Calendar Picks and Clicks: Aug. 31-Sept 6, 2013
SAT AUG 31
“BETWEEN DARKNESS AND LIGHT”
For Selichot this year, share in a unique experience of drama, prayer, music and meditation. Theatre Dybbuk, a modern theater group devoted to exploring Jewish myth, folklore and wisdom, joins with clergy to ring in the New Year with a dramatic reflection on life and the power of rebirth. There will be a pre-performance dessert reception at 7:30 p.m. Sat. 8 p.m. Free. No reservations needed. Valley Beth Shalom, 16739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 788-6000. “>templealiyah.org.
“IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD”
There’s lying, deceit and double-crossing — perfect for the weeks before Yom Kippur! Director Stanley Kramer leads the likes of Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Phil Silvers, Edie Adams, Ethel Merman and more through a madcap cross-country romp to find a hefty amount of stolen bank loot under a “Big W.” The Aero Theatre screens a 70mm print of this epic all-star comedy film celebrating its 50th anniversary. Sat. 7:30 p.m. $11 (general), $9 (seniors and students), $7 (member). Aero Theatre, 1328 Montana Ave., Santa Monica. (310) 260-1528. SUN SEPT 1
“I HAVE LIVED A THOUSAND YEARS”
If memoirs could move, they might look a little like this. Based on the story of Livia Bitton-Jackson’s experience as a young girl living through the Holocaust, the Stretch Dance Company offers a moving, educational and realistic journey for audiences. With emotionally driven choreography, historically accurate set designs and an original score, we understand that thoughtful creativity is one response to unimaginable sorrow. Not appropriate for ages 12 and under. Sun. 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. $15 (general), $10 (student), free (survivors). Studio A Dance, 2306 Hyperion Ave., Los Angeles. MON SEPT 2
“FACES OF HOMELESSNESS”
Painting the unseen among us, Stuart Perlman illuminates stories and lives that may otherwise go unnoticed. Capturing more than 100 homeless on location at Venice Beach, Perlman’s exhibition combines the portraits with essays that tell the subjects’ stories, narratives detailing the problem of homelessness in Los Angeles and Jewish texts that speak to the issue. There will also be information letting the public know how they can get involved. Mon. Through Nov. 3. Regular synagogue hours. Valley Beth Shalom, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 788-6000. vbs.org. For information on private docent-led tour, e-mail email@example.com.
TUE SEPT 3
ISRAEL GENEALOGICAL RESEARCH ASSOCIATION
Who are you, anyway? The Jewish Genealogical Society of Los Angeles (JGSLA) invites you to learn about some of the roots they have unearthed. Garri Regev, president of the Israel Genealogical Research Association, will discuss her group’s activities in Israel and their new free online database, which includes material dating back to the Ottoman period. Also, learn about the newest developments in family history research from the recent International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies Conference. Tue. 7:30 p.m. $5 (general), Free (JGSLA members). Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500. THU SEPT 5
“MUSIC BY GLASS-DANCE BY DIAVOLO”
Diavolo Dance Theater’s “Fluid Infinities,” the third and final installment of an L.A. Philharmonic-commissioned dance series, has arrived. Diavolo showcases their inventive physical structures and patterned acrobatics to Glass’ haunting “Symphony No. 3.” With one of the most influential and inspired composers of the late 20th century sourcing the sound for the choreography, this audience can have great expectations. Diavolo also brings its innovative movements to John Adams’ “The Chairman Dances” and Sergei Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet Suite.” Thu. 8 p.m. $11.50-$114.50. Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 850-2000.
Cedars-Sinai’s chaplaincy program puts spirituality on the medical charts
Usually, the frantic words, “Someone get the rabbi!” uttered in a hospital room mean only one thing. So Debbie Marcus burst into tears when Rabbi Jason Weiner was summoned to her grandfather’s room at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in July 2008.
Weiner, then interim Jewish chaplain at Cedars-Sinai, quickly assessed the situation: Albert Rubens, 97, had been brought in with a massive heart attack. Although he was still lucid, it was clear he was not going to make it.
But even with that devastating news, the rabbi detected that Debbie’s tears were about something more. And he was right. Albert, known to his family as Pop-Pop, had been eager to see Debbie, then 39, get married, but she and her then-fiancé, Marty Marcus, had not set a date for the wedding.
So someone floated an idea: Get married. Right now.
High Holy Days: The serious side of High Holy Days seating
The philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel emphasized time rather than space as the major category of significance in Judaism. The first divine hallowing in creation was the seventh day, the Sabbath, not any place or thing. When the child asked Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, “Where is God?” he answered, “Whenever you let Him in.” Not “where” but “when,” and not place but time is the locus of godliness.
But masses of people seem to distrust this spiritual notion of holiness. More time is spent on securing good seats in the sanctuary before Rosh Hashanah than in the preparation of the heart. More energy and passion are spent at board meetings over the allocation of tickets than over any theological issue. The board is sensitive to the “territorial imperative” that grips grown men and women. Reassign the location of a seat and temple membership itself is at stake.
There is a mystique about where we sit that no single rational explanation can properly fathom. It’s not a matter of seeing or hearing the pulpit celebrants better. It’s not a matter of sitting beneath the air-conditioning vent or under a poorly lit lighting fixture. There’s something magical about where we sit, and especially about changing the seats from last year to this coming one. As the Hebraic proverb has it, meshaneh makom, meshaneh mazal — change the place, change the fortune.
The disputes over the allocation of seats reached the point that the board members brought the issue to the rabbi. Half-jokingly, they asked him to resolve the raging debates regarding the place distribution of seating. It was a she’elah (inquiry) he had not prepared for but which he knew had deeper roots than psychology or sociology. The issue, in the last analysis, was theological. And the rabbi was the best person to deal with it, for he was above such pettiness. Besides which, his own seat was cushioned, as close to the Ark of Holiness as could be, facing the eastern wall. What is involved here is a theology of space, a struggle between pagan and Judaic attitudes.
In archaic, pagan religions, there is a phenomenon of “sacred space.” There is a central place where communication can take place between the cosmic planes of heaven and earth. There are places on earth that are closer to divinity than others. Recall the Ziggurats, the towers of Babel, cosmic structures seven stories high, representing the seven planets, which the priests ascended in order to reach the summit of the universe. There is a place where the gods sit. But these are pagan notions of archaic religion.
For Judaism, God has no such celestial geography, and we recall the awesome fall of those who sought to build the Tower of Babel. Solomon is embarrassed about building the House of God. He senses the crudeness of closeting God in the building space. “Will God indeed dwell on earth? Behold, the heavens cannot contain Thee — how much less the house that I have built?” (I Kings 8:27).
Where indeed does God reside, or in the language of Hebraic liturgy, “Where is the place of His glory?” The answer is immediate and unequivocal. His glory fills the world. To look for God in a particular place is to commit the spiritual fallacy of simple location. As the rabbis declared, “God is the place of the world, not the world God’s place.” On Sukkot, the lulav is not pointed to any location at the mention of God’s name. It is not only rude to point; toward God it is downright blasphemous.
We Jews don’t ascend to the heights to find God. When the psalmist asks rhetorically, “Who ascends into the mountain of the Lord?” he answers, “He who hath clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully” (Psalms 24:3-4). The place of God is even within, between us.
“Place” is a visual metaphor, not to be taken literally when applied to God. Godliness is in relationship, not in Row A. God is in morality, not in geography. Is that not what Isaiah declared in the name of God? “Where is the house that ye build unto Me? Where is the place of My rest?” God does not respond to the best tickets in the house, but “to the poor and broken-hearted who is concerned about My word” (Isaiah 66:1-2).
The issue of seats may well be more important than we have suspected. The preoccupation with seats may reveal a perverse theology, a greater attachment to external, material places than to internal, spiritual experiences. To be nearer to sanctity can never he a matter of place. “The idol is near and yet far. God is far and yet near. For a man enters a synagogue and stands behind a pillar, and prays in a whisper — and God hears his prayer. So it is with all of His creatures. Can there be a nearer God than this? He is as near to His creatures as the ear is to the mouth” (Yerushalmi Berachot 9:1).
It is a revolutionary idea in the history of religion to find God not in statues, shrines, palaces of marble and stone but in the human spirit. God said to Moses, “In every place where you find a trace of the feet of man, there am I before you.” God is where men and women are in need. God places Himself in the footprints of men and women, not upon the isolated mountain.
There are fears about limiting God to place, and not simply because it seems to reduce the dignity and power of God. The deification of place leads to dangerous idolatry. The rabbinic imagination in the midrash suggests that the murder of Abel came about because he and his brother Cain both argued that the sanctuary of God should be built on their own exclusive property. Together they owned the earth, but each wanted God’s lodging to be in his own jurisdiction. In our times, the controversy over the place of the temple has led to the bombing of the holy places and threats of jihad. It should remind us that not places, but lives are holy.
So, what had begun as a half-serious question developed into an earnest answer. What began as a question of seats ended in a question about self. Does the place confer real status upon me? Is location the validation of my significance? Is the best seat in the sanctuary up in front? Is the synagogue theater? Is the bimah the stage? Is the writing in the Book of Life the inscription on the ticket? Is the answer to spirituality space?
“Master of the Universe — where will I find you, and where will I not find you? … In heaven, Thou art on earth, Thou art wherever I turn, wherever I stir Thou, Thou, Thou.”
Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis, one of the best-known pulpit rabbis in America, has been a rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom (vbs.org), a Conservative congregation in Encino, since 1970.
LIVE BROADCAST: Temple Judea Shabbat Services – June 15, 2012
LIVE BROADCAST: Beth Chayim Chadishim Shabbat Services – June 8, 2012
On Friday night, June 8 JewishJournal.com will be airing a live stream of Beth Chayim Chadishim’s Shabbat services. Founded in 1972 as the world’s first lesbian and gay synagogue, today BCC is an inclusive community of progressive lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and heterosexual Jews, our families and friends.
Broadcast to begin at 8pm (PDT)
Pasadena temple gets Argentina’s first woman cantor
Cantor Ruth Berman Harris has been earning paychecks for leading services since she was 15, years before a cantorial school even existed in her native Buenos Aires, Argentina.
“I think it was what I was born to be,” she said. “I became a bat mitzvah, and I never left the synagogue.”
Which particular synagogue has changed over the years, though — from Argentina to Israel to the United States. In August, Harris joined Pasadena Jewish Temple & Center, a Conservative congregation serving 500 member families through campuses in Pasadena and Arcadia.
“She’s made an immediate connection,” said temple president Matt Ober. “She has experienced very different synagogues in very different places and has a keen understanding of human nature and people and what people need to be able to pray more deeply and be more connected to spirituality, and that’s what we all kind of seek.”
Harris, 40, said that she’s been influenced by each of her geographic and cultural stops on the way to Southern California.
“Who I am in the core understanding of what a cantor should be, I got it from growing up in Argentina,” she said. “The vision of the chazzan being an emissary of the congregation instead of a performer is something embedded in the fiber of who I am. We don’t perform; we daven.”
Harris said that when she began leading services in Buenos Aires as a teenager, she was the first female in the country to do so. She wasn’t ordained until 1996, after the Rabbinical Seminary of Latin America started its cantorial program.
Most congregants were supportive of having a woman as a spiritual leader, she said.
“Some people thought it was a little bizarre, but, for the most part, people were very welcoming,” she said.
After Harris moved to Israel in 1996, she studied at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem and led services at three synagogues.
Harris said her experience in Israel taught her that Hebrew is a language that is vibrant and alive. It’s a lesson that remains evident as she effortlessly sprinkles Hebrew words into everyday conversation. (No slouch when it comes to linguistics, Harris is fluent in English, Spanish and Hebrew, and can understand and sing in Yiddish and Ladino.)
Her time in Israel also connected her to Jewish culture and continuity in a very real sense.
“Israel gave me a sense of belonging to a bigger picture,” she said.
But splitting her time among three shuls made it impossible to put down roots in any one of them. So her family made the decision in 2001 to move to America, where she served congregations in Wisconsin and Arizona before coming to Pasadena.
Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater is thrilled to have her.
“She’s amazing,” he said. “She energizes a room when she walks into it.”
Just as important, Grater said they already have established a strong partnership.
“We both believe in participatory prayer,” he said. “Our vision of prayer, of a deep and meaningful and rich prayer experience, is something that I cherish. … She can now be the voice for that.”
Already, Harris, a mother of three, said she feels at home at the Pasadena synagogue.
“I think I’ve been preparing and growing and professionally developing to be able to arrive at this partnership, which is ultimately what I’ve always wanted,” she said.
And there’s another bonus to landing where she has.
“Looking at the beautiful mountains, it pretty much feels as close to God as I can be.”
If your gut tells you something seems suspicious, report it
On Aug. 30, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) held its annual security meeting at its Los Angeles headquarters to advise local Jewish leaders on possible threats facing the community in advance of the High Holy Days.
