Letters to the Editor: Aaron Brock, religion and second-hand smoke


Normal on the Inside, Too

The story of Aaron Brock is enormously moving (“A Hunger That Cannot Be Fed,” July 20). I was especially happy to see how the Brock family’s synagogue community gathered to support them, from the rabbi and cantor to the congregants, once they learned of Aaron’s condition and the family’s needs. Too often, either families choose to handle this in isolation, for fear of stigma, or are confronted with what appears to be indifference. I was also pleased that Rabbi Steven Leder knew which community resources would be of help to the Brock family. An invaluable resource for all clergy and parents is the HaMercaz Resource Guide for Families of Children With Developmental Disabilities and Special Needs (hamercaz.org).

I was less happy with the cover headline: “Normal on the Outside.” Aaron is normal on the inside as well — he feels pain, sadness, joy, love, isolation, compassion, as would any child his age and as would any child with a disability. While I realize that The Jewish Journal’s intent was to emphasize the importance of understanding “invisible” disabilities, I would argue that suggesting that Aaron is only normal on the outside defeats in part the humanity of the article.

Sally Weber, LCSW
Encino


Help Israel Navigate Challenging Times

I appreciated David Suissa’s piece “Religion vs. Religion” (July 13). He was able to capture the Charedi draft issue in a calm and balanced way, an approach that is often sorely lacking in the discourse today. However, what a difference a week makes!

With Kadima pulling out of the coalition, thereby threatening what was a rock-solid government with the opportunity to move forward both on resolving the draft issue and perhaps restarting negotiations with the Palestinians, now we have a potential collapse of the government, the embracing of the Levy Commission Report, which attempts to justify the occupation, and the funding of Ariel University with government funds, all of which affect the future of Israel in a negative way. This, in addition to the social protests that included, sadly, the self-immolation of a man in Tel Aviv. All those who care [about] and love Israel, I believe, should be invested in helping our brothers and sisters work through these incredibly important issues by supporting those individuals and groups on the front lines trying to protect Israeli society from the extremist elements in their midst. I couldn’t agree more with Yossi Klein Halevi: “We simply can’t do it anymore.” This applies to any number of pressing issues where the status quo is no longer tenable.

I pray that more Israeli voices echo Suissa’s and help navigate these very challenging times, thereby bringing reason, calm leadership and sound decision making in a sea of uncertainty.

Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater
Pasadena


Prager Incorrect on Risks of Secondhand Smoke

I am an endocrinologist and researcher whose research interest is in the interactions between drugs of abuse and the endocrine system. It is timely that [Dennis] Prager’s recent article on “Why I Voted Against the Tobacco Tax” (June 29), which considers secondhand smoke as a myth, came out the same week that our research on secondhand smoke being associated with higher rates of diabetes and obesity, presented at The Endocrine Society’s 94th annual meeting in Houston, was selected as a press release for being one of the most important findings related to diabetes at the meeting.

Although some studies have suggested a relationship between Type 2 diabetes and secondhand smoking, these studies have not verified exposure to secondhand smoke through serum levels of cotinine. Cotinine is a metabolite of nicotine, and serum cotinine measures a person’s exposure to tobacco smoke.

The National Institutes of Health report by James Enstrom and Geoffrey Kabat, cited by Prager, did not confirm secondhand smoking status by measuring cotinine levels. My colleagues and I used serum cotinine levels to determine primary versus secondhand smoke and examined data from more than 6,300 adults who participated from 2001 to 2006 in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. We found that, compared with nonsmokers, secondhand smokers had a higher measure of insulin resistance, a condition that can lead to Type 2 diabetes; higher levels of fasting blood glucose; a higher hemoglobin A1c, a measure of blood sugar control over the past three months; and a higher rate of Type 2 diabetes. Secondhand smokers also had a higher body mass index (BMI), a measure of obesity, compared with nonsmokers. Current smokers had a lower BMI than nonsmokers but a higher hemoglobin A1c. Our findings indicate that secondhand smoke is not as benign as Prager would like us to believe.

Dr. Theodore C. Friedman
Chair, Department of Internal Medicine
Charles R. Drew University


CORRECTION
An article about Cantor Marcus Feldman (“Sinai Temple Welcomes New Cantor,” July 13) misstated that his prior work included guest cantorial positions. In fact, he served as cantor at Sun City Jewish Services in Palm Desert and as a cantorial intern for four years at Stephen S. Wise prior to becoming second cantor there in 2011.

Why I voted against the tobacco tax


A few weeks ago, California voters narrowly rejected another tax increase not only on cigarettes, but also on those mass murderers — cigar and pipe smokers. As expected, proponents of Proposition 29 blame its defeat on all the money tobacco companies spent on ads against the proposition. Whenever a candidate or vote supported by progressives is defeated, the loss is attributed to money. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was not recalled? This, too, was explained by money, not by the widespread taxpayer revulsion with public employee unions helping to bankrupt states (like California).

On the other hand, in 2008, when then-Sen. Barack Obama became the first major-party candidate to reject public campaign funding and raised more than $740 million in private money, outspending Republican John McCain nearly 4-to-1, no progressives complained that the Obama win was due to money. Nor, it should be noted, did conservatives.

