Success of Jewish day schools breeds crisis


It was, I believe, a disarmingly candid statement during my interview in 1977 that helped get me my job as headmaster of Sinai Akiba Academy in Los Angeles.

“If I were on the board of a day school seeking to hire a headmaster,” I said, “I am not the person I would hire — yet.” At the time a pulpit rabbi interested in education, I made three promises to the search committee: I would go back to school myself, I would make good use of consultants and I would make mistakes.

I carried out all three promises. My board supported the first, funded the second and simply didn’t know what to do about the third. In the course of time, I developed an educational philosophy and vision, learned the ins and outs of daily life in school and the board and I figured out how to support each other by continually focusing on educational excellence.

Why did they take a chance on someone unproven? Unable to identify from the pile of resumes before them an individual with both the paper credentials and the moxie, the board decided to take a chance on someone who, in their judgment, could grow into the job.

Thirty years later, Jewish day schools find themselves facing the same dilemma — and often not succeeding. Directors of organizations like Ravsak (the Jewish Community Day School Network) and Solomon Schechter (the national association of Conservative day schools) report being besieged by calls from schools unable to fill principalships that too often resemble revolving doors.

Observers estimate the average tenure of Jewish day school heads at between two and five years. Having labeled the problem a crisis, a consortium of organizations, including the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education and the Avichai Foundation, recently invited 50 participants to convene at a think tank consultation in New York.

In the last 20 years alone, 300 Jewish day schools have opened in the United States, bringing the total to about 800. In 1980, Los Angeles supported only 17 day schools. Today there are nearly 40.

American Jewish educational history will recall the ’90s as the Jewish high school decade, when Jewish communities as small as Portland created Jewish day high schools. Between 1990 and 2004, some 25 non-Orthodox Jewish day high schools opened.

This is good news for the Jewish future, but we cannot staff these schools. Who would have thought that the solution to a problem would itself become a problem, let alone a crisis?

Two streams of analysis quickly emerged among the think tank participants. According to the first, we need to identify alternative pathways into the profession, creatively recruiting candidates from public and private schools and from other Jewish social services. Equally important, innovative programs could teach schools how to grow their own future leadership from within their teacher ranks.

The other stream of thought identified the problem as the failure of school boards to work in effective collaboration with their heads of school. The board oversteps its bounds, turmoil ensues, the principal is on his or her way out and the board embarks on still another search.

Training and mentoring programs for school boards and heads, according to this point of view, would lead to more stable governing relationships.

Far from contradicting one another, the recruitment analysis and governance analysis actually address different dimensions of the crisis. Those who work in national and regional independent school organizations regale listeners with governance and head turnover horror stories. But the scarcity of personnel for Jewish day schools is at least an equal partner in crisis, and it runs far deeper than the headship.

Probably the single-most frustrating activity of Jewish day school heads is searching for qualified Judaic studies teachers. Although many of us are blessed with gifted teachers, every teacher opening is a cause for hand-wringing.

When seeking general studies teachers, I compete against public and superb independent schools with lovely campuses and substantial salary and benefits packages. I am able to compete successfully. Most important, there are teachers to compete for.

When I need to hire a Judaic studies teacher, I don’t know where to turn. Graduates of Jewish teacher training institutions often lack the Hebrew skills needed for day schools such as mine. Teachers from Israel often lack a religious orientation and, in many cases, basic Judaica knowledge. Rabbinical students foresee greater satisfactions in the pulpit.

The dramatic shortage of well-qualified Judaic studies teachers calls into question the future effectiveness of the day school movement. If this isn’t a crisis demanding a solution, I don’t know what is.

We need to create a viable Jewish education profession offering multiple career tracks, attractive salaries and opportunities for advancement. Only a comprehensive set of initiatives can do this. Examples: identify promising high school students and begin promoting day school work as a future profession for them (one of the many fascinating ideas presented by the think tank organizers). Grab the attention of college and graduate students by creating prestigious, well-funded fellowships for future day school teachers and administrators. Create highly visible, prestigious leadership tracks that enable day school teachers to branch out to curriculum writing, training, administration and mentoring.

People choose careers not only for income but because they perceive opportunities to be challenged, to grow and to enter career paths of status and dignity. We will draw intelligent, able young people to Jewish education not only by offering more viable salaries but by stimulating their imaginations.

