France honors Americans, Briton who disarmed train gunman

French President Francois Hollande on Monday awarded France's highest honor, the Legion d'honneur, to three U.S. citizens and a Briton who helped disarm a machine gun-toting suspected Islamist militant on a train last week.

“Faced with the evil called terrorism there is a good, that's humanity. You are the incarnation of that,” Hollande told the four men.

The suspect's lawyer said on Sunday the man named by intelligence sources as Ayoub el Khazzani, 26, of Morocco, is “dumbfounded” they had him down as a suspected Islamist militant. She said he told her he only intended to rob people on board because he was hungry.

Spencer Stone, a 23-year-old U.S. airman traveling with two friends on the train from Amsterdam to Paris on Friday, told reporters on Sunday how he plugged the blood-spurting wound of another passenger with his fingers after himself being wounded by the attacker.

I just stuck two of my fingers in the hole, found what I thought to be the artery, pushed down and the bleeding stopped,” he said at a news conference alongside his friends, student Anthony Sadler, also 23, and National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos, 22.

The man Stone helped, a Franco-American Hollande named as Mark Moogalian, remains hospitalized. U.S. Ambassador to France Jane Hartley said he was “doing pretty well.”

Chris Norman, a 62-year-old British consultant who lives in France, was also decorated by Hollande on Monday.

Stone said another man, who is French and whose name has not been disclosed, “deserves a lot of the credit” because he was the first one to try to stop the gunman.

Stone thanked the doctors who reattached his thumb, which was almost severed by the gunman, who had been armed with a box cutter, a pistol and a Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle.

According to Spanish security sources, Khazzani traveled to France in 2014 and went to Syria. French security sources said he went to Berlin airport for a flight to Istanbul on May 10 this year. Turkey is a preferred destination for would-be jihadists heading for Syria. He is on a French list of around 3,000 people who are documented as being a potential militant Islamist threat.

His father, Mohammed el Khazzani, was quoted by Spanish newspaper El Mundo as saying he had not spoken to his son since he left the Spanish southern port town of Algeciras for France in 2014 to work for a mobile phone company that fired him one month into a six-month contract.

“They are saying Ayoub is a terrorist but I simply can’t believe it,” said Khazzani, 64, a scrap merchant who lives in the poor El Saladillo district of Algeciras with his wife and some of his six children.

“Why would he want to kill anyone? It makes no sense,” he said of his son. “The only terrorism he is guilty of is terrorism for bread. He doesn’t have enough money to feed himself properly.”

France has been on high alert since January this year when 17 people died in Islamist militant attacks on a satirical newspaper and in a siege in a Jewish shop.

Police say Palestinian stabber acted alone

The Palestinian held for stabbing an Israeli female soldier this month is suspected of acting alone.

Details about the March 15 assault aboard the Jerusalem light rail emerged Monday when the suspect, an 18-year-old resident of eastern Jerusalem, was remanded in court.

Citing an account given by the suspect under interrogation, police said he stabbed and seriously wounded the 18-year-old female conscript after boarding the train instead of going to school.

The suspect, who was captured later in the day while trying to travel to the West Bank city of Ramallah, described the attack as revenge for Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, police said. But they added that he did not appear to have links to organized Palestinian terrorism.

The investigation is continuing; a trial date has yet to be set.

A chosen rail line?

In a city where nothing ever seems to come easy, the arrival this summer of Jerusalem’s long-delayed light-rail Red Line was seen by some as nothing short of a miracle. At many points over the past 10-plus years of construction, it looked as though the Messiah would pass through the Old City’s Golden Gate before the train might arrive. And like many good land-use battles in Jerusalem, this one featured national political aspirations, terrorism concerns and the secular-religious divide, as well as conflicting views of fiscal and corporate accountability and arguments over the best transit solutions for a culturally and religiously diverse city of 800,000.

Still, as I saw on a recent trip, the Holy City somehow achieved the opening of its first light-rail line a lot sooner than Los Angeles is realizing a subway to its Westside. Though I came too early to witness the line’s opening, during my visit I watched the train being tested, and I even stepped aboard a car before being shooed off by a grumpy conductor.

Being in the place that is home to three of the world’s great religions, I got to thinking about how conflict and different world views can stand in the way of public transit improvements like Jerusalem’s Red Line and L.A.’s Westside subway extension. Though I am no expert on Jerusalem, the sight of the train crawling down Jaffa Road left me wondering what parallels there might be between Jerusalem’s and Los Angeles’ struggles to bring rail to these cities.