Those who complain about tobacco companies spending against Proposition 29 also ignore the many hundreds of millions of dollars in anti-tobacco ads spent by the state of California and by anti-smoking organizations over the last decades. Not to mention the anti-tobacco messages drummed into young people from first grade through high school.

This California voter saw a total of one anti-Proposition 29 ad and voted against the proposition for many reasons. I suspect that most other Californians who voted against the proposition — the vast majority of whom, like me, do not smoke cigarettes, know how unhealthy they are and are repelled by their smell — did so for similar reasons.

(Full disclosure: I have smoked cigars and a pipe since I was a teenager; my father, 93 years old, has smoked cigars nearly every day for about 70 years, and my sons and I have some of our most wonderful father-son talks over cigars.)

Many of us reject the notion that people — especially poor people, who make up the bulk of cigarette smokers — should have their hard-earned money taken from them at astronomical rates just because they engage in what is a potentially lethal activity.

This will stun anti-tobacco zealots, but given a choice between avoiding health risks and taking away individual liberty, many Americans actually come down on the side of liberty. Moreover, it is, to put it mildly, a morally confused society that uses public funds to pay perfectly healthy women to destroy perfectly healthy human fetuses/babies, but takes away huge amounts of people’s money for engaging in an act that adversely affects only them. (Readers who believe the made-up statistic that 50,000 Americans die each year from secondhand smoke, but who prefer science to propaganda, might wish to read, among many other studies and articles, two that are linked to in the online version of this story. One, on the Your Doctor’s Orders Web site, discusses the myth of secondhand smoke. The other is a National Institutes of Health report on the same topic.)

I warned 20 years ago that the war against tobacco was morally misguided. If morality was the animating impulse, why was there no similar war against alcohol, attempting to tax it out of existence, banning its ads, etc.? Cigarette smokers can hurt themselves, but alcohol is frequently involved in murder and other cases of violent crime, particularly sexual assault; drunken drivers kill and maim tens of thousands of Americans each year; and most child and spousal abuse is accompanied by alcohol. No one rapes, drives into vehicles filled with families, or abuses a spouse because of having smoked a cigarette or cigar.

Too much alcohol impairs the ability of the conscience to function properly. Too many cigarettes or cigars have no impact on the conscience.

If no American drank alcohol, virtually no one in America would die or be maimed at the hands of drunken drivers; child and spousal abuse would be reduced by an incredible two-thirds; murders of strangers would be reduced by about a third; the incidence of rape and other sexual assaults would be significantly reduced; and millions of children would not have the permanent disability of having grown up with an alcoholic parent. (A link to Bureau of Justice statistics can be found in the online version of this story.)

On the other hand, if no American smoked — or, for that matter, if all Americans smoked — it would have no effect on the number of Americans killed or maimed by other drivers; the number of children, spouses or other intimates abused: and no adverse effect on children’s psyches.

What is mind-blowing is that none of these facts matter to the anti-smoking and other health fanatics.

I also warned that, following tobacco, other unhealthy products would be banned or unfairly taxed. Sure enough, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently proposed that the city ban servings of sugar-based sodas in cups larger than 16 ounces.

Having not drunk a sugared beverage since childhood, I think any overweight person who drinks regular soda is making a big mistake. But I would prefer to live in a country of obese citizens who are free than in a country of thin citizens who are not.

There are now calls for banning the sale of popcorn at movie theaters. Eventually, citizens will have to carry calorie cards that limit how much an individual will be allowed to consume in any given day. If health trumps liberty, why not?

When one adds the virtual certitude that most funds from yet another tax would be squandered by the state, there was no good or moral reason to have voted for Proposition 29.

Had the tax passed, many, if not most, of the cigar stores in California would have gone out of business. In addition to costing our beleaguered state more jobs, that would have broken my heart. When I visit one of my favorite places in Los Angeles, Fat Stogies on Ventura Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley, I sit and shmooze with other guys — most recently an Orthodox Jew, an Armenian, a black and one or both of the Arab brothers who own the store — and thank God for an America where men from such diverse backgrounds can so enjoy each other. And I thank my dad for introducing me to the joy of cigars. So, please leave us alone. We’re not hurting anyone.

For two articles on secondhand smoke and a link to Bureau of Justice statistics on alcohol and violence, visit:


Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the Internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).


No butts about it, smoking’s out at more Israeli spots


Smoking was snuffed out at public events and outdoor sites, including the Western Wall, under an expanded anti-smoking measure passed by Israel’s Knesset.

The legislation passed Wednesday, which will take effect next month, also includes a ban on smoking at bus stops and outdoor concert venues. Smokers also will not be able to light up within 10 yards of a medical clinic and a hospital entrance.

Smoking at stadiums will be allowed to continue.

Researchers still exploring science behind medical use of marijuana [VIDEO]


Doctors who write recommendations for medical marijuana have developed an unfortunate reputation. Ask any Angeleno how easy it is to get the drug and you’ll likely hear about storefront practitioners who pointedly ask clients about “back pain.” Wink, wink.

It’s a notion, however, that masks the reality that any physician in California — from the highest-paid Beverly Hills doctor on down — could approve the use of the drug for his or her patients under state law.

But the health risks and medicinal properties of marijuana are still being studied, and until the drug makes its way through standard channels of scientific research, writing recommendations for it is a risk many providers don’t want to take.

