Bring your gun to synagogue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman: Stand our ground

I’m outraged at the Trayvon Martin case, but not because a jury found George Zimmerman, the man who killed Martin, not guilty.

When you read through the state’s case and the witness testimony, when you stop to understand the trial the way the jurors did, when you go over the actual points of law that had to be decided, then it’s easy to understand why Zimmerman was found not guilty. The state failed to make its case.

What outrages me still is this: A boy who didn’t have to die is dead.

On Feb. 26, 2012, Martin, 17, was walking back to his father’s girlfriend’s home in a Sanford, Fla., gated community when he drew the suspicions of Zimmerman, a 29-year-old neighborhood watch captain. Zimmerman armed himself with a pistol and followed Martin. The two got into a confrontation. It ended when Zimmerman shot Martin dead.

We don’t know how Martin behaved that night. We don’t know if Zimmerman acted like the Terminator or Andy Griffith. All we know for sure is this: Zimmerman took a gun and went to confront Martin, and Martin is dead.

[Related: David Suissa's reaction to the Zimmerman verdict]

At the time Zimmerman started to follow him, Martin was carrying a bottle of iced tea and a bag of Skittles. He had endangered no one. He had threatened no one.

Zimmerman first called 911 and reported “a suspicious person.” The operator told Zimmerman not to leave his vehicle or approach Martin. Zimmerman ignored the instructions and left his SUV. 

No matter how many times I hear about the trial, my mind goes back to that moment — that’s where my outrage begins.

Why did Zimmerman have to take matters into his own hands? Why wasn’t a phone call to the police enough? Why go looking for trouble?

If Zimmerman had made his call and waited for the police, Martin would be alive today. 

The reason Zimmerman didn’t wait is because of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” statute. Under that law, a person can justifiably use force in self-defense, even outside of one’s home or car, when there is a reasonable belief of an unlawful threat, and without the obligation to first retreat. 

Until this case exploded, I had no idea there could be such an idiotic interpretation of what would otherwise be a common-sense law. People attacked in their home should be able to stand their ground. But claiming every piece of Florida sidewalk as “your ground” defies logic. It’s an outrage. 

Of course we must have the right to defend ourselves against imminent threat. “One who comes to slay you,” the Talmud says, “rise up and slay him.” Yet the Jewish law of din rodef, literally, the case of the pursuer, obligates us to defend ourselves and others from a pursuer come to do us harm. Ours is not the religion of “turn the other cheek.” Ours is the religion of Yael, who didn’t wait for Sisera to lead an army against the Israelites. The night before battle, she lulled Sisera to sleep, then drove a spike through his head. Jewish law — and common-sense law — gives us the right to preempt our destruction. 

But Martin had as much right to stand on that ground as Zimmerman. If Zimmerman had to defend himself, it was because he chased a boy he had no business pursuing. It’s likely Martin was the one who felt he was standing his ground. But we’ll never know, because he wasn’t the one with the gun.

Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law mocks the common sense of self-defense. It gives individuals the right to preempt their own imagined destruction. Killing someone who comes to kill you is ethical. Chasing after someone who looks like you imagine someone who might want to kill you looks — that’s immoral. When you get a gun and go looking for trouble, chances are you’ll find it. 

What outrages me about the Zimmerman verdict is how it may only reaffirm this behavior.

“What the verdict says, to the astonishment of tens of millions of us, is that you can go looking for trouble in Florida, with a gun and a great deal of racial bias, and you can find that trouble, and you can act upon that trouble in a way that leaves a young man dead, and none of it guarantees that you will be convicted of a crime,” Andrew Cohen wrote in The Atlantic.

The facts bear this out, as if common sense doesn’t. Since Florida passed the “Stand Your Ground” law in 2005, deaths due to self-defense have jumped 200 percent.

Maybe it should come as no surprise that the National Rifle Association, which has pushed concealed carry laws, obstructed efforts at common-sense background checks and never met a weapon it wanted to ban, played a key role in supporting Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. What fun are concealed weapons if you can’t shoot people with them?

There are 23 states with “Stand Your Ground” laws like Florida’s. In order that there never be a 24th, the rest of us must stand our ground.

Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

Obama: Peres represents Israel’s self-defense, desire for peace

Awarding Shimon Peres the Presidential Medal of Freedom, President Obama said the Israeli president embodied Israel’s need to simultaneously defend itself and to seek peace.

