Bracelet Bandwagon


 

Don’t wear your heart on your sleeve — wear it on your wrist. And with the new Shalom bracelet, you can. The Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles is distributing 25,000 of the blue elastic bands adorned with a white dove and the word “Shalom” throughout the community.

It carries a simple message: Israel wants peace.

Yael Swerdlow, director of media relations at the consulate, said the target audience for the bracelets is a universal one.

“They are for anyone who wants peace,” Swerdlow said. “We are getting requests from all over the country, from yeshivas in New Jersey to human rights activists that vilify Israel. It’s an opening to dialogue.”

The public relations department at the consulate came up with the idea for the bracelets using Lance Armstrong’s yellow “Livestrong” bracelet as their inspiration. Bracelets are all the rage this year, with the yellow bands leading the pack. Although unlike the free blue Consulate bracelets, the yellow ones sell for $1 in Nike stores with profits benefiting cancer patients. Similar bracelet campaigns include several varieties of pink bracelets that support cancer research. They include the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer foundation bracelet (five for $5), the Melissa Etheridge bracelet (one for $5), and Target’s Share Beauty, Spread Hope bracelet (10 for $10).

Jewish organizations may have been ahead of the craze. AllforIsrael.org is currently selling silver memorial bracelets, engraved with the name of victims of terror, for $2. Hillel and various synagogues nationwide began selling the bracelets in 2003, a concept created by the Israel Solidarity Fund in 2000.

“People wear this jewelry to make a statement,” Swerdlow said, “and we hope to make ours.”

To get your Shalom bracelet send a self-addressed stamped envelope to the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles, 6380 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1700, Los Angeles, CA 90048. Attention: Consul Yariv Ovadia.

 

Jewish Groups Help Sept. 11 Victims


The stench in New York after Sept. 11 reminded Julia Millman of Europe.

"I have seen it. I know what it’s all about," said the 76-year-old survivor of Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Bergen-Belsen.

In addition to losing her 40-year-old son, Ben, in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center — he was a construction worker on the 101st floor of Tower One — Millman said the death and devastation revived gut-wrenching memories of her family’s murder in the Holocaust. As a young girl, Millman was forced to tie a rope around her dead mother’s neck and drag her gassed body to a pile of other victims. Now those old feelings of motherlessness and abandonment have returned.

"If it wasn’t for my social worker that tried to console me, that tried to help me in my sorrow, I don’t know if I would be here today," Millman said.

Millman is one of thousands who have received assistance from Jewish social service agencies for traumas associated with Sept. 11. For the most part, they praise the aid they received.

The Jewish community launched a massive, coordinated effort to help both Jewish and non-Jewish victims of the attacks. The UJA-Federation of New York raised funds in New York, where two of the planes hit, and the United Jewish Communities (UJC), the umbrella group of North American federations, raised funds throughout North America.

In areas affected by the attack, Jewish federations and their affiliated social service agencies also received government grants or private funding from foundations and/or individual donors. The funds have been used to provide support groups for victims and those re-traumatized by the incident, including Holocaust survivors or new immigrants. The funds also were used to provide cash assistance and job counseling and to help victims navigate the bureaucracy to obtain financial aid from government and private agencies.

The UJA-Federation of New York, one of 13 major charities comprising the 9/11 United Services Group, a resource for victims in New York City, has been at the center of the Jewish communal response. As of mid-August, the federation had raised $7.6 million in special funding for its agencies to expand services for Sept. 11 victims.

Of that sum, $2.1 million came from the UJC, which plans to add another $166,000 in the coming weeks, and $3.5 million came from The New York Times 9/11 Neediest Fund. The UJA-Federation raised the other $2 million.

On a smaller scale, the American Jewish World Service, an international development organization, distributed more than $650,000 to community-based organizations providing assistance to undocumented and low-income workers unable to obtain relief from mainstream sources. The organizations that received assistance included the Arab-American Family Support Center, Chinese Staff and Workers Association and American Pan-African Relief Agencies.

