Messianics Gather for National Meeting

A Christian megachurch whose clergy has worked with local Jewish leaders in recent years to support Israel gathered last weekend to celebrate Jews who proclaim Jesus as the messiah.

About 1,100 people attended the Jan. 20-21 Road To Jerusalem conference, which took place at megachurch at The Church on the Way in Van Nuys. Christian Zionists bonded with Messianic Jews who maintain Jewish traditions but believe in Jesus.

The major national conference came at a time when Jewish leaders like Anti Defamation League head Abe Foxman have challenged the wisdom of Jews aligning with the Christian right solely because of its strong support of Israel.

Christian Zionists see the existence of modern Israel as a precondition for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, which they believe will be marked by the violent death of millions, including the ingathered Jews. Those who survive the Apocolypse will embrace Jesus.

Jewish defenders of the Christian Zionists say Christian support for Israel outweighs any concerns about end-time theology. But critics point to support for groups like Messianic Jews as proof that these groups pose a threat to Jewish continuity.

“It’s kind of like they have placards that say ‘Israel – yes’ on one side, but ‘Judaism – maybe’ or ‘no’ on the other,” Rabbi A. James Rudin, inter-religious affairs adviser for the American Jewish Committee, told the Associated Press.

Among the conference’s Saturday afternoon speakers was Don Finto, the longtime pastor of Nashville’s Belmont Church. Standing before an audience of more than 900, he said, “I want everybody to sit down except those who are Jewish by birth.”

About 80 people remained standing.

“Your destiny is to bless the nations,” Finto said. “You Jewish people are meant to bless us; we need your blessing, but you need ours. Let’s bless each other.”

These Messianic Jews, often seen as an aberration if not a threat by the Jewish community, have been embraced by evangelical Christians.

Those same Christian leaders are, in other local settings, welcomed by mainstream Jewish leaders for their Christian Zionism. Among those walking the line between the two worlds is the Rev. Jack Hayford of Church on the Way, who has spoken eloquently about Israel at Stephen S. Wise Temple, the Reform congregation in Bel Air. Hayford has brought busloads of his congregants to events sponsored by the Israel-Christian Nexus, which seeks to strengthen Christian and Jewish support for Israel. At the Road to Jerusalem event, Hayford spoke of, “helping the church understand what God’s doing among Jews today and how to relate to it.”

Despite their theological differences, Hayford’s mainstream Jewish friends include Reform Rabbi Steven Jacobs of the Woodland Hills synagogue Kol Tikvah. He holds High Holiday services at Church on the Way.

“Jack Hayford is no Pat Robertson, that’s the best way I can put it,” Jacobs told The Journal. “And you have to discern who you can live with theologically, and Jack Hayford is a person of integrity and never has pushed my buttons in terms of salvation. He respects the Jew for who he and she is.”

The Road To Jerusalem conference was organized by former University of Colorado football coach Bill McCartney, founder of the 1990s Promise Keepers movement for Christian men. As Promise Keepers rallies became smaller, in 2004, McCartney and the Rev. Raleigh Washington, a prominent African American pastor, developed Road to Jerusalem events to create Christian Zionist support for Israel and Messianic Jews.

“We believe according to God’s holy word, the Torah and the New Testament, that when a Jewish person recognizes that Jesus is his messiah, he becomes a Jew who has now found his messiah,” Washington said. “The Jew who believes that Jesus is the messiah believes that the messiah has come. The Orthodox Jew who does not believe Jesus is the messiah, he’s still waiting for messiah. So both believe in the messiah; the question that has to be answered is Jesus really the true messiah?”

Most attendees at the event were Christians, although it was dominated by images of Israel, as well as Jewish-themed vendors, kosher food and men wearing kippahs.

Performing at the conference was a dance troupe from the Messianic Jewish congregation Beth Emunah in Agoura Hills. The troupe’s leader said that out of her 15 dancers, eight were Jewish. Similarly, Messianic Rabbi Eric Carlson’s said he has 280 people in his congregation in Newport News, Va., but that out “of that 280, 100 are Jewish.”

David Chernoff is the son of a Messianic rabbi. He now runs his own Messianic congregation in Philadelphia and is prominent in the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America.

“We love our gentile brethren, but we knew we had to stand on our own two feet,” Chernoff said, recounting early Messianic movement growth in the 1970s. “I never imagined that we in Messianic Judaism would have friends such as this.”

The Rev. Mike Bickle of Kansas City, Mo., spoke at the conference about end-of-times predictions about Israel; in a passing comment, he used the phrase, “unsaved Jews,” and said a Satan-like leader, “will be required to exterminate the Jewish race.”

Messianic Jews at the conference complained about being harassed in Israel for their beliefs and facing immigration problems over Israel’s right-of-return law for Diaspora Jews. When asked about this while speaking at a separate event in Los Angeles last weekend, Israeli politician Natan Sharansky said, “If you change your religion, you don’t have a right to become a citizen by law of return … the change of religion means change of nationality.”

Simple Minds

I shared a ballroom last Saturday night with a group of people whose lives could easily inspire nothing more than pity. Like me, they were attending the annual gala of Etta Israel Center, a Los Angeles-based organization that provides outreach and services to developmentally disabled Jews and their families.

Etta Israel is one of those rare organizations that attracts support — and offers support — across denominational boundaries. So the lobby of the California Science Center, decked out for a private evening affair, was host to bearded, black-hatted rabbis and smooth-shaven, kippah-less types. There were women in cocktail dresses and women in fashionable shaidels. UCLA Hillel Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, whose politics veer left, ran into an old acquaintance, Rabbi Baruch Kupfer, executive director of Maimonides Academy of Los Angeles, and the two men joked about who was going to swing whom over to his side.

Also among these Jewish leaders and financial supporters of Etta Israel were dozens of the young adults and children whose named and unnamed challenges — cerebral palsy, autism, Down’s syndrome and others — are often used as reasons to exclude them from many things that society has to offer, like an education.

The Etta Israel Center runs programs to teach Judaism to developmentally challenged children and young adults, as well as group homes for adults (its third home will open in the Valley in June) and a popular summer day camp. It helps Jewish day schools meet the learning needs of all its students, and has trained thousands of teachers in how to help all children learn through its Schools Attuned programs.

One of the young women in its girls yeshiva program saw me taking notes and approached me.

“She wants to show you her writing,” said the educator I was speaking with. The young woman couldn’t form words, but offered me her notepad, on which she had written several rows of wavy lines. It was just lines — no words, no letters — but it was her writing. She beamed and blushed at once.

In another context, the moment could have inspired pity. But pity is cheap. Like guilt, it’s only useful as a tool to pick the locks on our hearts, to compel us to change, to act.

Surrounded by friends from her class, helped along by the educator and the people at Etta Israel — as well as by parents, like the dozens of committed ones in the room — the young woman struck me as confident and fortunate. She found herself embraced by people who wouldn’t settle for mere pity.

One of the evening’s honorees was Valerie Vanaman, an attorney whose relentless advocacy on behalf of special-needs education has improved the lives of thousands of children and their families.

“Every child is entitled to receive an appropriate educational program,” Vanaman said during her award acceptance speech. It is such a simple idea, but like most simple ideas, it takes people of great intellect to conceive it and men and women of iron will to implement it.

Conversely, the idea that people with mental, emotional or physical disabilities might be barred from partaking in a public or Jewish education is, no matter how cool and rational it may seem, the fruit of simple minds, and it takes no more ability than the slack acceptance of the status quo to realize it. Vanaman railed against challenges to opportunity and funding of special-needs students at the state level, and urged parents to contact their representatives and State Board of Education Superintendent Jack O’Connell to protest the decrease in services. “Lawyers can’t save the day,” she said. “Only parents can save the day.”

The other honoree was David Suissa, the founder of Suissa/Miller Advertising and publisher of Olam magazine. During his speech, Suissa recounted the story of Etta Israel, a teacher who, after retirement, took it upon herself to teach developmentally disabled children at Beth Jacob Congregation for 20 years. Her experiences led Dr. Michael Held to create a center in her name. Again, it was a simple idea: instead of offering pity, offer parity. Extend the beauty and benefits of Jewish learning to those most likely to be left behind. Focus teachers on the students’ abilities, working through — and around — their deficits.

The organization, which has largely focused on the Orthodox community, is looking to be of service to non-Orthodox day schools, as well. Held wants more schools to emulate the model of schools like the CSUN-affiliated CHIME Charter schools in Woodland Hills, where enrollment is 80 percent “typical” children and 20 percent special-needs children. Why can’t the Jewish community, he asked, support a Jewish high school following that model?

A simple, brilliant idea — waiting for people of iron will to make it a reality.

For more information, go to


Hospice Option Gains Jewish Supporters

When Barbara Sherman lay dying, she knew what she didn’t want: She did not want to end up in a hospital; she did not want the neighbors calling 911; she did not want someone sticking a needle in her arm. She wanted no interventions, not even morphine to ease the pain.

“Her greatest gift to us was to let my brother and I observe her dying,” said her daughter, Linda Sherman, who was in her early 40s at the time of her mother’s death at 73, in 2004. “It was so raw an experience, nothing sterile, nothing artificial. It was mom in her surroundings, and she allowed me to be there in the dying process. I saw how beautiful it was, how amazing, life-changing and haunting. As hard as it was, I am grateful to have that.”

In the last few weeks of her life, Barbara Sherman had the help of Jewish Hospice Project-Los Angeles, which offers spiritual end-of-life care for the Jewish community, regardless of religious affiliation. Sherman, whom her family describes as a life-long spiritual seeker, was brought back to her roots upon hearing Jewish songs and prayers in her final days.

The Jewish Hospice Project was co-founded four years ago by Rabbis Carla Howard and Sheldon Pennes, who were concerned that, within a city with more than a half-million Jews, the Jewish community had no spiritual end-of-life care. They made it their priority to administer to the spiritual needs of the dying. Since 2001, the program has provided counsel to more than 600 clients and their families at affiliated hospices throughout Southern California.