We will need funders to support innovative training and mentoring programs, incentive fellowships and promotional activities. We will need Jewish institutions of higher learning and model day schools to create more collaborative teacher and administrator internships and residencies.

Development of a viable life-long profession through a comprehensive set of such initiatives can yield the Jewish teacher and administrator corps necessary to secure the future of Jewish education in America. Fortunately, a critical mass of Jewish educational leadership and potential funding today exists to accomplish this goal, but there is no time for hesitation.

Rabbi Larry Scheindlin is headmaster of Sinai Akiba Academy in Los Angeles.

Prisons Pray for Surge in Chaplains


Those who might have the greatest need to repent this High Holiday season may not be able to.

A severe shortage in Jewish chaplains has led to a situation where the spiritual needs of some prisoners in California’s state and federal correctional institutions are not being met.

"When it comes to holidays and services, there’s a very real concern that we’re not doing a very effective and adequate job at serving in institutionalized settings," said Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California (BOR). "There are many institutionalized Jews that do not have the benefits of a rabbi."

Historically, prisons have found it increasingly difficult to attract chaplains to fill available positions. Current California budget cuts have most recently eliminated many vacant prison chaplain positions. The result is an inadequate number of Jewish chaplains in relation to a rising Jewish prison population.

According to BOR, the governing board that certifies all Jewish chaplains serving in the California Department of Corrections (CDC), Jews make up approximately .5 percent to 1 percent of the total inmate population. While it is difficult to get an exact count due to inmate privacy laws, the BOR formula reveals that there are between 805 and 1,610 Jews in California state prisons — the third- largest Jewish prisoner population in the country. Although comparably smaller, the fastest-growing Jewish inmate population is found in the federal system. Following the formula, there are between 72 and 144 Jews in federal prisons in California. However, an estimate by the Bureau of Prisons is higher, arriving at approximately 228 Jews in the federal system.

While there are more Jewish prisoners than ever, there are fewer chaplains. Five years ago, there were 12 full-time, professional civil service chaplains employed by the CDC, and now there are only eight. Also, the California federal prisons and the California Youth Authority has no Jewish chaplains in their employ, and nearly a third of the part- and full-time Jewish chaplain positions in the CDC are vacant.

The shortage of chaplains is neither a new — nor a Jewish — problem. Poor work conditions, long hours, low pay and inaccessibility, have always made it difficult for prisons to attract and maintain chaplains. Recently, however, the problem has grown because of chaplains’ reduced authority: they used to report directly to the warden, but now are required to report to a community resource manager (CRM) whose purpose is to oversee religious programming. Many see this as a demotion.

"It’s more difficult to gain access to the administration, and as a result it makes it difficult to perform our tasks efficiently," said Lon Moscowitz, the Jewish chaplain at California Men’s Colony where there are 50-70 Jewish prisoners at any one time. "So it’s kind of grueling work."

California’s recent budget crisis has added additional strain to an already desperate situation. In order to reduce spending, most prisons have stopped hiring full-time chaplains. Employee salaries have been cut, benefits reduced and hiring freezes and eliminated positions have become routine. On June 30, the California Department of Finance ruled that all unfilled state agency positions would be eliminated: 13 multidenominational chaplain positions in California state prisons were lost and 31 out of 33 CRM positions will be done by October.

Although the mass eliminations have only resulted in a loss of three fractional Jewish positions, it spurred great concern among Jewish prison chaplains regarding their present job security and the impact further cuts would have on Jewish inmates.

"The consequence is that serious programs of rehabilitation aren’t going to be there for the inmates," Moscowitz said. "If there are no chaplains to facilitate and supervise programs then the inmates can’t learn and grow Jewishly or spiritually, and if that’s the case they’ll be walking out of prison at their parole no better than when they came in and most likely worse."

Many chaplains have already seen the effects of the shortage. Taking advantage of limited chaplain support, proselytizing missionaries are stepping forward to fill a spiritual void. Evangelists enter the prisons as volunteers and encourage conversion of Jewish inmates. (The BOR does not allow Jewish chaplains to convert inmates during incarceration.) There are currently four states that have replaced all civil service chaplains with volunteer missionaries in order to reduce spending.

Without a visible Jewish presence in prison, Jewish prisoners have become increasingly vulnerable, putting many Jewish prisoners in the way of rampant anti-Semitism. Nazi gangs and white supremacists are so common that the majority of Jewish prisoners never "come out" as Jews.

