Push your brain and your body, says sports physician and author Jordan Metzl


When I was growing up in the 1960s in Skokie, Ill., reading was the main sport in my family. I’m pretty sure it was also the main sport in most families in my predominantly Jewish neighborhood: Neither my friends nor I ever heard the phrase “traveling soccer team” cross our parents’ lips.

Which is not to say we didn’t mosey over to nearby Devonshire Park to ice skate or knock some tennis balls around on the public courts. We did, but only after we finished our homework.

For Dr. Jordan Metzl, a Jewish kid growing up more than a decade later in Kansas City, Mo., it was quite different.

Metzl, a sports medicine physician at New York’s Hospital for Special Surgery who was listed last month in New York magazine’s annual index of best doctors, is the author of “The Athlete’s Book of Home Remedies: 1,001 Doctor-Approved Health Fixes & Injury Prevention Secrets for a Leaner, Fitter, More Athletic Body!” (Rodale Books, 2012).

“I grew up with a very Jewish upbringing inside the bigger bubble of mid-America,” Metzl says, but he’s proud that his parents “got it right: They got the balance of Jewish social consciousness, academics and sports,” even though they were up against an ethos in their kids’ Jewish day school that downplayed physical education.

His father, a pediatrician, and mother, a psychologist, “got in big trouble,” according to Metzl, when together with several families they surreptitiously painted lines one weekend on the day school’s parking lot to outline baseball and kickball fields.

Metzl, 45, who has finished 29 marathons and nine Ironman triathlons, is on a mission to get Jews—and, of course, his other patients—off their tushes. Like the ultimate handwringing Jewish mother, he worries about Jews “getting soft,” not like his young Asian patients, products of first-generation or immigrant families that push their kids both academically and on the sports field.

“Forty years ago, Tiger Mom would have been Matzah Ball Mom,” Metzl says.

He’s a big believer that Jews must not only push their brains but their bodies, and is fond of the Latin dictum mens sana in corpore sano, “a sound mind in a sound body.”

Although he loved athletics growing up in a family that treasured both, it was in medical school that Metzl discovered he could concentrate better when he was active.

“My performance as a doctor absolutely correlated to daily fitness,” he says.

As a medical resident in Boston, at a time when there were no restrictions on their hours, the hospital made an offer that employees who ran the Boston Marathon would get a day off from work. Metzl signed up, ran and ever since has been encouraging fitness as preventive medicine.

In his Hospital for Special Surgery office, Metzl says, he puts up an imaginary “no-kvetch zone” as he tries to entice patients to embrace more physical activity. (He acknowledges that sometimes his Jewish patients kvetch a little more than others.) One man complained that he couldn’t be more active because his legs ached from his knees to his ankles, and Metzl jokingly acknowledged that the patient had joints built for Talmudic study, but still had to strengthen the muscles around them.

The sports doc’s new book is dedicated to the “millions of athletes who wake up each morning at 5:30, with no fanfare, and drag themselves out of bed to keep fit.”

Trust me, that’s not me, yet I gobbled up each chapter, from “Tell Me Where It Hurts” to “How to Win at Everything”—sport-specific secrets for staying injury free.

In the section on “Iron Strength Workouts,” I appreciatively ingested “The Best Injury-Prevention Workout You’re Not Doing: Foam-Roll Exercises” (ouch—my word, not his).

Metzl calls the Iron Strength Workouts “simple (but intense!)”; his routines emphasize functional strength training based on a movement pattern rather than isolating an individual muscle in a bicep curl or leg extension. For those who want to try an Iron Strength Workout, there’s a free video on Runnersworld.com but beware: “KILLER. This workout kicked my butt,” reads one online comment that seems representative.

In case you’re more of a slacker than Metzl when it comes to working out (I’m no couch potato, but just watching Metzl’s video made parts of my body ache), I checked with my trainer at the Jewish Community Center of MetroWest in West Orange, N.J., Nimika Patel, to see if there are a lot of “me’s” in the Jewish athletic world or whether they are all Metzls.

It turns out that there is still room at the gym for those of us who aren’t triathloners or even weekend warriors.

Patel’s clients come in not necessarily to train for their next competition, but because of “osteoporosis, depression, fibromyalgia—you name it,” she says. “They all want to look good, of course, but there is always another reason they’re here.”

Like Metzl, Patel emphasizes what’s called functional fitness, which helps bodies get stronger at everyday tasks.

Steve Becker, vice president of health and wellness services at the JCC Association, the North American umbrella for the Jewish community center movement, says fitness facilities are moving away from cavernous rooms with one strength machine after another to offering more open space for people to train in a way that improves quality of life, using equipment like resistance bands and medicine balls.

“Being fit is about more than the one rep max or seeing how much you bench press,” Becker says. “It’s about lifting up grandchildren or schlepping luggage across the airport.”

Becker says that those in charge of fitness at JCCs, whose members include non-Jews as well as Jews, “are looking at what everyone else is looking for, the newest and best, but also something a little more.”

JCCs are featuring boot camp classes, yoga, pilates, small group training, zumba—you name it, he says—but also encouraging their members to look more broadly at wellness and healthy living.

Writing a book for athletes aside, Metzl, too, believes that you can be fit even if you’re not an Ironman enthusiast.

“If you’re 8 or 85, get off the couch,” he says. “The benefits kick in if you do half an hour of walking every day.”

Sure, do extreme sports if you like them, he says, but what’s most important is finding something you’ll enjoy, that you’ll keep doing.

Growing up, Metzl skied and backpacked with his parents and brothers. Today his mother gravitates toward ballroom dancing, his father toward biking.

“If there were a drug known to reduce blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, depression, diabetes, self-reported pain of arthritis, increase longevity by five years and improve quality of life by every metric, a doctor who didn’t give it to every patient would be committing malpractice,” says Metzl, with the intonation of one who has recited this speech many a time. “We have this drug, and that drug is exercise.”

(Elisa Spungen Bildner writes about health and wellness for JTA and is co-chair of the organization’s board of directors.)

‘Lone wolf’ gunmen are security puzzle for West


The possibility that a killing rampage by a French gunman was a solo campaign will inject fresh urgency into Western efforts to detect “self-starter” or “lone wolf” terrorists before they strike.

The tactic Al Qaeda calls “individual jihad”—low-tech attacks by untrained sympathizers acting largely or completely on their own—may seem a sign of weakness in an organization that mounted the team-based raids of Sept 11, 2001.

But the approach makes up in stealth for what it can lack in lethality, because the lack of outside support reduces the risks of detection, and such attacks can still have a huge impact.

So for Western counter-terrorism agencies the loner, often radicalized unseen and online, is an increasing cause of concern, and security specialists are worried the low-level gun rampage in France may now inspire copy-cat attacks.

“‘Lone wolves’ who plot to carry out small-scale attacks on soft targets, like those in which seven people have been killed in France, could be the future of terrorism,” said Sajjan Gohel of the Asia-Pacific Foundation counter-terrorism research group.

“This has sent out the message that followers of al Qaeda can carry out successful attacks, can precipitate terror, on their own. This is exactly what happened in France: people were scared to go out, schools were under guard, there was a real sense of insecurity – that is true terrorism.”

Mohamed Merah, a Frenchman of Algerian origin, died from gunshot wounds on Thursday at the end of a 30-hour standoff with police at his apartment in southern France. He confessed to killing three soldiers, three Jewish children and a rabbi.

ACTING ALONE, OR WITH OTHERS?

He told negotiators he was trained by al Qaeda in Pakistan and killed three soldiers last week and four people at a Jewish school on Monday to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children and because of French army involvement in Afghanistan.

His death deprives police of the opportunity to obtain the information they needed most of all – a first-hand account of whether he was acting alone or in concert with others.

Britain, host to the 2012 Olympics and, like France, often cited by al Qaeda as a priority target, will be paying close attention to any lessons that are learned from the Merah case.

London police commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe said in February the prospect of a lone wolf attack had been on their minds since the killing of 77 people last July by anti-Islam militant Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik.

“After we saw the attack in Norway by a single individual – that has been part of our planning over the last year,” he said.

“It has been about identifying an individual in this country or abroad and if there is a possibility of someone like that attacking the Olympic event. We think that is very unlikely but obviously it has formed part of our planning this year as we lead up to the Olympics.”

President Barack Obama said on Aug. 16 a “lone wolf terrorist” like Breivik now presents a bigger risk to the United States than a large-scale operation.

DRIVEN BY HATE, OR MERELY DERANGED

“When you’ve got one person who is deranged or driven by a hateful ideology, they can do a lot of damage, and it’s a lot harder to trace those lone wolf operators,” he told CNN.

Equally troubling, from a counter-terrorism perspective, is that the attributes of loner militants vary hugely, representing a phenomenon that is poorly understood by security specialists with expertise in hunting transnational networks of cells.

The more untrained or unintelligent the militant is, the more likely he or she is to be detected. Incautious Internet activity or sloppy pre-attack surveillance of a target are two ways Western security can be alerted.

Risk of detection rises also in the event that al Qaeda sympathizers try to build a bomb: police in many countries monitor purchases of potential components.

But the challenge remains considerable.

Merah had been under intelligence surveillance and the MEMRI Middle East think tank said he appeared to belong to a French al Qaeda branch called Fursan Al-Izza, ideologically aligned with a movement to Islamise Western states by implementing sharia law.

But he had done nothing especially to arouse suspicion that he was planning an act of violence.

Anna Boyd, a terrorism expert at Exclusive Analysis, said that the location of self-starter attacks was “very often somewhere you would not expect, just because it’s where the person happens to live. It’s ‘just up the road’ from them.”

Gohel said if a cell was only one or two people “it’s a lot harder to monitor their activities, to trace their networks, and so on. In previous cases, the ability of the authorities to disrupt the planning stage has been low, because you don’t get the leakage of information that you get with a larger cell”.

“WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?”

Will Hartley, a terrorism expert at IHS Jane’s, said it was possible for an individual to generate a huge amount of media attention merely with a gun attack.

Counter-terrorism experts will be examining every aspect of Merah’s life and recent activities to try to discern if his alleged killings were part of a joint effort.

But some experts said that even if al Qaeda had nothing to do with the attacks, it is likely to voice approval of them, if not claim credit for them outright.

“We’ve definitely seen them encourage it more since the Fort Hood shooting,” said Boyd, referring to the killing of 13 people at a U.S. army base by an army major who prosecutors have said was inspired by an al Qaeda preacher online.

“And though they never commented on the Breivik shooting they were probably watching that with great interest, and seeing how effective that managed to be.”

Even before Breivik, al Qaeda was examining the loner tactic. Under pressure from a relentless U.S. missile campaign in its Afghan-Pakistan border hideouts, the group appeared to have concluded that lone wolf attacks were better than nothing.

The group, which had long favored complex, team-based plots like the Sept. 11 attacks, gave its most explicit endorsement of the tactic after Osama bin Laden’s May 2011 killing.

On June 2, 2011, Islamist online forums carried an appeal by al Qaeda core leaders for individuals in the West to carry on bin Laden’s work with “do-it-yourself” strikes.

“Muslims in the West have to remember that they are perfectly placed to play an important and decisive part in the jihad against the Zionists and Crusaders,” al Qaeda official Adam Gadahn says in the video, entitled “You Are Responsible Only For Yourself”.

“Take America as an example. America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms … What are you waiting for?”

Reporting by William Maclean; Editing by Robert Woodward

Related

IsraAID opens training program in South Sudan


The Israeli nongovernmental organization IsraAID opened a training program to deal with gender-based violence for social workers in the fledgling country of South Sudan.

Helen Murshalli, the South Sudanese minister of social development, inaugurated the program in Juba organized by the Israeli assistance group in cooperation with Operation Blessing Israel.

During the 10-day workshop, 29 social workers from the ministry and the local NGO Confident Children out of Conflict will learn how to guide and support survivors of gender-based violence from Juba and the entire Central Equatorial district.

Murshalli praised IsraAID for organizing the training program, and highlighted the historic relationship between Israel and South Sudan, calling for a deepening and strengthening of the ties that connect the two countries.

She also stressed the key role that social workers play in building a stable and healthy nation.