“Shimon knows the necessity of strength,” Obama said in prepared remarks released to the media before Wednesday’s ceremony. 

Obama quoted Peres’ mentor and Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion: “An Israel capable of defending herself—which cannot be destroyed—can bring peace nearer.”

The U.S. leader said that outlook informs his work with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “to ensure that the security cooperation between the United States and Israel is closer and stronger than it has ever been.”

Obama added, “And yet, Shimon knows that a nation’s security depends not just on the strength of its arms but upon the righteousness of its deeds—its moral compass. He knows, as Scripture teaches, that we must not only seek peace, we must pursue it. And so it has been the cause of his life—peace, security and dignity, for Israelis and Palestinians and all Israel’s Arab neighbors.”

Etta Israel Campers Learn Skills for Life

Mark Worland — six-foot-something, dressed in tight black and skinhead bald — grabs Navid by the arm.

“Come with me!” he barks.

“No!” screams Navid, barely 5-feet tall.

Navid throws himself on his back, locks the bottom of his feet to Worland’s knees, and shields his face and head from Worland’s flailing fists.

“Great job,” says Worland, a self-defense specialist, shaking Navid’s hand and helping him up, as Navid’s friends applaud.

This self-defense class is part of a repertoire of life skills that Navid and his peers are learning at Independent Living Skills, a summer program for developmentally disabled adults run by Etta Israel Center, a mid-Wilshire nonprofit for people with special needs.

Piloted last year, the program now has 15 participants, ages 18 to 29, who are developing life skills in a Jewish atmosphere while also having the kind of fun summer is all about — sports, trips and counselors who keep the energy level and the warmth at a joyous high.

On this Monday morning, counselors are dressed in muumuus and leis as part of today’s Hawaiian theme. They blast music while campers twirl hula-hoops around their arms, necks and hips.

For the hula-hoop contest and smoothie making that followed, the disabled young adults joined with kids from Camp Avraham Moshe, Etta Israel’s program for 10- to 18-year-olds with Down syndrome, autism and other developmental disabilities. Both programs meet at the YULA boys’ school on Pico Boulevard.

The living-skills training is a natural outgrowth of Camp Avraham Moshe, which has been around for seven years.

“We saw the older campers getting bored. They needed more learning, more focused activities,” said Dovid Levine, a college student and long-time Etta Israel volunteer who helped establish and now directs the program for young adults.

The camper-to-counselor ratio at Avraham Moshe is one to one, and at the adult camp one counselor is responsible for two or three. The counselors are paid a nominal stipend.

During the five-week, 8 a.m.-to-3:30 p.m. program, participants learn skills and responsibility from activities such as the camp car wash, taping and producing their own film, and reorganizing the warehouse at a food bank. They also help out with the younger kids and with set-up and cleanup. And this summer they held a charity garage sale, and collected recyclables from receptacles they placed in neighborhood homes.

Some of the adults work during the year, in packaging, food service and janitorial jobs, for instance. Some are in day programs, and others spend their days at home watching television.

Their life-skills classes — nutrition, hygiene, safety — and daily social interactions are practice for real life. Trips for rock climbing and horseback riding, accomplished with whatever modifications are necessary, give them a sense of independence, while daily prayers, blessings before and after meals and Jewish music create an unmistakably Jewish experience.

A highly detailed intake process pinpoints specific skills campers want to work on. This summer, one child at Camp Avraham Moshe mastered buttoning his shirt, giving him the independence to dress himself.

One adult with autism hadn’t been out of his house for two years, but on a recent day volunteered to be a punching bag for Worland’s self-defense demonstration.

After the class, Navid, 25, is eager to talk about his summer experience. It’s “the best! A dream come true!” he said.

Navid is a regular at Etta Israel events, including weekend retreats at different synagogues, Sunday school classes and monthly social events. Etta Israel also runs two group homes in Valley Village, self-contained special-needs classes and inclusion programs at day schools, teacher training and a support and outreach program for the Iranian community. All of the programs are designed with the goal of being welcoming to all Jews — from the unaffiliated to the ultra-Orthodox.

Camp costs $300 a week, a sum that is covered by parents, government funding and scholarships. Donations make up the difference between what is charged and the actual costs, which is closer to $440 a week per person.

Menachem Litenatsky, director of youth and volunteer services at Etta Israel, hopes the summer programs lead to something bigger.

