An instrumental leader

Howard Banchik will tell you there’s a lot more to music and learning to play an instrument than meets the ears.

The co-founder of real-estate investment firm Westwood Financial Corp. in Los Angeles and member of University Synagogue in Brentwood credits learning to play music as a child with helping him succeed in life.

“Learning to play music is a microcosm of life. You start off with an instrument and at the beginning you can hardly get a sound but a squeak and a squawk, and it’s horrible,” Banchik said. “You set a goal, you practice, practice, practice. You reach the goal, then you and your teachers say, ‘OK, now you have to reach the next goal.’ So it’s just like life, you’re always setting the bar a little higher.”

Banchik grew up in the San Fernando Valley and now lives in Brentwood. He began learning the saxophone at age 12. Although he adored music and had always wanted to play the saxophone, it didn’t come easy — he found he had to practice hard to get the sound he wanted.

The practice paid off. Banchik played in musical groups at high school and went to CSUN to study music, graduating with a teaching credential. After that, he became a professional musician for 15 years, playing at college graduations, bar mitzvahs and other events.

Now 75, Banchik has for more than a decade been a driving force behind the Harmony Project, a local nonprofit that teaches low-income youth how to play music. The program has received numerous awards, including a Presidential Citizens Medal for its founder, Margaret Martin, and been featured in major news media such as the Wall Street Journal, PBS and National Public Radio.

Banchik joined the board of the Harmony Project in 2002 and became chairman a year later, after he was introduced to it while serving on the board of the Fulfillment Fund, an educational organization that helps disadvantaged youth. Immediately he was drawn to the idea of teaching young people not only how to play music and be part of music ensembles, but also the accompanying skills that could help them break out of the cycle of poverty and become successful adults.

“It’s not about how good a musician they are at all. It’s more the life skills they’re learning with the study of music,” Banchik explained. “It helps with discipline, responsibility and cooperation. When you’re playing in an orchestra, you just have to cooperate, show up to rehearsals on time, show up to lessons on time, take care of your instrument. At the same time, it builds up a lot of self-esteem because they have to do performances.” 

Under Banchik’s direction, the Harmony Project has grown from serving just 36 children in 2002 to reaching 2,000 low-
income students throughout Los Angeles today, he said. 

The project, which has affiliate programs in Ventura County and in five other states, provides free instruments, mentorship, and private and group music instruction at venues around the city. Participants have the opportunity to join chamber ensembles and orchestras. 

Harmony Project Associate Director Natalie Jackson credits Banchik’s passion, business acumen and fundraising skills with moving the organization to where it is currently. Although he is no longer chair of the board — he handed over leadership in 2013 — he continues to serve as chairman emeritus. She said his wife, Jackie, also has been an instrumental fundraiser for the project.

“You can’t really get another Howard Banchik, so he’ll be chair forever,” Jackson said. “His knowledge and expertise and his ability to understand people and understand our program — it’s amazing.”

Banchik is far more than a leader and fundraising figure behind the scenes, Jackson said. He frequently attends classes and rehearsals, stopping in to listen, offer suggestions and chat with the kids. When he attends performances, he’ll serve food and help with the cleanup and folding up the chairs, she said.

“The kids love him,” Jackson said. “He talks to everyone. He’s just really helpful and loving. It’s just wonderful to watch.”

The benefits of Harmony Project’s work with students have been confirmed by research. A brain study of the program’s students by neuroscientists at Northwestern University confirmed that children who study music gain improved critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, are able to focus better, and improve their performance in reading and math. 

In 2007, Banchik established the Harmony Project’s Banchik Scholarship Fund with a $1 million gift from his family. The fund offers $5,000 college scholarships to graduates of the Harmony Project who are accepted to college or an accredited vocational school. Many of the recipients are the first in their families to pursue higher education. In 2014, the fund gave out 37 scholarships, and there are plans to distribute about 50 scholarships in 2015, Banchik said.

“Some of them really have had very dysfunctional families, abusive families, everything you can imagine, and then you look at these kids and they pull themselves up and they’re graduating and going to college,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about, that’s where all the satisfaction comes from, to know you’ve provided a future for these kids.”

Banchik has served in a number of other leadership positions locally as well, including as past president of University Synagogue and board member of the Fulfillment Fund for 14 years. In November, he was named Outstanding Philanthropist by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Greater Los Angeles Chapter.

The businessman said he believes helping others is a duty, one that he enjoys.

“If people like myself — who have good health, financial resources — if we don’t do it, who should do it?” Banchik said. “I think that’s a responsibility that we have when we have good fortune in our lives. We have to help those who are not as fortunate as we are.” 

Outstanding Graduates 2013

Every year, we shine a spotlight on a group of outstanding high school seniors, culled from many nominations submitted by local educators, clergy, community leaders and, of course, you, our readers. And each year we find that the real difficulty is not in identifying those with spectacular accomplishments, but in choosing among the enormously talented graduating teens around us.

But, choose we did. And, once again, this year’s group has shown an impeccable ability to change the world — on a scale both small and large. They have not only shown the value of excellence in academics, but they have proven the importance of making a difference in the lives of others. They have reached out to those with special needs; counseled teens struggling with life’s challenges; brought joy to others through the arts; taken the reins of an international Jewish youth organization; blazed a trail on the gridiron; planned dinners at a shelter for mentally disabled homeless women; found a voice on Huffington Post; and gone running to do good. They discovered their life’s passions — drama, music, athletics, Judaism, politics — and harnessed them to inspire others. 

Just imagine what they’ll do as adults.


Ruth Maouda
Putting the pieces together


Gabe Freeman
A leading player


Michael Sacks
Leading the way


Sepora Makabeh
Using gift of gab for good


Rose Bern
A passionate voice


Rachel Arditi
Family inspiration


Sam Lyons
Finding his voice


Raphi Heldman
Lessons on the run


Joelle Milman
Transforming herself


Daniel Schwartz
Grad’s goal: A better world


Aging Creatively

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jewish communities grapple with baby boomer retirement boom

Every Jewish community wants more Raymonde Fiols among its active retirees. The question is whether those communities are prepared to meet the needs she and hundreds of thousands of “younger seniors” and older ones will have in the near future.

Now 76, Fiols has resided in Las Vegas for the past 11 years. She belongs there to a synagogue, Hadassah and Na’amat USA, a women's Zionist organization. Her volunteer time largely is spent as president of the Holocaust Survivors Group of Southern Nevada. In spare moments, she and her husband of 56 years, Philip, enjoy the area’s nature parks and attending lectures.

“You have a choice of Jewish involvement, and we’re surrounded by Jewish friends,” Fiols said. “People look out for each other because a lot of them don’t have their children here, so you get invited for yontif and your friends become family,” she said, using the Yiddish term for holidays.

She and her husband are part of the area’s growing senior population. The Jewish community is thought to have a larger share of people ages 65 and over than America generally, based on statistics from the last National Jewish Population Study and the 2010 U.S. Census. With the baby boomer generation entering the 65+ age group, experts say Jewish institutions will have to work hard to keep up with what is expected to be a growing need for social services and social offerings among Jewish elderly.

Already, Jewish programs ranging from medical assistance initiatives to psychological counseling, adult education and heritage trips are expanding.

Three retirement destinations with high concentrations of older Jews — Las Vegas, Palm Beach, Fla., and Phoenix, Ariz. — offer instructive examples of how communities are grappling with the challenges of growing Jewish senior populations.

In 2005, the year of Las Vegas' last Jewish community study, Jews ages 65 and older rose to 67,500, from 55,600 a decade earlier. In greater Phoenix, a 2002 population study found that 20 percent of people in households with Jews were in that age range – a sizable increase from the 12 percent mark in the previous study, conducted in 1984. A 2005 study by the federation in western Palm Beach County found that about 57 percent of the community – 78,391 people – were 65 and older. Meanwhile, a study that same year by the federation in southern Palm Beach County found 61 percent of the community was 65 or older.

“We have the fastest growing Jewish seniors community population in the country,” said Keith Myers, the president and CEO of MorseLife in West Palm Beach, a nonprofit that provides senior living and health care in the area. “In the next 15 to 20 years, Palm Beach County is going to triple its senior population from 300,000 to 900,000.” 

His nonsectarian agency has a $66 million annual budget – up from about $57 million five years ago. Services provided by the multifaceted operation include short-term rehabilitation, long-term care, independent and assisted living, home care, geriatric care management, adult day care, meals on wheels, and research and education. More is coming, with a $43.6 million expansion is in the works including a 100,000 sq. ft. short-term rehabilitation facility, remodeling of a long-term care building, new space for memory- and vision-impaired residents, and expanded independent living residences.

“Our clients are living longer and we’re dealing with more considerations than ever,” Myers said.

Mirroring the general population, similar expansions are taking place at Jewish retirement homes and centers around the country. Service providers also worry about meeting the needs of elderly people who chose to stay at home, many of them in what's known as NORCs: naturally occurring retirement communities.

In 2001, the national federation umbrella organization — now known as the Jewish Federations of North America — created a NORC Aging in Place Initiative to seek more federal assistance for NORC supportive services efforts, which often are supported with federal and state funds.

At the Las Vegas Senior Lifeline, a nondenominational program run by the Jewish Federation of Las Vegas, federation spending on the program's kosher meals, transportation to doctors and grocery stores, and light housekeeping has risen to $500,000 — substantial increase in the past four years, according to Elliot Karp, president and CEO of the Las Vegas federation. The program also gets government dollars.

“No question that’s going to increase in the coming years,” Karp said of the need. “The number is stable at around 400 people served only because of limitation of resources. We could double it if we had the funds.”

It’s not just social service needs that are important, but social needs. With more active, healthy retirees comes increased demand for educational and social programming.

At the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School of Jewish Learning, which is geared toward all adults, organizers say they've seen a significant increase in seniors. In many venues, the majority of participants are retirees. In recent years, that program has expanded to 62 programs in 60 cities, mostly in North America, educating some 5,500 people a week.

Synagogues, too, are retooling for seniors, and new ones are opening in places with growing older-adult populations. In the mid-1990s, Temple Beit Knesset Bamidbar (Synagogue of the Desert) opened up in Sun City Summerlin, a gated community in the Las Vegas area for people age 55 and older. Now the shul has a rabbi, a cantor and more than 850 members.  On Shabbat, people are congratulated from the pulpit on their anniversaries.

“It takes them forever, because they start with 30 years and 40 years and 50 years and 60 years and up,” Karp said with a chuckle.

Ellie Schwartzberg, vice president of older adults services and Jewish community services at Phoenix’s Jewish Family & Children’s Services, says she's worried that Jewish communities remain unprepared to help the baby-boomer generation. For example, the community has not begun to put in place the nursing homes that will be required for the growing cases of Alzheimer’s disease.

“I don’t think the community is ready at all for these boomers as they age and need these services,” she said.

In Phoenix, the Jewish community has a NORC project, a hospital chaplaincy program and a Jewish senior center that a few years ago moved from a synagogue into an independent-living facility.

“For young retirees it's a wonderful place,” Schwartzberg said of Phoenix. “But we know that a lot of people move back to their family once they become infirm or need more help, or sometimes even the family moves here.”

Karp said that in Las Vegas, which is now talking about building its first Jewish retirement home, the dual challenge is clear.

“We know that in our community the senior adult population is significant and will continue to grow,” he said. “We know we have to do a better job of providing better services both for the needy elderly and the 'well elderly.'”

For baby boomers, however, the bottom line in choosing a retirement destination may be an array of quality-of-life considerations, of which senior services is just one.

“Even though you have the big developments and the clubhouses, there's so much out here,” Fiols said of Las Vegas. “You have choices and I'm not talking about gambling. Come on out and you'll have a grand time.”

Giving himself a sporting chance

“Yeah, those years of seventh to ninth grade were not the greatest years for Jacob Cohen,” Jacob Cohen says, trying to bring a little levity to a pretty grueling litany.

In seventh grade, Cohen had a terrible cough and breathing problems that kept him in and out of the hospital, and school, for a good six months. It took a few years for him to feel fully healthy again.

In ninth grade, Cohen’s whole life changed. He came home from grocery shopping with his mother one day and found his father dead, felled by a stroke.

His father had been Cohen’s closest confidant, and his death followed closely the death of Cohen’s grandmother, with whom he was also close. But after some months, Cohen said, he made the decision not to pity himself.

“I knew if I were to sit and sulk all day, I wouldn’t be able to enhance myself to get further in life. So I’ve been able to move on because I know that is what my dad would want,” Cohen said.

