COMMUNITY BRIEFS: Child Abuse, Christian University Jewish Program, Lee Baca

Reports: Child Abuse on the Rise

In the last several months, reports from around the country have been confirming what child welfare experts feared: Economic hard times bring a drastic increase in child abuse and domestic violence. Newspapers nationally are reporting 30 percent to 50 percent increases in some regions of the country; in Los Angeles, both Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services and Jewish Family Service (JFS) report spikes in their clientele.

April is national Child Abuse Prevention month, and the need this year is clearly more urgent than ever.

“If somebody is stressed out and afraid they are going to lose their job, or feel they can’t provide for their family, they may bring that stress and tension and anxiety home, and they might find themselves snapping and doing things they wished they hadn’t,” said Cathy Engel-Marder, a social worker who is a board member of the Westside Child Trauma Council, a chapter of the Los Angeles Child Abuse Council, a resource organization to help educate about and prevent child abuse.

Engel-Marder emphasized that the Jewish community cannot consider itself immune to the problem. Abuse can enter a Jewish home just as easily as any other, and dealing with it openly is important.

“In the Jewish community you are living up to a certain reputation about being a good family, a good parent,” she said. “In some segments of the community it is hard to air your problems, because there are certain expectations and reputations.”

Parents who feel they are losing control have many resource options, Engel-Marder said.

Both the City and County of Los Angeles have hotlines that can direct parents to relevant resources (311 is the city hotline, 211 is the county), as well as a number for anonymously reporting child abuse (800-540-4000).  Jewish Family Service offers both prevention and intervention programs — parenting education, child safety workshops, school-based counseling, family therapy and case management, all on a pay-what-you-can basis. JFS works with schools and the Board of Rabbis to educate teachers and community leaders about what to look for and how to help families who might be suffering from domestic abuse.

A JFS crisis hotline — (818) 505-0900 — handles cases of imminent danger, and a central intake number – (877) 275-4537 — channels people to the services they need, according to Nancy Volpert, JFS director of public policy.

Engel-Marder works for Home Safe, a division of Vista Del Mar Child and Family Service. Home Safe social workers intervene to catch families before they descend into abuse by conducting free weekly in-home visits and offering parenting classes, family therapy and case management services that hook families up with other resources.

“When a family feels like it needs support and wants to make sure it’s doing the right thing for its kids, before it reaches a point where there is a serious problem, that is where we go in,” Engel-Marder said.

Vista Del Mar — (888) 228-4782 — offers comprehensive services for children at risk, from counseling, support groups and case management to a residential facility for traumatized children, according to Sylvia Moskovitz, vice president of development and community relations at Vista Del Mar, which was founded in 1908 as the Jewish Orphans Home.

When a court is threatening to remove children from a home, Vista offers a comprehensive slate of services and support to help the parents improve home life in any way necessary to keep the family intact. When children need to be removed, Vista runs a foster care/adoption service.

Four children die every day in the United States as a result of child abuse, and 3 million reports of abuse are made annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Those statistics will almost certainly rise in 2009.

For a list of resources, visit, or

— Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Senior Writer

Christian University Establishes Jewish Studies Program, Jewish Scholarship

Pepperdine University in Malibu, with 8,300 students and a 125-foot cross on its front lawn, has established a new undergraduate Jewish studies institute and a scholarship for Jewish students at its graduate school of public policy.

The new programs are aimed both at attracting Jewish students and teaching students of all faiths about Jewish culture and history. There are currently about 160 Jewish students in the undergraduate school and five graduate programs.

“One of the things we’re very interested in is our students having a much better understanding not only of ancient Israel and biblical Judaism, but also a much better understanding of what is going on in the world today,” said Rick Marrs, Pepperdine’s dean of the undergraduate Seaver College.

Pepperdine is affiliated with the Churches of Christ, an independent, conservative branch of Christianity that believes in the New Testament as the ultimate uniting factor for all Christians. Undergraduate students are required to attend weekly chapel services or religion lectures, and must take three courses in religion.

In the graduate and undergraduate schools, a Judeo-Christian ethic is woven into all the studies and the campus environment, according to vice chancellor Michael Warder. No alcohol is allowed on campus, and the dorms are gender separated.

That values-centered environment can be attractive to students of all faiths, Warder said, and proselytizing is not part of the Pepperdine ethic.

“Theologically, Judaism and Christianity share a lot in common, and Pepperdine, although a Christian university, is welcoming of people of different faiths,” Warder said.

Jewish members of the School of Public Policy’s board of visitors established an endowment of $100,000 to fund Jewish students.

“Pepperdine is teaching the people who are going to lead our country in the next generation, and it is doing that without the partisan political bent that most major universities have, but more with an ethical and moral understanding that you don’t find in a lot of other universities,” said Jay Hoffman, one of the funders of the scholarship.

Pepperdine is also initiating the Diane and Gil Glazer Institute of Jewish Studies with a $1.86 million, three-year grant from the construction billionaires, who also support many Israel-related causes.

The school is in the process of hiring a Jewish studies professor who will begin teaching in September 2009. In addition, the school is entering into partnership with American Jewish University, which will provide adjunct professors to lecture at Pepperdine. This summer, students will travel to Israel on subsidized trips to study Biblical archaeology, and law students will also make trips to Israel to explore dispute resolution.

Marrs says at the end of three years the school will host an international conference with Jewish, Muslim and Christian scholars and leaders to explore issues of world peace. He is also hopeful that the Jewish Studies Institute will continue beyond the initial three years that were funded.

“I think this is good for the relationship between Jews and Christians, and good for theological understanding,” said Vice Chancellor Warder. “I don’t think it’s possible to understand what it means to be Christian without understanding the Old Testament and Jewish history.”

— Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Senior Writer

Baca Shares Israeli War Visit at El Cab

In the middle of Israel’s war with Hamas, L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca made a weekend trip to the Jewish state. Baca had worked closely over the years with the Israel Defense Forces and Israeli police, and he wanted to see for himself the situation on the ground and show that he supported Israel’s response to daily rocket attacks from across the Green Line.

“The visit was a stark reality,” Baca, a Christian who has worked closely with Muslims and Jews, said recently to a breakfast crowd at El Caballero Country Club in Tarzana. “How the Israelis manage in this is a miracle. How the international community can sit back and launch their criticisms is astounding. The Palestinian people have got to understand that violence is not going to achieve peace.”

Baca spoke candidly for about 45 minutes with about 80 members and guests of The Executives, a Valley-based support group for the Jewish Home for the Aging. His audience included L.A. City Councilman Dennis Zine, past president of The Executives, former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg and L.A. city attorney candidate Carmen Trutanich.

Baca’s trip to Israel was his fourth since 2003. What struck him most, the sheriff said, was a news report in which a grieving Palestinian mother was asked whether she was angry with the Israelis. She said she was, but that she was also furious with Hamas for instigating the war.

“I’ve talked to many Palestinians because I caught a lot of hell when I came back,” Baca said. “Obviously I chose a side. I told them I could choose your side if you don’t fire rockets and send suicide bombers into another country. All you are doing is making the problem more difficult to solve.”

— Brad A. Greenberg, Senior Writer