For its part, the UJC has raised $5.28 million, dispersing $3.9 million of it for immediate needs. It plans to disperse the rest by the end of the year for long-term services, such as tuition assistance and additional trauma counseling.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington — in the city where the third plane hit the Pentagon — received $100,500 from the UJC. The UJC also allocated funds to hard-hit New Jersey commuter areas like Monmouth County, which received $210,600, and Bergen County, which received $133,121.

Barry Swartz, vice president of UJC consulting, said the federation system did a "remarkable" job of quickly coordinating a response to the crisis. "We told federations right away, if families need money, they’re to disburse the funds, and we would reimburse" them, he said.

Several direct service providers said they were pleased with the response from the organized Jewish community. There wasn’t "one second that we felt that we were out there alone," said Jeff Lampl, executive director of Jewish Family Services of Bergen County. That was mainly due to the federation system and the local federation, "which immediately supplied us with a small amount of money to get going," he said.

The agency’s client pool "doubled almost overnight" after Sept. 11, Lampl said. "Almost to this day, taking care of these families has become the central concern of this agency," he added.

Many of those who received services praised the response. Robin Wiener, who lost her brother, Jeff, 33, in the attack on the World Trade Center, said the sibling support group she attended — sponsored by the Jewish Social Service Agency of Greater Washington, the primary Jewish organization responding to local victims there — was "amazing." The sibling support group, sponsored by the agency, was formed following a February gathering of friends and family members of Sept. 11 victims.

The "emotions you go through and the loss that you feel is a loss that is unique to the relationship you had," said Wiener, 38. "My brother and I were very close and very similar in many ways, and I just always assumed he’d be there."

Weiner’s brother, a senior financial executive, had been about to leave on a vacation in Spain with his wife and had been planning a family, she said. It "breaks my heart for him, what we lost together.

"I never realized how small our family was until now," she said. To know there are other people out there going through the exact same thing" is "kind of eerie, but it’s also extremely helpful."

Robert Alonso praised the Jewish Child Care Association, which helped his family. When the planes hit, Alonso’s wife, Janet, 41, managed to make a quick phone call from the 97th floor of Tower One to tell her husband that she loved him. The call was their last conversation. The sudden death of his wife, the family’s primary breadwinner, left Alonso and his two young children — one of whom has Down’s syndrome — reeling.

The Jewish Child Care Association has provided weekly meetings with a psychologist for Alonso’s children Robbie, 2, and Victoria, 3. It also has helped him obtain the maximum government funds for his family.

Gregory Hoffman, 37, said he "would not have survived" without the Twinless Twins of Sept. 11 program, which he and his wife, Aileen, created. Since his identical twin, Stephen, a bond broker at Cantor Fitzgerald, was killed in the World Trade Center, Hoffman says he feels like Tower One before it fell — still standing but "out of balance," separated from its twin and with a gaping hole inside it.

To date, the Hoffmans have identified and contacted 38 twins who lost siblings in the attack. Six of them participate in the weekly support group meetings led by a twinless twin, and 22 have participated in social outings. Many of the participants have become close friends.

For Marjorie Judge, caseworker Joan Kincaid, director of the Jewish Association for Services for the Aged’s Pets Project, has been "exceptional." Judge, 82, who lived four blocks from the World Trade Center, was evacuated from the building and prevented from taking her cat. Police later rounded up the pets in many buildings, but not in Judge’s.

One week later, aided by police and Judge’s building superintendent, Kincaid entered the evacuated building — dark from failed electricity and reeking of rotten food — and climbed eight floors to rescue Sheba, who was waiting, parched, at the door. All that for a cat Kincaid "hardly knew," Judge said.

While many victims praised the Jewish communal response, some had complaints. Several family members of victims in Washington said there was no outreach from the organized Jewish community, except for their synagogues, according to the Washington Jewish Week. The federation defended its work, saying it was the first agency in Washington to hold a memorial service for victims, and that the Jewish Chaplaincy immediately called the families of Jewish victims to offer help.

The federation has dispersed the nearly $500,000 dollars it raised in its Sept. 11 fund to Jewish and non-Jewish agencies, according to a federation official. UJC funds were earmarked for Jewish needs, the official said, adding, "We really did everything we could."

Wiener, of the sibling support group, saw it differently. There was "plenty of comfort, but not a lot of information," she said.

