter’s Hebrew school class — or any other Hebrew school class, for that matter.) Your daughter is old enough to maintain, even defend, her own beliefs in the face of opposing ones. She may not (yet) be able to shoot back that there is as much “proof” for the “volcano theory” as there is for the biblical explanation of events, but your daughter must learn to follow her own compass — religious or moral — no matter how much external pressure is applied. Ask your daughter whom she believes, her parents and grandparents, or her teacher? Then get to work rekindling your daughter’s faith.

As for the teacher, speak to her directly just in case your daughter somehow misunderstood the message. If there was no misunderstanding, then before the teacher can play the video and ruin Pesach for the rest of the class, speak to the director of the Hebrew school and demand the teacher’s resignation. The director is also culpable and should be called to task for not having properly vetted her staff. To all you Hebrew school directors out there: class is in session. Do you know what your teachers are teaching?


Scared to Scold

Dear Wendy:
I was at the supermarket yesterday and saw a mother slap her child hard across the face. I was horrified but I did nothing. What should/could I have done?
— Shocked Shopper

In a black-and-white world, the answer to your question is simple: keep moving because it’s none of your business. How would you feel if a perfect stranger stopped you in the supermarket and offered unsolicited advice about how you disciplined your child? Or about the hazards of the junk food in your shopping cart? There are a lot of parents who still believe that spanking is the best way to teach a child a lesson they will not soon forget.

However, I will say that certain actions call for a reaction: you might not stop someone loading junk foods into her shopping cart, but it is your moral obligation to stop someone who is stealing them. A potchke may be about teaching your child a lesson; a solid slap is about a parent who is out of control. We’ve all been there, but as parents we are meant to model for our children that we can use our words instead of our hands, fists or teeth. Specialists long ago determined that spanking should not be used as a form of discipline. And finally, if you had any reason to suspect this child may be a victim of child abuse, it is your moral obligation to report the mother.

Short of following the mother around to determine if her behavior was an exception or the rule, I would have looked the mother in the eyes, reminded her she should pick on someone her own size, and continued on to the frozen food section.

Write to Ask Wendy at wbadvice@aol.com or at 954 Lexington Ave. Suite 189, New York, N.Y., 10021.

Mural, Mural on the Wall


A new mural joins the A-list of great Jewish murals in Los Angeles. At Kehillat Israel, the Reconstructionist congregation in Pacific Palisades, local artist and temple member Wanda Warburton-Peretz recently unveiled “The Jewish Holidays,” a 16-foot by 8-foot mural depicting Judaism’s annual celebration cycle.

The bright, almost kinetic work uses child-friendly designs and splashy colors, while the words “Shabbat Shalom” glow warmly in the center.

The mural took two years to design and about 200 hours to execute on a curved wall in the rotunda that joins –appropriately — the Early Childhood Center and the religious school classrooms. Warburton-Peretz based her design largely on what she learned while attending Rabbi Neil Weinberg’s Introduction to Judaism class at the University of Judaism.

“Learning about the ethical principles, historical and agricultural significance, the symbolic foods and objects associated with each of the Jewish holidays was so amazing during my conversion process,” she said. “The idea of a mural started percolating in my mind even before I went into the mikvah. I am so pleased to have finally completed it in a place where kids of all ages can enjoy the colorful characters and scenes, and educators can use it as a teaching tool.”

The artist worked with both of Kehillat Israel’s rabbis, Steven Carr Reuben and Sheryl Lewart, as well as religious school director Nancy Levin, to personalize and fine-tune the overall design, weaving in pictures of the main sanctuary’s Torah covers and a ceramic tzedakah box that is presented to each new bar and bat mitzvah. It also features the Reconstructionist Press’ machzor and siddur and its newly published Passover haggadah, “A Night of Questions.”

The mural was dedicated on Oct. 20, just before Kehillat Israel’s Simchat Torah celebration. During a brief ceremony, Warburton-Peretz was honored for her “creative Jewish spirit.” Kehillat Israel’s senior staff presented her with a beautiful handmade tallit. Rabbis Reuben and Lewart, along with Cantor Chayim Frenkel, officiated at the ceremony and gave Warburton-Peretz the honor of carrying the first Torah around the sanctuary during the Simchat Torah processionals.