United States Postal Inspector Glenn Fiene and ADL civil rights specialist Steven Sheinberg discussed “How to Deal With Suspicious Mail” and “Being Safe and Welcoming: Practical Strategies for Jewish Institutions,” respectively.
An FBI spokesman, who asked not to be identified, said no additional threats are facing the Jewish community in light of the High Holy Days, but the ADL, local law enforcement and Jewish institutions will continue to work together on preventive security measures.
“Our attitude toward combating hatred and bigotry is comprehensive,” said Amanda Susskind, ADL Pacific Southwest regional director. “We have both a preventive and responsive role.”
The briefing drew 80 representatives of synagogues, Jewish institutions and organizations, including The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Temple Israel of Hollywood and Beth Jacob Congregation.
Fiene spoke at length about mail bombs and attacks.
“We haven’t had a bomb in the mail for a couple years in this area,” he said, but he described what people should be aware of when receiving packages: whether the package came from a foreign country; if there is excessive postage or misspelled words on the envelope; if it’s bulky, lopsided, has a strange odor and/or doesn’t have a return address.
“If your gut feeling tells you something’s wrong with a letter or parcel, call us, call a local bomb squad immediately,” he said.
Sheinberg said leaders of Jewish institutions should make a “security risk profile” and can implement a strong security plan by identifying the institution’s members and neighbors, getting technology and equipment that is site-appropriate, and ensuring that everyone tasked with security is doing his/her job — otherwise, expensive technology and equipment won’t help in keeping the institution safe.
Sheinberg acknowledged that developing comprehensive security plans might contradict a Jewish institution’s mission of inclusiveness — but it’s about finding the balance, he said.
“Having an open-door policy doesn’t mean every door needs to be open,” he said. “There are ways to think about and plan for your institution so you can make the institution as open and welcoming as you’re comfortable with.”
The ADL security briefing takes place each year right before Rosh Hashanah. The event on Aug. 30 ran for three hours.
The ADL is encouraging Jewish institutions to download its security manual, “Protecting Your Jewish Institution,” available for free on the ADL Web site. Susskind said the resource is updated regularly.
Leslie Gersicoff, director of the Jewish Labor Committee Western Region, was among the Jewish leaders who attended the briefing.
“Particularly with the holidays coming again, with the upheaval in the world, as agitated as people are over the economic situation, it’s great to be aware of possible threats,” Gersicoff said in an interview. “And ADL has been a wonderful partner organization.”
Rosh Hashanah ‘in the house tonight’ dances into the new year
Aish brings together rhythm, beats and davening for their Rosh Hashanah ‘in the house tonight’ dancing spectacle that parodies LMFAO’s Party Rock Anthem. Here’s the chorus from the lyrics, but be sure to watch the video for the full effect.
Rosh Hashanah’s in the house tonight
All the world is passing through the light
Let’s all get written in the book of Life
Shana Tova—it’s High Holiday time
Friday Night Live’s Road to the Ford
A bona fide institution in Los Angeles’ Jewish community, Friday Night Live is one of the biggest Shabbat celebrations in town. Blending the religious with the musical and offering an environment conducive to socializing, Sinai Temple’s monthly service regularly attracts up to 1,000 people.
This month, Friday Night Live celebrates its 13th birthday — its “bar mitzvah” — with an already sold-out Shabbat service July 8 at the Ford Amphitheatre, the first time Friday Night Live will be held outside Sinai Temple.
The open-air Ford, located in the Hollywood Hills’ Cahuenga Pass, just north of and across the 101 Freeway from the Hollywood Bowl, is an unusual location for a Shabbat service: It was once the site of passion plays and nowadays is known for rock concerts, dance performances and other secular entertainment.
“I think it’s a wonderful thing that we’re able to do something significant to celebrate the anniversary of Friday Night Live,” said Sinai Temple’s Rabbi David Wolpe, who co-created the service with musician Craig Taubman. “I think it will be a tremendous experience.” It was Taubman who, because of his love of the outdoors, came up with the idea to celebrate the anniversary at the Ford.
“We’ve got to be outside to see the stars to welcome Shabbat,” Taubman said.
The evening, like all Shabbat services, was offered free to all who wish to attend, though reservations were required and went quickly because of limited space. As with all Friday Night Live services, you don’t have to be a member of Sinai to attend — everyone is encouraged to join a synagogue, but not required to join Sinai. The services also have a history of prominent guest speakers — from Elie Wiesel to the Rev. Rick Warren to Hollywood producers — and offer diverse musicians, with everything from hip-hop to folk to gospel-leaning sounds. And, perhaps what makes the experience most distinctive — it lasts for only one hour.
Friday Night Live, in short, helped changed the rules of what Shabbat worship can be.
In the tradition of the late Debbie Friedman, who got her start at Jewish summer camps by incorporating contemporary melodies into Jewish prayers, as well as Shlomo Carlebach, who sang and composed soulful renditions of prayers, Friday Night Live is centered on the idea that a Shabbat service can be musical and modern, Taubman said.
It got its start when Wolpe approached Taubman, who at the time made children’s music, and asked him to help create a musical Shabbat service that could attract young professionals.
“He thought that it was an incredibly underserved population,” Taubman said, “and back then, it really was.”
Taubman said he wanted the service to be open to all ages, but Wolpe insisted, so they set out to create a service that would be more concise — to this day, Wolpe limits his sermons to approximately six to seven minutes — and more contemporary than other services offered at that time, while staying true to liturgy of a Conservative Shabbat service. The idea was that it would also be a place for people to meet and — hopefully — date.
It was an immediate hit.
“The expectations were nonexistent, and we had 300 people” at the first service, Taubman said.
“The second time, there [were] 600,” Wolpe recalled.
Ted and Hedy Orden, Holocaust survivors, offered financial support, and their names continue to appear wherever Friday Night Live is advertised, which enabled Friday Night Live to pay guest musicians.
The Ordens, who live in West Los Angeles and are members of Sinai Temple, “believe in the program, and they like the audience it was targeting,” said the Ordens’ son-in-law, Tom Flesh.
During its early years, age restrictions weren’t absolute but were understood; about six years ago, the decision was made to open it up to other ages.
“I was, essentially, not even invited to my own party,” said Taubman, 53. “I could lead the party, but I wasn’t invited to the party. I didn’t feel comfortable. So we opened it up.”
To fill the gap, Sinai created ATID, a young- professionals-only organization, which has grown steadily over the years and holds events following services, with cocktails and performances by bands.
At its peak, around four years ago, Friday Night Live at Sinai drew 1,500 people.
Taubman believes the decrease in attendance to the current 1,000 is actually a sign of the concept’s success. He points to other area synagogues, including Temple Emanuel, IKAR and Valley Beth Shalom, as having created similar musical Shabbat services.
“It’s the highest form of flattery,” Taubman said.
Nevertheless, there are critics.
“A lot of people object to the idea that you play musical instruments on Shabbat, that you make the service so that it intertwines popular music with traditional melodies,” Wolpe said, adding that some think of it “as a corruption of what is traditional, of what is Shabbat.”
But, he added, “I would say the people who don’t like it by now, they stopped telling us they don’t like it.”
Rick Lupert, a graphics and Web designer and a music instructor at Temple Ahavat Shalom in Northridge, has gone to Friday Night Live for 10 years. He said Taubman makes sure that everyone participates, so that it is more a religious service than it is a performance.
Jewish musicians Michelle Citrin, Saul Kaye and Noa Dori will participate in the service at the Ford, joining Wolpe, Taubman and Taubman’s band, and performing their original songs prior to the service.
Birthright NEXT and the Jewish Community Foundation are sponsors, and ATID will offer a wine garden for young professionals at the venue before the evening begins. Plus, people can bring their own food — food will also be for sale at the event— and have picnics.
“I didn’t imagine, when we first started this, that it would still be going strong after 13 years,” Wolpe said. “Craig and I are always thinking about it, trying to renew and reinvent it. Part of where it’s going from here … my sense is, the core of it, the music and the message, is that won’t change any more than traditional services change. Until the personnel change.”
Wolpe and Taubman both agree that they can’t lead the service forever and are considering successors. “I don’t want to be the 80-year-old Friday Night Live rabbi, walking around with the ear trumpet, trying to hear what people are saying,” Wolpe said. “I’m not sure that’s a fetching image.”
But whatever the transition, Taubman said, “I think it would still be Friday Night Live.”
To reserve tickets to the July 8 service, visit http://craignco.com or http://fordtheatres.org.
VIDEO: Sukkot services with the Happy Minyan
The spirited, eclectic Happy Minyan of L.A. davening Hoshana Rabba concluding Sukkot. Guest chazans, New York’s Yehuda Green and Lazar Wax, lead and deliver the cantillation.
How I returned
In the fall of 1989, I took a class on Chasidic thought with a Chabad rabbi. We met in a room in the annex of Congregation Mishkon Tephilo in Venice. Iwanted to learn about Judaism, but I hated going to synagogue services. They bored me. So I took classes, learned Hebrew, even lived in Israel. But no synagogue services.
One afternoon, our teacher suggested we all march down and meet Mishkon’s new woman rabbi, Naomi Levy. The class consisted of six young single men — we said sure.
And the moment I saw Naomi, I knew I wanted to marry her.
From there on out, a group of us gravitated to a back row of the synagogue and devoted every Shabbat to hoping she would fall for one of us. We were in our 20s, unmarried and smitten.
Fortunately, I had an enormous advantage over the other young men: I didn’t have a job. They were all busy young professionals. I was just young.
Naomi taught a class called, “Love and Torah,” every Wednesday at noon. There was my opening. My calendar happened to be clear every Wednesday at noon — actually, it was clear pretty much every day at noon.
So I showed up each week to learn with five young mothers and the rabbi. The moms figured out my plan immediately. Naomi just assumed I was really into Torah.
She was teaching the “Song of Songs,” a biblical love poem.
On the day our class studied the line, ” … and his fruit was sweet to my taste …,” I brought a quart of huge, ripe strawberries from the Santa Monica farmer’s market for everyone to share. Another time, as we read, ” … I will get me to the mountain of myrrh, and to the hill of frankincense,” I pulled out a baggie of frankincense and a baggie of myrrh, which I had bought the day before after driving 45 minutes to a bodega in Burbank. If you want to snag a rabbi, it helps to read ahead.
The next Shabbat, Naomi let me walk her to her apartment door after services.
“But you should know,” she warned me, “I don’t date congregants.”
“Fine,” I said, “I won’t join.”
The fact is, not joining a congregation came naturally to me. I was intrigued by Judaism, and I was growing to love Mishkon’s members — many are friends to this day — but I was not interested in spending Friday nights and Saturday mornings in shul.
I had grown up attending a large, suburban synagogue, had a bar mitzvah and never went to services more than twice each year. And each time I did, the rote prayer readings, the cantorial repetition, the organ music — all of it — sent me into a spirit-sucking stupor.
Eventually, Naomi caught on to my intentions. It may have been when I offered to cater the synagogue’s second-night seder, or that I offered to head up the Chanukah latke-making effort for 200, or the afternoon I left a mix-tape on her doorstep for her post-Shabbat listening.
Or it may have been my sudden 100 percent shul attendance record.
“I don’t even go to shul that much,” Naomi told me.
Of course, after we got married in 1991, neither did I.
Because I was a sailor in the relatively uncharted waters of being a male spouse of a rabbi, Mishkon’s congregation had no expectations of me and no obvious role.
The congregants didn’t seem to mind that I was rarely in shul — or at least didn’t mind out loud.
When Naomi decided to leave Mishkon after we had our second child, I was more relieved than she was. A rabbi’s spouse sees firsthand the pressures of the job: the strains of synagogue politics, the lack of control over one’s time, the constant sense you can never fulfill the demands both of your congregants — no matter how many — and of your own family.
Frankly, I also was looking forward to being free of the guilt of not showing up at services.
In leaving Mishkon, Naomi got to be home more with our children, write books (“To Begin Again,” “Talking to God”), teach and lecture. But as the years passed, she yearned to return to the pulpit. It was — is — her calling.
But as much as she loves the pulpit, Naomi, like me, finds the modern synagogue problematic. She believes that Judaism offers people a sense of purpose, a mission to heal society and a fulfilling spiritual path, but that too often standard synagogue services don’t attract or inspire Jews, much less compel them to commit to a community.
“My interest was in the people who don’t go to shul,” she told me. “The outsiders.”
Of course, one of those outsiders was living with her. I liked everything about being Jewish but going to shul. I had seen her infuse the traditional services at Mishkon with her particular spirit and warmth, and I hoped there was a way she could build on that somehow, somewhere.
But how or where I hadn’t a clue.
I couldn’t see either of us at a mainstream synagogue: Her goal was to reach the Jews who, for whatever reason, were turned off to Judaism, and they were unlikely to be found inside established synagogues.