And while Millman raved about her nurse, Rebecca Bigio, she also complained that "she’s not enough." Bigio said she and a social worker visit Millman at least twice a month and call frequently. But Millman, an ailing widow, said she needs more attention so that she won’t "feel so alone and so lost."

Louise Greilsheimer, vice president of agency and external relations of the UJA-Federation of New York, who coordinated its response to Sept. 11, said complaints are inevitable. "You are always, with this quantity of people, going to find issues," she said. But, she added, "I haven’t heard one horror story in the Jewish community."

"I truly believe the agencies came together and put together not only a coordinated approach," but one that was thoughtful, caring and ongoing, Greilsheimer said. "We’re staying here to follow up and to be able to work with communities that need the support."

Victims of Terror


Vered Kashani, 29, was on the phone arranging hotel rooms for 22 Israeli terror victims scheduled to visit Los Angeles on Aug. 15, when she glanced at her computer and saw there had been an attack in the Emmanuel settlement in Israel.

"My first thought was, ‘Oh! My cousin lives in Emmanuel,’" she said. "Then I got a call waiting, and it was my brother, who told me that my cousin was traveling on that bus with her three kids and her mother — my aunt. It was a bulletproof bus, but when it went over a bomb, the windows blew out and the terrorists started shooting. My aunt died right away, then my cousin’s 2-year-old got shot in the shoulder, my cousin got shot in her eye and cheek and her 11-month-old baby was shot dead.

"My cousin immediately called her husband. She said, ‘They are shooting at us.’ He didn’t have a car, but he started running on the freeway, and when he got to the scene, he saw soldiers. He thought they were IDF soldiers [they were actually the terrorists who had stolen IDF uniforms]. So he approached them, and they shot him in front of her eyes. So she lost her mother, her baby and her husband in one day," Kashani told The Journal.

The murder of her relatives only strengthened Kashani’s resolve to bring a group of terror victims to Los Angeles, so that the Jewish community here could see firsthand what the people in Israel are experiencing. The visit by the 22 victims, which Kashani is organizing under the auspices of the Southern California Jewish Center and in conjunction with the Israeli consulate, was born out of her frustration with what she calls anti-Israel campus propaganda, and what she sees as CNN’s skewed coverage of the Middle East conflict.

"I am at UCLA getting my bachelor’s degree in psychology and education, and every day when I go to campus, I see posters that equate Auschwitz with Palestine," she said. "I watch CNN, and I see them do a whole story on a [Palestinian] guy whose grapevine was destroyed, but they don’t show Israelis being destroyed. They don’t show the horror of what is going on in Israel, and someone has to do it. I think Israel needs this kind of Hasbara — and a picture is worth 1,000 words. When people see a 10-year-old girl who was on her school bus when she and two siblings were bombed, and all three had their legs amputated, that does more than a speech given by anyone who is trying to explain his political agenda."

The 22 victims who are coming include Edna Shekalim, who had acid thrown at her face while she was working in a shoe store; Cohen Ofir, the father of the three aforementioned amputees, and Tamar and Joseph Zabicky, whose daughter, Hagit, was brutally murdered one day while hiking in Wadi Kelt.

"It is very difficult," Tamar Zabicky said over the phone from Jerusalem, "because every time we hear about another murder and another murder, we feel it so much, it hurts, again and again." Zabicky said that she would like to tell the people of Los Angeles that everyone who has "enough force" should come to Israel. "It is very important. Even with what happened at the university. I know that parents will not accept sending their children to learn here in Israel, but I think it is very important that the Diaspora supports us."

Kashani is hoping that the visit will generate a lot of media coverage, and that the community will come out in droves to hear the victims speak. She is also planning on having the victims speak to members of the Latino and African American communities, as well as on college campuses, and she is organizing a bar mitzvah celebration for Jonathan Altered, one of the visitors whose father was murdered seven years ago.

"The trip has two purposes," she said. "We want to comfort the victims, and to share our love with them, and to show them we care, even though we are far away. But we also have another purpose — to explain Israel’s position in defending herself."