“In Israel, contemporary therapists and trauma specialists are in the unique situation where they are also the founding generation in the field of GBV,” said Sheri Oz, a family therapist and trauma specialist who helped pioneer the field of sexual trauma treatment in Israel. “In other Western countries, today’s therapists were most likely trained during a time when treatment frameworks were already in place, but we have experience in establishing services where there previously were none.”

Mind, body and sole


The Grinberg Method, named for its Israeli founder, Avi Grinberg, is described as “a structured way of teaching through the body.” But a better way to explain it is through an example. Let’s take a universal source of anxiety that most women can relate to: waiting for the guy to call after a date.

It’s something Marcela Widrig, one of two L.A.-based Grinberg Method practitioners, encounters often among her female clients.

“First she can get angry with the person — ‘He’s such a jerk,’ ” Widrig said during an interview at her Atwater Village studio, Bodies That Work. “She could feel bad about herself — ‘What did I do wrong?’ She could constantly be checking her e-mails, phone calls. All of a sudden, he becomes the center of her life, after one date.”

The anxiety is often accompanied by physiological changes: tightening of the stomach muscles, tensing of the jaw or erratic breathing.

Through a combination of touch and dialogue, the Grinberg Method practitioner calls attention to what is happening in the woman’s body when she thinks about the anticipated phone call. In doing so, she can break the pattern and allow for fresh ways of experiencing, perceiving and reacting to the situation.

A holistic approach reminiscent of other mind-body therapies — like Hellerwork, the Feldenkrais Method, the Alexander Technique and Rolfing — the Grinberg Method aims to foster self-awareness about limiting beliefs, often inherited from childhood, and sources of pain and fear that often express themselves through the body.

The method combines elements of foot reflexology, acupressure, breath work and deep-tissue massage to treat emotional issues. The method is also intended to treat physical injuries, although its promotional materials carry a disclaimer that it is not intended for serious conditions.

A few days before this interview, Widrig sprained her ankle and planned to treat it with the guidance of Rachel Putter, whose Grinberg Method Center of Activities practice is based in West Hollywood.

“Any time the body gets injured, there’s fear,” Widrig said. “The energy from that is what we use to heal.”

Putter, who grew up in Israel, discovered the Grinberg Method 19 years ago, soon after earning her bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Jerusalem’s Hebrew University. She has taught the method for 12 years throughout Israel and Europe.

“When I got sessions, I saw the effect on my life,” Putter said in an interview at her studio. “Every session would bring me to experience myself in reality in a more authentic way. That is what made me interested in this work, until today. Touch cuts the bull——. You can have a belief of who you are and what you want in your mind. But when you shift your attention to the experience in your body, you can really know what you want and don’t want, what is the thing you are fighting against, and be honest about it.”

The Grinberg Method is new to the United States and is currently offered only in Los Angeles. Local medical and mental health professionals contacted by The Journal were unaware of the treatment. Results of a study conducted by Grinberg practitioners, The Pain Project, are awaiting publication; no independent studies evaluating its effectiveness are available. The method, Widrig and Putter said, reaches clients largely through word of mouth.

Practitioners do not position themselves as a replacement for traditional therapists, although costs could render complementary treatment pricey. Widrig’s sessions go for $120 per hour; Putter’s for $150 per hour. Group classes on wellness inspired by the Grinberg Method are available at lower costs.

Grinberg, born in 1955, developed the method after studying and practicing various healing arts, including working as a paramedic and as a reflexologist. He established a school for his method in Haifa in the late 1980s, and has authored a book on his method, “Fear, Pain and Some Other Friends,” which presents its basic concepts and ways of incorporating them into daily life. After giving a series of lectures in Switzerland to an enthusiastic audience, Grinberg moved his headquarters there, expanding with branches in Germany, Austria, Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom.

Grinberg’s training in reflexology is reflected in the method’s “foot analysis,” which begins the process. While examining the client’s feet, the practitioner asks questions about beliefs, character and/or circumstances.

“How you walk and move through life is reflected through the feet,” Widrig said.

The technique impressed Josh Kartsch. “I had no idea what to expect, and in the first five minutes I was blown away by what she was saying to me while she was looking at my feet,” the 37-year-old L.A. designer said. “She said so many things that were in my attention but which I couldn’t articulate.”

After several sessions with Widrig, Kartsch signed up for the three-year training course but dropped out when his business took off, thanks, he said, to improved communication the Grinberg Method fostered.

“When I would go through the traditional therapist, it was boring,” he said. “It was nothing compared to what I was getting from the Grinberg Method. … This was totally revolutionary and very immediate — the effects and the changes I was making.”

But trying the method may require a leap of faith for some, Kartsch said. “The Grinberg Method is not for everybody, and it’s not a cure-all. It’s for people who are really willing to try something new and powerful. Not everyone is willing to do that.”

For more information about the Grinberg Method, visit ” title=”bodiesthatwork.com” target=”_blank”>bodiesthatwork.com

Rachel Putter
Grinberg Method Center of Activities, LA
7327 Santa Monica Blvd, West Hollywood
(310) 855-3368

Classes bring a bit of shul to yoga


In a dimly lit room overlooking Santa Monica’s bustling Third Street Promenade, prayers set to electronic music float between bodies in motion. Barely audible over the melodies are the deep exhales of students.

“Shabbat Shalom,” said Zach Lodmer, walking around the room. “That’s something you don’t usually hear in yoga, isn’t it?”

It’s January, and Lodmer is leading the second monthly installment of his Om Shalom Yoga class at The Yoga Collective in Santa Monica, a class that sets traditional yoga sequences to Shabbat prayers.

An attorney by day, Lodmer knows that the concept might sound eclectic — “Some people are skeptical” at first, he admits with a slight grin — but since finding his own connection to the combined practices of yoga and prayer, the 31-year-old hopes to help others in the Jewish community put a new twist on traditional worship.

Lodmer wasn’t always the picture of health. Several years ago, the now-fit yoga instructor smoked, was 75 pounds overweight and was unhappily employed as a prosecutor. It was the birth of his son, he said, that served as the impetus for change and, ultimately, the creation of Om Shalom.

Craving a healthier lifestyle, Lodmer changed his eating and drinking habits and took up yoga. At the same time, he was playing clarinet for Shabbat services at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills. He soon realized that his desire to practice a more personal brand of Judaism was in line with his changing health habits.

“We were sitting in a circle, moving through prayers by singing” and playing music, he said. “I began to get interested in including not just [song] but yoga in the Shabbat experience.”

From there, Lodmer, who was raised Reconstructionist, consulted with rabbis and enrolled in a yoga teacher-training program. All the while, he worked on creating the soundtrack for Om Shalom, which would prove to be the linchpin of the class.

“It was a lot of work,” he said, “but as time passed, I made it my own.”

Om Shalom isn’t the first yoga class to incorporate religions other than Hinduism, which is largely credited with the ancient origins of the practice. Rather, Lodmer’s class is part of a growing movement to meld the physical practice and some of the philosophical underpinnings of yoga with Judaism or Christianity.

Ida Unger, who owns Yoga Garden Studios in Tujunga and also teaches, according to her Web site, “yoga with a Jewish bent,” has been studying yoga for several decades and began incorporating components of Judaism into her practice about 10 years ago. She believes that interest in Jewish yoga began gaining steam in other circles at around the same time.

“I think many Jews found yoga as a physical practice, and after a while it just connects to the soul,” she said. “If you have a Jewish soul, it’s very easy to connect to.”

Like many others, Unger sees parallels in the teachings of Judaism and the teachings of yoga. The basic tenets of both, says Rabbi Avivah Erlick, who teaches private Jewish yoga sessions, are very similar.

“The teaching of Judaism involves Torah, mitzvah and study,” Erlick said, “and the four types of yoga are basically study, prayer, holy action and meditation.”

Unger points out the similarity of savasana, or resting in corpse pose by lying still on one’s back, which concludes most yoga classes, and the practice of resting on Shabbat, which is derived from the Hebrew word shavat, in Jewish culture.

In addition to the overlap in ritual and philosophy, many teachers see yoga as a way to add a needed physical element to Jewish worship.

“Judaism is lacking a movement-and-meditation practice,” Erlick said. “I think people can get that from yoga, as a teaching tool as to how to calm oneself, center oneself and be present in prayer.”

Om Shalom — and Jewish yoga in general — is not necessarily for everyone. Lodmer notes, for instance, that he breaks halachic tradition by playing music on Shabbat, which might turn off Jews looking to adhere to the letter of the law.

But for those who are interested, he believes the combination of yoga and Jewish prayer can help people connect to Judaism in a more personal way.

“People are looking for fewer barriers to prayer and to Judaism,” he said. “People are moved by [Jewish yoga]. And if Judaism is not engaging, we’re losing people.”

Within the Jewish yoga community, Lodmer has been welcomed and admired. Unger sees his work as the continuation of a new brand of Jewish worship.

“He’s almost a generation younger than me,” she said. “I think what he’s offering is very exciting.”

Lodmer’s class follows a traditional yoga prototype: sun salutations, standing poses and a flow that builds steadily in intensity and then tapers off into a cool-down. What sets it apart is the music.

Layering prayers like the Sh’ma and Shalom Aleichem over a soothing but vibrant beat so that they correspond with the trajectory of the class, Lodmer creates the music for his class in his free time. It’s no small task — much of his time outside of work is spent either with his family, he says, or refining the Om Shalom playlist.

“Making the music is a second full-time job,” he says.

It seems to be a worthy cause. Back in the studio on that Friday night in January, students leave glowing and happy. Wishing them all a “Good Shabbos,” Lodmer sees them out the door and back into the world.


Om Shalom Yoga
facebook.com/omshalomyoga

Rabbi Avivah Erlick’s Gentle Jewish Yoga
gentlejewishyoga.com

Yoga Garden Studios
11257 Deneville Place
Tujunga, CA 91042
(818) 353-8050
yogagardenstudios.com

LAPD bomb squad officers to train in Israel


Four Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) bomb squad technicians are visiting Israel to train with their counterparts in the Israeli National Police Bomb Squad.

Ronald Capra, an LAPD bomb squad officer who will accompany three other officers for the training, said LAPD’s “exposure to local [Israeli] bomb units” will help the LAPD learn more about how to handle and dispose of explosive devices, given Israeli technicians’ experience with suicide attacks.

“They’ve paid the price for it,” Capra said, referring to Israeli lives lost in bomb-related violence, but they are the “foremost” experts on explosives “in the world.” Capra also emphasized the importance of a relationship between Los Angeles and Israel to facilitate the “exchange of information.”

The training will start in May and last approximately two weeks.

Chuck Boxenbaum, a prominent donor to Birthright Israel and a past chairman of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, recently donated funds to the Los Angeles Police Foundation, an organization that provides resources for the LAPD that the city can’t offer, to be used for the trip, which will cost approximately $18,000.

On Feb. 17, Boxenbaum sponsored a breakfast at Hillcrest Country Club, where Capra gave a presentation about the training to local representatives of the Israeli community, including Gil Artzyeli, deputy consul general of Israel in Los Angeles.

Artzyeli said he welcomed the municipal partnership between local law enforcement and its Israeli counterparts as an addition to the already-existing United States-Israel federal relationship.

Israeli soldier killed during training


An Israeli Defense Forces soldier was killed in a training accident.

The Givati Brigade unit was participating in a live-fire training session in the Negev Thursday morning. The soldier was shot in the back, according to reports.

All Israeli military land training has been halted until more is known about the accident, Ynet reported.

Workmen’s Circle celebrates 100 years; Progressives fight for what’s Left


Workmen’s Circle Celebrates 100

It’s not every centenarian who can celebrate his birthday with full-throated songs and Yiddish jokes, but the Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring did just that in marking its 100th anniversary year in California with high good humor, leavened with a bit of nostalgia.

Performers and speakers intermingled Yiddish with English at the centennial gala and awards celebration on Jan. 9 at the Skirball Cultural Center.

There were gags about davening parrots, a parody on health care debates to the tune of “California, Here I Come,” rousing songs by the Voices of Conscience and Mit Gezang choruses, a raft of standup routines and closing duets by Yale Strom and Elizabeth Schwartz.

Among the honorees were KPFK-FM’s “Access Unlimited” program on people with disabilities, and Ruth Judkowitz and Eric A. Gordon, “chairmentsh” and director, respectively, of the Workmen’s Circle Southern California district.

