Studies look at ways to save Jordan River


Large sections of the lower Jordan River could dry out by next year unless the region’s countries take action, according to two studies.

Some 400 million cubic meters of water are needed to restore the river, the reports have found.

The studies were presented Sunday by EcoPeace/Friends of the Earth Middle East at an international conference held in Amman, Jordan. Jordanian, Israeli and Palestinian experts joined to write the studies.

The section of the Jordan River in danger of running dry runs from Lake Kinneret to the Dead Sea.

Israel, Jordan and Syria divert 98 percent of the Jordan River’s flow for each country’s use.

One report, titled “An environmental flows report on the rehabilitation of the Lower Jordan River,” calls on the governments of the region to work together toward the river’s rehabilitation as a concrete project of the Middle East peace process. According to the study, Israel would contribute 220 cubic meters of water, Syria 100 cubic meters and Jordan 90 cubic meters.

The second study, “An economic analysis of policy options for water conservation in Jordan, Israel and Palestine,” identifies more than 1 billion cubic meters of water that could be saved and made available from the water economies of Israel, Jordan and a future Palestinian state for other purposes, including fairer share and reviving the Lower Jordan River, by stopping poor water practices.

Funding shortage and ignorance hurt pancreatic cancer fight


When Marilynn Lowenstein walked into shul on Rosh Hashanah two and half years ago, her friend, a doctor, took one look at her and sent her to the emergency room. Lowenstein’s skin and eyes were yellow — she was severely jaundiced.

By the time the congregation got to the “who shall live and who shall die” prayer, Lowenstein, now 62, had a probable diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.

The diagnosis didn’t surprise her. Lowenstein’s mother died of the disease at 45, and two of her mother’s uncles had also died from pancreatic cancer. But when she brought up the possibility at every annual physical, her doctors had nothing to offer — there were no early screening tests, and symptoms don’t usually manifest until the cancer has spread throughout the body.

About 95 percent of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer will die within five years, the highest mortality rate of any cancer.

While hard numbers have not yet been established, research has shown that Ashkenazi Jews are slightly more likely to get pancreatic cancer than the general population. Recent studies have linked pancreatic cancer to a mutation on the breast cancer gene that is more common in Ashkenazi Jews than the general population, and researchers are looking for further genetic markers specific to the Ashkenazi Jews.

Because of this new information, Lowenstein believes that the Jewish community should advocate for more funding and research for pancreatic cancer. A handful of new information sources and research are targeting the Jewish population. Johns Hopkins runs the National Familial Pancreas Tumor Registry, with Ashkenazi Jews as a subcategory of that group. A page on the university’s Web site has information specifically for Ashkenazi Jews.

One new study targets the Ashkenazi population as a subgroup of those in the high risk category. The pilot study, run by Johns Hopkins University, is looking for early detection markers among people who have three family members who have had pancreatic cancer.

The first two phases of the study showed success in using endoscopic ultrasound to detect early changes or lesions on the pancreas — 10 out of 109 research subjects with no manifest symptoms were successfully operated on after lesions were detected. The third phase of the study will also include blood markers, CT scans and MRIs. UCLA’s Jonsson Cancer Center is one of five sites conducting the trials.

But such research on the pancreas is relatively uncommon. Without a robust network of survivors to lobby for funding, and with many fewer people diagnosed than with more common cancers — 34,000 to prostate cancer’s 234,000, for instance — pancreatic cancer is one of the least researched and most underfunded cancers.

“We are about where breast cancer research was in the 1930s, and it’s all about the funding,” said Liz Thompson, director of Research and Scientific Affairs for PanCAN, The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.
The Los Angeles-based nonprofit funds research, advocates for more awareness among the general public and the government and runs support services for those with the disease.

About 565,000 Americans died of cancer last year, with lung cancer claiming more lives than any other form. Pancreatic cancer was the fourth leading cause, with 32,000 deaths, not far behind breast cancer’s 41,000, according to the American Cancer Society. The five percent survival rate for pancreatic cancer has remained steady over the past 25 years, while in the past 15 years the breast cancer mortality rate has dropped 2.3 percent every year. About 88.5 percent of the almost 215,000 people diagnosed with breast cancer last year will live past the crucial five-year mark, the American Cancer Society reports.

Lowenstein, who before she became sick taught French and headed the foreign languages department at Hamilton High School, has turned to PanCAN for information and support groups — support she couldn’t find in the Jewish community. While her synagogue, B’nai David-Judea Congregation, has come through with a steady flow of meals, rides and companionship, she can’t help but feel overwhelmed.

“I can’t begin to tell you how alone and scared I feel most of the time,” Lowenstein said.

She has beaten the odds so far. She’s had surgery, several different chemotherapies and radiation treatments, and is now on her second clinical trial. But the tumors have spread throughout her body.

Like Lowenstein, most people don’t detect the cancer until it has spread — and, unlike other cancers, pancreatic cancer spreads at very early stages. Vague symptoms such as abdominal or back pain, or jaundice, can be signs of pancreatic cancer, but they usually aren’t, and since the disease is relatively uncommon, doctors don’t usually go to that diagnosis immediately.

“I think that understanding the causes of the disease and developing early detection are the first steps to really preventing the disease or catching it when we can still treat it,” said Alison Klein, assistant professor of oncology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and director of the National Familial Pancreas Tumor Registry.

People with three close family members with the disease are 32 times more likely to get pancreatic cancer than the general population, and having two affected relatives increases risk nine-fold, Klein said.
Other risk factors include high alcoholic intake, smoking, obesity and age — the disease primarily strikes people who are 70 or older.

In addition to the early detection studies, Johns Hopkins is working on a “vaccine” that would train the body to activate its own immune system when it recognizes proteins from the tumors.

For now, treatments for pancreatic cancer are primitive — mostly chemotherapy and radiation treatments developed for other cancers. No drugs have been developed specifically for pancreatic cancer.

Lowenstein was among the 9 percent of those diagnosed who are candidates for the Whipple surgery, a procedure that removes parts or all of several organs. It is a difficult surgery with a long, painful recovery — and the only chance for beating the disease.

But after the surgery Lowenstein learned the cancer had entered her lymph system. Over the past two and half years, complications from highly toxic chemotherapy and radiation treatments, unresponsiveness to therapies, and continued metastases have qualified her for some clinical trials and dimmed her hopes.

Education in the synagogue should aim for enhanced Jewish living


For professors in a university’s Judaic studies program, Jewish literacy appears to be a straightforward proposition. They can insist on prerequisites, delineate academic standards, articulate a curriculum, impose the extrinsic motivation of grades and design objective tests of students’ achievements. That is because their program is one of Judaic studies, as opposed to Jewish education, and their goal is to impart information, rather than influence behavior.

For synagogue rabbis, Jewish literacy is much more of a moving target. Jewish education in the synagogue aims for enhanced Jewish living, as opposed to striving simply for increased Jewish knowledge. It addresses the mind, heart and soul. It addresses children, adults and families – people at every stage of life, with varied backgrounds and divergent interests.

Nonetheless, it is possible, even desirable, for a synagogue to design and promote a systematic program of Jewish education and enculturation that moves its members toward Jewish literacy. For some Jews, it is sufficient motivation to know that we are commanded to engage in study as a lifelong endeavor – the mitzvah of Talmud Torah.

For other Jews, the synagogue needs to help them understand that active Jewish living will enhance their lives, that a vibrant Jewish community gives them a context for celebrating life’s joys and coping with its challenges, that Jewish texts and rituals give them a vocabulary for expressing the deepest yearnings of their souls and that learning for its own sake can be profoundly rewarding. Often, the greatest barrier for individuals is a lack of confidence and competence. A program that moves its members toward Jewish literacy fills this gap.

There are some Jews who will eagerly respond to such a program and have the time and inspiration to immerse themselves in regular, serious study. The synagogue is obligated to respond by providing opportunities for learning.

But most synagogue members are not prepared to study regularly. The synagogue must respond to this population, as well, by offering introductory programs and then helping it progress beyond the basic classes.

Synagogue membership that is diverse in background, knowledge, experience and interest also challenges synagogue leadership to be teachers of Judaism. That teaching must be guided by the conviction that Jewish literacy is not simply about book learning but also Jewish heritage and life.

To be Jewishly literate, a person need not know everything. Rather, he or she must be familiar with the basic aspects of the religion: the rhythms and cycles of the Jewish year; sacred texts; Jewish history, ethics and values, and the obligations and opportunities of being a Jew. Also, a person needs to know Hebrew – not necessarily to be fluent but at least conversant with the vocabulary of Jewish life.

Jewish literacy is a goal to be sought. Synagogues need to create communities of learning wherein members come to understand that it isn’t so much the attainment of that goal that is meaningful as the journey to get there. l

Rabbi Michael Weinberg is spiritual leader of Temple Beth Israel in Skokie, Ill., and a past president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education.