Bush Ex Machina


The low point of my week is reading the copy for our pages devoted to victims of Palestinian terror and

violence. We sponsor some of these pages, produced by Kol HaNeshama, a project of the students at Yeshiva University. The others, sponsored by Janine and Peter Lowy, Vivian and Ron Alberts and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, are titled, "The Human Toll of Terror."

It is ineffably sad to read the brief stories that accompany the photos. A 14-year-old boy, going home on his last day of school, murdered at a Jerusalem bus stop. A renowned hematologist gunned down on his way to work.

Five-year-olds shot dead; 59-year-old grandmothers blown up. There is a part of me — a part of all of us, I suppose — that sees the crisis in Israel as a problem to be solved, a set of problems in search of solutions. The eyes I look into each week are a gut-check against glibness, shibboleths and the status quo.

I can’t imagine the pain and suffering that each week’s sheet of faces represent. It is fathomless. And when it comes down to it, there is not much we can do to ease the suffering of the people in the midst of that war. The least we can do is read these stories.

Most of the children listed in those pages are the victims of suicide bombers. Sending people to blow themselves up to kill other people has been a very successful strategy for the Palestinians. A recent poll showed that 65 percent of Palestinians support it, and the practice has spread among Palestinian youths with a fad-like intensity. "The bottleneck on the Palestinian side is not the suicide attacker," a senior Israeli security official told The New York Times. "It’s the bomb." In other words, there are more men, boys, women and girls willing to kill themselves and innocent Israelis than there are bombs to outfit them.

One reason there aren’t enough bombs, is that Operation Defensive Shield disrupted the terrorist cells that manufacture them. But that is hardly getting at anything like the root of the problem. Writing in this month’s Foreign Affairs magazine, Gal Luft, a former lieutenant colonel in the Israel Defense Forces, assessed the success of fighting fire with fire. "If history is any guide," he wrote, "Israel’s military campaign to eradicate the phenomenon of suicide bombing is unlikely to succeed. Other nations that have faced opponents willing to die have learned the hard way that, short of complete annihilation of the enemy, no military solution will solve the problem."

Palestinians and Israelis have this in common: they seem to intuitively agree with Luft. The poll that showed 65 percent of Palestinians supporting suicide bombers also showed that 70 percent support the peace process.

A Ma’ariv poll counted a majority of Israelis who support a peace process, and 60-65 percent who support Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s military operations against Palestinians. What this means is that both sides are suffering, and neither side wants to suffer in vain. It is a killing algebra: If A equals violence and C equals peace, how do you get to C. What is B?

President George W. Bush, maybe? Bush’s initiative may offer enough carrots to both sides to complete the equation. The strength of the plan, which our correspondents discuss at length within (see page 22), is that it aims to appeal to the middle ground residing in the hearts of most Israelis and Palestinians.

It assumes that, despite what they tell pollsters (or because of what they tell pollsters) most inhabitants of that sliver of land want their children to grow up in a peaceful, secure and free society. They don’t want to capitulate to the other side, but they don’t want unending violence either. The Bush plan, if it were to succeed, offers a way out.

The weakness of the Bush plan, of course, is that it makes no guarantees. Its wording is full of contingency and passivity; i.e., "As violence subsides, freedom of movement should be restored." Palestinians and Israelis who were expecting a stronger American hand, a Bush ex machina, have a right to wonder if the president hasn’t missed an opportunity for more intervention, more direct involvement. Oslo died at the hands of extremists. What in the Bush plan prevents a similar fate?

At the very least, the Bush plan is a fork in the road. Both sides, by taking it in and mulling it over, have a chance to stop and think. The Palestinians have to reflect on how their lives would have been different had their leaders tried to conclude negotiations with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. And the Israelis have to look back just a couple of years, to a time when no one could have conceived of waves of suicide bombers wreaking havoc on their country.

And everyone, us included, must try to imagine, absent bold strokes toward peace, what unforeseen hell awaits.

Volunteer of Hope


Anna Krakovich’s kind eyes and bright smile don’t express the horror she experienced that tragic day eight years ago. Her small facial scars, however, are a permanent reminder of when "my hopes for a better future and a new life were turned into a nightmare."