Marijuana is classified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a Schedule I substance, meaning that it is defined by federal law as having “no currently accepted medical use” and has a “high potential for abuse.” Other Schedule I substances include heroin and LSD.

It’s a classification with which many medical experts disagree.

The National Institutes of Health and the American College of Physicians believe that marijuana should be further studied as a federally approved drug. And some doctors say the classification doesn’t line up with what is already known.

“I think it doesn’t match the scientific evidence at this time,” said Dr. Igor Grant, a professor and the executive vice chair of the department of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine. “There certainly are good indications that [marijuana] may be useful in some things.”

Grant is also the director of the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research (CMCR) at the University of California, San Diego, which was established in 2000 to study the potential medical benefits of marijuana as well as the inherent risks. The center conducted some of the first significant clinical trials of marijuana since the early 1990s.

In a report released this year by the center highlighting the results of 10 years of research, experts found hope in the drug’s potential. 

“One of the most promising is the treatment of what’s called painful peripheral neuropathy,” said Grant. “People suffer burning, tingling, painful sensations in their feet and hands and arms related to diseases like AIDS, diabetes and spinal cord injuries.”

While treatments for these symptoms exist, including anti-depressants and anti-epileptic medication, Grant said, they don’t always work, and some patients report negative side effects.

Larry David tackles medical marijuana on an episode of “Curb.” Story continues after the jump.

Marijuana also holds promise in treating painful muscle spasms associated with diseases like multiple sclerosis, he said.

“[Muscle spasms] can affect people’s ability to walk and write and do activities of daily life,” said Grant. “It’s another area where marijuana may be useful.”

But, like any other drug — legal or not — marijuana isn’t without risks.

“Everything we ingest has some risks,” said Dr. Itai Danovitch, who serves as the director of addiction psychiatry services in the department of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. “The question is, how do the risks appear for each person?”

Current research suggests that about 8 to 10 percent of people who use the drug will develop an addiction. Danovitch also points to research reporting that the use of marijuana might be a trigger for mental health disorders.

“For people who have underlying risk of things like schizophrenia,” he said, “it appears to unmask that in 1 to 2 percent of the population.”

The acute side effects of marijuana — those that take place at the time the drug is used — are fairly commonly known. They include feeling decreased tension, feeling sedated and possibly hungry. For some users, they include feeling more anxious and even paranoid.

The longer-term effects are less clear, although experts agree that there’s little evidence of a lasting negative impact on the brain. And while marijuana smoke can be irritating to the lungs, it has never been proven to cause lung cancer.

Until the risks and benefits of marijuana are fully understood, though, it’s unlikely that doctors practicing in large medical or academic institutions will be willing to incur the risk of writing a recommendation for patients.

First of all, Danovitch said, marijuana isn’t stocked in most hospitals formularies, which serve as pharmacies to patients.

“Marijuana is definitely not in Cedars’ formulary,” he said.

There are also currently no state or federally regulated growers, aside from some used for federal research, which means that doctors have no way of knowing for certain what they are prescribing. 

Additionally, Grant said, there is no uniform way to administer marijuana.

“Smoking is not a route of administration that’s going to be acceptable for some patients, and not in a lot of settings,” he said. “In hospitals, for instance, you have oxygen tanks, or [in] homes with young children, where you may be worried about secondhand smoke.”

And of course, there’s always the question of the feds.

“It’s not legal under federal law for doctors to prescribe or recommend marijuana,” said Joel Hay, a professor of pharmaceutical economics and policy at the University of Southern California, “so a lot are very leery about doing that — I would argue, the more reputable ones.”

Hay added that doctors practicing out of academic institutions would put their institution at risk by prescribing a federally illegal drug.

“Any doctor that works at an academic medical center like USC or UCLA wouldn’t do this,” he said, “because they would jeopardize all federal funding that institution receives.”

But medical marijuana advocates — activists and researchers alike — believe in the promise of the drug — that, eventually, it has the potential to reach the mainstream as a legitimate way of treating illness and disease.

“From a medical standpoint,” said Grant, “what I would favor is much more serious research on marijuana itself, with much larger clinical trials, and then looking to how the benefits can be delivered ultimately in a different way.”

Jews’ view of the pot initiative? Mixed


Marijuana is everywhere. Smokers come from every walk of life — from the college student to the cancer patient, from the wealthy older couple to the heroin addict who started out just smoking weed.

Jews care about this issue because Jews, like every other group, can be found among those who use, who dispense, who grow, and also those who disdain this all-pervasive drug. In fact, the halachah of pot is not entirely clear.

The Talmud states that the law of the land is the law. But when it comes to pot, what does that mean? State and federal rules on marijuana are rapidly changing. California has legalized medical use and decriminalized recreational possession of small amounts, but many smokers still rely on the black market. And marijuana remains completely illegal under federal law, although enforcement is inconsistent.  Now, Californians face Proposition 19 on the Nov. 2 ballot, a measure that would allow possession, purchase and taxation of marijuana for adult recreational use.

The Jewish perspective on pot is ambivalent, and observant Jews could plausibly take either side of Proposition 19, according to Rabbi Elliot Dorff, a professor of ethics and Jewish law and rector at the American Jewish University. On one hand, Judaism “is very insistent on responsibility for our actions,” Dorff said, meaning that becoming extremely intoxicated on any substance is forbidden. Any drug that harms the body is also forbidden because “in the Jewish tradition, God owns our bodies, and we have a fiduciary relationship to take care of [ourselves],” Dorff said.