And this year, Howard and Pennes established the Jewish Healing Project, which grew out of discussions with their Health Care Advisory Board — made up of oncologists, physicians and alternative health care providers. Their idea is that patients should avail themselves of spiritual care upon diagnosis of a life-threatening illness, when they are still relatively healthy, rather than wait until after they’ve entered a hospice. Howard and Pennes hope the Jewish Healing Project will allow them more time to develop a spiritual dialogue with those who seek help.

Although other Jewish hospices have opened in recent years, the idea of hospice care is still “not very Jewish,” Howard said.

“Bechor Chaim, to choose life, is the Jewish mandate to live life to its fullest,” Howard said. “Particularly for Jews, death is an outrage. How does hospice and healing concur with this image? How does choosing the way we die fit into the mandate of choosing life?”

Howard has long reflected on questions of death and the Jewish community.

For 11 years, she studied Jewish healing and spirituality with Rabbi Jonathan Omerman, well known for his work in Jewish meditation.

“The Torah teaches ‘and you should love your neighbor as yourself,’ and we see that the rabbis added, ‘and provide for them a good death.’ We believe this is the responsibility of the Jewish community,” Howard said.

Howard, who serves as executive director, spends much of her day traveling to clients’ homes, hospitals and nursing homes. She also officiates at funerals. In addition, she sits on the faculty of the doctoring program at the David Geffen School of Medicine and on the bioethics committee of the Santa Monica UCLA Medical Center. Pennes is the rabbi at Temple B’nai Emet in Montebello and serves as chaplain for Trinity Care Hospice, as well as being Jewish Hospice Project-L.A.’s director of patient care.

The rabbis’ hospice program does not charge for services and receives no direct funding from The Jewish Federation, relying instead on foundation grants and fundraising to support its $360,000 budget. Last year, the hospice program received a grant from the Jewish Venture Philanthropy Fund, a project of the Jewish Federation, and has also received grants from the Weingart Foundation, Steven Spielberg’s Righteous Persons Foundation and the Skirball Foundation, among others.

“For those of us who might already have some kind of spiritual vocabulary, getting spiritual counseling is not a big issue,” Howard said, “But for someone without one, it’s a huge turnaround at a time when life is turned upside down with a diagnosis.”

Ron Israelite was one of those. A successful media entrepreneur, Israelite’s focus was his family and his business; spirituality came in a distant third at best. Although raised Jewish, he had stepped away from his faith a long time ago.

After being diagnosed with colon cancer two years ago, Israelite joined an experimental trial program at UCLA. His wife, Betsy, believes that the doctors and researchers extended her husband’s life. But soon, it became a battle of wills, between Israelite and his aggressive cancer. When it showed up in his lungs. Israelite decided to stop treatment and seek hospice care in January 2005.

After accepting this crushing decision, Betsy Israelite recalled, her husband contacted Trinity Care Hospice. A few days later, Howard called and asked to speak to Ron.

Israelite gave the phone to her husband and his journey began.

“Of all the care he received through hospice, Ron looked forward to and benefited the most from his spiritual discussions with Howard,” Betsy Israelite said. “He set up seeing the rabbi like a meeting. Howard engaged his curious mind in what the dying process was all about. She opened up the possibility that this was a new stage of life, a transition into a new place, to be with God. He was really there with her, totally engaged intellectually and spiritually.”

Over the next few months, Howard came to Israelite’s home a couple times a week and they would talk.

“I hadn’t imagined it would be people sitting around laughing and discussing, like in a class,” Israelite said. “But that’s what they did: discussed, argued, laughed, and cried a little.”

Both Howard and Israelite observed how Ron became more peaceful, and started looking younger and younger.

“I noticed how beautiful it was. I mean I was losing my husband, but he seemed content, peaceful,” she said. “It became for him the next part of his journey.”

For her husband, death was no longer a journey alone down a dark corridor, Israelite said: “He knew what was going to be on the other side. He knew it would be God and he was looking forward to it.”

Ron Israelite died two months after entering hospice care. He was 61.

“There is a dance between spirit and body; the spirit is in touch with the body as it breaks down,” Howard said.

Howard defines this dance between body and spirit as a healing process, differentiated from cure. This spiritual healing, she said, differs so radically from what doctors offer that she sees part of her mission as educating physicians, medical students and other health professionals about what spiritual end-of-life care really is.

“Physicians offer many treatments for the terminally ill — feeding tubes, ventilators, etc.,” she said, but they’re typically ill equipped to help families decide when to discontinue treatment that is often invasive and painful. “The family is left with awful guilt: Am I doing the right thing? Am I causing him or her more pain?”

Terminally ill patients who choose to go into hospice prepare for death on their own terms. In practical terms, Howard said, this should include writing an advanced directive, consisting of a living will and the assigning of a health care surrogate. A living will allows an individual to convey wishes regarding future treatment. In a hospice that typically means using only palliative care, or pain management, and having in place a DNR (do not resuscitate) order. A health care surrogate is someone designated to make health care decisions when the patient is no longer able.

Howard believes that one of the most important and powerful repercussions of her organization’s work is to help the dying, along with their families, return to their Jewish roots. In Barbara Sherman’s case, the family buried their spiritually adventurous mom in a Jewish cemetery, something that was undecided before Howard began her visits.

For Ron Israelite, who had strayed far from Judaism, it meant coming home.

To learn more about Jewish Hospice Project-Los Angeles and the Jewish Healing Project, visit, or call (310) 785-0856.

Task Force Reviews Access for Disabled

Childhood polio didn’t slow Jay Kruger. Although he couldn’t run, Kruger led a normal life as a teenager and into adulthood. Now, like other seniors experiencing post-polio syndrome, his strength is receding. To get around, three years ago he began relying on an electric wheelchair that he controls with a joystick.

While federal laws require public buildings to provide access for the handicapped, Kruger still encounters restaurants without ramps, public restrooms with hard-to-open doors that trap him inside and theater seating that is spitting distance from the screen. One quarter of the nation’s population cope with either physical or cognitive disabilities.

“People with two good legs, it doesn’t hit them,” said Kruger, who recently toured the recently opened Jewish Community Center (JCC) in Irvine to critique its accessibility for the handicapped.

Kruger had another motive, too. He is a member of a special Jewish Family Service (JFS) task force, which this fall will survey for the first time the needs and barriers of the physically and mentally disabled at synagogues, day schools and other Jewish institutions in Orange County.

It is hoped the Jewish Federation-funded survey will identify synagogues or programs that address needs of the disabled, which can be a model for others. The subject is a sensitive and complex one, as it will put a spotlight on community support for special services and conflicting attitudes over how to provide those services.

Findings initially will be compiled as a local Jewish resource guide, said Mel Roth, JFS executive director.

“When you find yourself with a child with special needs, it’s a maze out there,” said La Rhea Steindler, a JFS case manager and counselor, who is leading the 18-member task force, and is a mother of children with disabilities. “If it takes you three years to identify special needs, you’ve lost three precious years and have the emotional damage that goes with it.”

“If we shorten that process, we may prevent it,” she said.

The task force includes representatives from local Jewish groups, like the Jeremiah Society, as well as county service providers.

“It’s a very difficult job to get the community to recognize there are people among us who can’t benefit from society,” said Rose Lacher, who for 20 years has tried without success to establish a Jewish group home for mentally disabled adults in Orange County. She founded the Jeremiah Society, a social club of 30 members that draws participants from outside the county, reflecting the scarcity of such services.

“There are a lot of barriers,” Lacher said. “Some people just don’t want to hear about people who are different.”

“Using a public restroom has nothing to do with being Jewish,” said Joan Levine, who trains special education teachers at Cal State Fullerton. Levine, the author of a vocational guide for Orange County’s disabled, is dyslexic and has attention deficit disorder. She also is a JFS task force member.

Even so, she pointed out, observant Jews with disabilities face some particular hurdles. As an example, she said, turning off a hearing aid on Shabbat is considered an act of work, which is prohibited. Levine recalls having to seek permission from a religious court to use a sign language interpreter at a bat mitzvah where a deaf relative was to be called to the pulpit.

While day schools and supplemental religious schools willingly enroll special needs students, few are staffed with teachers expert in their needs. Some training is available locally through a little-known group, Special Needs Learning Partnership, formerly known as Jewish Education For All. The group provides highly regarded training in special-needs instruction for religious school teachers, hosts experts for talks with parents and teachers, and supplements teacher salaries.

“It’s the best-kept secret,” said Linda Shoham, the partnership director and also a member of the JFS task force. In the coming year, partnership-trained teachers will offer special-needs religious school classes at Fountain Valley’s Congregation B’nai Tzedek and Huntington Beach’s Congregation Adat Israel.

Yet even when such resources are available, many parents with special-needs children prefer mainstream classes rather than a specialized one, which can be stigmatizing.

During the JCC tour, Kruger was pleased to learn the fitness staff includes Angel Luna, a victim of cerebral palsy, who is a rehabilitation specialist. Luna’s expertise with stroke and heart-attack victims would serve the disabled, too, said Sean Eviston, the JCC athletic director.

“He fits a niche perfectly that is lacking in most commercial gyms,” Eviston said.

Kruger was equally impressed with a submersible chair, allowing the wheelchair-bound to be immersed in the swimming pool.

“I’ve never seen another one,” he said.
But entering a JCC restroom or the senior center was a considerable effort for Kruger from his wheelchair.

“There are people with walkers who will have more difficulty than I getting through all those doors,” said Kruger, none of which open automatically. For those reasons, Kruger gave the JCC a “B” grade. “I couldn’t give it an ‘A.'”