The 44-year-old bombing survivor visited Los Angeles in mid-April to assist The Jewish Federation in launching their Jews in Crisis campaign. As Krakovich has dedicated her life to helping others who have endured similar trauma, she often travels to different U.S. cities to share her story and hopeful perspective. In addition, she is a full-time volunteer for the Israel Crisis Management Center (ICMC), a Tel Aviv-based organization that saved her life in 1994.

Krakovich moved to Haifa from her native Ukraine in 1991 with her 9-year-old daughter to start a new life. After learning enough Hebrew to get by, the single mother began teaching English as a second language at a school in Afula.

On April 6, 1994, she was waiting at a bus stop on her way home from school. Suddenly, a passing car made a U-turn and the driver set off a deadly explosion next to her. Krakovich suffered second- and third-degree burns over 70 percent of her body and was not expected to survive.

Krakovich woke up in the hospital surrounded by ICMC volunteers who tended to her needs. Because her language skills were limited, it took her a while to understand what had happened and who her benefactors were.

Meanwhile, the volunteers kept her company, contacted her mother in the Ukraine and cared for her daughter. To everyone’s surprise, she began to recover. But due to the severity of her injuries, Krakovich had to go through rehabilitation therapy and was unable to function as a mother for two years. Volunteers continued to visit her throughout her ordeal. Krakovich has been involved with ICMC ever since.

"I became a volunteer because so much of hearts’ warmth was given to me on top of financial support and technical things that were done for me," Krakovich said. "I felt a need to give something back."

She believes that her experience makes her a special kind of volunteer and noted that victims trust her optimism when they discover that she went through the ordeal herself. "I never tell my own story [to a victim]," Krakovich explained, while recalling her efforts during a Tel Aviv disco bombing. "I just held hands with the children, and they would say, ‘Don’t leave, don’t leave.’"

Most of the victims in the Netanya bombing May 2001 were new immigrants, which helped Israeli society understand the plight of immigrant victims.

Executive Director Ruth Bar-On founded ICMC in 1993. The organization is Israel’s only nationwide volunteer network providing assistance for new immigrants suddenly faced with crisis, terror or tragedy.

The group offers support by visiting victims at home and in the hospital, helping with transportation, assisting with burial costs, providing shelter, paying for certain medical procedures and other emergencies and offering legal and psychological support. Long-term care includes peer counseling, special outings, seminars for grandparents raising orphaned children, youth retreats and summer programs for children in the aftermath of tragedy.

The group has 500 volunteers who have worked on more than 8,000 cases. However, the number does not include extended family members.

"It’s not only the person who was hit directly or the family of the bereaved. It spreads in circles," Krakovich explained. "It’s the family first, then the siblings of the person who was killed, then the siblings and their friends who knew the family, who are not functioning properly because they need some psychological support." Krakovich explained.

While she is Jewish, Krakovich said there are volunteers from other religions and from all walks of life and ages. As a volunteer, Krakovich primarily offers support to victims in hospitals and takes on small tasks for families, such as taking a teenage girl to the doctor or meeting with a child’s teacher when parents or grandparents are unable to do so.

"I don’t pretend to stand instead of their missing parent," Krakovich insisted. "I just give them a hand." Krakovich is unable to accompany emergency teams to the scene of a bombing, because the experience is too much for her. "Every time a homicide-bombing happens, it’s as if it’s happening to me again," she said.

Taking out a photo album, she showed pictures of victims and volunteers. There’s Eliezer N., who is now blind after sustaining injuries in a bombing. Sasha S., a 6-year-old boy, poses with his mother, Olessia. The recent Russian immigrants lost Sasha’s father in the Netanya terrorist attack. Sasha and Olessia were both injured. The list goes on.

Krakovich is quick to point out that recent world events have enabled society to sympathize with victims of terror. "Recently, I find myself able to bring the message of the organization in the context of what’s happening in Israel now," she said. "I met people in L.A. who realize that everything they do from letters to e-mails and telephone calls to the government to rallies and demonstrations — bringing in their voices — it helps.

"I think the rally in Washington had a tremendous effect on the Israeli public, because we see that we’re not alone," she said, adding that Sept. 11 has helped the United States to comprehend the situation.

