Syrian treated by IDF soldiers dies in Israeli hospital

An injured Syrian treated by Israeli soldiers on the Golan Heights border died in an Israeli hospital.

The dead Syrian was one of seven treated on the border Wednesday morning, Israel's Channel 10 reported. Two were taken to an Israeli hospital. The rest were repatriated to Syria after their treatment.

All of the wounded are residents of the Syrian-controlled central Golan Heights, Ynet reported. They are believed to be civilians.

Seven Syrian rebels entered Israel through the Golan Heights in February and were treated in Israeli hospitals. Six were quietly repatriated at an undisclosed location for their own safety; one was very severely injured and remained in the hospital.

Earlier this month Israeli soldiers provided medical care to four wounded Syrians, two of which were taken to Israeli hospitals due to the severity of their injuries.

Sober seders spreading

It’s rare that an Orthodox rabbi chooses to omit an important Jewish ritual in his holiday celebrations.

But in the spring of 2000, Rabbi Yosef Lipsker cleared his living room of furniture, set up three large dining tables and invited dozens of people to a special seder that included all the standard Passover observances — except for one.

“When it comes to seders, everybody thinks of the four cups of wine drunk during the service,” said Lipsker, a consultant at the Caron Treatment Center for Substance Abuse and Chemical Addiction in Reading, Pa. “But we said, ‘Listen, we’re going to have you at the seder, but you’re going to have four cups of grape juice instead.’ ”

Lipsker’s guests all were recovering alcoholics and drug addicts and their families, and his seder was devoid of wine. Lipsker is not the only rabbi organizing sober seders — a dry version of the standard Passover evening ritual. In the late 1990s, several Chabad rabbis across the country, unbeknownst to one another, were organizing sober seders geared toward Jewish recovering alcoholics.

In a little more than a decade, the practice has spread far and wide. This year, sober seders will be held in Miami, Montreal, Philadelphia, Detroit, Los Angeles and London. Hundreds of recovering addicts are expected to attend, raising a glass of grape juice in celebration not only of the liberation of the Jewish people from bondage in ancient Egypt, but also of their own sobriety.

Participants in sober seders say the absence of wine not only doesn’t detract from their enjoyment of the event, but can even enhance it. They connect the struggles of recovering from addiction to Passover’s theme of breaking free from servitude.

“It was great,” said Ricky, a 56-year-old recovering addict from Montreal, referring to his first sober seder. “I sat at a table with the rabbi’s wife, kids and other addicts in recovery, and I felt great, like I had a real a sense of belonging.”

Ricky credits Rabbi Benyamin Bresinger, who with his wife runs a Chabad addiction clinic in Montreal, with saving his life. He points to the 2008 seder as a life-altering event and continues to attend sober seders each year.

“Before and after the seder we sit around and talk,” he said. “Many of us know each others’ stories by now. For the newcomer coming to the sober seder, there’s a belonging. It’s a celebration rather than a regular AA meeting.”

The sacramental consumption of wine is commonplace in Judaism, used to mark the beginning of nearly every major holiday and the weekly Sabbath dinner. On seder night, tradition calls for the drinking of four glasses as a sign of liberation. Wine also figures in other seder-night rituals: Many Jews have the tradition of removing drops of wine from their cup for each of the plagues visited upon the Egyptians, and a cup of wine traditionally is set aside for Elijah.

Naturally, the ubiquity of drink poses problems for alcoholics and addicts of other substances.

“Jewish law says everyone has to drink wine during the seder,” said Rabbi Yisrael Pinson, who runs the Jewish Recovery Center in Detroit. “But for an alcoholic, it’s a danger of death.”

Pinson cited “pikuach nefesh,” the Jewish principle that saving a life takes precedence over other religious strictures, in skipping the wine drinking in Jewish rituals. He noted that Rabbi Abraham Twerski, a prominent psychiatrist specializing in addiction, sanctions abstinence for Jewish addicts as a life-saving measure.

Pinson also hosts a sober seder.

“We ask people who attend the seder, ‘What is your personal story of freedom? How did you break free from the shackles of addiction?’” Pinson said. “Obviously, we read the haggadah. But we also talk about where we are in life. It’s fresh on their minds. They feel the wounds.”

For Greg, 24, from New York, seders used to be an opportunity to binge. “Every Pesach, by the third ‘Chad Gadyah’ we were singing it backwards,” he said.

The son of a Charedi Orthodox rabbi, Greg’s family moved around a lot when he was growing up. The first time he got drunk was on Purim at age 10. It was a sign of things to come. By the time Greg met Lipsker in his early 20s, he had become addicted to painkillers and cocaine. With the rabbi’s help, Greg said he managed to overcome his demons.

“For the first time in 23 years, I could be at a seder, feel real liberation and not be finished by the end of it,” he said of his first sober seder with Lipsker.

Greg’s life is now back on track. He has a job working in finance in Manhattan and says he has found value in his Jewish identity. On weekends, he often drives out to see Lipsker, who lives a two-hour drive away. He said Lipsker is saving him a seat at this year’s seder. 

Israeli company testing insulin pill for diabetes treatment

Some people diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes can manage their disease with diet and exercise. Others must turn to insulin injections and other medical interventions to control their blood sugar levels. But diabetes is a progressive disease — even if medication isn’t needed at first, it may be needed over time, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA).

And while most people with Type 2 diabetes would like to avoid insulin shots, they are a daily reality for many diabetics.

That’s where the promise of a new insulin pill comes in. Israeli company Oramed Pharmaceuticals Inc. just received an Israeli patent for an oral insulin capsule — what researchers have called “the holy grail” of diabetes treatment.

Diabetes is a metabolic disorder in which a person has high blood sugar, either due to the body not producing enough insulin (Type 1) or because the cells have developed a resistance to the body’s own insulin (Type 2). (Some women develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy and are at risk for Type 2 diabetes.) Left untreated, diabetes can damage nerves and blood vessels, and lead to complications such as heart disease and stroke. Other health problems can include kidney failure and vision loss. 

By 2030, there will be 366 million people worldwide affected by diabetes, the World Health Organization estimates. More than 25 million Americans currently have diabetes, and by 2034, this number could increase to 44 million, the ADA reports. Americans’ increasing obesity, sugar-laden diets and lack of exercise don’t help.

Injectable insulin was first given to people in 1922. Over the years, there have been numerous attempts to find a needle alternative, including an inhalable version. But various problems — including possible lung cancer and low profitability — forced inhalable insulin off the market, while research continues. Diabetics are hopeful the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will approve Generex’s Oral-lyn inhalable, which uses a mist spray.

There are two main obstacles to creating an insulin pill: One is that insulin is a protein and, in a pill form, it would be broken down by enzymes in the stomach, much the way protein in food is, so insulin would never reach the bloodstream. The second is that the insulin molecule is too big to pass through the stomach or intestine wall.

“Imagine the intestine wall is a tennis net, and when you take a Tylenol, it’s like a small ball that passes through the net and reaches the bloodstream,” Oramed CEO Nadav Kidron said. “But if the ball is bigger than the hole in the wall, it will never reach the circulation and will have no effect,” he said.

He should know. His mother, Miriam Kidron, studied the disease for 35 years at Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem. At 70, Kidron is a unique woman: the great-niece of Rabbi Abraham Kook, Israel’s first Ashkenazi chief rabbi, she went into the army and then got a master’s degree in pharmacology and a doctorate in biochemistry at Hebrew University. She researched diabetes at Hadassah while raising four children in Jerusalem (she now has 13 grandchildren). 

In 2006, she went to her son and said, “We have a breakthrough.”

Their new capsule has both an enteric coating, which prevents it from being dissolved in the stomach, and an anti-protease that prevents the pill from being dissolved by enzymes.

The technology, which received Israeli patent approval in May, has the potential to be used for flu vaccines, among other injectable medications.

A lawyer and MBA who worked with Israeli startups and the nonprofit world, Nadav Kidron, 38, and Miriam Kidron founded Oramed in 2006; Hadassah is a partner. The drug is entering phase 2 of its FDA trials, and Oramed hopes to have the capsule on the market by 2015 in the United States, and earlier in countries such as China and Russia.

Oramed is one of several companies in the race for the cure. Danish pharmaceutical giant Novo Nordisk is spending $2 billion on a pill, but its research in the United States is only at phase 1 of FDA trials. A handful of smaller companies searching for an insulin pill include Philadelphia’s Diasome Pharmaceuticals and Diabetology Ltd. in the United Kingdom.

But competition doesn’t bother Miriam Kidron. “Personally, at the end of the day, I am not afraid,” she said, noting that there will probably be a few options. “There is no one medication good for 100 percent of the population.”

Analysts believe the market for a successful pill is from $5 billion to $10 billion.

But it’s not the money that excites her. “Money is not my motivation. My children are all married [except Nadav], and I have what I need. Maybe if it was 50 years ago,” she mused.

What really drives the Jerusalem grandmother is simple: “I will be happy when people will have oral insulin.”

Life lessons from the trenches of cancer survival

On my neck there’s a large, upside-down L-shaped scar. One leg of the L runs from my right shoulder blade upward to just below my right ear; the other leg takes a 90-degree turn, following the jaw line to my chin. The right side of my neck — the inside of the L — looks as if it’s had glands, cartilage and muscle scooped out, leaving a tough, bumpy, uneven cavity. After the surgery, a friend joked that I should put Silly Putty on my neck.

No Silly Putty, no cosmetic surgery. My neck has remained exactly as it was after the operation. It’s a souvenir of squamous cell carcinoma — cancer — which started in the right tonsil and metastasized to the lymph nodes, diagnosed and treated 15 years ago.

The day I was told that I had throat cancer, I was furious. There was no logic to it. I’d never smoked, didn’t drink, hadn’t eaten red meat in more than 25 years. So why me?

There was only one way to deal with my fury. I went out and had a real hot dog with sauerkraut. Much better than those meat-free — and taste-free — soy dogs I’d eaten for so long. With each bite, I looked up at the heavens and shook my fist: There! Take that!

In fact, it’s that semidefiant attitude that helped me get through the punishing treatment: massive amounts of throat radiation followed by a radical neck dissection.

Bernie Siegel — the oncologist whose tapes I’d listen to in the car while going back and forth to the hospital — says that one should be a “good-bad patient”: question everything and demand honesty and clear explanations from health-care professionals.

But, Siegel stresses, once you decide on a treatment, stick with it.

Here’s something that helped me: Although I was optimistic, I didn’t see treatment as an attempt to “beat” cancer. Right from the beginning I thought of cancer as my teacher, an experience I was going to learn from.

What did I learn? For one thing, when you accept help from others — which was hard for me — it not only makes you feel better, it also makes the person helping you feel better. When I started treatment, my older son, Rafi, was just finishing his freshman year at an Ivy League school. He took a year off to help me. He didn’t think of it this way at the time, but when he looks back on it now, he says that he cherishes that year.

After I was diagnosed, I was called and visited by many well-meaning people who suggested alternative treatments: from special diets to fasting to massive doses of vitamins. I listened politely and then plunged full bore into the most up-to-date medical treatment available. Oh, I used some unconventional techniques to complement treatment, but not as a substitute for Western medicine.

While going through radiation treatment, I meditated every day. This involved breath control and visualization until I’d reach a state of self-hypnosis. While in a trance, I’d imagine a kind of Pac-Man figure entering my body and eating my cancer cells.

Did it help? Who knows? It felt good, and that’s what counts. Meditation — or prayer or yoga — certainly can’t hurt, so long as it’s not used in place of standard treatment.

While you’re going through treatment, be easy on yourself. If you want to be alone, then be alone. If you don’t want to talk to anyone, then don’t. Recognize your limits, and don’t let anyone talk you out of them. If, however, you want to interact with family and friends, then by all means do so. And when you’re tired, kick them out. Be strict about this.

The medical facility where I received treatment is one of the most prestigious in the world, but some staff members had a lousy bedside manner. One resident — I thought of him as Dr. Worst-Case-Scenario — would always give me his gloomiest predictions.

I never let it affect me. The way I look at it, the job of any medical facility is to provide the most skilled, cutting-edge treatment, and that’s it. But that’s more than enough. If you need happy talk and hand-holding, that’s what family and friends are for.

How can you find the right medical center for you? Ask others in your area who have gone through similar treatment. Talk to your family physician. Consult magazines that rate hospitals and treatment centers. One source is the annual issue of U.S. News & World Report that lists each medical specialty and ranks facilities throughout the country. You can access last year’s rankings via its Web site or at your local library.

Some years back, Norman Cousins wrote about the healing power of laughter. It worked for me. Forget subtle humor. You want the fall-on-the-floor-bust-a-gut-roaring kind: early Woody Allen movies or Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau. There are times, though, when other types of movies work, too. During the worst moment of treatment, my pain was eased by watching Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers glide across the dance floor.

Make no mistake: Cancer — and its treatment — can be horrendous. I wasn’t able to eat, I had no energy. Every day I was faced with my own mortality. But that helped me put priorities in place: seize the day and all that.

Once I recuperated from treatment, I made my own bucket list. After having lived what I felt had been a self-indulgent life, I was now determined to try something different. So I worked for the Shoah Foundation, which assures that Holocaust survivors’ testimonies become a permanent record.

I joined groups that explore life; reconnected with friends and family; published many articles — and a book — on topics close to my heart; volunteered as a writing coach for inner-city kids. And I’ve been a mentor for others going through cancer treatment, sharing what I learned, trying to make a difficult journey a little easier.

Nowadays when I look at my neck — at the scar, bumps and cavities — I feel nothing but gratitude: It’s a reminder of the treatment that saved my life.

And it’s a reminder that having gotten cancer in the first place also saved my life.

Israeli teens with Turner’s find hope and kinship in Malibu

In 1992, Beverly Daley, a clinical social worker at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, took a group of adolescents with Turner syndrome to Seville, Spain. In 1998, she led a similar group trip to Lisbon, Portugal. This year Daley brought two Israeli girls with Turner’s to a part of the world they had never seen before: the United States.

Turner syndrome is one of the most common endocrine disorders, affecting approximately 1 in 2,500 females worldwide, according to the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health. The syndrome is caused by the absence of one X chromosome or the presence of one abnormal X chromosome and is manifested in various ways. Those affected are unusually short, infertile and may have a variety of other physical attributes. Quite often, the syndrome is not discovered until a girl reaches puberty, when normal female sexual development fails to occur.

About 10 years ago, Daley was collaborating with a diabetes and endocrinology center in Israel to build a mentoring program for children with diabetes similar to one she’d created in Los Angeles. In the process, she discovered that Israel had next to no support services for girls with Turner syndrome, which hit her because she had recently founded a summer camp in Los Angeles for girls with the chromosomal abnormality. Since that time, her dream has been to bring Israeli girls to the camp — the only one of its kind in the United States — and hopefully provide a model for a similar program in Israel.