One day, Naomi simply decided to do it— to create for herself her dream of the ideal service and the ideal congregation.
She had no financial backing, no business plan, no building, no place to hold services. She had a supportive but somewhat skeptical rebbetzin.
Naomi decided to call her congregation “Nashuva,” Hebrew for “we will return.” She launched it one night with a few friends and a husband seated around our dining room table. As we all shared our vision and offered our help, I felt my role shift from rabbi’s spouse-in-the-background to fellow organizer, planner, volunteer.
I, who had happily stayed on the sidelines of synagogue life, was now joining with a handful of others to actually create a different kind of congregation. As Naomi envisioned it, Nashuva would be an outreach congregation, bringing Judaism to those who had otherwise been turned off to it or uninspired by it.
People like me.
Nashuva would hold Shabbat evening services on the first Friday of every month and do a social service project in the L.A. area on the third Sunday of the month. It was service that led to service; outreach that led to reaching out.
There would be no membership, no dues, and everyone — everyone — would be welcome.
The service itself would be traditional and in Hebrew, but with accessible translations written by Naomi and set to great, engaging music.
Naomi put together a band, and I watched with the screwed up face of a stodgy sitcom dad as several strikingly handsome, talented musicians appeared in our living room for rehearsals. Naomi and the band fashioned new arrangements, adapting ancient Hebrew prayers to melodies as diverse as music from “Godspell” and the Jewish Abuyudaya tribe of Uganda.
She cold-called a church she had driven by countless times, the Westwood Hills Congregational Church on Westwood Boulevard. A young woman answered the phone. Naomi asked to speak to the reverend.
“You’re speaking with her,” said the Rev. Kirsten Linford.
When the two met, they fell into each other’s arms like long-lost friends.
On Nashuva’s debut night, we hung Wanda Peretz’s beautiful handmade tapestry depicting a dove returning to a Tree of Life. It hid the church’s giant cross. I set out food for after the service (some roles never change), and we filled the pews with the prayer books Naomi had created.
“Just put out 50,” she said.
People began to arrive. The congregation swelled. I stood in the balcony and watched the hundreds of church seats fill up.
Eventually, Nashuva outgrew its first home and moved to its current location, the Brentwood Hills Presbyterian Church. It has succeeded beyond our imaginations without falling back on traditional models of organization, like dues and membership and tickets. Nashuva now even has an alternative to Hebrew school — Camp Nashuva — that engages young children in the joy of Jewish learning. What it lacks in the hallmarks of mainstream synagogues — well-developed lay leadership, regular cash flow, a home of its own — it has made up for with committed volunteers, some generous donors and grants.
As the nontraditional rebbetzin at a nontraditional shul, I happily set out defining my own role: doing whatever I could to sustain what I truly believe is something magical and exceptional in Jewish life — and actually looking forward to going to services. I have, at last, returned.
This past June, Nashuva celebrated its fourth anniversary. Somehow, Nashuva has survived as an un-synagogue.
At the High Holy Days, Nashuva is standing room only. But even more remarkable, on the first Friday of each month, I sit in the balcony and watch, not quite believing, as each time it fills up on just an average Shabbat — with many new faces and many familiar ones. People who had never found a spiritual home. People whose own synagogue services leave them cold. People who never felt welcome in Jewish life. Kids dance in the aisles, the congregation leaps to its feet, Naomi sings and leads prayer and speaks — her ideal rabbinate.
And the most surprising face in the crowd? Mine — the guy who never liked services, wouldn’t join a synagogue and never got involved. I have finally found my spiritual home — soulful and musical, original and inspiring — a true reflection of the woman I fell in love with.
Checklist: What to do when someone dies
Make sure to contact the hospital or mortuary so that you can fill out any paperwork, i.e., death certificate, as soon after the death as possible.
If you have preplanned:
- Contact the doctor to fill out any paperwork.
- Contact the funeral director (who should have a list of arrangements).
- Call your synagogue and speak with the rabbi about possible times for the service.
- Register the death with the synagogue.
- Re-contact the funeral home/mortuary to arrange for a funeral time.
- Contact close friends and family/chavurah so they can help relay funeral time and information.
- Decide for how many days you will sit shiva. Your friends/chavurah can arrange for people to sit shiva with you and your family.
If you have not preplanned:
- Contact the doctor to fill out any paperwork.
- Call a Jewish funeral director to arrange for someone to pick up the body and to discuss available times for the funeral at a Jewish cemetery.
- Call your synagogue and speak with the rabbi about possible times for the service.
- Register the death with the synagogue.
- After speaking with both the director of the cemetery and the rabbi, arrange for a funeral time.
- Call a mortuary that may or may not be affiliated with the cemetery (depending upon which cemetery you use). Set up a service time that is convenient both for the rabbi and the mortuary.
- Have your friends/family/chavurah make calls to friends/family/loved ones to relay funeral time and information.
- Decide for how many days you will sit shiva. Your friends/chavurah can arrange for people to sit shiva with you and your family.
“A Guide to Jewish Burial and Mourning Practices” published by the Funeral Practices Committee of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California
A Guide to Jewish Mourning and Condolence” by Jerry Rabow, Valley Beth Shalom
Funerals: A Consumer Guide (Federal Trade Commission)
Consumer Guide to Funeral & Cemetery Purchases (California Department of Consumer Affairs Cemetery & Funeral Bureau)
“Mourning & Mitzvah: A Guided Journey for Walking the Mourner’s Path Through Grief to Healing” by Anne Brener (Jewish Lights Publishing, 2001)
“The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning” by Maurice Lamm (Jonathan David Publishers, 2000)
“So That Your Values Live on: Ethical Wills and How to Prepare Them” by Jack Riemer and Nathan Stampfer (Jewish Lights Publishing, 1994)
“A Time to Mourn, a Time to Comfort: A Guide to Jewish Bereavement” Ron Wolfson (Jewish Lights Publishing, 2005)
— Jane Ulman
JEWISH CEMETERIES AND MORTUARIES IN LOS ANGELES
AGUDATH ACHIM CEMETERY
1022 S. Downey Road
Los Angeles, CA 90023
Opened in 1919. Owned and operated by Chevra Kadisha Mortuary.
BETH ISRAEL CEMETERY
1068 S. Downey Road
Los Angeles, CA 90023
Opened in 1907. Owned and operated by Chevra Kadisha Mortuary.
BETH OLAM CEMETERY OF HOLLYWOOD
900 N. Gower Street
Hollywood, CA 90038
Opened around 1927. Organized as the Jewish section within the larger Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery, now called Hollywood Forever.
EASTERN COMMUNITY JEWISH CEMETERY
15270 Woodcrest Dr.
Whittier, CA 90604
Opened in 1987.
EDEN MEMORIAL PARK
11500 Sepulveda Blvd.
Mission Hills, CA 91345
Opened in 1954. Acquired by Service Corporation International (SCI) in 1985.
HILLSIDE MEMORIAL PARK
6001 Centinela Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90045
Opened in 1946. Owned by Temple Israel of Hollywood since the 1950s.
HOME OF PEACE MEMORIAL PARK
4334 Whittier Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90023
Opened in 1902 in current location. Owned and operated by Rose Hills Memorial Park.
MOUNT CARMEL CEMETERY
6505 E. Gage Ave.
City of Commerce, CA 90040
Opened in 1931. Owned and operated by Chevra Kadisha Mortuary.
MOUNT OLIVE MEMORIAL PARK
7231 E. Slauson Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90040
Opened in 1948. Donated to Chabad of California in the 1980s.
MOUNT SINAI MEMORIAL PARKS
5950 Forest Lawn Dr.
Los Angeles, CA 90068
Originally founded by Forest Lawn in 1953 and exclusively Jewish since 1959. Owned by Sinai Temple since 1967.
6150 Mount Sinai Drive
Simi Valley, CA 93063
160-acre site purchased in 1997 and opened in 2002. Owned by Sinai Temple.
MOUNT ZION CEMETERY
1030 S. Downey Rd.
Los Angeles, CA 90023
Opened in 1916. Currently owned by Jewish Federation Council of Los Angeles and operated by Rose Hills Memorial Park, which owns Home of Peace.
SHOLOM MEMORIAL PARK
13017 N. Lopez Canyon Road
San Fernando, CA 91342
Founded in 1951. Privately owned.
YOUNG ISRAEL CEMETERY
13622 Curtis and King Road
Norwalk, CA 90650
Opened in 1938. Owned and operated by Chevra Kadisha Mortuary.
CHEVRA KADISHA MORTUAR
7832 Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90046
Founded in 1976 as a private organization and not a traditional “chevra kadisha.”
R.L. MALINOW GLASBAND WEINSTEIN MORTUARIES
7700 Santa Monica Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90046
GROMAN EDEN MORTUARIES
11500 Sepulveda Blvd,
Mission Hills, CA 91345
830 W. Washington Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90015
6001 W. Centinela Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90045
Founded in 1946 in association with Hillside Memorial Park.
MOUNT SINAI MORTUARIES
5950 Forest Lawn Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90068
6150 Mount Sinai Drive
Simi Valley, CA 93063
Associated with Mount Sinai Memorial Parks.
MALINOW AND SILVERMAN MORTUARY
7366 S. Osage Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90045
SHOLOM MEMORIAL PARK MORTUARIES
8629 W. Pico Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90035
13017 N. Lopez Canyon Road
San Fernando, CA 91342
Founded in 1951. Associated with Sholom Memorial Park
# # #
Compiled by Molly Binenfeld and Jane Ulman
June Walker, Presidents Conference Chair and Hadassah Leader, Dies at 74
June Walker was in working mode two weeks ago.
On July 21, she presided over a farewell reception for outgoing Israeli U.N. Ambassador Dan Gillerman. Two days later she led a meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which she chairs.
Late in the week, however, tests revealed the cancer she had fought for seven years had advanced too far to allow for a new round of treatment. Walker, of Rockaway, N.J., died Tuesday at 74.
“She was such a remarkable fighter,” said Walker’s rabbi, Amy Joy Small. “She did not let it stop her. She had things to do.”
Walker, a former president of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, became only the second female to lead the conference last year when she replaced investment banker Harold Tanner as chairperson.
“Leaders of the United States and Israel held her in high regard and respected the person even more than the positions she held,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, the Presidents Conference’s executive vice chairman, in a statement. “They, as we, recognized immediately her integrity, her intelligence and the sincerity of her advocacy. I am personally, as is the conference collectively, devastated by her passing.”
Walker’s nomination in April 2007 as chairperson was something of a departure for the Presidents Conference, the main communal umbrella body on foreign policy, which in recent years has been headed by prominent businessmen.
A respiratory therapist, former college professor and health-care administrator, Walker was a longtime community activist whose involvement with Hadassah began as a teenager.
In June, Walker was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Haifa in recognition of her years of work on behalf of Israel, and in particular her devotion to health care in the Jewish state. Walker was one of seven honorees, including a former director of the Mossad intelligence agency and three university professors, but was chosen to deliver remarks on behalf of the group.
“She told me that she was determined she was going to be strong and healthy to get to Haifa and receive this award because it was for her symbolic of her lifetime achievement, something that represented for her a culmination of her accomplishments,” said Small, who accompanied Walker to Israel for the ceremony.
Small recalled that the honorees were to walk across a balcony and down a flight of stairs, a feat that she knew would be challenging for Walker, who was suffering back and leg pain as a result of her disease.
“She held herself with such dignity and such honor you would never have known that she was suffering,” Small recalled. “And she was beaming.”
Later, Small wrote that Walker was “this generation’s Golda Meir” in an article published on the Web site of the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation.
Walker rose through a succession of positions at Hadassah before assuming the presidency in 2003, a post she held for four years. Under her leadership, the organization raised $75 million for a $210 million inpatient tower at its hospital at Ein Kerem, Jerusalem, and completed a $48 million emergency medicine facility in Jerusalem.
She also grew the student body at the Hadassah College of Technology in Jerusalem from 600 to 2,000 students.
“It is with a very heavy heart that we begin to mourn June Walker, a unique leader and a wonderful friend to many,” said Walker’s successor as Hadassah president, Nancy Falchuk. “June once said that Hadassah embodied everything she was interested in: Israel, women’s empowerment, Judaism, education, medicine and Zionism. But June personified values that Hadassah stands for: pride, dedication, and spirit enhanced by her own personal grit.”
Walker is the first Presidents Conference chairperson to die in office. The group says it has no succession plan.
“We’ve never had it,” Hoenlein said, adding that when top officials have become incapacitated in the past, former chairmen have temporarily stepped in.
Walker taught at Passaic County Community College in New Jersey and was the director of inservice education for pulmonary medicine at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital. She is also a member of the Citizens Committee for Bio-Medical Ethics, the American Lung Association and the Reconstructionist Congregation Beth Hatikvah of Summit, N.J., according to her official Hadassah biography.