On the other hand, marijuana may be more akin to alcohol — a drug that observant Jews may take in moderation — rather than tobacco, which the Jewish tradition frowns upon as dangerous and highly addictive, Dorff said. Where marijuana falls on that sliding scale is an “empirical question,” he added, and the answer may affect how Jews vote on Proposition 19. Schools, synagogues, drug control experts and law enforcement all have a role to play in providing that answer and determining the boundary between the law and making a responsible individual choice.

Cities Rule

The most distinguishing feature of Proposition 19 is how much authority it delegates to cities. Possession of up to 1 ounce would be legal statewide, but California already has made possession of that amount an infraction on par with a speeding ticket. The real meat of Proposition 19 is that cities would become free to make their own rules on regulating and taxing the commercial sale of marijuana to adults over the age of 21. 

“I think they’re trying to make sure cities can opt out, like with liquor stores [or] medical marijuana dispensaries,” said Kyle Kazan, a former Torrance police officer and member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), which supports the measure. “You can zone it away.”

Story continues after the jump.

Opponents, however, see the delegation of authority to cities as a “legal nightmare,” which has become one of the catch phrases of the No on 19 campaign.  “You’re going to have 550 different versions of this law, city by city,” said Rodney Jones, chief of the Fontana Police Department and a Proposition 19 opponent. County sheriffs will have a particular problem, Jones said, because they cross city lines and will be responsible for enforcing small differences in rules on marijuana.

But Kazan said police already handle similar complexity in enforcing various city ordinances on the sale of liquor.  And if the initiative had set a single rule for marijuana sales statewide, supporters worry that “the other side would say, ‘How dare they have a one-size-fits-all solution?’ ” said Hanna Liebman Dershowitz, an attorney and member of the legal committee of Yes on 19.

The Case for Talking to Kids

Even if only a few cities authorize sales, both sides agree that Proposition 19 almost certainly would increase overall use of marijuana in California.  It would be more widely available in stores than it is on the black market now, and it would not be stigmatized as illegal. And unless governments levy huge taxes, it would also likely be much cheaper. The real debate is whether the inevitable increase in use will be more harmful than the status quo.

Drug war veterans have long argued that marijuana physically damages the brain and other organs, but the data on that are inconclusive. “ ‘Reefer Madness’ isn’t true,” said Keith Humphreys, a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine and former senior policy adviser at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy under President Obama. “The [idea that] everyone who picks up a joint has their life ruined is absurd,” he said. 

But that doesn’t mean marijuana is harmless, Humphreys said. “I don’t deny that some people use marijuana and they’re fine, but if a million people pick up regular marijuana use, probably at least 10 to 20 percent will have significantly adverse experiences in life, maybe do badly in school, maybe get in a car accident.” Legal marijuana would be particularly harmful to high school students who are already on the verge of flunking out, he said.

Nobody knows exactly how much usage will increase, but Humphreys predicts the state could add anywhere from 1 million to 3 million new smokers. Vulnerable groups, such as teens and the poor, are particularly likely to smoke more, he said, because they have less disposable income and will be more attracted by the lower price.

Jason Ablin, head of school at Milken Community High School, has worked with high-school students for 20 years, but he’s not convinced that the status quo of criminalization is an effective deterrent, either.

“I think if kids are going to use drugs and alcohol, they’re going to find ways to acquire them — they do it with alcohol already,” Ablin said. “We have a lot of double standards with marijuana use. The association with marijuana is counter-culture, so that becomes a lot more damning than, say, alcohol,” he said.

For Dershowitz, that association is patently unfair. “As we look inward [following] Yom Kippur and the New Year, we also need to look outward to reflect on our actions as a society,” she said. Dershowitz is particularly troubled by the social and legal stigmas that follow a young person who is busted by law enforcement for marijuana, even now that the penalties have been reduced. “We should abhor a system that erases other people’s chances to turn toward the good simply because they’ve chosen an action that we singled out for disdain.”

Instead of focusing on heavy-handed scare tactics and criminalization, Ablin prefers to engage kids in a broader public policy discussion about the way society treats drugs in general. “Because I work in schools, I have a lot more confidence in kids to critically think through problems,” Ablin said. “You’re not getting anywhere with kids by talking at them. [You’ll do] much better work by listening to them.”

Clearing the smoke over hookah usage


You are a good kid. You get good grades, take AP classes and get along with your parents. You never drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes or do any drugs. But every so often, you smoke hookah, because your friends do and it’s fun.

What you don’t realize is that hookah is not only harmful but illegal for minors.

Hookahs, also known as nargila, are Middle Eastern water pipes used for smoking a mixture of tobacco, molasses and flavoring. Over the past five years, they have become increasingly popular in America. Many hookah bars are opening nationwide, and are becoming social hotspots. Smoking hookahs is particularly popular among high school and college students, according to public health authorities.

But most teens don’t know that it’s harmful. For example, at Shalhevet, a Modern Orthodox high school in Los Angeles, 79 percent of seniors, 67 percent of juniors, 88 percent sophomores and 89 percent of freshmen thought that hookah was legal for minors, according to a survey by the Boiling Point, the school newspaper. And fully 92 percent of Shalhevet students thought hookahs were not as harmful as cigarettes.