It was left to veteran actor Ed Asner, a Workmen’s Circle member himself, to honor the group’s history as a pioneer fighter for union, housing, health care and education rights. He concluded with a stemwinder lauding the politics of the left, a term rarely heard in polite conversation these days.

“What a pitiful society we have become in losing so many ideals of the left,” Asner said. “But these ideals of a community in which no one is excluded from the human family will never die. If they seem dead at times, they will be born again.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Push to Make Social Justice a Priority Righteous Indignation
And speaking of the left, the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA), American Jewish World Service, Jewish Funds for Justice and other forward-looking organizations recently celebrated the new anthology, “Righteous Indignation: A Jewish Call for Justice,” at the home of PJA President Daniel Sokatch.

Part call to action, part campaign initiative, the book and its authors want to reclaim the concept tikkun olam (repair the world) to include social justice, as well as social action. The highbrow team of Jewish activists, intellectuals, religious and lay leaders who contributed to the book are gearing up for a vigorous foray into campaign politics, hoping to make social justice a religious priority in the ’08 election.

On the Righteous Indignation Project Web site, co-editor Rabbi Or N. Rose recognizes that “in an era in which the religious right has monopolized the national morality debate, it is critical that religious progressives — Jews and others — articulate alternative visions of faith and public life.”

A formidable group of 70 or so crowded Sokatch’s Westwood home, sipping wine and talking politics at a salon-style gathering, where “small talk” was about changing the world. The implied paradigm shift is this: Feeding the hungry is nice and all, but more pressing is asking ourselves why people are starving to begin with.

“Community service is not enough. We need gemilut chasadim [acts of lovingkindness] and structural change,” said Margie Klein, co-editor, along with Rose and Jo Ellen Green Kaiser.

Rabbi Sharon Brous, who co-authored an essay with Sokatch, warmly introduced three contributors: Dr. Adam Rubin, Rabbi Elliot Dorff and Sokatch, who bandied caveats pertaining to the Iraq War, stem cell research and civil rights. Sokatch implored a turn toward restorative — not retributive — justice, so that all human beings are treated with dignity.

Talk was urgent, political and philosophical. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was quoted. The voice of social justice was heard, and the event concluded with Jewish prayer.

Before the soldiers of peace set out into the night, Klein asked the crowd to commit to three things: Read the book, get involved and, if you can, help fund the growing movement.

Maybe there’s hope for our broken world yet.

SCENE AND HEARD…

Alex Fullman
Going for the Gold: Alex Fullman (photo), 17-year-old student at Harvard-Westlake School, won four gold medals and two silver as a member of the U.S. swim team at the Pan American Maccabi games, which took place last month in Buenos Aires. He is the son of Sandra Kossacoff and Dr. Howard Fullman who, along with his brother, Casey Fullman, attended the December 2007 games.

Banking On Jobs: Apparently the Los Angeles banking industry has one of the highest turnover rates of any job market in the country. Enter Les Biller, former COO of Wells Fargo Bank and the Biller Family Foundation, who, along with a consortium of brand-name banks, created JVS Bankworks, a free career training program to prepare people for entry into the banking industry.

On Jan. 16, they held their graduation ceremony at the Expo Center. Thus far, retention rates are high: Over 80 percent of graduates get hired and 79 percent are still around to move up the ladder six months later. For more information, visit http://www.jvsla.org.

Margy Feldman
It’s a New Day: The state Assembly declared Jan. 14 Big Brothers Big Sisters Day in recognition of the organization’s positive impact on the lives of 10,000 children through its 26 statewide agencies. Margy Feldman, president of Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles and the 2008-2009 president of the California BBBS State Association, was present to receive the award.

Don’t hold your breath on plans for baby


Nothing is more exciting than finding out that you’re having a baby. The moment I found out I was expecting, I began making grand plans. I read the books, spoke to pregnant friends and questioned all the new mommies I knew. Then I made some big decisions.

Disposable diapers were clogging the landfills — I would use cloth. Baby foods had preservatives — I would puree my own. Cavities begin before teeth appear — no bottles in bed.

There would be no junk food, no TV, no yelling, no spanking, no spoiling, no bribing. I would provide only classical music and educational toys. I would never use food for reward or punishment. My baby would never use a pacifier or learn to suck his thumb. The list went on and on, and then our precious son was born.

Shortly after we came home, our son started an interesting habit. When upset, he would cry very hard, turn blue around the lips and make no sound. Then the bluish color would spread until he hysterically gasped for air and turned pink again. I got somewhat used to this routine until he progressed to the point of passing out.

“He’s a breath holder,” the pediatrician said calmly.

“The books said nothing about breath holders,” I wailed.

“It’s not very common, but it happens,” he said. “Don’t worry. He’ll start breathing again as soon as he passes out. Just don’t blow in his face.”

“What?”

“They used to say that if you blow in the baby’s face, he’ll catch his breath,” the pediatrician said. “But it really doesn’t work; it just makes him madder.”

He paused right before administering the vaccination.

“When I give him his shot, he’ll probably start crying,” the pediatrician said as he stabbed the needle into my baby’s thigh.

Sure enough, the crying began, the lips went blue, the face grew ashen and my baby passed out. It happened again with another shot in the other thigh.

As I packed up the diaper bag, sniffling back my own tears, the pediatrician warned me: “Don’t let him manipulate you, or he’ll use breath-holding to get what wants. He’ll grow out of it eventually. See you next month.”

From that moment on, my grand promises were cast aside. Attempting to avoid crying and fainting episodes, I broke my own rules. I kept pacifiers everywhere and shoved one in his mouth at the smallest whimper. When he tired of pacifiers, I taught him how to suck his thumb. When he wanted up, I picked him up.

Diaper changing was a particularly tricky time. He’d be happy and bubbly for the first 30 seconds or so, but if it took any longer than that, he would become frustrated at being on his back and begin to cry. Since I could change disposable more quickly than cloth, I fired the diaper service. Once I had crossed the diaper line, it was easy to give in on anything.

I developed a do-what-works attitude. Why be so rigid? Jar food was just fine. In fact, he ate so much that I switched from organic to whatever was on sale. I used generic wipes on his tender tush.
One time, I found the dog licking his face after a messy spaghetti meal. My son loved it. From then on, I sat him on the kitchen floor and let the dog clean him up after he ate. A mother must find clever ways to make her job easier.

As the doctor predicted, the breath-holding eventually subsided. By the time my second son came along, my child-rearing methods had evolved considerably.

Potty training? M”&”Ms for a tinkle in the toilet. Television? How did we grow up without videos? Spanking? Watch your toddler dash into oncoming traffic and then tell me you never spank. Yelling? Ever seen a cheesecake after 10 minutes in the microwave? Bribery? Try taking two toddlers to the market and see how long it takes before you say: “If you’re good, mommy will buy you….”

That breath-holding baby is now 16 years old. A few thousand dollars in orthodontia fixed the overbite that the thumb caused. He regularly uses the potty without expecting M”&”Ms. The last time he had a shot, he hardly let out a peep.

The only time he holds his breath is when he’s swimming, and the bribery item of choice has progressed from cookies to car keys. He does, however, still eat his way through the grocery store.

So, have your baby, make your plans, set your limits, follow your rules. And when things don’t go the way you expected and the mess is just too big and you feel like crying until you pass out, do what I did — put the baby on the floor and let the dog clean up.

Rabbinical marriage counseling works — up to a point


Rabbi Karen Fox remembers the moment when she decided she needed to pursue a master’s degree in counseling psychology.
 
In the late 1980s, Fox, a rabbi at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, decided to create a support group for several couples who had privately sought her out to discuss their fertility problems and the resulting strain on their marriages. By bringing those temple members together, Fox did what scores of rabbis across the country do daily: She tried to improve congregants’ relationships and lives by offering free counseling.
 
Problem was, Fox now admits, she didn’t really know what she was doing. Having received only the most basic training in marital and other counseling during her rabbinic studies, she lacked such vital tools as empathetic listening and a deep understanding of the form and function of families. Much to her chagrin, Fox could do little more than offer sympathetic words of encouragement.
 
“Just as doctors specialize, I think it’s important that rabbis interested in counseling study it and train for it,” said Fox, who earned her master’s in 1991 and later became a licensed marriage and family therapist. “Otherwise, they might not have a broad enough vision and a wide enough ear to understand what’s going on with a couple.”
 
Like other clergy, rabbis have dispensed marital and other advice to congregants for generations. With a deep knowledge of Jewish texts and values, they have long played an important role in helping couples headed to the chuppah learn how to incorporate God and Judaism into their lives. Those premarital interventions, spiritual and otherwise, often increase the odds for marital success by teaching Jewish couples how to make their union sacred and loving, rabbis and their supporters say. Overall, rabbis earn generally high marks for premarital counseling, which focuses on the rudiments of good communication.
 
However, critics say rabbis are less suited for long-term marital counseling, even though desperate couples with crumbling marriages often turn to them for salvation. Although rabbis can play a positive role in brokering a reconciliation in couples with relatively minor problems, they are generally ill-equipped, both educationally and often temperamentally, to grapple with spousal abuse, depression, bullying and other serious issues that can destroy marriages and souls. Untrained in these areas, rabbis can do congregants a great disservice when they fail to refer them to professionals for help, experts say.
 
“The rabbinate encourages pronouncements and directives, but counseling is about listening and hearing subconscious messages,” said Rabbi Mel Gottlieb, dean of the Rabbinical School and Chaplaincy Program at the Academy for Jewish Religion, California. “So, if as an authority figure you tell someone what to do, you might curtail the process of emotional expression that is essential for a couple’s growth.”
 
Judaism considers marriage to be a holy union with partners entering into a sacred relationship with one another and God. Several texts enshrine institution’s centrality in Jewish life. Genesis 2:18, states: “It is not good for man to be alone; I will make a fitting helper for him.” The Babylonian Talmud Yevamot 62b, says: “Any man who has no wife lives without joy, without blessing and without goodness.” Midrash, Yalqut Shimoni, Ruth 606: “He who marries a good woman is as if he fulfilled the whole Torah from beginning to end.”
 
Given Judaism’s emphasis on marriage, it is hardly surprising that many rabbis offering premarital counseling infuse their sessions with religiosity. Rabbi Michael Menitoff, an instructor in the psychology departments at the University of Judaism and the Academy for Jewish Religion, said that when he worked as a congregational rabbi he would encourage couples to make their future home sacred by observing Shabbat and keeping kosher.
 
Sinai Temple Rabbi David Wolpe said he also emphasizes the importance of Shabbat, which he calls “an opportunity to not be tyrannized by the modern world and to create a space in which personal interactions can exist away from the constant [inundation] of information and opinion and all the things with which we are bombarded day-to-day.”
 
In his nearly two decades as a congregational rabbi, Rabbi Mark Diamond would discuss the meaning and importance of Jewish wedding rituals before the big day. For instance, Diamond, now the executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis, would explain that the sixth blessing recited under the chuppah teaches that newlyweds begin married life with a clean slate and rejoice together. But the seventh blessing, Diamond says, suggests that Judaism also calls on partners to celebrate their individuality and give one another space to grow. Diamond’s point: Understanding the meaning behind Jewish marital customs gives couples a roadmap to better navigate their futures together.
 
In the bad old days, rabbis received scant counseling training of any type in the seminary. That meant they relied on little more than gut instinct when advising couples on how to grapple with issues such as alcoholism and infidelity. In recent years, observers say, rabbis and rabbis-in-training have received better pastoral counseling education. The Academy for Jewish Religion, for instance, now requires rabbinical students to take two counseling courses, which, among other subjects, address such topics as the power of active listening, the therapeutic process and crisis management. In recent years, the Board of Rabbis sponsored a series called, “The Rabbi as Counselor: Issues & Challenges,” which dealt with issues ranging from marital counseling to infertility to mental illness and depression.
 
The improvements notwithstanding, congregants coming to rabbis with serious marital and other problems have often come away disappointed, said Rabbi Abner Weiss, former rabbi at the Orthodox Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills.
In a 1999 survey of more than 200 Jews at Beth Jacob, University Synagogue and Valley Beth Shalom, Weiss found that the majority of temple members who had gone to rabbis and licensed professionals for advice found the marriage counselors, psychologists and social workers to be more helpful, although the majority of Orthodox congregants preferred going to a rabbi.
 