There’s a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on over Power Plate


Remember those machines from the 1950s that used to jiggle a person’s fat in an attempt to rid the body of cellulite?

These days, a more sophisticated generation of those machines, which vibrate the entire body, is claiming it can do a lot more than eliminate cellulite.

Proponents say whole body vibration can increase muscle strength and flexibility, fight osteoporosis, improve balance and posture, increase circulation and reduce pain.

But skeptics say the claims are highly exaggerated, and that the machines might actually be dangerous. They want consumers to exercise caution if they’re going to use them.

Unlike those old-fashioned machines, the new technology relies on more aggressive vibration to stimulate muscles. One of the most popular, the Power Plate, features a vibrating platform that oscillates 30 to 50 times per second. Each time, it stimulates the nervous system and creates a reflex in the body that causes the muscles to contract.

Recent news reports say celebrities like Madonna and Heidi Klum are using it in their workouts, and the Power Plate Web site lists dozens of college and professional sports teams as using vibration training in their regimens, too.

“You’re getting a lot more muscular activity,” said Dennis Sall, a chiropractor in Mount Sinai, N.Y., who began using the Power Plate to train his patients about a year ago. “This is a great way to jump start the metabolism.”

Ultimately, he said, that causes the body to burn more calories.

Dr. Geoffrey Westrich, associate professor of orthopedic surgery at the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan, said that’s true.

“There’s no doubt that the muscles are contracting, and you’re burning calories and strengthening muscles at the same time,” he said.

However, he thinks it needs a lot more research to back up the claims that the machine can do a lot more than just build muscle.

A quick glance at the “applications” portion of the Power Plate Web site indicates that the device can play a significant role in anti-aging, sports performance and rehabilitation. One section seems to imply that it can be used to treat everything from emphysema to multiple sclerosis to whiplash.

According to Scott Hopson, director of research, education and training for Power Plate USA, dozens of studies using Power Plate have been published in peer review journals, including the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, the American Journal of Geriatrics Society and Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.

“It’s very effective for improving balance, strength and preventing the muscle and bone loss that comes with multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, fibromyalgia and cerebral palsy,” he said. “One of the biggest secondary impairments of degenerative diseases is loss of muscle fibers and the ability to use them.

Vibration is a great for fighting against that.”

Hopson added that studies have shown that vibration can increase blood flow to muscle, tendon and ligament tissues and stimulate the release of hormones that are needed for healing damaged tissues.

But Westrich said it’s not the quantity but the quality of the research that concerns him.

“If you go to their Web site and look at all their studies, there is not very good science behind it,” he said. “I found only a few randomized prospective studies. There is some basic science studies about vibration … but a lot of it has nothing to do with their particular device.”

For example, many of the studies on osteoporosis, which are cited in Power Plate’s information packet, were conducted by Clinton T. Rubin, a professor in the department of biomedical engineering at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Rubin, furious that his studies are being used by the company, said, “I’ve never studied the Power Plate at all, and the vibration magnitude we used was 50 times lower than what they are using.”

Rubin works with a different company that also makes a vibration machine but one that uses much less intensity. He said his research shows that minimal vibration can stimulate bone growth, but he said, “Power Plate misuses that.”

“I’m furious that what Power Plate is doing is dangerous to people,” Rubin said. “It’s dangerous because there is a huge scientific body of evidence that high vibration magnitudes can cause lower back pain, circulation disorders, hearing loss, balance problems and vision problems.”

Dr. Jeffrey Fine recently ordered two Power Plates for two hospitals that he works at.

“Physical medicine rehab is a specialty where we apply different types of physical energy for physiologic benefit,” he said. “We considered this a newly identified modality to treat a variety of different medical conditions.”

Currently, Fine is looking into how the Power Plate will help patients with impaired sensation from diabetic neuropathy. He pointed to studies conducted at Harvard University that demonstrated how other devices that incorporate vibration technology have proven useful in stimulating multiple joints and ultimately improving balance and gait problems.

Westrich still isn’t convinced vibration technology is for everybody. For one thing, he’s not sure how useful it would be to treat osteoporosis in his elderly patients.

“I’m not sure they can tolerate being vibrated like a piece of Jell-O,” he said.

Debbe Geiger is a freelance writer specializing in health and science.

Jewish Studies Bug Bites Parents, Too


Eighteen months ago, when Lenard Cohen’s 4-year-old daughter was enrolled in the family’s congregational preschool, the Philadelphia-area father of three decided to go back to school himself.

He signed up for the Florence Melton Parent Education Program, a Jewish adult education course for parents of preschoolers.

Raised as a Reform Jew, Cohen said he was on the “lower end” of the observance scale when he signed up for the course, which meets once a week, 30 weeks a year, two hours at a stretch, for two full years.

His goal, he says, was to “increase my knowledge of Jewish practice, Jewish history and Jewish ethics, and to be able to pass it on to my children better.”

The course has done that and more, he says, bringing together a group of parents with disparate backgrounds and experiences.

“We’re all there because we’re parents of preschoolers and we want to learn,” he says.

With a number of recent studies showing that preschools have a profound effect on the Jewish life of the entire family, and that greater linkage is needed between preschools and the rest of the Jewish educational and communal network, educators and philanthropists are engaging in new initiatives to bring parents of Jewish preschoolers into the process.

Some of those initiatives are formal, such as the Melton program, which operates in 15 cities, and some are more informal, involving interaction and greater outreach between parents and their children’s school.

“There’s a sense of fragmentation,” says Lyndall Miller, coordinator of the Jewish early childhood education certificate program at Gratz College in Melrose Park, Pa. “Parents don’t have models of how to parent. People don’t talk to each other about how they can build relationships with their children. Schools must become communities, and they don’t know how.”

Simply making the effort to reach out is a crucial beginning, educators say.

Ina Regosin, founding director of the Early Childhood Institute and dean of students at Hebrew College in Newton, Mass., says that when she was director of a Jewish preschool 30 years ago, she’d routinely invite parents into the building when they dropped off their children, “to educate them, of course.”

The school sent home weekly newsletters for the parents to read, and held evening programs on Jewish holidays and other topics.

The best Jewish preschools today all engage in that kind of active outreach to parents, and try to make it part of the natural rhythm of family life.

“Whatever we do for the children we do for the adults,” says Helen Cohen, who 12 years ago founded a preschool at Temple Israel, a large Reform congregation in Boston. Teachers send home weekly newsletters on the Torah portion, with the Hebrew words translated and transliterated. They hold family Havdalah services, and send parents home with clear instructions on how to do the ritual themselves.

Taking part in a Jewish learning experience at their child’s preschool is a nonthreatening way for many parents with little or no Jewish education to increase their own knowledge and feel more at home with Jewish observance.

Sometimes preschools run separate, adults-only classes for parents to study Torah or learn Jewish parenting skills.

“Our families are so assimilated, a lot of them are not comfortable with the rituals,” says Shelley Smith, preschool director at Congregation Beth Israel, a Reform synagogue in Portland, Ore. “We create a safe zone for them to learn from the ground up, together with their children.

Sending kids home on Friday with “Shabbat boxes,” which typically include candles, transliterations of the blessings and challah baked by the child that day in class, is popular at many preschools.

“Who won’t hang the mezuzah your child made on the bedroom door?” Smith says. “Who on Friday night won’t stick candles in the Shabbat candlesticks your child made out of Play-Doh?”

At the Osher Marin JCC preschool in San Rafael, director Janet Harris stands in her front lobby every morning to greet the children and their parents. She shakes their hands and personally invites them to the school’s family programs.

The Osher Marin preschool is one of 12 schools involved in a pilot project by the Jewish Early Childhood Education Initiative, which was launched in 2004 to develop models of preschools that bring the entire family into the project of Jewish learning.

Mark Horowitz, the initiative’s executive director, says that each school receives funding and coaching to deepen the Jewish and developmental content in the classrooms, and to build strong relationships with the parents.

Next year, the program will add 10 to 20 new preschools to the project.

“If we can create communities of Jewish families around these preschools, then they will want to continue their connection with Jewish education and institutions,” he says. “We will have created a craving for Jewish life. It might mean congregational affiliation, or membership in Jewish Community Centers, or Jewish day school — some meaningful way to continue the communities in which they have been flourishing.”

The Melton Parent Education Program is one of two formal initiatives to emerge in recent years. The program, based at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and run out of its North American office in Northbrook, Ill., is modeled after the successful Florence Melton Adult Mini-School curriculum.

“We promote pluralism, text-based study and interactive learning,” says Mitch Parker, director of the program for preschool parents.

“We encourage the parents to realize that what they learn in class is relevant to Jewish family life, and to take the lesson home. We don’t teach the how-tos, but the whys of Judaism and the importance of it.”

This spring, 450 parents are enrolled nationwide. And it’s having an impact.