The two transit battles both pit those who view their city as ill suited to trains against those who feel trains must have a place in growing cities. Also common to both battles are vocal adversaries of public transportation who don’t ride the buses and trains that they rail against. One certainty in such projects is that by the time the work is completed, few residents of either stripe are happy about the costs, delays and disruption caused by the construction. As if on cue, Jerusalem’s infant rail system has already seen its first strike by operators seeking pay equity with bus drivers. The 30-hour strike, which came during the busy period of Sukkot, has since ended with an agreement between the workers and the consortium that runs the rail service.

Jerusalem’s eight-mile light rail line, which opened Aug. 19, runs from the Jewish settlement of Pisgat Ze’ev, in East Jerusalem, through the Palestinian neighborhoods of Beit Hanina and Shu’afat to downtown and Mount Herzl in the West. This means it passes through land that came under Israeli jurisdiction as a result of the 1967 Six-Day War. Further complicating the process, there have also been efforts by the city’s ultra-Orthodox Jews to create cars separating men and women. And for many, the Jerusalem project confirmed some fears that the disruptive construction process would be fatal to businesses along Jaffa Road, the narrow thoroughfare that runs through the mostly Jewish West Jerusalem to the Old City’s Jaffa Gate.

In Los Angeles, some have kvetched and even sued over the use of an established rail right-of-way running through Cheviot Hills for the new Expo Line, which is nearing completion, yet Los Angeles’ battles pale in comparison to Jerusalem’s. Even the vocal battle over tunneling under Beverly Hills High School, a plan that got the backing of a panel of engineers and seismic experts on Oct. 19, has been muted by comparison with a project that runs through neighborhoods some residents do not recognize as Israeli.

So, is Jerusalem’s Red Line a cursed effort at improving mobility in a traffic-choked city? Or will the project bring good things to all residents of East and West Jerusalem? Or could there have been a better, more cost-effective alternative?

In Jerusalem, some have complained that the Red Line should have run from Mount Scopus to Givat Ram, the main campus of the Hebrew University, where it might have attracted more riders than the current route, including many students and those visiting the city’s major hospitals. Indeed, West Jerusalem resident Ilan Jospe argues that the line mostly benefits people who live near the route. The train also took lanes of traffic from narrow roads that were hard to navigate to begin with.  

Ahmad Fahoum, an East Jerusalem resident, is not enthusiastic about the train. He questions the cost, the political message sent by the route, and whether Jewish and Arab residents used to riding Egged (Israeli) and Arab buses as well as sherutim (shared shuttle vans), taxis and private cars around the city will embrace the limited service of a single line, which is a slow train, for now — the Red Line’s trip from end to end takes 65 minutes rather than the originally scheduled 42 minutes, though that will change with improvements. He also wonders who got rich off the project, which was built by an international consortium of companies. Like others, Fahoum noted the lower cost of offering bus service, including dedicated-lane bus rapid transit (BRT) to speed commuters through congested parts of the divided city. And, one need not go far in Jerusalem to find proof that BRTs can be built faster and cheaper than rail. Jerusalem’s first BRT line, a north/south project, was completed some time ago to act as a feeder connection to the Red Line.

In an Aug. 17 article in The Guardian newspaper, critics claimed the project was “part of a deliberate plan to link the East Jerusalem settlement [of Pisgat Ze’ev] to the city centre, [to] consolidate Israel’s grip on the eastern part of the city that Palestinians want as a capital of their future state, and present Jerusalem as an undivided city.”

As for construction of a second line, dubbed the Blue Line, both Jospe and Fahoum hope it will never happen, given that the Red Line took more than 10 years to build and reportedly cost the municipality $1.1 billion. Nevertheless, Jerusalem has plans to build eight light rail and BRT lines, with the first new service planned for Ein Kerem (serving Hadassah Hospital) in the southwest and Neve Ya’akov in the northeast. Other lines serving Neve Ya’akov, Kiryat Menachem, and the Hebrew University campuses at Givat Ram and Mount Scopus are also planned.

Tel Aviv-bound train catches fire, injures 121

Some 121 passengers were injured after a fire broke out in a train traveling south toward Tel Aviv.

Most of the injures from Tuesday’s incident were from cuts and smoke inhalation; only five were more serious injuries.