Despite rabbis’ good intentions, some temple members complained that clergymen had betrayed them by using their personal dramas as the basis for sermons, Weiss said. Others said that even if rabbis respected their privacy, too many temple members saw them going in and out of his/her offices for counseling and gossiped. Finally, many groused that rabbis knew far less than the trained professionals.
 
“When there’s a real problem, what’s really required is a good referral,” said Weiss, himself a licensed marriage and family therapist. “Rabbis often can’t recognize what’s really going on in a relationship and should be honest enough to say so.”
 

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.

The IDF and Civilians: A Personal Account


To all those who feel that Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers have no regard for civilians, and that they “do what they need to do” without regard for potential
civilian casualties, I offer no opinions on this matter.

Instead, I offer this personal experience for your consideration.

It was July 12, 1984, my first day on the Ketziot basic training base, my new “home” as an IDF soldier in the Givati Infantry Brigade. One by one, we were issued what was then the standard IDF infantry weapon, the Israeli-made Galil rifle. Here we were, 18-year-old kids who barely knew anything about life, suddenly holding in our hands a weapon that had the potential to save lives or to take lives.

Upon receiving these weapons, we were gathered into a large mess hall, where an officer was waiting to address us. We expected a lesson on the mechanics of the Galil rifle. Instead, the officer had come to speak to us about Tohar Ha-Neshek — the “Purity of the Weapon.”

He spoke at length about the moral use of the weapon vs. the immoral use of the weapon, and of the responsibility we had to uphold the value of Tohar Ha-Neshek no matter what the circumstances. He concluded his remarks by saying, “I am not a particularly religious person, but remember that to uphold the purity of your weapon is a Kiddush ha-Shem (sanctification of God’s name), and to violate it is a Chilul ha-Shem (desecration of God’s name).”

Six months later, my unit found itself in Southern Lebanon, fighting the same Hezbollah that the IDF fights today. The Galil that we were issued six months earlier had unfortunately gotten its fair share of real-life wear and tear, but it was not until Feb. 5, 1985, that we learned a real-life lesson in “Purity of the Weapon.”

Late in the afternoon that day, as our convoy was leaving our post in Borj el Jimali (two miles east of Tyre), a Hezbollah suicide bomber drove his car straight into our convoy, triggering a massive explosion in our faces. We responded like we were taught — jump out of the vehicle, take cover and return fire. In typical Hezbollah fashion, they carried out this attack in an area filled with civilians, which means that we were faced with the awful prospect of firing into the homes of civilian men, women and children caught in the crossfire.

After our initial barrage of fire, our officer instructed us to regroup into small teams that would enter buildings to search for any terrorists cooperating with the suicide bomber. His instructions still ring clearly in my ear, and took me back to the lecture I heard about “Purity of Weapons” just six months earlier: “This area is filled with civilians, and there is no need to injure or kill them. In our search for terrorists, please try to minimize any civilian casualties.”

These instructions came from an officer who, just a few minutes earlier, had 100 kilos of dynamite explode into his face and that of his troops, yet he was still able to keep a clear mind and remember that the IDF was in Lebanon to fight Hezbollah terrorists, not Lebanese civilians.

It was true then, and it is still true today.

Daniel Bouskila is rabbi at Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel.

(Rob Eshman’s column will return next week.)

Why I Became a NFTY Freak


Debbie Friedman, celebrated Jewish songwriter and singer, wrote the words, “The youth shall see visions.” For decades, this song has had a profound impact on Jewish youth of America, instilling value and hope among a generation in search of themselves.

In October of my junior year, I “saw my vision” and embarked on a journey that will shape me for the rest of my life.

It was a cool California Friday, and I had packed up my duffel bag to head off to NFTY Southern California’s Leadership Training Institute. NFTY, the Reform movement’s North American Federation of Temple Youth, has become a huge influence on my life as a teenager, and as a Jew.

NFTY has been around for more than half a century and consists of 19 regions around North America, hosting monthly weekend retreats for Jewish high school students. Each weekend encompasses social action, prayer and socializing. NFTY’s primary job is to confirm Jewish identity in teenagers while providing them with tools for their future as Jews — knowledge of prayer and customs, traditional songs, and lifelong friends on the same journey.

I had always had a strong Jewish identity. I am an assistant teacher at religious school at Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks and have spent 10 summers at Camp Alonim. I know all the prayers like the back of my hand and feel a religious connection to my faith. But when I got to NFTY, I finally felt like I could fully realize my Jewish identity.

NFTY SoCal was an instantly inviting environment. The second I stepped out of the car for that weekend Leadership Institute, I entered the most seminal chapter of my life. Instantaneously I was greeted with big smiles and warm hugs, and I knew that I was going to belong. From the first Shabbat service, I knew my life was about to be enriched with something it had never seen before. After the event concluded on Sunday, I became a devout NFTY freak, counting down the days until the next NFTY event and constantly talking with my new friends.

NFTY inspires youth to change the world. No, NFTY shows the youth that it is up to them to change it. Social action programming, leadership training and intensive lessons in Judaism have provided youth with the framework to lead. NFTY is constantly inspiring all and assuring them that they do mean something to this world, not something miniscule, but something with a massive impact and great importance.

One of Judaism’s highest held values is tikkun olam, repairing the world. In NFTY, we learn about the hardships and challenges that face our earth, and we use our knowledge to educate others on these issues — such as the genocide in Sudan, the kidnapped children in Uganda and modern-day slavery in America and the rest of the world. We have also participated in donating money to relief organizations and contributed endless hours of making bracelets and blankets for recently freed slaves in Los Angeles.

If it were not for NFTY, I would not even know that there was a genocide and that there are still slaves today.

Many people ask me: “Why are you so Jewish? Why are you so religious?” At times I hesitate to answer because my response may shock others, yet most of the time I reply: “I stand up for the 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust just because they were Jewish. I have a Jewish identity because I am fortunate enough to be able to have one and not be afraid.”

NFTY has taught me to appreciate life so much more, and to be proud to be Jewish because so many millions of Jews could not be proud of whom they were without fatal consequences. A poem written by Chad Rochkind, a NFTY alumnus, reads, “To be a NFTYite is to know that the words, ‘And the youth shall see visions’ are more than just a song.”

I now know that these words are truly more than lyrics, they are a way of life that NFTY inspires, and they have shaped my path as a Jew, as a leader, and as a human being.

For information on NFTY, visit

AF Academy’s New Religion Rules Hit


The U.S. Air Force last week introduced revised guidelines on religious tolerance and practices at its training academy, and they are widely regarded as a step backward.

A number of Jewish leaders say their efforts to change the Air Force Academy’s position on Christian proselytizing were overmatched by the evangelical community, which fought any move to restrict religious discussion on campus. Critics have accused the academy of imposing a Christian environment on campus and allowing proselytizing by senior officers and cadets.

Some see the new guidelines as more permissive of religious discussion than were the interim guidelines issued last August. Air Force officials acknowledge that the guidelines were revised following an angry response from Christian groups and from 72 members of Congress who sent a letter to President Bush last month.

“We didn’t like what came out in August, but this is a public retreat from where they were before,” said Mikey Weinstein, an Air Force Academy graduate who is suing the school for allegedly violating the constitutional separation of church and state.

Jewish leaders said more efforts are needed to counterbalance the evangelical Christian community.

“We have not galvanized Congress, but we will have to,” said Abraham Foxman, Anti-Defamation League national director

Others, however, say the new guidelines contribute toward ridding the military of religious intolerance.

The academy has been under scrutiny since reports surfaced of an overtly Christian environment that permitted Christian prayer and proselytizing by senior officers and did not accommodate minority religious practices. The new rules allow for public prayer, stating only that it “should not imply government endorsement of religion and should not usually be part of routine official business.”

The previous guidelines outlawed public prayer in official settings but allowed for a “brief nonsectarian prayer” at special ceremonies or events.

The new guidelines also focus on reaffirming senior officers’ rights to free exercise of religion, while warning that superiors need to be “sensitive to the potential that personal expressions may appear to be official or have undue influence on their subordinates.”

“There is enough leeway in these guidelines to permit proselytizing,” Foxman said.

August’s guidelines went further toward highlighting the need for sensitivity from senior officers.

“The more senior the individual, the more likely that personal expressions may be perceived to be official statements,” the former guidelines read.

Maj. Gen. Charles Baldwin, the Air Force’s chief of chaplains, told the Washington Post that the new guidelines came about as a result of criticism from evangelicals. Several organizations flooded administration officials with complaints, calling the August report a violation of freedoms of speech and religion.

A spokeswoman for the Air Force said the guidelines had been augmented after feedback, especially where the “original language had been misunderstood.”

“After a reasonable amount of time, the secretary will likely deem this set of guidance as the final version, but the Air Force will need experience with how the guidelines work in practice before deciding on the finalization date,” Jennifer Stephens wrote in a written response to questions.

The Jewish community’s view on the new guidelines is not unanimous. The American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Congress and Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism issued a joint press release Feb. 9 commending the Air Force’s effort to address problems of religious accommodation.

 

Tightrope of Life


In the days of communism’s fierce grip on the Soviet Union, there lived a Chasidic Jew named Reb Mendel Futerfas. Reb Mendel repeatedly put his life at risk with his efforts to promote Jewish education behind the Iron Curtain and for some 14 years was incarcerated in prisons and labor camps for his “crime” of teaching Torah. While in the Siberian gulags, he spent most of his free time studying and praying, but he also interacted and conversed with other prisoners — some Jewish, some not. Among these prisoners was a circus performer whose claim to fame was his incredible skill as a tightrope walker.

Reb Mendel would often engage this man in conversation. Having never been to a circus, Reb Mendel was totally baffled by the man’s profession. How could a person risk his life walking on a rope several stories above ground? (This was in the days before safety nets were standard practice.)

“To just go out there and walk on a rope?” Reb Mendel challenged incredulously.

The performer explained that due to his training and skill, he did not need to be held up by any cables and that, for him, it was no longer all that dangerous. Reb Mendel remained skeptical and intrigued.

After Stalin died, the prison authorities relaxed their rules somewhat and the guards told the prisoners that they would be allowed to stage a makeshift circus on May-Day. The tightrope walker coordinated with other acrobats in the camp, but there was no doubt that his famous tightrope act would be the highlight of the show. The tightrope walker made sure that his friend, Reb Mendel, was in the audience.

After all the other acts finished, the lights came down; everybody waited with baited breath. The tightrope walker climbed the tall pole to the suspended rope. His first steps were timid and tentative (after all, it had been several years) but within a few seconds, it all came back to him. With his hands twirling about, he virtually glided across the rope to the pole at the other end, and then, in a flash, made a fast turn, reversed his direction and proceeded back to the other side. Along the way, he performed several stunts. The crowd went wild.

When he was done, he slid down off the pole, took a bow and went running straight to Reb Mendel.

“So?” he said. “Did you see that I was not held up by any cables?”

A very impressed Reb Mendel replied, “Yes. You’re right. No cables.”

“OK. You’re a smart man. Tell me, how did I do it? Was it my hands? Was it my feet?” the man asked.

Reb Mendel paused for a moment, closed his eyes and replayed the entire act back on his mind. Finally, Reb Mendel opened his eyes and said, “It’s the eyes. It’s all in your eyes. During the entire time, your eyes were completely focused and riveted on the opposite pole.”

“Exactly!” said the performer. “When you see your destination in front of you and you don’t take your eyes off of it, then your feet go where they need to go and you don’t fall. OK, now one more question. What would you say is the most difficult part of the act?”

Again Reb Mendel thought for a moment. “Most difficult was the turn; when you had to change direction.”

“Correct again!” he said. “During that split second, when you lose sight of that first pole, and the other pole has not yet come into view, there is some real danger there. But… if you don’t allow yourself to get confused and distracted during that transition, your eyes will find that pole and your balance will be there.”

This special Shabbat — the bridge between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur — is referred to as “Shabbat Shuva.” In this week’s Haftorah, we hear the words of the prophets — exhorting us, pleading with us, beckoning us to improve the quality of our lives; to even change direction if need be.

It is also noteworthy that this week’s Torah portion — in which we learn about the events that transpired on the last day of Moses’ life on earth — is called “Vayeilech Moshe” (And Moses went). The commentaries point out that even on the last day of his life, Moses was on the move — walking forward, achieving, growing — making the most of every precious moment of life. Moses’ message to us being that so long as we have a breath of life, there ought to be “Vayeilech” — explorations of new horizons, journeys to new frontiers.