Stuart Thompson, a former prisoner, told The Journal that he considers himself lucky that he did not have a "Jewish name."

"I could have been badly hurt," Thompson said, adding that his brother, who is currently incarcerated is much more danger because of his obvious Jewish looks. "My brother has been threatened that because he is a Jew ‘he better watch out.’ They don’t have a rabbi available and I think that’s horrible."

This High Holiday season, in an effort to keep Jewish prisoners from falling through the cracks, some in the Jewish community have picked up the slack. During the High Holidays, many volunteers provide religious materials, visit inmates and their families in remote prisons, and lead additional services.

Without the help of such organizations, many Jewish prisoners are abandoned by the prison system and often rejected by their families and the greater Jewish community.

"We must fulfill the community’s responsibility to our incarcerated brethren and their families," said Gary Friedman, Pacific Southwest president of Jewish Prisoners International. "All Israel is responsible for each other. It doesn’t say ‘just some of us.’"

Inmate advocacy and Jewish chaplain organizations such as Jewish Prisoners International, Alef and local Chabad groups, send Jewish chaplains into prisons as volunteers, conducting religious services and lobbying for the religious rights of Jewish prisoners. The Jewish Committee for Personal Service sends volunteer social workers into the prisons and Beit T’Shuvah Los Angeles, a residential, therapeutic community, offers alternative sentencing for Jewish prisoners recovering from alcoholism and substance abuse, and residency when inmates are released from prison.

The BOR plays a major part in serving Jewish prisoners. Last year, its Planning and Allocations Department approved $10,000 in order to provide prisoners with Tanachs. The move was made in response to a study funded by the Jewish Community Foundation that evaluated and identified the needs of Jews in prisons and hospitals. Until the approval, only free Christian Bibles and free Korans were available to prisoners. This Rosh Hashanah, the study brought about a donation of personalized Tanach plates and Jewish 12-step books for identified Jewish prisoners.

Recently, the BOR took the budget crisis in its own hands and amended state regulations to allow nonordained rabbis to serve as chaplains. The amendment, which took more than two years for six state agencies to sign off on, was modeled after a similar Catholic action, which trained deacons and nuns when priests were in short supply. While the move has come under fire by some Jewish chaplains who believe that a lack of rabbinical school will make for unqualified Jewish chaplains, the BOR insists that in order to qualify for chaplaincy, candidates must be knowledgeable Jewishly and qualified to provide guidance to prisoners.

Diamond said that the role of BOR Jewish chaplains is not to judge prisoners, but to listen, provide guidance and education.

The BOR also employs several Jewish chaplains in L.A. County prisons and oversees the Community Services Commission, which sends volunteer chaplains into prisons.

"We take great pride in serving people that are marginalized in the Jewish community," Diamond said. "And you’d be hard-pressed to find a group that is more marginalized than Jewish prisoners."

Got Teachers?


The Shirettes, five peppy women clad in jeans and T-shirts, sang a good morning song complete with hand motions, as one of them strummed along on a guitar. The audience applauded heartily — only instead of the local singing group’s usual nursery school audience, the crowd consisted of the teachers of their regular fans.

The singers kicked off the 22nd annual Early Childhood Institute with an air of youthful enthusiasm that lasted throughout the conference, which was sponsored by the Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE) of Greater Los Angeles, a beneficiary agency of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

More than 900 preschool teachers and directors from Southern California gathered at the Warner Center Marriott in Woodland Hills on Monday, March 18. The event included 57 workshops on topics such as preschool curriculum, child behavior, Judaic studies and time management for teachers. While attendance was high, bureau administrators are extremely concerned about a shortage of teachers.

"It’s not just a local issue; it’s a national issue," said Marsha Novak, chair of BJE’s Early Childhood Committee. "There is teacher shortage across the board in all areas of education. Money is an issue, and we need more training for these teachers."

The problem also extends to a need for more Jewish teachers. "What we’d like to do is bring this issue out of the backroom and into the public eye," Novak said, "We want to bring in all the people in the Jewish community, particularly in the synagogues, where most of our schools exist. We want to get the clergy and the leaders of the congregations involved so they can understand how important and crucial it is."

Rabbi Stephen J. Einstein of Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Fountain Valley is among those who are already aware. At the conference, he held a workshop called, "Children Without Four Jewish Grandparents," which touched on how the Jewish experience is passed on through family.