“It’s a huge blight on the Los Angeles Jewish community that we don’t have a special-needs day school,” he says.

Elana Artson, whose son Jacob, 12, attends Camp Avraham Moshe — and a public school during the year — appreciates the benefit of an excellent education and a plethora of Jewish activities outside of school. She says Etta Israel gives him a consistent community and a circle of friends that a patchwork of Jewish activities couldn’t.

Jacob himself, who is autistic and communicates primarily through typing, is thrilled with the camp.

“I love being with people who love Judaism as much as I do,” he wrote in an e-mail. “I also enjoy camp because I can’t do most of the things that other 12-year-old boys do independently, but at camp I have an opportunity to do all the things regular kids do.”

For information on the Etta Israel Center, visit or call (323) 965-8711.


It’s Not Our Right to Challenge Israel

I grew up in Australia in the 1960s and well remember, as a child, sitting by the radio or television anxiously awaiting developments during the Six-Day War.

I vividly recall scouring the paper for details of troop movements during the 1973 Yom Kippur War and remember being unable to sleep at night for fear that Israel might not exist when I awoke the following morning.

But I also remember a more powerful lesson from childhood. My Jewish day school education left me with the enduring belief that decisions regarding the security interests of the State of Israel were best left in the hands of those whose sons and daughters were asked to fight its battles.

Whatever our opinions about Israel’s claim on the territories, its attitude to Palestinian nationalism or its rights to self-defense, no one was asking us to risk our lives for Israel’s sake.

I had neither the right nor privilege to challenge the government of Israel’s decisions on how to protect its citizens. If I did so, I was in some way undermining that government and endangering Israel’s existence in a hostile world.

In a cynical age such as ours, this parochial attitude might seem charmingly out of date. And yet, this central tenet of a Zionist education remained embedded in my consciousness throughout high school, through my student leadership days and even into my 30s, when I had to make strenuous efforts to channel my bitter opposition to the Oslo process into nonpublic activism.

I resisted and continue to resist attacking a democratically elected government of Israel. I remain committed to the notion that short of living full time in the Jewish State, the policies of Israel, for better or worse, deserve to be publicly respected.

The wisdom of this approach is often challenged, particularly within my own ideological circle. My usual response to such criticism is that the State of Israel will always have far greater enemies than its own government, and that these enemies are much worthier of challenge.

Maybe that is why I am so angered by advertisements and articles in our local papers that claim that alternative voices are being muffled in the community. By "alternative," they, of course, mean opposition to the Israeli government.

When I read the most recent lachrymose statement on the back page of The Jewish Journal, my first reaction was a sense of irony. How often during the long years of Oslo, when many in my own circle felt that Oslo was a deathtrap leading Israel not to peace but war, did we feel like pariahs, with no audience or forum to hear our perspective? Yet, I still can’t remember anyone suggesting that we buy advertising space proclaiming our sense of exclusion. Despite our worst fears, we knew that time would prove us tragically right.

My second reaction was more pointed. What does this self-described loyal opposition really want?

For two years, Israel had a national unity government composed of left and right — a government that achieved a record 70 percent approval rating.

It was a government in which the prime minister’s own right-wing party was in the minority. It was a government whose leader had expressed support for the creation of a Palestinian state. It was a government that had laid down a clear agenda for negotiations, had accepted many American proposals from Mitchell to Tenet to Zinni. It was a government attempting to extricate Israel from one of the most difficult security situations it has ever encountered.

While Israelis are dying in their dozens, for no other reason than that they are Jews in the wrong place at the wrong time, who are we to tell the Israeli government how they can best be protected? Maybe this unity government doesn’t have all the answers, but surely it is better equipped than any of us to under take the necessary problem-solving.

Finally, I thought of the many community forums in which I have participated or which I have attended. In these community gatherings, there has almost always been another spokesman with an alternative point of view.

No one that I am aware of has ever been ejected from a forum for challenging anyone’s right-wing perspective. Even this very paper, which represents itself as the voice of the community, has, to its credit, pains over the course of the past two years to achieve a balance between competing points of vie .

It is said that when truth becomes apparent, it blazes so intensely that the unprepared must shield their eyes. That certain members of our community remain blind to realities in the Middle East can be debated.

But whatever we believe to be the solution to the Middle East conflict, there is no advantage to either Israel or ourselves in denouncing the policies of the democratically elected government of Israel.