In reality, serving tobacco to minors is illegal for the cafe, and it’s a misdemeanor for the students, punishable with fines and community service.
And while hookahs have not been studied as cigarettes have, health officials are certain that it carries the same medical risks as any other form of tobacco.

During a hookah smoking session, smokers may inhale 100 to 200 times more smoke than they do smoking a cigarette. That’s because while smoking a cigarette takes approximately five minutes, hookah smoking sessions take anywhere from 40 to 90 minutes.

“Preliminary research on the patterns of smoking, the chemistry of the smoke that is inhaled, and the health effects supports the idea that waterpipe smoking is associated with many of the same risks as cigarette smoking, and may in fact involve some unique risks,” states a 2005 report by the World Health Organization.

The report, which was published in English and in Arabic, said hookah use was spreading from the Middle East to teens and college students in the West and called it “an emerging health threat.”

Students say the appeal of smoking a hookah is not the smoke itself, but rather the atmosphere in the cafes. Hookahs, it is said, does not cause users to get a high; rather, they are a way to pass the time.

While this article, which originally appeared in the Boiling Point, focuses on Shalhevet students, hookah smoking is growing in popularity at nearly all Jewish and non-Jewish high schools.

“Hookah is a very social activity, it’s just fun to sit there in a dark room and smoke hookah with your friends,” says an anonymous Shalhevet junior.

“There are always other teenagers smoking hookah, so it’s a great place to go if you have nothing to do,” said a Beverly Hills High School junior.

On a typical weekend evening, hookah bars are buzzing with college and high school students, talking and relaxing as they eat and enjoy the long releases of smoke that come from hookah pipes, often taking pictures and giggling at the excitement of the activity.

While it is illegal for minors to be served tobacco, according to California’s Unruh Civil Rights Law, hookah cafe owners cannot legally exclude anyone underage from coming into the cafe.

“[My hookah cafe] is a place to come and hang out, there’s no need to smoke hookah,” says Jeremy Bechor, owner of the Chit Chat Hookah Cafe on National Boulevard. “We also have computers to come and check your e-mail. It is just a fun place to be.”

“Everyone goes to hookah bars, whether you’re smoking or not,” Shalhevet junior Yoni Avraham says. “It’s really a fun place to be.”

“Cigarettes are much worse, and hookahs [are] not addictive,” said a Shalhevet senior who did not wish to be named.

But in addition to the higher quantity of smoke inhaled, the WHO report cites other risks:

  • The way the tobacco is burned, usually over charcoal or wood cinders, lets off chemicals such as carbon monoxide, or other chemicals that can cause cancer, and metals which are also inhaled.
  • There is a large risk of second-hand hookah smoke from both the tobacco and the fuels used.
  • Although the water does absorb a little bit of the addictive nicotine, scientists believe that means the smoke contains more of other dangerous chemicals like tar, causing both hookah smokers and secondhand smokers to be at higher risks for all the usual tobacco evils: coronary heart disease; lip, tongue and bladder cancers, and lung cancer and lung diseases.
  • The way a hookah is smoked — through a mouthpiece, which is usually shared by multiple users — often leads to the spread of bacterial diseases and infections.

But the report says more research needs to be done.

“There are very few solid U.S. studies that have been done on the effects of hookah smoke,” agrees Dr. Herman Kattlove, a medical editor at the American Cancer Society, on a Web site affiliated with the National Lung Association. In California, smoking — and that includes any type of tobacco product or paraphernalia — under the age of 18 is illegal, punishable by a fine of $75 and 30 hours of community service.

The hookah may seem safe to teenagers because of the water in the pipe that makes the smoke cool, but until further scientific research, kids may want to put hookah on the not-to-do list along with smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol.

Otherwise, it may cost you $75, 30 hours of community service, your clean record with the police — and your health.

For more information on the report, visit julief@jewishjournal.com.

Pacific Has a Lock on Her Taste for Lox


It was an odd after-school snack for a West Virginia farm kid (Tara), I’ll admit. My big sister and I, tired and famished after an hour on the school bus, would hike up the driveway, throw down our book bags and settle in with a plate of saltines and smoked salmon — really good, wild Pacific smoked salmon. The kind you pay primo prices for at specialty shops.

But we got it for free. My mom had cousins who’d gone out to the Pacific Northwest to seek their fortune and wound up running their own salmon-smoking business. Every year, they’d ship us pounds of the stuff.

It was an expensive taste to develop. Supermarket smoked salmon, which sells for $16 to $36 a pound — not exactly bargain basement — has little in common with the strong, oily, firm variety I crave.

Smoked salmon has four variables you have to consider:

Breed: The best smoked salmon is made from wild Pacific Chinook or Coho salmon. Like all wild things, they have a stronger flavor than their farmed cousins in the Atlantic, where overfishing depleted the wild kind. Less-expensive smoked salmon is often made from the milder pink or chum salmon.

Brine: Our ancestors smoked their salmon so it would keep a long time without refrigeration. First, they’d soak the fish in a salty brine to draw out moisture — bacteria don’t like it dry. Today, we brine our smoked salmon to firm it up and boost the flavor. Sometimes sugar, spices or whiskey are added to the brine for flavor.