Ronny Manor, 16, is one of the two Israeli girls who came to the Children’s Hospital camp, run on the campus of Pepperdine University. Daley raised the money to bring the girls through private donors and a grant from the Jewish Community Foundation, and found them through the Institute for Endocrinology and Diabetes at Schneider Children’s Medical Center in Petah Tikva, Israel — the same center she had worked with years before. Daley was looking for girls between the ages of 12 and 19 who were independent enough to travel without their parents, could converse in English and would benefit significantly from the experience.

Manor is bright and curious, and loves to sing and act. Her mother began suspecting something was different because she was much shorter than her classmates. Doctors initially could not find an explanation for the girl’s stunted growth, but eventually, when Manor was 11, she was referred to Dr. Moshe Phillip at Schneider’s.

“From the first glance, he recognized that I had Turner syndrome,” Manor said recently, as she sat outside a small Pepperdine theater, where she and 20 other girls with Turner’s were rehearsing monologues they had written describing significant moments in their lives.

“At the beginning, I didn’t understand what that meant to have a syndrome,” Manor said, speaking in Hebrew. “Until then, I just thought of myself as a short girl, and then all of a sudden I have a disorder that I have to live with the rest of my life. It was terrifying and confusing.”

Ronny immediately started researching Turner’s online. She found an Israeli forum and began to correspond with others with the disorder, eager to find out more. The others on the forum were women in their 20s and 30s, initially a disappointment for the young girl, who was looking for peers dealing with the same disorder.

But meeting with some of them made Manor realize that connecting with adults could give her something just as encouraging as solidarity — an inspiring glimpse into her future.

“I found out that these women are normal. They have lives, they have friends and careers and husbands,” Manor said. “It gave me such hope and strength.”

Not long after she found this outlet, the forum was closed down due to lack of participation. In Israel, there is a very little awareness of the syndrome and no organized programs for people with Turner’s, so the opportunity to attend a weeklong camp designed for young girls with the disorder seemed a dream come true for Manor.

Daley founded the Turner syndrome summer camp in 1994, with the sponsorship of a division of Children’s Hospital — the USC Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities, headed by Dr. Robert Jacobs. The camp is the only one of its kind addressing the unique abilities and needs of girls with Turner’s. Each year, approximately 60 adolescent girls from around the United States travel to Malibu to take part in activities that include theater workshops, art sessions, hikes, team-building games, trips to theater performances, nutrition counseling and cooking classes.

Manor was particularly excited about a makeover session, scheduled for the last day of the camp. The girls were to be treated to a day of pampering, with haircuts and makeup at the Vidal Sassoon Academy in Santa Monica and manicures by the camp staff.

“Everything here is done with so much love,” said Moran Rudnicki, the counselor who accompanied the two girls from Israel at the request of their parents.

Rudnicki, who works with Dr. Phillip at the diabetes and endocrinology clinic in Israel, had had no previous experience with Turner’s syndrome and was asked to join the girls at the last minute when the designated chaperone was unable to come.

Awed by the amount of support and encouragement the camp offers the participants and frustrated at the lack of an equivalent organization in Israel, Rudnicki says she is inspired to start pushing for similar programs when she returns home. Rudnicki and Daley, who also arranged for the two girls to be hosted by Jewish families in Los Angeles for a week after camp was over, expressed the hope that more girls from Israel will be able to attend the camp in future years.

“The girls come here to get information that they’re not getting elsewhere, not from their doctors or their parents,” said Jessica Nevin, 24, one of the counselors — all of whom have Turner’s syndrome and play an instrumental role in helping campers cope with the challenges of Turner’s. “It’s only one week, but friendships are built and lasting connections are made, which is what they really need.”

At the camp, Manor finally found what she had been searching for on the Internet: A resource she will be able to turn to with her endless thirst for knowledge, a group of girls her age whom she can relate to and a place where she feels comfortable with who she is.

“For a moment here,” she said, “I forgot that we all have Turner’s.”

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Jewish tradition says safety trumps privacy when it comes to mental health

The deadly rampage and paranoid ravings of Seung-Hui Cho in Virginia last week cast an uncomfortably harsh light on the issue of mental illness, particularly untreated or undiagnosed mental illness among young people.

While Cho had some initial psychological counseling in 2005, it appears that he opted out of follow-up care, an option the law affords adults who do not pose immediate danger to themselves or others.

In the Jewish tradition, while privacy is valued, a greater emphasis is put on healing the person who is ill and protecting those around him.

“I think that both as Jews and as Americans we have a strong sense of privacy and of the right to individual privacy, but at the same time that does need to be balanced so that we report issues when we see them,” said Rabbi Elliot Dorff, professor of philosophy and co-chair of the bio-ethics department at the American Jewish University (formerly University of Judaism).

Jewish law considers mental illness as serious and real as physical illness, he says, with an accompanying obligation of treatment.

The laws against lashon hara (gossip) are suspended when a person’s safety or well-being is at stake, Dorff points out, and Judaism requires bystanders to become active participants in ensuring a person’s well-being.

At the same time, Judaism does recognize that human dignity often lies in the right to privacy. God himself is only partially revealed, Dorff said. And he points to the Biblical laws that require a lender who is collecting a pledge to wait outside the door, and not invade a person’s home. Rabbinic laws prohibit opening another person’s mail, and tzedakah (charitable giving) is considered to be at a higher level when it is given anonymously.

But the emphasis on privacy can be taken too far, Dorff says, such as when there is a reticence to report domestic abuse.

“Health and safety trump privacy rights,” he said. “It’s a hard balance to strike, but one we need to strike.”

Some Jewish mental health professionals believe American law errs too far on the side of individual rights.

“There are those who say that someone has a right to be disheveled and pushing a shopping cart and muttering to himself and living under a bridge, as long as he doesn’t hurt anyone. They say he has a right to do that, and giving him that right is what embodies a vision of human dignity,” said Dr. Abraham Havivi, a psychiatrist and ordained Conservative rabbi.

“Others would say that what embodies a vision of human dignity is to take control of that person against their will and force them to have treatment, and that it doesn’t respect their dignity to allow them to be that way,” said Havivi, who runs a private practice and teaches pastoral counseling at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University.

Havivi points to the biblical injunction of “Lo ta’amod al dam re’echa,” to not stand idly by when a person is in danger, which includes getting a person help when necessary.

Traditionally, he says, families — Jewish and non-Jewish — have taken care of those who are struggling, no matter their age.

Havivi points to a situation where an 18-year-old patient has been hospitalized for his first psychotic breakdown, a common occurrence since psychosis such as schizophrenia or mania often manifest during the late teens or early 20s. If the patient refuses to tell his parents, the treating professional is precluded by law from calling the family, even though the patient’s decision-making capabilities are compromised.

In that situation, Havivi sees the law butting up against his ethics.

“There are times when a mental health professional is faced with a dilemma,” he says. “Do I essentially violate the law and break confidentiality to notify someone’s family? If I were this young man’s parents, I would want to be notified and want to try to take care of my child,” Havivi said.

Jewish Family Service (JFS), an agency of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, works hard to maintain that balance as it offers counseling in its several storefronts and onsite at public high schools and Jewish day schools. Assessment by several people is a big part of the process, and serious cases get referred to in-patient facilities or intensive out-patient programs.

Having the services in the schools makes it more likely that students and parents will get help, said Margaret Avineri, director of clinical and disability services at JFS.

JFS helps teachers identify behavior that should be referred to mental health professionals, and presents workshops to students, parents and teachers on issues such as substance abuse, relationships or safety on the internet.

“A lot of the programming promotes good communication, which I think can prevent rather than react after serious situations,” Avineri said.

Milken Community High School also takes a proactive approach, according to Roger Fuller.
A unit on mental health is included in the ninth-graders’ curriculum, and those students, in groups of six to 12, are matched up with advisers. The groups stay together through the four years of high school, and the students check in with their adviser for 15 minutes four times a week.

Staff counselor Georgie Cutter is available for academic as well as social needs, and next year two more counselors are coming on board.

Some Milken students also volunteer for Teenline, a hotline staffed by trained teen volunteers, who field anonymous phone calls and online messages from teens who have issues with anything from boyfriend problems to suicidal thoughts.

While the vast majority of mental illness does not lead to violence such as Cho’s, Dorff — a past president and current board member of JFS — encourages those who have issues to seek help, and for others to get help for those who need it.

“One of the important things to recognize is that just as physical illnesses range from a cold to cancer, so too mental problems range across a spectrum,” Dorff said. “People can have real problems that one has to deal with, and they are not always going to be life-threatening.”

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Tel Aviv trauma expert assists U.S. military

An Israeli professor studying the long-term effects of war on the soldiers who fight is now sharing her knowledge with United States counterparts in an attempt to provide better therapy for American servicemen and women returning home from the battlefields of Iraq.

During the last 20 years, Tel Aviv University professor Zahava Solomon has conducted research into the psychological consequences of war and terror. She recently returned from a conference in Florida — the second annual National Symposium on Combat Stress Injuries: Addressing the Challenges, Explaining the Solutions and Managing the Injuries — where she spoke about managing stress while still in combat.

“It’s important to understand the long-term consequences of war and to minimize [them],” Solomon said.

While people tend to perceive war as only taking place on the battlefield, according to Solomon, a professor of Psychiatric Epidemiology and Social Work and the Head of the Adler Research Center for Child Welfare and Protection, for many the effects linger long after the battle is over.

“The war does not end for a considerable portion of these individuals, and relatively high rates of combatants continue to suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). They continue to experience the war in nightmares and flashbacks. We pretty much liken it to cancer of the soul,” she said.

Solomon’s research has revolutionized the way Israeli soldiers are treated in battle, suggesting that the best way to combat stress is to give immediate treatment while soldiers are still on the front lines.

“Our 20-year follow-up study has actually documented that if this very simple treatment is applied on time, then the consequences are very favorable and this relatively simple treatment can actually save years of agony and pain,” said Solomon. “The first study was published in The American Journal of Psychiatry in 1986, and it’s follow-up in 2005. It’s the only documented empirical study that has supported the doctrine that has been used by the American, British and all western armies.”

Solomon, who has published five books on psychic trauma-related issues, more than 200 articles and more than 50 book chapters, has received numerous international awards for her work in the field of PTSD and has been one of the few researchers worldwide to carry out long-term studies on the effects of combat on solders. She began her career as head of the research branch of the mental health corps of the Israel Defense Forces medical school, conducting her first studies of PTSD on soldiers during the first Lebanon War in 1982.
“Nobody anywhere has data sets where they follow individuals for 20 years, from the battlefields onwards,” she said. If we get enough funding, we will be able to do this for many years to come.”

Solomon’s research has focused on three different population groups: soldiers, Holocaust survivors, and former prisoners of war. The lessons Israel’s ‘natural laboratory’ provides offers valuable material for researchers, helping them discover new solutions to help treat those who suffer from PTSD and a range of other psychological illnesses.

According to Solomon, it’s easier to conduct studies on soldiers in Israel than in the United States, due to the concentrated population, smaller size, and a more global acceptance of soldiers. But despite a more welcoming environment in Israel, it has not always been easy for Solomon to get the soldiers to cooperate.

“When we started, it wasn’t much of an honor to be a traumatized soldier. Many of our initial interviewees were reluctant to participate,” she explains. “Despite the availability of benefits for soldiers, many of them went out of their way not to ask for help. In macho cultures, seeking help is seen as failure. Obviously, over time there’s been a major change in culture and the way Israeli society views these things. As a result, people go on interviews, reveal their stories and ask for compensation and help right away. Even more so, we’ve seen parents whose children had a psychotic breakthrough and now they want their children to be recognized. It’s a complete change of heart.”

Solomon’s U.S. counterparts have been surprised at the respectful way that Israeli society treats its soldiers, even those suffering from the aftereffects of battle or those who fought in unpopular wars, such as the first Lebanese war in the early 1980s, often described as “Israel’s Vietnam.”

Solomon is recognized as one of the world’s leading experts in combat trauma. She’s served as an adviser to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a handbook published by the American Psychiatric Association and used by mental health professionals, which lists different categories of mental disorders.

Her personal background as a second-generation Holocaust survivor led her to this field.
“My mother spent her childhood in Auschwitz,” she said. “The issue of trauma has not just been an academic issue but also a real-life, personal thing,”

She first became involved in studying trauma and war as part of her military service.

“There, I became convinced that these individuals paid a heavy [price] for man’s proclivities to solve conflicts via war and aggression. It became clear that these individuals need to be seen and heard and their suffering has to be documented, and it’s become kind of a life mission.”

Nation-World Briefs

U.N. Asks Israel to Stop Making Nukes
A U.N. commission recommended that Israel refrain from manufacturing any more nuclear weapons as a step to a nuclear-free Middle East. The United Nation’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, chaired by weapons inspector Hans Blix, released its 60 recommendations on Monday. Regarding the Middle East, Blix recommended that most nations commit to not possessing any nuclear weapons. However, with Israel he recommended only that it commit to not manufacturing any more weapons. Israel is highly unlikely to agree to dismantle the 200 warheads it is believed to possess as the region’s sole nuclear power. Israel’s agreement would be a start, Blix said.

State Dept. Blasts Israel for Human Trafficking
Israel is on a U.S. State Department watch list of nations that fail to effectively prevent human trafficking. Israel was classified as being on the Tier Two watch list in the report released Monday. Tier Three is the worst classification, reserved for countries that fail to comply with minimum U.S. standards. Israeli law enforcement has made strides in cracking down on sex trafficking, the report said, but the same was not true of labor trafficking and “the estimated thousands of victims of forced labor were not provided with protection.” It described fees demanded of laborers ranging from $1,000 to $10,000, “a practice that often leads to debt bondage and makes these workers highly vulnerable to forced labor once in Israel,” it said.

FDA Approves Israeli Parkinson’s Drug
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved an Israeli drug that treats Parkinson’s, a chronic disease characterized by uncontrolled shaking and muscle stiffness. Marketed under the name Azilect, this is the first once-daily oral treatment for Parkinson’s to be distributed in the United States; it was developed by Technion professors Moussa Youdim and John Finberg and is being manufactured by Tel Aviv-based generic pharmaceutical giant Teva. The drug is expected to become available by prescription in the United States by July or August.

While not a cure, the drug slows the progression of the disease. Azilect works by blocking the breakdown of dopamine, which tells the body how and when to move.

Parkinson’s currently affects 1 million people in the United States.

“This is a welcome development for the more than 50,000 Americans who are each year diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, ” said Dr. Steven Galson, director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “Parkinson’s is a relentless disease with limited treatment options, and each new therapy is an important addition to the physicians’ treatment options.”