She is survived by her husband, Barrett; son, Davi; daughters, Julie Richman and Ellen; and six grandchildren. The funeral was held Aug. 31.
— Ben Harris, Jewish Telegraphic Agency
Oluwaninse Abhay Charan Adeyemi died July 8 at 11. He is survived by his father, Ayodele; mother, Adrienne Liberman; sister, Parama Liberman; and brothers, Manjari and Daniel Liberman. Hillside
Jacob Barad died July 12 at 75. He is survived by his wife, Elizabeth; and sons, David and Glenn. Hillside
Irene Barton died July 15 at 85. She is survived by her sons, Fred and Mark. Hillside
Mervyn Max Becker died July 21 at 78. He is survived by his wife, Yetta; son, Aaron; daughter, Carla; one grandchild; and sister, Elaine. Groman
Lynda Belasco died July 21 at 61. She is survived by her husband, Steven; son, Joshua; and uncle, Irving (Charlotte) Nudell. Malinow and Silverman
Dr. Murray Gill Boobar died July 7 at 85. He is survived by his wife, Helen; and daughters, Robin Lappen and Mindy Cahan. Hillside
Larry Chalfin died July 20 at 68. He is survived by his wife, Vicki; son, Charles; and daughter, Leah Gordon. Hillside
Edward Chersky died July 17 at 83. He is survived by his wife, Evelyn; and sons, Robert, Barry and Stewart. Hillside
Mania Sara Cymer died died July 12 at 97. She is survived by her sons, Harry and Max. Hillside
Ilse Erlanger died July 13 at 97. She is survived by her daughter, Susan (David) Leveton; and grandchildren, Steven Leveton and Stephanie Kinedale. Hillside
Frances Gordon died July 15 at 97. She is survived by her nephew, Peter Spring. Hillside
Dr. Lawrence Gosenfeld died July 19 at 67. He is survived by his friends. Hillside
Victoria Harris died July 21 at 100. She is survived by her sons, Godfrey (Barbara), Micheal and David. Hillside
Philip Kozin died July 20 at 96. He is survived by his daughter, Gail (Stan) Holander; and son Howard. Hillside
Anna Landsberg died July 12 at 92. She is survived by her sons, Abe and Raymond. Hillside
Charles Robert Lever died July 16 at 78. He is survived by his wife, Pamela; and stepson, Mark Neilson. Hillside
Diane Rita Mehlman died July 17 at 75. She is survived by her son, Lon; and daughter, Dina. Hillside
Emily Bell Miller dies July 14 at 93. She is survived by her daughter, Joyce (Stephen) Ranger; and granddaughter, Courtney Ranger. Hillside
Terry Lee Miller died July 12 at 69. She is survived by her daughters, Allison and Julie; four grandchildren; and companion, Norman Lieberman. Hillside
Gerald David Novorr died July 13 at 91. He is survived by his wife, Pearl; son, James; and daughter, JoAnn. Hillside
Bernard Rumack died July 21 at 87. He is survived by his daughter, Robin; and sister, Vella Bass. Hillside
Lillian Schafer died July 13 at 86. She is survived by her daughters, Sue Sanders, Lyn Caron and Elaine Thomassian. Hillside
Rubin Schieren died July 21 at 93. He is survived by his daughter, Phyllis (Ben) Berkley; son, George (Ellen); and seven grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman
Ira Schulman died July 20 at 81. He is survived by his sons, Alan and Russell; daughter, Leslie Mendoza; sisters, Davida Racine and Diane Friend; and partner, Nora Graham. Hillside
Mike Simon died July 10 at 75. He is survived by his wife, Angela; sister, Billie Evenas; and stepdaughter, Patricia Garza.
Harry Talsky died July 17 at 93. He is survived by his children, Leland and Martha. Hillside
Marla Lynn Waldman died July 20 at 51. She is survived by her father, Gerald; mother, Barbara; and brothers, Ron and Craig. Hillside
Hilda Weiner died July 15 at 93. She is survived by her sons, Arnold (Elaine) and Edward (Susan). Hillside
Calendar Girls Picks and Clicks August 9-15: Tisha B’Av, music, opera, comedy and Brad
SAT | AUGUST 9
The rabbinical prohibition of kol isha
SUN | AUGUST 10
A multifaith gathering will commemorate Tisha B’Av with a traditional service and a provocative film screening. “The Longing: The Forgotten Jews of South America,” by filmmaker Gabriela Bohm, chronicles the plight of Crypto-Jews from South America, who repressed their Jewish identities for centuries (largely as a result of the Inquisition). Woven through the personal stories of six individuals
TUE | AUGUST 12
Thanks to a brilliant marketing campaign that takes advantage of its audience’s online socializing addiction, you can now see the high school docudrama, “American Teen,” in theaters, “friend” and chat with the cast of real life characters on Facebook, hang out with them at one of the American Teen Nights and win all kinds of “American Teen” goodies
” title=”The God Blogger”>The God Blogger, will be holding the reins of “The Young Jewish Vote,” where Republican Jewish Coalition Director Larry Greenfield will face Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Pasadena) in a battle to win the hearts and educated minds of young Jewish professionals between the ages of 21 and 39. Come for the fireworks and stay for the martini-infused, dessert-laden afterglow. Sponsored by ATID, HIAS and ZOA. Thu. 7 p.m. $10 (advance), $15 (at the door). Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 481-3244. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.skirball.org.
Jina Davidovich contributed to this article
Yes on Measure H: a measure of humanity
Has anyone else noticed that the only difference between your local Starbucks and your local homeless shelter is the shelter has a faster turnover?
Every Starbucks I visit these days, from Koreatown to Santa Monica, has its own homeless population. Calling these men and women transients is actually wishful thinking. They come for the coffee and stay for the restroom and heating.
I don’t blame them, or Starbucks; I blame us. In a city of enormous wealth, we’ve allowed enormous numbers of poor and disabled men, women and children to fend for themselves. With 40,000 people asleep on the streets or in cars each night, Los Angeles has the largest homeless population of any city in the country.
At the same time, the homeless have become about as hip a cause as Sacheen Littlefeather. Sure your bar or bat mitzvah kid may throw a few dollars their way for a social action project, but obviously that’s a few billion short.
According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) survey, there are 88,000 homeless residents in L.A. County on any given day, and only 17,000 available beds.
Our government officials, prompted in no small part by a series of excellent stories by Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez, have sought to crack down on downtown’s Skid Row. But I was there last week, and it’s hard to see that the actual denizens got the message. The LAHSA survey found that there are 5,700 shelter beds for the row’s 20,000 “residents.” You can take people off the sidewalks, but where are you going to put them?
So now comes Measure H on the Nov. 7 ballot, which seeks to alleviate the symptoms of homelessness and address some of the root causes.
What’s interesting about Measure H is that it offers no single simple solution. About half the people on skid row are the chronic homeless — people who have mental or other disabilities, or addictions. But the others, according to LAHSA Commissioner Douglas Mirrell, are people who have fallen on hard times and simply can’t find their way into affordable housing in Los Angeles’ tight and pricey market. Mirrell said he still can’t forget visiting one shelter downtown and seeing people lining up for beds “wearing suits and carrying briefcases. They were working minimum-wage jobs as clerks and secretaries.” Any humane approach seeks to add more beds and services on Skid Row while enabling the working poor to get a foothold in Los Angeles’ skyrocketing housing market.
Measure H would enable the city to issue $1 billion in bonds to provide about 10,000 new homes and rental units over 10 years. These funds would be placed in the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and divvied so that $250 million would help working families buy their first home, $350 million would help build rental housing affordable to low-income working families, $250 million would build housing for homeless people, and $150 million would to be allocated for rental or homeless housing based on future needs.
The city administrative analyst reported that Measure H would cost the owner of a home with an assessed value of $500,000 another $73 a year for 30 years. The measure’s supporters include Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Police Chief Bill Bratton, the Rev. Gregory Boyle and the Progressive Jewish Alliance, as well as for-profit and nonprofit builders and developers who would, of course, get some of those home- and apartment-building funds. (Developers provided most of the money for the measure’s recent television ad campaign.)
The organized opposition is a smaller group that includes Jon Coupal, president of Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, and Richard Close, president of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association. They’ve raised concerns that another bureaucracy may not act efficiently to get the monies where they’re needed. Opponents also claim that there are existing programs to help homebuyers and that Measure H is a payday for developers and builders.
Well, sure, but Jimmy Carter can’t do everything. Yes, somebody will make some profit in the course of providing more places for people to live. But in a city where even a postwar fixer-upper near Balboa Park will set you back $1 million, government has to play a role. Nearly 90 percent of those who live in Los Angeles can’t afford to buy a home here.
“We built affordable housing downtown, near the Harbor Freeway and Wilshire,” said Thomas Safran, a large manager and developer of affordable housing. “We had 2,700 applications for 73 places. The market never has solved this problem, never will.”
Safran, a Measure H supporter, has worked all sides of the housing market — starting his career in the Johnson administration at HUD, founding his own successful company, and volunteering for Menorah Housing, which builds low-income units around the city. He points out that people who decry taxpayer subsidies receive one every time they write off their mortgage interest. Measure H asks people to give back a little of the money they save on mortgage interest.
“Look,” he said, “I’m no great fan of super liberal Democratic policies, but the government and private sectors need to work together on this. It may not solve the problem completely, but the first step is the first step.”Or, I suppose, we can always hope they build more Starbucks.
And don’t forget to vote Nov. 7.
Brotherhood in a Sukkah … in Iraq
Three long, narrow white boxes with Hebrew and English writing were laying on the chapel floor at my Air Force Base in the Persian Gulf.
“What’s this?” I wondered aloud. When I looked closer, I noticed the words “Sukkah” and “U.S. Government” stamped on each package.
“A sukkah kit for the Jewish service personnel at our overseas American Air Force base!” I exclaimed. “It’s not often one comes across these sorts of things in an Arab country!”
As the sole Jewish chaplain at the base, I eagerly shared the news with the Jewish personnel who serve here. We agreed to meet late Friday afternoon, before Sukkot began, to erect the booth.
Due to busy schedules, only two of us showed up. Determined to get the help I needed, I asked the chapel staff for volunteers. A Catholic chaplain and a Protestant chaplain offered to assist.
The three of us, accompanied by the Jewish airman, picked a spot for the sukkah in front of the chapel. We felt the location was perfect because the outer chapel walls would protect the sukkah from the high desert winds.
We hastily opened the boxes and pulled out the disassembled white metal frame, the white-and-navy nylon tarp used for the walls and the reed mat for the roof.
As the Jewish airman read the assembly directions to us, the other chaplains and I interlocked the floor frame, and I used a rubber mallet to hammer the corner wall pieces into the slots of the floor frame.
We stabilized the sukkah with four bungee cords, then stretched the tarp around the perimeter of the structure. Two parallel wooden beams were laid for roof support, and the reed mat was unraveled on top of the beams.
To prevent the schach, as the roof is known, from blowing away, we tied it to the frame. We completed the project by placing a wooden pallet outside the front door as a makeshift “welcome mat.”
The airman, Protestant chaplain, Catholic chaplain and I stepped back, wiped the sweat from our brows and admired our handiwork.
What a beautiful sukkah! And probably the only one in this entire Muslim country.
We first used the sukkah that night. After participating in Shabbat/Sukkot services in the chapel, we walked outside and made Kiddush over grape juice and made the blessing over the bread in the sukkah.
Together we recited the blessing “Lashev b’sukkah,” blessing God for commanding us to dwell in the sukkah, and sat down on metal folding chairs.
While feasting on brownies, cookies and pecan pie, we discussed how lucky we were to have such a beautiful sukkah. We continued to talk throughout the evening until the others excused themselves for bed.
Before leaving the sukkah, I looked through the roof at the stars above.
“How appropriate it is to observe Sukkot in the Middle Eastern desert,” I thought.
Being a service member in Operation Iraqi Freedom, I also realized that life, like the sukkah, is temporary. One never knows how long one might live or when one might die.
For this reason, we must truly make the most of each day that God grants us. As the Psalms say, “Teach us to count our days wisely so we may attain a heart of wisdom” (Psalms 90:12).
With this in mind, I stood up to leave the booth. As I walked out into the warm, moonlit night, I smiled at the thought that Protestant, Catholic and Jewish chaplains had worked together as brothers-in-arms and friends to build a sukkah.
Before joining the Air Force in 2004, Rabbi Gary Davidson served as rabbi at Temple Beth Shalom in Long Beach. Security precautions prohibit identifying the air force base where Davidson is currently stationed. He can be reached by e-mail at Mensch613@msn.com.
Behind the Bimah
In “Teaching Your Children About God,” Rabbi David Wolpe suggests taking our children to a sanctuary when services are not being conducted to give them a sense of the
I love this idea. I have been in my own sanctuary at odd hours, and even if I am there for “business reasons” — taking pictures for a new synagogue brochure, for example — I feel different in the sanctuary than I do in any other room.