Irvine Campus Set for Grand Opening

The Bermans and Michaels expect their daily routines and social lives will alter substantially mid-August because of membership in the county’s greatly expanded Jewish Community Center (JCC), relocated in Irvine.

"I’m looking forward to that sense of community, of running into people and they are not in their cars," said Jackie Michaels, of Irvine, whose family of six were JCC devotees elsewhere.

"It’s exciting for us to have everything so central to us," added Mark Berman, 37, of Newport Coast, whose first JCC experience was at the Costa Mesa facility’s preschool where his wife, Sharon, volunteered. Their third son is among 230 preschoolers who will be the first to swarm over the center’s pristine playgrounds and classrooms.

Four years after its genesis, the community building for the JCC and six other Jewish agencies officially opens Aug. 15. It is the centerpiece of the nearly $70 million Samueli Jewish campus, a symbol both of the community’s maturation and a hoped for renaissance of Jewish cultural life.

Met initially with skepticism by many of the community’s leaders, the project’s principal champion gradually won support for an envisioned Jewish neighborhood.

"That was my motivating factor," said Ralph Stern, of Tustin, who shouldered the task of raising the center’s $20 million tab, defining how it would run and reshaping its staff.

Since 2000, Stern, who runs a dental financing business, seized every business trip as a chance to scrutinize other JCCs. Such an undertaking didn’t faze the center’s president, either. Mary Ann Malkoff develops buildings for religious clients. (A tribute lunch for Malkoff is scheduled Sept. 12 as new JCC board members take office.)

The center’s catalyst was the constraints on growth at nearby Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School. Its founder, Irving Gelman, coveted six adjacent acres for expansion. As the landowner refused to subdivide the parcel, industrialist Henry Samueli bought the adjoining 20 acres and an anonymous donor agreed to underwrite the upper-school expansion, a combined gift of $40 million.

"It’s the kind of opportunity you can’t let go by," Stern said.

Since he likens philanthropy to investing, Samueli said the community building is already a success. "It’s rallied so much support; the community has really stepped up. To contribute time and money, you know they all believe in it," he said.

A month of special events will follow to showcase the sort of services possible. A full fall programming catalog is to be distributed in August and most programs would start next month. Sampler programs include pilates, chamber music, a mitzvah camp, swim teams and a triathlon.

Also new is the hiring of Rabbi Rebecca Schorr as the center’s director of Jewish education, a move that initially raised territorial hackles by some pulpit rabbis. Allaying competitive concerns, Schorr said she’s focused on one-day adult education topics, preschool Judaica and serving as the staff’s pastoral counselor.

Despite higher annual fees that upset some members of the former Costa Mesa facility, more than 760 "units," comprised of singles or families, were committed as of mid-July. The tally includes 100 seniors, 40 of whom took advantage of scholarships, said Dan Bernstein, the center’s executive director.

Bernstein hoped for 500 members as of Aug. 1. His first year target is a 1,000-unit average, which he predicts will be reached by August 2005 as the roster ascends to 1,300 units.

"Nobody doesn’t come here and go ‘wow,’" said Bernstein, hired in December for his know-how opening a similar sized facility around an aging JCC in Sarasota, Fla.

With characteristic reserve, Stern is not yet popping celebratory corks.

"The feeling of exhilaration, I haven’t felt it yet," he said. Several loose ends remain, such as delivery of a $15,000 Holocaust monument. "When you have 25 of those details, there is still a lot of work to be done," he said.

Some gifts toward a $3 million endowment for the center’s overhead are still to be finalized, Stern said, though one significant piece recently fell into place. The former Jewish campus, a gift from Sandy and Allan Fainbarg and Ruth and Arnold Feurstein, was sold for $5 million to a developer. Proceeds will fund the center and the agencies’ transition costs, Stern said.

Even before the doors open, Michaels can anticipate a sense of entitlement: "It’s a place where you know you belong."

Tull Lends a Hand to the Homeless

What is a homeless shelter? The definition really upsets Tanya Tull.

“A shelter is a place to stay for the night,” she says, raising her voice. “But a shelter is not the answer. Shelters are not going to solve the problem.”

Tull is referring to Los Angeles’ high cost of housing and the resulting homelessness. She first started worrying about those on the streets in 1980, and now, 24 years later, Tull is fighting against a real estate boom that prices the low-wage earners out of the housing market and federal aid cuts that exacerbate the problem. Tull outlined the issue with hard numbers in a March Los Angeles Times article: 8,000 children sleep on Los Angeles streets every night, 5,000 families will lose their Section 8 housing in 2005 and 15,000 families will lose their houses over the next five years.

But she isn’t content with worrying. As the president and CEO of Beyond Shelter Inc., an organization that helps people find permanent housing as quickly as possible and then supports them with services for a period of time, Tull is one of several Jewish Angelenos — like David Grunwald, chief executive of L.A. Family Housing Corp, and Ruth Schwartz, executive director of Shelter Partnership of Los Angeles — who is devoting her career to getting people off the streets and into homes.

“When I started doing this work, my aunts and grandmothers asked me why am I not doing it in the Jewish community,” said Tull, 61. “I answered that this feels right. I am working in third-world America. And if we don’t do this, who will?”

Tull’s programs have been so successful — in 2001 she helped 5,000 families with rental support services and put 220 homeless families into permanent housing — that she is now working with the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the National Alliance to End Homelessness, both based in Washington, D.C., to implement them in other cities across America.

After seeing Beyond Shelter’s five-floor office space in downtown Los Angeles and hearing Tull talk about her myriad programs, it’s hard to imagine that she didn’t even know what a nonprofit was when she started. She plunged headfirst into the world of organized charities and it was her idealism and bullheaded belief in making a difference that drove her success.

After she spent time on a kibbutz in her early 20s, she returned to Los Angeles as a single mother; Tull then worked as a social worker in South Los Angeles and Skid Row and then quit out of frustration because “there was so much poverty and hopelessness and I couldn’t do anything about it.” In the ’70s she briefly retired from changing the world — something she said she wanted to do when she was younger — got teaching credentials and settled down to raise her three children.

But when she read a Los Angeles Times article in 1980 about children living in Skid Row hotels, she was so incensed that she created a nonprofit on her living room table called Para Los Ninos (For the Children). Tull started raising money for a daycare center in a converted warehouse and eventually set up a host of programs for babies and children up to the age of 5.

“Then I began thinking more about the families,” she said. “It really bothered me that these children needed to go home to these hotels every night. I went to the Community Redevelopment Agency of L.A. and asked them where the affordable housing was, and they said there was none and they weren’t building any because the government had pretty well slashed affordable housing.”

Tull got to work. She co-founded the L.A. Family Housing Corporation in 1983 and developed a low-income housing project in South Los Angeles. She wanted the project to function similar to a kibbutz. She envisioned someone providing childcare while the residents tilled a communal vegetable garden. But the experiment failed, and it taught Tull a lesson in her fight to end homelessness.

“Housing is a basic human right,” she said. “It can’t be a reward for good behavior.”

Tull also realized that emergency shelters were only going to “recycle” the homeless, and in 1988 she started Beyond Shelter to get people into permanent homes.

Now Beyond Shelter has an annual budget of more than $4 million and works to build affordable rental units and revitalize neighborhoods, create relationships with the landlord community so it can advocate on behalf of people who have bad credit ratings and numerous evictions on their record, help people find jobs and offer support services to poor families.

And Tull wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.

“There were many other things I could do [as a career] and I often wonder about them,” she said. “But I don’t think I could ever have given up this experience of being able to impact so many lives.”

For more information on Beyond Shelter, visit  or call (213) 252-0772.

Members Rally to Save Centers

In a forceful display of support for the beleaguered Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center (JCC), an estimated 150 preschoolers, teachers and parents rallied March 23 in front of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles to protest the possible closure of their thriving JCC.

Protestors, many clad in orange T-shirts stamped with the word "Shalom," cheered speakers who alternately pled for the center’s survival and criticized The Federation and the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA) for failing to do more to save it. Holding placards that read "Save Our Center," and "They Don’t Sing Shabbat Songs at Strip Malls," JCC members chanted, "Let my people stay!" Passing cars honked in support.

"If we don’t speak now, we’ll be gone," said Nelson Handel, a 44-year-old freelance journalist who attended the march with his 3-year-old son, Charlie. "We’ve become a real estate Ping-Pong ball. When [The Federation and JCCGLA] look at our building, they see dollar signs, not the faces of our children."

The clock is ticking.

JCCGLA has received several offers of $2.4 million or more for the Silverlake property, organization President Randy Myer said. Silverlake supporters, whose $1.8 million bid JCCGLA recently rejected, have until March 26 to submit another offer.

Some JCCGLA board members have said they would accept $2.1 to save the center. However, if the JCC eventually went under, JCCGLA would want any profits from the sale of the property, JCCGLA executives said.

The two-hour rally at The Federation came less than a week after an emergency meeting at the Valley Cities JCC, which is scheduled to shut down in late June. JCCGLA, which owns Silverlake and Valley Cities, said it must sell the JCCs to pay off its debts, including $2.2 million to The Federation, $450,000 to banks and $1 million to a special agency fund it tapped during the systemwide crisis two and a half years ago.

Critics blame JCCGLA for financial mismanagement and the declining health of the city’s community centers. They are equally upset with The Federation for failing to forgive JCCGLA’s debts and deeding the properties to JCC supporters.

Federation Chair Harriet Hochman said The Federation could do only so much given the demand on its resources.

"We’ve got people living below the poverty line, people not getting the proper food," she said. "We are up to our necks in needy Jews here. They’re our first responsibility."

She said The Federation has discussed forgiving a portion of JCCGLA’s debt so that the group will have resources to support the operations that remain under its control. However, Hochman said she expected JCCGLA to sell both Silverlake and Valley Cities because of that agency’s shaky financial condition.