The fire started in the rear engine of the train due to an electrical short, according to Israel Railways.  The train doors reportedly did not open automatically as they are supposed to; some doors had begun to melt from the fire. Passengers broke windows and escaped the train that way.

The Transportation Ministry said it would open an investigation into the incident.


Our thoughts go to the families of the men and women who were killed in the Metrolink Train 111 crash in Chatsworth on Friday, Sept. 12.

We also send our prayers to the families of the men, women and children who were killed when a passenger jet, en route from Moscow to Perm in central Russia, crashed Sunday, Sept. 14, during its descent. All 88 passengers, including members of the local Jewish community, were killed: Yevgeny and Lyudmila Sankin, 50 and 53; Anna Spivak and Yakov Spivak, both 32; Sergei Yudin and Valeriya Yudin, 41 and 3, and Ifraim Nakhumov and Golda Nakhumova, 36 and 24, with their children, Ilya Nakhumov, 7, and Eva Nakhumov, 5.

Rea Altman died Aug. 12 at the age of 102. She is survived by her daughter, Phyllis Gelb. Sholom Chapels

Bernardo Azernitzky died Sept. 10 at 82. He is survived by his son, Richard. Sholom Chapels

Sylvia Braun died Aug. 24 at 83. She is survived by her son, Jay; and grandchildren. Sholom Chapels

Victor Clafin died Sept. 10 at 86. He is survived by his wife, Paulette; son, Jacques; and granddaughters, Alison August and Ashley. Mount Sinai

Ruth Epstein died Sept. 4 at 95. She is survived by her son, Earl (Helen); grandson, Eric; and granddaughter, Danielle Gebhardt. Hillside

Elias Eshagian died Aug. 8 at 77. He is survived by his wife, Parvin; sons, George, Gilber, Joubin and Roger; 14 grandchildren; brothers, Ezatollah, Mehdi, Benjamin and Maurice; and sisters, Shokat Mishkanian and Farideh Bamshad. Chevra Kadisha

Marvin Freeman died Sept. 7 at 81. He is survived by his wife, Natasha; daughters, Linda Rauch, Traci (Roy) Salter and Karen (Jeffrey) Shapiro; and seven grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Elizabeth Grossinger died Aug. 25 at 86. She is survived by her daughter, Susan (Zev) Bogan. Sholom Chapels

Semo Filbert died Aug. 18 at 81. He is survived by his wife, Helen; daughter, Billie (Jack); and two grandchildren. Sholom Chapels

Edwin Otto Guthman died Aug. 31 at 89. He is survived by his sons, Gary, Les and Edwin; and daughter, Diane Jo Cincino. Hillside

Evelyn Halpern died Sept. 8 at 90. She is survived by her children, Robert (Anneta Posner) and Deena (Jerry Epstein); eight grandchildren; nephew; and nieces. Groman

Eli Barry Hirsh died Sept. 4 at 41. He is survived by his wife, Irit; mother, Toni; and friends, Adina and Moshe Melnick. Hillside

Celia Lillian Kahlenberg died Aug. 27 at 91. She is survived by her sons, Edward (Deana), Robert (Janice) and Sherwood (Rita); daughter, Ruth (Jacob) Bloom; and sister, Rose Lewis. Hillside

Mildred Golick Kauffman died Aug. 27 at 94. She is survived by her son, Ken Golick; and daughter, Gale Gould. Hillside

George Klasser died Aug. 28 at 73. He is survived by his wife, Lorraine; son, Kenneth; daughter, Sandra (Steven) Greenough, and brothers, Alan and Edwin. Hillside

Florence Kaminsky died Sept. 3 at 84. She is survived by her daughters, Karen (Nate) Hoffman and Linda (Michael) Johnson; and brother, Herbert Kapsky. Hillside

Hugo Kren died Sept. 6 at 94. He is survived by his wife, Rosa; daughter, Jeanette (Gary) Lachman; and granddaughters, Heather and Stephnie Lachman. Mount Sinai

Shirley Lane died Sept. 8 at 84. She is survived by her son, Rod; daughters, Laura and Barbara; and three grandchildren. Groman

David Langer died Aug. 30 at 86. He is survived by his wife, Florence; daughter, Andrea; son, Barry; daughter-in-law, Janet; and grandchildren, Robert and Bethany. Hillside

Mira Langer died Sept. 4 at 78. She is survived by her husband, Nathan; sons, Dennis (Susan), David (Melissa) and Bruce (Stefani); seven grandchildren; and sister, Rachel Jaskowitz. Malinow and Silverman