Smoke: Salmon can be hot-smoked (at 120-180 F for six and a half hours) or cold-smoked (at 70 F-90 F for up to three weeks). An alder wood fire is traditional, but some Scottish or Irish varieties are smoked over old whiskey barrels.

You know the very thinly sliced smoked salmon at the supermarket, the kind that’s packaged flat like a doily? That’s cold-smoked. Hot-smoking actually cooks the salmon, so it’s firmer and flakier. It’s sold in chunks; it would just crumble if you tried to slice it thin.

Style: These are the names you see on menus and labels: lox, nova, kippered, Norwegian. Let’s take them one by one. True lox isn’t smoked salmon at all. It’s simply salmon cured in strong, salty brine. Have you seen Swedish gravlax on the menu in fancy restaurants? Same thing.

In this country, lox was popularized by Jewish delicatessens at the turn of the century. Before widespread refrigeration, Pacific fisheries packed salmon in salt to preserve it until it got to the East Coast delis. The delis simply soaked off the salt, sliced the lox and sold it.

Nova, short for Nova Scotia-style, is salmon that’s been cured in brine with brown sugar added so it’s less salty, then the salmon is lightly cold-smoked. This is the doily type. It’s mild and tender — or bland and mushy — to my wild Pacific palate. But my colleague, Bob Schwarz, swears it’s the only kind of lox his parents would have in the house. Vive la difference.

Kippered salmon is the vacuum-sealed chunk at the supermarket. It’s hot-smoked for a firmer, flakier texture than nova. Its quality can range from brutal to decent; you’ll just have to taste different brands until you find one you like.

Salmon purveyors have invented many flowery names for their products, but just remember: Anything labeled “Pacific,” “wild,” “hot-smoked” or sold in a chunk will be more strongly flavored and firm than anything thinly sliced and labeled “Atlantic,” “nova” or “Norwegian.”

If you get your hands on a really fine smoked salmon, don’t hide it under fancy trimmings. Savor it on its own, perhaps atop a blini with a little sour cream or creme fraiche.

Saltines are so junior high.

Pasta with Smoked Salmon Cream

This cream sauce is a fine treatment for supermarket smoked salmon. I like firm chunks of hot-smoked salmon, of course, but Rob prefers a tender salmon that sort of melts into the sauce.

8 ounces medium-size pasta (shells, penne, etc.)

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 shallot, minced

2 tablespoons brandy

1 cup cream

Generous pinch cayenne pepper

1/4 pound smoked salmon, flaked

1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil

Put a large pot of salted water on to boil for the pasta. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high head.

Add shallot and saute about one minute. Add brandy and carefully touch a lit match to the surface. When the flames have died, add the cream and cayenne and bring to a lively simmer.

Cook until reduced by half (about 10 minutes). Meanwhile, cook the pasta until al dente and drain.

When the sauce is ready, add the salmon, basil and cooked pasta and toss to coat. Taste to see if it needs salt.

Serves three.


Rob Byers and Tara Tuckwiller write a food column for The Charleston Gazette in West Virginia.

Your Letters


Davis Recall

Does Gov. Davis expect the 67 percent of the Jews that vote for the Democratic Party to become whores and support him for the $40.2 million donated to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Zimmer Museum and the Skirball Museum (“Davis Recall Fight Plays Jewish Card” July 25)?

His Jewish supporters have already been rewarded with:

1. The worst state government in the nation.

2. The state government that is rated last in being business friendly.

3. A massive amount of businesses and jobs leaving the state.

4. A huge amount of money spent on school systems that are failing their students.

5. An $8 billion surplus that was thrown away.

6. A $38 billion deficit.

7. Complete incompetence and bumbling in the so-called energy crises.

As a Jew, I am embarrassed that my fellow Jews continue to support the socialist Democrats of this state. This support of the “progressive agenda” has become almost psychotic; it does not seem to matter that our state is collapsing. They do not face reality.

Laurence F. Almond, Los Angeles

Since when are we Jews and our Jewish politicians defending corrupt politicians? Gray Davis has squandered our tax money and lied to us.

Jews once respected high ethics and honesty, but now Mel Levine says we shouldn’t support the recall, because it will cost too much and bring instability to our government, hurting Jews and other minorities.

What weak excuses! How can he look at himself in the mirror?

The money it would cost is a mere pittance compared to what Davis has already squandered. Why give him a pass for three more years to squander billions more?

Most of all, I resent the use of scare tactics to make us accept the malfeasance of an incompetent, dishonest governor, who will stop at nothing to stay in power. I, for one, refuse to be manipulated by politicians who think they can count on my Jewish vote to enable their nefarious deeds.

Suzi Patrusky, Beverly Hills

It was outrageous for former Rep. Mel Levine to convene a meeting and announce that the “Jewish community” opposes the Davis recall. No one has the right to speak for the whole Jewish population on any partisan political matter — or to put such a matter in Jewish terms.

Levine’s actions weren’t just absurd and undemocratic, they were terribly arrogant and even dangerous. The organized Jewish community, through The Jewish Federation, the Board of Rabbis [of Southern California] and others, should publicly rebuke Levine and emphasize publicly that no one can speak for the Jewish population on a partisan political matter.

Dr. Bruce J. Schneider, Irvine

Smoke or Cheat

In framing his hypothetical moral question, smoking vs. cheating, in absolute terms, without allowing for any variables, Dennis Prager reveals once again his Manichaean worldview (“Prefer Your Teen to Smoke or to Cheat?” July 25).