In related news, JCCGLA directors voted March 23 to create separate, independent boards for the Westside JCC, the Zimmer Children’s Museum and the Shalom Institute. The future of the Conejo Valley JCC is still under discussion with center leaders.

Silverlake members said they feel especially frustrated because their center has grown enrollment and makes a small surplus, despite receiving no Federation funding. By contrast, The Federation gave the West Valley JCC $1.3 million last year. That center is located on Federation’s Milken campus in West Hills.

The demonstration at 6505 Wilshire marks a shift in tactics by Silverlake leaders from behind-the-scenes accommodation to in-your-face confrontation. They recently ran a full-page ad in this paper asking The Federation and JCCGLA to work with them to save the center.

"Mommy and Daddy say you are fighting about money," a caption beneath a picture of a little girl read. "When we disagree at school, we use our words and talk about it. Why can’t you?"

Federation President John Fishel said he doubted the Tuesday morning demonstration would be the "silver bullet" that would help the Silverlake group buy the property or continue offering services there. JCCGLA President Myer echoed Fishel’s sentiments.

"I don’t think it helps the board to feel warm and fuzzy toward that community when we’re being accused on all sorts of negativity," she said, adding that JCCGLA directors wouldn’t allow emotions to color any decisions.

Neither Fishel nor JCCGLA officials accepted invitations to address marchers.

Valley Cities supporters gathered March 17 to buoy their spirits and come up with ideas to save the money-losing center, which is scheduled to shut down June 30. Children spoke of the JCC’s importance, center veterans spoke about its history and Valley Cities officials assessed blame and offered a mixed picture of the center’s prospects.

"The JCC is kind of like my second home," said 12-year-old Jeffrey Bejian, who attends Valley Cities along with his two sisters. "If it closed, I don’t know what I’d do. I’d lose [almost] every single one of my friends."

The gathering had been billed as an emergency town hall meeting to demonstrate the community’s support for Valley Cities. A large banner hanging from the JCC read, "Our Community Center Is Not for Sale." Envelopes soliciting donations to buy the center blanketed every chair in the cavernous auditorium.

In a potentially ominous sign, only about 150 people showed up to the event. That compared to a standing-room-only crowd of more than 400 who turned out 2 1/2 years ago when JCCGLA first threatened to shutter the JCC amid its crisis. JCCGLA later rescinded the threat after coming under intense pressure.

Valley Cities leaders have asked JCCGLA for an extension to give them time to raise money to purchase the JCC, and, in the meantime, continue to operate the center. Center supporters received a dose of bad news recently when JCCGLA’s real estate appraiser valued the property between $3.2 million and $4 million, well above the $2.5 million estimate. That higher price tag makes it that much more difficult to raise money to buy the center.

Also, JCCGLA’s continued ownership might scare away potential contributors, said Miry Rabinovitch, a former Valley Cities board member whose three children attended the JCC. She said JCCGLA’s inability to right its finances since the last crisis made her and others reluctant to donate money, lest JCCGLA waste it.

"I refuse to give anything, much as I’d like to," she said.

Former Valley Cities President Tom Herman thinks both JCCGLA and The Federation bear equal responsibility for the center’s plight. In his opinion, the organizations have long favored two "super centers" on the Westside and West Valley rather than several smaller and older ones.

Federation President Fishel disputed that characterization. As a reflection of The Federation’s support for area JCCs, he said his group allocated $220,000 late last year for Valley Cities. At the time, he added, The Federation was not aware of the depth of the center’s financial problems.

Fishel said The Federation would not single-handedly prop up the center, although it would work with Valley Cities’ leadership to come up with a plan to save it or provide like services elsewhere.

JCCGLA, like The Federation, has allocated thousands of dollars to troubled Valley Cities over the past year. In 2003, the agency earmarked $300,000 to fund operations, cover the deficit and for such capital improvements as repainting the JCCs auditorium and replacing its 400 chairs. Lieberman Giladi said JCCGLA had not made a mistake by pouring money into Valley Cities, even though board members have worried about its financial stability since last spring.

"I absolutely believe they should have been given an opportunity to give it a go," she said. "You have to take that risk to see if they had the chance at viability."

Michael Brezner, Valley Cities board president, thought supporters might yet keep the JCC open. Still, he admitted it won’t be easy.

"In any business, you need money in the bank to operate, and Valley Cities doesn’t have any money in the bank," he said. "JCCGLA was the bank."

An Experience Worth the Price of Admission

When it came time to talk about the high price of High Holiday tickets, The Jewish Journal thought there would be no better person to chat with than Ron Wolfson. He’s spent more than 15 years with the University of Judaism (UJ), both as dean of the school of education and director of the UJ’s Whizen Center for the Jewish Future, studying Jewish ritual and the place it plays in everyday life (he’s even written a series of four books on the subject called "The Art of Jewish Living.")

Wolfson is also a co-founder of Synagogue 2000, a national, interdenominational project that’s working to help synagogues beef up their role as spiritual centers through prayer, study and social justice.

So what is his expert opinion when it comes to those $100 and $150 price tags on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur seats? Are the charges really necessary? Is the cost too high?

Wolfson’s take: looking at the issue in these terms misses the point. The controversy over High Holiday tickets isn’t about the rights and wrongs of paying to pray, or about marginalizing people who can’t afford the "high price tag on Jewish life," as he calls it. What the ticket debate is about, at its heart, is securing the future of the synagogue as a center of Jewish life.

Jewish Journal: Why do synagogues charge for High Holiday tickets?

Ron Wolfson: The basic reason is that it’s a good time of the year to solidify membership. Synagogues could not survive without in some way linking membership to the High Holiday experience. It’s a huge motivation for people to sign on the dotted line, if you will — to make their annual commitment to synagogue life, to synagogue membership.

What’s unfortunate about it — and I think any rabbi in town would agree with this — is that nobody likes the idea of "charging" for High Holiday tickets. But that’s not what’s going on here. What’s going on is that people want to be in a synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and on Yom Kippur, and there’s such a demand for seating that most synagogues need some way to manage it. And that’s where the ticket idea comes in.

JJ: The tickets we’re talking about here are sold to people who aren’t synagogue members, right? Or do some synagogues also require members to pay?

RW: Most synagogues distribute tickets for the High Holidays because it’s a way to manage the crowd…. Most major synagogues will use tickets in order to assign seating and manage the crowds — for members and for nonmembers. There are other synagogues for whom this is anathema. For them, it’s first-come first-served. Which is much more egalitarian on the surface of it, I guess. But then, you know, there’s a challenge.

JJ: Someone who’s a regular could end up running a little late and not get a seat.

RW: That’s right. And your regulars, who are giving the bulk of the financial support, I think do deserve to have a place to sit. [Laughs] Forget about a good place to sit.

I don’t think anybody likes the system. I really don’t. I think that it’s just a fact of life. There routinely are critics who come into the synagogues and say, you see, this is what I don’t like about synagogues. But that’s really unfair, because the synagogue is wide open for any spiritual seeker — member or nonmember — to come to services, most of the time.

JJ: I was reading an interview about ticket sales with a synagogue administrator in a different city who referred to unaffiliated people who buy High Holiday tickets as "people who don’t want to take the time to commit, who don’t want to have the soul to commit, who simply want to use the synagogue as a drive-through window for their own needs."

RW: Right.

JJ: Do you hear that kind of argument a lot?

RW: I think it’s true. And I think it’s unfortunate, because I think those people are missing an opportunity to have a deeper connection to what we would call a kehillah kedoshah [a sacred community]. Actually, I think that this is true not just for the High Holidays, but also when people use the synagogue as a fee-for-service operation.

That’s not how you build sacred communities. There needs to be a deeper relationship built, which says when I pay dues to a synagogue or when I get engaged through a High Holiday service, I’m there to try to find a spiritual home — and not just to satisfy my needs for the moment. I think the synagogues want to do that with their members, but we have to change the culture of expectation of the relationship between the members and potential members and the synagogue itself.

JJ: How do the High Holidays fit into changing that culture?

RW: I think it’s an opportunity to say to synagogue members and potential members that we love you being with us today, but don’t forget that as much as this is a spiritual high moment in the Jewish calendar, it’s only one of many high moments.

We’re here all the time. We’re here for Shabbat. We’re here for the other holidays. We’re here for adult education. We’re here for social justice projects. We’re here to be a healing place for you when you’re in need of comfort and in need of support…. Greeting people and welcoming people is the first step in creating a warmer, sacred community.

A Wish Is Granted

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and Jewish
Family Service (JFS) have received the first federally funded grant in California
for so-called naturally occurring retirement communities (NORCs), places where
a majority of the population is over 55.

JFS, which collaborated with the Federation in a year-long
lobbying effort to land the money, will use the $500,000 to provide support
services to clusters of seniors living in the Fairfax area and West Hollywood.

“This is a significant victory for the community, especially
in these tough economic times,” said Paul Castro, JFS executive director.

As their physical and mental capabilities diminish, many
seniors living at home must grapple with myriad problems, ranging from balancing
their checkbooks to flipping their mattresses to finding a ride to the

Often to frail to adequately take care of themselves, they
nonetheless continue living in their homes after the children leave for fear of
losing their independence and ending up in nursing homes. Even healthy seniors
generally prefer staying among friends in their old neighborhoods as long as

NORCs have cropped up around the country, with an estimated
5,000 now dotting the U.S. As the population grays — an estimated 75 million
Americans will be over 55 in 2010 — the number of NORCs is expected to jump,
said Andrew Kochera, senior policy advisor at AARP in Washington.

To better provide services for the people residing in them,
the federal government has awarded 18 grants worth nearly $10 million to 15
Jewish Federations in the past seven months. And in late February, The Jewish
Federation of Greater Los Angeles and JFS were awarded their grant.

“This is really the wave of the future for senior care,”
said Jessica Toledano, the Federation’s director of government relations.
“There’s a huge need for this.”