Stuart Levin died Aug. 29 at 88. He is survived by his wife, Jane; sons, Peter (Ruth) and Michael (Lisa); and brother, Maurice LeCove. Hillside

Marion Norma Levinson died Sept. 2 at 79. She is survived by her husband, Bill; and daughters Dharma Khalsa and Nancy Retinoff. Hillside

Robert “Bobby” Mallon died Sept. 10, at the age of 89. He is survived by his daughter, Judith Rojas. Mount Sinai

Joanne Marcus died Aug. 26 at 58. She is survived by her husband, Robert; daughters, Ariane and Alexander; and son, Harry. Hillside

Marvin Marmelstein died Sept. 4 at 81. He is survived by his wife, Roberta; daughter, Wendy Rose; grandson, Bryan Raber; and his partner Jordan Katnik. Hillside

Al Mishkin died Sept. 7 at 95. He is survived by his son, Robert; and daughter, Joyce Saltz. Hillside

Elizabeth Anne Morgan died Sept. 2 at 40. She is survived by her husband, Jack; daughter, Tabitha; and father, Jack Morgan. Hillside

Aaron Peck died Sept. 13 at 69. He is survived by his wife, Linda; son, Anthony (Gayle); daughters, Dena (Shane) Gertsch and Jessica; and three grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Gerald Peck died Sept. 1 at 82. He survived by his wife, Elaine; sons, Bennett and Lawrence; brothers, Robert (Ann) and Burton (Rona); sister, Beverly (Leo); nieces; and nephews. Mount Sinai

Matilda Frances Penny died Sept. 2 at 84. She is survived by her son, Theodore; daughters, Jeanne and Helen; sister, Joyce; and seven grandchildren. Groman

Fanny Pomeranc died Sept. 11 at 86. She is survived by her son, Dennis. Mount Sinai

Bernard Reder died Sept. 6 at 82. He is survived by his wife, Serena; sons, Martin (Susan), Glen (Orly) and Paul (Sherri); daughter, Marina (Spencer) Misraje; seven grandchildren; sister, Gloria (Rudy) Diamond; and half-sister, Kathy (Ed) Stacy. Mount Sinai

Julio Roberts died Aug. 6 at 90. He is survived by his wife, Helen; daughter, Paula (Larry); and three grandchildren. Sholom Chapels

Shirley Rocklin died Sept. 3 at age 98. She is survived by her sons, Ted and Milton; three grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. Groman

Michael Alan Rosenaur died Aug. 30 at 30. He is survived by his father, Leonard (Martine) Rosenaur; mother Hope (Richard) Shaw; sisters, Lara (Kyle) Polvy and Chanel Rosenaur; aunt, Sybil Bergman, and cousins, Jayand Lance Bergman. Hillside

David Schwartz died Sept. 2 at 86. He is survived by his daughter, Lisa Leffton; and son, Howard. Malinow and Silverman

Ruth Simon died Aug. 29 at 86. She is survived by her sons, Andy, Peter, Michael and Howard. Hillside

David Slobin died on Aug. 9 at 93. He is survived by his wife, Evelene; children, Myron (Mary Ann), Ellen (Gershon) and Barry (Carol); and 14 grandchildren. Chevra Kadisha

Adolf Joseph Snyder died Sept. 9 at 89. He is survived by his wife, Marian; son, Larry (Bobbie); daughter, Michelle (Henry) Wisch; and grandchildren, David and Robin. Mount Sinai

Esther Terry died Aug. 31 at 89. She is survived by her daughters, Elaine Dreyfuss, Shane Cronenweth and Lori Erlendsson; two grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman

Joseph Weiner died Aug. 1 at 92. He is survived by his son, Jerry (Patti); daughter, Miriam (Steve) Kosberg; seven grandchidlren; and 10 great-grandchildren. Sholom Chapels

Sarah Weinstein died Sept. 7 at 95. She is survived by her daughters, Lois (Rabbi Moshe) Rothblum and Marilyn (Alex) Ehrlich; and three grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Thelma Yaffe died Sept. 11 at 90. She is survived by her daughters, Lois Bloch, Arlene (Marvin) Garfield, Roberta (Barry) Zwick and Martha (David) Uslaner; seven grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Survivor, rabbi recall horror of Metrolink train crash

Richard Slavett normally takes the 4:36 p.m. Metrolink train from Glendale to his home in Thousand Oaks, but last Friday his daughter-in-law was flying in from the East Coast and he decided to go home early.