Seeing the eternal light, knowing the Torah is sleeping inside the ark, gives me the feeling of being on holy ground.
But here’s a variation on Wolpe’s idea — let your children stand in awe in front of the bimah, but then take them behind the bimah. Raise the curtain and demystify the sanctuary. By doing so you help them feel comfortable.
Many of my adult friends still feel uncomfortable in synagogue. To them, it is a place where you have to go — where you have to sit still and say meaningless prayers in a difficult language, where you have to listen to lectures from a rabbi who you do not know personally and are, perhaps, a little intimidated by. No wonder they only attend services twice a year.
I was extremely fortunate as a child. My family “raised the curtain” for me. And they did so by doing two things.
The first is unique to my family — my uncle is Cantor Saul Hammerman, who is now cantor emeritus of Beth El in Baltimore. Before my parents affiliated with our Philadelphia synagogue, they would take us to Baltimore to be with our extended family for holidays. I remember sitting in Beth El, an imposing synagogue to anyone, but even more so to a little girl. I looked up at the enormous ark and wondered how anyone could ever reach the Torahs.
I listened to the brilliant Rabbi Jacob Agus, and wondered how old I would be when I would understand his sermons. And I listened to the chazzan — so imposing in his white robes and his big white hat with the pompom on top (oh, how my sister and I loved that hat). When he sang, his voice wafted over me — both beautiful and frightening in its power and passion.
But, then, during the Torah procession, something would happen. My sister and I would scramble to the end of the aisle to kiss the Torah, and as the procession passed the cantor would wink at us and flick his tallit so that the fringes brushed our cheeks. We would giggle, and the imposing chazzan would once again become our beloved Uncle Saul.
At other times, Uncle Saul took us to his office and even showed us where his robes hung and how he entered and exited the bimah. Those special visits made the synagogue seem less foreboding, but no less magical.
The second thing my parents did was be involved with our synagogue. Their involvement inspired my own. I remember being on the bimah with the choir, making macaroni in the kitchen between tutoring the younger students and waiting for my own evening classes to begin, and even raking leaves at my rabbi’s house during our Kadima “Rent-A-Rake” fundraiser. This involvement, this ownership, made synagogue a comfortable place.
And so, the very first thing I did when my husband and I joined our shul was to volunteer. I didn’t like the feeling of entering the synagogue and not knowing what it was like behind the bimah. By volunteering, I was able to feel at home. I did this for me and I did it for my children.
This is a gift every Jewish parent can give to her child. Not all families have an Uncle Saul, but everyone can volunteer. Synagogues desperately need lay leaders. It is so easy to get involved — just call and ask how you can help. And then? Well, you will have raised the curtain, you will learn that a synagogue is not run on some intimidating magic, but by people you know and care about. Synagogue will no longer be a frightening Oz, but rather a welcoming home.
Chabad Expands in Vegas
Across the parking lot of the neighborhood pub/casino in the Summerlin suburb of Las Vegas, Jewish residents, community leaders, local officials and passersby stood in the 110-degree heat recently to watch the ribbon-cutting ceremony of a new Chabad shul.
The imposing $4.5 million structure, built from Jerusalem stone, stands at the corner of an outdoor shopping mall, not far from a day spa, French bistro, lakefront clubhouse and residential communities that boast one of the fastest-growing Jewish populations in the United States.
The new shul is a testament to the Jewish community’s growth in the area, which already houses another equally large Chabad campus close to the Las Vegas Strip.
Chabad of Summerlin, located about 12 miles northwest of the Strip, first made its appearance in the community about 10 years ago, when it held Shabbat and holiday services in a storefront. The number of congregants grew over the years, until some people had no choice but to pray standing in the aisles.Rabbi Yisroel Schanowitz, the shul’s rabbi, hopes that the new Chabad of Summerlin will “continue the growth of the Las Vegas Jewish community and also build strong youth activities.”
Chabad recently hired a couple from New York to assist with youth programming to make the shul experience in Las Vegas more holistic and diverse. They now have the facilities to do so: classrooms, offices, social hall, kitchen and a mikvah.The woman’s balcony of the new shul overlooks the spacious sanctuary and the delicate woodwork of the ark of the Torah.
At the opening, Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nevada) addressed the crowd, sharing her positive experiences with Chabad and praising it for its contributions to Las Vegas.
While Jewish tourists are more likely to use the Chabad campus near the Strip for services, Schanowitz believes that Chabad of Summerlin is more likely to draw visitors seeking to make their home in Vegas.
“There has been interest from people in Los Angeles to relocate here,” he said. “When they find out there is an active Chabad center, it helps their decision to move.”
For more information, visit www.chabadofsummerlin.com.
— Orit Arfa, Contributing Writer
Oy! What A Ringtone!
A company is bringing Yiddish humor to the masses with new ringtones. MyNuMo, a California-based company that enables users to publish mobile content and sell it, announced this month that it will provide “yentatones,” Yiddish and Jewish humor ringtones voiced by San Diego actress Martha Kahn.
— Jewish Telegraphic Agency
Entebbe’s Message Resonates 30 Years Later
Last month, we airmen and veterans of Squadron 103, one of the oldest units of the Israeli air force, bid farewell to a comrade, Lt. Col. Moshe Naveh. His untimely death shocked us all, and as I drove to his funeral memories of our joint service came to mind.
It was on the third day of the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Since families were evacuated from the airbases, Moshe invited me to stay with him at his home. I returned from a long night flight, and when he opened the door his eyes were filled with tears: Just hours earlier, his elder brother Issachar, an F-4 Phantom pilot, was killed while trying to land his badly damaged aircraft.
Less than three years later, Moshe was part of one of the C-130 Hercules aircrews who flew to Entebbe, Uganda, to rescue the hijacked passengers of Air France flight No. 139. He never talked about it, but I felt that in his own silent way, he was proudly carrying on in the footsteps of his fallen brother.
Now Moshe is gone too. As I entered the graveyard, I saw his mother. I started to mumble my condolences when this old woman, a survivor of Auschwitz, gave me a stern look.
“Spare your words,” she said dryly. “It’s between me and God.”
What could I possibly say to this woman, who had lost all her family in the Holocaust, who married another Holocaust survivor, started a new chapter in Israel and gave birth to two sons — only to lose them as well as her husband, who died heartbroken after Issachar was killed?
Nevertheless, when my turn came to give a eulogy, I addressed Moshe’s mother directly.
“When you were in the death camp,” I said, “there were Allied bombers flying over your head, yet their navigators didn’t mark on their maps a target called Auschwitz. Jews were murdered, while no one cared enough to drop even one single bomb on the gas chambers to stop their massacre. However, less than 30 years later, Jews were in danger again, but this time there was a Jewish state, and there were Jewish airmen flying to save their brothers and sisters. And your son, Moshe, was one of them, with Entebbe boldly marked on his map.”
She took my hand and her eyes softened.
Indeed, the Entebbe raid, carried out 30 years ago on July 4, 1976, touched the raw nerves of every Jew.
When the Air France plane landed in Entebbe and the hijackers started to separate the Jewish passengers from the others, it brought back dark memories of the selection in Auschwitz, where Joseph Mengele singled out Moshe’s mother for life while sending hundreds of thousands to their death.
But times have changed, and Jews are not helpless anymore. With the creation of the State of Israel, they regained not only their sovereignty but also the capability to defend themselves.
In December 1942, Dolek Liebeskind, one of the leaders of the Jewish resistance in the Krakow Ghetto, led an attack on a German cafe.
“We are fighting a lost battle,” he told his comrades. “All we are fighting for is three lines in the annals of history.”
The Entebbe raid won its much-deserved lines in the history books, but it wasn’t a lost battle at all: It was the daring act of a self-confident Jewish state, determined to rescue Jews whenever and wherever they’re in trouble.
As these lines are being written, Israel has unleashed its army again to bring home a soldier — Cpl. Gilad Shalit, 19, who was taken captive when Palestinian gunmen stormed an Israeli army base just outside the Gaza Strip.
The Entebbe raid, however, did more than just fill the heart of every Jew with pride — or, to use the saying after the 1967 Six-Day War, “make every Jew an inch taller.” It also highlighted the sensitivity embedded in the relationship between Israel and world Jewry.
When enemies of Israel are incapable of hurting her, they pick more vulnerable targets — Jewish targets abroad. Indeed, in 1994, after an Israeli attack in Lebanon, the Hezbollah terrorist group — likely with the assistance of Iranian intelligence services — took its revenge on the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, killing 85 people in a bombing.
In other words, all of us Jews are in this together.
The Entebbe raid also set a high moral standard, and reminded us that military means should be used first and foremost for saving lives. Now that Jews are armed again, they should be very cautious in using their power. The means should never become ends in themselves.
Finally, the planes returning the freed hostages from Entebbe to safety carried a sad message as well: Liberty can’t be won without paying a price. In one of the aircraft lay the body of Lt. Col. Jonathan (Yoni) Netanyahu, commander of the elite unit, who was killed in the raid.
The best of us go while serving the Jewish cause: Yoni Netanyahu during the Entebbe raid; my friend Moshe Naveh 30 years later.
Uri Dromi flew in the Israeli air force between 1966-2003. Today he is director of international outreach at the Israel Democracy Institute.
Just One Shabbat
“Just one Shabbos and we’ll all be free,” religious rocker Mordechai Ben David sang back in the 1980s. Well, for the last decade, one Jewish organization has tried to get people to experience Shabbat at least once a year. The National Jewish Outreach Project (NJOP) on March 3 celebrates its 10th anniversary of Shabbat Across America, where more than 650 synagogues of all denominations will host Friday night services and a traditional Shabbat meal around the country.
“Shabbat Across America/Canada allows Jews — many of whom have never enjoyed any Sabbath experience — to come together to get a real feel for one of the Jewish tradition’s greatest treasures,” said Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald, founder and director of NJOP.
Buchwald founded NJOP in 1987 to address issues of assimilation and lack of Jewish knowledge. NJOP also provides classes and programs as well as Shabbat Across America, which some 850,000 people have attended over the years.
For the 10th anniversary dinner, held at locations around Los Angeles and the Valley, the organization has produced “Gourmet Shabbat: Recipe for a Friday Night Experience,” a 32-page color booklet that includes an explanation of rituals, prayers and 10 recipes from top chefs around the country. Wolfgang Puck chimes in with gefilte fish, Jean-Georges Vongerichten with brisket, Sara Moulton with Grated Carrot Salad. The booklet — a takeaway gift to all participants and also available online — is meant to provide Shabbat newbies a recipe for a traditional meal.
“Shabbat is not merely a series of gourmet meals,” Buchwald said. “Shabbat is an environment of light, peace, domestic tranquility and song. But most of all, an environment of sanctity.”
The following synagogues are hosting NJOP in Los Angeles:
•Adat Shalom, 3030 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles (310) 475-4985
•Temple Bet T’shuvah, 8831 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles (310) 204-5200
•Helkeinu Foundation (310) 785-0440
•Young Israel of North Beverly Hills, 9350 Civic Center Drive, Beverly Hills (310) 203-0170
•Chabad of Burbank, 1921 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank (818) 954-0070
•Pacific Jewish Center, 505 Oceanfront Walk, Venice (310) 392-8749
•Temple Mishkon Tephilo, 201 Hampton Drive and 206 Main St., Venice (310) 392-3029
•Maohr Torah, 1537 Franklin St., Santa Monica (310) 657-5500
•Temple Sinai, 1212 N. Pacific Ave., Glendale (818) 246-8101
•Temple Beth Hillel, 12326 Riverside Drive, Valley Village (818) 763-9148
•Beth Shir Sholom, 1827 California Ave., Santa Monica (310) 453-3361
•Congregation Tifereth Jacob, 1829 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Manhattan Beach (310) 546-3667
•Makom Ohr Shalom, 5619 Lindley Ave., Tarzana (818) 725-7600
•Jewish Home for the Aging, 18855 Victory Blvd., Reseda (818) 774-3018
For more information, visit NJOP.org
Big Sunday Gets Big Boost From City
Big Sunday began in 1999 with 300 Jewish volunteers devoted to a day of good works. That was impressive in a city notorious for lack of civic involvement — but that was just the beginning.
What started as Mitzvah Day for congregants of Temple Israel of Hollywood gradually spread across the city and beyond the Jewish community, with 8,000 participants from all socio-economic and religious backgrounds working on 150 different projects last year. Now the event has taken another big leap — suddenly, Big Sunday is the business of the city of Los Angeles.
This year, Los Angeles assumes the headline role in sponsoring the May 7 event. The planning began officially last week at Temple Israel. About 170 attended, including about 30 representatives of city government, among them Larry Frank, deputy mayor of neighborhood and community services.
Frank said that the mayor’s office would “like to help the whole city do what you’ve been doing for the past seven years.”
“We want this to be as big as the marathon, as big as the Grammys,” he said. “We want everyone to be able to participate.”