JFS, which the Federation partially funds, will spend the
grant money to improve the lives of local seniors. JFS plans to identify what
seniors might most benefit from NORC support services and then begin providing
them within six months, said Castro, agency executive director. Programs under
consideration include home-delivered meals, transportation to and from doctor
offices and grocery stores and taxi vouchers.

All seniors living in JFS-designated NORCs in the Fairfax
area and West Hollywood, regardless of income levels, would qualify for support

JFS has a proven record of providing vital services to needy
seniors, said Perri Sloane Goodman, director of state programs for the agency.
The Multipurpose Senior Services Program has, since 1980, provided frail,
indigent elderly men and women with an array of services ranging from taxi
vouchers to home-meal preparation to keep them out of nursing homes.

A growing number of politicians favor funding NORC support
services partly because of economics, said Diana Aviv, vice president for
public policy at the United Jewish Communities (UJC), the umbrella group for
the nation’s federations. She estimates that nursing home care costs $55,000
annually per person, while senior housing with special services is $20,000. By
contrast, NORC support services cost about $5,000, Aviv said.

One of the reasons why the UJC has become involved in
seeking funding for NORCs is because of demographic trends in the Jewish
community. Whereas 11 percent of the general population is 65 or older, 19
percent of Jews are, Aviv said.

UJC will continue going after NORC funding “as long as our
communities are interested in it,” she added.

Funding for NORCs dates back nearly two decades, although
federal support is still relatively recent and small.

The first support services for NORCs began in New York City
in 1986. Less than a decade later, in 1994, the New York State Legislature
supported 14 NORC programs. Five years later, the City Council in New York City
allocated millions of dollars to expand the program.

In the Big Apple, services for the elderly inhabiting NORCs
ranged from social worker home visits to cat sitting and plant watering for
wealthy seniors near Lincoln Center, said Fredda Vladeck, director of the
United Hospital Fund’s Aging in Place Initiative.

Last August, the federal government got into the act by
allocating $3.7 million to five Jewish federations, including Baltimore,
Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Seven months later, the government awarded 13
grants totaling almost $6 million, including the stipend to Los Angeles.

Each federation receiving federal funds individually lobbied
legislators for money. Among others, Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif), Sen.
Barbara Boxer (D-Calif), Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Van Nuys) and Rep. Howard Berman
(D-Los Angeles) championed local NORC funding, the Federation’s Toledano said.
The Boston, New York and Richmond, Va. Federations all failed in their bids to
land NORC money. 

Russia’s Jews Rediscover Roots

Lev Entin, a 90-year-old resident of St. Petersburg, has spent the past year relearning something he spent most of his life trying to forget: his Judaism.

Entin’s father was a shochet (ritual slaughterer), and until Entin was 12, he attended a cheder (Jewish school). But after that, Entin, "a product of the Bolshevik Revolution," as he puts it, did not pay attention to his religion.

But in the past year, Entin has reintroduced himself to his tradition by reading books and brochures he receives from his local Hesed welfare center.

"Only this year did I become a Jew again," he said.

Roughly 175,000 Jewish elderly in Russia are now served by the 88 Heseds across the former Soviet Union. These centers, run by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), account for about one-half of all Jewish social and welfare organizations in the former Soviet Union.

They provide basic services, such as food and health care, to the large numbers of elderly who were impoverished both by the chaos of post-Communist Russia and by last August’s economic collapse. But the Heseds, which mean "charitable deed," also play a role that is just as important in creating a Jewish community for the Russian elderly.

When the JDC began opening Heseds in the former Soviet Union earlier this decade, the organizers were afraid of two things: that the centers would be overwhelmed by requests from non-Jewish clients, and that the centers would lead to an anti-Semitic backlash. None of the fears has come true.

Indeed, in some places Hesed centers serve as a model for similar state-run organizations. In St. Petersburg, for example, Hesed Avraham is among the most successful welfare organizations in the city of 4 million. Last year, Hesed Avraham started a joint project with a local government-funded welfare organization, where one of the Hesed dining rooms is now feeding 100 non-Jewish needy elderly.

The success of the Hesed program has led to some problems. Indeed, in some cities, local authorities ignore the needs of Jewish clients because there are other organizations to take care of them.

"The state sometimes wants to lay its responsibility onto the Heseds. But Jews are citizens of this country just like non-Jews and the state has certain obligations toward them," says Benjamin Haller, director of the JDC’s William Rosenwald Institute for Communal and Welfare Workers in St. Petersburg, which trains Jewish social workers and conducts sociological research of the Jewish elderly in the former Soviet Union.

But there is one aspect of the Hesed activities where the state welfare system cannot help: reconnecting people to their Judaism.

"People are coming to Heseds not only to get a piece of bread. They come to taste the spirit which makes us unique, distinct from other similar organizations. This is the spirit of belonging to the Jewish people," Haller said.

For example, in the city of Tula, some 190 miles south of Moscow, about 50 elderly Jews gathered on a recent Friday night at the Hasdei Neshama center. A concert by a local klezmer band was followed by a Shabbat service and a meal conducted by a Moscow rabbi who comes to the city every weekend.

In St. Petersburg, Hesed Avraham publishes Hesed Shalom, a bimonthly newspaper with a print run of 15,000.

This process of creating a community extends beyond the clients served by the Hesed centers to the volunteers who assist.

Last year, about 7,000 volunteers participated in the provision of welfare and other social services in the centers.

"Any program we run involves people helping other people. Even a bedridden person can call another bedridden [person] so that they will not feel lonely," Haller said.

In most communities, youths and students of Jewish schools occasionally volunteer in some social programs. But the average volunteer is recently retired and is in his early 60s. These people deliver food to the homebound, do home repair or work once or twice a week as hairdressers, shoemakers, electricians. Medical doctors conduct regular free consultations for Jewish elderly in almost every Hesed center.

Despite all the good work they are doing, the future of the Heseds is not entirely rosy. With the ongoing economic crisis and the depreciation of pensions, money is becoming rare, particularly to supply medicines.

The multimillion-dollar annual budget of the Heseds comes from several sources. Most Russian Heseds operate with the money channeled by JDC from funds raised by the joint campaign of the United Jewish Appeal and local federations in the United States. These funds go primarily to support the most fund-consuming part of the Hesed operations — food programs, including monthly and holiday food packages and distribution of hot meals through community dining rooms and meals-on-wheels programs.

While the activities are operated by the JDC in conjunction with local groups, including the Russian Jewish Congress, a majority of the funds for the multimillion-dollar project are provided by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany — particularly in Ukraine and Belarus, which were under Nazi rule during World War II.

Most observers say Hesed programs have been the most successful — in their scope and outreach — of all similar projects supported with local and foreign funds.

They appear to be successful for Sofia Shapiro, an 80-year-old retired engineer who receives several services from her local Hesed in Yekaterinburg. The homebound Shapiro and her bedridden blind sister, Vera Brook, have no relatives and a caretaker from Hesed visits them daily. The center also gave Shapiro a walker made by some of the eight staff workers and 39 volunteers who assemble a total of 2,500 wheelchairs, walkers, walking canes and crutches a month at a plant in St. Petersburg.

"There is a sticker here," Shapiro says, pointing at the bottom part of the walker. "It says, ‘Live with Hope.’ So I do."

Safe in the Senate?

A Republican Senate means Republican committee chairs, and for many Jewish organizational leaders, a step backward toward more defensive lobbying tactics.

Jewish lobbyists say that when the Republicans take control of the full Congress in January, they will need to respond more to legislation they oppose rather than help craft laws that fit with their priorities. They say they will need to work hard to remove elements of some measures that are seen as too conservative, such as those related to charitable choice, which allows federal funds to religious organizations to provide social services. And they will work with lawmakers to construct measures that address their agenda, such as hate crimes legislation.

Still, many are holding out hope that there will be wiggle room to get some items on their agenda through the 108th Congress.

Among the people expected to head key committees are: Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.). who will chair the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee; Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who takes over the Senate Judiciary Committee and Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), who will head the Senate Appropriations Committee.

On foreign issues, where Jewish leaders say the debates are often more bipartisan, the Senate Armed Services Committee will now be chaired by Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will be manned once again by Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), who first chaired it in 1985 and 1986.

Jewish groups say their relationship with Gregg will be important in the next Congress. His committee is expected to take up school voucher issues, which most Jewish organizations oppose, and will likely shape the debate on prescription drugs and Social Security privatization.

Jewish activists say they have worked with Gregg on several issues, and have had a running dialogue with his staffers over the Workplace Religious Freedom Act. The legislation would strengthen federal civil rights laws by requiring employers to grant employees greater accommodation for religious observances, such as taking time off for religious holidays and wearing religious garb.

However, the community is more divided on the contentious issue of vouchers, which provides federal funds for students to attend private or parochial schools. Many said they believe Gregg will push for some type of voucher program. Gregg’s position was strengthened by a Supreme Court decision earlier this year that deemed school vouchers constitutional.

Leaders of many Jewish groups that oppose vouchers say they understand their position is at odds with Gregg’s and they will need to work to try and prevent the legislation from being passed in the full committee.

But Orthodox officials support

Gregg’s stance.

David Zweibel, executive vice president for government and public affairs at Agudath Israel of America, said the Orthodox community would work with Gregg to expand the federal special education law to broaden the use of vouchers for special education children. Gregg supports the use of vouchers for private schools if the public school is not suitable for them.

On judiciary issues, Jewish leaders are gearing up for a flood of new judicial appointments that are expected now that Hatch is chair. He is expected to lead the charge toward swift approval of new conservative judges.

The major judiciary policy debate is expected to revolve around the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act, which stalled in the Senate last year and would provide hate crime protections that Jewish groups have been seeking.