Slavett, 69, owner of the Glendale Tire Co. of Glendale, caught the 3:45 p.m. train instead, took an aisle seat at the rear of the train, and fell fast asleep.

The next thing he knew he was lying face down at the front of the compartment following a horrific crash between his Metrolink train and a freight train, which killed 26 people and injured 138.

Next to him were two bodies, one bleeding profusely. Slavett painfully crawled to retrieve his briefcase, and a lunchbox holding the day’s cash receipts.

“It was like a scene from a disaster movie,” he said.

Agonizingly, Slavett crawled to the exit, until two men carried him to a nearby boulder. An hour later he was taken to the triage area and there LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and County Sheriff Lee Baca, who both know Slavett, came over to comfort him.

Three hours later he was transferred to Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Woodland Hills. Miraculously, he had no broken bones, but suffered an excruciatingly painful torn groin.

Despite the pain, Slavett managed to attend a dinner Monday evening, marking his installation as lieutenant governor of the California Kiwanis.

Now slowly recovering, the father of three and grandfather of six said, in a voice chocked with emotion, “I got to get well fast so I can go back to singing in the choir at Or Ami [in Calabasas].”

Rabbi Leonard Muroff was driving to his home in Agoura Hills after conducting services at Temple Ner Tamid in Downey, when he heard that families of those thought to have been on the train were told to assemble at Chatsworth High School and wait for news.

As a full-time chaplain with Vitas Innovative Hospice Care, he immediately changed course and headed for the high school.

The place was jammed with families and friends, some standing in stunned silence, others close to hysteria, alongside aid workers from the fire department, sheriff’s office, Red Cross, and the mayor’s crisis team, headed by Jeff Zimmerman.

Working alongside a Protestant and Buddhist chaplain, Muroff worked to pinpoint the locations of the injured, scattered throughout some 20 hospitals, from Simi Valley to the USC-County Hospital.

Muroff encountered some Jewish families, although the faith of the affected families made no difference to the three chaplains.

Around midnight, officials of the Coroner’s office received a list of those who had died in the crash and began to notify the waiting relatives.

What do you say to the bereaved in such a moment, Muroff was asked.

“There are no magic words,” he answered, “no easy phrases like ‘he has gone to a better place’ or ‘God will embrace her’.”

“All you can do is let them cry it out, say that you are with them, that they are not alone.”

Muroff pulled a 17-hour shift, interrupted only by morning prayers at Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills. He returned to the high school bearing 13 bagles with cream cheese, supplied by the temple.

Muroff, 48, is a native of Toronto and has been a hospice chaplain for two years, previously with the Jewish Homes for the Aging.

There have been many emotional and agonizing moments during that time, he said, but nothing had been as intensive as the 17 hours at Chatsworth High.

We need public transit — why can’t we get it?

I’ve never been a big one for buses or subways. I’ve never been able to organize myself around their schedules, at least when it comes to getting to work. So I usually end up taking my car (or, now that I’m in sunny Berkeley, walking, and not worrying about getting anywhere on time). Now that gas is more than $4 a gallon, I’m avoiding my car altogether.

For years, policymakers have wondered just how high gas prices would have to go before drivers switch to public transportation. The answer has been assumed to be very high, because Americans supposedly are in love with our cars. Yet now we know there’s a tipping point, and it’s not quite as high as policymakers have guessed. It’s around $4 a gallon. We know that’s the tipping point because suddenly millions of Americans are switching to buses, trains and subways to go to work.

Rather than bemoaning this remarkable turnaround we should be celebrating it. Public transit not only reduces congestion but also reduces the nation’s energy needs and cuts carbon emissions that bring on global warming.

Problem is, the nation doesn’t have nearly enough public transportation to handle the new demand. Even more absurdly, right now when it’s needed the most, public transportation across the land is being cut back. This is because transit costs are soaring by the same skyrocketing fuel prices that are forcing people out of their cars, at the same time transit revenues are shrinking because most transit systems depend largely on sales taxes, now dwindling as consumer purchases decline in this recession. A survey of the nation’s public transit agencies released last Friday showed 21 percent of rail operators — and 19 percent of bus operators — now cutting back.

Even though it’s 100 times more efficient for each of us to stop driving and use trains and buses, there’s not enough money in the public kitty for us to do so.