"Jewish preschool teachers are scandalously underpaid," Einstein said. "If you consider that what we value is what we pay for, then one would get the impression that we value preschool education very little. Now I know that the preschools that we have are not endowed institutions, so we can only charge so much for tuition, and we have to cover all the expenses." He sympathizes with the teachers’ dilemma and feels their need to move on in order to support themselves is justified.

It’s not just the teachers who are subjected to anxiety-provoking situations. Ronald Mah, a licensed marriage and family therapist from the Bay Area, did several presentations on child psychology, including a workshop on childhood stress. In his lecture, Mah gave teachers pointers for promoting emotional well-being in children.

"Children need to endure many things to become strong," Mah said. "[Caregivers] can actually interfere with that by feeling that [children] are weak. Assuming that they’re strong, and allowing them to endure this with sensitivity and support is a real powerful way to build strong children who will become strong adults and strong members of the community."

There were several arts-oriented workshops, including "Tot Shabbat with Cantor Marcelo," featuring Cantor Marcelo Gindlin from the Malibu Jewish Center. With some help from preschool teachers and older children from his congregation, the cantor performed a play about preparing for Shabbat. The presentation included original songs from his new CD. "[At our synagogue], we create and recreate Judaism through the arts,"

While shaking maracas to the beat of one of the Cantor’s songs, Marla Osband, a preschool director at B’nai Tikvah in Westchester, greeted a colleague she recognized, commenting, "It’s so nice to be with other Jewish educators and to feel the synergy." For Kelly Harrington, a first-year preschool teacher at Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades, the conference was about gaining more knowledge. "I want to learn more about different tactics about play and creative materials for the classroom," she explains.

Esther Elfenbaum, the BJE director of Early Childhood Education Services, said she feels that knowledge is the first step in resolving the teacher shortage. BJE’s Professional Development Committee is already planning new initiatives promoting this awareness.

"We’re working on informing the community and letting them know about the shortage," Elfenbaum said. "We’re going to be having meetings with different temples and rabbis to get them to join us in recruiting, training and retaining teachers." In the meantime, the bureau has a teacher mentoring program, an accreditation process, poster sessions to share curriculum ideas and classes on new methodology.

While money is a problem, many teachers continue to stay in the field because of their love for the children. After teaching at a synagogue in Culver City for over 10 years, Esther Abraham decided to stop working. "I thought I would be retired, but I missed the kids!" she said with a laugh. "I just love doing it." Abraham is now teaching preschool at Temple Beth El in Aliso Viejo.

Unfortunately, not all teachers have a strong enough passion or deep enough pockets to stay in the field. Through events like the Early Education Spring Institute and creating awareness in the Jewish community, BJE hopes to make changes to the perception of these teachers. "Early childhood education is not babysitting," Novak said, "It’s the future of our Jewish children. It’s the future of our synagogues. A lot of the synagogue memberships emanate from these programs. This is what we’re trying to address and we’re just beginning the process."

Help Wanted


If the New Economy has let you down and the Old Economy holds no charms, there may be a career opportunity for you in the Shul Economy.

Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), the seminary that trains men and women for professions in Reform synagogues and other Jewish institutions, has been stepping up recruitment in response to a severe shortage of rabbis and other personnel for its congregations.

Scores of temples among the 906 affiliated with the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) can’t fill their pulpits, with some waiting up to two years for new rabbis. Rabbi Eric Yoffie, UAHC president, said he expected the shortage in Reform rabbis, cantors, and religious school educators would continue for another five years and called the situation "the most serious issue facing Reform rabbis now."

The roaring economy of the 1990s turned some attention away from the clergy as a less attractive career choice, the Forward reported in February. Rabbi Charles Kroloff, president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), Reform’s rabbinic organization, said many rabbis have begun to work part time, and many larger congregations have increased their rabbinic staffs. "That just gobbles up the rabbinic supply," Kroloff told the Forward.

HUC-JIR expects to ordain an average of 40 rabbis among its four campuses during each of the next five years, not nearly enough to fill the gap between demand and supply.

Compounding the problem, about a quarter of current Reform rabbinic students don’t want jobs with congregations, citing the long hours and lack of privacy in full-time pulpits; the rigors of congregational life can be especially unattractive to young couples with small children or who are contemplating starting a family.