More of those parents are enrolling their children in day school — the stated goal of the Avi Chai Foundation, which subsidizes tuition for the program. The program is also, in some cases, open to parents of children in the younger grades of day school.

And, Parker says, “We definitely see behavioral changes” among the parent-students. “They admit that after two years, they are doing more Jewish things.”

Deborah Bradley of Walled Lake, Mich., outside Detroit, is in her second year of the program. Her three children all went to a Conservative congregational preschool. The two oldest are now in day school, and the youngest will start next year. The decision to put her kids in day school “evolved,” she says, as she and her husband saw how much they were learning in preschool.

She decided to take the Melton program “not only because of my love of studying, but to be able to delve into topics my children were getting introduced to in Jewish day school.”

Her 10-year-old had been asking difficult questions about Jewish beliefs regarding afterlife, cremation and where she stood on abortion.

“I came in with good knowledge, but getting Tanach references was helpful,” she says, referring to the Bible. “It helps me communicate better with the kids.”

Another formal education program operates in the Boston area and western Massachusetts. Ikkarim, an adult learning program for parents of 1- to 5-year-olds, is run by Hebrew College and Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston. The Ikkarim program operates at several local synagogues. Focusing on Jewish text study, it targets parents of preschool-age children in its exploration of how Jewish values apply to contemporary family relationships.

Regosin of Hebrew College says that it’s critical to offer this kind of outreach to young Jewish parents, because they’re at the point in their lives when they’re making decisions that will affect the Jewish nature of their home for years to come.

“You’ve got families that are so open at this point, especially when it’s their first child,” she says. If the preschool experience is good, they’re more likely to continue that child’s Jewish education, and to send their younger children to preschool as well.

“When a young family makes that choice and walks through the door, it’s a tremendous opportunity,” she says. “If you have teachers and directors committed to strong Jewish education, they can have tremendous impact.”

 

Sonoma Plan Adds Flavor to Dull Diets


Dr. Connie Guttersen is on a mission to make America smaller. Well, perhaps not geographically, but at least to shrink the size of the average American.

Scientific studies have proven that weight-loss diets that are based on moderate amounts of the healthiest types of fats, such as olive oil, fish and nuts, are more effective long-term than traditional low-fat diets. And since the low-fat diet myth was busted recently with the publication of “The Nurses’ Health Study II,” the public is struggling to determine what role fat should play in everyday meals.

Guttersen explains that a moderate amount of the best types of fat make healthy foods taste better. This is the basic premise behind her best-selling book, “The Sonoma Diet” (Meredith Books, 2005), a Northern California spin on the Mediterranean diet that also encourages plenty of wine consumption, setting it apart from many other structured diets.

A 2001 weight-loss study cited in the International Journal of Obesity compared a Mediterranean-inspired diet (moderate in fat) to a low-fat diet and found that the Mediterranean-inspired diet had more long-term success when it came to weight loss and participants adhering to it. It also found that vegetable consumption actually went up in the Mediterranean diet group as compared to the group that ate the low-fat version of the diet.

Many low-fat dieters fail to stick with their plan because the foods they’re eating simply don’t taste good or fail to satisfy their hunger. A common challenge with low-fat diets is that it may also promote an increased dependence or selection of highly refined processed fat-free grains and snacks. This combination is not ideal for individuals challenged by sweet cravings and poor blood glucose control. The Sonoma diet also differs from the famed South Beach Diet in that there is no glycemic index to check.

The type of fat we eat has an affect on health and the success of weight loss more than just focusing on the total amount. Limiting the amount of saturated fats and hydrogenated fats becomes the real issue for healthy weight loss. Saturated fats, such as those found in animal products, tropical oils and hydrogenated fats can actually contribute to obesity and the health related problems associated with being overweight.

The Sonoma Diet, inspired by the Mediterranean and California wine country, combines this healthy way of eating with a weight-loss plan to lose weight and gain health with the most flavorful foods. Beyond low-fat diets, The Sonoma Diet focuses on the ideal balance and type of healthy fats, such as extra-virgin olive oil and almonds in combination with lean meats, wholesome grains, fruits, low-fat dairy and colorful vegetables. Although there is much discussion as to whether a diet should be low fat, low carb or even high protein, The Sonoma Diet recognizes the need to clear away the confusion and form a comprehensive approach.

An eating plan with the healthiest foods in the smartest combinations maximizes the health benefits of all foods absorbed and boosts weight loss. For example, combining a medley of roasted peppers and tomatoes with a tasty vinaigrette made with extra-virgin olive oil, not only enhances the flavor, but boosts the body’s ability to absorb the antioxidants contained in the peppers and tomatoes. A salad of baby spinach and other dark greens sprinkled with toasted almonds makes for a delicious and smart combination when it comes to health. An herb-marinated flank steak served with roasted broccoli sprinkled with toasted almonds, and wild rice is another great way to enhance the health and flavor in these foods.

“These combinations are not only delicious, but they enhance the protective qualities of these foods so as to reduce risk factors associated with many diseases such as heart disease and cancer,” Guttersen explained.

Heart Disease

A diet inspired by the Mediterranean lifestyle, with a moderate amount of fat, is more effective in reducing cardiovascular risk factors as compared to the conventional low-fat diets. Monounsaturated fats, such as extra-virgin olive oil, avocados and nuts contain healthy fatty acids, antioxidants and unique phytochemicals that have been found to offer more cardiovascular protection when it comes to atherosclerosis, stroke and inflammation.

Cancer

Studies have confirmed that a Mediterranean diet, characterized by high consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean meats and healthy fats, such as olive oil and nuts, protects against cancer. Many of the healthy fats contribute their own antioxidants as well enhance the protective actions of other nutrients found in fruits and vegetables which act us a protective factor against cancer risk factors.

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Read All About It


The very thought of editors of Jewish publications gathering in an Oxford manor house cries out for a Rodney Dangerfield punch line.

Yarnton Manor was once a holding of the Spencer-Churchill family, as in Princess Diana and Sir Winston. Juxtapose its dark wood-paneled rooms and sweeping Jacobean gardens with a bunch of hunch-shouldered journalists whose profession is rarely accorded much respect inside their communities, much less among landed gentry — you get the picture. It was easy for me to sit in the manor’s 17th-century great room and imagine generations of Spencers and Churchills cartwheeling in their graves.

But a decade ago, the house was purchased by a Jewish family who turned it over to the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies. The American Joint Distribution Committee’s (JDC) International Centre for Community Development chose it as a convenient midway point for a first-ever gathering of 13 editors and publishers of Jewish publications from North America, Europe and Israel.

The early September meeting was the brainchild of Alberto Senderey, the JDC’s director of international community development. Senderey is a model Jewish professional, and not just because he invited me as one of five Americans included for the four-day symposium in beautiful Oxford.

An energetic, optimistic burst of Argentine energy, he recognized that Jewish media have a unique and underappreciated perspective on Jewish communal life. In increasingly dispersed and diverse communities, Jewish newspapers and magazines can serve as virtual community centers, a place where all voices can be heard and where, in the best of circumstances, all a community’s important issues and problems examined.

Jews have a complicated relationship with the Jews who write about them. On the one hand, they want us to do the stuff of journalism — gather and present news accurately without fear or bias, hold leaders and institutions accountable and present a diversity of opinions, regardless of their popularity.

On the other hand, they want us to do all this without offending them, attacking them, upsetting their fundraising or giving press to points of view they despise. The relationship is often rocky and inherently uncomfortable. We are outsiders writing about outsiders — the Jews of the Jews.

But the JDC, which works with endangered and emergent Jewish communities from South America to Siberia, understands that for many Jews, the local Jewish press is their first or even main connection to Jewish life. In a time when traditional forms of Jewish expression — synagogues, JCCs, federations — have struggled to retain the loyalty of a new generation, Jewish papers and magazines continue to thrive.

Consider this nugget mined from the 2000-01 National Jewish Population Survey: For the majority of Jews in the vaunted 35-44 age range — the ones whose child-rearing will set a new generation on the path toward Jewish life — the No. 1 nonreligious Jewish activity in which they engage is reading a Jewish periodical.

In this age group, 47 percent of Jews belong to a synagogue, 45 percent contribute to nonfederation Jewish charities, 25 percent contribute to their local federation. But these numbers are easily surpassed by the 68 percent who read a Jewish newspaper or magazine.

To some degree, this statistic reflects the general promise of niche publications in an increasingly fractured media market. New Times’ multimillion dollar purchase this week of former rival LA Weekly’s parent company, Village Voice Media Inc., is but one example.

But another possible explanation for this astonishing statistic — how likely is it that 68 percent of Jews would agree on anything? — is that newspapers and periodicals offer a low barrier of entry to Jewish life. There’s no membership, no dress code, no judging. In some cases, as with this paper, there is zero cost, as well. That means people who want to affirm or explore their connection to Judaism can do so easily, every week, at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf.