How do we walk this tightrope called “life” without stumbling? The answer is: by establishing clear and proper goals and remaining focused on those goals like a laser beam.

The Torah provides us with a road map to a meaningful and fulfilling way of life. It sets down goals and defines purpose.

When you know what your purpose and destination is, and you do not take your eyes off that pole, then you know where to put your feet. Even when things turn, and we momentarily lose sight of the pole, we need not despair. Shabbos Shuva teaches us that a change of direction ought not to send us plummeting. On the contrary, we can and should shift gracefully with changes of circumstances, catch our balance and let the next pole come into view.

Rabbi Moshe D. Bryski serves as the executive director of Chabad of the Conejo and dean of the Conejo Jewish Day School.

 

Student Rabbis, Cantors Take Next Step


University of Judaism

It might just be a demographic blip, but it certainly is an interesting one. This year’s graduating class of rabbis at the Conservative University of Judaism (UJ) in Los Angeles is made up of four women and two men. And at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in New York, there are 10 women to the seven men.

Are female rabbis taking over the Conservative movement — which only began ordaining women in 1985?

Probably not, said Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at UJ, on a hilltop campus where Mulholland Drive and Sepulveda Boulevard meet.

The gender breakdown is about 50-50 among the 75 rabbinic students at the school, Artson said. That ratio, he said, reflects the school’s commitment to gender-blind admissions, and to the work the school does to make sure UJ is open to women in all ways.

“Opening a school to women but not talking about the ways in which gender shapes a certain reality is not really admitting women,” Artson said. “We have been conscious about making gender something we talk about here.”

That means classes and mentorships bring the societal sexual divide to the foreground. And, Artson said, women are occupying an increasingly prominent role in the administration.

Founded in 1947 as a satellite of JTS, UJ began ordaining rabbis six years ago, and the fruit of that shift to independence will be apparent next year, as about 20 rabbis will be up for ordination, compared to the seven or eight of years past.

“For 100 years, the Conservative movement had one rabbinical school,” Artson said. “It’s taken a while to grow into and embrace this new expanded reality.”

Academy for Jewish Religion

Just six years after it was founded, the Academy for Jewish Religion(AJR) has a graduating class that is almost as large as the classes at the more established ordaining institutions in Los Angeles.

AJR, which is unaffiliated with any denomination, is graduating five rabbis, not far behind the UJ’s six and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s eight. In addition, AJR is the only show in town ordaining cantors, with two graduating this year.

The niche audience of mostly second-career students interested in a pluralistic education has proven to be a large and dependable one, with 60 students enrolled for professional training as rabbis, cantors and chaplains.

AJR graduates fill roles that don’t fall neatly within the organized Jewish world, such as presiding at life-cycle events for the unaffiliated, leading independent prayer groups and serving in chaplaincy positions, said AJR founding chairman Rabbi Stan Levy.

“We go to wherever Jews are finding themselves, and we try to get them into a more intensive Jewish spiritual life,” Levy said.

AJR has outgrown its quarters at Temple Beth Torah on Venice Boulevard, and is negotiating the final details to move into the Yitzchak Rabin Hillel Center for Jewish Life at UCLA.

Levy looks forward to planning joint programming with both Hillel and the university.

“It’s a far more prominent location for us to be in, right in the center of a vibrant university with a vibrant Hillel,” Levy said.

 

Twin Triathletes Go for the Gold


The U.S. may have the Hamm brothers, but Israel has the Alterman brothers. Like their American counterparts, these 24-year-old twins have their eyes on Olympic gold.

Ran and Dan Alterman are Israel’s reigning triathlon champions. For the past four years, they have dominated the sport in their native land. Now, they look to bring their success to the international arena.

To qualify for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, the Altermans must compete in six races abroad annually. On Sept. 12, they will bring their speed and power to the Los Angeles Triathlon.

“It’s very exciting to come to Los Angeles and represent Israel in the race. And to know that people here are so proud of Israel that they wanted to help us make the trip, that’s just great,” said Ran Alterman, who along with his brother, had his trip to Los Angeles sponsored by Factor’s Deli owner Marvin Markowitz, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles. The brothers, who were born in Tel Aviv and grew up in Netanya and Even Yehuda, began competing in triathlons at 13. A decade later, the brothers have a healthy competition going between themselves.

“Racing against Ran is like racing against myself. We have the same training schedule, diet and ability, so to beat him is to better my own performance,” said Dan Alterman, who as the Israel Triathlon Association’s youth chairman, helps run camps, clinics and a boarding high school for young triathletes in training.

When it comes to major races, the Altermans run against each other but also pull for each other.

“It’s most important for the family to come in first and second. As to which of us comes in first, it depends on the day,” said Ran Alterman, who, with his brother, is enrolled at the college of management at Rishon LeZion.

While both Altermans served in the Israeli army, they believe it’s through their sport that they contribute most to their country.

“There will always be good Israeli soldiers, but there aren’t many great Israeli sportsmen,” Ran Alterman said. “We’ve been given the chance to travel the world, talk to people and show them that Israel is about more than war, and that Israelis are strong.”

The Los Angeles Triathlon will be held on Sunday, Sept.
12. For more information, go to

Israel Serves Up a Star


When the U.S. Open swings into New York Aug. 30, you’ll have to squint to find Israel’s tiniest tennis player.

It’ll be easier to catch her on the scoreboard. She’s the one with the muscular name — Anna Smashnova-Pistolesi — and the big game.

Generating power with her 5-foot-2, 117-pound frame, Smashnova-Pistolesi has smashed her way to No. 19 in the Women’s Tennis Association rankings.

You can simply count on Smashnova-Pistolesi. This is her third straight year ranked in the top 20. She’s 9-0 in WTA tournament finals. That makes her one of Israel’s most effective athletes.

Smashnova-Pistolesi has done it on the go. She was born 28 years ago in Minsk, Belarus. Her family moved to Israel when she was 14. She stays at her parents’ home in Herzelia when she’s in the country. She has her own home in Italy, where she lives with her husband, the former pro Claudio Pistolesi.

You can call Smashnova-Pistolesi a walking United Nations. But she knows her loyalty.

“I always play under the Israeli flag and represent my country at every tournament,” she said. “I am always happy by the widespread support that I receive from Israeli fans throughout the world.”

Even though Smashnova-Pistolesi stands tall in Israeli sports, her Italian shift makes it tough for her to connect with some Jews. She keeps trying to win points well after serving in the Israeli army in the mid-1990s.

“If there are people who don’t appreciate what I have done,” she said, “I can only say that I am sorry that I cannot reach out to everyone, but with so many tour events, the rigorous training necessary and the constant traveling, tennis is really a demanding sport.”

She also waves the flag for other Israeli players: “Shahar Peer has a lot of potential. She is ranked No. 17 in the juniors and has a very good attitude. She could become quite good, and there are also some good boys; Dudi Sela got to the semis of the U.S. Open junior boys event last year.”

Smashnova-Pistolesi has had an active summer. She entered all the California tournaments and the Olympics. She didn’t win a trophy or medal, but in Los Angeles she picked on someone much bigger, Daniela Hantuchova, and cut down the once-rising Slovakian.

The next day, Smashnova-Pistolesi wilted under a sizzling sun and against a hot Svetlana Kuznetsova. The fullbacklike Russian proved too strong.

“She didn’t give me many chances,” Smashnova-Pistolesi conceded after getting cooked.

Smashnova-Pistolesi hopes to bounce back at the U.S. Open. She certainly has the strokes, especially one mean backhand. It could be the third best one-hander among women pros after Belgium’s Justine Henin-Hardenne and France’s Emelie Mauresmo.

If Smashnova-Pistolesi beats top pros such as those, her name will grow. Even if her body doesn’t. — Bucky Fox, Contributing Writer

Your Letters


From a Soldier

About a month ago, my aunt purchased a subscription of The Jewish Journal for me as a gift while I am in basic training at Ft. Sill, Okla. The Jewish Journal has allowed me to keep up-to-date on world events especially those important to the Jewish community. The articles on arts, entertainment and literature have provided me with a much-needed diversion from my demanding training schedule.

I wanted to pass on my thanks to your fine publication for helping one Jewish soldier stay connected with the Jewish community. Of course, my Aunt Lynn and Uncle David deserve equal thanks.

When I leave training, I intend to transfer my subscription to this post’s one Jewish chaplain so he can add this newspaper to the list of materials he provides to Jewish soldiers.

For those readers who don’t know, the JWB Jewish Chaplains Council is a nonprofit organization charged with oversight and accreditation of Jewish chaplains in our armed forces. These rabbis do a tremendous job in providing a wide range of services and resources to the Jewish community within our military. I urge your readers to consider the JWB when it’s time to write those checks to their favorite Jewish organizations. Their address is: 15 East 26th St. New York, N.Y. 10010-1579.

Pfc. Brian Singer, Ft. Sill, Okla U.S. Army

Killing Yassin

British Foreign Minister Jack Straw’s statement that the assassination of Sheik Ahmed Yassin was unjustified will go down in history like Neville Chamberlain who tried to appease Adolf Hitler.

Rabbi Shimon Paskow, Thousand Oaks

Mixed on ‘Code’

In reading Wendy Madnick’s article, “Cracking a Controversial ‘Code'” (April 9), we ask ourselves whether we should be elated that, unlike Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” here is a book written by a Christian, about Christianity, which does not blame the Jews for all of their ills. Or [should we] be disturbed that the book misrepresents Jewish history by claiming that Jews during Jesus’ time practiced pagan ritualistic sex acts inside the Holy Temple in Jerusalem? One can only assume that if such pagan ritualistic ceremonies did take place, Jews would have learned about the specifics through sources such as the Talmud, which openly touches upon the life of Jesus.

Danny Bental, Tarzana

Kirby Left Out

Tom Teicholz’ description of the influence of Jewish escape artists in comic book history contains a stunning omission (“The Escapist,” April 9). Jack Kirby (born Jacob Kurtzenburg) escaped the slums of Hell’s Kitchen and survived the battlefields of World War II to become the undisputed king of superhero cartoonists. He was the dominant creative force behind Captain America, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, the X-Men, Thor, the Silver Surfer and hundreds of others. At DC Comics, acting as his own editor, Kirby created an entire new pantheon of superheroes and villains called the New Gods, engaged in a cosmic war between the planets of New Genesis and Apokolips. The Torah echoes and the evocation of totalitarian society on the dark planet Apokolips is as resonant for Jewish history as anything in mainstream comics.

The war is triggered by the escape from Apokolips of a young character, Scott Free, who grows up to become he superhero, Mr. Miracle: Super Escape Artist. Pulitzer prize-winning author Michael Chabon read these comics as a child. At the back of his novel of escape and comics, “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay,” he dedicates a final acknowledgement to Kirby, for his influence on “everything I have ever written.”

Have I made my case?

Aaron Noble, Altadena

Bush on Israel

James Besser’s article makes a false assumption (“Speaking Truth to Power — Not,” April 2). Jewish criticism of President Bush’s domestic policies are muted for fear that he will stop supporting Israel? This assumes that Bush supports Israel because the Jews support Bush. Oh, I forgot that Bush owes the Jews for their unabashed support he got in the 2000 landslide victory over Gore. I doubt that Bush is counting on winning this election with the Jewish vote.

The real reason that Bush is supportive of Israel is based upon a strong religious belief in morality and justice. Bush sees the Middle East conflict as a fight of good against evil, and that same fight was brought home on Sept. 11. Has Besser heard of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Sen. Barbara Boxer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi? Real pro-Bush yentas? Domestic issues are meaningless to the victims of Sept. 11 and to the thousands of Israelis that have been murdered. Bush supports Israel because it is morally right and just — not because Jews vote for his domestic agenda.

I will support President Bush 100 percent as he fights to protect Americans and Israelis fight terrorism. Oh, and if my taxes go up or down by a few percentage points, well that is a sacrifice I am willing to make.

Joel Bertet, Los Angeles

Wrestling With Family


Yes, it’s true. I was raised as an Orthodox Jew — in Bakersfield no less. My parents were very strict about going to temple and observing the holidays and religion. But Dad also used to take me to the local wrestling matches when I was around 10. He got a kick out of watching the wrestlers and their antics, and I did, too.