Making a Difference


Rabbi Bernie King watched the rioting sparked by the Rodney King verdict, but what he saw was gam zo l’tovah, the Jewish notion that also, this is for good.

Although the violent aftermath gave him the sense that “society was falling apart around us,” the spiritual leader of Congregation Shir Ha-Ma’alot in Irvine also “realized that we needed to build bridges between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots.'”

Putting his social conscience to work, Rabbi King constructed a plan for the temple to partner with the Santa Ana school system. His own partner, wife Barbara, then a teacher at Willard Middle School in Santa Ana (now she teaches at Century High), was ideally suited to implement – and enhance – the plan.”The key has been Barbara, who teaches in the school. She’s already developed relationships with gang kids and the poor. And being my wife with her connection to the temple, she is involved deeply on both ends,” explains Bernie King.

The partnership between Congregation Shir Ha-Ma’alot and three schools in the Santa Ana Unified School District, where students are mainly Hispanic and primarily Catholic, is comprised of: programs (essay contests, writing contests, tutoring, “adopting” students); services (free services from temple members who are eye surgeons, orthopedists, optometrists, psychologists, social workers, heart valve specialists, oral surgeons, and veterinarians); tzedakah, scholarships (Dollars for Scholars, rabbi’s discretionary fund, camp scholarships and giving Tzedakah box to schools for distribution to needy families), and donations (“adopting” families for Thanksgiving and Christmas, ongoing clothing drive).

Bernie and Barbara King, who share two cars with the customized license plates “B AMensch” and “U2RHoly,” agree that the partnership has provided the students with a very positive image of Jews. This is especially significant because the student population at the three partner schools – Franklin Elementary, Willard Middle and Century High – is estimated at 70 percent Hispanic, 10-15 percent Asian, and 3 percent African American, with the remaining percentage white and others. Virtually no Jewish students attend these schools.

“It’s brought an understanding and acceptance of Judaism. Many of these students didn’t know anything about Judaism or Jews. Those who were exposed to Catholicism sometimes had a negative view of Jews as the killer of Christ,” explains Barbara King. “Now they’re able to see Jews as caring and giving. There’s definitely an acceptance – not just of Jews, but of others.”

A case in point: During one of Rabbi King’s weekly visits to Willard, the students welcomed him with “shalom,” grabbed their heads and said, “oy vey.” “They did it with perfect intonation. It was great,” says Barbara King.

TThe partnership began in 1992 at Willard, where Barbara King was teaching; in 1995, it followed her to Century High. In 1998, the partnership expanded to Franklin Elementary, primarily because temple member Marsha Bisheff, who helps coordinate the program, teaches there.”We get back much more than we give,” says Barbara King. “We gain an appreciation of what we have and become more aware of Baruch Hashems in life.”

To that end, L’Chaim Chavurah, a temple group of 9-10 couples comprised of adultswith grown children, has adopted an extended family of 21 representing three generations. Several have graduated from Century High. Jean and Daniel Marcus coordinate the effort.

At Thanksgiving, the adopted family received enough food for one week. At Easter, each family member received a basket with age-appropriate goodies – candy and toys for the children, fruit, flowers, shampoo and shaving lotion in a reusable container for the adults. And at Christmas, each family member got a complete outfit of clothing with shoes.”We explained that this was a present from your Jewish friends,” said Jean Marcus. “Their eyes were really happy when they saw the presents. It was wonderful. They were absolutely thrilled.”In addition to the holiday giving, each month Daniel and Jean – representing L’Chaim Chavurah – shop for and deliver food to the family whom Jean Marcus describes as “a very nice group of people who are trying to make a new life.”

On one occasion, when the mother, who didn’t know whether there was enough to feed her family, saw the Marcuses arrive with donated food, she threw her arms around Jean, exclaiming, “Gracias. Madre de dios.” “Now she says thank you in English,” Jean Marcus says. “She was so delighted.”Jean Marcus adds, “I’m so happy that we can give something back, that we can help give someone a hand who needs it. It’s wonderful.”

Another temple member, a heart-valve specialist who grew up in poverty, lent a hand when he spoke at a Willard class assembly about his profession. He gave each of the students $1 and told them to invest in themselves. He also encouraged them to take $1 each week and put it in the bank.”A lot of these students think day-to-day. They don’t make grandiose plans for the future. They’re surviving. Most come from gang-infested neighborhoods. There’s lots of drug use, lots of violence – and they survive.