We are outsiders. It is not our democratic right or even our Jewish right to voice opposition to Israeli policies, anymore than it is Israel’s right to voice opposition to American social policies.

If you want that right, then live in Israel and become a citizen. In the meantime, we should allow those who must contend with daily risks to their own and their childrens’ lives to make their own security decisions entirely free from our unwanted interference.

Avi Davis is the senior fellow of the Freeman Center for Strategic Studies and senior editorial columnist for

The Necessary Fight

With all the discussion, confusion and controversy about the Bush administration’s planned actions against Saddam Hussein,it’s ironic that President Bush, a born-again Bible reader, appears to have rejected the Christian position and adopted instead the Jewish stance on self-defense and responding to evil people.

Jesus, in his Sermon on the Mount, instructs: "If anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other one as well," adding: "Offer the wicked man no resistance."

One shudders to think of the consequences of such behavior in the face of the Hitlers of the world.

Moses, by contrast, in his first act as an adult, kills an Egyptian taskmaster who is beating a Jewish slave. His response to violence is not pacifism but defending the innocent, an approach taught clearly in the Talmud: "If someone comes to kill you, kill him first" (Sanhedrin 72a).

That blunt instruction, in turn, is based on a passage in the Torah noting that if a thief is killed while attempting to rob your house at night, "there is no blood guilt" (Exodus 22:1).

These ancient lessons are all too relevant today. When Islamic fundamentalists struck against America last Sept. 11, killing thousands of innocents, the United States responded by declaring war on the perpetrators and all those who seek to destroy this country through terror. Clearly, the notion of defending one’s self — be it a person or a nation — is accepted most widely, as is the understanding that as tragic as wars can be, they are necessary at times, and even moral.

Jewish law distinguishes between two types of war, one waged to conquer territory and one fought in self-defense. The latter, milchemet mitzvah, is literally considered to be a mitzvah.

The question today is whether the U.S.-planned invasion of Iraq to oust Hussein is a war of aggression or self-defense. Bush, given to seeing the world in black and white and articulating policy along those lines has come to believe that Hussein represents a clear threat to regional, and perhaps international, stability and must be removed. Bush has argued that Hussein’s race to develop biological, chemical and nuclear warfare — and the fact that he has used chemicals for the mass killing of his own people — are reason enough to act against him before he employs these instruments of mass destruction, as threatened, particularly against Israel.

Opposition to that position is mounting, though, even among the Republicans and close Bush allies. At first it was Egypt, Jordan and other Arab countries that warned against a U.S. invasion, soon joined by the Europeans. They argued against America as Bully, trying to rearrange the world as it would like, not mentioning they do business with Iraq. Here at home, the Democrats have been calling for a debate on the planned war, given its profound importance. Fair enough, but their arguments seem to be more about the need for "a national dialogue" rather than specific reasons why a war would be wrong.

Most attention has gone to the opinion piece written by Brent Scowcroft in the Aug. 15 Wall Street Journal, warning that a war against Iraq would undermine Washington’s war on terror. Scowcroft, national security adviser for the first President Bush and a close family friend of the Bushes, argues that Hussein has not been tied to the Sept. 11 terrorists, poses no real threat to the United States itself, and that attacking him would not only be costly in terms of American dollars and soldiers’ lives but could unleash a more wide-scale war. Saddam, under attack, would strike at Israel, Scowcroft says, perhaps with weapons of mass destruction, prompting Israel to hit back, possibly with its own nuclear arsenal, setting off "an Armageddon in the Middle East."

Scowcroft says the key is for the United States to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or face the wrath of the Arab world.

Certainly, there is reason for Washington to exercise great caution and careful planning before setting out to take on Hussein, as it has said it will. (One wonders what happened to the element of surprise in warfare, but that’s another story.) Going it alone, without the active help of Arab or European countries, would make such an effort all the more difficult. But Scowcroft, who opposed ousting Hussein in the Gulf War a decade ago, errs when he reasons that Hussein and the terrorist network are separate issues or that the United States must quell the Israeli-Palestinian violence before taking on Iraq.

This is all about confronting and defeating terror, not appeasing it or ignoring it, pretending it won’t hurt us. One lesson we should have learned from Hitler is that when a despot shows his willingness to murder civilians and proclaims his intentions to destroy a people, or a nation, take him at his word. Believe him, and the fact that he won’t stop until he is defeated.