However, the FDA is warning that the drug could carry an increased risk of hypertensive crisis — a precursor to a stroke — if taken with tyramine-rich foods (cheese, chocolate, red wine), dietary supplements or cough/cold medicines. — Adam Wills, Associate Editor

Nazi Papers Declassified
The U.S. government declassified more than 8 million pages of files related to Nazi war crimes. The material including documents relating to the CIA’s employment of suspected Nazi war criminals after World War II. The members of the government’s Interagency Working Group said at a news conference Tuesday that the revelations pointed to the dangers of working with war criminals, as the United States did after World War II. Among other revelations, the papers show that former Nazis employed by the United States were more susceptible to recruitment as double agents by the Soviet Union. Additionally, the papers show that the United States had a strong lead on the whereabouts of Adolf Eichmann in 1958, but did not pursue it because of fears that his capture would expose the Nazi past of high-ranking officials in the West German government, which was allied with the United States.

Trump Fires Jewish Contestant
An observant Jew failed in his bid to become Donald Trump’s next apprentice. Lee Bienstock was fired Monday on the season finale of “The Apprentice.” Bienstock and another Jewish contestant, New Jersey’s Dan Brody, observed Rosh Hashanah together early in the season missing the third episode’s task but only Bienstock, who grew up in the New York area, stayed in the show long enough to observe Yom Kippur, missing another task.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.


Interest Increases as Deadline Nears

Susie Tiffany of Beverly Hills suffers from a rare blood disorder and needs monthly infusions of blood components, which her insurance company ultimately declined to cover. She hoped the government’s new prescription drug benefit would help her out because, despite her ZIP code, she’s a low-income senior.

But the possibilities, were baffling: an array of private insurance plans that covered different things, explanations on the Internet that included terms she never had to know before, additional complexities depending on a person’s income and a confusing interplay of state and federal agencies.

However, Tiffany was able to find assistance in her case from Jewish Family Service. A social worker helped get Tiffany’s treatment covered by new state funds intended to help seniors with the transition to the new federal system.

“It’s a good thing that I had a good social worker,” said Tiffany, 65, who lives in a Beverly Hills city subsidized apartment building for low-income seniors.

“There are quite a number of options, and it’s overwhelming,” said Susan Alexman, director of senior services at Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles.

In Los Angeles County, insurance companies have offered 47 different plans for seniors seeking to enroll in the new federally funded benefit. The plan’s May 15 deadline means seniors must sign up without delay or face increased fees for late enrollment.

For some seniors, the financial stakes are high. But while interest is picking up, for most of the past year, social service groups have had few takers when they’ve tried to help.

“It’s strange, but our office has not had any calls on that,” said Deborah Baldwin, public benefits supervisor at Bet Tzedek Legal Services, when asked in March.

At the Fairfax District office of the National Council of Jewish Women, a Democratic congressman’s field staffer set aside four hours over two days in late January to discuss the new Medicare Part D drug plan with seniors. Hardly anyone showed up.

“Just three,” the staffer told The Jewish Journal. “People are putting it off.”

Health care activists, community workers and groups, including Jewish Family Service, have been holding numerous Part D awareness meetings, especially this spring.

“This has been going on for a year and a half,” said Anita Chun, community education coordinator at the Center for Healthcare Rights in Los Angeles. “Now people are paying attention.”

A Part D meeting in March in West Hollywood, put on by Jewish Family Service, attracted about 120 seniors. Attendance also picked up for a March meeting at Temple Isaiah in Rancho Park — after a sparsely attended February session with social workers and experts.

Some seniors said they expect to come out OK under the new system.

“The health program that I belong to enrolled everybody in it beforehand,” said Encino retiree Janet Siskind. Her Blue Shield 65 Plus coverage gets her quarterly refills of the three to four pills she needs. Siskind’s combined prescription fees will increase, but only by about $10 annually.

“I’m in good hands with this,” she said. “It’s something I can afford.”

Siskind’s San Fernando Valley chapter of the Na’amat women’s group held a recent Part D meeting for 25 people.

“We figured, ‘Well, it hasn’t started yet, perhaps it’ll get easier as time goes along,'” she said. “It hasn’t really been explained too thoroughly.”

With so much Part D information online, many seniors are at a disadvantage, because of their discomfort or unfamiliarity with the Internet.

California’s Medi-Cal program, which had covered poor and low-income seniors’ prescription costs, stopped providing service on Jan. 1, when Part D took over. Yet there were startup problems, which included state and federal computers being unable to interact. Many poor seniors were suddenly being asked to pay full price for medications. The reports of hardship prompted Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature in mid-January to push through emergency prescription drug funding for low-income seniors until May 15.

“It makes the state the payer of last resort for the prescriptions that they need,” said Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Julie Soderlund.

But only until May 15, which could force Tiffany, suffering from the blood disorder, to navigate the system again.

“Good old Part D, the insurance policy that was gonna change it all,” she said. “It’s gonna take some time for me to get happy about it.”

David Merritt, project director at the Center for Health Transformation think tank in Washington, D.C., said that despite such glitches, Medicare Part D transition problems nationwide have been relatively low, with Americans not upset over Part D the way they are over high gas prices.

“Anytime you have a massive policy shift from one system to another system, you’re going to run into problems,” he told The Journal. “The vast majority [of seniors] had zero problems enrolling or getting medication.”

But to Jews dependent on Medicare for affordable drugs, “it’s unfair for seniors to be expected to maneuver through this incredibly messy web,” said Rabbi Zoe Klein of Temple Isaiah. “Health trumps every other problem in your life.”

“They’re basically saying they’re confused, and they want someone to walk them through it,” Klein said.


Orthodox Alcohol, Drug Abuse Rising

Peter Gould had his last drink on Purim night seven years ago — or, more accurately, his last drinks.

“I drank more alcohol in a day than a human body can handle,” he said, relaxing on a puffy couch in Baltimore in jeans, sneakers and a black knit kipah.

At the time, Gould — not his real name — had been a functioning alcoholic for years, and his body could tolerate a lot of booze. He listed the staggering litany of alcoholic beverages he consumed that Purim, a holiday some Jews mark by drinking to excess: Three bottles of amaretto, two bottles of wine, one bottle of champagne, a fifth of Scotch and a fifth of bourbon.

“And then I drove home with my kids in the car,” he recalled.

He made it home fine — after all, he was used to driving drunk.

Gould may be an extreme example, but he isn’t unique. Alcohol and drug addiction exist in every sector of American Jewry, but addiction and recovery specialists say Gould is part of a growing problem in the Orthodox community — a problem that, because of the pressures and particularities of an observant Jewish lifestyle, has hit the Orthodox in different and sometimes more troubling ways than other segments of the Jewish community.

“The Orthodox community really does have a need,” said Adrienne Bannon, executive director of Baltimore’s Jewish Recovery Houses, two centers in suburban Baltimore for recovering Jewish drug addicts and alcoholics. Some residents require kosher food and are placed with local families for Shabbat meals. “I thought most of the addicts and alcoholics filling this house would be long-estranged from religion, but it isn’t true,” she said.

Part of the problem, experts say, is that, for years, people couldn’t and wouldn’t believe that drugs had found their way into Orthodox groups. But they had. They say the emphasis in some ultra religious Orthodox communities on finding marriage matches for young people, coupled with the community’s traditional reluctance to air its dirty laundry, leads families and schools to cover up addictions. They call this “the shanda factor”: Who wants to marry a drug addict or even a drug addict’s sibling?

As a result, addicts often don’t receive treatment until their addictions have reached crisis proportions. Those involved in treating these addicts say that until recently, members of the Orthodox community received treatment on average two years later than addicts in society at large — two years during which their dependencies have time to grow, worsen and become harder to beat.

Solid numbers on addiction in the Orthodox community are hard to come by. In the past five to 10 years, the community has begun to more aggressively and publicly address the issue, but it still elicits silence and shame. Anecdotal evidence suggests the problem is getting worse, experts say.

Some describe a chicken-and-egg question: Is the number of Orthodox addicts growing or — because community efforts have made treatment easier, more available or more acceptable — are a greater number of addicts seeking help?

Experts say both might be true.

“What has opened people’s eyes is that, first of all, there’s been much more talk about the problem,” said Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski, founder and medical director emeritus of Gateway Rehabilitation Center, a nonprofit drug and alcohol treatment system in western Pennsylvania. “Unfortunately, there have been several young deaths from overdoses, and these were not covered up and they raised the alert of the community.”

Rabbi Kerry Olitzky, an expert in chemical addiction in the Jewish community and author of “Twelve Jewish Steps to Recovery: A Personal Guide to Turning From Alcoholism and Other Addictions” (Jewish Lights, 1991), noted that the Orthodox aren’t the only members of the Jewish community with addiction issues.

“Alcohol and drug abuse is about an issue of individuals feeling an emptiness inside of themselves, and they’re self-medicating, trying to fill that hole and get rid of the pain they feel,” said Olitzky, who also is executive director of the New York-based Jewish Outreach Institute. “Alcohol and drug abuse, for similar reasons, impact upon members of the Jewish community from one side of the spectrum to the other.”

Recovery communities for Jews like those in Baltimore are few and far between, but many communities are making efforts to fight abuse by forming support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous societies, treatment centers and clearing houses for referral services. The religious streams also have made efforts to address the issue and inform their constituents about it.

The number of Jewish addicts is proportionally similar to the rest of America, Olitzky said, but Jews are overrepresented in Gamblers Anonymous, and many suffer from eating disorders.

Insiders say the Orthodox lifestyle offers another gateway into and cover for addiction: the frequent availability and consumption of alcohol at religious life-cycle events. Habits developed at these celebrations can eventually lead to alcoholism, observers say, and statistics show that individuals who abuse alcohol are more likely to use drugs.

A person can drink a l’chaim at a morning bris, or ritual circumcision ceremony, followed by another at an engagement party that evening. Later in the week, there may be a wedding, followed by a sheva brachot ceremony followed on Shabbat by a bar mitzvah — and alcohol often is available at each event.

Then there is the increasing popularity of so-called synagogue Kiddush clubs, which offer shulgoers schnapps, whiskey and other types of alcohol during and after services.

“Substance abuse is masked by religious practice,” said Rabbi Joel Dinnerstein, founder and director of Ohr Ki Tov: Center for Growth and Transformation, which runs Florida’s Jewish Alcoholism and Addiction Counseling Services. “See who goes for the herring and who goes for the schnapps — you don’t have to be an expert to see right in front of you.”

Gould went for the schnapps. And the whiskey. And the beer. And the champagne.

He spent his bar mitzvah party vomiting in a bathroom after drinking too much alcohol-spiked punch. By the time he was 31, Gould’s doctor told him that his liver “was reaching irreversible damage levels.”

The physician suggested that the test results may have been skewed by consumption of alcohol shortly before the test. He suggested that Gould not drink for two weeks and then return for another test. So he stopped drinking for a few days — until his brother-in-law got engaged and they headed out for a l’chaim; the cycle began again.

Veronica Rose, whose parents are affiliated with a Chabad synagogue, said that an abusive boyfriend drove her to drug abuse.

Rose, a pseudonym, started using cocaine five years ago in what she said was an effort to self-medicate her clinical depression. What started as recreational use soon became a full-blown addiction.

“I spent all of my bubbe’s inheritance on drugs,” said Rose, whose brother is an alcoholic.

When she took up with an abusive man, she turned even more frequently to drugs — cocaine to dull the pain, followed by marijuana or Ativan to come down from the high.

She began to think about cleaning up. Today she’s a resident at Tovah House, the women’s recovery home in Baltimore. She has been clean since Dec. 12.

Observers say it has become increasingly easy for youngsters to obtain drugs, even Orthodox ones.

“The problem in the yeshivas is the same problem as in the public schools,” said Daniel Vitow, headmaster of the North Shore Hebrew Academy High School on New York’s Long Island. “Our kids live in the same society and the same culture as everyone else.”

Where the problem is more acute, some schools have instituted drug testing for students. Some yeshivas eventually expel problem students, who are sent from school to school, their problems left untreated, chalked up simply to hanging out with the wrong group of friends.

“I think that the Jewish community has grown a great deal in its sophistication with regard to its acknowledgment of Jews and alcoholism and Jews as drug addicts, and there are some institutions that have been built,” Olitzky said.

But, he noted, “We still have a long way to go before we are fully prepared to wrestle with the challenges.”

Local Treatment Centers

David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

The Jewish community has two addiction treatment centers in Southern California

Beit T’Shuvah
8831 Venice Blvd.
Los Angeles
(310) 204-5200

Beit T’Shuvah is unique among addiction treatment centers nationally, because it requires its residents to use Jewish spirituality and teachings as part of their recovery. The coed, 120-bed facility usually is filled with residents on short-term recovery or long-term treatment programs lasting beyond 30 days.

Chabad Residential Treatment Center
5675 W. Olympic Blvd.
Los Angeles
(323) 965-1365

The 44-bed, male-only Chabad Residential Treatment Center close to the Pico-Robertson district uses general Torah teachings and principles to anchor its 12-step approach to addiction treatment, but the approach is broad enough for the facility’s Jewish and non-Jewish residents. A separate, second-phase “sober-living” building adjacent to the main center has room for another 25 patients.

The Circuit

Cleaning Up With Care

Long time L.A. drycleaner Barry Gershenson was named one of four national spokespersons for the FabriCare Foundation.

Gershenson, a third-generation dry cleaning veteran has more than 40 years experience as owner of Sterling Fine Cleaning in Los Angeles. As a spokesperson for the FabriCare Foundation, Gershenson’s role will be to educate consumers on the definition of a “professional” drycleaner, as well as the overall benefits of dry cleaning.

Gershenson lives in Los Angeles with his wife of 32 years, Sandy; and children, Lauren and David.

For more information, visit ” target=”_blank”>


Botox Treatments Aid Stroke Survivors

Until recently, significant recovery from the physical and mental losses inflicted by a stroke was thought to be limited to a matter of months following injury to the brain, using conventional physical and occupational therapy. Now patients supplementing this with novel treatments, including an innovative use of Botox and a variation on old-fashioned plaster casts, are demonstrating that aggressive long-term therapy can increase the likelihood of complete recovery after a stroke.

One such patient is art curator Meg Perlman, who not too long ago spontaneously applauded at a jazz concert, clapping her hands together for the first time in 19 months. This was another small triumph in her major recovery from a stroke that had initially paralyzed her left side.

Caused by a clot or a ruptured blood vessel in the brain, stroke is the leading cause of severe disability today. In the United States alone there are now some 5.4 million stroke survivors, with nearly one in three suffering from permanent disabilities.

“When I went to medical school, the prevailing view was that you lose nerve cells and that’s it, you’re not going to get better. We know now that’s not true. The brain is plastic. It can remodel itself,” said Dr. Steven Flanagan, associate professor of rehabilitation medicine at New York’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and the neurophysiatrist treating Perlman.