The past few years have also seen growth in jobs for rabbis away from the pulpit, at colleges, JCCs, hospitals, and a wide range of Jewish organizations.

"I’m not sure what my plans are for after ordination," Mari Chernow, 29, a third-year rabbinical student, told The Journal. "The overcommitted nature of pulpit life is definitely a factor for me. I think you have to work very hard to maintain healthy boundaries…. The ‘senior rabbi at a large congregation’ job doesn’t seem to hold the appeal for as many people as it might have at one time."

The problem becomes severe in more remote Western towns. In Sun Valley, Idaho, the 50-family Jewish community has been searching for a rabbi for months. According to Wood River Jewish Community president Adam Kosler, the congregation has had only a handful of applications and is faced with a limited pool from which to choose.

"In Los Angeles, things are under control, but further south, things are a little dicey," said Rabbi Alan Henkin, director of UAHC’s Pacific Southwest Council.

"I’m very concerned about it," he added. "There’s a trickle-down effect, where people who would normally take part-time positions are in full-time positions." The part-time positions then go begging, he said,without enough rabbinic students in the pipeline to fill them.

The Conservative movement is suffering a shortage of congregational rabbis as well, said Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism (UJ), but, he told the Journal, both UJ and the New York-based Jewish Theological Seminary have seen recent increases in enrollment.

During the past year, HUC-JIR has begun to recruit more aggressively, training rabbis to identify and approach prospective clergy in their communities, becoming more visible on college campuses, and getting the word out to its laity that new students are needed and welcomed.

"We haven’t talked about it enough, the Jewish people as a career path," Rabbi Norman Cohen, provost and acting president of HUC-JIR, said in 1999. "People who are currently professionals in the field don’t talk enough about themselves, about careers of service. Rabbis, cantors, educators in the field really are our best recruitment vehicles."

The Los Angeles campus of HUC-JIR has expanded the role of admissions dean to "director of recruitment and admissions"; Dr. Lewis Barth, president of the Los Angeles school, said his campus "has devoted intensive efforts to this, to find out where we have to go to attract outstanding Jewish people."

The local and national efforts may already be paying off, with the class of 2006 — this year’s incoming group of rabbinical students — projected at 50 students, more than half again the size of last fall’s incoming class.

Both HUC-JIR and the Conservative seminaries have seen growth in students who are pursuing the rabbinate and cantorate as second careers and have begun to view their "lay elite" as a possible source of clergy. Barth, for example, spoke at last summer’s UAHC Kallah in Santa Cruz, a retreat that attracts Reform Jews interested in intensive text study and daily worship, and invited participants to explore careers in Jewish professional life.

Seeing a period of growth for his school, Barth is upbeat, calling the current shortage of congregational personnel a sign of "the enormous success of the Reform movement and other [Jewish] agencies that need professional and spiritual leadership. This is really positive stuff that’s happening."

Henkin, expressing the view from the congrega-tions, is less sanguine about the shortage, saying it will take the seminaries several years to boost their output of clergy. "It’s quite systemic," he said of the crisis, "and it’s going to take us a while to work through it."

Kosher Meat Less Prone to Foot-and-Mouth Disease


As far as foot-and-mouth disease is concerned, it’s good to be Jewish.

Since the outbreak of the disease last month, Jews who keep kosher have faced fewer serious meat shortages than the rest of the British community.

The economics of kosher slaughter have worked in Jews’ favor.

Most kosher slaughterhouses are small, so it makes financial sense for them to keep running even when only small numbers of animals are available for slaughter, said Michael Kester, the executive director of the London Board of Shechita.

And because most kosher slaughterhouses are family-run operations located near the farms that supply them, they were less affected by restrictions on the movement of animals.

"For a change, we’re ahead of the game," Kester said.

Foot-and-mouth is essentially harmless to humans, but it can be fatal to cloven-hoofed animals such as cattle, sheep, pigs and goats.

Farming experts say the fact that animals travel long distances from farm to slaughterhouse is partially responsible for the rapid spread of the disease in Britain.

Kester also said that there has been a notable increase in poultry sales since the outbreak of the disease, as people switch from beef to chicken. Chickens cannot catch the disease.

Community Braces for Flu Shot Scarcity


 

Michael Gabai is on a quest.