The issue for the United States should not be whether to oust Saddam, but how. Turning the other cheek is suicide; what is called for is the moral imperative of destroying evil before it destroys you.

The Way of No Way

Drawn in part by the recent movie, "Enough," in which actress Jennifer Lopez uses Krav Maga to even the score against an abusive husband, a long-established Orange County class in self-defense is seeing a jump in popularity.

Sessions in the self-defense training developed for the Israeli army and held at Costa Mesa’s Jewish Community Center are drawing 25 percent more students in the last two years, say its principal instructors, Krav Maga black-belts Mitch Markowitz and Michael H. Leifer, who have taught together for 10 years. Across the nation, other Krav Maga schools have also seen a rise in interest since the Lopez movie opened in May. Despite street-fighting female stars, seen also in films such as "Charlie’s Angels" and "Tomb Raider," women still only comprise about one-third of the students.

Learning Krav Maga, Hebrew for "contact combat," appeals to fitness buffs and those who desire greater self-confidence, the instructors say. "Everybody wants to be able to defend themselves," says Leifer, a lean, muscular lawyer. "Not everybody is willing to invest the time to learn it."

Unlike the centuries-old Asian martial arts, where warriors strive to perfect an established combat technique as a path to spiritual enlightenment, Krav Maga is for contemporary warfare. Stripped of spirituality and any rules of engagement, its promoters willingly incorporate effective techniques borrowed from elsewhere. It’s a credo adopted by martial arts legend Bruce Lee, who embraced "the way of no way."

"It’s strictly self-defense: right to the point, finish the job," says Dr. Jerry Beasley, a professor at Virginia’s Radford University who has written six books on martial arts and is the director of a "karate college" at the campus.

That’s what appeals to Eric Papp, 35, an Anaheim lawyer who also considered learning Japan’s jujitsu. "This looked more aerobic as well as more practical," he says, figuring that knowing how to defend against a choke, kick or punch will eventually pay off in a bar fight or an encounter of "road rage."

Wearing T-shirts, sweatpants and athletic shoes, about 30 people were enrolled in a recent $120, eight-week session. Most are professionals without previous martial arts training. A few strap-on belts similar to those worn in karate, where skill is designated both by color and degree. (Black is the top level in both methods.) The biweekly 75-minute workouts are intense, sweat-inducing exercises in defeating an attacker by targeting the most vulnerable parts of the body. Bolsters of different shape and density line up on one side of the wood-floored auditorium. The students kick and punch the pads as they pair off, alternating in the role of aggressor and defender.

Scenarios are introduced quickly; various defensive maneuvers are broken down and demonstrated in steps. Students don’t necessarily perfect them before a new one is tried.

"It inspires confidence in me," says Victoria Short, 28, of Costa Mesa, who enrolled at the suggestion of her often-traveling husband.

Teaching this calculated version of street fighting is supposed to show students how to defend against brutal, modern-day thugs and also builds awareness about avoiding problematic situations. "Don’t walk down the street into five guys who are rowdy," is the sort of advice Markowitz offers. "Cross the street. Don’t be stupid. If you have the option, run."

Rather than a contest of strength, Krav Maga training teaches using deftness to deflect an aggressor and how to counterattack. "We start slow, but they are real attacks, real punches; the real thing," says Markowitz, who, like his partner, trained with Darren Levine.

Levine, who attended Israel’s first international instructors course in 1981, established the U.S. Krav Maga training center in Los Angeles in 1996. Besides training individuals, the center also trains 150 law enforcement agencies nationally and certifies martial arts instructors in teaching Krav Maga.

Among the thorny questions raised by students is how far they can push their own defense before crossing the legal line to battery. Occasionally, the instructors refuse a potential student who appears to be seeking the training for illegitimate purposes. "Martial arts draws people seeking an edge for their shenanigans," Markowitz says.

Both Markowitz and Leifer are veterans of traditional martial arts training, a historical relic of 16th century, sword-fought warfare. "Those movements don’t work great for someone who is choking you," says Markowitz.

Leifer abandoned training in other martial arts after meeting Levine in Los Angeles while attending Loyola Law School in 1985. "His students had great attitudes, it wasn’t a very commercial endeavor and it’s a system that’s better at dealing with day-to-day situations."

Self-Defense Vitalfor Women

Each year in January, female friends, co-workers and family members of Nicola Shocket can count on receiving a phone call or e-mail. The message isn’t a New Year’s greeting or birthday invitation. The 39-year-old executive-search consultant wants them to join her at a four-hour self-defense class given by the Los Angeles Commission on Assaults Against Women (LACAAW).