One recent study showed that therapy could benefit patients who had suffered a stroke more than a decade earlier.

“It’s not something magical that happens in the brain and everyone will recover,” he warns, “but the brain has a greater capacity to recoup from injury than we thought in the past.”

Dr. Steven R. Levine, professor of neurology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, admits that medicine “still doesn’t know the underlying mechanisms in different phases of stroke recovery.”

Such understanding would make it possible to individualize treatments for most effective results. On the horizon, experiments in mice and some early human trials show promise for enhancing stroke rehab with stem cells, growth hormone, amphetamines, even Viagra.

“Not everyone will improve,” Levine said, “but you never say never and you never take away hope from people.”

Anatomy of a Recovery

Stricken at the young age of 53, physically fit and intellectually active, Perlman has been a prime candidate for total recovery. She’s come a long way since her stroke in August 2003 while vacationing in the south of France. When she awoke on what should have been another day in paradise, she was semiparalyzed and confused. Her husband, author Doug Garr, immediately understood what had happened.

“Her left side was immobile. The left side of her face was frozen,” he recalled. “I recognized it as a stroke because I had seen my father have a stroke two weeks before he died.”

Perlman spent two weeks in intensive care at one of France’s leading teaching hospitals, then was transferred to Mount Sinai’s brain injury rehabilitation unit for another six weeks. There, days filled with physical and occupational therapy helped her reprogram her nervous system to regain control over posture and movement on her left side, and to relearn vital everyday tasks.

Better known for cosmetic enhancement, Botox injections immobilize key muscles in stricken arms or legs, allowing physical therapy and exercise to extend range of motion and flexibility. Effects wear off, so the Botox is reinjected every three months for a year or more. In Perlman’s case, it was the second dose that allowed her left hand to flex out enough to applaud at a concert, after successful attempts during therapy sessions at home.

With research in rehabilitative medicine generally underfunded, doctors don’t have data from large clinical trials to properly assess new treatments. Often patients proceed by trial-and-error, sampling therapies from the exotic to the high-tech; Perlman has had mixed results with acupuncture and with an electrical muscle stimulation device called a NeuroMove.

Then again, low-tech plaster of Paris has proven extremely effective. Called “serial casting,” a monthslong treatment involves stretching affected muscles with a series of plaster casts on an arm or leg for weeks at a time, followed by physical therapy to secure gains in flexibility. Perlman’s latest leg cast had just come off when she was able to stretch the toes on her left foot out and wear a shoe.

By all her therapists’ accounts, Perlman has shown exceptional resolve in fighting the fatigue, discomfort and frustration that are part of stroke recovery.

She has also had to battle the severe depression that a stroke leaves in its wake.

Flanagan observes that depression should be treated early and aggressively in stroke patients.

“We know that happy patients do better in rehab than sad patients,” he says. “We have to help them get the most out of their time in therapy.”

Fuller recovery from stroke takes a loyal, experienced team of therapists. With them, Perlman still keeps up a rigorous schedule of five physical therapy and two occupational therapy sessions a week at home.

“I expect to be 100 percent back,” she said. “I won’t stop until I am.”

She’s thankful for her “wonderful personal team,” including the friends and clients who rallied to her side after she was stricken.

Also appreciated: an occasional boost from strangers.

“I was walking to a restaurant with my cane. A short, Russian-looking man came up to me and said: ‘Did you have a stroke?’ I said ‘yes.’ He jumped up in the air and said: ‘So did I and look at me!'”

Steve Ditlea writes for the New York Daily News.

Home Pampering Easy as 1, 2, Ahhhhh

No one deserves a spa experience more than you do. Just picture it — warm tubs scented with essential oils, invigorating body scrubs, refreshing botanical blend face masks smoothed on in soothing circular massaging motions and misty showers with luscious gels.

Sound divine? You bet. Millions of people are embracing the spa experience — taking what was formerly an exclusive pleasure of the rich and famous and turning it into a health and wellness phenomenon.

Millions of spa-goers must be on to something. But why limit all that good stuff to the precious times you can book at a spa? Why not have a spa experience whenever you choose?

It’s easier than you think to have sensual and sensational spa experiences in your own home, on your own time.

Create an Inviting Environment for the Senses

“The first step is to create an environment for your spa experience,” said Susan Kirsch, owner of Kirsch Cosmetic Clinic and Spa in Toronto, Canada. “Remember to incorporate all of your senses.”

Since water is an important part of most treatments, the bathroom is a good place to create your home spa, Kirsch said. All it takes is a little imagination.

A really simple way to transform any regular bathroom, she said, is to soften the lights.

“Have a dimmer installed on the light switch,” Kirsch said. “Just dim the lights and light some candles to turn an everyday bathroom into something that looks a bit more special.”

If a warm, bubbling bath is your idea of heaven, consider having a hot tub installed in your backyard, on your deck or inside your house. Currently, more than 5 million households now own a hot tub and by the end of this year, roughly 400,000 Americans are expected to purchase a hot tub for their homes, according to a recent study by the National Spa and Pool Institute in Alexandria, Va.

“Some people think a hot tub is a luxury item. I think it’s a necessity,” Andrea Martone said. “And my husband and daughters feel the same way. It’s much better to relax and de-stress in a hot tub after dinner than to sit in front of the television set. Sometimes we use it together. We light candles and chat. And sometimes I use it by myself — to meditate or just go to another place in my mind.”

Prices on hot tubs, according to the National Spa and Pool Institute, range from between $2,500 to more than $10,000 (plus installation costs). The average price is about $5,500.

Just as certain sounds can unsettle us, other sounds can help us achieve a sense of calm. Kirsch likes to use music that’s soothing and relaxing at her spa and during her at-home spa treatments — “something that’s appropriate for a healing environment,” she said.

She says she often plays the music of singer Enya.

“Choose whatever works for you,” she said.

For Martone, it’s the splashing sounds of water.

“I’ve got little waterfall fountains all over my house,” Martone said. “They bring a sense of calm to whatever room they’re in. My daughter even has one in her room for doing homework.”

Martone is a New York City publicist and co-founder of Spa-Daze, a company that provides professional spa treatments and services for groups of four or more in the setting of your choice — including your home.

Martone also suggests burning essential oils to set a relaxing tone for an at-home spa experience. She recommends using a 50/50 mix of your favorite essential oils and water for a scent that’s noticeable but not overpowering.

“Different scents can help create different moods,” she said. “For example, lavender is very calming to the senses and nice to burn at night before going to sleep. And oils like eucalyptus and peppermint are soothing — especially if you’re ill — and can help you breathe easier.”

Choose Your Products

If you are a spa devotee, you may already be one step closer to recreating your spa experience at home. Many spas sell the products they use in their treatments — facial masks, exfoliates, bath and shower gels, lotions and more. At Kirsch Cosmetic Clinic and Spa, staff members will custom mix body scrubs and other beauty potions for guests. So if you’ve had a particularly divine professional treatment, buy the product to use at home. You can conjure up your fond memory of that experience as relaxation therapy.

When shopping for new products for your home spa, buy in small quantities — especially if you have sensitive skin, said Carrie Pierce of Ecco Bella Botanicals of Wayne, N.J. Ecco Bella, which means “behold beauty” in Italian, is a line of natural, gentle-to-the-skin cosmetics and skin care products that use medicinal-grade essential oils.

“It’s important to have the luxury of trying a new product or scent without making a huge and perhaps costly commitment,” she said.

For that reason, Ecco Bella offers smaller, lower-priced “try me” sizes of their scented bath and shower gels, lotions, parfums and fizz therapy bath marbles.

It’s important to find scents formulated to enhance the experience you’re trying to create in your home spa, Pierce said.

Then revel in them. For example, lemon verbena has a reputation as a mood-lifting, feel-good scent. And vanilla reputedly has an aphrodisiac-like effect on men — “second only to the scent of pumpkin pie,” Pierce said.

“Layering your selected scent by using a gel, lotion — maybe spraying a little parfum on your pillow — is a luxurious way to take care of yourself and to take your spa experience with you,” she said.

Formulate a Plan

Don’t try to do too much all at once, Kirsch advised.

“Remember, your primary goal is to feel relaxed and pampered,” she said.

For a simple and luxurious home spa experience Kirsch recommends the following head-to-toe regime.

You can begin one of two ways — either by covering your head with a towel and lightly steaming your face over a basin filled with boiling water or by gently swabbing your face with a warm, damp towel.

“Your choice,” Kirsch said. “If you want to go the simple route, the warm, damp towel works just fine.”

The next step is to exfoliate — or slough off — dead skin cells.

“The skin has a natural turnover of cells. When you exfoliate, you just help that natural process along,” Kirsch said.

When choosing a product, remember exfoliates generally come in two forms — gel and grain.

“The gel form is less invasive and may be good to start out with,” Kirsch said.

Apply in circular massaging motions with your fingertips. Leave the exfoliate on until it feels tacky and almost dry. Then slough it off with the flat part of your fingers. Rinse with water.

Next, apply a mask in the same circular massaging motions.

“It’s important to choose one that’s formulated for your skin type,” Kirsch said. For example, if your skin is dry, you’ll want to use a hydrating mask.

While the mask does it’s magic, draw a warm bath.

“Put a drop or two of essential oils in the water,” Kirsch said. “Soak for a while in the bath, then exfoliate with a body scrub. Try using a loofah mitt and massage in circular motions.”

Then rinse and be careful getting out of the tub since it will be slippery. Apply a moisturizing body lotion.

It’s important to wait 48 hours after shaving or waxing before using a body scrub and don’t use it on any areas that have cuts or nicks.

Remove your mask by rinsing with lukewarm water. Apply a moisturizer using circular massaging motions — and don’t forget your neck.

Use pumice to smooth away hard or rough spots and calluses on your toes, heels and the bottoms of your feet. Apply a moisturizer.

“Give your regular moisturizer an enriching boost by breaking open a Vitamin E capsule and mixing it into the lotion,” Kirsch said.

The final step in your at home spa experience, Kirsch said, is to climb into your bed, nestle under the comfy covers and listen to music for a while.

“You should feel totally rejuvenated and stress free,” she said.

And if for some reason you don’t, you can try again — and again — until you get the hang of it. In this case, there’s absolutely no harm in trying.

“These lovely things you can do at home for yourself can really elevate the quality of your life,” Pierce said. “They can make a woman feel sexy, cherished, valued, calm and better able to cope. They allow you to embrace yourself.”

Beth Gilbert is a New York-based writer.

Hearing-Loss Growth Speaks Volumes

Catherine Strick didn’t know she was losing her hearing until five years ago when she went for her first annual physical and took a routine hearing test. Now, the 44-year-old accountant readily admits she has trouble hearing, and says people are quick to notice.

“My husband gets frustrated,” she said. “The people I work with are always repeating themselves. My cellphone is on maximum volume so people can almost hear my conversations.”

There are many reasons why people experience hearing loss — congenital ear deformities, tumors, chronic diseases, side effects of some medications, viral infections of the inner ear, and blunt trauma. However, the majority of hearing loss cases can be attributed to the simple act of growing old. As the population ages, the National Institutes of Health says hearing impairment is a growing public health concern. Nearly 28 million Americans alone currently have trouble hearing, according to the NIH, and that number is expected to double by 2030.

In addition to age, noise is also to blame. Baby boomers are experiencing hearing loss earlier than previous generations as a result of too much time spent listening to loud music, living in noisy, urban environments, and working in fields like construction or welding.

“Every time people are exposed to loud noises for sustained periods of time, they are at risk of losing hair cells in the inner ear or cochlear,” said Dr. Hamid R. Djalilian, an assistant professor of surgery at UCLA. “Stereos and personal music devices turned to a loud level can cause damage to hearing over time. Once people get to the age of 50 and 60, when the age-related hearing loss starts, they have already lost many hair cells and the cumulative effect starts affecting them more severely.”

The normal ear contains about 15,000 hair cells, said Dr. John House, president of the House Ear Institute, a nonprofit research and education organization in Los Angeles. The hair cells are nerve endings that, like the pianos on a keyboard, control the high and low frequencies of sound.

“These nerve endings convert vibration to an electrical impulse which travels to the brain where it is interpreted as sound,” he said.

Hearing loss often takes up to 10 years to be detected because damage to the hair cells occurs over time.

“As we age, we lose hair cells, especially in the higher frequency range, and it’s those higher frequencies that help us distinguish words,” said Dr. Andrea Vambutas, medical director of the Apelian Cochlear Implant Center at the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System in Manhasset, N.Y.

Progress to combat the effects of hearing loss is being explored on many fronts. “At the House Ear Institute, we are doing research into hair cell regeneration,” House said. “Some day we’d like to be able to regrow those little hair cells and reverse hearing loss.”

Although research has shown that hair cells can be regenerated in deaf animals, Djalilian says it will be years before tests are done on humans.

Cochlear implants, are surgically implanted devices that include a headpiece, speech processor, receiver and an implanted stimulator. They are generally used in people with severe to profound hearing loss in both ears. The implants take over all the work of transmitting external sound to the brain. In the next five years, newer models are expected to restore hearing in frequencies that conventional hearing aids do not help, meaning more people will benefit.

An auditory brainstem implant that bypasses the ear and hearing or auditory nerves altogether, and is implanted directly on the brainstem, is offering hope to patients who are deaf as a result of tumors in both auditory nerves. It includes an external microphone and battery pack, but Vambutas says hearing different sounds at high or low frequencies is still difficult.

People who experience the most common age- or noise-related hearing loss can benefit now from the significant advances that have been made with digital hearing aids. They are smaller, and more powerful, audiologist Barbara Olsen said, and can be programmed to suit an individual’s hearing loss. They reduce background noise interference, which was common among older analog models, and cancel out annoying feedback. Newer ones can also adjust automatically to the environment the wearer is in, whether it’s a noisy office or a quiet living room.

“It makes it more palatable for people,” she said.

Despite the newer technology, only 25 percent of people who need hearing aids actually wear them.

Jean McCarthy of Sayville, N.Y., was hesitant to wear a hearing aid until three years ago because her mother had such a difficult time with the old, larger analog type.

“I went through so much with my mom. If she walked in a room with four or five people in it, she could hardly stand it. Everything was magnified. Every noise sounded 10 times louder than it was. I really didn’t want to deal with it.”

In fact, McCarthy didn’t seek help until her children convinced her to. Now, that she wears a digital hearing aid, the 74-year-old retired school nurse said, “I’m amazed at how wonderful it is.”

Vanity is another reason people won’t wear hearing aids.

“Most people don’t like wearing hearing aids because they don’t want to appear old or deaf,” Djalilian said. The cost of hearing aids can also be prohibitive. Most are not covered by insurance, and can run anywhere from $400 to $3,000 per ear depending upon the hearing aid.