I’d watch wrestling on television in black and white, with Dick Lane doing the commentary. One day — I was still 10 years old — I got really into it and grabbed my mom and put a hammerlock on her, not realizing the pressure I applied. It dislocated her shoulder and put her in the hospital.

After school, I joined the YMCA because it had a good weight room. I wanted to get in shape and develop my body a little better. I was pretty thin and just wanted to become more athletic looking.

Things began to change — I started developing muscles where I never had them. Dad at that time was going in for open-heart surgery and was inspired by my progress. He wanted me to take him to the gym after his surgery and help him get in shape. But he never recovered, and died that year.

I kept up my training with Dad in mind and started competing in bodybuilding contests, winning Mr. California and then Mr. America. I started to make a name for myself. At that point I felt that I needed to cash in on this, so I began training as a pro wrestler at the Olympic Auditorium.

Enter Bubbe, a terrific, wonderful grandma. I could do no wrong in her eyes. She was extremely old fashioned and very Jewish. She didn’t want me to get my hands dirty. I’m sure you know the type. But, I loved her very much.

It was bad enough that I took up bodybuilding and weightlifting. She would ask me over and over why I was killing myself in the gym lifting all those weights. She would shake her head at me and say, "You poor thing, killing yourself. Poor little Richard!"

She couldn’t figure out that I really enjoyed this stuff. I was building my tolerance for stress and pain to the point that one day they’d disappear.

Most of my Jewish friends weren’t into wrestling, bodybuilding or anything like it, but I guess I just liked taking chances, or maybe wanted attention. Whatever it was, I stuck with it.

But how do I break this to Bubbe? I told her and Mom that Dad would be proud of me doing this, and why can’t they be too? There was no argument with that, and he wasn’t here to dispute it. But, I know that he would have enjoyed it. If his health had been better, he would have joined me in the gym for sure, and maybe even a few holds in the ring.

So, I began the wrestling training and would come home and tell Mom and Bubbe about it. Mom would hum when she would get embarrassed about a subject, so as I’d tell Bubbe the gory details, Mom would stand there and do a lot of humming.

I heard through the grapevine that Bubbe was bragging about me being a well-built wrestler to her neighbors and friends. She was proud in her own way.

I was winning wrestling titles such as NWA Jr. Heavyweight Champion. Later on, I became "Rookie of the Year" at the Olympic Auditorium and then AWA, CCW, NWA, WWF and AWF wrestling champion.

My family was proud. I really didn’t have to be a lawyer or doctor. I was now in sports entertainment. I was developing my mind along with my body, just so no one would ever call me a "dumb wrestler."

I was one of the few Jewish wrestlers around. There were a couple here and there who during the day were chiropractors. I went to the South to wrestle and it was bad enough being from Los Angeles or Hollywood, but being a Jew was even more difficult out there. I told a few guys, and they always told me that they didn’t believe me.

"It’s impossible," they said, "You don’t look it, and you have blue eyes and blond hair."

Maybe that’s why I never had any prejudice against me. It just never happened.

I later moved from Bakersfield to Santa Monica where I began training at Gold’s Gym. One day, in 1971, Arnold Schwarzenegger came into the gym fresh from Austria and we became friends. Arnold and I trained together for the next four years. He used to joke about us training together being a Austrian and a Jew but in a fun way, and even at that time he had a lot of respect for the Jewish religion. We’d talk about it a lot. Arnold was a good friend and a great training partner. To this day, we’re still friends.

Bubbe died at the age of 96, and I know she was proud of me. I always keep her and Dad in mind, as I want them to know that they are a part of it. Mom is still alive and doing well. She’s approaching 90 and I’m approaching 60, but we both have a lot of the "kid" in us and that’s what keeps us motivated. Who knows? With the way things are going now, I may run for a political office.


Ric Drasin, pro wrestler, author, producer and businessman, is involved in senior fitness programs. He conducts motivated speaking engagements and demos and can be contacted through

The Great Jewish Hope


Dmitriy Salita doesn’t fight on the Sabbath, which gives his competition a much-needed day of rest from this powerful junior welterweight. With a 13-0, 10 KO record, the 5-foot-9, 139-pound fighter who goes by the moniker "The Star of David," is a rising star in the boxing ring.

Salita, 21, studied karate in Odessa until age 9, when he and his family immigrated to the United States. Though his parents were not religious, they understood that as Jews in the Ukraine, their family could not live in complete freedom. They hoped Brooklyn would bring their sons better opportunities. With little money to spare, the new immigrants could not afford to continue Salita’s martial arts training. Four years later, acting on his brother’s suggestion, 13-year-old Salita walked into the Starrett City Boxing Club.

"That was it. I was hooked, addicted," said Salita, who won the 2000 U.S. Nationals Under-19 and the 2001 New York Golden Gloves amateur championship title.

Salita, who fights in shorts embroidered with a gold Star of David, was not always observant; he slowly grew into his relationship with Judaism.

"In the Ukraine, Jews were traditional in knowledge, but we weren’t religious," he said.

Salita rediscovered his religion when his mother, Lyudmilia, was diagnosed with cancer in 1998. Lyudmilia’s hospital roommate’s husband introduced Salita to the Chabad of Flatbush. There, under the mentorship of Rabbi Zalman Liberov, Salita studied and embraced Jewish practices.

"It didn’t happen overnight, it took years. Each week it was something different — no TV on Shabbat, no driving on Shabbat, keeping kosher and so on," said Salita, who prays at local Chabad houses when he’s on the road. "I feel comfortable at Chabad, they’re down with people."

Chabad is also down with boxing. It was Liberov’s brother, Israel, who introduced Salita to his promoter, Top Rank’s Bob Arum.

Arum, who is an active member of Chabad of Southern Nevada, has promoted numerous champions including Muhammad Ali, Oscar de la Hoya and George Foreman. Israel sent Salita’s tape to Arum’s rabbi, the rabbi showed it Arum, and Arum signed Salita immediately. Salita was thrilled with the match.

"Bob was raised in an Orthodox family, so he’s totally supportive of my beliefs. He understands my Judaism, my schedule, plus, he’s just a really good guy," said Salita, who won his U.S. Nationals title after rescheduling the final mid-Sabbath bout for Saturday night.

"I’m proud of my Judaism," he said. "When my parents came to this country, they came here for freedom. My Judaism is a part of that freedom."

Salita looks for another post-sundown win on Saturday, Sept. 20, when he meets Joe Bartole (8-2, 5 KOs) in the ring at the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim.

"I’ve been training hard and I’m looking forward to a good performance, to putting on a good show," Salita said. "And I’m happy to be in Los Angeles. It’s a great city, an exciting city, a glamorous city," Salita said.

Salita’s fight will be televised locally on KCAL 9, Sept. 20, 8 p.m. Tickets for the fight are available through TicketMaster.

Right Place, Right Time


It was Sunday afternoon, July 6, 2003, and I was approaching the end of a successful three-week mission to Israel dedicated to responding to a new wave of missionary activity. In addition to lectures, news interviews and meetings with government officials, my colleagues and I distributed thousands of copies of a new Hebrew version of Jews for Judaism’s counter-missionary handbook “The Jewish Response To Missionaries.” That day I was traveling by car, with my wife, Dvora, and our son, from the northern town of Tsfat to Tel Aviv.

Around 4 p.m. we decided to take a rest stop. Just before the Zikhron Ya’akov interchange, we exited Highway 70 and pulled up to a small restaurant located about 50 feet from the highway. As we exited our vehicle we heard the sound of screeching tires and turned toward the highway to witness a horrific accident. A white taxi traveling at high speed ran straight into a pedestrian who was walking along the side of the highway. I saw and heard the impact, and watched as the pedestrian was thrown into the air and did a complete somersault over the car, landing on the pavement headfirst.

I’ve been police chaplain for more than 10 years with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the Los Angeles Airport Police and the LAPD and have responded to numerous crisis situations. I’m also trained in first aid, CPR, crisis counseling and advanced critical incident stress management. Within seconds, my years of training kicked in and I helped take control of the situation.

People around me were staring in shock and disbelief. I yelled to them to call for help. My command shook them out their stupor and some immediately ran inside the restaurant and called for emergency services.

I turned my attention back to the highway and ran the 50 feet, jumped the guardrail and kneeled next to the victim. The 14-year-old girl was lying motionless on her side with blood pouring from the back of her head and mouth. I was joined by Danny Eitan, a retired paratrooper and officer of the Israeli army, who had been driving in the opposite direction when he witnessed the accident. Together, we checked for breathing and a pulse. Once we realized both breathing and circulation were absent, we started CPR. Danny opened the airway and handled the breathing and I started chest compressions.

Each time I finished the chest compressions I shouted “od paam” (“again”) to Danny, indicating that he should give her two breaths. This continued for about four repetitions until we revived her.

I did a physical assessment for additional body damage and did not notice any other major external bleeding. A doctor visiting the country arrived on scene. I then turned my attention to the victim’s three friends who were standing by the side of the highway, shaking uncontrollably and crying. I removed them from the accident scene and took them inside the restaurant, had them sit down, supplied them with cold water and offered words of hope. After finding out the victim’s first name, “Hadas,” I offered a brief prayer and left her friends under the supervision of my wife — a licensed therapist.

Since it was extremely warm outside, we wanted to shield the victim from the sun. I requested that some form of material be brought to the side of the victim and a makeshift canopy was erected out of a large cardboard box.

Returning to the victim’s side, I held her head in my hands to prevent further trauma. She kept trying to pull my hand away, but with the help of several individuals who held her arms I stabilized her head and neck. Using her first name we spoke reassuring words of encouragement until the ambulance arrived.

Hadas was taken to a hospital in Hadera where they treated her internal injuries. She was then transferred to a Tel Aviv trauma center for her head injuries. After four days of treatment, she was listed as “out of danger” and is expected to make a full recovery.

Thanks to my training I was able to react professionally, but it was more than training that saved her life.

After the ambulance took Hadas to the hospital, Danny turned to me and said, “I wasn’t supposed to be in this spot at this time.”

I told him that in a million years I wouldn’t have expected to be here either — the “shortcut” given to me that morning took me on nine different highways until I reached the accident site.

I shared with Danny – who is not religious – the words of the Baal Shem Tov,
concerning divine providence and how “the footsteps of men are established
by God.” As we embraced in the middle of the road, we cried knowing that God
had directed us to this spot to save a young life.

I helped Danny put on tefillin in the merit of Hadas’ complete and speedy recovery and we pledged a bond of brotherly friendship for the rest of our lives.

Divine providence put us in the right place at the right time. I thought I
was going to Israel to save Jewish souls, but little did I know that I was
sent to help save Hadas’ life.


Rabbi Ben-Tzion Kravitz is the founder of Jews for Judaism International. He can be reached at la@jewsforjudaism.org.

Where Synagogue Leaders Learn


When Rabbi Mark Diamond asked seven Westside rabbis last summer to nominate emerging lay leaders for the Board of Rabbis’ new Synagogue Leadership Institute (SLI), many of the rabbis countered with another request. Rather than potential leaders, they wanted to send current leaders — presidents, executive board members and committee chairs.

"Several rabbis called and said, ‘My people need this right now. Our current leadership would greatly benefit from this immediately, and we can’t think five or 10 years into the future,’ which is a very telling statement about the state of leadership development," said Diamond, executive vice president of The Board of Rabbis of Southern California. "We don’t do enough training of emerging synagogue leaders to nurture them to address their needs. Too often we see people rising to positions of leadership very poorly equipped to handle the challenges of the synagogue of the 21st century. We see tremendous burnout among our volunteer leadership. And we also see people who frankly don’t have the Jewish background."

Through the SLI, 32 participants from a cluster of seven synagogues west of the 405 have been meeting monthly since November, strengthening skills in such areas as finances and fundraising, board development, strategic planning and making sure that plan has an underlying vision and value system.

The program has been so successful that the Board of Rabbis decided to extend the group for another year beyond what was supposed to be their graduation this June, and is starting another group in the 2004.

"It’s given me a lot more confidence," said Sanford Rosenblatt, who is on the executive board at Kehillat Maarav. "It’s opened me up to ideas about how well we can do things, the mistakes we can make, and the way we need to depend on a lot of people to get things done. It’s really been great."