He threw himself into his schoolwork, and in 11th and 12th grade earned a 4.0 grade-point average. He also immersed himself in journalism, specifically sports writing. This past year, he was editor-in-chief of the Taft Tribune, where he revamped the look of the paper and wrote frequently about school district budget cuts — including cuts to the newspaper.

Cohen will major in journalism at the University of Oregon, but he hopes to eventually go into sports marketing.

Cohen plays on the Taft water polo team and enjoys playing and commenting on all sports. He worked as a college peer counselor, where he introduced students to the guidance counseling office. Some of the students he mentored had not been considering college at all but now will be applying, Cohen said.

He has also worked as a tutor, helping kids with math and other subjects. He’s saved a lot of that money, since he knows paying for college will be a burden for his mom.

Cohen has had to step up in other ways, too — finding rides, because his dad used to take him to school, and making sure to be helpful around the house. But he still refuses to sulk.

“I look back on it now, and all those things made me what I am today,” Cohen said. “It made me a stronger person.”

Seniors angry over plans to close JCC

There was no question how Zita Kass felt when she learned that The JCC at Milken in West Hills will shut its doors permanently this summer. Her reaction was swift and powerful:

“Anger, fury, frustration,” the 76-year-old Woodland Hills resident said.

Kass frequents the community center to take part in groups related to books, current events, history and more. Now, she worries about the impact of the closure on Jewish life for seniors in the San Fernando Valley.

“We’re frantically looking for places for our various programs,” Kass said.

She’s not alone in her concern, now that it’s official that the JCC as a whole will shut down June 30, with its Early Childhood Center ceasing operations June 15. The news was delivered in a Feb. 1 e-mail by the organization’s chairman of the board, Steven V. Rheuban, and was preceded by a decision by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles to sell its land to New Community Jewish High School (NCJHS).

Frequent JCC user Sheila Silverman, 77, said she was particularly upset by what she said were reassurances even after it was announced that the property would be sold for an undisclosed amount. At the time, officials said they did not anticipate a major impact upon the JCC’s members.

“We’re sort of in disbelief,” Silverman said. “They gave everybody that false hope.”

The JCC at Milken is only the latest of its peers to shut down. Disclosures of financial troubles and fiscal mismanagement within the former Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA) in 2001 led to the closure of centers, including Santa Monica’s Bay Cities JCC in 2002 and the Conejo Valley JCC in 2004.
Valley Cities JCC shut down in 2009, less than a year after moving from its longtime Sherman Oaks site, which had been sold by JCCGLA, re-formed as the JCC Development Corp. 

Milken JCC’s closure will leave the North Valley Jewish Community Center (NVJCC), which seceded from parent organization JCCGLA in 2002, as the only JCC in the San Fernando Valley. Although it lost use of its Granada Hills campus after a developer purchased the property in 2004, NVJCC continues to offer programming at various locations.

For a while, it seemed that the JCC at Milken might escape closure, in part because its home, Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus, was owned by Federation, not JCC Development Corp. But it struggled to stay out of the red and won’t be able to meet its rent obligations this year, Rheuban told The Jewish Journal.

When the deal was made to sell the campus to NCJHS as its permanent home, the West Hills center had hoped to permanently move its Early Childhood Center of more than 80 students to a new location. Senior services would be transferred temporarily to a different site while NCJHS undertook a yearlong reconstruction project at the Milken campus, after which the programs would return.

Ultimately, though, there was too much certainty about the school’s plans and no appropriate, affordable venue for the JCC to use in the interim, Rheuban said.

“We looked at every possible location that we could think of, some beyond the boundaries that we really wanted,” he said. “The simple fact is we couldn’t come up with a piece of property that we didn’t have to do a lot of construction on ourselves.”

Representatives for both Federation and NCJHS said they were surprised to hear the news about the JCC, which has more than 1,000 members.

Federation President Jay Sanderson said that his organization had no role in the decision to close and that the Jewish community center has its own board. And while Federation has funded the JCC at Milken with millions in recent years, he said the plan always was for it to become fiscally self-sufficient.

“It came down to the fact that they needed to be able to be more independent financially, and they were incapable of doing that,” he said. “We still thought that they were going to continue to provide services to their constituencies going forward.”

In addition to its preschool and senior programming, the JCC at Milken is home to arts and fitness programs, after-school programs, sports and summer camps, and Team Los Angeles, an award-winning team that competes in the JCC Maccabi Games.

Sanderson said Federation is committed to making sure that the people who use the organization’s services continue to have places to go.

“There are many synagogues and other organizations in the Valley doing great work,” he said. “I think that there will be minimal negative impact.”

(In his e-mail, Rheuban also promised that the center’s board and staff will compile a list to help members find similar programs within the Jewish community.)

New Community Jewish High School, which started on the Milken campus in 2002, has plenty of work ahead before it can relocate its 400 students to the property next year from its current home on the property of Shomrei Torah Synagogue. Once that is settled, though, one top school official has a message to JCC members:

“We’re saddened by [this news], but we also want to let the community know that once we finish our remodel of the campus and we move back in, which will take place between the end of June and hopefully July of 2013, we are very, very motivated to do something with the community, particularly with the seniors,” said Michael Greenfeld, president of the school’s board of trustees.

The end of the JCC at Milken will leave the Westside Jewish Community Center on Olympic Boulevard, Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center off Sunset Boulevard, North Valley JCC and Long Beach’s Alpert Jewish Community Center as the only Jewish community centers in the Greater Los Angeles area.

Westside JCC Executive Director Brian Greene said he is heartbroken over the development. “For decades, so many thousands of people have looked to Milken JCC as their Jewish home base,” he said.

He stressed that Westside, also an independent center, remains strong with its rebuilt Aquatic Center, expanded teen programming, new health and wellness offerings, and more.

Looking at the situation from a national perspective, it’s natural — but unfortunate — that some community centers struggle during difficult economic times, according to Gary Lipman, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the JCC Association of North America. Los Angeles faces additional challenges due to its diverse, dispersed Jewish community.

Still, he said, there remains hope. In the short term, he sees local Jewish leaders coming together to serve preschoolers and seniors. And in the long term? A chance to re-envision how a revitalized JCC may serve the community.

For now, though, Rheuban worries about the losses that come with the Jewish community center’s closure that go beyond everyday programming.

“I believe that the loss of centers is the loss of the home for unaffiliated Jews,” he said.

My ‘great schlep’ to Florida pays off in politics and grandma’s food

“If you knew that visiting your grandparents could change the world, would you do it?” A couple of weeks ago, a video came across my inbox with Sarah Silverman posing this very question.

As Florida is such a pivotal and undecided state in this year’s presidential contest, Silverman was urging Jews to visit their grandparents there to educate them about Barack Obama and help swing the state in his favor in an effort dubbed The Great Schlep.

I thought the idea was decent but mostly just hilarious. I forwarded the video on to friends and went back to filing the company expenses.

A week later, I received a phone call from a woman asking me about visiting my own grandparents. I laughed, as I had after the video, but when an awkward silence followed, I realized she actually wanted an answer. She was calling from The Great Schlep and had been referred to me by a mutual friend.

It seemed like a great idea to visit my grandparents in Fort Lauderdale, which I hadn’t done in a few years, and in the process do something for my country. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more enthusiastic I became about going and speaking on behalf of Obama to my grandparents and some of their friends. The 2000 election had come down to literally hundreds of votes, and if I could convince my grandparents and their friends that Obama is the best choice, it might really affect the outcome.

I decided I had to make the schlep, not for myself but for my country and my grandparents, of course. But I needed to make sure they’d be around and would be willing to have the discussion with me. I called my grandmother immediately to tell her the plan. Our conversation went something like this:

“I’m going to come visit you this weekend, and I want to speak to you about … “

“Oh, that’s wonderful! When are you coming in town?”

“I’m going to come for the weekend, but I want to maybe try and speak with you and some of your friends about … “

“Just the weekend? Such a short trip!”

“Yes, it was kind of a last-minute thing. But, Grandma, I want to spend some time speaking with you and some of your friends about Barack Obama and the upcoming election.”

(Muffled sounds of her shouting to my grandfather about my visit.)

“Grandma, do you think you could help have some friends come over in the afternoon, and we could just all talk about the election?”

“Yes, fine, fine, there’s just one thing. What do you want to eat for dinner?”

Needless to say, my grandparents were on board, but the next obstacle was making sure we could get a good turnout so I could make the most of my trip. I quickly discovered the difficulty of organizing an event from Los Angeles with a bunch of senior citizens in Florida.

I couldn’t exactly send them all an Evite or a Facebook invitation. I don’t even know if a simple e-mail would have accomplished much. The success and organization of the political side of my trip would have to be left in my grandparents’ hands. In the meantime, I studied up on the issues.

The rest of the week was quite interesting. A few national news outlets started calling me, referred by The Great Schlep. They wanted to interview my grandparents and me while I was down there. Not only was I going to be making my mark on American history, but I was going to be on TV, too!

I left on the red eye on Friday, Oct. 10, and I managed to sleep for most of the flight from Los Angeles to Florida. As soon as my grandparents pulled up to the terminal on Saturday morning, the greeting was standard operation: 10 minutes of criticism on the length of both my facial hair and my jeans, followed by a lecture on how handsome I could be.

Interestingly enough, however, the political discussion began immediately. My grandparents wanted to jump right into it. Throughout the day, I spent most of my time eating and fixing all the problems they’d been having with their computer and their TV. But we also watched the news together, read the paper and just talked about the country. Most of the time they were lecturing me, but when they had questions about Obama’s stance on an issue, or if they brought up something they had heard about him, I could clear up what was and wasn’t true.

Sunday though, was what The Great Schlep was all about. My grandparents had managed to get seven friends to come to their house. So, for a few hours, they spoke to me about their concerns; I spoke to them about mine, and we all spoke to the TV and radio news crews that had stopped by in the middle to get their story.

A lot of my grandparents’ friends seemed very disappointed in John McCain and how far he had veered from his Straight Talk Express. Their problem with Obama, though, was that they just didn’t know enough about him yet — whether on the topic of domestic issues, like taxes and social security, or foreign issues, like Iran and Israel. In other words, my schlepping to Florida to discuss and answer questions was exactly what they needed.

Come November, some of the people I spoke with might decide to vote for McCain, and others might have always wanted to vote for Obama, but I think the most important thing is that because I went, they were able to learn more about the issues without having to rely on political ads and partisan pundits.

I can only hope my visit will allow them to make an informed decision based on facts and not on campaign smears and misinformation. But in the end, my “great schlep” was not a schlep at all, because not only did I make an investment in my country, I got to spend some valuable time with my family … and I ate better than I’ve eaten in long time.

Taylor Magenheim, 24, is from Texas and has lived in Los Angeles for the past two years. He is currently a development assistant at a Hollywood studio.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All pink, all the time

The doors, roof and the mailbox of the Pink Lady’s Woodland Hills home are painted in a shade that might best be described as cotton candy, and pink accents adorn her white picket fence. The interior is decorated in varying shades of pink, from the appliances in the kitchen to the teddy bears scattered atop the comforter in her bedroom. Her closets burst with the color from her pink wardrobe, and the garage is stocked with pink toilet paper, which she stores in bulk because it’s difficult to find.

Although her convertible is silver, her license plate reads LUVPINK.

For Jackie Goldberg (no relation to the politician of the same name), 75, “Thinking Pink” has been a way of life since the late 1960s, which she’s carried into a vibrant, colorful second career.

A self-promoting senior personality, Goldberg was dubbed Ms. Senior Los Angeles County in 2005 and is actively pursuing acting, both on stage and in commercials.

A widow with five children and six grandchildren, Goldberg is also on a mission to redefine what it means to be a senior. She lectures regularly around Southern California about making positive changes in attitude, work ethic and lifestyle. She dreams of starting a yoga class for seniors, a magazine she cheekily calls Senior Chic and an “American Idol”-style television talent show for the over-60 set.

“I know out there are hundreds of thousands of extra-special, extra-talented zesty seniors who are dying to perform and are good,” she said.

Goldberg moved to Los Angeles in her 20s to pursue a career in radio, but was held back by what employers considered a thick Boston accent. Determined to succeed in the Southland, she worked as a hostess at Delmonico’s and as a manicurist before she met her husband, Walter Goldberg.