Unfortunately, avoiding treatment can impact not only the individual, but also their loved ones, said Richard Carmen, an audiologist and author of “How Hearing Loss Impacts Relationships” (Auricle Ink Publishers). Relationships become strained when there is constant miscommunication and self-denial of a condition that is easily treated. “It leads to a tremendous amount of frustration. That wears down family relationships very quickly.”

Rosemary Briggs of Massapequa Park, N.Y., got her hearing aids after “my husband said you’ve got to do something. It’s getting everyone upset that you’re not hearing.”

Now, nearly 20 years later, she says her children still get frustrated with her: “My children should be more patient.”

Strick, who is one of Briggs’ daughters, agrees. “I should realize that I know what it’s like for me, but I don’t,” she said.

And despite her own awareness, Strick says she still isn’t ready to wear a hearing aid herself.

“It’s like wearing glasses. When you start wearing them, you say this is amazing. But then you become so dependent on the glasses that you can’t function. Say I wear a hearing aid and I can’t hear without it. What happens when I go to the beach or swimming in the pool? Will I not be able to wear them and then I won’t be able to hear my kids? My feeling is, until it gets to the point where it’s really bad, I won’t do it.”

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

Preventing Hearing Loss

Like eating right and daily exercise, taking care of your hearing is part of living a healthy lifestyle. Here’s what you need to do to protect your hearing and prevent hearing loss in the future:

• Turn down the volume when listening to the stereo, using iPods and other personal music devices. If you’re using headphones or tiny earbuds that fit in the ear canal and the music can be heard by people other than you, it’s probably too loud.

• Wear ear plugs or other protective hearing devices during rock concerts or noisy events like car races. Protect your ears when playing or working in noisy environments like hunting, during construction, or at home, mowing the lawn, using a leaf blower or chain saw.

• Ask your physician for regular hearing exams.

• See your doctor immediately if you experience sudden hearing loss.

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

‘Thin’ Exposes Hefty Secrets and Lies

Alisa, a 30-year-old Jewish divorcee, consumed 200 calories most days. But every few weeks, she repeatedly binged on gargantuan amounts of junk food, then purged by vomiting, swallowing diuretics and Ipecac. After several days, the mother of two usually landed in the hospital.

“I remember at one point thinking … ‘This is the one thing I want so badly, to be thin. So if it takes dying to get there, so be it,'” she says.

Alisa is one of several severely ill eating disorder patients profiled in “Thin,” the film debut of renowned photojournalist Lauren Greenfield. The raw documentary also profiles Polly, who slit her wrists after eating two slices of pizza; Brittany, a goth teenager determined to lose 40 pounds, and Shelly, who was force fed through a surgically implanted stomach tube for five years. Handheld cameras follow their rocky physical and emotional journeys at the Renfrew residential treatment center in south Florida.

The movie joins an expanding body of work on female dietary obsessions, including the PBS documentary, “Dying to be Thin”; Eve Ensler’s play, “The Good Body,” and Greenfield’s own 2002 book and exhibit, “Girl Culture.”

Her documentary focuses less on the complex causes of eating disorders than the Herculean task of recovery for patients who use food the way addicts use drugs. Polly, a shy psychiatric nurse, weighs in at 84 pounds, but blissfully talks about the days when she sucked food out of her feeding tube with a syringe. Brittany reminisces about the “chew and spit” game she used to play with her mother: “We’d buy bags and bags of candy and just chew it and spit it out. We just thought of it as a good time.”

During 10 intense weeks at the center, Greenfield learned that while societal pressures often trigger eating disorders, they are actually mental illnesses with grim statistics. Anorexia is the deadliest of all psychiatric disorders, according to the American Journal of Psychiatry, with mortality rates of up to 20 percent. No statistics exist on Jewish women, but experts say they may be particularly vulnerable, in part, due to more zaftig body types and the drive to look all-American (i.e. svelte).

All seriously ill patients are tough to treat: “Secrets and lies are a big part of eating disorders, because you have to hide your habits from friends and family,” Greenfield explains from her Venice, studio. “At Renfrew, women would clandestinely jog in place in the shower, or conceal weights in their clothing to cheat the scale.”

The center’s rules, therefore, are strict. When Polly arrives at the clinic, staff members promptly search her luggage and whisk away “contraband” such as cigarettes and prescription drugs. In another scene, the usually feisty Polly is obliged to eat a cupcake for her birthday, which she consumes slowly and with disgust. Afterward, she cries bitterly.

Alisa also appears pained when required to sketch a silhouette of herself, which she draws as an obese figure — though after a month at Renfrew she is healthily trim, with an uncanny resemblance to Natalie Portman. She traces her eating disorder to age 7, when her pediatrician declared her fat and she was placed on a 1,000 calorie per day diet.

On camera, she does not discuss how her Reform background fueled her disease, but she answered e-mailed questions through Greenfield.

“Alisa believes that Jews are a proud people; they are very concerned about self-image and there is a strong emphasis on education and money,” the director says. “She thinks that makes for more of a need to overachieve and be perfect, which can drive an eating disorder. So her sense is that being Jewish contributed a lot to her [illness].”

The filmmaker, who is also Jewish, relates to her subjects because she was once obsessed with the scale. At 12, she began physically comparing herself to the other girls at Camp JCA Shalom in Malibu and went on to become a chronic teenage dieter. At Harvard University, she “went on a crash diet and lost 26 pounds, in the process gaining so much confidence that I threw myself into my first serious relationship,” she says.

Eventually Greenfield — named one of 25 top photographers by American Photo magazine — dedicated much of her career to chronicling how the Barbie-doll culture scars women. But her 2002 book only touched upon the life-threatening topic of eating disorders, save for several pictures snapped at Renfrew. The artist remained haunted by one of a gaunt patient standing backwards on a scale so as not to see her weight gain.

In June 2004, Greenfield returned to Renfrew with cinematographer Amanda Micheli to further explore the subject, this time in a cinema verite-style film. But she found that earning patients’ trust proved difficult.

After many setbacks, Greenfield won them over by showing she would turn the camera off whenever she was asked to do so. Polly made the request while on a suicide watch, but changed her mind after the director spent the night talking with her. She allowed Greenfield to shoot her purging her breakfast the next morning, an act that is almost always done in secret and is forbidden at the center.

Alisa also purges on camera, but expresses a moment of hope during one group therapy session.

“For a fleeting moment I imagined a better life,” she says. “And maybe — pun intended — I can taste recovery.”

“Thin” will screen at the Sundance festival Jan. 19-29 and on HBO this fall.


Steven Firestein: Making Magic for Children


Steven Firestein thought he had it all. At 27, he owned a plush Encino home, drove a Cadillac and made a nice living as a real estate agent. Then he felt a bump on his scalp.

For months, Firestein ignored the growth, fearing he had cancer. By the time he went under the knife, the tumor had grown to the size of a golf ball. Although, it turned out to be benign, the cancer scare forced him to reassess his priorities. Firestein, who had met several children with cancer during his doctor visits, decided to devote his life to alleviating their pain and suffering.

“I wanted to do something for them,” Firestein said. “I felt like they got a bad deal. I was no saint, and I thought, ‘Why was I spared? Why did they get cancer?'”

In 1994, a year after his brush with mortality, Firestein founded a nonprofit that would eventually become the Kids Cancer Connection. A descendant of cosmetics magnate Max Factor — whose family has donated millions to local charities — he invested $10,000 to get the project going.

Firestein decided his L.A.-based organization’s first program would be to give hats and caps to young cancer patients who had lost their hair from chemotherapy, radiation and other treatments. To Firestein, the Magical Caps for Kids program resonated strongly with him; doctors had shaved his head before removing his benign tumor, leaving him feeling vulnerable and self-conscious. To date, Magical Caps has given away an estimated 40,000 caps across the nation.

“I think what he’s doing is terrific,” said Marcia Helton, a 59-year-old professional caregiver from Los Osos, Calif., who has assembled a group of girls called the Little Angels to knit hats, scarves and blankets for Kids Cancer Connection and other charities. The caps “make kids feel cared about. It’s also great for their families, because the families feel better when their kids feel better.”

Under Firestein’s direction, Kids Cancer Connection branched out into new areas. In the late ’90s, the charity began sponsoring field trips to Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm and other attractions. Firestein, wherever possible, used his networking abilities to procure free tickets, even tapping the California Travel & Tourism Commission for vouchers.

Later, he helped establish the Courageous Kid Recognition Award to recognize the bravery of children battling cancer. Recently, a young boy undergoing a bone marrow transplant received the award at the Mattel Children’s Hospital at UCLA, where he now seeks treatment. More than 2,000 kids around the country have won the award since the program began in 2003.

Firestein himself has been recognized for his efforts. In 1995, he won a National Volunteer Service Award from Volunteers of America. In November, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) took to the House floor to praise Firestein’s efforts.

Now a 40-year-old middle-school teacher in the Valley, Firestein still spends 20 hours a week on the Kids Cancer Connection, which has 300 volunteers nationally. Despite the time and financial demands, he has no regrets.

“I totally feel like I’m making a difference,” Firestein said.

Steven Firestein


Avi Leibovic: Guardian Angel of the Streets

Jack and Katy Saror: Help Knows No Age

Joyce Rabinowitz: A Type Like No Other

Saul Kroll: Healing Hand at Cedars-Sinai

Jennifer Chadorchi: The Hunger to Help

Karen Gilman: What Makes Her Run?

Yaelle and Nouriel Cohen: Kindness Starts at Home

Moshe Salem: Giving a Voice to Israelis

David Karp: A Guide for Unity in Scouting

Many With Gaucher Unaware of Disease

When Jewish New Yorker Joan La Belle, now 70-something, was in her mid-20s, she began to experience scary symptoms, suggesting a serious health problem: “I felt exhausted, had rough menstrual periods with very heavy bleeding and terrible nose bleeds.”

She also suffered substantial hemorrhaging in childbirth, she said in a recent telephone interview from Minneapolis, where she has been a longtime resident.

Hemorrhaging and an enlarged spleen — another of her symptoms — are often misdiagnosed as leukemia, and bone pain is often mistaken for arthritis, so La Belle said that she really didn’t know the actual cause of her symptoms for years.

Finally, 15 or 20 years ago, a Jewish physician filling in for her regular internist correctly recognized her enlarged spleen as an indicator of Gaucher (pronounced go-SHAY) disease, to which Jews are especially susceptible.

Gaucher is sufficiently rare that many doctors weren’t and still aren’t aware of it. And when LaBelle was diagnosed, “they were just doing research, and there was not a glimmer of hope” for a treatment, she said

But then, medical researchers produced the enzyme regimen that LaBelle needed, and for the last 12 or 13 years, she has received regular infusions that have dramatically improved her life, she said. These enzyme treatments completely control her symptoms, LaBelle reported.

“Prior to the [enzyme therapy], I used to have hemorrhaging and my hemoglobin was very low,” she said. “But, now it’s normal.”

LaBelle receives intravenous infusions of the latest formulation of the enzyme, called Cerezyme, at a local Minneapolis hospital every other week. It takes 60 to 75 minutes, she said. The length of time per patient varies, depending on the number of units a patient needs.

LaBelle said “every couple of months” she has a “bone crisis,” which is an event of intense pain that occurs because of a sudden lack of oxygen in an area where Gaucher-affected cells have interfered with normal blood flow. The episode can last for hours or days. She said she treats the pain with medication.

Based on statistical probability, half of the Gaucher patients at the Lysosomal Diseases Treatment Center at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin should be of Ashkenazi (Central and Eastern European) Jewish heritage.

In fact, however, only one of the eight Gaucher patients, though not Jewish, believes he has Ashkenazi ancestry. The reason could be the lack of knowledge about the disease, said genetic counselor Amy White, who works at the Lysosomal Diseases Treatment Center.

This means that many people who are at risk or suffering have not been diagnosed or treated. The disease is not thought to be life threatening, but it’s chronic and painful and doctors frequently mistake the symptoms for something else. However, even when it’s recognized, treatment remains extremely expensive.

The undiagnosed cases are probably due to “a lack of awareness among both medical and lay communities,” according to the National Gaucher Foundation (NGF).

So this year for the first time, the NGF designated a “National Gaucher Disease Awareness Month” in the hope of educating health-care providers and the public about the importance of recognizing the signs and symptoms of the disease. The results of this effort, which took place in September, are not conclusive, but researchers and advocates especially wanted to reach the Jewish community, where this often painful and debilitating — but highly treatable — disease is most prevalent.

According to the National Gaucher Foundation, Gaucher disease occurs when a person inherits a mutated gene from both parents, but if the person inherits a mutated gene from one parent and a normal gene from the other parent, he or she will not have the disease but may be a carrier. A carrier may pass the gene on to the next generation, depending on the genetic makeup of the person he or she marries.

White said that the Lysosomal Treatment Center has a lot to offer Gaucher patients, in addition to the life-changing Cerezyme infusions. Despite being located in Children’s Hospital, the genetics center, headed by Dr. William J. Rhead, chief of the generics department, does not limit its services to children.

“We see any individual or family who has a genetic condition,” White said. “We provide an initial evaluation and make recommendations as to specialists in Gaucher disease.”

The center also provides semiannual or annual evaluations of the course of a patient’s disease, as well as its treatment. It takes X-rays, does bone MRIs and CTs of the liver and spleen and conducts specialized blood tests for Gaucher Disease markers. These tell a patient how the disease is progressing and whether the Cerezyme dosage is adequate.

In addition, the center provides genetic counseling to couples contemplating pregnancy, as well as to expectant parents. It also counsels patients and their families on the psychosocial aspects of the disease.

The genetics center can assist Gaucher patients with medical insurance issues, an important service because of the cost of Cerezyme.

A version of this article was first published in the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle.



” class=”boldbluelinklmenu”>Lack of One Enzyme Triggers Illness

Lack of One Enzyme Triggers Illness

Gaucher Disease is a rare, inherited disease caused by a hereditary deficiency of a single essential enzyme, glucocerebrosidase, according to the National Gaucher Foundation (NGF).

Because this enzyme is necessary for breaking down aging blood cells, its lack causes some cells to become engorged. This condition eventually crowds the liver, spleen, bone marrow and lung cells and causes those organs to swell, disrupting production of blood cells in bone marrow and causing destruction of bones.

Genetic counselor Amy White of the Lysosomal Diseases Treatment Center in the Genetic Center at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin put it this way: “Lysosomes are like the garbage disposals of our cells. Their job is to collect and get rid of the waste products.”

Symptoms of Gaucher Disease can occur in childhood or adolescence, but the disease is most often diagnosed in adults, according to the Center for Jewish Genetic Diseases Web site.

An enlarged spleen and liver are often the first noticeable symptoms in children, said White, a member of the National Society of Genetic Counselors.

“And these are pretty noticeable,” she added. “You see a skinny kid with a big belly.”