To Prager, something is either good or it’s evil, black or white, conservative (good) or liberal (bad). That’s why he won’t accept what I think would be the response of most parents, namely, that they wouldn’t want their teen to smoke or cheat.

Are we talking about a 13-year-old junior high student or an 18-year-old college freshman? Did the kid look at a classmate’s paper one time, occasionally copy someone else’s homework or did he break into the teacher’s office and steal the exam as part of a long pattern of cheating? Did she take a drag from a friend’s cigarette one time, does she smoke a couple of times a year or does she have a two-pack-a-day habit? If Prager can’t deal with nuance, context or circumstances, then I submit that he’s the one who’s morally confused.

Finally, I have a few questions for him: Suppose, Mr. Prager, that your 13-year-old smoked two packs of cigarettes a day. Would you encourage him or her to stop? If so, why? If not, why not?

Chuck Mazursky, Westwood

Once again The Jewish Journal lends its space to Dennis Prager to spout his usual uninformed nonsense. He bemoans the fact that more American parents consider smoking to be a greater evil than cheating and the consumption of alcohol, a reversal of attitudes since the 1960s. He also expresses shock that people consider tobacco a drug.

He should be aware that the potential lethal effects of smoking were not a major source of concern to most people in the 1960s, as it is now. Also, that tobacco contains nicotine, a very potent addictive drug, and that over 400,000 Americans die each year from the effects of smoking.

I certainly do not endorse cheating or the abuse of alcohol. But, I would not minimize the very harmful effects of smoking as Prager seems to do, while admitting to the fact that he is a smoker.

Melvin Reier, Northridge

Mourning

Your July 4 cover story, “Mourning on the Fourth of July,” was one that touched me deeply emotionally. I lost my son at age 47 to cardiac arrest two years ago. Time has softened the pain, but the memory grows stronger. And the why goes unanswered. Besides reciting “Kaddish” and planting a fruit tree in my garden named “Randy’s Tree,” I became a member of Compassionate Friends. We all lost a child and console each other and meet at the University of Judaism. For more information, call (310) 889-7726.

Hyman H. Haves , Pacific Palisades

Shinui Weighs In

Tommy Lapid claimed that if Israel does not agree to release Palestinian prisoners, it would put an end to the peace process (“Shinui Weighs In on Releasing Prisoners,” July 11). How so?

The first sentence of Phase I of the “road map” requires that “the Palestinians immediately undertake an unconditional cessation of violence.” If terrorist groups unilaterally decide that an Israeli refusal to release Palestinian murderers from prison will void their temporary truce, it is they who have put an end to the peace process.

Deborah Koken, Costa Mesa

David Meyers

Why does UCLA professor David N. Myers persist in complaining that the Los Angeles Jewish community keeps him from expressing his views (“Open Debate Preferable to Blind Support,” July 18)? In the last three years, he has been quoted, published or discussed in The Jewish Journal approximately 40 times. So how is the debate no longer “open?”

Nathan D. Wirtschafter, Encino

Prefer Your Teen to Smoke or to Cheat?


Decades of lecturing around America and of speaking with parents on my radio show have led me to an incredible conclusion: More American parents would be upset with their teenage children if they smoked a cigarette than if they cheated on a test.

How has this come about? This is, after all, an entirely new phenomenon. Almost no member of my generation (those who became teenagers in the 1960s), let alone a member of any previous generation, could ever have imagined that parents would be angrier with their teenage child for smoking than for cheating.

There has been a profound change in American values. In a nutshell, health has overtaken morality. Or, if you prefer, health has become our morality.

The war against tobacco is both a cause and a symptom of this moral confusion. It has saturated American society with the belief that smoking is wrong, even immoral, not simply unhealthy.

Anti-smoking zealots (the term is redundant) in the California Department of Health Services launched a statewide billboard campaign equating cigarettes with drugs. Parents call my show to tell me that when their children see someone smoking, they say, "Look, that person is using drugs!"

Judges in child custody disputes have imbibed the moral idiocy that smoking tells us something about a person’s character. An increasing number of judges take smoking into consideration when choosing which parent is more fit to raise a child. Millions of Americans agree with these judges that smoking is a moral flaw. That is one reason the government airbrushes cigarettes out of pictures of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and other famous Americans. If a young American were to see Roosevelt smoking a cigarette or Sir Winston Churchill smoking a cigar, what might happen to that child’s wholehearted acceptance of the smoking-is-bad (not merely unhealthy) brainwash?

I smoke a pipe and cigar, and I am amazed at the certitude and chutzpah in the 5-year-olds who have visited my home who confidently walked over to me to tell me I shouldn’t smoke. Had they seen me drinking alcohol, as children regularly see adults do, it would never occur to them to say such a thing.

That we have a war against tobacco rather than alcohol well illustrates the moral confusion of our time. Eighty years ago, when American society warred against a vice, it was alcohol — because the society cared more about fighting evil than fighting potential dangers to health. Alcohol leads to more child and spousal abuse, as well as to murder and rape, than any other single factor. Was one child ever abused because a cigarette or pipe dulled an adult’s conscience? Have any drivers ever killed whole families because they smoked before they drove?