"ICMC deals with families in crisis, but the point is bringing people back to life," she said, clasping her hands together, which, upon close inspection, revealed skin grafts. "I was led through the hardest period of my life.

"I wouldn’t have been able to do it on my own. Life will never be the same, but you have to go on. To find something new in it is what ICMC is about," she said with a smile, the hope perceptible in her eyes.

When Violence Hits Home


The Jewish community in the West Valley and surrounding areas was rocked Feb. 5 by the murder of William and Bertha Lasky, former members of Temple Solael. The elderly couple died in their West Hills home from cuts and stab wounds, victims of an unknown intruder.

According to Detective David Lambkin of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), firefighters responded to a call from a monitored fire alarm system in the house and found the bodies in the master bedroom and several areas of the house set ablaze. The time of the couple’s death and other details of the crime have not been released, and autopsy results have been sealed pending further investigation. Lambkin said that police have established that Bertha went shopping on Sunday and that family members had been in contact with her in the early afternoon.

Lambkin said the motive for the killings is still unknown.

“We have no evidence at this point that it was a follow-home [murder],” the detective said. “They didn’t drive a Lexus or Mercedes like you expect to find in a follow-home, but we have not ruled it out. Right now, without any witnesses we’re processing the forensic evidence and following up on anyone connected with the family who might be able to identify a suspect.”

The Lasky family declined to speak to The Journal, but sources at Temple Solael confirmed the couple had been early members of the congregation. According to reports in the Los Angeles Times and Daily News, William, 76, a retired cable company executive, and Bertha, 73, a docent at the Getty Center Museum, were longtime residents of the area and had just returned from a cruise.

Although the Laskys’ murder was unusual for their quiet West Valley neighborhood, more than 7,000 people were victims of violent crime in the Valley just in the past year, according to the LAPD. Counseling victims of violent crime is crucial to recovery, said Sally Weber, director of Jewish community programs for Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS).

“Research shows that people who participate in crisis counseling within the first six months of a trauma fare much better than people who don’t,” Weber said.

Weber said a number of JFS staff workers have been trained to do crisis intervention for both natural disasters and human-generated trauma and have handled cases from the shootings at the North Valley Jewish Community Centers to bank robbery victims. Counselors meet with victims as well as families and co-workers in order to help them process their reactions and return to a normal degree of function.

“There are a very normal set of reactions to trauma that, while people are experiencing them, can make you feel pretty crazy,” Weber said. “Common reactions include a profound sense that the world is completely out of control and that there is nothing you can do to protect yourself or your loved ones; flashbacks, which can be very intense, and a fear of being out in similar places or exposed to similar dangers. It can also affect relationships with family members and friends who did not experience the crime. People are often very supportive in the beginning, but then they don’t understand why [the victim’s reaction] is going on so long. That’s why outside help is so important.”

Weber said counseling is especially critical for crime victims who have experienced other crimes in the past, for example survivors of the Holocaust.

“The problem with trauma is it rips the scab off previous traumas,” she said.

In addition to the JFS, Weber said she often refers crime victims to Compassionate Friends, a support group for the families of those who have lost a child, or the Victim-Witness Assistance Program, a division of the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office that provides comprehensive services to victims and witnesses of crime, including counseling referrals and help for victims to collect court-ordered restitution from perpetrators.

For many Jewish families, who tend to live in more affluent areas of the Valley, crimes like the Lasky murder are so rare that safety is taken for granted. Lambkin warns that this can be a serious mistake.

“It’s unfortunate, but at this point we’re telling people to be cautious of any strange vehicles or persons in neighborhood,” Lambkin said. “Do not open the door for anyone unless you know who they are. Also, be aware of who is around you when you are out and about. I know it’s hard in this day and age because people are so preoccupied or talking on their cell phones, but you really need to be observant.”

Police are asking anyone with information about the murder of William and Bertha Lasky to contact Detective David Lambkin or Detective Tim Marcia at (213) 485-2921.

If you or anyone you know has been the victim of crime and needs help, please contact one of the following agencies:

Jewish Family Services (323) 761-8800

Victim-Witness Assistance Program of the L.A. City Attorney (213) 485-6976

Compassionate Friends (877) 969-0010