The Pink Lady persona was born more than 40 years ago when she joined her salesman husband in the garment industry. Walter thought the gimmick might help increase her sales, and it did. Even before she recently retired, Goldberg was working with her daughter, Michele Hirsch, selling resortwear through a business called Pink Lady and Michele.

“She loved it. It was great for business, and that’s how she was known. It sort of just took off and it ended up giving her an edge,” said Hirsch, who has since taken over and renamed the business Michele Hirsch Sales.

Goldberg began dating again a year after Walter’s death. One of the men she was seeing at the time suggested she enter the 2005 Ms. Senior Los Angeles pageant. She was hesitant at first.

“Never in my life did I think I would ever enter, let alone win a pageant,” Goldberg said.

Based on her experience speaking before the judges and winning, Goldberg said she knew she could help other seniors, which inspired her to take on the “Get Up, Get Out and Get a Life” seminars.

“At the pageant I saw all these seniors, aged 70 through 90, singing and dancing, and I realized there were so many that weren’t doing this. I knew, being the way I was, that I could help them,” she said.

Goldberg has since spoken in front of several hundred L.A. seniors, communicating the message that there is life after 60. The philosophy she espouses during the seminars is also PINK: pursue your interests; imagine new goals, never stop learning, keep going.

“I love people, and I love to talk to my peers. So I figured I’d do my ‘Get Up, Get Out and Get a Life’ as a way to connect with them. And it sort of took off,” Goldberg said of the lecture, which she promotes with a line of T-shirts, bags and mugs emblazoned with the slogan, “Get Up, Get Out and Get a Life.”

She says that most women who are now in their late 60s to 90s were taught from a young age that there was nothing out there for them once they got older, including sex.

“So I tell them, show them ways to get out,” Goldberg said.

Her next seminars include discussing “Sizzling and Sexy Seniors” with a Red Hat Society group on Aug. 27 and “Senior Sexuality” with Pierce College’s OASIS program in October.

“I’ve always been out there,” Goldberg said. “If I walk into a room with 500 people, within an hour, they’re going to know I’m in that room, and they’re going to know who I am…. What I’m saying is I’ve always made my own mark.”

Goldberg said she reaches more than just seniors.

“It’s not an age thing, really. I can speak to kids and they get it, because it’s something that’s there. How can you be down when you’re around someone like myself?” Goldberg said.

The Pink Lady seems to practice what she preaches. Her energy is palpable, and it certainly shows.

“I believe that age is just a number, and it really is. I sit now and I talk to my 23- and 24-year-old grandkids and they say to me, ‘Pink Grandma, you’re real, you’re not old.'”

Temple bingo — a gamble if it’s a good way to raise funds

The social hall at Temple Etz Chaim in Thousand Oaks undergoes a major transformation every Thursday night. Television monitors and a flashing scoreboard are mounted on the walls, and a sea of cafeteria-style tables cluttered with small computer monitors, game cards and good-luck charms take up most of the room.

The Thursday nightlife at this Conservative congregation is all about bingo.

“It’s an excellent fundraiser,” said Michael Roberts, an Etz Chaim board member and the synagogue’s former bingo trustee. “[The players] are noncongregants, and they enjoy bingo like you can’t believe.”

Typically associated with American Legion halls, Elks clubs and churches, the sedentary game that caters to seniors is not often associated with Jewish houses of worship. But a few synagogues across the Southland have offered weekly bingo nights as temple fundraisers for decades.

While some shuls embrace the idea of opening their doors to the local bingo crowd, others are adamantly opposed to the idea of the increasingly popular game because of its gambling stigma.

Bingo’s origins can be traced back to 16th century European lotteries, but its modern equivalent was inspired by a carnival game called Beano, which was adapted by New York salesman Edwin Lowe in 1929. When Lowe organized a game for his friends, one of the players is said to have become so excited that she yelled out “bingo” instead of “beano” and the name stuck.

While the game is frequently looked upon as a fundraising tool for religious and charitable organizations, the proliferation of Native American-run casinos over the last 20 years has enabled commercial bingo halls with higher stakes to spread out beyond the state of Nevada. The new generation of players seeking bigger jackpots now comes armed with special markers, called daubers, and other paraphernalia in bingo bags that double as seat cushions.

Television has taken notice of bingo’s boom. In March, cable channel GSN launched “Bingo America” with host Patrick Duffy, a successor to ABC’s 2007 “National Bingo Night,” in which two contestants compete to win up to $100,000, and viewers at home can play along to win money.

For many, bingo remains a social game. The roughly 150 players — mostly female and above retirement age — who file into Temple Etz Chaim each Thursday night find time spent at the synagogue is a opportunity to visit with friends and share the hope of winning big.

Etz Chaim’s bingo fundraiser has been run entirely by synagogue volunteers for the last 23 years, and it generates about $100,000 a year for the congregation, with all proceeds going toward the temple’s preschool and religious school.

Roberts sees bingo as a win-win situation for the congregation and the community.

“It’s a community service, in a way,” Roberts said. “We’re providing a service of running games and helping students.”

He added that the games also help the surrounding non-Jewish community get to know the congregants and the shul. “They realize that we’re nice people,” he said.

At the synagogue level, Etz Chaim says it also enjoys greater involvement from congregants, because many of its bingo volunteers go on to participate in other synagogue committees and events.

But at a time when many synagogues and Jewish agencies hold casino-themed fundraisers, not everyone thinks gambling and shuls mix.

“I’m very ambivalent about a synagogue providing a regular gambling opportunity, especially for the population that tends to frequent bingo,” said Rabbi Rick Brody of Temple Ami Shalom, a Conservative synagogue in West Covina that halted its own bingo fundraiser three years ago. “At least from what I was seeing, [the players are] people who, to one degree or another, are addicted and are focused on wining as much money as they can, and I don’t think that that is what a synagogue should be focusing on.”

Brody was relieved when his temple did away with its bingo program due to poor revenue and lack of volunteers. But even if profits were higher, the rabbi doesn’t “think it really helps the spiritual bottom line of what the congregation is supposed to be about.”

Brody is not alone. In fact, the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference for American Rabbis adopted resolutions advising rabbis and shuls to discourage their congregants from using gambling as a fundraiser.

Rabbi Ted Riter of Temple Adat Elohim, a Reform congregation in Thousand Oaks, believes that a bingo fundraiser would conflict with his synagogue’s identity.

“Our vision of where we’re going and who we are is that we try to heal the world and open up paths for spirituality and draw community together,” Riter said. “Gambling doesn’t seem to fulfill any of those directions.”

A few Adat Elohim congregants, like Mitch Schwartz of Newbury Park, disagree.

“Why not get money out of the community at large if you can, instead of nickel-and-diming the congregation?” said Schwartz, a former Adat Elohim Brotherhood ways and means chair.

Schwartz said that if the temple adopted bingo, the shul wouldn’t have to raise membership dues on a yearly basis.

But without support from a core group of dedicated volunteers, many bingo fundraisers fail. Weekly volunteer positions include game sales, bankers, callers, game verifiers, food vendors and computer rental salesmen.

At Temple Beth Shalom, a Conservative congregation in Whittier, bingo volunteers are broken up into four teams of eight people, each of whom rotates their services. Temple Etz Chaim relies on 15 people a week.

While it’s hard to argue with the monetary gain (Temple Beth Shalom also made close to $100,000 in a year), many people feel that bingo fundraisers do not add much to the shul community itself, besides the friendships forged between volunteers.

Among the synagogues interviewed, only Etz Chaim had one bingo player affiliate with the synagogue.

And even some congregants at Etz Chaim are not entirely comfortable with game. Over the years, Roberts said a few board members and other active shul members have questioned the validity of the fundraiser.

“We said if you can think of another way to make this much money, we’ll close bingo,” Roberts said. “No one’s ever come up with another way.”

For more information, visit Bingo America.

Geriatric love, (I.B.) Singer style

Max Kohn is a European-born short story writer in New York who has gained a considerable cult following in America. Though almost 80, he pursues an active love life, sometimes in fantasy, sometimes in reality.

If Kohn, the central character in the film, “Love Comes Lately,” seems to bear a certain resemblance to Nobel Laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer, the alert viewer is on the right track.

For the film, German director Jan Schutte, a longtime Singer aficionado, has woven together three of the master’s short stories, “The Briefcase,” “Alone” and “Old Love.”

One of the more intriguing challenges of this multilayered film is to figure out when Max (Otto Tausig) wanders across the thin line between reality and fantasy. After a short while, it doesn’t really matter, and the viewer is advised to follow Max’s example and just go with the flow.

Max’s steady “girlfriend” is Reisel, a feisty Rhea Perlman, as fiercely jealous as a first prom date, who endlessly tracks her boyfriend’s real or imagined liaisons during his frequent trips to lecture at universities.

Reisel has grounds for suspicions, for attractive middle-age women, particularly widows or women coming off unfortunate love affairs, are strangely drawn to the short, near-sighted writer.

One is buxom Rachel Meyerowitz (Caroline Aaron), who joins his table at a Miami hotel. Another is the strange Cuban maid Esperanza (Elizabeth Pena) at an even stranger motel.

Max is willingly seduced by Rosalie (Barbara Hershey), a lecturer in modern Hebrew literature at a university where he has just delivered his standard lecture on “Faith and Free Will in Modern Literature.”

Our writer really hits the jackpot with Ethel, played by a lovely Tova Feldshuh, a recently widowed next-door neighbor.

To Max’s surprise and delight, the bereaved widow proves quite amorous, insisting, as do his other female companions, that a man is never too old for some active love-making.

The various attractive ladies are all of a certain age but are never portrayed as pathetic or ridiculous. What makes “Love Comes Lately” work, though, is the Tausig’s performance as the Singer stand-in.

The Austrian-born Jewish actor, 86 in real life, combines such disparate characteristics as a boyish curiosity, academic befuddlement and astonished gratitude at all the feminine attention.

Underneath it all lies a deep-seated pessimism, as when a fan asks why all his stories have such depressing endings. Max replies, “In real life, there are no happy endings.”

In the closing scene, Max decides to take another long train trip to reflect on “why people are born and why they must die.”

Pessimistic or not, the film does give hope to elderly men, who may mourn the loss of hair and sex appeal as the decades pass. The hopeful message here is: It ain’t over until it’s really over.

“Love Comes Lately” opens Friday (July 25) at Laemmle’s Music Hall in Beverly Hills and Town Center in Encino.

The trailer

Calendar Girls picks and clicks for July 5 – 11



Only a psychotherapist-cum-theater entertainer could do justice to the zany and improbable Jewish journey spotlighted in the play “Rose.” The one-woman show runs the gamut of 20th-century Jewish geography, “from a Ukrainian shtetl to the Warsaw Ghetto, to Atlantic City and Miami, with side trips to a hippie commune in Connecticut, onboard the ship Exodus, to an Israeli settlement on the West Bank.” Actress Naomi Newman, the aforementioned shrink, is also the co-founder of San Francisco’s Traveling Jewish Theatre and will be bringing Martin Sherman’s script to life. Sat. 8 p.m. Wed.-Sun. Through Aug. 31. $25-$45. Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 477-2055. ” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ hspace = ‘8’ align = ‘left’>burgers and hot dogs (meat and veggie), beer and snacks in a gorgeous Malibu mansion overlooking the coastline and mountains. Teaming up to sponsor this popular annual gathering are two heavy-hitters of the Jewish singles scene — the Chai Center and JConnectLA. Sun. 2-6 p.m. $13 (online), $18 (at the door). Private home, 6288 Porterdale Drive, Malibu. For more information, call (310) 271-8666. ” target=”_blank”>



Israeli brothers Barak and Tomer Heymann have tackled Israeli-Palestinian relations, homosexuality, Israeli pop music, drugs, flamenco and the world of ” target=”_blank”>


Born in Brooklyn to a working-class Jewish family, artist Al Held soon broke out of that mold. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II before jetting off to Paris to study fine art. Now he is an internationally renowned artist with a Guggenheim fellowship and a teaching stint at Yale on his resume. The University Art Museum at Cal State Long Beach presents an exhibition of Held’s work, “Al Held: The Evolution of Style,” a comprehensive collection of his expressionist paintings. Expect “hard-edged abstraction,” “two-dimensional picture planes” and “perspectival illusionism” — all of which describe his artistic evolution over a five-decade career. Gallery open noon-5 p.m., Tue.-Sat. Through Aug. 10. $4 (general), free (students). The University Art Museum, CSULB, 1250 Bellflower Blvd., Long Beach. (562) 985-5761. ” target=”_blank”>



” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ hspace = ‘8’ align = ‘left’>Tony and Oscar nominee David Mamet, a seasoned author, essayist, playwright and film director. Don’t miss this chance to catch a master of the art of deception in a rare L.A. visit before he vanishes, taking his act back on the road to wow other magic connoisseurs and curious fans. Wed.-Thu. 8 p.m., Fri. 8:30 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 8 p.m. Through Aug. 26. $75-$250. Geffen Playhouse, Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 208-5454.