But in this Age of Moral Confusion we have chosen tobacco, not alcohol, as the villain. Because health and living long are our greatest values.

When I was a boy, I attended baseball games where most spectators smoked, but none cursed. Today, there is no smoking at ballparks, but obscene language is shouted out with impunity. We have traded in opposition to firsthand cursing for opposition to secondhand smoke.

So, ask your children if they think you would be more disappointed in their smoking or their cheating. If your child responds "smoking," you are morally failing your child. If you are pleased with that answer, the situation is even worse. If enough Americans prefer that their children cheat than smoke, we are a doomed society. Nor can the issue be avoided by claiming you don’t want your child to either smoke or cheat. That just means you can’t say that cheating is far worse than smoking. You are another American led to believe that healthy and decent are synonymous.

But if you do believe that, ponder these questions: Would you rather your business partner smoke or cheat? Your lawyer? Your friends? Would you feel better if your doctor cheated on medical exams or smoked?

The questions would have been considered absurd a generation ago. The war against tobacco is a symptom and cause of a shallower society. It has done far more harm to America than tobacco. Just ask your teenager.

Dennis Prager hosts his nationally syndicated radio talk show on KRLA-AM 870
in Los Angeles. He is the author of four books, including “Why the Jews? The
Reason for Anti-Semitism” with Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, which will be updated and
rereleased by Simon & Schuster in August. To find out more about Dennis
Prager, visit www.dennisprager.com. or
the Creators Syndicate Web site at www.creators.com.

Smoke Signals


I meet a guy. I’m pretty sure I like him because I haven’t erased the message he left on my answering message. I call my machine from work and listen to it a time or two, smiling and blushing and feeling like a complete idiot.

His voice is soft and deep, a little awkward and exceedingly polite. In fact, it’s the formal nature of the message that thrills me somehow. When I call him back, he asks me out and offers to pick me up across town from where he lives. I suggest meeting him in the middle and he says, “What? I wouldn’t dream of not picking you up.” This, I think, is my version of phone sex.

Next thing I know, I’m sitting at a bar, he’s buying me a drink, I’m trying to be witty, a good listener, trying to arrange my limbs in a way that suggests casual confidence but also provides the most flattering angle. I’ve got a lot on my mind.

But as I’m nodding and smiling, I’m also worrying about The Big Reveal.

It’s not a criminal record or an obsessed ex-husband or a venereal disease. It’s not a personality disorder or a confession that I was a spy. But the awful truth must come out somehow. I smoke.

I’m no John Wayne, sucking down six packs a day, but I do enjoy a handful of daily cigarettes. Call them Cancer Sticks, call them Lung Buddies, call them a really bad habit. Call them what you will, but as I sit sipping my Southern Comfort on the rocks, that pack of Merits in my purse is calling me.

How do I handle the Reveal? I remember a girlfriend telling me that she quit smoking because she was madly in love with her neighbor and she knew her smoking would be a “deal breaker.” That phrase is taking over the background processing sector of my brain. Deal breaker. It echoes in my head like a cheap sound effect.

I barely know this guy, and I don’t relish the idea of introducing any deal breakers, but at the same time, I love to smoke.

I once heard a famous radio doctor report a study which found that smoking fewer than ten cigarettes a day has no proven health deficits. Just to be safe, I try to keep it under six, but I know smoking is a killer. I don’t condone it, I just love it.

Ever since my first pack, a slim gold box of Benson & Hedges Ultra Lights I bought when I was fourteen, cigarettes have accompanied me on road trips, stood by me during break ups, coated my lungs with nerve-soothing nicotine during term papers and finals and the late night composing of countless columns.

When I visit home, I would rather tell my parents I’m responsible for a string of gruesome truck stop murders than admit I smoke. I wait patiently for that peaceful, secret late night smoke on the front porch after everyone’s gone to bed.

I understand the implications of being a smoker; I’m self-destructive, stupid and on a path of ruin. I’m quite sure this is what people are thinking when they shake their heads with a sad expression and say, “You’ve got to quit.”

And I’m not one of those smokers who resents such comments. I know it’s an expression of concern and I do plan to quit when I’m ready. Sure, I see the irony when a person is chowing down a big steak while critiquing my health habits. At times, I want to yell, “Hey, I don’t eat meat, I exercise regularly, I take vitamins, I drink that stupid aloe juice. When was the last time you drank aloe juice?”

But I don’t say that. There’s no point in playing “Let’s attack each other’s vices.” We all have them and in the end, I know mine is the worst of all.

I can’t explain all of this to my date. All I know is that I’m getting an urgent memo from my central nervous system and it says, “Teresa: Please report to the smoking lounge for a Merit.”

The Reveal, I decide, will be like a Latin American political revolution, quick and bloody.

“Do you mind if we sit in the smoking lounge, so I can have a cigarette?” He agrees, without missing a beat, and my Merit and I sit staring at his face for the subtle signs of a broken deal. We see none. I’m anthropomorphisizing a cigarette now and I know that isn’t good.

“Does it totally disgust you that I smoke?” I ask.

“No,” he says. “If you didn’t smoke, you wouldn’t be you.”

I gushingly report this conversation the next day to my friend, the one who quit smoking to avoid the broken deal.

“That’s sweet,” she said. “But guess what? He’s lying.”


Teresa Strasser is a 20-something who writes for The Jewish Journal