The most common symptoms in adults are bone breaks, bone infection, unusual bleeding and tiredness, White said. An “easy and accurate blood test” can diagnose Gaucher Disease and identify carriers.

The effects of the symptoms vary, depending on the severity of the disease, but they can be managed with biweekly infusions of Cerezyme, an enzyme manufactured from Chinese hamster ovaries, which are referred to as “cho.”

“It uses recombinant [artificially created] DNA technology that is five to seven years old. It is the oldest enzyme therapy around, so we know the most about it,” White said.

Gaucher Disease is one of three lysosomal diseases treated at the center, and is the only one that primarily affects Jews. The other two, Fabry Disease and MPS 1, also called Hurler’s Disease, strike across ethnic lines.

The prevalence of Gaucher Disease in Ashkenazi Jews occurs because of something geneticists call the “founder effect.” This refers to a genetic trait or disease that has a high frequency in a contemporary population, because the gene was introduced by a founder into a small, often geographically or socially isolated group of people whose numbers then rapidly expand, according to a medical paper distributed by the NGF.

Ashkenazi Jews became susceptible to a variety of hereditary diseases because of their long history of “sudden periods of population contraction — the Crusades, pogroms, the Holocaust — followed by concentration in restricted areas — ghettos, the Pale of Settlement — and then temporary multiplication to large numbers.”

Though Tay-Sachs Disease, which affects one in about 2,500 Ashkenazi Jews, is the most well known of about 10 genetic diseases afflicting that population, Gaucher Disease is much more widespread. One in an estimated 450 Ashkenazi Jews suffers from the disease, and one in 14 is a carrier, according to the NGF.



” class=”boldbluelinklmenu”>Artist Depicts Pain of Genetic Ailment

A Holocaust-Inspired Vegetarian

Recently, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) issued an apology for its Holocaust on Your Plate campaign and exhibit, which showed concentration camp images next to photos of animal abuse on factory farms. The comparison was extraordinarily tasteless, and widely condemned. PETA expressed surprise at the negative reaction, and while they should have known better, their campaign has thankfully ended.

However, we should not go as far as some who disavow any consideration of the Holocaust in reacting to cruelty to farm animals. PETA’s display was vulgar and offensive, but it taps into a deep call for justice that should speak to anyone who still feels the utter horror of the Final Solution, which continues to cast its dark shadow over the Jewish collective memory.

I remember as a child listening to survivors’ stories of utter inhumanity, trying to imagine the incomprehensible magnitude of suffering. I once started counting to 6 million, calculating that it would take months to do so even without stopping to eat or sleep.

Long after the war, my grandfather, an Auschwitz survivor, would cover his mouth in panic attacks, believing he smelled the gas. On Holocaust Memorial Day, I always confronted the unfathomable question of how so many people could act with a complete lack of compassion or basic moral decency. While such monstrous evil flourished, people went about their lives averting their eyes.

For me, these stories were defining elements of my moral character. The ethnic cleansings in Bosnia, the genocide in Rwanda — these were different from the Holocaust in important ways. And yet, the specter of concentration camps and gas chambers hangs over my head when I read about these atrocities, while the world does nothing.

I still remember when I first learned about factory farms. Animals crammed in crates and cages so tightly they could not turn around, lie down or stretch a limb; living in their own filth, beaten with iron bars and electric prods. Body parts torn off with pliers or mutilated with hot knives. Animals’ bodies hormonally and genetically manipulated to grow so fast that their legs deform and break under their own weight. Animals never allowed to breathe fresh air, feel sunlight, experience any mental stimulation or feel any affection. And then meeting their final fate, often skinned alive or drowned in tanks of scalding water.

Raised with storybook pictures of pigs rolling in the mud and chickens pecking in the barnyard, the reality of modern agriculture shocked me. The enormity of it — literally billions of animals each year suffering this miserable fate in our country alone — was incomprehensible. I’d never heard about it before — why was nobody talking about it? Could I justify these horrific abuses just for the momentary pleasure of flesh on my tongue? After all, these cruelties were not driven by ideology, but by economics: they were doing it because I was paying them to.

Had I not been raised under the shadow of the Holocaust, I might very well have chosen simply not to think about it. How easy it would have been to avert my eyes and enjoy my chicken wings. But the memory of 6 million murdered Jews spoke to me. Not because of some offensive equating of concentration camp victims with animals, or of the Holocaust with farming, but because I could not let myself be like the Germans who allowed themselves to be complicit in a massive crime. One does not have to offensively compare Jews with cows, or an ideology of hate with profit-driven cruelty, to see the application of what for me was a central lesson of the Holocaust: When the strong abuse the weak, we should not remain silent.

This was how the Holocaust inspired me to stop eating animal products. And I am hardly alone. Just as Holocaust memories have inspired so many Jews to fight for civil rights, religious freedom and other forms of social justice, they have also inspired many of us to fight against the horrors of factory farming. Doubtlessly, PETA was hoping for this kind of thinking with their wildly inappropriate exhibit, expecting that the injustice of the Holocaust would wake our consciences about another, albeit completely different, injustice. Unfortunately, in spite of their repeated assertions that they were not equating humans and animals, their exhibit appeared to do just that. People were rightly outraged.

Nevertheless, I worry that many Jews will remember the Holocaust but forget its lessons. We should never avert our eyes to cruelty, and say, “I don’t want to think about it.” Critics of the PETA exhibit universally concede that the factory farm cruelties are wrong, but have let PETA’s exhibit distract them from speaking out against these cruelties. With the exhibit over, we no longer have any excuse.

Right now animals are being squeezed into trucks so tightly that their innards prolapse. Animals with broken legs are being dragged to the slaughterhouse by chains behind trucks. Animals are being branded with hot irons and castrated without painkillers. Sick or injured animals are left without medical care to die slow, painful deaths. The abuses go on and on. While we shouldn’t need to remember the Holocaust to know this cannot be justified merely to please our palates, that memory serves for me as a stark reminder that I want no part in mercilessness.

Noam Mohr is coordinator of Jewish Vegetarians of North America. The views
expressed here, however, are his own.


Surgery Offers Hope to Dystonia Victims

Twelve-year-old Josh Gaskin walks to the front door and shakes a visitor’s hand. While this gesture would seem routine for most adolescents, two years ago it would have been impossible for Josh.

By the time he had reached the fourth grade, Josh’s dystonia caused his right hand to involuntarily clench into a fist so tight that he could only open it by force. His feet turned inward, requiring him to wear braces. The symptoms had forced Josh to quit his baseball and basketball teams after six years of playing, leaving him depressed and angry.

Josh’s mother, Andrea, had read about an unusual procedure that might hold hope for her son. Deep brain stimulation (DBS) involves placing tiny electrodes deep in the brain. The electrodes are connected by wires running internally down each side of the neck to small pulse generators implanted under the skin of the chest.

The electrical pulses disrupt the brain signals that cause involuntary movement. The procedure had been used extensively to relieve Parkinson’s disease symptoms, and had recently been found to help some dystonia patients.

Andrea was intrigued. Still, DBS involves multiple surgical procedures. At the time, few procedures had been done for dystonia patients, and only a handful of them had involved children.

“Deep inside, I knew that this was going to be for us,” she said. “My husband was more hesitant…. You’re dealing with the brain and things can happen.”

But Andrea felt strongly. “The way I looked at it, why let it get worse before I make him better. The more your body starts twisting, the harder you have to work to put it back to what it was,” she said. “I didn’t want him go through any more suffering.”

In April 2004, Josh underwent DBS surgery at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York. During the procedure, a metal halo was screwed into his skull to assure no movement. The doctor drilled a small hole in Josh’s skull and inserted the electrodes.

Josh was a awake for much of the six-hour surgery, because his doctors needed to ask him questions in order to place the electrodes most effectively. Two days after his surgery, Josh’s doctors inserted batteries into the device.

By the following day, Josh was able to play video games with his father at Times Square’s ESPN Zone. Within a month, he could walk without the foot braces. He began shooting hoops and hitting baseballs.

“I had forgotten how it felt to open my arms,” Josh said. “It felt good to go back to normal.”

Josh suffered a setback last June, when one of the leads caused a leakage of brain fluid, and the apparatus on one side of his body had to be removed. Within six months, his walking was worse than it had been before the surgery.

Last March, he returned to New York to have the device re-implanted, and has been slowly improving ever since. He can write again. He plays basketball and runs track at school. He hopes to re-join a sports league, and is practicing his skills. His speech remains slurred as it was prior to the surgery, but he hopes that it, too, will slowly improve.

Each month, Josh must visit the doctor to have his electrical settings fine tuned. He will need surgery to have his batteries replaced every three to four years.

Nevertheless, neither Josh nor his mother have any regrets. “It’s not for everybody, but for us, this surgery has been a blessing,” Andrea said. “We’ve seen a big improvement.”

Before the procedure, “I was angry, mad and sad. I didn’t know why I had [dystonia],” Josh said. “Now, I have a better outlook.”

As he recounted his story, Josh was asked about scabs on both his knees. They weren’t from surgery. He had been fooling around on his parent’s treadmill, put it on maximum and fell. Just like any other normal 12-year-old kid. — NSS



PETA Apologizes for Shoah Comparison

The animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has apologized for its eyebrow-raising, 2-year-old “Holocaust on Your Plate” campaign, with PETA’s leader stating, “it was never our goal to humiliate the victims” of the Shoah.

“We know that we have caused pain,” wrote Ingrid Newkirk in a statement sent out to Jewish news media on May 5, Holocaust Remembrance Day. “This was never our intention, and we are deeply sorry.”

PETA’s contrition did not impress Simon Wiesenthal associate dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper. “Did they know the impact this campaign would have when they started it two years ago? Absolutely,” Cooper said. “They leveraged the victims of the Shoah to promote their issue. The victims of the Shoah should not be leveraged to gain copy in a newspaper or airtime on TV.”

The “Plate” campaign began in February 2003. When asked why it has taken more than two years to re-evaluate the campaign, PETA spokesman Matt Prescott said, “We’ve apologized because we’ve had two years to reflect on it. We’ve been everywhere in the world on it [the ‘Plate’ campaign]. I actually did it myself in Warsaw, and the people in Warsaw loved it.”

The “Holocaust on Your Plate” campaign included a Sept. 16, 2003, protest in Los Angeles at the Museum of Tolerance, complete with posters comparing genocide to food manufacturing. Prescott was among 10 demonstrators, and he said Newkirk’s broad “Plate” apology includes regret over that event.

“It encompasses everything that we did with that campaign, the Web site and that protest included,” Prescott said.

Copper said it was unnecessary to use Holocaust imagery to provoke discussion about the treatment of animals.

“The whole question of meat or non-meat — these are historical, societal issues worthy of serious debate,” he said. We don’t need to be convinced that this is a legitimate issue.” — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Neil Diamond Instead of Avinu Malkenu

When Cantor Sam Radwine lifts his arms to conduct his 32-member choir on June 5, it won’t be for “Avinu Malkenu,” but for “Cabaret” and “I Could Have Danced All Night,” the music of Jewish American songwriters and composers such as Irving Berlin, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Kander and Ebb, Neil Diamond and others.

Culminating the celebration of 350 years of Jews in America, Congregation Ner Tamid and Radwine have produced “Coming to America: Jewish Composers and the American Scene.”

Radwine’s community choir boasts singers from three different South Bay Synagogues: Congregation Ner Tamid, Temple Menorah in Redondo Beach and Temple Beth El in San Pedro. In addition to the choir, the concert will feature soloists and a five-piece live band conducted by Ner Tamid musical director Brent Reynolds. This salute to Jewish American composers of “popular” music will include Broadway hits, movie themes, pop, rock ‘n’ roll, and more.

“We’re very excited,” Radwine said. “Our choir will have an opportunity to perform some very different music that we don’t ordinarily hear in the synagogue. Their talent with the popular songs we’ve selected is phenomenal, and our soloists are extraordinary.”

The program contains brief biographies of more than 100 Jewish composers and songwriters from the 18th century through today. A dessert reception follows the 90 minute concert. The Ner Tamid Museum 350 exhibit, which highlights the remarkable history of Jews in America, will be open for viewing throughout the evening.

Sunday, June 5, 7:30 pm. $18 (adults), $12 (children under 12); $25 (at the door). Congregation Ner Tamid, 5721 Crestridge Road, Rancho Palos Verdes. For tickets, call (310) 377-6986. — Julie M. Brown, Contributing Writer

Kosher Slaughtering Proves Humane


Many people expressed concern about the standards for humane treatment of animals at a kosher slaughterhouse after viewing a well-publicized video of kosher slaughter at the AgriProcessors plant in Iowa, which was released by the animal rights organization PETA.

Any slaughterhouse, whether kosher or nonkosher, is by definition a disconcerting, blood-filled and gruesome place. Torah law, however, is most insistent about not inflicting needless pain on animals and in emphasizing humane treatment of all living creatures.

Kosher slaughter, shechitah, involves cutting the trachea and esophagus with a sharp, flawless knife. At the same time, the carotid arteries, which are the primary supplier of blood to the brain, are severed.

The profound loss of blood and the massive drop in blood pressure render the animal insensate almost immediately. Studies done by Dr. H.H. Dukes at the Cornell University School of Veterinary Medicine indicate that the animal is unconscious within seconds of the incision.

After the shechitah at AgriProcessors, an additional cut is made in the carotid arteries to further accelerate the bleeding. This is not done for kashrut reasons, for after the trachea and esophagus have been severed, the shechitah is complete, but rather for commercial reasons to avoid blood splash, which turns the meat a darker color. The carotid arteries are attached to the trachea, and at AgriProcessors, the trachea was excised to facilitate the bleeding.

In the overwhelming number of cases, the animal is insensate at that time. However and inevitably, particularly when it is considered that 18,000 cattle were slaughtered during the seven-week period when the video was shot, there was a tiny percentage of animals whose carotid arteries were not completely severed, so they were not completely unconscious. Although this is very infrequent, the removal of the trachea immediately after the shechitah has now been discontinued.

It should be kept in mind that in a nonkosher plant, when the animal is killed by a shot with a captive bolt to the brain, it often has to be re-shot, sometimes up to six times, before the animal collapses. The USDA permits up to a 5 percent initial failure rate.

At AgriProcessors and at other plants it supervises, the Orthodox Union (OU) is committed to maintaining the highest ritual standards of shechitah without compromising the halacha (Jewish law) one bit. The OU continues to vouch for the kashrut, which was never compromised, of all the meat prepared by AgriProcessors.

As I indicated previously, images of slaughter — especially selected images in an abbatoir — are jarring, particularly to the layman. Statements by PETA that animals were bellowing in pain after the shechitah are an anatomical impossibility. After the animal’s throat and larynx have been cut, it cannot vocalize.