“This speaker gives them hope. It crosses over ethnic bounds, economic bounds. It gives the students a commonality they can relate to,” explains Barbara King, who, among her extensive array of good deeds, paired a child survivor of the Holocaust with an abused student to give the latter hope and support.Reflecting upon the eight years since the looting and rioting following the Rodney King verdicts served as the impetus for the temple-school partnership, Rabbi King is “really pleased” with the results.

“This is the one project in my 30 years here that continuously bears fruit. We’ve touched a lot of lives – and had our lives touched, too.”

A ‘Nice’ Idea Blossoms Into a Group of ‘Niceaholics’


Debbie Tenzer was having lunch with several girlfriends when the conversation got heated. “We all had such different views on where the country was headed. There was so much anger and so much scary news in the post-Sept. 11 world,” she says, recalling the devastation from hurricanes and the tsunami, terrorism threats, difficulties facing Israel and escalating deaths in Iraq. “I wished I could pull my head in and hide like a turtle.”



But that’s hardly what Tenzer, a mother of three and marketing consultant, decided to do.

She thought to herself: “I can’t single-handedly end world hunger, but I can donate some cans to a food bank. I can’t fix the entire school system, but I can donate my kids’ old books to the library.”

So she did, and her kindness was empowering.



“I realized that if you have the ability to help other people, you’re in a pretty good place,” says Tenzer, who lives in Los Angeles with her husband of 29 years. “It’s not always easy, because basically, we’re selfish creatures, many of us struggling every day. We have to make a choice, and it starts by doing just one nice thing.”



Tenzer decided that every Monday, she’d do something nice for others.

“It’s the hardest day of the week,” she explains, “so I wanted to start off with something I could feel good about, a personal victory,” even if it was only a five-minute gesture like making a card for senior citizens in nursing homes. Her friends were inspired by her idea, so she sent an e-mail to 60 of them with her suggestions for kind acts they could easily do, too.



One year later, her idea has evolved into a Web site, DoOneNiceThing.com, with thousands of visitors and a weekly e-mail that reaches people in more than 20 countries, including Afghanistan, Israel, Japan and Slovakia. Her self-funded site reinforces the idea that small acts of kindness can create lasting results and suggests simple deeds that appeal to both adults and children without usually asking for money.

She credits them with cheering up hundreds of hospitalized children, donating countless books to schools, libraries and hospitals, as well as backpacks to foster children who were literally carrying their belongings from home to home in a garbage bag.



“What kind of message does that send to them?” Tenzer asks rhetorically.The ideas are often sent to Tenzer in the more than 200 weekly e-mails she receives from the site’s members, whom she calls “Niceaholics” because, Tenzer cautions, “you get hooked.”

Operation Feel Better, for example, encourages people to make or buy cards that she then sends to hospitalized children. “So far I’ve gotten 1,000 cards from all over the United States and as far away as China, and they’re still trickling in,” she says. The figure includes about 20 from her 14-year-old daughter. “I brought some to UCLA Children’s Hospital and sent others to St. Jude’s Hospital in Memphis.”

Pulling out a big batch in a manila envelope, she adds, “These are on their way to Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, where sick children of all faiths lie side by side.”



Pointing to a wall in her home office that’s covered with pictures, Tenzer says, “These are some of the heroes who are making life better.”



She begins to cry as she talks about Mallory Lewis, with whom she spent the day at Fort Irwin near Barstow, the last stop before many of the soldiers are deployed to Iraq. “Some of the people we met were killed in the war. Maybe the last smile they had or their last taste of childhood was because of Mallory,” she sobs, noting that Lewis, the daughter of puppeteer Shari Lewis, performed with Lamp Chop for no fee.



“I’m not usually so emotional, but these people remind me of a higher purpose in life,” she adds. Getting teary-eyed again, she points to a picture of a young man who quit his job at a law firm to teach at an inner-city school, where he spent his free time helping students fill out college applications.



“Every one of them went to college because of him,” she said.



While some of the “nice people” Tenzer has recognized are spearheading grass-roots efforts or starting nonprofits to help the homeless, disadvantaged children, AIDS patients, abused animals or drug addicts, others are honored for simply making people smile. Bob Mortenson, for example, a retired man in his 70s, takes a walk every morning carrying a bag of cookies so that he can share something sweet with workers in his neighborhood. And on her way home from work as a gynecologist, Karen Gross has a daily ritual of dropping off treats at her local LAPD and Fire Department stations.