January marks an anniversary for Shocket. Fifteen years ago, in a downtown L.A. parking structure stairwell, Shocket was raped at knifepoint on her way to the office. Soon afterward, she signed up for LACAAW’s self-defense class as a way to combat her feelings of vulnerability.

The LACAAW class teaches women how to help prevent or escape an assault. Participants learn punches, kicks and other physical techniques to fight off an attacker of superior strength and size. But more than the physical techniques, LACAAW emphasizes the psychological elements of self-defense.

"We use an empowerment model," says Denice Labertew, project director for LACAAW, who taught Shocket’s class this year. "The goal is to provide options and choices which could be viable at any given moment."

Labertew and other instructors explain that assertiveness plays a key role in self-defense. They note that more than 80 percent of potential physical attacks can be avoided by using assertive responses — some as simple as yelling "No!"

"Assertiveness means defending yourself physically and emotionally," Labertew says. So a good portion of class time is devoted to helping women practice affirming their rights and setting boundaries.

In Shocket’s group, participants role-play, responding to situations ranging from being approached by a stranger in a parking lot to fending off flirtations from the office delivery man. They learn to use their words, voice and body to communicate firmly and clearly.

Instructor Leslie Bockian, who taught Shocket’s group last year, works to help women overcome the tendency to be polite, even in questionable circumstances. She notes that attackers tend to test a victim’s degree of compliance in determining whether to strike. They will often make requests for assistance, such as asking a woman to locate something for them on a map. "You decide whether or not to help, how close the questioner can get, and how long the interaction should last," Bockian tells participants. "You’re the one in control."

Awareness is another key component to self-defense, and for LACAAW, that involves debunking myths about rape such as the woman "caused" it, that women are helpless or that most rapes are committed by strangers. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, approximately 75 percent of rapes and sexual assaults are committed by people known to their victims.

Bockian says that although it might seem obvious, women must pay attention to their surroundings. Merely noticing a potential attacker’s presence may be enough to dissuade him because it ruins the element of surprise. Equally important, women need to trust their instincts, since gut feelings often signal lurking danger.

For those instances when physical contact occurs, LACAAW teaches techniques for escaping an assailant’s grasp and for disabling him long enough to flee by targeting vulnerable areas of his body.

Shocket says LACAAW has given her invaluable new strengths. "I’m much more aware of my surroundings. I’m more confident. I feel better prepared to deal with whatever situation might arise." Now, she wants to share her knowledge.

"I know the thought of taking a self-defense class can be intimidating, and it’s easier to just put off doing it. So I decided to encourage others to take care of themselves by making it easier for them to participate."

Shocket estimates that she has recruited more than 100 class participants, ranging in age from their 20s to their 60s. Later this year, she plans to attend LACAAW’s Woman Warrior Weekend, a more extensive, 12-hour workshop involving simulated attacks by trained, padded instructors.

"I want people to walk away from the class knowing they can take care of themselves. I want them to feel more confident, that they’re not helpless in any situation. People think it won’t happen to them — I didn’t think it would happen to me. But if I can prevent this for just one person, well, that’s my goal."

Labertew hopes women will see self-defense as an important component of women’s health. "Like getting a manicure or a massage, taking a self-defense class is one of those things you do to take care of yourself. Four hours is not too much to spend to make yourself safer."

We Need Self-Defense

I’m 16 years old. People often ask me, “How do you feel growing up in this crazy time?”

“Terrified,” I answer.

In a year replete with terrorism, suicide bombers, serial killers, kidnappers and rapists, my peers and I are horrified — horrified of what the world is becoming.

One might argue that this view is too pessimistic. Young people are reminded time and again that although there is evil in the world, there is much more good.

For me, this is no longer convincing.

My stomach twisted in anguish as I heard about the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart, a girl two years my junior: A girl nabbed through her bedroom window.

Since the kidnapping, I haven’t been sleeping very well; my 7-year-old sister, Rachel, comes into my room regularly in the middle of the night.

“What’s wrong?” I ask.

“I’m too scared to sleep. A bad man might open my window and take me like he took Elizabeth,” comes her frightened response. Even my 14-year-old sister calls out in her sleep, with nightmares of being kidnapped.