This is nuts. If officials need more money to cover the extra fuel costs of public transit, they can raise ticket prices a bit without reducing demand; most of us would still find public transit cheaper than driving our cars. But officials shouldn’t stop there. They should add services and expand whole systems — more buses, more trains, more light rail. If they can’t finance this by floating bonds, they should go to Congress and ensure that public transportation is a major part of the next stimulus package.

Public transit has always been the poor stepchild of infrastructure development. America’s usual answer to traffic congestion has been to add more lanes on highways, or more highways, or more bridges and tunnels for more cars. America hasn’t been really serious about public transit for almost a century. Most of New York City’s subway system was built over a hundred years ago. Los Angeles ripped out its trams long ago. Boston’s Big Dig, one of the biggest infrastructure projects in modern American history, was designed entirely for cars. In recent years, only a few farsighted and ambitious cities, like Portland, Ore., have invested in light rail.

But now that gas is more than $4 a gallon, all this may change. And what better way to get the economy going, and save energy and the environment in years to come, than to create a modern, efficient system of public transportation in America?

Reprinted from Marketplace, June 4, 2008.

Robert Reich, former secretary of labor in the Clinton administration, is a professor of public policy at UC Berkeley and the author of “Reason: Why Liberals Will Win the Battle for America” (Knopf, 2004).

Come dive with me — Israeli skydivers training in SoCal

You do it … you can never go back,” Israeli Sharon Har-noy said recently of her passion for the sport of skydiving. She and teammate Adi Freid met with a reporter during a break from training at Perris Valley Skydiving, about 70 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

Har-noy and Freid make up the only all-female Israeli skydive team in the advanced category, which includes just six teams. They came to Perris to prepare for their nationals, set for April 2007, and hopefully the world competition in Australia to follow. Their U.S. training tour, sponsored by Israeli American Dr. Avraham Kadar and his company,, included stops at Skydive Cross Keys in New Jersey, Skydive Arizona Eloy, as well as Perris, before they returned to Israel Oct. 19.

The team’s home drop zone, Paradive, at Habonim Beach, between Haifa and Tel Aviv, is only open four days a week, and it lacks the opportunities available in the United States. At Perris, they trained seven days a week on faster planes that could carry more people, and they utilized a wind tunnel that simulated skydiving. The teammates said that during one week of training at Perris, they got in 70 jumps and made progress that would have taken them at least three months in Israel.

In Israel, the pair train on the weekends. During the week, Freid is a senior psychology major at Tel Aviv University and Har-noy produces animated films for, an education service.

The pair, both now 24, met about 3 1/2 years ago at Paradive and became quick friends. They had both done diving before — Har-noy took her first jump at the drop zone after high school and continued on weekend breaks from the army, while Freid’s first skydiving experience was in New Zealand, during her post-military travels in 2002.

“Two girls in the drop zone, we had to get together and start jumping,” Freid said.

About a year ago, while on a trip to Perris, they met manager Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld, a world champion diver who is also Jewish, suggested they team up and start competing.

“To be a good skydiver you have to jump with someone good, and if there is no good people in the drop zone, then nobody can get ahead,” Har-noy said.

Among those helping them prepare is coach David Gershfeld.

“They have that finesse that … drive and energy … to get better and actively progress,” Gershfeld said.

Freid and Har-noy say the sport is safe, more so, they argue, than driving a car.And while Paradive closed for a month during the recent war, both women say they didn’t feel threatened.

“Maybe it’s easier to skydive in Israel because you are used to being afraid, or used to being in dangerous situations. Skydiving really isn’t that dangerous,” Freid said.

— Sara Bakhshian, Contributing Writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vibration is a great for fighting against that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Israeli Surfs New Turf

Windsurfer Gal Friedman became the first Israeli to win the gold medal at the World Mistral Sailboard Championships, held in Pattaya, Thailand, on Sunday, Dec. 15. Out of the 11 races in the regatta, Friedman won four and in two more he placed second, making it the best-ever achievement for an Israeli windsurfer.

Friedman’s achievement wasn’t always so certain. Although he had won a bronze medal at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, his fierce rival, Amit Inbar, represented Israel at the Sydney Games in 2000. Friedman’s disappointment at being overlooked in favor of Inbar led him to rethink his future, and he took off two years, preferring to concentrate on other sports, such as mountain biking.