The fact that young people aren’t joining Jewish organizations doesn’t mean they’re dropping out, said conference participant Gary Rosenblatt, editor and publisher of The Jewish Week in New York. “They’re looking for new ways to identify.”

For a new generation of Jews, the Holocaust and even the Six-Day War are ancient history. The touchstones of Jewishness have shifted, and media outlets, which can change content monthly, weekly or, on the Internet, hourly, are poised to adapt more quickly than synagogues or large organizations. That makes these long-undervalued participants in Jewish communal life more important than ever.

Not surprisingly, Joshua Newman, the editor of the controversial, youth-skewed Heeb, was one of the editors invited. His magazine has successfully explored the intersection of Jewish and secular culture, and has attracted a large audience of the even more elusive 18- to 35-year-old Jews. It has done so, in part, by tweaking or ignoring coverage that traditional Jewish magazines emphasize: Israel, the Holocaust, organized Jewish life.

One thing we editors agreed on was that the nature of our profession is, like much in the Jewish world, changing.

In the not-so-recent past, much of what we wrote about, even as exposes, was parochial compared to the general press: which Jewish organization did what to whom, the latest from Israel, the most notable Jew of the week (astronaut, movie star, baseball player — you name it).

But beginning with the front-page news of the Oslo accords, Jewish news became international news. Certainly after the election of George W. Bush and the terror attack of 9/11, the coverage of faith, ethnic identity and how they dovetail with the world at large took on a vital importance.

“The Jewish story became the national story,” said J.J. Goldberg, editor of The Forward. “Religion reporting became central to all reporting.”

The intifada and the subsequent vilification of Israel in much of the mainstream press only upped the ante for Jewish papers. “We became a source for more accurate reporting,” said Meir Waintroter, who edits L’Arche, a Parisian-based monthly.

In fact, the reality of anti-Semitism in our daily professional life was one glaring difference between the American editors at the conference and their European and Eastern European counterparts. We Americans rarely look over our shoulders to see which non-Jewish enemies will take issue with what we print. For some of our colleagues, such trepidation is a fact of life.

When it comes to such issues as Israel and anti-Semitism, Jewish papers are able to provide depth and context that mainstream papers sometimes overlook.

But here’s the balancing act. Just as we recognize our unique role in providing deeper coverage of issues Jews care about, including unsavory aspects of our own communities, there’s also an element of outreach to our mission. If we define “Jewish” too narrowly, we risk alienating large segments of our current and potential readership.

“If we narrow ourselves to issues that are only Jewish defined,” said one editor, “we fail to appeal to readers who feel that Jews have a universal message. We end up creating a Jewish community where most Jews don’t belong.”

And there are not just a few of those Jews. Originally the youth-oriented magazine Heeb sought to “speak to an alienated voice” of disassociated and disconnected young Jews, said Heeb editor Newman. In so doing, the magazine effectively created a new Jewish community.

That, ultimately, is the threefold power of the Jewish press: to strengthen Jewish community through the practice of journalism, to extend the opportunity of Jewish communal life to as many people as possible and, not incidentally, to provide a first draft of Jewish history itself.

Or, as my fellow Yarnton Manor pal Winston Churchill once said, “History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it.”

 

Spy Kids’ Bar Mitzvah


It’s not easy for a kid to find out that his parents are spies, and that he and his sister have to rescue them from evildoers.

But it’s not as hard as trying to learn Hebrew from scratch in six months for a bar mitzvah — especially when the spy scenario is fictional and the bar mitzvah is real.

So it was for Daryl Sabara, the cherubic red-headed star of three “Spy Kids” films. He and his twin brother, Evan, also an actor who appeared in “Spy Kids,” were bar mitzvahed at Chabad of Brentwood last month after studying with the synagogue’s rabbi, Baruch Hecht, for half a year.

As professional actors, it would have been a cinch for the Sabaras to memorize their Torah portion phonetically, just like many kids who don’t know Hebrew. But the twins really wanted to learn Hebrew — and about their heritage.

“Before this, they didn’t know anything about Judaism,” Hecht told The Journal. The rabbi talked to them about what it means to be a Jew, tefillin, the Torah and the Jewish holidays, like Purim and Passover, which occurred in March and May during their studies.

“Some kids, especially kids with a background of no real religious training, would say, ‘Oh this is just a pain in the neck. Let’s get to the party,'” Hecht said. “Their attitudes were exactly the opposite.”

Daryl Sabara, in Northern California filming “Her Best Move,” about a 15-year-old girl soccer prodigy, told The Journal by phone: “I didn’t want to have a big party or anything. We just wanted it to be meaningful.”

“Our portion was about the story of the red heifer. It’s about somebody who is fortunate, and they try and give a helping hand. That’s the way I [try to] live my life.”

 

Is There a Smart Gene in Ashkenazis?


The idea that some ethnic groups may, on average, be more intelligent than others is one of those hypotheses that dare not speak its name. But Gregory Cochran, a noted scientific iconoclast, is prepared to say it anyway. He is that rare bird, a scientist who works independently of any institution.

He helped popularize the idea that some diseases not previously thought to have a bacterial cause were actually infections, which ruffled many scientific feathers when it was first suggested. And more controversially still, he has suggested that homosexuality is caused by an infection.

Even he, however, might tremble at the thought of what he is about to do. Together with Jason Hardy and Henry Harpending of the University of Utah, he is publishing in a forthcoming edition of the Journal of Biosocial Science a paper that not only suggests that one group of humanity is more intelligent than the others, but explains the process that has brought this about.

The group in question is Ashkenazi Jews. The process is natural selection.

History before science.

Ashkenazim generally do well in IQ tests, scoring 12-15 points above the mean value of 100, and have contributed disproportionately to the intellectual and cultural life of the West, as the careers of Freud, Einstein and Mahler affirm. They also suffer more often than most people from a number of nasty genetic diseases, such as Tay-Sachs and breast cancer.

These facts, however, have previously been thought unrelated. The former has been put down to social effects, such as a strong tradition of valuing education. The latter was seen as a consequence of genetic isolation. Even now, Ashkenazim tend to marry among themselves. In the past they did so almost exclusively.

Cochran, however, suspects that the intelligence and the diseases are intimately linked. His argument is that the unusual history of the Ashkenazim has subjected them to unique evolutionary pressures that have resulted in this paradoxical state of affairs.

Ashkenazi history begins with the Jewish rebellion against Roman rule in the first century CE. When this was crushed, Jewish refugees fled in all directions. The descendants of those who fled to Europe became known as Ashkenazim.

In the Middle Ages, European Jews were subjected to legal discrimination, one effect of which was to drive them into money-related professions, such as banking and tax farming, which were often disdained by, or forbidden to, Christians. This, along with the low level of intermarriage with their non-Jewish neighbors (which modern genetic analysis confirms was the case), is Cochran’s starting point.

He argues that the professions occupied by European Jews were all ones that put a premium on intelligence. Of course, it is hard to prove that this intelligence premium existed in the Middle Ages, but it is certainly true that it exists in the modern versions of those occupations. Several studies have shown that intelligence, as measured by IQ tests, is highly correlated with income in jobs such as banking.

What can, however, be shown from the historical records is that European Jews at the top of their professions in the Middle Ages raised more children to adulthood than those at the bottom. Of course, that was true of successful non-Jews, as well. But in the Middle Ages, success in Christian society tended to be violently aristocratic (warfare and land), rather than peacefully meritocratic (banking and trade).

Put these two things together — a correlation of intelligence and success and a correlation of success and fecundity — and you have circumstances that favor the spread of genes that enhance intelligence. The questions are, do such genes exist and what are they if they do? Cochran thinks they do exist, and that they are exactly the genes that cause the inherited diseases that afflict Ashkenazi society.

That small, reproductively isolated groups of people are susceptible to genetic disease is well known. Constant mating with even distant relatives reduces genetic diversity, and some disease genes will thus randomly become more common. But the very randomness of this process means there should be no discernible pattern about which disease genes increase in frequency.

In the case of Ashkenazim, Cochran argues, this is not the case. Most of the dozen or so disease genes that are common in them belong to one of two types: They are involved either in the storage in nerve cells of special fats called sphingolipids, which form part of the insulating outer sheaths that allow nerve cells to transmit electrical signals, or in DNA repair. The former genes cause neurological diseases, such as Tay-Sachs, Gaucher’s and Niemann-Pick. The latter cause cancer.

That does not look random. And what is even less random is that in several cases the genes for particular diseases come in different varieties, each the result of an independent original mutation. This really does suggest the mutated genes are being preserved by natural selection. But it does not answer the question of how evolution can favor genetic diseases. However, in certain circumstances, evolution can.

West Africans and people of West African descent are susceptible to a disease called sickle-cell anemia that is virtually unknown elsewhere. The anemia develops in those whose red blood cells contain a particular type of hemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen.