And then, a few weeks ago, a 5-year-old was kidnapped, raped and left on the side of a road in Riverside County. This was a cute, smart child who was taught never to speak to strangers. She did everything correctly. She screamed, she kicked, she yelled, trying to escape her kidnapper’s grasp. Yet to no avail.

As I heard on the radio that her body had been found, two words suddenly flashed through my mind: self-defense.

I have attended school for 14 years now. I can modestly say that I am a good student, and devote much time to my studies. This past year, I have learned about photosynthesis in science and proofs in geometry.

Yet, it seems to me, that schools have been cutting back on classes that are truly essential, classes for the real world. Classes such as self-defense.

Schools teach students many important types of defense — we learn how to defend our viewpoints and how to support and defend different positions in essays.

But, why are we never taught how to defend our bodies?

All high schools mandate that students complete certain physical education requirements prior to graduation. Most schools offer a variety of courses that fit these requirements, such as basketball, soccer, baseball, dance or even juggling.

During these classes, we exercise with jumping jacks, sit-ups and stretches.

Although learning juggling, doing jumping jacks or doing push-ups might require great physical exertion, will this help a child escape an attacker’s grasp?

According to the National Center of Victims of Crime’s Teen Victim Project, approximately 3.4 million American teenagers become victims of crime each year.

”Teens are twice as likely to be victimized than any other age group, and the past 20 years, [there has been] a steady increase in the teenage victimization rate, with a dramatic increase in the past five years,” the center reports. Also, in 2000, 54 percent of reported rape cases occurred against girls under the age of 18.

These statistics clearly prove how it is essential for schools to implement programs of self-defense into their curriculums.

A self-defense class could save a child’s life.

So what exactly is self-defense? The Los Angeles Commission on Assaults Against Women, a nonprofit organization with the mission to end violence against youth, children and women, says that self-defense is “a set of awareness, assertiveness, verbal confrontation skills; safety strategies and physical techniques that enable someone to successfully prevent, escape, resist and survive violent assaults. A good self-defense course provides psychological awareness and verbal skills, not just physical training.”

In a self-defense class, one not only acquires physical skills, but also mental preparedness. Children, teens and adults enrolled in self-defense classes will see a sudden rise in their self-esteem and their ability to listen to their intuition.

In short, they will feel more confident to defend themselves; a confidence which many of my peers and I currently lack. Jewish day schools, especially, should offer these classes, due to the rising wave of anti-Semitism.

In April, four skinheads attacked three Shelhavet High School students in Beverlywood shortly after midnight. The skinheads punched, kicked and beat up the students while throwing them to the ground and yelling obscenities. The four shouted, “Heil Hitler,” and called the boys “dirty kikes.”

Maybe, if these students had taken classes in self-defense, they might have been able to defend themselves against these depraved people.

Perhaps Jewish day schools could offer courses in Krav Maga, the official self-defense system of Israel. In Israel, Krav Maga is taught to elementary and high school students. We, too, should follow in Israel’s footsteps.

As a 16-year-old growing up in such a frightening time, I plead that all schools join together and supply us with the tools to learn how to defend ourselves.

And then, I can finally get some sleep.

For information on the Teen Victim Project, visit To learn about Krav Maga, visit

If You Had Her Moves

Gouging out eyeballs and hitting people with chairs are just some of the actions taught by Wade Allen. For Allen, the director of Krav Maga Worldwide’s Hollywood division, it’s all in the name of self-defense.

Krav Maga, (pronounced krahv muh-GAH), was originally developed for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), but this martial art looks nothing like the moves you saw in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." In typical Israeli fashion, Krav Maga is all about efficiency, which means down-and-dirty, kick-’em-in-the-groin fighting — whatever it takes to win.

This combat style also claims to put women on an equal footing with their male counterparts, an essential consideration for the IDF, in which both men and women serve. This factor made Krav Maga ideal for Jennifer Lopez’s latest film, "Enough," in which she plays a battered wife who fights back against her bigger, stronger husband.

To look believable in her big showdown at the film’s climax, Lopez trained with Allen for two months, taking the abuse Allen dished out — and then some.

"She got bruised and battered around a little bit," Allen says, "but she’s a tough lady. There’s a swagger in her walk that isn’t something that you’re taught. She definitely has that in her."

And it seems that others are following Lopez’s example. "There’s definitely been an upward swing in our student attendance," says Allen, "Sept. 11 and Jennifer’s movie did a lot to get women in."