Hatch, a Mormon senator wears a mezuzah around his neck for good luck, has "made impassioned speeches" about the need for hate crimes laws and does not join other conservative Republicans in opposing provisions against discrimination based on sexual orientation, said Michael Lieberman, Washington counsel for the Anti-Defamation League.

But Hatch is a vocal opponent of the bill on the grounds that it takes away states rights and because he fears that rapes and other attacks against women would all be classified as hate crimes, Lieberman said.

Hatch is also a vocal opponent of abortion, and there may be movement to restrict a woman’s access to abortion, through bills targeting late-term abortions or seeking parental notification.

Jewish activists are less concerned with Stevens, who will be the Senate’s chief appropriator. He is considered a strong supporter of foreign aid to Israel, which falls within the purview of his committee.

Jewish activists say they are further encouraged that the new chairman of the committee’s foreign operations subcommittee is expected to be Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the chief Senate sponsor of a bill that would punish Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and other Palestinian leaders for violating signed agreements with Israel and the United States.

Foreign affairs issues are seen as less dependent on the right chairman, since aid for Israel and support for the pro-Israel agenda is considered bipartisan in the current climate.

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said Jewish groups have worked with both Lugar and Warner on foreign affairs issues in the past.

Hoenlein said Lugar has not been a strong advocate for the Israeli agenda, but has been supportive and is viewed as a friend.

Warner has recently joined Democratic lawmakers in supporting tougher action on Egypt for its airing of a miniseries deemed to have anti-Semitic elements.

Caring Across the Miles

Fifty-eight-year-old Ruth recently took early retirement from her bookkeeping job so that she and her retired husband, Harry, could see more of their children and grandchildren, who are scattered around the country. The two have also been looking forward to doing some traveling overseas.

In the past year, though, Ruth’s mother, who lives alone and is a two-and-a-half-hour drive away, has become increasingly frail and is starting to show signs of forgetfulness. Ruth finds herself worrying about her mother daily and making an increasing number of phone calls and car trips to check on her. Often she ends up staying for the weekend when she visits.

She and Harry have put their travel plans on hold.

Ruth is just one of approximately 7 million Americans involved in the care of an older adult — usually a parent — who lives in a different area, be it an hour’s drive or a plane trip away. The average travel time to reach their relative is four hours.

At the best of times, caregiving involves a certain amount of stress, but often, the anxiety is compounded when there are many miles between the caregiver and care recipient.

Long-distance caregiving can be emotionally and financially draining. Worries about a parent’s physical, mental and emotional health and safety can be overwhelming at times. You may wonder if plans you’ve set up are being implemented properly, or if you’re going to get a call that there’s a crisis.

You may also feel guilty that you can’t be there on a daily basis to see how your parent is doing — which may be quite different from what he or she reports — and provide assistance as needed. You might wonder if you should be making more sacrifices — either moving closer or inviting mom or dad to live with you.

Then there are the financial costs: the many long-distance telephone calls, travel expenses, wear on your car and perhaps the cost of hiring a companion or personal support worker because you can’t be there yourself. If you’re employed, you may have to take time off work to deal with crises; some employers are less sympathetic than others.

Despite these challenges, there are many ways to maintain peace of mind while providing long-distance care:

  • Make it easy for people to get in touch with you. Get an answering machine if you don’t already have one and perhaps a cell phone or pager as well. E-mail may also be advantageous.

  • Set up a regular time to call your parent (many people choose Sunday evenings).

  • Find someone local who can check with your parent daily, either by phone or in person. This could be a reliable neighbor or relative or even a volunteer from a telephone reassurance service.

  • Keep important phone numbers handy: your parent’s neighbors, close friends, family physician, local pharmacy and any home health-care providers. Ensure all of these people also have your name and contact information and encourage them to call you with any concerns. Stay in touch to get their ongoing perspectives on how your parent is doing and don’t forget to express appreciation for their assistance.

  • Shop around for a good long-distance savings plan so you don’t have to be too concerned about the frequency and duration of caregiving-related telephone calls. You might consider getting a private, toll-free number so that friends, neighbors and health-care providers have no reservations about regularly calling you.

  • Maintain a file of key information, such as your parent’s medical conditions and surgical history, medications, medical specialists, banking institutions and other financial contacts, lawyer, clergy and daily or weekly schedule, plus any upcoming appointments. Obtain a local phone directory if possible.

  • If your parent has a chronic illness, obtain information from the appropriate organization (for example, the Parkinson Foundation) to help you understand the disease and get an idea of what to expect in the future.

  • Investigate other available resources in your parent’s community, which might include: personal emergency response systems; letter carrier or utility company alert services; accessible transportation; adult day programs and other leisure programming; outreach services, such as foot care and seniors’ dental clinics; home health services involving nursing, homemaking, therapy and companion services and alternative housing. Such information can be obtained from the local area agency on aging. (To find the appropriate office, call the Administration on Aging’s toll-free Eldercare Locator Service at (800) 677-1116 or search online at

When you do have an opportunity to visit, pay close attention to your parent’s physical condition, mental functioning and mood. Consult his or her family doctor if you have any concerns.

Perform a safety assessment of the home environment to identify potential hazards — for example, throw rugs that don’t stay in place — and do what you can to remove them. Visit a medical supply store and check out the many products that might make daily activities easier and safer for your parent. Better yet, locate an occupational therapist who performs home assessments and can make recommendations in this regard.

If you have siblings in the area, arrange a family meeting to discuss your parent’s needs and determine who can provide help.

Ideally, plan to stay with your parent long enough so you’re not rushed. That way, you’ll have ample time not only to attend meetings (try to set these up in advance of your arrival) and run errands but also to enjoy your parent’s company.

Even if he or she appears to be managing well right now, it’s a good idea to begin learning about resources in the community should your parent require help in the future.

Keeping one step ahead will help make your role as long-distance caregiver a little easier.

Lisa M. Petsche is a geriatric social worker and freelance writer.

It’s Not That Easy Being Gifted

Alexa Gelb has learned to pace herself in Hebrew class. If she completes her work too quickly, the academically gifted fifth-grader will only receive additional assignments.

"I’m pleased with the general studies program at Sinai Akiba Academy, but in the area [of Judaic] studies, instead of giving [the gifted children] more challenging work, they just give them more work," explained Alexa’s mother, Jenny Gelb.

In order to keep Alexa in a day school environment, Gelb has had to make concessions for what she believes is a lacking Hebrew program. However, Joseph Hakimi, Sinai Akiba’s Judaic studies director, said that while there is no formal gifted track, the school monitors accelerated students and provides additional resources for them. But Gelb said the monitoring is not sufficient.

The Beverlywood resident is one of many parents in the community faced with the challenge of finding a Jewish day school to accommodate the needs of her accelerated child.

Just as most day schools are not equipped to cater to the needs of special education children, most do not have resources for academically advanced students. While there is a legal mandate enabling special education students to get services through public schools, there is no such mandate for gifted children in California.

Often, parents must choose between a Jewish education or an accelerated program in non-Jewish schools. Gelb’s priority was to educate Alexa in a Jewish environment.

Gifted specialist Dr. Elizabeth Glass believes that gifted children in Jewish schools are underserved. "There’s so much you can do with gifted children by broadening the material covered in class, and I don’t think it’s being done," said Glass, the Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE) coordinator for Lomed L.A., a corps of volunteer tutor/mentors who are trained to work with children on a one-to-one basis.

While many of the community’s day schools lightly address the needs of gifted students, very few have structured programs, according to Loren Grossman, an educational advocate and consultant on special education and gifted students.

Glass noted that children can be gifted in many areas, including those outside academics. "If we don’t educate the community as to what it means to be gifted, certain areas [of giftedness] can be overlooked," she said.

One school that refuses to overlook a child’s talents is Stephen S. Wise Temple Elementary School in Los Angeles. This year, the school is offering a new program called PACE (Programs for Academic and Creative Enrichment). While most public schools rely on test scores to identify accelerated students, Wise prides itself on its broad definition of the term "gifted."

"Very often, gifted programs are focused on language arts and math," principal Rochelle Ginsberg said. "We wanted to acknowledge all of the talents and affinities a child might have."

Besides embracing those with high academic achievements, the program, which involves special mentors, individual projects and enrichment groups, also includes children who are exceptional in other areas such as music, art, science and various technologies.

Most of the other day schools address the needs of gifted students on a case-by-case basis. For example, Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School started a gifted program that quickly developed into a new schoolwide teaching tool.

Last year, the Northridge school received a grant from the BJE to provide Socratic seminars for its gifted students. Facilitated by a specialist, the seminars involved special discussions in which children answered open-ended questions.

The accelerated students were so enthusiastic about the program, that soon other students wanted to participate, too. As a result, the program was expanded to several grades.

Outside the Socratic program, Heschel provides for academically gifted students with a system of differentiated classes. Both English and math specialists teach the highest-achieving students.

Joyce Black, director of general studies at Valley Beth Shalom Harold M. Schulweis Day School in Encino, is looking for a gifted coordinator to increase the school’s program. Black said the new specialist will solidify the structure of the program, which she expects will include all grades.

"Currently, we enrich and modify our curriculum per the needs of the children," Black said. "We feel like we can have greater support, because we want to individualize and meet the needs of the children on all fronts."

While the Judaic studies program does not meet her expectations, Gelb said she is content with the education Alexa is getting at Sinai Akiba. "She’s been very fortunate in that most of the teachers she’s had have different expectations for different kids," Gelb said. "She knows she has to work hard, because the teacher expects more from her than the other kids."

Jewish Aging Crisis Looms

Is the American Jewish community prepared for the aging tidal wave? With the number of Jewish elderly expected to soar over the coming decade, leaders at the national and local levels realize they must move beyond traditional methods of caring for the elderly to develop new plans and policies.

Timing is critical. Many communities have been preparing to increase services to the elderly, but as baby boomers age and people live longer, there is an urgent need to expand services and to plan — and to do it quickly.