Falling dollar hurts seniors in former Soviet Union

MOSCOW (JTA) — From its perch above a shelf packed with crystal dishes, a photograph of Alexey Zheleznyak’s late wife keeps watch over a spotless apartment.

The ripple effect of a sluggish American economy has forced Zheleznyak, 81, into what he calls the “woman’s business” of dusting and cooking.

“I spend almost all my time and all my energy on these things now,” he said.

Three years ago, Zheleznyak’s wife was bedridden and dying, but a home-care worker funded by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) dropped by twice a week to wash her, care for her bedsores, clean and cook.

After his wife died, the worker still came but less often, until global economic pressure forced the JDC to scale back operations for the “least needy” in the former Soviet Union. Six months ago, Zheleznyak began having to fend for himself.

Of all the JDC’s operations abroad, the former Soviet Union has been hit hardest, according to JDC officials, due to the sliding value of the dollar coupled with inflation in a resurgent Russian economy. Only Israel receives more American funds than the former Soviet Union from the JDC.

As a result, some 32,000 elderly Russians like Zheleznyak have been shaved from the JDC rolls of those who received aid since 2006, when the number peaked at 220,000, JDC officials said.

Organizations such as the JDC and the Jewish Agency for Israel, which are the overseas partners of the North American federation system, rely on donations or money from reparations that is distributed, budgeted and doled out in dollars. Most of that money is sent abroad, where it is spent in local currency under local market conditions.

As the U.S. presidential contenders, Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain, trade barbs on how best to fix the economy, the dollar continues a three-year slide against other currencies. In the former Soviet Union, the JDC’s purchasing power has decreased by 13 percent to 20 percent, depending on the country.

At the same time, Russia’s economy is soaring on the back of oil prices at $130 per barrel that provide a base for increased wealth, higher commodity prices and inflation.

Russia experienced nearly 12 percent inflation in 2007. Despite price controls on food that lasted through March’s presidential election, the International Monetary Fund is predicting that inflation may top 14 percent in 2008.

In sum, that means JDC’s $100 million budget for the former Soviet Union set in 2007 now buys only $80 million worth of home-care workers, hot meals and the staff to administer it all.

That has “forced us to rethink how we do business,” JDC Executive Vice President Steve Schwager said during a recent trip to Moscow. “Some things that we would normally do, we’ve had to cut out and find alternatives.”

On Monday, the JDC announced it will lay off more than 60 staff members worldwide in an effort to grapple with the budget shortfalls. In addition to cutbacks on social services to the elderly, JDC also has cut back dramatically on Jewish arts and education activities.

Despite efforts to insulate the elderly from budget cuts, those who receive help from the welfare centers in Russia and other countries have paid the price in solitude or painful walks to open markets where they can purchase cheaper groceries.

The most able are the first to be taken off the collective list maintained by the five welfare centers in the Moscow area.

“The first priority we have is to help people who can’t help themselves,” said Alexander Kirnos, director of the Yad Ezracenter.

The uniform public pension across Russia is about $143 a month, but each area calculates bonuses on those pensions based on the cost of living, said Zhenya Mazarova, JDC’s director of welfare programs for Moscow and central Russia.

While pensions increase each year, their purchasing power decreases when measured against inflation — some 26 percent over the past three years, based on government figures.

One pensioner, Olga Troytsa, 85, lives alone in a one-room apartment outside Moscow.

With no children, Troytsa occasionally receives visits from longtime family friends who bring her food packages and a half-hour of friendly company — services that used to come from a JDC employee.

Despite having had six operations and a metal support that she wears all but three hours a night, her Moscow pension disqualified her from a JDC food delivery program.

Troytsa says her pension is mostly gone by the end of the month and she misses the company, but there is only one way to make it through the day.

“I laugh at it,” she said. “To cry wouldn’t help.”

The emotional landmines of family caregiving

Most families squabble. After a short cooling-off period, relatives tend to resolve spats and go on with their individual lives. But there are situations that make it difficult to restore harmony. For example, when an elderly loved one breaks a hip, suffers from dementia, a stroke or other disabling illness, spouses and adult children can become unglued. The frailty and dependence of a loved one often ignites emotional landmines, stirs up old family issues and uncovers personality traits best left buried.

Sibling Rivalry

A common situation goes like this: Sis worries that increasing forgetfulness threatens her mother’s safety. Her brother, on the other hand, argues that a few Post-It note reminders placed around mom’s home will remedy any “senior moments” she may have.

Sis replies, “You haven’t seen the burnt pots and pans left unattended on the stove.”

He comes back with “You are overreacting.”

Both want the best for their mother, but their competitiveness gets in the way of their ability to execute a plan. Each one is trying to prove that they are the smartest, most reasonable and the supreme problem-solver. Sibling rivalry never dies.

The siblings’ time would be better spent asking their mother what she prefers. Does mom want to remain in her home in the face of growing difficulties? Most seniors do. An assessment by a professional geriatric care manager (who is not a relative) would lay the groundwork for a plan to keep mom safe in her own home or, if that’s not wise, help the family find a more suitable living arrangement. For an explanation of what a geriatric care manager does and the location of one near you, visit

The Golden-Haired Child

A painful situation for the primary caregiver occurs when another close relative does little or nothing to help, but they are adored and praised by the senior anyway. This frequently triggers resentment in the mentally and physically exhausted primary caregiver.

Keeping uninvolved relatives in the loop about medical conditions, treatments and finances increases the likelihood of their involvement. At the very least, it prevents later complaints that “nobody told me” or “I’d have never agreed to that had I’d known.”

It’s infuriating when others don’t do their share, but ultimately you can’t force people to do anything they don’t want to do. In the long run, you are better off not spending time stewing, a practice that results in more anger, bitterness and family feuds.

Before throwing in the towel, get together a family conference where the topic for discussion is “sharing the caring.” Generally, people are more willing to participate when they can contribute in a way that’s comfortable for them. Not everyone is willing or able to do hands-on care. Some relatives might have the know-how to help with figuring out and managing health benefits or home repairs or be willing to accompany the elder to doctor appointments.

The Scrooge

The Scrooge is the family member who skimps on or neglects care. I recall a daughter who petitioned the court and was granted the conservatorship of her severely demented mother. The siblings welcomed the newfound kindness of their previously self-centered sister. Then the daughter moved their mother to an unlicensed, below-standard “cheap” facility far away from other family members. Soon, she began to mishandle her mother’s finances.

Most Scrooges simply want to preserve their inheritance or “get it early.”

If the older woman (when she was still well) had executed a living will or designated an ethical person to be her durable power of attorney for health care and for financial decisions, the Scrooge may never have been able to take over her mother’s care for her own gain.

These documents can be downloaded and are explained online at

The Long-Distance Denier

Some relatives are well-meaning, but distance is an obstacle. In this group there are also a large number of deniers who insist that nothing is wrong with mom or pop. Almost as bad are the bossy long-distance relatives who issue inappropriate and unsolicited “advice.”

Two solutions come to mind. First, discover what the distant person is willing to do from their own home. For example, research medications, health conditions, locate resources online, or provide emotional support via telephone or even financial support. Second, invite a denier to eldersit so the caregiver can take a break. A few days of duty may open their eyes to the “true picture.”

The Sandwiched Caregiver

Some caregivers are squeezed between caring for an elderly parent and parenting a teenager. Every hour spent on eldercare represents an hour unavailable for children. The bane of the sandwiched caregiver is guilt. No matter how much they have done, they always feel they could have done more. Even worse is the guilt experienced when their frustration and exhaustion result in angry words directed at their spouse, teenager or even the older family member.

One solution is to include the entire family in eldercare. For instance, children usually love assisting with grandpa’s exercise. They can count the repetitions and cheer grandpa on. Teenage girls may get a kick out of doing grandma’s nails. Such activities lighten the caregiving load and help young people develop compassion.

Joining a support group is an ideal way to cope. To find a support group near you, start with the Alzheimer’s Association at (800) 272-3900 or

The Overburdened

The overburdened are easily identified because the people they are caring for look better than they do. Overburdened caregivers are more inclined to have depressive illness, flare-ups of their own medical conditions and a higher mortality rate than those who are not caregivers.

The good news is that caregivers who choose their battles wisely, recognize that eldercare does not have to be perfect, and tend to their own health needs are able to provide better and longer care of their loved ones. While eldercare is often a thankless job, many caregivers report tremendous satisfaction when they reflect on the care they provided during the last years or months of their loved one’s life.

The Super Caregiver

The classic “Super Caregiver” is an adult child or spouse who refuses offers of help, saying, “No one can do it better than I can.”

One more time around

Stuart Miller was not looking for a wife. After two failed marriages over the course of 15 years, the Arcadia doctor and father of two was content with his newfound bachelorhood and independence. But when he met Stacy, the widowed mother of one of his daughter’s Hebrew school classmates, his plans fell by the wayside.

“I just knew that she was different, and we really fell in love,” said Miller, 54. “I wasn’t looking to get married. It just fell in my lap.”

The couple married in 2005.

Finding love a second or third time is not always so effortless, but 52 percent of men and 43.5 percent of women remarried in 2004, according to a 2007 U.S. census bureau report. And Jews are no exception.

While religions like Catholicism frown upon the idea of divorce, Judaism is accepting of the end of a marriage as a fact of life, albeit an unfortunate one, and embraces the concept of remarriage.

“The Jewish tradition understands that there’s a place for divorce in the world,” said Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino. “If the first marriage does not last a lifetime, the idea of remarriage is certainly a mitzvah.”

But when one or both spouses have already had a big wedding — rented out the country club, wore the fancy white dress and registered at Macy’s and Bed, Bath & Beyond the first time around — is it acceptable to have a large-scale event a second time?

In short, yes. While many second or third weddings are smaller and more modest than first weddings, it’s not necessarily the rule. Stuart and Stacy Miller’s backyard wedding had nearly 300 guests — the largest ceremony for both.

Most of the guests were members of the couple’s shul, the Pasadena Jewish Temple & Center, as the Millers met through the synagogue and both are extremely active in the community. The service was also Stacy’s first Jewish wedding and she had just begun cultivating her Jewish identity.

Second-time bride-to-be Vivian Guggenheim, 57, of Los Angeles, is thrilled to be planning her upcoming nuptials. Guggenheim’s first wedding took place in a Jerusalem yeshiva and was planned almost entirely by her late husband’s father. This time, Guggenheim has enjoyed working with her husband-to-be, Michael Marcus, in choosing the details for her ceremony, which will take place in a backyard in Hancock Park. The reception will be in Congregation Shaarei Tefila’s catering hall, Kanner Hall.

While some Jews claim that there are different ceremonial requirements in second Jewish weddings — including the idea that second-time brides should not wear white or take part in a bedeken, a veiling ceremony — they have no basis in Jewish law. Jewish communities have different marital traditions, but the wedding ceremony is the same for all spouses-to-be, with one small exception. On a ketubah (marriage contract), a woman who has never been married is indicated using different language than a woman who has been married before. For example, the ketubah for a second marriage changes be’tulta da (maiden) for armalta da (widow) or matarakhta da (divorcee).

When it comes to gift registries, some second-time spouses feel they have everything they need and skip it, while others wish to make a fresh start. Although a gift registry for a second marriage might seem unusual or even tacky to some, Sarah Dakar, owner of Under the Chuppah, a wedding and event production company in the Pico-Robertson area, said that many of her second-time spouse clients opt for the registry.

“Every marriage is a celebration,” Dakar said, “and a celebration deserves gifts.”

For the Millers, registering for new household items was a way of starting anew with their blended family, which included Stacy’s son, then 14, and Stuart’s two children, then 11 and 13.

“I tried to make it fun, so that the kids could get new stuff, too,” Stacy said.

Regardless of the ceremony and the gifts, Valley Beth Shalom’s Feinstein recommends that second-time spouses reflect on their previous relationships in preparation for the new commitment. Before marrying a couple, he counsels the spouses-to-be about what marriage means to them.