But the disease occurs only in those who have two copies of the gene for the disease-causing hemoglobin (one copy from each parent). Those who have only one copy have no symptoms. They are, however, protected against malaria, one of the biggest killers in that part of the world.

Thus, the theory goes, the pressure to keep the sickle-cell gene in the population because of its malaria-protective effects balances the pressure to drive it out because of its anemia-causing effects. It therefore persists without becoming ubiquitous.

Cochran argues that something similar happened to the Ashkenazim. Genes that promote intelligence in an individual when present as a single copy create disease when present as a double copy. His thesis is not as strong as the sickle-cell/malaria theory, because he has not proved that any of his disease genes do actually affect intelligence. But the area of operation of some of them suggests that they might.

The sphingolipid-storage diseases, Tay-Sachs, Gaucher’s and Niemann-Pick, all involve extra growth and branching of the protuberances that connect nerve cells together. Too much of this (as caused in those with double copies) is clearly pathological. But it may be that those with single copies experience a more limited, but still enhanced, protuberance growth. That would yield better linkage between brain cells, and might thus lead to increased intelligence.

Indeed, in the case of Gaucher’s disease, the only one of the three in which people routinely live to adulthood, there is evidence that those with full symptoms are more intelligent than the average. An Israeli clinic devoted to treating people with Gaucher’s has vastly more engineers, scientists, accountants and lawyers on its books than would be expected by chance.

Why a failure of the DNA-repair system should boost intelligence is unclear, and is, perhaps, the weakest part of the thesis, although evidence is emerging that one of the genes in question is involved in regulating the early growth of the brain. But the thesis also has a strong point: It makes a clear and testable prediction. This is that people with a single copy of the gene for Tay-Sachs, or that for Gaucher’s, or that for Niemann-Pick should be more intelligent than average.

Cochran and his colleagues predict they will be so by about five IQ points. If that turns out to be the case, it will strengthen the idea that, albeit unwillingly, Ashkenazi Jews have been part of an accidental experiment in eugenics.

It has brought them some advantages. But, like the deliberate eugenics experiments of the 20th century, it has also exacted a terrible price.

This article is reprinted with permission from The Economist magazine.

 

A Divine Call to Action


Once, on a mission to Israel, we needed a minyan for a prayer service during the airplane flight. We were a total of six men in our group, so we began to scan the plane for the remaining four for the requisite 10 men.

As I went up and down the aisles, one fellow turned to me and said, “Rabbi, make sure you get Jews for the minyan.”

I looked at him in astonishment and assured him that I had no other plans. But why was he worried? He replied that many years ago on a flight to Israel they also needed four men to complete a minyan. They went around calling out “We need four for a minyan — four for a minyan.” Before they knew it, four guys got up and joined them. They handed the men kippot and started the service. Suddenly the newcomers stopped the proceedings and asked what was happening. The others explained that they needed four more men to make the minyan. The newcomers, astounded, said, “We thought you were asking for four Armenians, so we joined you. We are not even Jewish.”

These fellows responded to the call but misinterpreted the message. This week’s Torah portion teaches the same lesson about the importance of hearing the call correctly. The portion begins with the words: “And the Eternal called unto Moses,” (Leviticus 1:1). Our sages point out that this wording is unusual. Generally, in Scripture, we encounter the expression that “God said to Moses” or “God spoke to Moses.” As one rabbi noted, you don’t have to be a biblical scholar or even barely familiar with Hebrew grammar to appreciate that the phrase “and He called” suggests that the mind of the person addressed is not attuned to or in communion with the mind of the speaker. One doesn’t call a person with whom one is in intimate conversation or rapport. One calls a man to attract his attention.

The midrash in the Yalkut Shimoni uses this insight to provide a beautiful homily. The midrash points out that the one who flees from positions of honor and authority, achieves honor and authority. The Yalkut provides many examples of great Jewish leaders who illustrate this principle and comments that Moses represented the best example of all.

The Yalkut tells us how Moses tried to reject the appointment to be the savior of the Jewish people and lead them out of Egypt. God, however, was adamant, and Moses performed admirably. At this point the Midrash comments:

“In the end he brought them out of Egypt, parted the Red Sea, brought down manna from heaven, provided water from the well and quail from heaven, caused them to be surrounded with the clouds of glory and erected for them the sanctuary. Having reached this stage, Moses said, ‘What more is there for me to do?’ And he sat in retirement. Thereupon the Holy One, Blessed be He, reproved him saying, ‘By your life! There is still a task for you to perform that is even greater than that which you have done until now — to teach my children my laws and to instruct them how to worship Me.'”

If “Vayikra,” the call to continue his task, applied to the greatest leader we ever had, how much more does it apply today?

Why, for example, is philanthropy for Jewish causes suffering among the most affluent and generous of Jewish generations?

Why is higher education in Jewish studies absent among the most educated and cultured in Jewish history?

Why is commitment to a Jewish homeland missing after only one generation past the Holocaust?

At a similar juncture in Jewish history, the great sage Hillel asked, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” That question challenges us today to go back to work, “Vayikra,” to achieve a positive response to God’s call.


Elazar Muskin is rabbi of Young Israel of Century City.

Math Problem


It’s spring in Sacramento, and that means the Capitol steps are jammed again with protesters against government cuts — the first protesters to show up in mid-March were thousands of community college students demanding that California taxpayers continue paying the nation’s steepest college subsidies per student.

In light of his March 2 election victories, some say the governor can withstand the emotions that will crescendo this summer, as they have in recent years, with large numbers of wheelchair-bound recipients of state monies zipping through halls to stare down uncomfortable legislators in tense hearings.

He may be able to withstand the emotional pressure, but a bigger question may be whether Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger can withstand the math.

Last year, facing a historic deficit that dwarfed the budgets of some smallish countries, the Legislature cut very little — roughly $4 billion from an operating budget of nearly $80 billion. Now, the governor has proposed $7 billion to $9 billion in cuts for fiscal year 2004-05.

But the Legislature won’t give him all the cuts he wants, and he needs to close a gap of $14 billion. So his 150-person performance review team is scouring the state to identify waste, abuse, fraud and duplication for further cuts.

Mindful of the governor’s popularity, Democratic Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez of Los Angeles, a savvy negotiator, is smoothing the waters between the anti-cut Democrats and the anti-tax Republicans. He’s joined Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco), the unapologetic big government liberal, in saying the Democrats won’t repeat 2003 by digging in their heels for taxes and failing to seek cuts — the stubborn legislative stance that sacrificed their governor.

In a highly unusual shift, the Democrats are holding hearings into how efficiently state programs operate. Nunez said the hearings are designed to cut waste and abuse.

Maybe that’s what the Dems are doing — or maybe not. A major hearing March 15 was on child care, an area with little potential waste.

The hearing seemed designed to make the governor squirm, as people testified about how badly low-income families need child care. Were legislators really trying to show the governor planned to save billions by making sure nobody gets extra milk and cookies?

But there’s still room for optimism. Daniel Pellisier, chief of staff for Assemblyman Keith Richman (R-Granada Hills), said, “It’s heartening to see that the Dems will look toward eliminating waste and inefficiency in the budget before asking taxpayers to pay more money.”

The fresh-thinking Richman, a socially moderate Jewish pol, is one of very few leaders in Sacramento with moderate ideas, so the governor seeks him out regularly.

“Hopefully,” Pellisier said, “in the weeks ahead, the Democrats will look at things that will generate significant savings in areas such as health care administrative costs, the Department of Corrections and the education bureaucracy.”

Still, it’s instructive to look back at December, before Democratic leaders witnessed Schwarzenegger’s last success, when twin Propositions 57 and 58 to refinance the state’s huge debts and put a spending cap on the Legislature won by landslides.

Back in December, Democratic leaders rejected Schwarzenegger’s request to place a true spending cap on the March ballot. The spending cap voters approved, which makes it difficult but not impossible for the Legislature to overspend, was fashioned by the Democrats.

In arguing for a softer spending cap, Burton said, “It is our job to implement our own vision, and that of voters…. We owe voters not just what they think is right at the moment but also our independent assessment of what is best.”

Deploying that philosophy, Burton was the fiercest fighter in Sacramento against budget cuts in 2003. He emerged victorious — if you could call it that.

Californians should expect that by about May or so, after the Democrats’ hearings have failed to find a whole lot of cuts that don’t create fury among the well-padded public employee unions, the two parties’ divergent philosophies will reassert themselves.

As one Republican insider noted, “The Democrats started their waste-cutting hearings with child care? C’mon. What about waste at Caltrans, which we’re told doesn’t have enough money now to pursue many transportation projects? Why do we still pay 7,000 state engineers? Are they sitting, like, with their little pencils poised in the air?”