Students paid $100 each to participate in the course, while the remainder of the $35,000 was funded by the Board of Rabbis, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the Jewish Community Foundation and the regional offices of the Reconstructionist, Reform and Conservative movements.

The joint sponsorship of the program, as well as the inclusion of participants and teachers from the Reconstructionist, Orthodox, Reform and Conservative movements, made the experience one of pragmatic pluralism, where differing doctrines and observances fell into the background amid such issues as how synagogue size affects programming and services.

"It’s very important to meet Jewish lay leaders from other synagogues, from different movements and different streams of Jewish life and share the common challenges and the common vision of leadership as a whole," said Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben, president of the Board of Rabbis and rabbi of Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades, which sent a delegation to SLI. "It has helped them to see themselves and what they are doing in the bigger context, so their own work has that much more value."

Carole Stein, an SLI participant who is on the board at Mishkon Tephilo in Venice, said she hopes the new connections will help further her synagogue’s efforts at joint programming. At the same time, she is grateful for the new ties the program has helped forge with the Conservative movement. After a session in which the United Synagogue’s Rabbi Moshe Edelman talked about leadership, "I asked him to come and speak to our board, which he did, and which helped us start a conversation about what are our true priorities," Stein said.

A highlight of the program was a daylong retreat in March at Camp JCA Shalom in Malibu. As in sessions throughout the year, the retreat included a significant portion of Torah study in addition to workshops, music and bonding. At the retreat and throughout the year, teachers from all the movements tried to imbue students with the idea that all synagogue work is holy work.

"The whole reason you are there is a religious reason, so try to bring your values into everything about a board meeting," said Sarah Austerlitz, a Westwood Village Synagogue past president.

For participants who met the profile of emerging leaders, SLI has been an eye-opener into not only what it takes to run a shul, but the vast resources that are available to leaders.

"Part of me wants to go to shul and sit and daven and not be bothered with the operation of the shul, and another part of me realizes that in order for this shul to be here now and in the future we have to take an interest in the day-to-day operation and management of the shul," said Phil Raider, who is on committees — but not yet the board — at Mishkon Tephilo. "It has enabled me to cross that bridge, realizing that working for the shul really is a mitzvah."

The public is invited to mark SLI’s completion of its first year with a siyyum celebration Wed., June 11, 7 p.m. at Kehillat Israel, 16019 Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades. For security reasons, please R.S.V.P. to the Board of Rabbis at (323) 761-8600.

JVS Program Heals Immigrants’ Lives


Balancing a large tray on her shoulders, Nahide Kafri dashed from table to table serving dinner to patients with Alzheimer’s disease at the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging (JHA). Despite the hard work, a smile crossed her face.

As a certified nurse assistant (CNA), Kafri earns less than $9 an hour, barely enough to support her husband and four children. She commutes two hours a day in heavy traffic to get to and from work.

She said she couldn’t be happier.

"I like working here so much, maybe too much," said Kafri, clad in white shoes, a floral gown and white pants. "I’ve always liked to help people, and now I can help old people, people who really, really need me."

Just six months ago, the 46-year-old Iranian immigrant was unemployed and on welfare. Now, she has a bright future.

In the past year and a half, Kafri and 29 other immigrants and refugees, mostly from the former Soviet Union and Iran, have moved off the dole and into stable jobs after completing a five-month program sponsored by Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) . After earning their state certification, they have gone on to work as CNAs at JHA, where they bathe, dress and feed the elderly, among other tasks.

In the process of becoming nurse assistants, immigrants like Kafri have regained their pride, said Tatyana Kodner, director of the department of refugee and immigrant services at JVS.

"This program creates miracles in their self-perception, ego and consciousness and makes them feel equal to anybody and everybody who’s functioning independently and not waiting for handouts," she said.

And they make wonderful CNAs, said Molly Forrest, chief executive of JHA, adding, "They’re really good workers."

So talented, in fact, that area nursing homes have inquired about hiring them. Country Villa Health Services, a Marina del Rey firm that operates 26 skilled-nursing homes in Southern California, has had discussions with JVS about possibly tapping program graduates for future positions, said Martha Schwegler, County Villa’s director of education and training.

The state’s nursing shortage has meant a strong job market for participants in the Certified Nurse Assistant Training Program at JVS. With California’s residents graying and its population growing, nursing homes, hospitals and other medical facilities are hungry for CNAs, licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) and registered nurses (RNs), said Donna Gerber of the California Nurses Association, a Sacramento trade group. New state guidelines mandating minimum staffing requirements are expected to boost demand even more when they take effect next year, she added.

For Kafri, completing the JVS program has been nothing less than life altering.

Coming to the United States in 1998 to escape anti-Semitism, Kafri, her husband and their children found themselves crammed into a one-room Los Angeles apartment with no language skills and even less confidence. Isolated and depressed, Kafri and her spouse fought bitterly, feeling like outcasts in their adopted country. She cried herself to sleep many a night.

In Iran, the Kafris lived a comfortable, middle-class life. They owned their own home in Tehran. Kafri’s husband, Khosrov, ran a successful company that manufactured baby shoes. Although some prospective buyers steered clear because of his Jewish heritage, he earned enough so his wife could stay home to raise their family.

In the United States, however, the couple relied on government assistance to survive, a source of great shame. They nearly lost hope, sometimes wishing they had never uprooted themselves.

Then a social worker told Nahide Kafri about the JVS program, and she saw a way out of her predicament. At first, her husband discouraged her from pursuing a career in nursing because of his opposition to her working outside the home. After several heated discussions, he finally relented.

She began her journey toward self-sufficiency when JVS officials interviewed her to ascertain whether she had the English-language skills, intellect and physical strength to pursue a nursing career. The agency also performed an extensive background check on her, as well as on other interested immigrants and refugees. After the vetting, she and a handful of other qualified applicants were chosen to start formal training at JHA.

At the Jewish Home, Kafri and fellow trainees received more than 160 hours of classroom and hands-on training. Cyril Kincaid, the main educator, taught them more than just how to feed stroke victims properly and perform rehabilitative exercises to prevent bed sores and keep the blood flowing. Trying to breach cultural barriers, he talked about such subjects as death and dying in America, noting that some people are agnostics and atheists and prefer nonreligious burials. He stressed the need to respect patients’ customs and wishes, no matter how seemingly exotic.

During the training, Kafri earned $7.15 an hour, and JVS assigned her a mentor to give her career and life advice. Her salary increased to $8.75 after she passed state exams and gained her certification. After three months on the job, JHA hiked her pay to $8.88, plus health benefits.

Kafri isn’t getting rich at the new job. However, she manages to save enough to surprise her children, including her 21-year-old son, Rayan, a UCLA senior.

"I hand them some money and say, ‘Here, spend it for yourself,’" she said, smiling with pride.

JVS started its program after executives noticed that many job-seeking immigrants and refugees on welfare had previously worked as medical technicians and nurses in their home countries. That, coupled with the state’s acute nursing shortage, made agency executives confident that they had a winning idea.

Los Angeles County agreed, granting $197,000 and, recently, another $150,000 for the program. Several private foundations have followed suit.

Although little new money is expected from the county because of the budget crunch, JVS Chief Executive Vivian B. Seigel said the program will continue without interruption, because additional private-sector grants should offset the loss of county funds. The Jewish Venture Philanthropy Fund recently said it had preliminarily agreed to invest $125,000 in the program.

JVS executives said they hope to partner with local community colleges so that program graduates could easily go on to train to become LVNs and RNs.

Like the freshly minted nurse assistants, JHA has benefited from the program. Not only has it hired more than two dozen program graduates, but it also receives $1,350 for each CNA it trains in conjunction with JVS, said Shelly Ryan, the home’s chief of human resources.

More than that, the program has given a real opportunity to people down on their luck, she said.

"We have so many people from so many countries who come here for no other reason than to make a better life for their families," Ryan said. "Now, they are."

A Canine Commencement


A black Labrador retriever, proudly bearing Israeli and American flags, joined several dignitaries on stage this month to celebrate the first graduation exercise of Pups for Peace.

The ceremony marked the end of an intensive two-month training course for 20 dogs — Belgian and German shepherds and Labrador retrievers — who will soon see service in the Jewish State as explosive-sniffing canines to foil would-be terrorists.

Sharing the honors were the dogs’ human companions, 14 young Israeli soldiers and policemen, who also helped build the training site and kennels at a well-guarded Los Angeles location.

The project, initially conceived by Dr. Glenn Yago just six months ago, set a record for red-tape cutting and fundraising on both the American and Israeli sides.

Yago’s goal is to send 1,000 trained dogs a month to Israel, “enough to form a screen across the country,” said veteran trainer Mike Herstik, director of canine operations.

The cost for training one man-dog team is $10,000. Close to $1 million has been raised so far from 300 donors, foremost the Jews in Crisis Fund of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, which presented a check for $675,000.

Consul General Yuval Rotem, expressing his thanks on behalf of Israel, said that, “By enhancing our security and saving lives, you are keeping our hopes alive.”

A tour of the kennels showed the dogs barking and leaping vigorously, a performance that gave Rabbi Dan Shevitz a good feeling. “The Talmud tells us that when dogs howl, the Angel of Death is coming,” he observed. “But when dogs frolic, they foreshadow the arrival of the Prophet Elijah and the promise of eternal life.”

The Sixth Sense in Security


Even though we’ve just crossed the first anniversary mark of Sept. 11 without incident, security specialist Dennis Kennedy does not think America should relax just yet.

"I believe that everything we see happening in Jerusalem will happen in Los Angeles in the near future," he said.

Kennedy and his company, Security Operations Group, have fought the war on terrorism by training private citizens, bodyguards and security personnel in counterterrorism and self-defense. Now the Huntington Beach-based group has discovered "da bomb": bomb-sniffing dogs.

"We decided after Sept. 11 that bomb-detecting dogs would be a logical addition to our business," said Kennedy, who counts private corporations, military personnel and movie studios among his canine-carrying clients.

Over a three- to six-month period, Kennedy trains the dogs to detect a roster of red flags, including firearms, ammonium nitrates, plastic explosives, TNT-based explosives and black powders used in pipe bombs. Passive hunting dogs, such as retrievers and border collies, make the best bomb-sniffers, he said.

"They sit down when they find a bomb," Kennedy said. "It’s really a game to a dog. We use affection and reward to teach the dog to recognize the smell of various kinds of explosives."

As simple as it sounds, in the battle between nature and technology, nature has the upper hand in counterterrorist sophistication.

"Bomb dogs are the single most effective tool that in detecting explosives," Kennedy said. "They have a success rate in the high 90th percentile. Electronic detectors, such as a handheld device that goes for a few thousand dollars, fall in the 40th percentile."

As a security expert and U.S. Army veteran who trained dogs while serving his country, Kennedy doesn’t pull any punches in his assessment of where we’ve come in the past year.

"I think that virtually nothing has happened," Kennedy said. "Our pilots are not armed. There are very few sky marshals aboard. Most are poorly trained. Airport screening is not working. And we’re not taking any proactive steps anywhere — not at theaters, not at malls. "To me, it seems like Americans are sitting on their hands waiting to see what the terrorists are going to do next."

Kennedy believes that America does not have to go far to take the basic steps of counterterrorism prudence.

"The Americans have learned little from the Israeli model," Kennedy added, "which is the most effective counterterrorist model in the world. We don’t need to spend millions of dollars. All we have to do is follow the Israeli model."

The Way of No Way


Drawn in part by the recent movie, "Enough," in which actress Jennifer Lopez uses Krav Maga to even the score against an abusive husband, a long-established Orange County class in self-defense is seeing a jump in popularity.

Sessions in the self-defense training developed for the Israeli army and held at Costa Mesa’s Jewish Community Center are drawing 25 percent more students in the last two years, say its principal instructors, Krav Maga black-belts Mitch Markowitz and Michael H. Leifer, who have taught together for 10 years. Across the nation, other Krav Maga schools have also seen a rise in interest since the Lopez movie opened in May. Despite street-fighting female stars, seen also in films such as "Charlie’s Angels" and "Tomb Raider," women still only comprise about one-third of the students.

Learning Krav Maga, Hebrew for "contact combat," appeals to fitness buffs and those who desire greater self-confidence, the instructors say. "Everybody wants to be able to defend themselves," says Leifer, a lean, muscular lawyer. "Not everybody is willing to invest the time to learn it."