The problem is especially acute in the Jewish community. An estimated 20 percent of American Jewry is 65 or older, a significantly higher proportion than among the general population, where the figure is around 13 percent. The 1990 National Jewish Population Survey showed that 920,000 Jewish Americans are at least 65 years of age.

As the issue of elder care becomes more prominent, however, the nation’s economic crisis is expected to make things more difficult. Funding for social services is likely to be cut as priorities shift toward funding security and anti-terror activities.

The budget surplus has gone and everything has become tougher since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) told Jewish community professionals last year at the United Jewish Communities (UJC) General Assembly.

There must be savings incentives, penalty-free withdrawals from retirement plans for long-term care and better ties between the public and private sectors, he said.

Looking to provide something of a road map for communities, UJC issued a guide that focuses on providing a "continuum of care," a comprehensive, client-oriented system of elder services.

The continuum has two parts. The first is services, including health care, mental health care, social services, transportation programs and housing for the elderly. Newer trends include allowing people to "age in place" in naturally occurring retirement communities.

The second element is to coordinate mechanisms into a system instead of a fragmentary collection of services.

Local communities are looking for a coordinated effort. Without such coordination, there will be gated communities for seniors who will have no connection to Judaism, and the poor will be left behind, said Elliot Palevsky, executive director of the River Garden Hebrew Home for the Aged in Jacksonville, Fla.

Local Jewish leaders want the issue to be a national priority, but Congress has yet to make it so. Legislators have addressed the issue only in bits and pieces, such as regulation of nursing home care.

"If we don’t get lawmakers to listen, we’re not going to succeed," warned Diana Aviv, vice president of public policy for UJC, the Jewish community’s central fundraising and social services agency.

Getting the attention of state lawmakers is important as well, community leaders note. Michael Blumenfeld, who works on government affairs as executive director of the Wisconsin Jewish Conference, a statewide lobbying group, said the only way to get state funding is to work in coalitions with other groups.

"You have to show legislators creative ideas and why it’s worth the money," he said. "You have to say, ‘You think it’s bad now, but it’s only going to get worse.’"

Some community leaders are worried that their legislators cannot look past this year’s budget. Others are unsure of what to do next because it’s still uncertain where budget cuts will be made.

In any case, a number of programs still are under way in different states to address seniors’ needs, and advocates hope funding stays stable. Leaders say the programs allow seniors to maintain dignity and a level of independence while still feeling part of the community.

Some examples of alternative programming that use a variety of funding streams were cited.


•The Kosher Konnection program delivers food every weekday to the campus of the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County. Seniors spend time there and, on Fridays, participate in Shabbat services. Clients are charged a fee, and the federation subsidizes the rest.


•Prime Time is a package of support services and educational programs provided by the Greater Hartford Jewish Community Center (JCC) to seniors who have lost a spouse or experienced some other trauma. JCC allocations for this program are supplemented by a grant from the United Way and fees for programming.


•The Senior Computer Access Program, sponsored by the Jewish Family Service of San Diego, teaches basic computer skills to seniors. Participants pay class fees, but financial assistance is provided. Administrative, equipment and software expenses are covered through in-kind gifts and services and a grant from the United Jewish Federation of San Diego County.

The problem now is that budget deficits are threatening these new programs, according to Ron Soloway, managing director of government relations for United Jewish Appeal-Federation of Greater New York.

But even as some efforts have stalled in the short-term, the community can’t afford not to seek alternative models for the long-term, Soloway said.

Communities must also take a look at changing trends — such as long-distance caregiving — and understand seniors’ wide range of needs, said Jodi Lyons, president of the Association of Jewish Aging Services.

While the future may look somewhat bleak, communities vow not to abandon their elderly.

Joyce Garver Keller, executive director of Ohio Jewish Communities, said the economy eventually will turn around and revenues will increase. When that happens, she said, help for the elderly must be at the top of the agenda.

"There is no Plan B," she said.


My wedding gown hangs on the rod in the corner of my closet. Although it’s sealed in cellophane, the once winter-white dress has lost its luster. After multiple moves and 28 years in cramped quarters, its previously pristine layers of bright lace have turned dingy and dim.

I lovingly looked at that size 6 dress on each of my first few wedding anniversaries and relived a little of one of life’s happiest moments. I reminisced about one of the greatest joys of Judaism — standing under the chuppah and saying, "I am my beloved’s." But now that so many years have passed, seeing that gown makes me sigh — I can’t believe I was ever that thin.

A recent trip to the mall, which included trying on bathing suits, was enough to convince me that my girlish figure is gone forever. As a public service, I will never again wear a bikini on the beach.

It’s likely that some of today’s scrawny brides will eventually face the same situation that strikes many of us in middle age. But if you or the bride-to-be in your life want to avoid a future confrontation in the closet with a wispy wedding gown, do a mitzvah and donate it to charity.

The practice of providing assistance to needy brides has its roots in the Torah. Traditionally, Jewish women in the bride’s extended family and in the community have offered support for all aspects of wedding preparation, celebration and the establishment of a new Jewish home. But before the food for the festivities can be prepared and a place for the newlyweds to live can be located, finding a wedding dress for the bride is a top priority.

Hachnassat Kallah in Los Angeles is one of a growing number of organizations that recycles wedding gowns. Founded over seven years ago, the organization’s name means "ushering in the bride" in Hebrew.

Hachnassat Kallah’s clientele is mostly Orthodox, however, all brides who are in need of financial aid are welcome to borrow dresses completely free of charge. The only stipulation is that the bride must pay for cleaning before the dress is returned. "We are there to help make it easier and less stressful so that they should be able to look forward to this special day in their life with joy and happiness," said Leiba Gottesman, co-president of Hachnassat Kallah. Dresses are displayed in a private showroom run by volunteers, and brides are seen on an appointment-only basis.

Most of Hachnassat Kallah’s dresses are acquired through donations. "People have dresses that they won’t use again and they would love for other people to be able to use them," Gottesman said. In some cases, however, a bride’s particular size may not be in stock. Not to worry, Hachnassat Kallah will purchase the dress elsewhere via donations. "Not everybody is a size 6 or 8, so we have to have other sizes available," Gottesman said.

While wedding dresses can be costly, Hachnassat Kallah realizes that the bride’s dress is only the beginning. Inventory also includes dresses for the mother and sisters of the bride. In addition, each newlywed couple receives a package that includes glasses, pots, silverware, linens, a toaster and a Shabbat tablecloth to help them get started in their new home.

Hachnassat Kallah also offers wedding-planning services. Chava Hertz, Hachnassat Kallah’s other co-president, owns the Park Plaza Hotel, and she often offers the hotel’s catering services at a reduced rate. Prices range from $25-$27 per person and the chuppah and flowers are donated free of charge.

Hachnassat Kallah is able to provide its services because of donations, and they are always looking for dresses. They only ask that the dresses be modest.

My wedding gown has passed the point where it could be of any value to another bride. Now it’s a faded reminder of my youth and an incentive to diet.

But if this article has persuaded you to pass your wedding gown on to an organization that can give it a new life, great, I’ve accomplished my mission. Even though parting with your highly prized possession might be tough, knowing that it can bring so much joy to another bride should make you feel good. And years from now, you can still get a glimpse of how skinny you were on your wedding day by flipping through your photo album.

To donate or borrow wedding dresses, call Marilyn Barber at (323) 937-7982. To donate or borrow dresses for the mother or sisters of the bride, call Dina Walmark at (323) 934-4151.

Rabbis on Duty

The July 4 attack at the El Al check-in counter, in which a gunman killed two people, occurred at 11:32 a.m., and within an hour, two Los Angeles rabbis, who double as police chaplains, were on the scene to comfort airline passengers and crew.

Rabbi Dan Shevitz of Temple Mishkon Tephilo in Venice happened to be at the Venice police station when the first reports on the Los Angeles International Airport attack came in.

Anticipating a heavy traffic jam at the airport, Shevitz went home, jumped on his motorcycle and raced to the police command post at LAX.

Shevitz, who has served as chaplain for the Los Angeles Police Department for five years, first tracked down the El Al crew. Finding them in good condition, he proceeded to a holding area, where eyewitnesses to the attack were waiting to be questioned by the FBI and police.

The rabbi first ran into Arieh Golan, a 54-year-old Israeli electrician, who had tackled Hesham Mohamed Hadayet as the gunman opened fire. Hadayet was shot to death during the attack.

Golan displayed a "souvenir" — his T-shirt pierced by two holes where a single bullet had entered and exited without inflicting any injury.

After talking with the passengers for about six hours and translating the testimony of one Israeli who spoke no English, Shevitz left. He returned Sunday to calm the frayed nerves of some police officers who had been on constant duty.

"What really struck me was how orderly both police and passengers behaved in a situation that could have easily degenerated into confusion," Shevitz said. "I was very proud of our city."

Shevitz seems to have a knack for being "present at misfortunes," he said. In 1995, as a congregational rabbi in Oklahoma City, he helped comfort survivors after the explosion at the city’s federal building.

There are five to six Jewish chaplains attached to the LAPD, among a total of 30 chaplains, Shevitz said.

Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz, founding director of Jews for Judaism, has served 11 years as chaplain for the Airport Police Department at LAX, which is separate from the LAPD.

He was at home when he got the call and immediately reported to the airport police command post, donned a police vest and began offering emotional support — as well as food and drink — to the El Al crew and passengers.

"I had been trained in what is officially called ‘critical incident stress debriefing,’" Kravitz said, and he proceeded to put the training into practice.

After seven hours on the job, Kravitz left but returned Sunday to check on the morale of airport police officers.

The July 4 attack was the third major recent incident requiring Kravitz’s chaplaincy services. The first was the Alaska Airlines crash two years ago. The second was the Sept. 11 attack, when he counseled families and law enforcement officials emotionally affected by the Twin Tower disaster in New York.