This year, as a result of the city partnership, event founder David Levinson expects as many as 25,000 volunteers.
“Do the math,” he said at the planning meeting. “We had 8,000 last year. Mayor Villaraigosa’s citywide day of service in October drew 7,500. That’s already over 15,000.”
The variety of projects last year was diverse, ranging from bathing rescued basset hounds to furnishing apartments for the homeless. Some volunteers painted murals and planted a garden at Grand View Elementary School in Mar Vista, while another crew in the kitchen made casseroles to freeze and distribute to AIDS victims.
“My honest belief is that everyone wants to help and everyone can help,” said Levinson, a playwright and TV writer who still chairs the event.
“If someone says they can’t make it because they have a 1-year-old, I tell them to bring [the baby] to a nursing home. All she has to do is breathe, and she’ll make the residents happy,” Levinson said. “We had a blind theater group washing cars. At a party we threw for low-income seniors, one of the activities was making silk flowers for shut-ins at a nursing home.
“It’s not about the haves helping the have-nots,” he explained. “It’s about everyone working together.”
Last year’s participants hailed from more than 100 synagogues (all denominations from Reform to Orthodox to Reconstructionist), churches, schools, offices and clubs, as well as hundreds of individuals and families. They worked on almost 150 different projects from Acton to Anaheim.
As book captain, Racelle Schaefer, a Temple Israel member who has volunteered every year, spends months organizing book drives at schools.
“We also get donations of new children’s books from Houghton Mifflin,” she said. “Last year we distributed over 8,000 books throughout the city on Big Sunday.”
Corporate, private and organizational donors underwrite the day, including Temple Israel. The budget this year is $450,000. The city’s participation will include providing security, busing and street closures. Additional donors are both welcomed and needed, Levinson said.
“I have absolutely no idea how we’ll pay for it this year,” he added. “It’s a cliff-hanger, but we always figure something out.”
An improved Web site will make coordination easier. Volunteers can click on a listed project and get an automatic confirmation, map, contact person and any special instructions.
“I see Big Sunday as an appetizer platter for volunteers,” said Sherry Marks, vice chair and volunteer coordinator. “There are hundreds of worthy nonprofits that need our people. If you wanted, you could start at 7 a.m. and work at four or five different sites during the day.
“You could make meals at a shelter, take senior citizens out to tea or provide makeovers for women who are re-entering the work force,” she continued. “[The volunteering] often works as a catalyst, getting people to make an ongoing commitment to a particular organization.”
For more information visit www.bigsunday.org
Messianics Gather for National Meeting
A Christian megachurch whose clergy has worked with local Jewish leaders in recent years to support Israel gathered last weekend to celebrate Jews who proclaim Jesus as the messiah.
About 1,100 people attended the Jan. 20-21 Road To Jerusalem conference, which took place at megachurch at The Church on the Way in Van Nuys. Christian Zionists bonded with Messianic Jews who maintain Jewish traditions but believe in Jesus.
The major national conference came at a time when Jewish leaders like Anti Defamation League head Abe Foxman have challenged the wisdom of Jews aligning with the Christian right solely because of its strong support of Israel.
Christian Zionists see the existence of modern Israel as a precondition for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, which they believe will be marked by the violent death of millions, including the ingathered Jews. Those who survive the Apocolypse will embrace Jesus.
Jewish defenders of the Christian Zionists say Christian support for Israel outweighs any concerns about end-time theology. But critics point to support for groups like Messianic Jews as proof that these groups pose a threat to Jewish continuity.
“It’s kind of like they have placards that say ‘Israel – yes’ on one side, but ‘Judaism – maybe’ or ‘no’ on the other,” Rabbi A. James Rudin, inter-religious affairs adviser for the American Jewish Committee, told the Associated Press.
Among the conference’s Saturday afternoon speakers was Don Finto, the longtime pastor of Nashville’s Belmont Church. Standing before an audience of more than 900, he said, “I want everybody to sit down except those who are Jewish by birth.”
About 80 people remained standing.
“Your destiny is to bless the nations,” Finto said. “You Jewish people are meant to bless us; we need your blessing, but you need ours. Let’s bless each other.”
These Messianic Jews, often seen as an aberration if not a threat by the Jewish community, have been embraced by evangelical Christians.
Those same Christian leaders are, in other local settings, welcomed by mainstream Jewish leaders for their Christian Zionism. Among those walking the line between the two worlds is the Rev. Jack Hayford of Church on the Way, who has spoken eloquently about Israel at Stephen S. Wise Temple, the Reform congregation in Bel Air. Hayford has brought busloads of his congregants to events sponsored by the Israel-Christian Nexus, which seeks to strengthen Christian and Jewish support for Israel. At the Road to Jerusalem event, Hayford spoke of, “helping the church understand what God’s doing among Jews today and how to relate to it.”
Despite their theological differences, Hayford’s mainstream Jewish friends include Reform Rabbi Steven Jacobs of the Woodland Hills synagogue Kol Tikvah. He holds High Holiday services at Church on the Way.
“Jack Hayford is no Pat Robertson, that’s the best way I can put it,” Jacobs told The Journal. “And you have to discern who you can live with theologically, and Jack Hayford is a person of integrity and never has pushed my buttons in terms of salvation. He respects the Jew for who he and she is.”
The Road To Jerusalem conference was organized by former University of Colorado football coach Bill McCartney, founder of the 1990s Promise Keepers movement for Christian men. As Promise Keepers rallies became smaller, in 2004, McCartney and the Rev. Raleigh Washington, a prominent African American pastor, developed Road to Jerusalem events to create Christian Zionist support for Israel and Messianic Jews.
“We believe according to God’s holy word, the Torah and the New Testament, that when a Jewish person recognizes that Jesus is his messiah, he becomes a Jew who has now found his messiah,” Washington said. “The Jew who believes that Jesus is the messiah believes that the messiah has come. The Orthodox Jew who does not believe Jesus is the messiah, he’s still waiting for messiah. So both believe in the messiah; the question that has to be answered is Jesus really the true messiah?”
Most attendees at the event were Christians, although it was dominated by images of Israel, as well as Jewish-themed vendors, kosher food and men wearing kippahs.
Performing at the conference was a dance troupe from the Messianic Jewish congregation Beth Emunah in Agoura Hills. The troupe’s leader said that out of her 15 dancers, eight were Jewish. Similarly, Messianic Rabbi Eric Carlson’s said he has 280 people in his congregation in Newport News, Va., but that out “of that 280, 100 are Jewish.”
David Chernoff is the son of a Messianic rabbi. He now runs his own Messianic congregation in Philadelphia and is prominent in the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America.
“We love our gentile brethren, but we knew we had to stand on our own two feet,” Chernoff said, recounting early Messianic movement growth in the 1970s. “I never imagined that we in Messianic Judaism would have friends such as this.”
The Rev. Mike Bickle of Kansas City, Mo., spoke at the conference about end-of-times predictions about Israel; in a passing comment, he used the phrase, “unsaved Jews,” and said a Satan-like leader, “will be required to exterminate the Jewish race.”
Messianic Jews at the conference complained about being harassed in Israel for their beliefs and facing immigration problems over Israel’s right-of-return law for Diaspora Jews. When asked about this while speaking at a separate event in Los Angeles last weekend, Israeli politician Natan Sharansky said, “If you change your religion, you don’t have a right to become a citizen by law of return … the change of religion means change of nationality.”
I shared a ballroom last Saturday night with a group of people whose lives could easily inspire nothing more than pity. Like me, they were attending the annual gala of Etta Israel Center, a Los Angeles-based organization that provides outreach and services to developmentally disabled Jews and their families.
Etta Israel is one of those rare organizations that attracts support — and offers support — across denominational boundaries. So the lobby of the California Science Center, decked out for a private evening affair, was host to bearded, black-hatted rabbis and smooth-shaven, kippah-less types. There were women in cocktail dresses and women in fashionable shaidels. UCLA Hillel Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, whose politics veer left, ran into an old acquaintance, Rabbi Baruch Kupfer, executive director of Maimonides Academy of Los Angeles, and the two men joked about who was going to swing whom over to his side.
Also among these Jewish leaders and financial supporters of Etta Israel were dozens of the young adults and children whose named and unnamed challenges — cerebral palsy, autism, Down’s syndrome and others — are often used as reasons to exclude them from many things that society has to offer, like an education.
The Etta Israel Center runs programs to teach Judaism to developmentally challenged children and young adults, as well as group homes for adults (its third home will open in the Valley in June) and a popular summer day camp. It helps Jewish day schools meet the learning needs of all its students, and has trained thousands of teachers in how to help all children learn through its Schools Attuned programs.
One of the young women in its girls yeshiva program saw me taking notes and approached me.
“She wants to show you her writing,” said the educator I was speaking with. The young woman couldn’t form words, but offered me her notepad, on which she had written several rows of wavy lines. It was just lines — no words, no letters — but it was her writing. She beamed and blushed at once.
In another context, the moment could have inspired pity. But pity is cheap. Like guilt, it’s only useful as a tool to pick the locks on our hearts, to compel us to change, to act.
Surrounded by friends from her class, helped along by the educator and the people at Etta Israel — as well as by parents, like the dozens of committed ones in the room — the young woman struck me as confident and fortunate. She found herself embraced by people who wouldn’t settle for mere pity.
One of the evening’s honorees was Valerie Vanaman, an attorney whose relentless advocacy on behalf of special-needs education has improved the lives of thousands of children and their families.
“Every child is entitled to receive an appropriate educational program,” Vanaman said during her award acceptance speech. It is such a simple idea, but like most simple ideas, it takes people of great intellect to conceive it and men and women of iron will to implement it.
Conversely, the idea that people with mental, emotional or physical disabilities might be barred from partaking in a public or Jewish education is, no matter how cool and rational it may seem, the fruit of simple minds, and it takes no more ability than the slack acceptance of the status quo to realize it. Vanaman railed against challenges to opportunity and funding of special-needs students at the state level, and urged parents to contact their representatives and State Board of Education Superintendent Jack O’Connell to protest the decrease in services. “Lawyers can’t save the day,” she said. “Only parents can save the day.”
The other honoree was David Suissa, the founder of Suissa/Miller Advertising and publisher of Olam magazine. During his speech, Suissa recounted the story of Etta Israel, a teacher who, after retirement, took it upon herself to teach developmentally disabled children at Beth Jacob Congregation for 20 years. Her experiences led Dr. Michael Held to create a center in her name. Again, it was a simple idea: instead of offering pity, offer parity. Extend the beauty and benefits of Jewish learning to those most likely to be left behind. Focus teachers on the students’ abilities, working through — and around — their deficits.
The organization, which has largely focused on the Orthodox community, is looking to be of service to non-Orthodox day schools, as well. Held wants more schools to emulate the model of schools like the CSUN-affiliated CHIME Charter schools in Woodland Hills, where enrollment is 80 percent “typical” children and 20 percent special-needs children. Why can’t the Jewish community, he asked, support a Jewish high school following that model?
A simple, brilliant idea — waiting for people of iron will to make it a reality.
For more information, go to www.etta.org
Angels in America
Angels are everywhere in America these days, and a lot of them are tacky. When I was growing up you saw them once a year, adorning Christmas trees. Since then they’ve swarmed across the thin border that divides religious imagery from kitsch. Gift shops stock angel T-shirts, angel bookends, angel-print pillowcases and little angel wings to attach to your pet chihuahua.
Rarely a week goes by without an angel-themed book on the best seller list, and Hollywood has fallen into step with shows like “Touched by an Angel,” “Joan of Arcadia” and this season’s “The Book of Daniel.”
But this week’s cover story celebrates not make-believe angels, but real live ones.
Jews and angels, it turns out, have a complicated relationship. We borrowed the notion from the Sumerians, the good folks who clued us in on the serpent, the Flood, the ark and writing. The Hebrew word for angel is malach, which means “messenger.” In Jewish lore, these messengers shape-shift between the godlike and the human, not just from era to era, but from reference to reference. In Genesis, Hagar encounters an angel, then later refers to “the Lord” who spoke to her. God commands Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, but an angel of heaven intervenes to stay his hand.
In other passages, angels take the form of men, visiting Abraham to announce the birth of Isaac; then visiting Sodom to warn Lot to flee before destroying the city. In one of the most physical manifestations, an angel wrestles with Jacob, leaving him wounded. Reading the Bible, you are left with no clear notion of the Hebrew angels: Are they flesh and blood or the voice of God? Are they dreamed of or three-dimensional? The biblical notion of the angel is amorphous, open to argument, hardly the stuff of T-shirts.
In post-biblical literature, angels multiply. Scholars attribute this in part to the influence of other wisdom traditions on Jewish thought in Hellenistic times. By the Middle Ages, Jewish magic and angels were intertwined. By one estimate, the world of medieval Jewish mysticism counted as many as 496,000 angels.