The one thing all the honorees have in common, Tenzer says, is their reaction to being praised.



“Every single one of them says something like, ‘Oh no, not me. Other people do so much more than I do,'” Tenzer says. “This is the sign of a truly kind person.”

When the kindness hits close to home, she’s especially grateful and pleasantly surprised.

“You won’t believe this,” she says, explaining that her younger son, Ben, a college junior who’s spending the semester in Barcelona, was recently pickpocketed. But within days, a taxi driver had found what remained of Ben’s wallet, including his credit cards and ID, and called his university in the United States so that he could arrange to return it.



“There really are a lot of nice people out there,” Tenzer says with a smile. She attributes her sense of tikkun olam, healing the world, to her Conservative Jewish and Zionist upbringing in the Bay Area, values that she and her husband, an agent at Creative Artists Agency, have instilled in their children. “I was always taught that we have a responsibility to other Jews and to the whole community,” she says, praising her parents for being role models. “Tikkun olam is in my soul. It’s just a reflex. It’s what’s expected of us.” But she’s careful to point out that her site embraces people of all denominations and backgrounds.



“My goal is to unite people, not point out our differences,” she says. “I never ask people their faith, but it often comes out.”

Still, she admits that about half of all the people featured on the site are Jewish: “And I’m proud of that.”

Like her honorees, she’s also proud of her accomplishments, but won’t take all the credit. “It’s not all me by any means,” says Tenzer, who’s now working on a related book. “I just lit a match to get some light going out there. It’s the people all over the world who are keeping it going.”

Be the Angel


At least there’s one good thing we can say about Abraham preparing to sacrifice his own son Isaac. When he lifts the gleaming knife above the boy’s head, an angel calls out: “Do not harm that child.” Jews don’t sacrifice their children. It might have been the norm in pagan societies, but not in our ancestors’, and not in ours.

Fact: There are 78,000 children in foster care in Los Angeles County, the most of any jurisdiction in the United States.

Fact: Los Angeles County has the highest percentage of children in America not covered by health insurance.

Fact: Children are the poorest age group, twice as likely to be poor as elderly people.

These are statistics that tell a tragic tale. But there is another side to the story, a truth not revealed by the facts. The truth of Kiara.

Kiara is a lot like most of the kids I met in foster care while I was preparing this article. When I walked into the room at the agency where she goes for counseling, Kiara looked at me with the suspicious eyes of an 18-year-old who’s been in what she calls “The System” for a long time. Aloof but intense, dismissive but observant, dark and beautiful, attitude camouflaging a broken heart, she had a lot to say.

With her long, thin fingers poised on her chin, Kiara started to speak. “The system labels kids like me bad,” she said. “But I’m not bad. It’s just that a lot of bad things have happened to me, and I’m angry.”

“Like what?” I asked.

“Like my mother, addicted to every drug you can imagine before I was even born. I never knew if she was going to be able to feed us most nights or not. Lots of times, I’d give up whatever I had so that my little brother could eat. My mother’s boyfriends, including my father, were always violent. One of them killed my mother in front of me when I was 11. By then, I’d been beaten, burned and raped by others of them.”

Diana, another teen-ager in the room, nods her head. She, too, has gone without food so that her little brother could eat. Fourteen, raped by her father, shy and wounded, she’s been in foster care since April, when she finally told a friend what her father was doing to her.

“If you had the chance to stand up and tell people something, what would it be?” I ask both Kiara and Diana, expecting something angry.

“What I would tell people is this,” Kiara said, turning toward me: “I’ve always looked my whole life for someone to say, ‘Kiara, you did a good job. I’m proud of you.’ People need to say that to their kids.”

“Yeah,” Diana said. “If you really want something, you can work for it and have it. I’ve suffered a lot, but the people who have helped me mean a lot to me.”

The facts would lead us to assume that the kids in “The System” are hopeless and unsavable. But there’s more I haven’t told you about Kiara. She’s graduating high school this February with a 4.0 GPA and heading off to Spellman College in Atlanta. What does she want to study? Early Childhood Development. Diana too.