“Where you came from makes a difference in terms of where you’re going,” the rabbi said. “I ask the couple to tell me what happened in the first relationship and then I know that they’re prepared for another relationship.”

From the location to the ceremony to the guest list, many second-time brides and grooms struggle to make their second weddings significantly different from their previous wedding.

While Dakar has noticed this trend among her clients, she feels that things often fall into place naturally.

“Every wedding we plan is unique, totally reflective of the relationship and personality of the bride and groom, so it’s not hard to differentiate them,” Dakar said.

She also noted that second-time brides are often calmer and more definitive about what they want because the experience is not so new or intimating to them.

Looking back, Guggenheim realized that she overlooked some communication issues before marrying her first husband.

“This time it’s about addressing our differences and making sure our communication is good,” the bride-to-be said.

She also remembers being “swept up” in the event itself and is determined to be present on every level for her upcoming nuptials.

While having a Jewish wedding was a new experience for Stacy Miller, having her son and stepchildren be a part of the ceremony made the simcha extra-special. Her son walked her down the aisle and the three children did the seven blessings.

No matter what wedding choices a couple makes, Judaism fully supports the idea of re-entering into the state of marriage.

“There’s no such thing as a second wedding,” Feinstein said. “It may be the second time a person stood under the chuppah, but at that moment, at least in the imagination of the Jewish tradition and the couple, it’s brand new and miraculous and a gift of God.”

Outstanding seniors, Class of 2008

Talia Hill

Graduating from: Bais Yaakov

Heading to: Midreshet Darkeynu, Jerusalem

— Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Education Editor

Leah Hill was in a store with her daughter, Talia (Tali), and was having a hard time communicating with a clerk.

“Oh, I give up,” Leah said.

“Mommy,” Hill immediately responded, “never say you give up. You just have to keep trying harder.”

Those words — one of many spontaneous pep talks Hill gives to everyone around her — are particularly profound coming from Hill. Born with her twin sister, Ariella, after 27 weeks of gestation, Hill has mild cerebral palsy and is hearing impaired.

But despite difficulty walking, hearing and speaking, Hill is graduating Bais Yaakov Los Angeles this month alongside her twin, having kept pace to complete high school.

In fact, Hill has flourished in high school, earning solid grades in all her classes — about nine per semester, covering everything from Jewish texts and philosophy to economics and government. Private aides — including her older sister Eliana — take notes for her and help her with writing, but all the studying, thinking and expressing are up to her.

Eliana Hill said her sister often stays after class to ask more questions and spends recess studying, organizing her notes or even reading the weekly Torah portion, even though that isn’t required for any class. She drops in regularly on the principal, just to say ‘hi’ or to stump him with a well thought-out question.

She’s often up earlier than anyone else in her house and stays up late at night, after an evening schedule that usually includes visiting her grandparents, visits from friends, homework, tutoring, speech therapy, occupational therapy or yoga for physical therapy.

But for those around her, it isn’t Hill’s tenacity that stands out most. What more people see is her giant smile, her good nature and her great sense of humor.

Walking down the halls at Bais Yaakov, an Orthodox girls school near Hancock Park, Hill seems to know everyone in every grade — asking this girl if she ever found her Chumash notes, asking that girl how her math test went, oohing over the friend who got her braces off.

One year, her class voted to give her the annual “Ashes Chayil” award, recognizing the girl who most exemplifies strong moral values, a positive nature and a desire to help others.

When Hill’s aides were unable to make it on the senior class trip with her, two classmates, unwilling to go without their friend, stepped in and said they would help Hill.

And Hill has opened doors for other girls. After completing Yeshiva Aahron Yaakov Ohr Eliyahu through eighth grade, with the help of aides and tutoring, she became the first student with disabilities to be truly integrated through an inclusion program at Bais Yaakov. Today, six other students with physical and developmental disabilities are integrated into the regular curriculum at Bais Yaakov, with modifications when necessary.

“It’s an inspiration to watch her,” said Rabbi Yoel Bursztyn, principal of Bais Yaakov. “After a little while with her, you forget about her disabilities.”

Next year Hill and her family will once again be pioneers. They are making final arrangements for her to attend Midreshet Darkeynu, a Torah study and vocational skills program at Jerusalem’s Midreshet Lindenbaum, designed for girls with special needs such as severe learning disabilities or mild developmental disorders. Hill will be their first student with significant physical disabilities. And while a highly trained staff of counselors is available to help the girls, it will be the first time Hill will be at school without a one-on-one aide.

She’s a little nervous but is looking at it with the same determination and excitement that animate everything she does (and humor — she tells every one she is going to Asia for the year).

“I’m very excited to meet new people and make new friends, and to see my land,” Hill said. “But I’m not very excited because it’s frightening to leave your parents for a whole year.”

But she’s willing to try it, and she and her parents are confident she’ll make it work. Because, as they’ve learned from watching Tali Hill till now, giving up is not an option. You just try harder.

Isabel Kaplan

Graduating from: Marlborough School

Heading to: Harvard University

— Danielle Berrin, Contributing Writer

Perhaps the first real indicationthat Isabel Kaplan had grand dreams was revealed during Halloween in the first grade, when she dressed up as Hillary Clinton. Everything Kaplan has accomplished since then suggests there is hope for a female president yet: At 18, the Harvard-bound senior has already written two novels and helped raise funds to build a basketball court for AIDS orphans at a school in Uganda, as well as nearly $100,000 for the Marlborough Student Charitable Fund, which she created with 15 fellow students and which provides education grants for underprivileged girls in Los Angeles.

A self-declared “feminist since birth,” Kaplan’s concern for empowering women and girls in underserved communities has gone well beyond the confines of her classroom at the Marlborough School, the all-girls academy where she said she has seen the “wonders” of a female-centric environment and learned how necessary education is in allowing girls social and economic mobility.

Inspired by a financial literacy course she took during her sophomore year, Kaplan helped inaugurate the Marlborough Student Charitable Fund. The group has created a highly successful annual event — a fashion show and a gala auction Kaplan co-chaired — and partnered with the Women’s Foundation of California to distribute grants to help local girls finish high school and attend college.

But reaching across town was not enough for Kaplan.

After winning the World Affairs Challenge (a national competition in international relations) with a project on AIDS orphans, she was struck by the discovery that girls her age in Africa became mothers before they could read. Through a teacher’s contact in Uganda, she hooked up with a school for AIDS orphans and organized a pen-pal correspondence with students there. In this endeavor, she established “Girls4Girls,” through which she plans to build a health care clinic in rural Tanzania.

The over-50 crowd relearns the ‘facts of life’

For years, single seniors would find the idea of meeting new people following a divorce, or loss of a partner, daunting at best. But with today’s online dating services, success in finding the perfect partner is ostensibly only a click away — all you need is a computer and a little courage.

But Jane Fowler, retired journalist and now HIV/AIDS prevention educator, waves a red flag of caution for older singles. As founder and director of the national HIV Wisdom for Older Women, Fowler says that older single people — “the fastest-growing segment of the dating services” — may put themselves at risk by engaging in new relationships.

“The perception among both the older, public population and providers of health and social services is that seniors are not at risk for sexually transmitted disease, and as a consequence they have low awareness about HIV,” Fowler said.

While HIV can pose health problems at any age, there is additional risk of having the virus as an older person. People 50 and older have less vigorous immune systems, and studies report that a majority of older adults have at least one or more chronic, age-related condition such as diabetes, arthritis or heart disease.

Fowler, a vibrant and active senior, has a personal commitment to HIV awareness for women older than 50: She was diagnosed HIV positive in the mid-1980s, having been exposed to the virus from an unprotected, heterosexual contact following her divorce.

“I am very concerned about women who, like me years ago, may be re-entering the dating scene after an absence of several decades,” she said.

The Myth of Age-Related Immunity

According to Fowler, AIDS cases in women over age 50 are reported to have tripled in the last decade. Furthermore, the findings of the recent landmark ROAH (“Research on Older Americans With HIV”) study by AIDS Community Research Initiative of America reported conclusive evidence that heterosexual contact is now the predominant mode of virus transmission.

“It is important to get the message out,” Fowler said, “to both women and men over age 50, that unprotected sexual contact is a risk.”

She said physicians do not typically discuss sexual behavior with their older patients, and this fosters a false sense of security that age imparts “some special kind of immunity.” Plus, as people age and their immune systems weaken, many of the symptoms of age-related conditions, such as fatigue, dementia, weight loss and skin rashes, are very similar to those of HIV.

“When these symptoms are overlooked and attributed to natural aging, people who are HIV positive end up walking out the door,” she said. “By the time they are diagnosed, they may be very ill and the window of opportunity to begin a therapy that helps prevent the virus from progressing to AIDS has already passed.”

However, the problems of older people affected by HIV are “much more than physical ones and a regimen of taking pills,” said Dr. Stephen Karpiak, lead investigator of the ROAH study. While the latest antiretroviral drug therapies allow people to live longer and healthier, their research data on the quality of life “paints an unsettling picture of the older person with HIV.”

“More often than not, these older, HIV-positive adults are not only alienated by friends and family, they are afraid to disclose their status and have few places to turn to for help,” said Karpiak, who described “help” as “the little things that make the big difference.”

“We’re talking about having someone to help buy groceries, take you to the doctor or to church,” he said. “Our study reported just how disconnected these people are from society — not just from their disease and its stigma, but also because they are old with this disease.”

There’s a stereotype of older people as being no longer productive, with failing mental competency and low value to society.

“There is this prevailing cultural attitude,” Fowler recounted, “of ‘so what if old people get HIV and die?’ — the assumption being that they have already lived their lives and are no longer productive contributors.”

Need for Community Involvement

Dr. L. Jeannine Burkhardt-Murray, medical director of Harlem United Community AIDS Center, who helped Karpiak write the spirituality component of the ROAH study questionnaire, adds another dimension to the picture of social disconnection.

“Informal caregiving by friends and family is provided to millions of people in this country who have chronic illness, disability, are elderly or just need some day-to-day maintenance help,” she explained. “But older people with HIV are often stepped over from potential sources of assistance because of persistent stigma and lingering misconceptions about virus transmission.”

“[It is] so unfortunate because we know that people who have outside contact with the community — not just the health arena of their doctors and nurses but with friends and family members — these are the ones who do the best,” she added.

Burkhardt-Murray said she has spent time over the years trying to engage local leaders of religious communities into supporting people with AIDS.

The dilemma, said Burkhardt-Murray, who lives and works in the largely African American community of Harlem, is that this is a population largely estranged from their family and friends who would turn to their church but find themselves unwelcome.

“For many years our clergy would not acknowledge this disease,” she said. But after more then a decade of advocacy, she sees things changing and the church is now more willing to talk openly about HIV with its constituency.

This is good news since one of the ROAH findings, she said, is that many older HIV-positive people “expressed a positive benefit from a religious or spiritual affiliation.”

An Intergenerational Approach to Breaking Barriers

For Ed Shaw, a tireless, 60-something HIV educator and chair of the New York Association of HIV Over 50, just “getting people to talk about this disease is an important step and can make a difference, one person at a time, to overcoming barriers.”

Shoah survivors ‘graduate’ from New Jew

At first glance, the idea seemed sort of maudlin.

New Community Jewish High School (NCJHS) awarded eight Holocaust survivors honorary high school diplomas last Wednesday night, symbolically handing them back a part of their adolescence that had been stolen by the war.

The emotions seemed almost too easy to elicit, the standing ovation the elderly graduates received too disturbingly predictable.

But between the bubbling emotion of the graduating seniors, and the pride of the survivors, there emerged a sense that the bond between them that was not only intimate, but unexpectedly substantive.

The students met these survivors on March of the Living, a pilgrimage to concentration camps in Poland and then to Israel. They got to know the survivors, and heard their stories of lost youth. It hit the 17- and 18-year-olds — these grandparent figures were the same age and younger when their worlds caved in. They lost families, they lost their homes and their bearings; they never had a chance to do something as simple as take algebra and literature and biology.

And the idea of loss wasn’t as foreign as one would assume for these kids — who have attended a private school in West Hills with all the comforts of a Jewish upper-middle-class life. One after another, though, the four students selected to speak at graduation to represent the class — the third graduating class of this young school — talked about challenges that had punctured the air of invulnerability to which teens might seem entitled. In their four years, three of 88 students in the class lost their fathers. One classmate battled cancer. Just last month, the NCJHS community was shattered by the death of an alumnus from its previous graduating class.