Sacramento is so resistant to trimming down, that state department heads are notorious for refusing to say where savings exist in their own departments. Richman sued former Gov. Gray Davis’ Department of Finance to get access to reports Davis ordered from department heads showing where they would make 20 percent budget cuts if they had to.

Davis vowed to cut the size of government but later lost his nerve. He refused to show the 20 percent-cut documents to the Legislature for fear of angering public unions.

Recently, Richman lost his suit. The Legislature never did learn what California’s department heads said about where they’d cut.

Schwarzenegger has access to those reports. Among his other difficult tasks, he may become the first governor in years to seek big layoffs or wage cuts from a work force of about 230,000.

The governor has one modest escape hatch. Borrowing can close part of the gap. The $15 billion bond issue approved by voters March 2 to refinance the Davis debt included $5 billion or so in unassigned borrowing. The governor wants to use it over the next three years to close modest budget gaps that persist as he hacks away at deeply embedded overspending.

He might, for instance, direct the money toward the huge Medi-Cal program, now that the courts have said California can’t further reduce the fees it pays doctors without conducting lengthy studies.

Meanwhile, Schwarzenegger and his finance czar, Donna Arduin, are actually seeking out waste and abuse in government. If the Dems launched their efficiency hearings with less than honorable intentions, they will look like phonies and obstructionists by summer, just as several Democrats face down tough legislative races.

If that happens, the students may be the ones on the Capitol steps now, but it is the Democrats who could get an education.

Academy for Adult Jewish Studies to Open


A pilot academy that would give adult students in Orange County certificates of graduation for completing three years of Jewish study expects to accept its first students in September.

The Orange County Academy of Jewish Growth and Learning received funding approval for half its start-up budget from the county’s Jewish Federation in January, after several months of delay.

The intent is to impose a quasi-academic structure on the existing but disparate array of Jewish study already taking place in synagogues, at Bureau of Jewish Education classes and Community Scholar Program (CSP) seminars.

"One quality adults are looking for is some communal recognition that they have engaged in a serious program of Jewish learning," said Rabbi Michael Mayersohn, who will serve as the academy’s dean and sole employee. His job will include advising students on study topics and available resources.

Although the academy’s certificate would not be recognized by accredited institutions elsewhere, the novel approach received much interest last month at a Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., conference of Jewish educators. The 350 educators, administrators and communal professionals, along with education-minded philanthropists, met to devise plans to bring new respect and rewards to the Jewish teaching profession.

"Several were interested in pursuing this," said Joan Kaye, executive director of the bureau, who attended. "No one’s ever done anything like this."

Besides the Federation, the academy will be supported financially by the bureau, CSP and private donors.

For registration information, call (714) 336-0904.

A Forkful of Trouble


Turkey, potatoes and gravy, candied yams — all the foods you love to pile on your plate come Thanksgiving. But you might want to check your blood sugar before you take another helping of mashed potatoes, because if you are one of the many American Jews at risk for diabetes, that extra forkful could spell a whole lot of trouble.

"I’m an Ashkenazi Jew, a meat-and-potatoes guy," said Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who was diagnosed with Type II diabetes in January 2001. "All of these things are off my diet now. No potatoes, not even a french fry."

It is no small irony that November is home to both Thanksgiving, our nationally recognized day of gluttony and sloth, and National Diabetes Month. Diabetes, which affects 17 million Americans, is on the rise in the United States. According to Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, the number of people with diabetes in the United States has risen by nearly 50 percent during the past decade.

The impact of diabetes in the Jewish community is significant. "The prevalence in the Jewish community is greater than in other Caucasian populations," said Dr. Riccardo Perfetti of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Dr. Francine Kaufman, head of endocrinology at Childrens Hospital in Los Angeles and president of the American Diabetes Association, said that lack of exercise at Jewish day schools is compounding the problem.

Diabetes results when the pancreas cannot create enough insulin, which helps the body convert glucose (a sugar) into fuel. Any additional sugar in the bloodstream, from either sweets or complex carbohydrates (like potatoes or white rice) aggravates the condition and increases the risk of fainting or stroke.

Type I diabetes, once known as juvenile diabetes, is rare and tends to be diagnosed at birth or in childhood. The more common Type II diabetes comprises 90 percent to 95 percent of all cases, and can go undiagnosed in many cases.

Although Yaroslavsky’s mother and "everyone on that side of the family" had had diabetes, he didn’t think it could happen to him. He dismissed the symptoms — extreme thirst, fatigue, frequent trips to the bathroom — as the combined result of stress from his busy schedule and age. Yaroslavksy might never have realized he had the disease if not for a bad cold, which led to a routine blood test.

The doctor told him that with diet and exercise he could manage the diabetes and live a normal life, but "if I didn’t, I could have any one of the following: amputation, kidney failure, heart failure, stroke or blindness," Yaroslavsky said.

So he changed his dietary and exercise habits, increasing his jogging routine, and is following a diet of whole-grain bread, chicken, fish, salads and some vegetables and fruits.

Yaroslavsky has no self-pity for the loss of his favorite foods. He calls it "a win-win situation."

"The diagnosis of diabetes will probably add 10 to 15 years to my life, because without it, I would have been eating the junk I ate before and not thinking about the consequences," he said.

Kaufman and Perfetti attribute the large increase in diabetes cases to a lack of physical activity — "God forbid we take the stairs," Kaufman said. She added that when it comes to exercise, schools are the worst culprits, including Jewish ones.

"In schools across the country, there are not enough physical activities to meet the needs of the students," Kaufman said. "Jewish day schools are the same or even worse, because they demand such a high level of academics. I would think that with the root of our religion being the reverence of life, we would stress taking care of our body as being just as important as academics."

Exercise can make a difference in the treatment of diabetes, Kaufman said, noting that one of her patients, Steve Eidelman, a Beverly Hills High School senior diagnosed with Type I diabetes, plays varsity tennis and even ran a marathon in Rome last summer.

In his spare time, Eidelman helps promote responsibility and activity among newly diagnosed youth. "If you are responsible," he said, "there is no reason you cannot control your diabetes.

A number of promising studies are underway to find a cure for both types of diabetes. Perfetti is working on one involving engineering a man-made gene to promote insulin production. He hopes to begin testing on human subjects some time in the next year.

Kaufman is chairing two multicenter clinical trials for the National Institutes of Health: one aimed at diabetes prevention, the other to determine the best treatment for the growing number of children with Type II diabetes.

Both physicians agree that the increase in the disease is a battle that can be won, if more people pay attention to their eating habits, and if they move away from their sedentary ways.

Jewish Studies Flourish on Campus


While the headlines speak of confrontations between pro-Palestinian and Jewish students at California’s public universities, the number and variety of Jewish studies programs on the campuses have never been more bountiful.

Students can earn their doctorate degrees in Jewish studies at the University of California (UC) campuses at Berkeley, Los Angeles, San Diego and Santa Barbara. Master’s degrees are offered at Irvine, Santa Cruz and Davis. Stanford University, a private institution, also offers a doctorate in the field.

Within the last few weeks, a number of developments have added strength and further scope to these programs.

At UC Berkeley, the Jewish studies program received a $5 million donation from the Helen Diller family, which will enable the university to annually invite an Israeli professor to the campus for a full year’s stay.

The California State University system (CSU), whose nearly 400,000 students on 23 campuses make it one of the largest public university systems in the world, has announced the creation of a bachelor of arts major in modern Jewish studies, through a consortium of the Chico, San Diego and San Francisco campuses. A fourth campus, at Long Beach, is scheduled to join this group next year, and the campuses at Sacramento, San Jose and Sonoma are expected to participate further down the road.

In addition, the state is establishing a teacher training program at the newly created Center for Excellence in the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, Human Rights and Tolerance at Cal State Chico; Chico’s reputation as a Jewish studies center has drawn such speakers as Elie Wiesel and Shimon Peres. Holocaust education has been mandatory in California public schools for some time, but the quality of instruction in these courses has fluctuated widely.

Overall director of the three-campus program is professor Sam Edelman, who, teamed with his wife, Associate Dean Carol Edelman, has made the rural residential Chico campus, about 170 miles northeast of San Francisco, a vital outpost of Jewish studies over the past two decades.

"We believe students should have the option of learning about one of the oldest religions and cultures in the world," Edelman said in introducing the new degree program. "The history, culture, literature and politics of Judaism have had, and continue to have, significant impact on the world."

In an interview, the 54-year-old Edelman, whose roundish face is framed by a white beard, ascribed some significance to the fact that he was born in Altoona, Pa., one day before the official proclamation of the State of Israel. Though he said his parents were "very secular," Edelman absorbed "a wealth of Jewish heart" from his grandmother, and additional Yiddishkayt from an itinerant rabbi.

After receiving his doctorate at the University of Arizona, Edelman went to the Chico campus 23 years ago, hoping to introduce some Jewish studies but planning to leave after two years. However, he soon felt at home in "this natural place, distant from the tumult of the outside world," and was also impressed by the support of the non-Jewish faculty for his Jewish studies efforts.