Unlike the centuries-old Asian martial arts, where warriors strive to perfect an established combat technique as a path to spiritual enlightenment, Krav Maga is for contemporary warfare. Stripped of spirituality and any rules of engagement, its promoters willingly incorporate effective techniques borrowed from elsewhere. It’s a credo adopted by martial arts legend Bruce Lee, who embraced "the way of no way."

"It’s strictly self-defense: right to the point, finish the job," says Dr. Jerry Beasley, a professor at Virginia’s Radford University who has written six books on martial arts and is the director of a "karate college" at the campus.

That’s what appeals to Eric Papp, 35, an Anaheim lawyer who also considered learning Japan’s jujitsu. "This looked more aerobic as well as more practical," he says, figuring that knowing how to defend against a choke, kick or punch will eventually pay off in a bar fight or an encounter of "road rage."

Wearing T-shirts, sweatpants and athletic shoes, about 30 people were enrolled in a recent $120, eight-week session. Most are professionals without previous martial arts training. A few strap-on belts similar to those worn in karate, where skill is designated both by color and degree. (Black is the top level in both methods.) The biweekly 75-minute workouts are intense, sweat-inducing exercises in defeating an attacker by targeting the most vulnerable parts of the body. Bolsters of different shape and density line up on one side of the wood-floored auditorium. The students kick and punch the pads as they pair off, alternating in the role of aggressor and defender.

Scenarios are introduced quickly; various defensive maneuvers are broken down and demonstrated in steps. Students don’t necessarily perfect them before a new one is tried.

"It inspires confidence in me," says Victoria Short, 28, of Costa Mesa, who enrolled at the suggestion of her often-traveling husband.

Teaching this calculated version of street fighting is supposed to show students how to defend against brutal, modern-day thugs and also builds awareness about avoiding problematic situations. "Don’t walk down the street into five guys who are rowdy," is the sort of advice Markowitz offers. "Cross the street. Don’t be stupid. If you have the option, run."

Rather than a contest of strength, Krav Maga training teaches using deftness to deflect an aggressor and how to counterattack. "We start slow, but they are real attacks, real punches; the real thing," says Markowitz, who, like his partner, trained with Darren Levine.

Levine, who attended Israel’s first international instructors course in 1981, established the U.S. Krav Maga training center in Los Angeles in 1996. Besides training individuals, the center also trains 150 law enforcement agencies nationally and certifies martial arts instructors in teaching Krav Maga.

Among the thorny questions raised by students is how far they can push their own defense before crossing the legal line to battery. Occasionally, the instructors refuse a potential student who appears to be seeking the training for illegitimate purposes. "Martial arts draws people seeking an edge for their shenanigans," Markowitz says.

Both Markowitz and Leifer are veterans of traditional martial arts training, a historical relic of 16th century, sword-fought warfare. "Those movements don’t work great for someone who is choking you," says Markowitz.

Leifer abandoned training in other martial arts after meeting Levine in Los Angeles while attending Loyola Law School in 1985. "His students had great attitudes, it wasn’t a very commercial endeavor and it’s a system that’s better at dealing with day-to-day situations."

U.N., Refugee Camps and Our Money


Why is the United Nations running refugee camps like Jenin, for people who claim to be living in their own land? How could a refugee camp under U.N. auspices become a world center for recruiting and training suicide bombers? And why is the United States essentially bankrolling these camps when wealthy Arab oil sheikdoms barely contribute?

According to U.N. records, the United States finances more than one-quarter of the cost of operating the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). In 2000, for example, the United States pledged more than $89.5 million toward the more than $337 million total that UNRWA raised from all nations and sources in the world. By comparison, Saudi Arabia pledged $2.5 million — less than 1 percent of the UNRWA total and a minuscule fraction of the American contribution. Oil-rich Kuwait pledged $2 million. Syria pledged $37,209. Egypt pledged $10,000. Iraq and Libya apparently had difficult years; they pledged nothing, although Iraq sends bounties of $25,000 each to the families of suicide bombers.

The UNRWA is a subsidiary of the United Nations. Its commissioner-general, appointed by the U.N. secretary general, is the only head of a United Nations body authorized to report directly to the General Assembly. The UNRWA was founded by Resolution 302(IV) of Dec. 8, 1949, and to this day remains unique within the world body as a relief agency assigned to serve only one class of people.

All the world’s other refugees are served by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). UNHCR serves the needs of more than 21.8 million refugees in 120 countries ranging from the Balkans, Colombia, West Africa and Chechnya to Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Timor and the Horn of Africa. Palestinian Arabs alone are under the aegis of the UNRWA.

Locally recruited "Palestinian refugees" make up 99 percent of UNRWA’s staff in the 59 refugee camps that UNRWA operates in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Gaza and the disputed territories that Israelis call "Judea and Samaria" and that the Arab world calls "the West Bank." The majority of UNRWA camps and nearly 60 percent of their residents are in the three Arab countries, the remainder are in the areas administered by Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority. According to the UNRWA, it is the main provider of basic social services in all those camps.

The UNRWA’s largest budget item is its school system, which comprises half its budget and two-thirds of its staff. In all, the UNRWA operates 266 schools with 242,000 students in the area administered by the Palestinian Authority. In the aftermath of Israel’s military incursion into the UNRWA refugee camp in Jenin, that agency has been under a microscope, partly because it has schooled four generations of Jenin children. According to the UNRWA, its schools use the same curricula and textbooks as do the host government schools. Palestinian Authority textbooks incorporate maps of the Middle East that omit Israel, and their texts delegitimize Israel, Judaism and Jews.

Under the UNRWA’s auspices, the number of refugees it serves has grown from 914,000 in 1950 to more than 3.8 million today. Thus, the overwhelming majority of its population are the children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren of those who first were placed in UNRWA camps in 1950. Between 1947 and 1950, approximately 750,000 Jewish refugees were driven from Arab countries in the Middle East. There was no United Nations agency to serve their health, educational and social needs, so they were absorbed directly into the Israeli polity, and their offspring bear no indicia of refugee status.

Israel reports that approximately half the suicide bombers who have struck over the past 19 months were residents of the Jenin UNRWA camp or terrorists who were trained there. It also is odd that a "refugee camp" under United Nations auspices has emerged as a terror center where Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Tanzim and Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade terrorists run wild, stocking arms, building bomb-making factories and recruiting and training children educated at UNRWA schools to detonate themselves. Perhaps oddest of all is the American role as chief bankroller.

With Washington now scouring its outlays in the face of projected budget deficits, it is remarkable that America continues to pump scores of millions into a U.N. program that has institutionalized dependency among four generations of Arabs — while the oil princes barely contribute. It is remarkable, too, that the refugees and their descendants are still living in squalor a half-century after the helping hand first was extended.

This makes no sense. In a time when U.N. fact-finding commissions are all the rage, here is a subject for congressional fact-finders to investigate: Why are we throwing away all those tax dollars?

Fearing Fear


My husband, Larry, and I had been training, or so I thought, for the Avon Breast Cancer Three-Day, a 60-mile walk in from Santa Barbara to Malibu last October.

But now I realize that we were really training for a grave new world — for when an act of God, or more likely an act of godlessness, blindsides Los Angeles, shutting down our streets and transportation systems.

"I always wondered, if I could walk the 11 miles home from work in an emergency," Larry said before Sept. 11." Ñow I know I can," he says.

And now I know I can walk to my sons’ schools, the farthest being 13 miles away.

Worse, I know I might have to.

For on Sept. 11, with the force of a 767 hitting the north tower of the World Trade Center, reality slammed into our lives, forever destroying our concept of invincibility.

And so, with a Californian’s knee-jerk reaction to any crisis, I replenish the emergency backpacks with radios, batteries, work gloves, flashlights, flares, power bars, water and walking shoes. And I buy a longer-life battery for my cell phone.

But in truth, I don’t know how to prepare — or for what. I can only guess that the next attack will be unforeseen, unfathomable and deadly. And I wonder if I should be lining up my family for smallpox vaccinations or stockpiling gas masks, guns and canned goods — or merely praying.

As a mother, I have worked to create a risk-free world for my four sons, now ages 10, 12, 14 and 18. I have put them in car seats, seatbelts and helmets. I have removed alar from their apple juice, drawstrings from their sweatshirt hoods and second-hand smoke from their environments. I have taught them not to talk to strangers or pick up guns. And I have electronically tethered them with cell phones and pagers.

As a Jew, I have merely been following the danger-avoidance dictates of my religion. "One should guard oneself against all things that are dangerous, because ‘regulations concerning health and life are made more stringent than ritual laws,’ " the Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law, states.

Ironically, I also worry that I’m overprotecting my kids, doing them a disservice by destroying their sense of self-confidence. And I worry that I’m not concentrating enough on my sons’ emotional needs. My rabbi, Zachary Shapiro, associate rabbi at Los Angeles’ University Synagogue, tells me, "We need to give children constant reassurance that they’re in a safe place when they’re with us."

He recommends, especially for younger kids, a nighttime ritual that includes prayers such as the Shema and the "Hashkiveinu," a prayer for peace that includes the words, "Shield us and remove from us foe, pestilence, sword, famine and sorrow."

For the older kids, the rabbi advocates tzedakah activities, such as organizing a clothing drive, giving blood or collecting donations. This is in keeping with Judaism’s teaching, "Justice, justice shall you pursue" (Deuteronomy 16:20).

Meanwhile, as a parent, I take solace in the fact that the terrorist attacks, as well as most crises and disasters, are much scarier to me than to my sons. I have a greater ability to comprehend the seriousness, as well as the long-term ramifications. Or perhaps I’ve succumbed to "phobophobia," the fear of fear itself.

Also, I take solace in the fact that statistics are on my side. Yes, Rabbi Harold Kushner has indelibly and eloquently taught us that "bad things happen to good people." But they happen rarely and atypically.

But most of all, I take solace in the fact that anytime and anywhere, thanks to my training for the Avon Breast Cancer Three-Day, I can grab my emergency backpack and walk to fetch my sons.

Fit After 50


Looking to get in shape, clients of all ages, shapes and sizes come to youthful fitness trainer Betsy Mendel. Mendel, who operates a business called No Excuses, has developed special insights into the training needs of her middle-aged clients. After arriving in Los Angeles from Atlanta five years ago, she fell in love with the sunny climate and found it the perfect place to indulge her fanatic workout habits in the great outdoors. Since 1999, she has been training full time, offering workouts suited to L.A. beaches, canyons and other outdoor spaces.

Mike Levy: Can you describe your average client?

Betsy Mendel: I’ll train with anyone, but a lot of my clients are women over 50. What I try to do is make it easy, convenient and fun for them.

ML: How do you begin a fitness routine?

BM: We fill out a medical history, make sure they don’t have any medical problems where they’d need a doctor’s supervision. Then, we just talk about what their fitness goals are. Most people just want to get back in shape; they want to start feeling better and doing something a few times a week.

ML: You’ve said that many of your clients are women over 50. Do you have specific workouts for them?

BM: Let me give you an example. I have a client — she quit smoking a year ago — [who] feels like she’s put on weight. We do a warm-up where we stretch, then a 40-minute power walk around her neighborhood with light weights for the arms, and then we do a cool-down. She’s really into burning fat and working her cardiovascular, so we have a program emphasizing those things.

Another woman I work with, she’s 69. I set up a step. We use exercise bands, which are like giant rubber bands, and body bars, which are padded and weighted. We start off with a warm-up, and then we do stretching, because she’s very concerned about flexibility. A lot of the warm-up is done on the steps, or jogging in place. Then we’ll work with the bands, which provide resistance for upper-body strength.

ML: So, more generally, what do women need to be focusing on in their fitness training?

BM: As you get older, maintaining your flexibility becomes more of a challenge, but also more important. It gets very easy to break your bones, for your body to get more brittle, if you don’t stay active.

ML: And what is the most important part of the fitness routine for your older clients?

BM: For most of my clients, for women over 50 as well as the younger women, the most important thing is just getting out and doing something. That’s going to make them feel better about themselves, and when you feel better, you take better care of yourself; you eat better. It all comes together.

With an older woman, you just start out slower, you use a bit more precaution. And the results are going to be different as well: obviously, you don’t get as much muscle tone when you’re older. But you can still feel great, which is really what it’s about.