Challenge Issued

Gloria Lenhoff’s music debut was her bat mitzvah. Instead of reciting Torah, she amazed guests with a chapter from the Song of Songs, singing in a pitch-perfect soprano voice.

Since then, she has performed in a dozen languages on prominent stages, starred in a television movie and picked up the accordion. Now 47, she currently sings gospel with The Miracles, a touring choir of residents from Baddour Center, a 120-acre, Methodist-backed village for the mentally retarded in Mississippi. Since Gloria joined the choir, after relocating two years ago from Orange County, its repertoire has expanded to include Hebrew melodies. She also occasionally serves as cantorial soloist at Tupelo’s Temple B’nai Israel.

Placing their daughter in a lifetime-care haven — one that emphasizes music but lacks a Jewish environment — was wrenching for Howard Lenhoff, 72, a retired UC Irvine biology professor and his wife, Sylvia, 70, a retired administrator, who had lived in Costa Mesa for 35 years.

"There is no comparable place in the Jewish community," fumes Lenhoff, who also relocated to Oxford, Miss., to remain near his daughter. "We’re quite angry about this. Who wants to disrupt their whole lives?" he asks, describing the predicament confronting aging parents of developmentally disabled children. "It was not an easy choice."

Though time is against him, Lenhoff is praying for a second miracle. He already witnessed one. In 1991, an organization he co-led succeeded in relocating 60,000 Ethiopian Jews from famine-plagued Africa to Israel, an 18-year effort.

Last month, seizing the pulpit at an annual dinner of the Jewish Community Foundation, Lenhoff challenged Orange County’s Jewish community to fill what he described as a "glaring gap in social services." He asked the community to join him in creating the first regional campus for the Jewish retarded, one comparable to villages most often supported by Christian denominations.

"Non-Jewish groups are doing something about it," he says. "Why can’t Jewish kids end up in a Jewish environment?"

The couple, who issued their challenge in a letter read at the event, was honored for establishing the foundation’s first gift annuity, a $300,000 charitable donation in proceeds from their home sale. Income from the annuity will cover their daughter’s living costs until her parents’ death, and then it will be dispersed for developmentally disabled causes, such as a local facility.

Lenhoff’s timing may be propitious, because a similar plan, one that has foundered for years, appears now to be gaining outside support.

In 1995, Orange’s Rose Lacher, 81, founded the Jeremiah Society to provide 40 developmentally disabled adults, including her 53-year-old daughter, Amy, a supportive atmosphere for socializing and practicing Jewish rituals. They meet at the Jewish Community Center.

Lacher’s dream is Jeremiah House, an arrangement for independent living for up to 15 people with some communal facilities, such as a kosher kitchen and garden, which she estimates could cost $5 million. "They would have a community, have friendships, know they’re not alone," she says, calling Lenhoff’s suggestion for a regional facility "a splendid idea."

Her own plan has won the philosophical endorsement of top county officials, but not the financial windfall needed to fulfill it.

"I’m excited about where we can go with this," says Bill J. Bowman, executive director of the Regional Center, the contract nonprofit agency that annually dispenses $125 million for housing and services from the state Department of Developmental Services to the county’s 13,000 developmentally disabled. He met with Lacher last month.

"It’s not a problem we want to ignore," concedes Bunnie Muldin, chief executive of the Jewish Federation, which this year and last allocated $4,000 to the Jeremiah Society, in part to increase its visibility. "We can’t possibly give them all the money they need at once," she says.

The need for permanent living facilities has intensified in recent years, as several parents of society members have died. "We talk about it all the time," says Natalie Mandel of Newport Beach, who has two developmentally disabled adult grandchildren.

"We’re afraid to die," adds Lacher, pointing out that private group homes cannot guarantee continuity of care like a nonprofit entity. Even the best-run ones, she says, would not reinforce Jewish practices at an appropriate cognitive level. "They don’t know they’re Jewish anymore," she says.

Given the state’s fiscal crisis, such a proposal may seem quixotic. Yet, at least one contrarian thinks Lacher’s timing is perfect.

"Is this a good way to float a project that will save the state money?" asks Joyce Hearn, chief executive of Orange County’s ARC, formerly known as the Association of Retarded Citizens. "I think it will be well received," she predicts, adding her group could help with administration.

"Maybe it’s time for a committee to formulate a plan," she says, cautioning that potential donors are likely to be persuaded by a concept drafted with specialists in real estate, construction, architecture and finance.

"Or is it just a kosher kitchen?" she asks.

JCC Board Approves Major Reform

Leaders of the area’s Jewish Community Centers proposed a series of reforms this week that they hope will reinvigorate center services and help the organization meet the demands of a far-flung and diverse Jewish population.

The changes approved by the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA) will eliminate after-school programs and senior services. The plan might also lead to the dismantling of existing centers serving the Westside and Silverlake/Los Feliz areas.

JCC executives said that they will take the next few months to decide whether to relocate or renovate the Santa Monica-based Bay Cities JCC and the Silverlake/Los Feliz JCC. They stressed that no decision has been made to permanently close down the sites. However, even a temporary shutdown could adversely impact those who have come to depend on the centers as their primary — and sometimes sole — link to the Jewish community.

In a 13-4 vote at Valley Cities Jewish Community Center in Van Nuys on Monday, the JCCGLA’s board of directors approved a package of initiatives that will reorganize select services in an effort to make programming more cost-effective for the agency, which operates on a $16-million annual budget.

"It was a groundbreaking vote," JCCGLA President Lee Smith told The Journal.

At press time, top brass were still notifying staff and lay people about the motions. While the meeting itself was closed to press and outsiders, participants, including Smith and JCCGLA’s Executive Vice President Nina Lieberman Giladi, spoke to The Journal afterward.

The board members ratified suggestions that were presented by the JCC’s New Directions Committee, comprised of 15 current board members and past presidents (half of the board of directors’ 30-person membership).

The JCCGLA’s New Directions Committee, a beneficiary agency of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, has met 25 times over the past six months to plot the organization’s future. (The New Directions Committee was formed last October following a centralization of the JCC power structure, intended to streamline operations.) A statement circulated to board members on Monday night said, "The Federation was integrally involved as a partner with the JCC New Directions Committee and concurs with the recommendations proposed."

Among the approved changes:

• The Santa Monica-based Bay Cities facility and the Silverlake/Los Feliz counterpart will undergo refurbishing or relocation, to be determined at a later date.

• The discontinuation of the "underutilized" after-school child care at Westside, Silverlake/Los Feliz and Bay Cities JCCs as of July 1. Permits have also been obtained to expand preschools at the Silverlake/Los Feliz and Bay Cities JCCs to accommodate up to 80 students per site (instead of 60 and 51 pupils, respectively) by September.

• Mommy & Me infant-caretaker programs will be implemented in all JCC locations as of this month.

• An expansion of summer day care, to be initiated in summer 2002.

Programs for seniors will also undergo major revisions, including the transfer of certain services at North Valley and Valley Cities to "other, more suitable facilities," according to the memo.

That transfer will include JCCGLA divesting itself of operating SOVA Kosher Food Pantry and the Venice-based Israel Levin Senior Adult Center.

JCCGLA will also restructure the physical-education component.

"We will look at outside management to come in and provide programming of the highest caliber," Smith said.

Smith and Giladi said that athletic programs and gym and pool facilities are crucial, as they often provide a gateway for children and seniors into community participation.

The new changes follow recent years

that administrators even acknowledge have not been easy for the local JCC system. The 1999 North Valley JCC shooting threw the organization into the international spotlight under the most undesirable of circumstances. The tragedy continues to create problems for JCCGLA, now the subject of a lawsuit filed by the parents of Benjamin Kadish, a child severely injured during the rampage. Last year, scrutiny of the timeworn Westside JCC forced administrators to accelerate a long-simmering architectural overhaul.

"This agency has been away for at least a decade, operating in a direction that is not future-thinking or future-directed," said Giladi, adding that members had no choice but to initiate "some self-critical analysis."

Smith said that "despite our best intentions, the Westside deserves a better, larger place" than Bay Cities. He also noted that Silverlake/Los Feliz needs "complete renovation or relocation." No decisions regarding the fate of the Bay Cities and Silverlake/Los Feliz facilities will be made until two ad-hoc board committees (which will include members from the respective centers and outside consultants) have carefully evaluated these weakest links in the JCC’s eight-center chain.

"We’ll continue to move at this very fast but thorough pace," said Giladi, refusing to nail down a concrete time frame.

According to Smith, this week’s executive decisions were the culmination of a six-month process. JCCGLA hired consultants to assess the local centers and compare them to a successful Seattle JCC site. They drafted a 300-page report which heavily influenced the New Directions Committee to make the changes announced this week.

The board’s support of the changes was not unanimous. One of the four dissenting voters, who asked not to be named, disapproved of the measures because "my concerns are that the plan will not achieve our goal." (Still, the board member remains committed to helping forward the election’s verdict).

At this early date, the decisions ushered in by the board have been generally well-received.

Pamela Boro, center director of Silverlake/Los Feliz JCC, told The Journal, "I support all of the new directions that were made." According to Boro, it was logical for the JCC to discontinue the after-school services because area public schools offer them for free."

Regarding any likelihood of her facility closing down — even temporarily — Boro said, "I know that this center is very important to the organization and to the JCC as a whole. I don’t believe that they would ever compromise our center in any shape or form. That would be letting the community down."

Boro looks forward to the additional preschool class her center will offer this fall. As for upcoming moves to revitalize Silverlake/Los Feliz, Boro said that "some of our advisory board members at this center will, without a doubt, be involved in that process. There is a strong trust between JCCGLA and local members."

David Aaronson, JCCGLA’s immediate past president, said the changes were going to move the agency forward. "These are the first steps needed to create the programs of excellence that the communities of L.A. deserve," he said.