The owner and administrator of Ayres Residential Care Home has spent the last two weeks calling physicians, senior centers, grocery stores and pharmacies in search of flu shots for about half of the 18 residents in his facilities who have been unable to get one. Gabai was finally able to secure a reservation for his oldest resident, a 96-year-old, to get vaccinated at a grocery store about 10 miles away.

“We’re scrambling to get it done, Gabai said. “We know how easily [flu] can turn into pneumonia for our elderly clients.”

With the flu vaccine shortage becoming a national — and political — crisis, people working with seniors, like Gabai, are the most troubled.

“Flu is always a concern,” said Molly Forrest, director of the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging (JHA). Vaccinations are normally given to all of JHA’s residents and frontline caregivers willing to be inoculated, she said. However, JHA has not yet received its supply of vaccines from the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, which has promised to deliver them late this month or early in November. Flu season generally spans from November to March, and affects between 10 percent to 20 percent of Americans.

During the 2003-2004 flu season, there were 1,600 deaths from influenza and pneumonia in Los Angeles County, according to the Center for Disease Control. Also, over the last five years, nearly 90 percent of all deaths from flu andpneumonia were among those 65 or older.

Forrest believes they will get adequate amounts of vaccine to cover the residents, but thinks they might need to seek additional doses for frontline staff.

During her nine-year tenure, Forrest said that JHA had not experienced any serious flu outbreaks. When cases have arisen, they have isolated individual buildings or patients in order to contain the spread of the disease.

Jewish Family Service’s (JFS) Valley Storefront and West Hollywood Senior Center had to cancel scheduled flu shot clinics when the Red Cross failed to deliver vaccines as promised, said Lisa Brooks, one of the agency’s directors.

“We’re waiting to see if more supplies become available,” she said. Directors of JFS’s senior centers are in close contact with sources of the vaccine to find out when that might be.

Additional flu shots might soon be forthcoming from drug manufacturer Aventis Pasteur. The majority of its 22.4 million doses, which were promised but not yet shipped to customers, will be routed to entities designated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as priorities. In addition to seniors, those considered most at-risk of developing potentially life-threatening complications from the flu include children under 2 years old (the vaccine is not recommended for babies younger than 6 months old), individuals with chronic medical conditions and pregnant women. According to United Press International, CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding said the agency is mapping areas where the vaccine has been sent and those where it is needed and also tracking flu cases by county to quickly identify flu hot spots.

The flu shot shortage does not seem to trouble early childhood educators.

“I don’t think at this time anyone is particularly panicking,” said Betty Zeisl, director of public relations and communications for the Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE), who noted that at a meeting of early childhood center directors last week “the subject didn’t come up.” (While BJE facilities must conform to federal, state and local guidelines, protocols for dealing with illness are determined by each individual center.)

“I don’t think [the shortage] is going to affect us,” said Angie Bass, director of the early childhood center at Temple Beth Am, who believes that sensationalized media reports are needlessly scaring parents. Bass said that the school maintains routine health precautions such as undergoing regular cleaning, a hand-washing policy for staff and students and a practice of sending children home if they need to wipe their noses more than three times in a 15-minute period.

Bass said that “if it really looked like a real epidemic and not just media hype,” she would send home a letter informing parents and include advice from pediatricians. Thus far, however, none of the pediatricians she has consulted have expressed concern.

“As soon as the pediatricians are worried, then I’ll worry,” she said.

“I think it is a potential problem,” said Dr. Carol Berkowitz, professor of clinical pediatrics at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance and president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “We never know how serious a flu season we will have.”

At the same time, she said that last year was the first year that vaccination was suggested for healthy children between 6 and 24 months.

“Flu vaccine has never been recommended for healthy children over the age of 2 years,” she added.

Berkowitz and others emphasize the importance of following CDC recommendations to help prevent flu. These include avoiding close contact with people who are sick, staying home from work or school if you are sick, covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth and washing your hands frequently. Certain prescription antiviral medications (oseltamivir, rimantadine and amantadine) can either prevent the flu or lessen its symptoms if taken promptly after exposure to the virus — or soon after symptoms begin. Symptoms may include fever, headache, chills, body aches, dry cough, stuffy nose and sore throat.

Unfortunately, even if individuals take precautions, they cannot control the habits of others. As the JHA’s Forrest notes, this is especially true for the most vulnerable populations.

“The very young and very old, who get help from other people, are incredibly at risk because they depend on someone else’s hygiene,” she said.