“Houses and cities, winds and seasons,” writes Joshua Trachtenberg in “Jewish Magic and Superstition” (Penn, 2004), “each speck of dust underfoot … no thing in nature exists independently of its … heavenly ‘deputy.'”
Christians got angels from Jews. We meanwhile have all but sloughed off our belief in heavenly intermediaries. With the exception of smallish sects, most Jews see angels not as guardians from above, but as metaphor for the power of our souls, something akin to what that great Chasid Abraham Lincoln posited in his inauguration speech when he spoke of, “the better angels of our nature.”
This special issue of The Jewish Journal recognizes and celebrates those better angels.
Originally we were taken with the idea of the lamed vavniks, the 36. In Jewish lore, these are the 36 people who walk the earth anonymously, pure souls engaged in holy work, whose unique goodness is all that stands between humankind and God’s harsh judgment.
But — here’s the truth — we knew we wouldn’t have enough room in this issue for 36 profiles. The cruel realities of ad pages knocked 26 righteous people off the list.
Ten was the next-best number, because 10 was the number of decent people Abraham offered to find in Sodom to save the town from God’s wrath. Ten people — in this context we chose to consider families as one — going about their lives in humble goodness could indeed change the fate of a People, not to mention a wicked city.
We know that other publications produce annual year-end lists of The 10 Most Powerful or The 10 Hottest New Stars or The 10 Richest. More power to them. But we saw no point in telling people who already know they’re rich, or gorgeous, or powerful, that they are.
The people we chose to profile inside undoubtedly know that they are making a positive difference in people’s lives. They know they are doing so not because that’s their job, not because they have to, but because in helping others, they attend to the better angels of their nature. Some people may buy ceramic angels, and others might believe that angels watch out for them, but these people are compelled to intervene to improve the lives of others — to be the angels that humans have long imagined should exist.
Consider Jennifer Chadorchi, a 20-something Beverly Hills resident who has provided thousands of homeless men and women with food and social services. Or Yaelle and Nouriel Cohen, whose Pico-Robertson home serves as a collection and distribution center for goods to needy families.
Or consider Saul Kroll, 87, a retiree who volunteers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center 35 to 40 hours per week. He’s been doing that since 1987, logging some 24,400 hours. Sometimes he takes a day off to drive his 90-year-old neighbor to the doctor to receive cancer treatments. “Don’t tell someone, ‘OK, call me if you need help,'” Kroll says. “Just go on over and help.”
Now, that’s an angel.
Gifts for Your Honey Too Large to Wrap
Those eight crazy nights are coming up fast. Still stumped what to get your sweetie? Think outside the giftbox and give your loved one a gift certificate for an experience. Whether it’s a pampering, an adventure, or just some much needed help, Los Angeles is loaded with services that will make your Chanukah honey happy.
Eight Gift Certificates for Him:
Help your man show off his punim with an old-fashioned straight razor shave (starting at $45) at The Shave of Beverly Hills (230 S. Beverly Drive). This barbershop retreat for the urban man offers up hot towels, ESPN, shoe shines, and a shot of whiskey. ” target=”_blank”>www.concierge.com or (323) 468-9395.
He’s gonna watch sports whether you like it or not, so make yourself look like the most amazing babe and buy his sports for him. DirecTV offers an NBA Pass, MLB Extra Innings, ESPN’s NCAA Full Court, even a Mega March Madness Package. Starting at $109, these packages will make you his MVP. ” target=”_blank”>www.nitespa.com or (323) 465-7148.
Race Car Lessons
Does he feel the need for speed? Give him a day at Performance Race Training Center in Irwindale. Classroom instruction is followed by NASCAR-style stock car driving on a half-mile banked-oval speedway. Put your honey in the driver’s seat for $199. ” target=”_blank”>www.chefjoanna.com or
Eight Gift Certificates for Her:
How many times have you heard your wife say “I can’t find my black purse!” or “Have you seen my red jacket?” Give a gift certificate to In Perfect Order. They’ll organize her closet, clean her garage or assemble her photo albums. “We embrace all aspects of clutter,” owner Jessica Duquette says. ” target=”_blank”>www.chateaumarmutt.com. For gift certificates, call (323) 653-2062.
Could she use help assembling furniture, installing an appliance or hanging a picture? Call on Mr. Handyman. No project is too small — a service technician will arrive at her home and take care of all her home maintenance and repair needs. A gift certificate will come in handy when those stressful, unexpected home repairs pop up throughout the year. ” target=”_blank”>www.lushspa.com or (818) 506-7848.
Straighten Her Out
Jewish girls got curls, but sometimes we like to wear our hair straight. Give her the gift of smooth, shiny locks at Umberto Salon (1772 S. Robertson Blvd.) Straight Blow-Dries range from $18-$37 depending on the stylist and the length of her hair. It’s a gift she’ll use to look hot for you on a special night. (310) 204-4995.
Has she ever called you crying because her computer crashed and her thesis paper/production report/script draft is due? Geek Squad to the rescue. The squad is an elite tactical unit of highly trained and highly mobile agents, who seek out and destroy villainous computer activity. They even make house calls. Geek Squads are located inside Best Buy stores (West Hollywood, Los Angeles, West Los Angeles, Glendale) and there’s a freestanding store in Santa Monica (2800 Wilshire Blvd.).
Zagat for Dating
“Where do you want to meet?” I ask my blind date on the phone for our last-minute get-together. I find it’s best to set up these things in haste, on the fly, soon after a phone call, so expectations are kept to the barest minimum. (And yet, somehow, no matter how low hopes seem to be, disappointment always seems possible.)
“How about the Coffee Bean on Wilshire?” he says. It’s a nice place, actually, for a Coffee Bean. With a fire pit outside and the cool ocean air wafting in from the water a dozen blocks away, it’s reminiscent of a perpetual fall night with chestnuts roasting on an open fire. But suddenly an image of my last date there pops into my mind. He was a very confident (read: obnoxious) Israeli, who confused our heated political debate for passion rather than loathing.
“You must like me,” the Israeli said after a time.
“Why’s that?” I wondered aloud, because I certainly did not.
“Because you’re still sitting here,” he concluded.
In his estimation, because the date had lasted longer than an hour, and I hadn’t fled like other women before me, I was smitten. So when he persisted in talking about politics despite my attempts to steer the conversation somewhere less conflicted, I considered throwing him in the fire pit next to us, but decided I’d not be able to lift his 200-pound frame. So I got up to leave.
“You said I could,” I explained over my shoulder on my way out.
So I tell my soon-to-be date, “Let’s not go to the Coffee Bean.”
When it comes to dating, much has been written about territorial acquisitions: How you should never date someone in your neighborhood because who will acquire the local hangouts after the breakup. (My last boyfriend was from the east side — way east — and when I saw him after the breakup at the Sunday Santa Monica market I wanted to shout, “Mine! This is my neighborhood! My territory! My settlement in the breakup proceedings!”)
Here in Los Angeles, our services are more important than our dates. (I learned this the hard way by dating my mechanic’s assistant — a budding screenwriter — and soon had to find a new mechanic. Not worth it.)
Maybe it sounds silly, but consider this: I am a woman who left New York City — a giant metropolis of millions of people and millions of square miles — just because it reminded me too much of my ex-boyfriend: That street in Times Square where he first surprised me and kissed me; that restaurant on 14th Street where he told me he needed some space; the green chess bench on the Lower East Side where he kissed me one last time and told me he wanted me back; that club on the Upper West Side, where, years later, after a broken engagement (his), he drunkenly confessed he still loved me; that cafe in the Village the next day where he denied it all and blamed it on the wine. In the end, it had seemed like the whole city was a backdrop — scenery created solely for our relationship — so when that was over, I fled. I just couldn’t bear it.
One of the beauties of Los Angeles is that it’s so big. (Come to think of it, I’ve almost never run into a former date here; I wonder if they were just imported here for that one evening with me…?) I don’t feel in danger of this city being ruined for me because of a relationship. But dating, that’s a different story. Do I really want to slowly but surely taint every restaurant and cafe in the city with a scene from my one-hit-wonders?
There are alternate strategies: You can inundate a place with so many dates that a particular bad one no longer stands out. Still, I can’t go to Casa Del Mar for a drink now because the ghosts of Dubious Gay Guy, Argumentative Man, This Was a Bad Idea Man and many more haunt the cavernous, beautiful room.
I’m not so cynical to say that all places are tainted by bad dates. Great dates can take a place out of the running, too: That awesome night at Canter’s where he and I stayed up till 3, 4, 5 a.m.? Who knows. I fell in love, I think, somewhere between the coleslaw and the kasha varnishkes, or maybe laughing at the ancient, bored waitress or out in the parking lot in front of a mural depicting the history of Jewish Los Angeles. I can’t go to Canter’s on a date anymore — or any of the other places I’ve left pieces of my heart — because of sweet nostalgia.
Am I too sentimental? Do I take mistake the background for the foreground? Humphrey Bogart said it best in “Casablanca:” “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine….”
But listen: a girl has got to dine out. So tonight after running through my Dating Zagat’s (Starbuck’s on Main Street, 22: Good lighting but “tedious conversationalist,” in the “nice outfit” was “mean to waitress” and “put me to sleep” despite “triple latte/no foam.”)
So I pick a sweet little cafe for writers and daters in Santa Monica with couches and cute little lamps and funny drinks like Creamsicles and Fudgesickles — in other words, a place I’d never need to go to again in case things don’t work out.
But go figure. My date is cute and he’s sweet and he’s hard to pin down into one neat little box — i.e., he’s an actual person, not just some bad date to sum up in a rating — and who knows what will happen in the future for us?
This sweet little cafe could become our place — or at least the place where we had our first date.
Oh brother, here we go again.
Senior Moments – Great-Grand Marshal
As I walked through the grounds at the Jewish Home for the Aging (JHA), I noticed a man in a wheelchair reading a magazine. It was called “Life Extension.”
I had to laugh. Someone must have strategically placed this magazine, like a prop, for the interview I was about to conduct. Talk about life extension! My subject, Sylvia Harmatz, could be the poster child. She’s 107 years old.
And for the sixth year in a row, Harmatz will be grand marshal of the Dec. 4 Walk of Ages, a 5K walk/run to raise funds for the JHA’s vital services.
She called JHA “a haven for people who have nowhere’s else to stay, like me. I sometimes wonder how in the world can they like so many people? They are so good to everyone!”
Since so many people seem interested in living forever, Harmatz is, of course, repeatedly asked: “What’s your secret?”
She smiles sweetly, showing great patience: “I don’t know.”
She doesn’t eat meat, but she does like candy, “because I need something to replace the meat.”
I told her my 14-year-old son would like that strategy. She laughed.
We sat a moment, and then Harmatz said, “You know, my husband lived to 104.”
In fact, Sylvia and Louis Harmatz were married for 80 years.
“He was very much in love with me,” she told me, with a smile.
I said maybe it was love, not a special diet, that contributed to their longevity.
“I think so,” Harmatz agreed. “We were very close. He wanted to be with me all the time. He never walked with me that he didn’t hold my hand. He was afraid I was going to run away from him, because I always walked so fast!”
The couple, who met at a dance in Brooklyn, married in 1921. They continued to love dancing and had a chance to waltz together after they moved to the JHA in 1994.
“We were always together,” Harmatz recalled. “He used to get up at night and cover me [with a blanket], to make sure I wouldn’t catch a cold. He took care of me. And I don’t know why, because I was always very strong and independent. I guess he noticed that I needed to be taken care of. When he passed away, I reassured him that I wouldn’t be long, that I’d be coming to meet him soon. But it hasn’t been that way.”
Harmatz laughed, but looked a little sad.
Born in Hungary in 1898, her earliest memories are of her father, a rabbi.
“He took me everywhere with him,” she said. “And I remember him teaching the children who couldn’t speak Hungarian, so they could learn too. I loved to sit and listen to him.”
Harmatz had her fourth birthday on board the ship to America.
Life was hard in this new country, says Harmatz, but she has fond memories of her parents’ relationship.
“My mother was very beautiful and they were very much in love. I used to know when they were going to have relations because [my father] used to leave his yarmulke on the bed.” Harmatz said with a laugh. “He was telling my mother, ‘Don’t forget, I’ll be there tonight!'”
Her father died at 42, leaving his wife with nine children. Harmatz started working at 13 to help out, then went to night school to become a nurse.
After marriage, she became a homemaker, raising the couple’s two daughters. There are now five grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren, and four great-great-grandchildren.
In 1935, Sylvia and Louis decided to come West, and settled in Hollywood. “I used to go downtown for seven cents on the Red Car!” Harmatz said.
Her political involvement as an avid Democrat goes at least as far back as Franklin Roosevelt. “Politics was my piece de resistance!” said Harmatz, who would go door-to-door seeking donations. “I knocked at a door once and [asked for] a dollar. The woman says, ‘No I’m a Republican.’ So I said, ‘You don’t have to apologize to me, all you have to do is change your affiliation!'”