Once the Sydney Games ended, Friedman started thinking about making a comeback. At the same time, Inbar decided to quit, but Friedman refused to attend the trials set by the Sailing Association for choosing a team for the European championships. While younger Israeli windsurfers such as Tal Machuro, Yoni Ben-Zeev and Alex Hebner competed against each other, Friedman — with the help of the Elite Sports Unit and the agreement of the Sailing Association — received funding to train intensively with Nikos Kaklamanakis, the gold medalist in the last two Olympics.

Friedman credits much of his recent success to his coach, American Mike Gebhardt. "He has helped me with the small things, the things which differentiate between the top places and the rest. Gebhardt is himself a former Olympic medalist, and his experience has helped me — mostly in motivating me to believe that I can win," Friedman said.

"He has proved his great potential. He has the attributes of a champion," an ecstatic Gebhardt said Sunday of Friedman. "He has great technique and a strong character, but he needs some moral support to make him even better," he said.

Friedman’s title places him as a leading contender among Israelis going for an Olympic medal in the 2004 Athens Games, alongside pole vaulter Alex Averbukh and kayaker Mikhail Kalganov.

Despite the fact that he was in 19th place after his first race in Thailand, Friedman got back on course on Sunday, took the lead on the second day of competition and did not look back. "I didn’t try to go for a medal, I went for the gold," he said. "This was a long and tough event, but I stayed close to the title all the way through. I have had a good year. It is very difficult to be second in Europe and world champion in the same year, but I have done it, and I have proved that I am part of the leading group in the world." — Staff Report


UJC Taps Tisch for Top Post

The United Jewish Communities (UJC) offered its top volunteer position to the president of UJA-Federation of Greater New York, according to a member of the UJC nominating committee.

The source said James Tisch of New York was asked to replace fellow philanthropist Charles Bronfman as chairman of the board, but has not yet responded.

Other UJC officials declined to confirm the nomination, saying they have been talking to “a whole host of people to see who’s interested.”

Shoah Denier Denied Platform

A student group at Oxford has canceled a debate on freedom of speech that was to feature Holocaust denier David Irving.

The Oxford Union debating society decided to call off the May 10 event at the last minute after intense pressure from a range of groups including the Union of Jewish Students, the Association of University Teachers and Oxford’s own Student Union.

High-Speed Train to Serve Tel Aviv

Israel’s rail authority inaugurated a double-decker passenger train that will serve suburban communities surrounding Tel Aviv. The train can seat 505 people and reach speeds of 87 miles per hour.

Shoah Deniers Meet in Jordan

The Simon Wiesenthal Center condemned a Holocaust deniers conference held Sunday in Jordan.

The meeting, sponsored by the Jordanian Writers Union, was “yet another step in a systematic effort under way in the Arab world to deconstruct Jewish history,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the center’s associate dean.

Last month, Lebanon’s prime minister blocked Holocaust deniers from holding a similar meeting in Beirut.

Israel Nixes Panel Call

Israel rejected a portion of a United States-led commission’s report that called for the end of settlement construction.

Speaking last Friday after U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said he hoped the report could serve as the basis for an Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire, Israeli Cabinet member Danny Naveh said ending construction meant to accommodate a settlement’s natural growth was “impossible.”

On Sunday, Palestinian negotiator Nabil Sha’ath said the Palestinians will not return to the negotiating table unless Israel halts all settlement construction.

In a separate development, Powell said he has not ruled out the idea of appointing someone to replace Dennis Ross, who served as President Clinton’s special envoy to the Middle East.

But Powell said that given the current state of Israeli- Palestinian violence, he does not see a reason to have someone “shuttle back and forth on a constant basis” between Washington and the Middle East.

Briefs courtesy of Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

A Journey into the Heart of Darkness

There was something haunting about taking the train. The aged boxcars on a parallel track seemed frozen in time. I quieted my thoughts. After all, the train was a necessary evil. This bitter irony was not lost on me as the train sped from Munich to Dachau on probably the very same tracks that led thousands of innocent people to their deaths more than a half-century ago.

Once before I had attempted to visit Dachau only to find the camp closed. All museums are closed Mondays, said the guard. But how could they close the camp on this day? On any day? I returned to Dachau nearly four years later. It was a Wednesday.