More than many teens, these kids have a sense of what it means to have your foundations shaken. And they know how to give support and comfort to those around them who are grieving.

So it makes sense that after 35 NCJHS seniors returned from March of the Living three weeks ago, their instincts told them to embrace these Shoah survivors — officially, institutionally.

On Wednesday, May 28, Dorothy Greenstein, Jean Greenstein (not related), Sigi Hart, Emil and Erika Jacoby, Sidonia Lax and Paula Lebovics joined the 88 graduates (survivor Halina Wachtel couldn’t be there) at NCJHS’s graduation. As the high school seniors and the senior citizens together marched in the processional to Israeli and American pop songs wearing billowing crimson gowns and tassled caps, they received their diplomas, they turned their tassels and got flowers and hugs from friends and family.

Emil Jacoby, who for many years headed the Bureau of Jewish Education of Los Angeles (BJE), counted this as his sixth diploma. Hart said it was his first.

“The only place I ever graduated was Auschwitz,” Hart said. “I never thought at 83 I would have a graduation!”

The day was especially meaningful for Hart, who graduated alongside his granddaughter, Nicole Birnebaum.

Hart was a boy when the Nazis took over his native Berlin — his bar mitzvah was supposed to have been a few days after Kristallnacht, in November 1938. He survived Auschwitz, and after liberation he went to Israel, where he fought in the War of Independence and later in the 1956 Sinai campaign. By the time he got to Los Angeles in 1957 with his wife and two children, schooling was out of the question. He went straight into the schmatte business, manufacturing shirts for men and boys.

Last month’s trip was Hart’s fourth on March of the Living, where 10,000 people from around the world march on the railroad tracks that carried prisoners from Auschwitz to the Birkenau crematoria.

Paula Lebovics counts as adopted children the 130 kids who comprised the Los Angeles delegation, sponsored by the BJE.

In her purse, Lebovics carries a folded-up photocopy of a photograph that today hangs in one of the bunkers in Auschwitz. Lebovics is in the picture, a gaunt, frightened 11-year-old in a crowd of inmates behind barbed wire.

On this trip, Lebovics went back to Treblinka for the first time, where she said Kaddish for her two sisters where they were murdered. Three brothers and her mother survived.

Lebovics spent her high school years in a displaced persons camp in Germany, where she was taught Hebrew. She earned her high school diploma in 1968 after attending night school in Los Angeles, and then went to college.

For Emil Jacoby and his wife, Erika, the graduation was a sweet moment of continuity, not only because they saw how these kids would carry on a legacy that was almost lost, but because both had taught some of the school’s founders, and the graduates’ parents. Emil, who spent the war in the Zionist underground, for many years was the principal of of Adat Ari El religious school and, as the head of the BJE, served as mentor and role model to, among others, Dr. Bruce Powell, NCJHS founding head of school.

Erika, about whom the movie “Swimming in Auschwitz” was made, never graduated high school, but she went to college and became a therapist. She also taught Hebrew at Camp Ramah, and among her students was Howard Farber, founding president of NCJHS and father of a graduate. Farber signed Erika’s diploma.

And that continuity is what this offering was about. On the one hand, the expected emotions of graduation: cheering, tearing seniors; kvelling, incredulous parents wondering how they have children old enough to be where they just were; faculty, especially at this newly birthed school, proud of the accomplished adults they grew from the insecure ninth-graders that walked through the door.

And on top of that, the inexplicable element that, whether conscious or not, underlies every Jewish event — the vestiges of destruction, the personal but mass-scale tragedy that sits like a veneer on so many families. Here, rather than leave it unsaid, the horror of the past was wrapped into the brightness of what lies ahead.

“I want them to become advocates for the future,” said Sidonia Lax, who had long discussions with the kids on bus rides in Poland and Israel. Lax, whom Powell also counts as a mentor, was 12 when the war broke out. She survived a ghetto and two concentration camps, and leapt from a bombed-out transport with her clothes on fire just days before liberation. She spent her life in the United States volunteering to ensure that the world is a tolerant, safe place, working for neighborhood councils, Jewish organizations, educational institutions and political advocacy groups.

This was her first time in cap and gown.

“For these children, living in comfort like they live today, I want them to learn how to deal with the challenges and the controversies they will be faced with in the future,” Lax said.

The class of 2008, it seems, got a jump-start on that future. And they jumped right in.

Double dating with Dad

Joe Morris looks pretty good for a 79-year-old widower, his son Bob says in a new memoir. Despite the fact that Joe needs a hip replacement — not to mention a dry cleaner for his yellow cardigan — he has “smooth, tawny skin, silky silvery hair,” is “fully conversant with the idea of happiness, especially his own,” and, although it’s only been a few months since his wife of 50 years died, he’s about to start dating — much to Bob’s consternation.

“I was just thinking, is it a little early to be running around with another woman? I mean, it’s just a few months since Mom died,” Bob Morris recounts saying to his father in “Assisted Loving: True Tales of Double Dating with My Dad” (Harper, 2008).

The book is just one of a number of memoirs released recently that are written by sons trying to figure out their fathers, including Bernard Cooper’s “The Bill From My Father” (Simon & Schuster, 2006), Nick Flynn’s “Another Bull…. Night in Suck City” (W.W. Norton, 2005) and David Shields’ new “The Thing About Life is One Day You’ll Be Dead” (Knopf, 2008). But the others don’t capture the cynicism, humor and fraught male relationship of a father and son who are both looking for love.

When Bob learns his father is seeing women, he recounts in the book, he calls his brother, Jeff, and asks, “Three and a half months after Mom died, and Dad appears to be dating. Is this appropriate?”

Jeff’s response: “Since when has Dad been appropriate?”

Bob Morris writes that his mother was “devout;” the family belonged to a Conservative synagogue, and he attended Hebrew school at her behest.

“We all know that Jewish tradition requires a year of mourning, so what was on my father’s mind when three months after my mother dies he hands me a page from The New York Jewish Week with personal ads circled and asks me to call,” the author said in a phone interview from New York. “Is that appropriate? Six months after she dies, we’ll give him an 80th birthday party. Is that appropriate?”

These questions got him thinking, as he prepared to write this book, he said: “What is appropriate in terms of middle-aged children and their parents’ love lives?”

Appropriateness is an ongoing theme in Morris’ life. For eight years he wrote a cheeky column in The New York Times’ Style Section called “The Age of Dissonance” — a ‘Miss Manners’ for the New York jet set that is the basis of an HBO pilot he’s developing.

Morris has yearned for appropriateness — good manners, fitting in, being stylish, belonging to the madding crowd — since he was a child, he said in the interview.

“Why can’t you be more interesting, better read, well-dressed,” he used to think of (and say to) his parents. “Why can’t you be like my friends’ parents in Manhattan — wearing French cuffs, going to Europe?”

While some teens are embarrassed by their uncool parents, Morris was outraged: “How dare you be so unsophisticated!” he thought. “I never was in such an appreciative spot,” he said in the interview.

Morris couldn’t appreciate the man who sang romantic songs and danced with his wife; a father who helped his son come out of the closet, telling Bob at 19 it was OK if he was gay, but he should be careful; a father who bragged about his son’s every minor accomplishment and who told his son there was nothing he couldn’t do once he put his mind to it.

“I was always too critical and too cynical to enjoy the guy,” Morris said in the interview.

He saw his father as a bore who rattled on about bridge and other banalities. But after Bob’s mother died, father and son started discussing dating, love and relationships — although the discussion was more about Joe’s love life, because Bob, at 45, said he tends to hide from relationships, using his busy life and the cynical New York dating scene as excuses.

“I was shocked at how close my father and I got when we were talking about love,” Morris said in the interview. He became consumed by his father’s dating life — which began with The Jewish Week personals, but continued with women in Great Neck, N.Y. and Palm Beach, Fla. — “the Gaza Strip” — as the Jewish widow section of the WASPy neighborhood has been called.

“I just need someone with a good figure who doesn’t smoke. Preferably Jewish. Republican a plus,” Morris writes of his father’s requirements. Joe sounds like someone a quarter his age — and dates like one, too: There’s the three-timing Edie, with two other boyfriends (in their 90s); the snobby Florence with a house on Fifth Avenue who thinks Joe’s after her money; the demanding women, the clingy women, the complaining women, the crazy women.

“Dating is a headache; there are just too many agendas and opinions,” Joe tells his son. But Joe doesn’t give up, because he wants to find love, to find someone like his wife, Ethel.

“He may not be so worldly, but he’s been so brave about love. Why have I spent so much of my adult life afraid of it?” Bob writes, finally taking the plunge to find a love of his own, like his father has done.

Not to spoil the ending here, but the book tells that Joe finds true love, and so does Bob. (Which is where the book wraps — although real life continues: Joe died, at 83, and Morris wrote the book after his death, wanting only to preserve the happy-go-lucky man.)

In the end this memoir is not just about two men searching for love, but also a commentary on aging, dating, parenting children and children parenting parents. It’s also about a father and son learning to love each other — learning to learn from each other — even at the later stages of life.

“He gave me a great gift,” Morris said, “and he delivered an opportunity for me to talk about parents and children and all the things we need to say and don’t say.”

A doctor’s visit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sometimes,” he replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Theater: A generation’s history, one life at time

“Showing Our Age” is a play about stories, and the fact that everyone has one. It’s a project that I started more than 10 years ago, though not specifically as an idea for a play. I was a participant in a community outreach program in which we interviewed senior citizens, used their remarkable life stories to write monologues and then performed them for the seniors and their families. The simplicity of just the details of a life — without sets or costumes — created some of the most powerful theater I had ever been involved with. And I have been involved in theater for a very long time, as an actress, writer, director and teacher. I wanted more! I wanted to take this idea and expand it.

That was when About Productions, a Los Angeles-based theater company I had worked with before, became involved. They supported the idea ” target=”_blank”>

Looking forward and giving back

When Richard Weiner and Judith Forman geared up for their November nuptials last year, they didn’t register at Crate & Barrel, Macy’s or Bed, Bath & Beyond.

“We’re 65 years old,” chuckled Weiner, a Philadelphia lawyer who has become bicoastal since marrying his Manhattan Beach bride. “We’re at an age when you start getting rid of stuff, not getting new stuff.”

Both already had wine goblets, linens and fine china from previous marriages — so the couple decided to do something to reflect their commitment to tikkun olam (repairing the world). They asked their guests to donate to the Judith Forman and Richard Weiner Family Fund for the Advancement of Interreligious Dialogue, which supports lectures and scholars-in-residence on interreligious issues sponsored by their respective local Philadelphia and Los Angeles American Jewish Committee (AJCommittee) chapters.

Weiner and Forman are particularly passionate about intergroup relations, and the two met on the AJCommittee’s Adenauer Exchange Program, an annual event organized by the AJCommittee and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation of Germany. The two organizations exchange lay leaders for the purpose of building bridges of understanding between the Jewish community in the United States and Germany.

The couple’s wedding plans were not as unique as one might think. The notion of repairing the world and helping others in conjunction with weddings is something that many Jewish couples are opting to include in their big day.

Sarah Dakar, owner of Under the Chuppah, a wedding and event production company in the Pico-Robertson area, often fields clients’ requests to include philanthropy in their simchas.

“By attaching some kind of charity to their wedding, I have seen it only enhance the couple’s joy by helping others,” Dakar said.

There are countless ways that couples can incorporate philanthropy into their weddings. Some sponsor a meal at a soup kitchen on their wedding date, donate leftover food to a charitable organization, donate a percentage of their cash gifts to charity, donate their floral centerpieces to a local hospital or donate money or even a wedding dress to local organizations that help brides who can’t afford their own.

For her February simcha, Jennifer Bilovsky, 30, plans to donate leftover food from the event to Global Kindness, a small family-run organization in the Pico-Robertson area that helps feed a base of 75 needy Jewish families in Los Angeles. In addition, she and her fiancÃ(c) will donate money to a local hachnosas kallah (bridal assistance), which helps less fortunate couples pay for their weddings.

“Traditionally, Jewish weddings were a way to give back to the community and to open doors to the needy,” said Bilovsky, a writer who lives in Encino. “[Making these donations] is a way that we could continue that mitzvah within the context of the modern wedding.”

Historically, there has also been a long-standing tradition of Jews helping poor Jewish couples pay for their weddings.

“It is a mitzvah to help out a needy bride and enable the wedding to occur and be a joyous affair,” said Rabbi Jonathan Jaffe Bernhard of Adat Ari El in Valley Village.