One thing that pleases Harmatz about being the grand marshal is riding in a convertible. In fact, last year when it rained on the parade, someone suggested they put up the top, but Harmatz wanted it left down.
“I’m not a fussy person, but I do like a red convertible,” she said, laughing. I asked her if red is her favorite color. “Yes, I like red. In fact, I’m going to be buried in a red dress with polka dots.”
Harmatz has been interviewed by CNN, local newspapers and radio stations. I asked if she likes being a celebrity.
“It’s not important to me,” she said. “I like it because it’s helping the Home. I want the Home to have everything they need. They asked me, ‘What do you want for all your trouble?’ I said, ‘I want a little plaque that says: You too can be involved.'”
For registration and sponsorship for Walk of Ages VI, call (818) 774-3100 or visit www.walkofages.kintera.org.
Ellie Kahn is a freelance writer, owner of Living Legacies Family and Organizational Histories and producer of “Meet Me at Brooklyn & Soto.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and www.livinglegaciesfamilyhistories.com.
Tax Cuts Bring Shameful Silence
“Listen, we’re broke. Let’s face it,” said Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) last week, according to the Washington Post. Boehner, the chair of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, spoke as congressional Republicans haggled over big spending cuts for critical health and social service programs.
But the conservative lawmaker spoke only half of the story; the nation is broke, at least in part, because of huge tax cuts demanded by the Republican Congress and administration. And even as they say we can no longer afford programs that benefit the poor and middle class, they are talking about more tax cuts that mostly benefit the wealthy.
Before you criticize Boehner’s blindness to some basic economic realities, take a hard look at the Jewish communal world, where organizations still claim the mantle of social justice activism but refuse to take a stand on the issue that is reshaping America.
That reality will be in full view in the coming months as many Jewish groups lobby against big cuts in critical programs but duck for cover when lawmakers talk about the causes of the budget crisis, starting with tax cuts.
It’s not that Jews don’t care about those less fortunate — including many in our own community. But their organizations are too frightened of their own big donors, too timid about picking a fight with a vengeful administration to wade into the tax fray.
This month House Republicans will try to wrap up work on proposals aimed at slowing the hemorrhage of red ink from federal budget ledgers while finding a way to pay for hundreds of billions of dollars of hurricane relief and for two wars that don’t seem about to end anytime soon.
Proposals include slashing key entitlement programs by $50 billion and reducing overall spending by 2 percent — and cutting taxes another $70 billion.
You don’t need to be a CPA to understand the math flaw here; the results, according to most estimates, will be drastic cuts in critical programs like Medicaid and Medicare and a bigger debt load to pass along to our children.
In the past, emergencies requiring big increases in government spending produced a shared willingness to shoulder the burden. Now, it’s those least able to take care of themselves during trying times who are being forced to sacrifice the most, while the rich just get richer and anti-government ideologues use the explosive combination of tax cuts and high deficits to start dismantling the entire structure of government services.
Jewish groups will fight like crazy to avert cuts to important programs like Medicaid, Food Stamps and subsidized housing for the elderly, all of which benefit many Jews. They will talk piously about their commitment to social justice for all.
But only the Reform Movement has stated the obvious: that big tax cuts under current circumstances can only eviscerate the nation’s ability to respond to new emergencies and undermine what’s left of the nation’s social safety net.
Jewish groups have lost their voices for two very obvious reasons: the fact that many of their top, big-money donors are benefiting handsomely from the tax-cut fever in Washington, and a reluctance to lock horns with an administration and Congress that have made tax cuts an article of faith in their conservative revolution.
There’s a big gap between what Jewish leaders say privately — most believe a policy of big tax cuts at a time of war and growing social needs can only produce economic disaster — and what they say for public consumption, which is essentially nothing.
As the budget fight intensifies, Jewish groups may be able to limit the damage to a few key programs they care about.
But ultimately, their silence on taxes means they are not talking about the policies that are creating unbearable pressure on the budget, guaranteeing that today’s cuts are just the beginning of a trend that will ultimately undo most of what’s left of the nation’s social safety net.
What makes their silence even more destructive is the fact that tax cuts are part of a deliberate strategy by those who have a very different view of the role of the government in helping the needy than do most Jewish groups.
Other religious groups understand the connection. Recently the National Council of Churches wrote to members of Congress criticizing “excessive tax cuts that help only the wealthy,” and calling the combination of cuts in programs and continuing tax cuts “a moral disaster of monumental proportion.”
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has expressed strong concerns about continuing tax cuts at a time of national emergency.
But Jewish groups continue to tiptoe around the issue, and in doing so they are losing any chance of influencing a debate that will shape life in America for generations to come. Their silence on taxes means Jewish leaders will be forsaking their claim to be champions of social justice, and it will expose all their talk about tikkun olam as just that — talk.
78 and 79: A Matter of Life and Death
Like many California voters this week, Rabbi Hershy Ten, president of the Bikur Cholim Jewish Healthcare Foundation, is grappling with how to vote on the Nov. 8 ballot. Either Proposition 78 or Proposition 79 could directly affect his L.A.-based foundation’s efforts to provide health-related services and referrals to needy and uninsured. Either proposition could help by lowering prescription drug prices. But even for Ten, it’s hard to peer through the electioneering and rhetoric.
One thing’s certain: Ten realizes a lot is at stake.
“I know of a man within the last three months who suffered irreversible liver disease because he could not afford his medication,” Ten said. “We were called after he went into liver failure to assist him in receiving a transplant.”
The question before voters is whether the drug companies should regulate themselves, as laid out in Proposition 78, or whether the state should be granted authority to pressure drug companies into providing discounts, as specified in Proposition 79. If both initiatives pass, whichever receives the most votes becomes law.
In the contest of marketing, at least, the outcome isn’t a close call. The pharmaceutical industry has spent more than $80 million backing Proposition 78 (compared to $1.8 million from Proposition 79’s backers, most of it from consumer, senior and health groups).
Putting the hype aside, here’s what Proposition 78 would offer: Most Californians earning up to 300 percent of the Federal Poverty Level would be eligible for discounted drugs, including individuals earning up to $29,000 a year and families of four living on as much as $58,000.
But the salient feature of Proposition 78 is that it includes no state enforcement mechanism. In the case of Ten’s liver patient, it would be solely up to the pharmaceutical industry to select the relevant drug for a discount, determine the discount price (if any), and choose the length of time to maintain it.
There are no state-imposed consequences if a company chooses to keep prices high.
So if the process is voluntary, what’s to stop drug companies from lowering prices right now? Conversely, if drug companies aren’t lowering prices now, why would they under a voluntary plan?
The industry’s response is that Proposition 78 is needed if corporations are to lower prices as a group while also avoiding anti-trust violations.
“We feel we have an obligation to make our drugs affordable,” said Jan Faiks, vice president for governmental affairs and law with the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the powerful industry trade group. Faiks added that voluntary (and legislatively sanctioned) drug-discount programs in 26 states demonstrate the good faith of drug manufacturers.
These voluntary programs in other states typically have stricter eligibility requirements, and critics say few meaningful discounts are being offered. California’s version, Proposition 78, is identical to the defunct Senate Bill 19, an Arnold Schwarzenegger-backed bill that was defeated by Democrats in the state Senate in early 2005. At the time, the governor estimated that SB-19 would provide prescription drug savings of up to 40 percent off retail, close to the price that HMOs pay for drugs. Proposition 78 proponents have adopted those figures as their own.
This isn’t the first time that this Republican governor’s public health policy has mirrored PhRMA’s interests. In October 2004, Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed four bills that would have provided information for Californians on obtaining cheaper drugs through Canadian pharmacies. A few weeks later, PhRMA donated several-hundred-thousand dollars to Californian Republican legislative candidates.
Consumer advocates don’t like much about Proposition 78, including the anti-trust justification for why the industry argues that it is necessary. After all, there would never be a legal prohibition barring an individual drug company from lowering its prices. Nor is there any reason why drug companies would have to engage in illegal collusion to lower prices, said Doug Mirell, board member of the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA), which is supporting Proposition 79.
Added Anthony Wright, executive director of the Pro-79 group Health Access: “No attorney general or judge would rule against them if they came together to lower prices. There’s no [anti-trust] precedent for it.”
Proposition 79 supporters contend that PhRMA’s real aim is simply to block Proposition 79 from taking effect.
Faiks of PhRMA’s doesn’t deny her group’s desire to thwart Proposition 79, but she insists that Proposition 78 is worthy in its own right.
Proposition 79, backed by consumer groups, unions and the American Association of Retired Persons, sets the discount rate for drugs lower than Proposition 78 (approaching the price Medi-Cal pays for drugs). It also includes patients earning 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Level rather than 300 percent. And it forbids drug companies from charging “unconscionable” prices for medication.
“There are 8 million to 10 million more people who will be benefited by Proposition 79 than Proposition 78,” Mirell said.
Perhaps most worrisome to PhRMA, however, Proposition 79 punishes companies who refuse to cooperate.
If negotiations with the state over discounts break down, the state could curtail that company’s business with Medi-Cal, California’s $4 billion drug discount program for the poor. Medi-Cal patients would have to receive so-called “prior authorization” by the state to use any drug manufactured by that uncooperative corporation. Under this system, the state would first try to find a substitute drug from a cooperative company.
In other words, under Proposition 79 the poorest segment of the population (on whose behalf the state bargains) would be used as leverage to lower drug prices for the next-poorest segment (who today have no bargaining clout).
Even under Proposition 79, Rabbi Ten’s liver patient would not have been guaranteed a different fate. There’s no mechanism, for example, forcing the state to drive a hard bargain for any particular medication. But if it did, the drug’s manufacturer would not easily be able to say no.
Each camp has its own collection of horror stories and feel-good episodes supporting its proposition. Proposition 78 is modeled closely on a voluntary program in Ohio. Consumer advocates modeled Proposition 79 on a program in Maine, one that PhRMA claims is not working well.
Faiks provided The Journal with a report, written by an independent Maine legislative committee, detailing patient frustration with various other systems of prior authorization. PhRMA also points to legal and administrative barriers, most prominently the likely opposition from the Federal Department of Health and Human Services.
“[The Proposition 79] program will never be approved,” said Faiks, who is well positioned to understand the leanings of the Bush administration, which has regularly sided with drug companies.
PhRMA provided The Journal with several letters from federal health officials to various state Medicaid administrators who, over the past several years, have attempted to expand Medicaid coverage to new groups (such as people with specific diseases or those who earn slightly-above-poverty wages). The letters suggest that President Bush’s administration is loathe to extend Medicaid funds or leverage Medicaid patients to benefit new groups unless a state has hard evidence that the expansion prevents these new clients from entering poverty and becoming eligible for Medicaid regardless.
Mirell, of PJA, asserts that technicalities will not cripple Proposition 79, at least not permanently.
“The Bush Administration will not be in power forever,” Mirell said. “Policies do change from administration to administration.”
Mirell also pointed to the “severability” provision of Proposition 79, which allows other provisions to survive even if some can’t be enacted.
“The fact that it may take some months of litigation to implement Proposition 79 shouldn’t scare people away from voting for it, when the benefits that could accrue are so much greater than Proposition 78,” Mirell said.
And the presence and influence of the industry Goliath shouldn’t dissuade the Davids of reform. “It doesn’t mean we should give up, saying they’re too powerful,” said Wright of Heath Access.
A late August Field Poll indicated that Californians largely support both measures: 49 percent voting yes and 31 percent no on Proposition 78; 42 percent yes and 34 percent no on Proposition 79. When the participants learned, however, that the drug industry is backing Proposition 78, opposition to that measure rose sharply.
“People need to ask themselves, ‘Do you trust the drug companies to voluntarily discount their own prescription drug rates?'” Mirell said.
That’s a question that voters are less likely to hear posed exactly that way, given the imbalance in campaign spending.
When he spoke with The Journal, Rabbi Ten was still trying to sort out the pluses and minuses.
“This requires further analysis,” he said. “It requires more information than is readily available through typical media outlets.”
New Year, New Orleans
“I think of Pompeii,” wrote Anne Brener in a September article for The Jewish Journal. “New Orleans was so beautiful.”
She wrote of her beloved New Orleans in the past tense, but during the High Holidays, she helped restore a measure of present hope. L.A. transplant Brener, a fourth-year rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, conducted Rosh Hashanah services at Shir Chadash, a Conservative synagogue in Metairie, La., for congregants who braved a return. The challah came from Dallas.
The main auditorium was unusable, so some 80 congregants gathered in a smaller prayer room, according to a report by Associated Press. While their Torahs had been safely evacuated, hundreds of religious texts were damaged beyond repair and buried in a nearby cemetery last week, as per Jewish tradition.
“We’re being given a fresh start, a new beginning,” 19-year-old David Weber said. — Staff Report