My family, like many of those from Eastern Europe, is small. I had three grandparents, an uncle, aunt and two cousins. The rest of my family was exterminated. During the war, both grandmothers were hidden with their children. Both grandfathers were taken away by the Nazis. One perished in slave labor on the Russian front. The other was shipped from his home in Hungary to Auschwitz, then to Dachau-Mettenheim and, finally, to Waldlager, where he was liberated on Feb. 5, 1945. My surviving grandfather never spoke of his time in hell, yet with this burden he managed to live life to the fullest, taking advantage of every moment of every day, relishing the simple fact that he was.

I had been to the Wiesenthal Center, the Holocaust Museum and Yad Vashem. I thought I was prepared for the emotion of Dachau. At first I was happy to be a part of a large tour group, thinking that a collective experience would somehow be cathartic. We listened to the doleful biography of the camp and toured the museum that was not more than a sparse littering of atrocities from the camp photo album. Mounted below each picture was a terse description translated into several languages. Surprisingly the pictures weren’t even all from Dachau, as if there hadn’t been enough atrocities at this camp to cover the walls end to end 100 times over. At the conclusion of the museums tour, visitors were shown grainy black and white footage of Holocaust atrocities. The poor quality of the film, accompanied by a monotone and detached narrative, allowed the viewer to register the events on an intellectual level, but prevented them from creating an empathic connection with the victims.

Having studied the Holocaust throughout the years, I was mostly acquainted with the tour guide’s lecture, so I trailed behind the group hoping to find an emotional link to the past through my solitude. I approached the original entrance to the camp with the disdainful lie still emblazoned on the iron gates: “Arbeit Macht Frei” — Work sets you free. I grasped the gate, but all I felt was the chill of cold metal.

The original bunkers at Dachau were razed, with one exact replica rebuilt when the camp became a museum. How ironic: A model within a model. After all, Dachau was Hitler’s first and oldest concentration camp, and used as a model in propaganda films to sell the idea of mass extermination to his minions. The bunker was pristine, as were the gas chambers. The ovens suffered from no wear and tear and looked like they hadn’t even baked a loaf of bread, much less thousands of Nazi victims.

The visitors slowly departed at the conclusion of the tour, but I stood alone in the anteroom of the gas chamber and wondered how such a horrific place could leave me devoid of emotion. Looking around, I noticed that none of the other visitors had left with tears in their eyes. I realized that the Wiesenthal Center, the Holocaust Museum and Yad Vashem were built, in part, in memorial to Hitler’s innocent victims. Each presented images and words designed to create an empathic link between visitor and victim. Dachau’s purpose was inapposite. It was built in a remote location, behind large secretive walls designed to house “undesirables” — a place where people could be exterminated in silence, then forgotten. Rather than memorializing its victims, Dachau was sanitized of their memory. True to its original design, Dachau was a place longing to be forgotten. The rain began then, a natural reaction and fitting tribute to this monstrous place.

Looking through the rain, I finally saw what my heart longed for: He was a solemn, gray figure that approached in slow labored movements. He was introduced to me as Martin Zaidenstadt, a Jew, a member of the Polish resistance and a Dachau survivor. Zaidenstadt was happy to tell me his story, for this is why he still comes here. Zaidenstadt was part of a small group of Polish soldiers captured by the Nazis and interned in Dachau. As Jews and resistance members, he and his comrades were to be summarily executed. By some twist of fate, Zaidenstadt’s true identity was obscured and he was incorporated into the slave labor details, even though his comrades were executed. After liberation and a brief stint in Israel, Zaidenstadt returned to Dachau, took up residence and has visited the camp on nearly a daily basis for the past 52 years, vowing never to forget his fallen comrades.

Zaidenstadt took me on a personal tour of Dachau, detailing in broken English some of the many atrocities committed on these grounds. His mind’s eye painted the camp as it was those many years ago: Forced prostitution, starvation, pestilence, medical experiments, suffering. Finally, I felt.

In parting, Zaidenstadt allowed me to take his picture, but insisted it be in front of a rather nondescript and somewhat obscured memorial. As he stood there, he translated the inscription: “To Honor the Dead and to Remind the Survivors.”

Looking at Zaidenstadt, I realized what memory I was to take from Dachau. The memory is as much about those that died as it is about those that survived. It cannot be wedded to a physical place or limited to a particular time, for it is an everlasting tribute to the triumph of the human spirit. It is the collective memory of a people past, present and future who will never forget, who will say “Never Again” and who live life to the fullest, taking advantage of every moment of every day, relishing the simple fact that we are.

Michael D. Braun is an attorney at law who lives in Los Angeles.