While the new CSU Jewish studies major, which was seven years in the making, will start officially with the 2003 fall semester, a handful of students on each of the three campuses have jumped the gun by enrolling in the program during the current semester.

The bachelor’s program will consist of three basic areas: the Holocaust, Israel and Jewish studies. Majors on the Chico, San Diego and San Francisco campuses will supplement classroom courses on their respective home campuses with online instruction from the other two campuses.

In the planning stage is a master’s of education degree program, focusing on Jewish education or Holocaust-genocide education, through a partnership among Cal State Northridge, Chico, Long Beach, San Diego and San Francisco.

At San Diego State, professor Lawrence Baron, director of the Lipinsky Institute for Jewish Studies, said that currently approximately 560 students are enrolled in courses that include Women in the Bible, kabbalah and modern history of the Middle East.

At San Francisco State, site of some of the most intense clashes between Jewish and anti-Israel students, the new major consists of 42-43 required units through courses in modern Hebrew, Jewish culture and society, history and religion. The current Jewish studies program, headed by professor Laurie Zoloth, offers 11 courses with an enrollment of about 175 students each semester.

John Gemello, San Francisco State’s interim vice president for academic affairs, welcomed the new major for giving "students from all backgrounds more opportunities to learn about the rich culture, literature, history and politics of the Jewish people."

Students Get Religion


The Sept. 11 terrorist attack propelled already soaring interest in religious studies courses at mainstream college campuses in Orange County and around the nation.

Enrollment in religious studies curriculum, climbing for a decade, closed a month before the 2002 fall semester began at Chapman University and Cal State Fullerton. Yet, the subject’s popularity has not translated into an equivalent number of students who major in the discipline. Besides exacerbating a shortage of graduate students seeking admission to theological seminaries, the number in undergraduate religious studies departments remains small. With few faculty members, they typically are comparable in size to other specialty studies programs that focus on women, Asians or Chicanos, all nurtured by ’60s-era ethnic awareness.

Times may be changing, though. One professor predicts that the collapse of business ethics, exposed in recent months by a drumbeat of accounting scandals, is likely to reverse the academic pendulum. Instead of a stampede for practical career training, professor Marvin Meyer, co-chair of Chapman’s religious studies department, expects humanities — and possibly religious studies — will regain favor. “What has been exposed will have a huge impact on business schools,” he said.

Religious studies, whose curriculum draws on history, philosophy, art and ethnic studies, is a de facto liberal arts education. “Intercultural sensitivity holds them in good stead in a place like Southern California,” added professor Benjamin Hubbard, who chairs Cal State University Fullerton’s comparative religion department.

Moreover, studying religion in an academic environment is a more balanced approach compared to synagogue- or church-based Bible study, academics argue. “Temple schools have an agenda,” said professor Arlene Lazarowitz, director of Cal State University Long Beach’s Jewish studies, offered as a minor this fall for the first time. “The university agenda is much more open. You’re not going to get this from a rabbi; he’ll incur the wrath of his board.”

Academic distance from religious studies narrowed after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1961 outlawed Bible reading in public schools. In the opinion of one jurist, academic study comparing religions was preferable to indoctrination, Hubbard recalls. That was the green light for a new scholarly niche.

In academic circles, any lingering hesitancy to embrace the new discipline ended with the 1978 Iranian revolution and the seizure of American hostages.

“As I’ve tried to argue to my colleagues, not to understand the religious component in geopolitical situations is to miss a huge component,” said Hubbard, noting that Osama bin Laden was not the first extremist overlooked by the U.S. government, which supported the Shah of Iran. “Religion is a powerful, powerful factor in human life, often for ill,” said he. About 550 students enroll in Fullerton’s 22 religious studies classes each semester, though only 40 major in the topic.

As political science departments and history majors study fascism and communism, so, too, Hubbard argues, should religious studies students examine religion as a factor in extremism. Its examples make front pages daily: the U.S. abortion debate, Tibet’s Dalai Lama; India-Pakistan hostilities in Kashmir; warfare between Britain and Ireland.

Sept. 11 and the Palestinian intifada underscore religion’s capacity for unabated virulence.

In the ’60s, religious studies appealed to students intrigued by remote Eastern beliefs and discontent with academia’s Western orientation. Today, cultural awareness is far greater because of immigration and globalization. Today’s students wrestle with different questions. “More focus is on ethical and spiritual issues,” said professor Marilyn Harran, co-chair of Chapman’s religious studies department and director of its Holocaust studies center. “We cannot offer a sufficient number of classes to meet the kind of interest there is,” added Meyer. Seven faculty, supplemented by adjunct professors, teach 15 classes each semester, drawing about 450 students. But only 10 a year major in the topic.

To accommodate the few students who want to pursue Jewish studies at public universities, the state college system permits an intercampus major, allowing students to fulfill requirements by enrolling in classes at alternate locations. So far, the consortium consists of California State Universities in Chico, San Diego and San Francisco. Approval is expected in fall 2003 at Long Beach, and at Fullerton soon thereafter, said Lazarowitz. For example, she said, Fullerton students can enroll in Hebrew and American Jewish history at Long Beach, while Long Beach students enroll in Fullerton’s “Introduction to Judaism” classes.

Long Beach established a Jewish studies minor following lobbying in 1999 by Michael S. Rassler, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Long Beach. “This came out of nowhere; this was a bolt out of the blue,” said Lazarowitz, who for years has supervised student teachers at the campus and is an expert in American foreign policy. “I never knew Jewish studies existed.”

Jewish studies at Long Beach remains a virtual department: the emphasis is created by drawing on pre-existing, interdisciplinary classes in history, literature and religious studies. Students include evangelical Christians who want to read the Old Testament in Hebrew, said Lazarowitz. “That’s very important. We don’t want this to be a major for Jewish students, but for anyone.”

In a sign of its commitment to strengthen the fledgling program, Long Beach’s religious studies department recently hired an expert in Judaism, Yechiel Shalom Goldberg, who starts this semester. Goldberg, a former Indiana University professor, specializes in Jewish mysticism.

“Now we can get off the ground,” said Lazarowitz, who expects about 85 students to fulfill the 19-unit minor this year. New to the curriculum is “Literature of the Holocaust,” taught by Carl Fisher, a professor of comparative literature.

Personally, her new academic responsibilities enriched Lazarowitz’s scholarly work. Her most recent research topic is Jacob Javits, the former New York senator who pushed a bill to penalize financially the former Soviet Union for restrictive immigration policies toward Soviet Jews. Her article was accepted for publication next summer in the scholarly Jewish studies journal, Shofar. “I’ve got a new publishing field now, too,” she said.

In the UC system, the Santa Barbara campus has the most mature religious studies program, even granting doctoral degrees. UC Irvine offers a religious studies minor around three core courses, which each quarter fill with 100 students, said Daniel S. Schroeter, the Teller Family professor of Jewish history at UCI.

A major would require a faculty whose primary emphasis is religious studies, and none of the faculty that are currently involved meet that description, Schroeter said. He thinks a religious studies major is likely within a few years.

Patriots Owner Scores Big Among Jews, Too


Robert Kraft, Jewish businessman and philanthropist, nearly leapt through the glass window of his skybox at the Superdome in New Orleans as the clock ticked down and the 20-17 victory over the heavily favored St. Louis Rams brought the team he owns, the New England Patriots, its first Super Bowl title. Along with his wife, Myra, Kraft has been heavily involved in Jewish and non-Jewish projects throughout New England, New York and Israel. The Krafts, in collaboration with Combined Jewish Philanthropies, sponsor the Myra and Robert Kraft Passport to Israel Fund, which has helped thousands of children involved in Jewish studies take an educational trip to Israel sometime between their sophomore and senior years of high school.

In addition, Kraft is the primary shareholder of Carmel Container Systems, Israel’s largest packaging plant.

In 1999, Kraft brought his love of football to Israel in the form of a Kraft Stadium, at the northern end of Sacher Park in Jerusalem, used to accommodate the Jerusalem-based American Touch Football in Israel league.

Kraft’s father, Harry Kraft, was a highly respected leader in the Jewish community of Brookline, a Boston suburb.

Myra Kraft, a 1964 Brandeis graduate and the daughter of Boston philanthropist Jacob Hiatt, has been a trustee at Brandeis since 1988.

Kraft’s Jewish identity has even occasionally trickled into his position as owner of the Patriots.