How does it happen that kids so damaged can be so strong? It happens because of people doing God’s work. People such as Andrew Bridge, director of the Alliance for Children’s Rights, and a foster kid himself who went on to Harvard Law School and a Fulbright. He heads Los Angeles’ only free legal-services organization devoted solely to helping children in poverty.

Kids so damaged can be so strong because of every Jewish Big Brother or Sister, because of places such as Vista del Mar (310 836-1223) and the Aviva center, (213 876-0550) because of every dollar and every minute we donate to places that are doing God’s work by saving children in Los Angeles.

I had a professor in rabbinical school who used to say that it was the rabbi’s job “to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” So I have to ask another question, not about the abuse of someone else’s children, but about the neglect of our own. What about our children and grandchildren, these hothouse flowers we are raising in Los Angeles — pushed, coached, tutored, scheduled, given too much, too soon, too often? What does it all mean when we have calls to our nursery school, requesting parenting classes for nannies? What, eventually, happens to a kid whose parents are unwilling to say no, because they want to be liked? What happens to a family that almost never has dinner together?

Isn’t being overly accommodating and overly demanding of our children at the same time it’s own, subtle form of neglect? Kids like Kiara and kids like ours just want the chance to be kids — to fulfill their God-given potential, to feel worthy, to feel joy, to feel like a family. Every kid deserves that.

Elie Wiesel once said that, since human beings are capable of love and hate, murder and sacrifice, we are both Abraham and Isaac. I think we can be something else, something other than Abraham the perpetrator or Isaac the victim. We can be the angel that stops the slaughter. For our own children, for Kiara, Diana and so many others, we can be the angel.


Steven Z. Leder is a rabbi at Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

Inward Bound


Samantha came home from two weeks at Outward Bound, a no-frills boot camp in a sailing ship off Puget Sound, Wash., with four new vocabulary words: “Can I help you?”

I was in the kitchen slicing tomatoes, and the shock was so great I nearly nicked my finger. But she was serious.

“I can chop garlic,” she said, gaily. Oh my. Garlic is a second-tier miracle of its own; the expansion of my daughter’s appetite from Power Bars into wok cooking.

Teen-age girls always have a strange relationship with food. When I was her age, I ate only peanut butter or salami. Before Samantha will buy anything, even shoes and shampoo, she investigates its chemical properties and environmental impact. She interviews restaurant managers to certify the tuna in the nicoise is dolphin safe. Her favorite reading is the labels on packages, those tiny charts listing the calories, protein, salt and carbohydrates. With the exception of apples, she basically eats food created for astronauts.

I am well beyond arguing with her. This is my comeuppance for raising a baby naturally, in a Coke-free home, free of stabilizers and preservatives. I was responding to my own childhood, in which all vegetables came frozen in plastic bags or cartons; these were in turn a vast improvement over vegetables preserved in cans. Anyway, I baked my own bread (from a famous cookbook created by California monks) for her pre-school sandwiches of peanut butter and banana, (no jelly; too much sugar.) But the minute she was in our friends’ kitchen, she went right to the refrigerator and dove for the soda can. This was not the only exercise in humility my daughter has given me.

We are in the middle of a long summer of separation, so of course I’m thinking about how we began, and where we are heading. When Samantha announced she wanted to spend the summer camping away from home, she did so with my best interests at heart.

“You need a break!” she declared. And looking in the mirror, I had to agree. Exhaustion coated my body like a linoleum floor with too much wax build up. Where, under all those worry lines of parental concern, was the real me?

I spent my own childhood summers at sleepaway camp in upstate New York. While I enjoyed well enough the time spent reading novels and swatting flies on the top of a bunkbed in a cabin by a lake, it was my parents who really benefited from the experience.

Mom and Dad would bring me to the downtown New York bus depot looking haggard and defeated. The moment Dad heaved my duffel bag onto the baggage truck, his spirits lifted. When they picked me up weeks later, they were buoyant, hands waving brightly in the pageant of waiting parents standing curbside, practically glowing with good health.

Like Samantha, I took my parents’ happiness personally. I’d lie on my bunk staring up at the ceiling during the post-lunch rest hour, and imagine them dancing in the living room, or — imagine this — laughing together during dinner, like I’d once seen them when I was 7 and crept down the hallway during an adult party. But now I can see that it wasn’t me: all year long they were cocooned in responsibility; they lifted into their true joyous colors temporarily, when I was gone.