But while the act of charity is selfless, isn’t a wedding supposed to be about the bride and groom?

“Even though the focus is naturally on the couple, no wedding takes place in a vacuum but always within the context of a larger community,” Bernhard said. “Being philanthropic reminds us of that and instills within us a sense of gratitude for what we have been blessed with and our obligation to help others in need.”

Coming from two very philanthropic families, Sasha Strauss and Leerone Milstein grew up believing in the importance of helping those less fortunate. When planning their December 2006 wedding, the Los Feliz couple immediately knew they wanted to include a charitable aspect to their big day. But rather than simply asking guests to donate to a worthy cause, the couple wanted something more.

“We wanted a program where [our guests] could participate hands-on in a philanthropic cause to feel like they have already affected someone when they left,” said Strauss, the chair of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles’ marketing and communications committee and the owner of a brand consulting firm.

A few days before their wedding, the couple and about 40 of their guests spent several hours assembling food baskets at the SOVA Food Pantry in Los Angeles. Strauss, his wife and their guests were deeply affected by the experience.

“That type of direct exposure changes people,” Strauss said. “It makes you look at writing that check [for charity] in a whole new way because you envision the person whose life is changing from you writing that check.”

Preparing for one of his frequent trips back to Philly, Weiner, too, reaffirms his dedication to making a difference. He and Forman will continue to make donations to the AJC fund they created.

“We wanted to do something that was meaningful to us and reflects our commitment to the principles that AJC advocates,” said Weiner. “I feel really good about the choice we made.”

For more information, visit

Hachnosas Kallah

(310) 552-2446

Global Kindness
(310) 286-0800

Under the Chuppah

(310) 728-6020

Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles

(323) 761-8800

American Jewish Committee

(310) 282-8080

My December visit with ‘lady’

“Agha isn’t here,” Khanum says as soon as I walk in through the door. “I don’t know when he’ll be back.”

Agha is her husband — dead for 35 years and buried in Iran — but she speaks about him as if he were just out running an errand.

“No point waiting around for him,” she tells me with characteristic bluntness. “Go home and do something useful.”

We’re in her room on the third floor of the Ocean Towers Convalescent Home in Santa Monica. Khanum has lived here for nearly 10 years, ever since she broke her hip and had to have it replaced by a young Iranian doctor who called all his female patients “Khanum” (Lady), because they were old, and he meant to show respect — and because this way, he didn’t have to remember their names.

Depending on whom you ask, Khanum is somewhere between 97 and 104 years old. She has bad eyes and trouble walking — what with the hip replacement and all — and she gets tired easily, but she’s otherwise in fine health.

She needs constant care, which she resents wholeheartedly and refuses often. Her mind is in good shape most of the time, but lately her short-term memory has been lapsing for hours at a time. When this happens, she can tell you about all the people she knew and places she had been to in her 20s and 30s, but she won’t recall when she last ate, or what day it is, or what the person she’s been talking to has just said.

She becomes young again, a new bride in her husband’s house, unwavering in her love and her loyalty to him.

“I’m not here to see Agha,” I tell her. “I’ve come to see you.”

I realize she has confused me with one of the many callers who used to knock at her door day or night in Tehran in the years before her husband died. They never called ahead of time, or asked permission to visit, because they knew they would not be welcome: they were either selling something, asking for money, collecting a bribe or hoping to enlist her husband’s support in some decades’ old feud with a family member.

I kiss her on both cheeks and ask how she’s doing.

“Why do you want to know?” she responds, still suspicious.

To my embarrassment, I feel relieved that Khanum hasn’t recognized me yet, that she doesn’t remember how long it has been since my last visit. So we sit — Khanum in her wheelchair, I on the edge of her hospital bed — for a while without speaking. The small television that hangs from the ceiling is tuned to one of the many Farsi-language satellite stations based in Los Angeles. Persian music blares from someone’s radio next door.

It’s only 6 p.m., but the December sky has been dark for nearly an hour.

“No self-respecting woman would be out on the street so late at night,” Khanum chides me.

Ocean Towers is one of many establishments of its kind in Santa Monica — a gray, seven-story box of a building with cement walls and a flat roof, situated, for practical reasons, within a 10-block radius of St. John’s Hospital.

We’re only 12 blocks away from Third Street Promenade with its trendy shops and overly aggressive street performers, but we might as well be in Tehran: There are three Iranian restaurants within walking distance of this building, three grocery stores, an Iranian kosher butcher shop. There is an Iranian bakery around the corner, two hair salons and an electronics store that promises — in big, bold letters painted on the windows — to crush any competitor’s price anywhere.

On the third floor, all the residents are Iranian. So are some of the doctors and nurses, the nutrition experts and physical therapists. The arrangement seems to be as much by design as by coincidence, but it suits everyone just fine. Most of the residents here know each other from the years in Iran — before the revolution forced them out of the country and sent them to a place where youth and beauty are revered above wisdom and tradition; where children are allowed to disobey their parents, or dishonor them by marrying out of their faith, or divorcing their spouses or entrust the care of their elders to strangers in bright purple uniforms who come and go every eight hours.

The visitors, too, know most of the patients. They come often, and bring Iranian food and magazines and candy. They arrive early and leave late, sometimes staying all day with a spouse or a parent because they can’t bear the guilt of what they have done to their loved ones, because they remember what it was like back in Iran, how the elderly were cared for at home, how they used to look down on people in the West — the way they tossed their parents away when they were of no more use, locked them up in nursing homes and forgot where they had put the key.

Dinner is at 5:30 p.m., and after that the latest hold-outs go home. The nurses’ shift changes, and dusk settles onto the bare hallways and narrow beds with plastic mattresses. Then the ghosts come out.

“Do you miss Agha?” I ask Khanum.

When I first started writing, I sat with Khanum for hours at a time, asking questions. I was 21 and on leave of absence from law school. I had no idea what I was going to do with my life, but I knew some stories from Iran, and had begun to write them. They were scattered pieces of people’s lives, bits of conversations I had overheard through the years, rumors that had been whispered too many times and taken on a reality that may or may not have been deserved.

Almost all the stories, however, were about my own family: we were — still are — unusually open, among Iranian Jews, about our past. Others are more guarded, more aware of the consequences of revealing themselves in a society built as much on appearances as on facts, a society where truth will, far from setting you free, most likely close a thousand doors and come back to haunt you for good.

Educational programs help seniors fulfill postponed dreams

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

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

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

PLATO Society

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The PLATO Society is located at 1083 Gayley Ave., adjacent to the UCLA campus in Westwood. For more information, visit Release of ‘Alpha Dog ‘ reopens Markowitz family wounds

American-style retirement for Israel’s seniors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Substance Abuse a Senior Problem, Too


When Amy Kaplan heard about Betty (not her real name), a Jewish Family Service client in her early 70s who said she couldn’t afford all of her medications, Kaplan suspected there was more to the story. Kaplan, a social worker and addiction specialist, visited Betty’s home and confirmed her suspicions: Betty was taking 24 prescription medications, some of which were duplicates or even triplicates. Betty was drowsy, unsteady, financially strapped — and addicted.

“The numbers are astronomical,” Kaplan said. “I’d say 90 percent of our clients are affected by addiction in some way, either themselves or through a family member, a close friend or a neighbor.”

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, prescription drugs and alcohol abuse among adults 60 and older is one of the fastest growing health problems in the country, affecting up to 17 percent of older adults. With baby boomers beginning to turn 60 this year, the incidence will continue to climb without intervention.

“This is a significant problem which has been underidentified and under-recognized,” said Karen Leaf, director of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles’ (JFS) Valley Storefront in North Hollywood. “Given the scope of the problem, we decided we needed to be better equipped to deal with it.”

With grants from the Archstone and Jewish Community foundations, JFS instituted the Senior Substance Abuse and Mental Health Initiative last summer. Kaplan, who had previously worked at the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, was recruited to develop programs for JFS. The agency’s first priority involved educating and training its own social workers and case managers — who deal with thousands of seniors in the course of a year — to better recognize and assist clients with substance abuse problems.

Kaplan now leads a weekly Alcoholics Anonymous meeting at the Valley Storefront location, and JFS hopes to add more locations in the future. Dr. Alan Schneider, a psychiatrist specializing in the elderly, has given presentations about mental health and medication management during brown-bag lunch sessions at area senior centers. To increase public awareness of the issue, Kaplan and others have made presentations at health fairs, meetings and other community events.

Older adults are usually “accidental addicts,” according to Carol Colleran, director of older adult services at the Hanley Center in West Palm Beach, Fla., and co-author of “Aging and Addiction” (Hazelden, 2002). She said that seniors often develop problems when they continue to take prescription medications that were intended for short-term use. This is common with a class of drugs called benzodiazepines, medications prescribed for insomnia and anxiety. Benzodiazipines, which include Valium and Xanax, are addictive.

Colleran said that late-onset addiction can be triggered by loss, such as the loss of a spouse, a job or a sense of purpose. To cope with these losses, individuals may self-medicate with prescription drugs and alcohol.

Problems are compounded because the body processes alcohol and drugs less efficiently as it ages. Older adults may find that they can no longer tolerate the same amounts of alcohol that they consumed in the past. And alcohol’s effects are intensified when it is mixed with prescription or over-the-counter drugs.

“Safe drinking for older adults is one drink per day,” Colleran noted. One drink equals a 12-ounce beer, 1 1/2 ounces of liquor or 5 ounces of wine.

Underdiagnosis of alcohol and prescription drug abuse among older adults is common because symptoms — including fatigue, depression, irritability, insomnia, frequent falls, chronic pain, impotence and congestive heart failure — are often misinterpreted as signs of other medical conditions. Symptoms may be attributed to dementia, Parkinson’s, depression or simply products of aging.

Addiction is not on the radar screen for most physicians, according to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA). In a CASA physician survey presenting a hypothetical case of a mature woman who showed the typical early symptoms of alcohol and prescription drug abuse, only one percent of the doctors considered substance abuse as a possible diagnosis.

“We need to get the word out about this,” said Colleran, who believes ageism and sexism are additional barriers to recognition of the problem.

On the positive side, she said that older adults have the highest success rate in treatment of any age group.

Jews and Addiction

Although JFS is a nonsectarian organization, addiction specialist Kaplan estimates that 50 percent of the agency’s senior clients who suffer from addiction are Jewish. The perception that Jews don’t drink, she said, is a myth. Further, a 2001 study published in the Journal of Addictive Diseases refuted the perception that Jewish alcoholics have lower educational, financial or religious levels.

While the JFS initiative does not incorporate Jewish content, there are programs that address addiction through a Jewish lens. Unlike the JFS initiative, however, they are not targeted exclusively to older adults. New York-based Jewish Alcoholics, Chemically Dependent Persons and Significant Others (JACS), which offers numerous resources on its Web site, holds programs in several Los Angeles locations. Beit T’Shuvah, which provides both residential and out-patient treatment, addresses addiction using Jewish spirituality, the 12-Step program originated by Alcoholics Anonymous and psychotherapy.

Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas has offered a variety of programs addressing addiction, including Madraygot (Steps), a monthly program that looks at the intersection of Judaism and the 12-Step program. The synagogue commissioned a rabbinic intern, Rebecca Hoffman, to develop a curriculum designed for congregations to offer their own Jewish 12-Step program.

“I’ve worked at three Los Angeles area synagogues, and the minute I started talking about addiction, people started coming out of the woodwork,” Or Ami’s Rabbi Paul Kipnes said. “My goal is to break down the walls of silence and talk about it ….Individuals who are suffering from addiction have a place in the community and the community needs to respond.”

Signs of a Problem

by Gabriel Meyer

Medicine and alcohol misuse can happen unintentionally. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the following signs may indicate an alcohol or medication-related problem:


• Memory trouble after having a drink or taking medicine


• Loss of coordination (walking unsteadily, frequent falls)


• Changes in sleeping habits


• Unexplained bruises


• Irritability, sadness, depression


• Unexplained chronic pain


• Changes in eating habits


• Desire to stay alone much of the time


• Failure to bathe or keep clean


• Difficulty finishing sentences


• Difficulty concentrating


• Difficulty staying in touch with family or friends


• Lack of interest in usual activities

Interest Increases as Deadline Nears

Susie Tiffany of Beverly Hills suffers from a rare blood disorder and needs monthly infusions of blood components, which her insurance company ultimately declined to cover. She hoped the government’s new prescription drug benefit would help her out because, despite her ZIP code, she’s a low-income senior.