On Sept. 22, 1996, he asked that the kickoff of a game between the Patriots and the Jacksonville Jaguars be changed to avoid a conflict with Yom Kippur, which started at sundown that evening. — Jacob Horowitz, Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Fat and Fit


Looking at television and magazine ads these days, you’d think the surest route to health is a diet that goes something like this: an apple slice and a thimbleful of skim milk for breakfast, a carrot with a gallon of water for lunch, four grains of rice, one strawberry and a shot of wheat-grass juice for dinner. Most of us resign ourselves to the fact that we’ll never be cover-girl skinny, but that doesn’t stop 40 percent of women and 25 percent of men from trying to lose weight at any given time in the United States. These days, however, the old weight blueprint of five pounds for every inch over 5 feet tall is slowly losing ground, as more and more researchers discover that thinness doesn’t equal health, fitness does. And fitness comes in all shapes and sizes.

“The medical community says we’re eating ourselves to an early grave,” said Glenn Gaesser, professor of exercise physiology at the University of Virginia and author of “Big Fat Lies” (Fawcett 1996), “and it’s a big overstatement.”

Gaesser claims that while there are limits to a person’s weight — a 1,000-pound man, for example, is simply unhealthy — folks 50 or 75 pounds beyond the weight-chart suggestions may be as healthy as someone who nails the chart dead-on. “A 5-foot-4 woman should weigh no more than 145 pounds, according to the chart, [and have] a body mass index of 25,” Gaesser said. “But that woman could probably go up to 200 and not have much to worry about as long as she exercised regularly.

“Studies are quite clear in showing that if you take a fat person of any size and get them eating better and exercising more, their health problems greatly clear up, even if they don’t lose much weight,” he added.

One of the main ways of determining if you’re overweight is by calculating body mass index (BMI) — essentially a ratio of weight to height. The government has determined that a BMI over 25 is considered overweight, which categorically puts those people at higher risk for blood pressure, diabetes, heart attacks, high cholesterol and other problems. But, according to Gaesser, there are 97 million Americans with BMIs over 25, and “probably 90 million are unnecessarily stigmatized and [said to be] destined for an early grave.”

The key to health, many researchers agree, is not weight, but exercise. A good litmus test, Gaesser maintains, is that a man or woman who walks at a brisk pace — say, 3.5 miles an hour, three to five times per week for 30 minutes — would be considered fit enough to achieve health benefits. The 30 minutes can even be incremental, 15 minutes in the morning and 15 in the evening.

Dr. Henry Kahn of the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at Emory University says fat, in and of itself, may not be cause for concern so much as where that fat is distributed throughout the body. Researchers like Kahn have found that abdominal fat poses the greatest health risks but that thigh fat may actually be favorable. “What you read on the scale in your bathroom may not be the best way to measure weight in terms of health risks,” he says. In recent years, a waist-to-hip ratio, measuring circumference, helped determine which people were most at risk, but recent studies have shown, Kahn said, that a waist-to-thigh ratio is “substantially stronger for sorting out the people who are at risk versus those who are not.”

Several years ago, Kahn compared first-time heart-attack victims with a control group who’d come from the same neighborhoods and who were comparable in socioeconomic status, sex, weight and age. What he found was that while the BMIs of the victims were no different from those of the control group, they tended to have higher proportions of abdominal fat and smaller thighs, whereas the control group tended toward larger thighs and less abdominal fat.

The good news, says Gaesser, is that abdominal fat is the easiest to burn and generally comprises only 10 percent to 15 percent of fat on the body. Besides regular exercise, people who want to lower health risks associated with weight gain should maintain a diet with reduced fat and loaded with fiber, he says.

“We think we’re fattening up as a country … [but] actually, only 10 percent of the population weighs over 200…. We’re heavier than we were a generation ago, but only by 8 or 10 pounds,” said Gaesser, whose new book about healthy fitness and healthy fat, “The Spark,” is due out this year. “That’s cause for concern, but we’re not bursting at the seams.”

Religious Studies Resources


Aish HaTorah: 9:30-11:10 a.m. “The Understanding Minyan,” focusing on the meaning of prayers, Hebrew-reading skills and the “how- to” of the synagogue service. Saturdays. Kiddush included. 9102 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 278-8672.

B’nai Horin: Torah classes begin. “Prayer for Everyday Moments.” (310) 470-9390 ext. 105.

B’nai Tikvah: 10:30-11:30 a.m., “Schmooze and Views,” a discussion of current events. Wednesdays. Free; 6:30 p.m., UJ’s Intro to Judaism program for 18 sessions. 5820 W. Manchester Ave., Westchester. (310) 645- 6262.

Chabad of Simi Valley: 2391 Cochran St. (805) 577-0573:

“The Light of Kabbalah,” Tuesdays, 8 p.m.

Shabbat services, Fridays, sunset; Saturdays, 10 a.m.

Chabad of the Marina: 2929 Washington Blvd., Marina del Rey. (310) 578-6000:

Talmud study, Mondays, 8 p.m.

Tanya: Mystical and Chasidic Philosophy, Wednesdays, 8 p.m.

Women’s discussion group, Wednesdays, 8:30 p.m.

Genesis, every second Friday, noon.

Parsha overview, Saturdays, 9:40 a.m.

Mishnah, Weekdays, 6:30 a.m.

Congregation Beth Meier: 8 p.m. Sabbath services Fridays. Saturdays at 10 a.m. 11725 Moorpark St., Studio City. (818) 769-0515.

Congregation Beth Shalom: 8 p.m., Shabbat services, Fridays; Saturdays, 9:30 a.m.; Family night services first Friday of month, 7:30 p.m. 21430 Redview Drive, Santa Clarita. (661) 254-2411.

Etz Jacob Congregation: 6 p.m. Beginner’s minyan followed by Shabbat dinner. Fridays. 7659 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 936-4350.

Happy Minyan Shabbos: 9:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Traditional service every Saturday. Beth Jacob Synagogue, 9030 W. Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills. Free. (310) 285-7777.

The Movable Minyan: 10 a.m. Shabbat services. First and third Saturday of month; 7 p.m., fourth Friday of month: dairy potluck Shabbat dinner. Westside JCC, 5870 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 285-3317.

Or Emet: 8 p.m. Shabbat services. Fridays. 26111 Bouquet Canyon Rd., H-6, Santa Clarita. (661) 291-5106.

Pasadena Jewish Temple: “Get acquainted days.” (626) 798-1161.

Pacific Jewish Center: 10:30 a.m. Shabbat “learner’s services.” Saturdays. 505 Ocean Front Walk, Venice, except the first Shabbat of the month when it is held at the PJC Learning Annex. (310) 392-8749.

Sha’arei Am: The Santa Monica Synagogue: 7:30 p.m. Shabbat services. Fridays. 7:30 p.m., 1448 18th St., Santa Monica. (310) 453-4276.

Sinai Temple: 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 474-1518 ext. 3234:

Early Friday Night Live: 5:45 p.m. Shabbat service for all ages. Second Friday of month.

Family Minyan: (310) 474-1518 ext. 3212.

Torah on the Road: 10 a.m. Shabbat service led my Rabbi Sherre Zwelling. Third Saturday of month. Kiddish to follow service.

Temple Beth Ohr: 7:30-9 p.m. Weekly Torah Study. Thursdays. Free. 15721 Rosecrans Ave., La Mirada. (714) 521-6765.

Temple Knesset Israel: 9:30 a.m. Shabbat services.Saturdays. 1260 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 665-5171.

Temple Ner Tamid of Downey: 8 p.m. Services every Friday. 10629 Lakewood Blvd., Downey. (562) 861-9276.

Valley Beth Shalom Counseling Center: 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 784-1414:

Caregivers support group: For those caring for Alzheimer or other dementia related diseases, first and third Mondays of month.

Weekly widow/widowers support groups: Led by licensed therapist. Suggested donation: $15. Thursdays, 7-9 p.m.

Support group: Newly separated or divorcing. Wednesday.

“Simply Singles”: Building communication and relationship skills.

“Marriage Enhancement Course”: Five-week course for couples contemplating marriage.

Wilshire Boulevard Temple: Adult volleyball, Tuesdays, 7:30-9 p.m.; adult basketball, Thursdays, 7:30-9 p.m.; yoga, Tuesdays, 10:45-11:45 a.m. and Wednesdays, 8-9 p.m., 11661 W. Olympic Blvd., West Los Angeles. (310) 445-1280.


Have Library, Must Travel


To reach David Hirsch’s narrow, cluttered office at UCLA, you traverse bare, labyrynthine corridors in the basement of the University Research Library.

Hirsch, the Jewish and Middle Eastern studies bibliographer at the library, supervises a collection of treasures that range from a 1489 edition of Nahmanides’ commentary on the Torah to one of the best Ladino book collections anywhere. But the treasures remain largely unknown to L.A. Jews, as hidden as Hirsch’s office in the flourescent-lit, underground halls of the URL.

That is something Hirsch hopes to change.

Through his website and other efforts, the librarian is striving to increase public awareness of the library and also his fund raising endeavors. During the 1970s, there was plenty of state money for libraries to purchase books; not anymore. Finding funding is made even more difficult by the fact that there are several other prominent Jewish libraries in L.A., Hirsch says.