PETA is well known for the passion it brings to the issue of animal rights, but it is an organization devoid of objectivity. PETA’s comparison of the killing of chickens to the Holocaust is, at a minimum, morally obtuse. So to whom should we turn for an objective view about the situation at AgriProcessors and about kosher slaughter in general? Here are the opinions of some experts:

1. Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Patty Judge inspected the plant. She found the handling of the animals to be humane and commendable.

She said after viewing the shechitah that the animals were unconscious within two to three seconds. She also said that chickens were handled more carefully by the rabbis than by her own “grandmother on the farm.”

2. AgriProcessors is under constant USDA inspection. Dr. Henry Lawson, the USDA veterinarian at the plant, told me that he considers the treatment of the cattle at AgriProcessors to be humane, and that the shechitah renders them unconscious within a matter of seconds. He determines this by certain physiological criteria related to the eyes, tongue and tail of the animal.

3. Earlier, Rabbi Dr. I.M. Levinger, a veterinarian and one of the world’s foremost experts on animal welfare and kosher slaughter, called the shechitah practices at AgriProcessors “professional and efficient,” emphasizing the humane manner in which the shechitah was handled.

Levinger was also highly impressed with the caliber of the ritual slaughterers. He issued his evaluation following a thorough two-day on-site review of shechitah practices and animal treatment at the plant. He viewed the kosher slaughter of nearly 150 animals.

4. AgriProcessors has hired an animal welfare and handling specialist to evaluate the plant processes. The specialist was recommended by both Dr. Temple Grandin, a foremost expert in animal welfare, and also by the National Meat Association. In reviewing the shechitah process last week, the specialist made the following observations:


• The shechitah process was performed swiftly and correctly;


• The shechitah cut resulted in a rapid bleed.


• All animals that exited the box were clearly unconscious.

The OU and AgriProcessors are committed to the Torah principles of humane treatment of animals. At the OU, we constantly review our procedures, evaluate them and if necessary, improve or correct them. We don’t want ever to be wedded to a mistaken procedure.

AgriProcessors has been completely cooperative in working with the OU and shares our philosophy.

As Torah Jews, we are imbued with the teachings which require animals to be rested, along with people, on the Sabbath and fed before the people who own them, and that the mother bird must be sent away before her young are taken to save her grief. These and similar statutes make it clear that inhumane treatment of animals is not the Jewish way.

Kosher slaughter, by principle, and as performed today in the United States, is humane. Indeed, as PETA itself has acknowledged, shechitah is more humane than the common nonkosher form of shooting the animal in the head with a captive bolt, for reasons noted above.

The Humane Slaughter Act, passed into law after objective research by the U.S. government, declares shechitah to be humane. For Torah observant Jews, it cannot be any other way.

Rabbi Menachem Genack is the rabbinic administrator of the Orthodox Union’s Kosher Division.


The Kindest Cut


Last week for Chanukah I wrote about latkes, this week, the brisket.

Butchered cows have provoked quite a controversy over the past two weeks. That’s because the animal rights group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), released an undercover video taken at the AgriProcessors Inc. plant, a kosher beef abattoir in Postville, Iowa. The plant supplies kosher beef for the Aaron’s Best/Rubashkin brand.

The tape shows factory workers ripping out the trachea of a cow after the rabbi has sliced open its throat. Cows stagger to their feet and bellow in agony for several minutes after the shochet (butcher) slices their necks.

Last June, PETA, responding to complaints about operations at AgriProcessors, wrote a letter calling the plant’s practices into question. The Orthodox Union (OU), which oversees the plant’s kosher certification, fired back a somewhat nasty missive. PETA responded by releasing the video, which raised the eyebrows, if not the ire, of people on all sides of the issue.

Some Orthodox rabbis were sharply critical of the practices they saw on the video. Many others attacked PETA, accusing it of launching an assault on the institution of shechita (kosher slaughter). No doubt PETA’s concerns would have carried more weight if the organization hadn’t launched a cruel and insensitive ad campaign last year comparing factory farming to the Holocaust. Why taunt the very people you claim to want to work with on behalf of animals?

PETA meanwhile filed lawsuits with the U.S. Department of Agriculture against both the plant and the OU. The Internet filled up with attacks on PETA, “a terrorist organization” in the words of many flamers.

The OU’s defenders were not without cause. Hitler outlawed kosher slaughter in 1933, declaring it cruel, and the practice has been a favorite target of anti-Semites through the ages.

The laws of shechita were developed about 3,000 years ago. Then, prior to refrigeration, the primitive temptation was to cut the flesh from a living animal as it was needed, letting the beast languish in pain for as long as possible to keep the meat “fresh.”

Judaism’s innovation was humane slaughter. In Genesis, God commanded Noah: “But flesh with its living soul, its blood, you shall not eat,” comprising one of the seven Noahide Laws — a shortlist of universal morality incumbent on all humanity, not just the Jews.

Shechita is informed by this revolutionary sense of responsibility and compassion. Kosher slaughter, done correctly, should render the cows unconscious within seconds. “If you do shechita right, it’s going to be significantly more humane than all the forms of killing an animal were when shechita was invented,” said Rabbi Paul Plotkin, chairman of the Kashrut Subcommittee of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Conservative movement. Plotkin, rabbi of Temple Beth Am in Margate, Fla., told me that he spent several days this year inspecting kosher slaughter at different Midwestern plants — and in all cases saw the cows die quickly and without any apparent fear or pain.

The economics of factory farming have taken all of us, kosher or not, a long way from the whetstone and the chopping block. But the genius of Jewish tradition is its ability to adapt to changing modernity without sacrificing eternal principals.

As the controversy stands now, the OU seems to have chosen a path of compromise. Sometimes, even a tainted messenger like PETA can be correct. After a tour of the AgriProcessor plant by OU rabbis, including Rabbi Menachem Genack, head of the OU’s kashrut division, the organization agreed to make two changes to slaughtering procedures.

The plant will no longer allow slaughterers to pull out a slaughtered animal’s trachea in order to hasten death. The OU also said it would look for a way to either kill or stun cows that are still walking even after the initial stage of slaughtering.

The hero in this dispute is Dr. Temple Grandin, an associate professor of animal science at Colorado State University, who is one of the world’s foremost experts on humane factory slaughter. Grandin, who is not Jewish, has praised shechita as a humane technique, but has been highly critical of the AgriProcessors plant. She can serve as a bridge between PETA and the OU, and hers should be the cooler head that prevails.

The last word I have on this comes from the blunt, salty man who sells me kosher meat. I asked him if his largely Orthodox customers were talking about the controversy.

Not at all, he said, no conversation, no drop in sales.


“Nobody gives a sh — about PETA,” he said. But the kosher meat man also said change was inevitable. “Obviously they’re gonna have to slow the kill down and keep [the cows] in confinement a bit longer,” he said, referring to two of Grandin’s recommendations. No one needs the bad publicity. Retail, after all, is a cutthroat business.


Kosher Slaughter Controversy Erupts

It’s not every day that people affiliated with a strident animal rights group talk turkey with those who oversee kosher slaughter.

But that’s exactly what happened this week, when an unpaid adviser to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) discussed allegations of improper slaughtering practices at an Iowa kosher meat plant with the head of the Orthodox Union’s kashrut division.

Tuesday’s late-afternoon talks involving Aaron Gross, a doctoral student at UC Santa Barbara, and Rabbi Menachem Genack were the latest development in a story that has placed the slaughter practices at Agriprocessors Inc. in Postville, Iowa, under question.

They came one day after PETA filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The complaint alleges that the plant is violating Jewish law by not instantly killing the animals, and therefore is violating U.S. slaughter laws, which allow for Jewish ritual slaughter.

The telephone discussion between PETA and the Orthodox Union ended in an impasse, participants said.

The controversy, which has alarmed some Orthodox institutions, is being seen as the most widely publicized dispute over kosher slaughter in the United States in a decade.

At issue is an undercover video taken by PETA-affiliated individuals over a seven-week period between July and September of this year. The video shows animals being slaughtered at the Agriprocessors plant, which processes meat for the Rubashkin/Aaron’s Best label. One of the plant’s supervisors is the Orthodox Union, a major supervisor of kosher food in the United States.

In the video, one slaughterer cuts a cow’s throat, resulting in extensive bleeding, while another takes the trachea out. Other clips show cows running around which appear to be alive after the killing is presumably completed.

“This not how shechitah is supposed to be done,” Tal Ronnen, a spokesman for the Norfolk, Va.-based PETA, said, using the Hebrew term for ritual slaughter. “If it’s done correctly, the animal is supposed to be dead in 30 seconds to one minute.”

Orthodox officials, while admitting the video isn’t pretty, don’t agree, saying that reflexive movements by animals after they are slaughtered are not uncommon.

“We thought it was in consonance with the halachah,” Genack said after viewing the video.

PETA first raised the issue with Agriprocessors in June, after being tipped off to allegations of improper procedures inside the plant. In an exchange of letters, PETA raised objections and asked that an expert on slaughter be allowed to witness the process.

Agriprocessors responded through its attorney, Nathan Lewin, who said he asked for more specifics. PETA said it followed up with that request, but Lewin said he never received the second letter. PETA said that after it did not get a response from Lewin, it pursued the undercover investigation.

On Monday, PETA filed a complaint with the USDA, complaining that government regulations were not being followed at Agriprocessors. It sought suspension of the plant’s license and possible criminal proceedings.

PETA’s letter to the USDA detailed what it called violations of the 1902 Humane Methods of Livestock Slaughter Act. The letter claimed that by violating halachic procedures, the company was violating the legislation, under which animals can be killed according to Jewish law.

Steven Cohen, a USDA spokesman, confirmed the agency had received the PETA letter, but said it was waiting to review the video before deciding how to handle the complaint.

Genack said he had discussed the issue with USDA officials, and is confident that government guidelines are being followed satisfactorily.

For its part, Agriprocessors released a statement this week saying it follows the practices set out by its kosher supervisors.

“Agriprocessors does not control anything that happens in the kosher ritual processes,” the statement said. “We adhere strictly to the instructions given to us by the rabbinic authorities and will continue to do so. As we always have, we will also continue to follow the strict guidelines set out by both federal and Jewish law for the humane treatment of animals during the slaughter process.”

One expert in slaughtering practices, who reported that she has visited 30 kosher slaughtering plants, said that from what she can tell from the video, the practices at Agriprocessors are poor.

“I’ve never seen trachea removal before,” Temple Grandin, an associate professor of animal science at Colorado State University, said in a telephone interview.

“Nobody else cuts out the trachea, and they’re doing it while the animal is still conscious,” said Grandin, who was the expert PETA had wanted to have access to the plant.

Orthodox Union officials said that the animal is unconscious after the throat is slit. Some Orthodox officials called PETA’s campaign an attack on shechitah more generally and part of a history of anti-Semitic canards.

“Shechitah often comes under attack by elements that are unsavory, and in general, PETA is not an organization that commands our great respect,” said Rabbi Avi Shafran, a spokesman for Agudath Israel of America, an Orthodox organization.

He and others noted that the Nazis publicized photographs of Jews performing cruel slaughter practices as part of their campaign to inflame sentiment against Jews.

“We’ll put them on the wall with Hitler,” Nathan Lewin, an Orthodox Jew and a lawyer for Agriprocessors, said, referring to PETA. “The PETA folks might not like eggs, but they have eggs all over their face.”

Lewin, citing a 1997 judgment in which the American Broadcasting Co. was ordered to pay $5.5 million to the Food Lion supermarket chain following an investigative piece that alleged food safety violations, suggested that PETA could be subject to legal action.

PETA is known for its aggressive tactics in promoting its animal rights agenda. The group generated controversy last year when it compared the meat industry to the Holocaust.

In another one of its more controversial campaigns, it displayed ads a few years ago with the phrase, “Got prostate cancer?” and showing Rudolph Giuliani, the then-New York City mayor who had been recently diagnosed with the disease. The billboards also included the line: “Drinking milk contributes to prostate cancer.”

But in this case, PETA is presenting a more moderate face. Those affiliated with PETA said the group is not going after kosher slaughter but just those practices underway at Agriprocessors. Further, they said, PETA is sensitive to issues of anti-Semitism.

“PETA has gone out of its way” to avoid anti-Semitism, and agrees that shechitah, when properly practiced, is a “better procedure than general meat industry practices,” Gross said.

Gross, who describes himself as a liberal but active Jew — and a member of the Jewish Vegetarians of North America’s advisory committee — said he became involved in the issue after the exchange of letters with Lewin failed.

Kosher consumers extend across the Jewish community, but the issue generated an immediate response among those active in the Orthodox community. Participants at the Agudath Israel of America’s annual convention voted unanimously Sunday to condemn PETA’s attack.

When Rabbi David Zwiebel, an Agudath official, announced at the conclusion of the conference that the issue was going to hit The New York Times, “you could hear the murmurings,” Shafran said. “The hands just shot up for the vote. It was unanimous with gusto.”


Israeli Docs Save Third World Hearts

Inside the Mnaje Mojo hospital — “one coconut” in Swahili — it was absolute chaos. The place was teeming with people and I had to push my way through what seemed a never-ending crowd to get to the small room at the end of the corridor.

When I opened the door to the pitch-black chamber, the only light I saw came from a computer monitor in the back. In the top right hand corner of the screen I read the words, “Save a Child’s Heart.”

Two white men sat huddled together, focused intently on the screen, while a black woman wearing a burka sat on a bed holding an infant.

These are the moments that make me proud to be a part of the Jewish people.

The men, Drs. Uri Katz and Lior Sassoun, were Israeli Jewish physicians from the Save A Child’s Heart organization, through which the pair travels around the world examining children with congenital heart problems and bringing them back to Israel for free surgeries and treatment. I was in Zanzibar volunteering for the group.

The organization — now the largest project in the world providing urgently needed, pediatric cardiac surgery and follow-up care for children from third world and developing countries free of charge — was founded in 1995, by American-born Israeli pediatric cardiac surgeon Ami Cohen.

Here we were in Zanzibar, a tiny Muslim island in the tropics off the coast of Tanzania, working in a hospital with virtually no suitable equipment and a poorly trained and overworked medical staff. All they had was the portable echo machine — manufactured in Israel — and their hands to treat many potential pediatric cardiac surgical cases.

And now they had the Israelis.

Lines of hopeful families extended out the door, through the hallway, into the pediatric ward, down the stairs and out into the main hospital courtyard.

They were all responding to an announcement on Zanzibari radio earlier in the week inviting parents to bring children suffering from heart problems to be examined by two heart specialists from Israel.

Occasionally, Katz and Sassoun peered out of the exam room to check just how many patients remained to be seen. This was going to be a long week — the Israeli heart doctors committed themselves to examining every single child who showed up at the hospital.