Who am I when I’m not a parent? So far, it’s been hard to tell. For the first days, I lived on the banks of denial, just doing my business as usual. Then I began to feel what was missing, the negative space where hormonal rage and sweet delight usually swing in counter point. My friend “E,” whose son is off to college this year, tells me she’s following him around the house in order to store up “boy smells,” anticipating the moment they’ll be gone for good. E and I are on the same page. When things get quiet at home, I spontaneously play in my head (never that @’*! overproduced record) the theme from “Titanic,” which Samantha loves. Girl sounds.

My friends, whose children are now adults and living on their own, are still practicing the parenting arts. We talk about the professional lives of der kinde as once we discussed their play groups and clothing sizes. And when the flock moves home for some periodic resting, we don’t even mind.

“They ask me to make dinner,” says my friend Barbara of her adult children. “I’m glad to do it.”

It’s weird to find how the mothering side of nature takes hold; it is the skin we grow and can’t easily take off. I am of the generation of women that fought against vicarious identities.

Parenting may not be my only business, but it sure eats time. How am I doing as a mother? is the question that haunts me night and day. So here we are, proud feminists all. But a kiss is still a kiss, and a mother, as my own mother forever tells me, is always a mother. I am now, for this summer, what my girlfriend Marika calls a “single mom,” a mother who is doing the same degree of worrying, but alone.

When Samantha was young, I would imagine the day that I would have my freedom again. Cross-country bike tours; a villa in Portugal; a cooking class with Marcella Hazan in Italy. But right now, I’m not Outward Bound, but Inward Bound, exploring what’s to come.

Marlene Adler Marks is senior columnist for The Jewish Journal. Her email address is wmnsvoice@aol.com

 

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Read a Previous Week’s Article by Marlene Adler Marks

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April 3, 1998A Worrier’s Delight

March 27, 1998Clinton and the Feminists

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March 6, 1998Taster’s Choice

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January 16, 1998False Alarms

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Bagel Factory Wages


These days, the CEOs of Noah’s New York Bagels andWestern Bagels may be getting less sleep at night, thanks to theBagel Factory.

The kosher-certified chain, billing itself as”Simply The Best,” threw down the gauntlet in the battle for bagelshop supremacy last month, opening it’s newest outlet on the busycorner of Sunset Boulevard and La Brea Avenue. The high noon grandopening unfolded with a ribbon-cutting ceremony inaugurated by theHollywood Chamber of Commerce and much musical fanfare, courtesy ofthe Hollywood High School Sheiks Marching Band.

“I just had the greatest peanut butter bagel I’veever had,” decreed honorary Hollywood mayor Johnny Grant as hesnipped the official ribbon.

Owners Mark Powers and Sonny Brody had their handsfull, serving pizza bagels and gladhanding guests. But they foundtime to present charity contributions benefitting Hollywood HighSchool and L.A. Bridges Theatre Company of the Deaf. Crowed a proudBrody, “This is the home of the original bagel recipe, brought overto this country and never changed.”

Also on hand for the ceremony was Rabbi Dr.Yehudah Bukspan, who provided the kosher supervision. Fans of”mini-mallism” should stop by the strip-mall shop for some of theirfine culinary arts (which include cocoa rolls, lentil soup and omeletsandwiches), or drop by other Bagel Factory locations in West LosAngeles, Torrance and Manhattan Beach. — Michael Aushenker, CommunityEditor

Like Magic

Up Front has seen the future of Jewish unity, andeaten it. Last Thursday night at the Magic Carpet restaurant, as UpFront was discussing right-wing Orthodox rabbis, one of those verysame rabbis walked in and ordered dinner. No sooner had ourconversation shifted to left-wing Orthodoxy than one of Israel’sleading Orthodox peaceniks walked in with his guests and took anothertable. We think they both ordered the tumeric-laced Yeminite chickensoup, or maybe it was the grilled homemade lamb and beef sausage orthe ethereal humous with fava beans. Whatever, the coincidencesparked an idea: All these commissions and committees and conferencesseeking to forge Jewish unity should meet at places like the MagicCarpet, where at the very least the opponents could agree on thefood, then move on to less important matters. (The Magic Carpet, 8566W. Pico Blvd. 310-652-8507)– RobEshman, ManagingEditor