But the possibilities, were baffling: an array of private insurance plans that covered different things, explanations on the Internet that included terms she never had to know before, additional complexities depending on a person’s income and a confusing interplay of state and federal agencies.

However, Tiffany was able to find assistance in her case from Jewish Family Service. A social worker helped get Tiffany’s treatment covered by new state funds intended to help seniors with the transition to the new federal system.

“It’s a good thing that I had a good social worker,” said Tiffany, 65, who lives in a Beverly Hills city subsidized apartment building for low-income seniors.

“There are quite a number of options, and it’s overwhelming,” said Susan Alexman, director of senior services at Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles.

In Los Angeles County, insurance companies have offered 47 different plans for seniors seeking to enroll in the new federally funded benefit. The plan’s May 15 deadline means seniors must sign up without delay or face increased fees for late enrollment.

For some seniors, the financial stakes are high. But while interest is picking up, for most of the past year, social service groups have had few takers when they’ve tried to help.

“It’s strange, but our office has not had any calls on that,” said Deborah Baldwin, public benefits supervisor at Bet Tzedek Legal Services, when asked in March.

At the Fairfax District office of the National Council of Jewish Women, a Democratic congressman’s field staffer set aside four hours over two days in late January to discuss the new Medicare Part D drug plan with seniors. Hardly anyone showed up.

“Just three,” the staffer told The Jewish Journal. “People are putting it off.”

Health care activists, community workers and groups, including Jewish Family Service, have been holding numerous Part D awareness meetings, especially this spring.

“This has been going on for a year and a half,” said Anita Chun, community education coordinator at the Center for Healthcare Rights in Los Angeles. “Now people are paying attention.”

A Part D meeting in March in West Hollywood, put on by Jewish Family Service, attracted about 120 seniors. Attendance also picked up for a March meeting at Temple Isaiah in Rancho Park — after a sparsely attended February session with social workers and experts.

Some seniors said they expect to come out OK under the new system.

“The health program that I belong to enrolled everybody in it beforehand,” said Encino retiree Janet Siskind. Her Blue Shield 65 Plus coverage gets her quarterly refills of the three to four pills she needs. Siskind’s combined prescription fees will increase, but only by about $10 annually.

“I’m in good hands with this,” she said. “It’s something I can afford.”

Siskind’s San Fernando Valley chapter of the Na’amat women’s group held a recent Part D meeting for 25 people.

“We figured, ‘Well, it hasn’t started yet, perhaps it’ll get easier as time goes along,'” she said. “It hasn’t really been explained too thoroughly.”

With so much Part D information online, many seniors are at a disadvantage, because of their discomfort or unfamiliarity with the Internet.

California’s Medi-Cal program, which had covered poor and low-income seniors’ prescription costs, stopped providing service on Jan. 1, when Part D took over. Yet there were startup problems, which included state and federal computers being unable to interact. Many poor seniors were suddenly being asked to pay full price for medications. The reports of hardship prompted Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature in mid-January to push through emergency prescription drug funding for low-income seniors until May 15.

“It makes the state the payer of last resort for the prescriptions that they need,” said Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Julie Soderlund.

But only until May 15, which could force Tiffany, suffering from the blood disorder, to navigate the system again.

“Good old Part D, the insurance policy that was gonna change it all,” she said. “It’s gonna take some time for me to get happy about it.”

David Merritt, project director at the Center for Health Transformation think tank in Washington, D.C., said that despite such glitches, Medicare Part D transition problems nationwide have been relatively low, with Americans not upset over Part D the way they are over high gas prices.

“Anytime you have a massive policy shift from one system to another system, you’re going to run into problems,” he told The Journal. “The vast majority [of seniors] had zero problems enrolling or getting medication.”

But to Jews dependent on Medicare for affordable drugs, “it’s unfair for seniors to be expected to maneuver through this incredibly messy web,” said Rabbi Zoe Klein of Temple Isaiah. “Health trumps every other problem in your life.”

“They’re basically saying they’re confused, and they want someone to walk them through it,” Klein said.


Graybeards Pull Off Israel Election Upset

Just as the polls closed in Israel last month, I was finishing up listening to BBC Radio, planning to switch the dial to hear the first exit poll predictions on a local station.

But exactly as the clock struck 10, I was amazed to hear the BBC itself switching to Tel Aviv for live election coverage. Naturally, the three main Israeli television channels were fighting tooth and nail to claim the largest audience share, but the internal Israeli political situation was also No. 1 on all the international news stations my TV cable caught. Pundits and politicians were broadcasting interviews to New York, London and Atlanta, happy to bask in the warm limelight of mass media.

And it only took a very few minutes for the great upset of 2006 to become obvious: Israeli politics were shaken to their core by dark horse newcomers belonging to a party few had heard of. Close to a quarter of a million Israelis voted for the Pensioners Party, also known as GIL (age), a party run by nonpoliticians that didn’t even exist three months ago; a party founded only after the regular political parties ignored the pleas of its constituents and relegated their demands low on the totem poll. This party’s platform doesn’t contain one word about the burning issues of security, peace or national borders. It’s a sectarian party whose raison d’etre is the selfish concerns of its own electorate.

In fact, the platform of the Pensioners Party focused exclusively on their own hearts and their own pocketbooks: pension rights, social security, health care improvements, drug coverage, nursing home expenditures. Not exactly the most explosive issues in the explosive Middle East.

Sure, the networks would dissect the results to report that Ariel Sharon’s Kadima Party had squeaked into first place in the absence of its founder, who was knocked out of political life by a stroke. They would mull over the dramatic decline of the Likud Party led by ever-ambitious former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. They would analyze the rise of the far right, the decline of the far left and the shifting power balances in Israel’s 120-member parliament.

But these were all eclipsed for the whole country by the emotional story of a group of exultant seniors who might look more at home on a park bench than childishly pouring champagne over each other at a victory celebration.

For the first time, a retired persons party had garnered enough votes not only to enter the parliament but to win seven seats. The big parties — the same politicians who had hitherto ignored them — soon began sheepishly begging at the pensioners’ door offering incentives to join a coalition. Like ancient societies that bestowed power and honor upon their elders, it became the turn of the graybeards to return triumphant.

How they scored this upset is a treatise in brilliant strategy. Recognizing that many young voters are disillusioned by current politicians and disappointed in this year’s tedious campaign, the old turned to the young for support. Instead of not voting at all, they argued, make your vote count by doing a good deed for a worthy cause. They hired young advisers, garnered young volunteers and spread the word at coffee shops and places of entertainment.

But it was the new tool of the now generation — the Internet — that perhaps clinched the victory.

By a quirk of legal interpretation, the Internet is not covered under the Israeli law prohibiting electioneering in the media. This allowed youth-targeted sites like Nana, which receives about 320,000 hits a day, mostly from those ranging in age from 18 to 21, freedom to give heavy exposure to the Pensioners Party. Running a series of articles under the title, “The Young Vote for the Old,” streaming videos where famous young entertainers adopted the cause of the aged in need and opening blogs, this Web site, largely staffed by young people, promoted an intense electoral fad that has altered the Israeli political map.

Articles on the senior party appeared with increasing frequency, many written by a young law student helping to finance her studies by moonlighting as a reporter. To what extent did this unexpected deluge of information about the “invisible” elderly help to sway hitherto disenchanted, cynical or ambivalent young voters to cast ballots for gray power? The phenomenon could have been merely a symbolic protest or it could have had sentimental implications, as evidenced by people quoted as casting a ballot “to help my grandparents.”

Now these grandparents have won themselves a potentially key role on a wide range of crucial issues for Israel’s body politic.

Helen Schary Motro teaches at Tel Aviv University Faculty of Law and wrote “Maneuvering Between the Headlines: An American Lives Through the Intifada” (Other Press, 2005).


Center’s Studies Aid Care for Frail Elderly

Rose Sino sits in her wheelchair as lunch is placed before her. Her son offers her a forkful of cheese blintz, which Sino quickly chews before accepting another bite.

While this scene might appear routine, its significance is not lost on her son, David Swartz, or her caregivers at the Jewish Home for the Aging of Greater Los Angeles (JHA). Sino, 88, is a resident of JHA’s Goldenberg-Ziman Special Care Center, a facility that serves elderly residents with dementia. Five years ago, Sino lost all interest in eating and required a feeding tube to get sufficient nutrition.

For Sino and many other frail, elderly nursing home residents, lack of appetite is a common problem, one which can lead to a rapid decline in health, said Dr. John Schnelle, director of the Anna and Harry Borun Center for Gerontological Research.

Weight-loss prevention is one of the principal areas of investigation at the Borun Center, a joint venture between JHA and UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine. Housed on the JHA campus in Reseda, the center was established in 1989 to identify and test nonmedical measures that could improve daily care and quality of life for nursing home residents. Given that the number of people 85 years or older is expected to almost double in 25 years, the center’s research is of growing interest to the government, private industry and the public.

While the Borun Center utilizes JHA to test and pilot numerous interventions, it also conducts research at facilities throughout the country. In addition to preventing weight loss, current projects focus on preventing mobility decline, detecting pain, preventing pressure ulcers and managing incontinence.

The center has used research findings to develop protocols, available on its Web site, for use by nursing homes. The strategies focus on everyday routines, rather than on medical interventions.

“Once a person is frail enough to enter a long-term care facility, they’re usually taking five to six medications,” Schnelle said. “They are less inclined to do surgical or pharmacological interventions. What they want is for their pain to be managed and their incontinence taken care of and for staff to treat them in a reasonable way.”

The Borun Center is currently working with the federal government’s Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services to improve methods of evaluating nursing home care. Current methods don’t always provide the most reliable information, according to Schnelle. Not only are the elderly less likely to complain, he said, but the phrasing of questions can influence their responses.

“Asking, ‘Are you satisfied with how often you are taken to the bathroom?’ will typically generate a yes response, even if that is not the case,” he explained. “Asking, ‘How many times would you like to be helped to go to the bathroom?’ and ‘How many times are you taken to the bathroom?’ is more likely to reveal the discrepancy between what residents want and what they get,” he noted.

Schnelle said that most nursing homes are understaffed and that in the typical facility, residents are taken to the bathroom only once a day. (He also said that, in all measures the center looks at, JHA exceeded all other facilities studied.)

The Borun Center’s nutrition and weight-loss study at JHA identifies strategies to prevent the decrease in eating and fluid intake common to nursing home residents. Schnelle cited depression and appetite change as two principal causes.

“Food doesn’t taste as good, and they simply don’t care as much about it as they once did…. But you can reverse the decline if meal time becomes social.”

Sino’s improved eating came about not because of a change in her food, but in how it was presented and served. Using Borun Center study results, JHA’s Special Care Center systematically incorporated eight measures — including greeting residents by name and providing verbal encouragement — which had been shown to boost caloric intake among certain residents by about 300 calories a day.

“At some facilities, a food tray is placed in front of the resident, and that’s it,” said Susan Leitch, community manager for the Goldenberg-Ziman Building.

In her facility, servers take plates off the serving tray and place them, restaurant style, before the residents. Containers are opened and meat is cut for those who require assistance. Residents are greeted by name and offered substitutions for foods they dislike.

Nursing aides and other staff sit with residents or stop by their tables with encouragement. “Try this. This is good,” one says. “I know you like chocolate,” says another as she presents a bowl of ice cream to a resident.

In addition, snacks are incorporated into activities as a way to boost caloric intake, and family members are encouraged to bring treats that they know their relative enjoys. Sino, for example, ate the pieces of chocolate her son offered her, even when she was still using the feeding tube. He credits the chocolate with renewing her interest in eating.

Not surprisingly, the interventions identified by the Borun Center require greater staff time. That means higher costs.

Molly Forrest, JHA’s CEO, acknowledged that those costs present a challenge. Approximately 80 percent of JHA residents are on Medi-Cal, and the reimbursement received does not cover the expenses incurred.

“Quality is a costly item,” Forrest said. “The needs are so great, and those needs can only be met by the hands of a caregiver.”

Schnelle suspects these interventions also prevent hospitalization and prolong life. But even if they did not improve clinical outcomes, he believes improving quality of life for the frail elderly is justified from a moral point of view.

“I think we have to be very clear about the staffing requirements needed to provide good care and let people make choices,” he said.

For David Swartz, the choice is clear. Sitting with his mother at lunchtime, he beams. By the time she’s done, only one tiny bite of blintz remains on her plate.

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