The long lines were nothing new for these doctors. In fact, the duo — as well as other Save a Child’s Heart staff — has become accustomed to such crowds after traveling around the world in search of candidates for cost-free heart procedures at the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon, south of Tel Aviv.

Since its inception, the group’s staff has operated on nearly 1,000 children ranging in age from infants to teenagers. Patients, who are selected without regard to race or religion, have come from nations around the world, including China, Ethiopia, Moldova, Ghana, Jordan, Nigeria and Tanzania, as well as Zanzibar.

Nearly 40 percent of Save a Child’s Heart’s pediatric cases come from the Palestinian Authority.

In addition to the actual cardiac care and surgeries in Israel, the group has an outreach training program for medical personnel from participating countries.

Doctors and nurses are brought to Israel for in-depth training, and Save’s staff travel overseas to educate and perform surgeries in cooperation with local personnel. The group’s ultimate goal is to make partner countries self-sufficient in performing cardiac surgeries on their children.

On this particular mission to Zanzibar, the doctors were also examining children on whom they had operated in the past to see how they had progressed since their surgeries.

Still, the primary purpose of this trip to East Africa was to select new cases to bring back with them for operations.

I was especially excited to see the post-operative children: I had observed, firsthand, the open heart surgeries of several of these Zanzibari children one year before in Israel.

When I said goodbye to those kids in Holon more than 12 months ago, never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would see them again on their native island — and certainly not good as new.

It was easy to identify the post-op children: When the doctor finished examining them, these little kids would say, “todah rabah” and “l’hitraot” — thank you very much and goodbye, in Hebrew — the words they had learned during their stays in the Israeli hospital.

More apparent, however, were the physical changes. I recognized the faces of children who had arrived in Israel as skin and bones, on the verge of death due to complications from their respective heart problems.

But since their surgeries, many of these children had gained 20-30 pounds and generally looked more energetic.

As an aspiring physician, it was fascinating for me to observe these doctors at work. They graciously explained to me how to read the echo machine and how properly to listen to the patient’s heart and lungs to pinpoint the exact nature of the heart problem.

It was incredible to witness how these experts, after just a few seconds of listening to the heart, before even looking at the echo, were able to diagnose a particular kind of heart murmur, a broken valve, a battered-up septum, a missing ventricle or a malfunctioning artery.

Yet, there were some agonizing moments during those few days. Like the 17-year-old girl the doctor diagnosed with Esptein’s Heart syndrome, a fatal heart disease that is uncorrectable.

This particular girl had developed terrible secondary complications from her heart problems that were clearly affecting her day-to-day living. She was unable to move on her own and had extreme difficulty breathing. The doctors told me that it was a miracle that she had lived this long, but she only had a few months left.

When the doctors sat with the family and explained that the prognosis was not good and their team would be unable to help, I was in tears. Like with so many other children these doctors have come across in these developing countries, if the kids had access to regular health care, perhaps their lives could have been spared with early detection and intervention. But now that their diseases had matured, the situation was beyond repair.

Yet, perhaps the most amazing aspect of my experience in Zanzibar and the Save a Child’s Heart endeavor in general, was watching how, when Katz and Sassoun examined a child, they were indifferent to what the kid or his mother was wearing, whether the child’s name was Abdullah Muhammed or Abrahim Rantissi Jr.

All they saw was a ticking a heart on an echo machine that desperately needed fixing.

For more information on the Save A Child’s Heart organization, visit

Cancer and Secrets

I have cancer. It’s thyroid cancer, which has metastasized. In every bone in my body there is a tumor eating it from the inside out.

That’s why I was at the Cedars-Sinai Outpatient Cancer Center on June 25, 2003, having a bone infusion. I sat there on one of those comfortable chairs as the drug slowly slipped into my veins to make my bones stronger.

And that’s where I saw her — an old friend and a former client who emigrated from Iran. We were so happy to see one another. She was there with a friend, who was there perhaps for a reason similar to mine.

We hugged, kissed and chatted, happy to find one another. We exchanged phone numbers and promised to stay in touch. After two hours her friend was done, so she kissed me goodbye and walked away. But before I knew it she ran back to me.

"Mrs. Homa, Mrs. Homa. I didn’t see you here. I did not see you here. My lips are sealed. I will not tell anyone," she said, and kissed me again.

And I said, "No, please, do tell. That’s alright."

"No, I won’t tell anyone, I promise," she said.

Cancer is scary. It is unkind. It takes away your independence and your freedom. But cancer is a big taboo in the Jewish community, even more so in the Persian Jewish community. Having cancer is kept as a secret of great shame to those involved.

You know I have cancer. Perhaps you have cancer, or someone in your family does. Or you know someone else who has it — a neighbor, a friend. Is it our fault we have cancer? Why should we carry shame? What is there to be ashamed of?

They say that thyroid cancer is from exposure to radiation, especially during childhood. Why do we get cancer? Is it the environment? Is it our diet?

Whatever it is, it’s not our fault.

Isn’t it enough that we have to go through treatment — receive radiation, experience chemo — every day of our lives when we have cancer?

Cancer is not something to be ashamed of. Cancer is an illness, like any other illness. You can take proper measures and appropriate steps to fight it. Cancer is not always a death sentence.

The cancer is escalating in the Persian Jewish community. In every family there are one or two people with cancer. But it’s all being hush-hushed and kept secret.

My girlfriend’s sister has breast cancer. My girlfriend was crying the other day because some woman made fun of her sister wearing a wig, asking her whether she has become Orthodox.

When my girlfriend found out I had cancer, she was absolutely shocked.

"But your father-in-law is a doctor, your brother-in-law is a doctor, your cousin is a doctor. How could you have cancer?" she said.

I told her, "It’s OK. I’m prepared to fight it."

I was at a Cancer Center luncheon, and met some Persian Jews there who nodded their heads and came to me.

"Please don’t tell anyone you saw me here," they said.

Why add additional stress by hiding? Accept it, announce it, fight it and try to beat it. That’s all you have to do. Many people that went to Beverly Hills High School have come down with various forms of cancer. But not all of them are speaking to Erin Brockovich. Instead of participating in her humanitarian effort, they are keeping quiet. What a shame.

What a shame to have cancer.

These days you will see me hanging out at the Outpatient Cancer Center, receiving treatment, radiation and bone infusion. You will see me watching people, observing, asking questions, trying to do something — no matter how small — for someone that could use it. I have always believed in doing random acts of kindness. Perhaps cancer will give me another venue to reach my goal to make this a better world; to tell people it’s OK to hurt a little and do what you can to get a little better.

When my dear uncle (of blessed memory) was shot in downtown Los Angeles, we all gathered at my parents’ house. My mom had gone through severe shock; she would not hear that he had passed away. My sister-in-law pulled me to the kitchen and said, "But his son is a rabbi…. How could this happen?"

"Sometimes bad things happen to good people," I said.

This is true about cancer as well. Having cancer does not make you a bad person. You just have to remember that bad things sometimes happen to good people. Then cancer — like any other challenge in life — can be acknowledged, accepted and dealt with.

Homa Shadpour-Michaelson, a counselor with
the Refugee Resettlement Project for the Los Angeles Unified School District,
wrote this article while she was undergoing cancer treatment last year. She
passed away on Feb. 26, 2004. Her daughter, Shanee, can be reached at

Plan Seeks to Cure High Cost of Drugs

In this presidential campaign year, the figure is ubiquitous: One out of four Americans, about 70 million people, do not have health insurance. At the same time, Americans are spending about $100 billion on prescription drugs annually, more than double what was spent in 1990.

For the uninsured, that money comes from either government assistance programs or their own pockets. Los Angeles residents, however, may soon be the beneficiaries of a plan to help close the gap.

Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa has unveiled a proposal called, LA-Rx, that would enable the city to make medications cheaper for residents. The plan calls for a city contractor to purchase drugs at bulk rates from pharmaceutical companies and, in turn, sell them to residents at below retail cost.

Although estimates vary about the exact rate of rise in drug costs, anecdotal evidence suggests that there is a serious problem.

"There is no question that prescription drug costs which consumers are paying are escalating and continue to escalate," said Rabbi Hershy Ten, president of Bikur Cholim, a nonprofit organization dedicated to expanding access to health care for the residents of greater Los Angeles.

Concerned with the implications of prescription drug costs for both the Jewish community and the city at large, Ten met with Villaraigosa and his staff to discuss LA-Rx.

The root causes of the issue are economic. Pharmaceutical manufacturers, who have fought court battles with several state governments over health-care costs, claim that they are simply seeking equitable compensation for their risks: Only a very small percentage of drug research ever culminates in a product reaching the market.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), an organization that represents more than 100 major U.S. drug companies, also claims that the vast majority of the increase in public spending on prescription drugs is due to the increasing popularity and effectiveness of those drugs, rather than rising costs.

"Some look at the increasing use of medicines and the shift to newer medicines as problems to be solved, not solutions for patients and contributions to affordable health care," said Alan F. Holmer, PhRMA president, in a speech to his colleagues last year.

However, many local governments, health-care providers and ordinary citizens are contesting PhRMA’s position, especially since drug manufacturers expend large sums to advertise their medications.

"In health-care literature, there’s speculation about the dollars spent on marketing vs. true research and development," said Rita Shane, director of pharmacy services at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. "I monitor [in-patient expenses] on an ongoing basis and deal with the exceedingly high cost of new breakthrough therapies for treatment of patients with severe chronic diseases."

It’s also widely recognized that the pharmaceutical industry enjoys large profit margins, recorded as five and a half times the median of all the industries represented in the Fortune 500 in 2002.

Villaraigosa’s proposal could possibly be the next step in the ongoing battle to reduce drug costs. Several states, including California, Maine and Oregon have already taken advantage of their existing buying power in a variety of ways to coax lower prices from drug makers.

"Many states are responsible for actual delivery of health care to their employees, retirees and Medicaid recipients, [and] they have been pooling their buying power together to negotiate better prices," said Joe Ramallo, Villaraigosa’s communications director.

"No one has yet taken it to the next level, which is what Councilmember Villaraigosa is proposing to do, and use that ability to bulk purchase on behalf of residents as a whole," Ramallo said. "This has been a growing issue of concern to seniors and those who are uninsured."

LA-Rx emerged from a series of town hall meetings on health-care policy sponsored by the Foundation for Consumer and Taxpayer Rights.

The system would work by first enrolling interested Los Angeles residents and establishing the size of the medication buyers pool. Next, the city would contract with an organization called a pharmacy benefit manager (PBM), which would do the negotiating with drug manufacturers.

An open enrollment period would give residents an opportunity to join LA-Rx annually. LA-Rx members would pay an annual fee for administration of the program.

Drug companies, however, would not be forced or coerced to negotiate with the city’s PBM.

"It’s just using market forces, and our understanding is that there are no legal barriers to doing this," Ramallo said. "Drug manufacturers would be foolish not to negotiate if [there is] a pool of 100,000 purchasers, 200,000 purchasers or more. Those are business decisions, and if you don’t do it, your competitor will."

The Jewish community, especially the often-ignored segment of poor, near-poor and elderly Jews in Los Angeles, would stand to benefit from a proposal to cut their drug costs.

The Freda Mohr Center, part of Jewish Family Service, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to aiding a mostly elderly population with health-care issues.

"We see people who [are taking] upwards of 15 to 20 medications," said Nikki Cavalier, center director. "We get a lot of requests for various types of financial assistance … and some of it we can help them with and some of it we can’t."

Cavalier estimated that approximately 80 percent of the center’s clients are Jewish.

Speaking of the prevalence of individuals who cannot afford their medications, Elaine Kau, a center case manager, reported, "I see it on a day-to-day basis. Especially with certain HMOs raising their co-payments and not covering brand-name medications and only covering generics."

"When someone does not take medication that is prescribed by the physician, they are compromising their health," said Ten of Bikur Cholim. "Part of the fiber of the Jewish community is that every life is worth living. That is paramount."

Raising the issue of possible LA-Rx problems, Shane of Cedars-Sinai said, "My concern [is whether] the people administering this benefit [would] end up profiting. Yes, maybe there would be some savings, but it would be hard to know how much of the savings will actually be passed on to the patients."

She added that a local organization might find its work exceedingly difficult "because on a national basis, it is challenging to get [wholesale] pricing on brand-name drugs."

Without accurate nonretail pricing, it would be impossible to know how much money a PBM is saving consumers.

"So my question is," Shane said, "how much additional dollars would be left to the third-party administrator? The purchasing structure of LA-Rx would have to be transparent."

Villaraigosa’s office, however, focused on LA-Rx’s propriety.

"There have been suggestions to regulate PBMs to ensure that they are negotiating on behalf of the pool that they are representing, rather than keeping an unacceptably high level of profit" Ramallo said. "We would go to great lengths to ensure that [PBMs are held accountable]."

One way to do that, according to Ramallo, is to form a nonprofit PBM. "That way there’s no advantage whatsoever for the PBM not to negotiate the best rates for its clients," he said. Under Villaraigosa’s plan, a PBM would be selected through a competitive process that would weigh the benefits of for-profit vs. nonprofit administration.

And although it could conceivably help Los Angeles residents, LA-Rx would inevitably face comparison with the Medicare prescription drug benefit approved by Congress for elderly Americans. Beginning in June, Medicare beneficiaries will have access to Medicare-endorsed drug discount cards and in 2006 full benefits become available.

On the surface, LA-Rx appears simpler and more straightforward than the Medicare drug benefit plan.

"There is a doughnut hole in terms of what people are going to get…. People who are on multiple medications are going to exhaust the benefit very easily, and there is a deductible and monthly premium," Shane said of the Medicare drug plan.

She also pointed out the difficulty seniors will have in understanding their complicated, tiered system of benefits under Medicare.

Cavalier echoed Shane’s concerns about both the Medicare plan and LA-Rx when it comes to the elderly.

"I’d be concerned about the complexity, how people are going to find out about it, how people are going to apply for it … [consumers] already seem to be somewhat confused and uncertain, and they come to us and ask us to help," Cavalier said. "We spend a lot time interpreting and helping them apply for the programs that are out there."

To increase awareness and understanding of the LA-Rx plan, it is currently being circulated within various communities. It may soon be put before the City Council.

"[Consumers of medication] right now have no one to speak for them," Ramallo said. "In this program, they will by pooling together and having a single entity negotiate on their behalf."

"This [proposal] will directly impact the Jewish community, as well as every resident in the city of Los Angeles, [and it] is a process that we want to participate in," Ten said. "This is an issue that crosses all boundaries and borders. If there’s any single unifying factor, it’s the health care of our families."

Coping With Cancer Proves Family Affair

In the first moments after Lori Marx-Rubiner was diagnosed with breast cancer last year, several fears ran through her head. The Jewish community social worker, who was 35 at the time, wondered about her mortality and worried about the prospect of pain and nausea induced by treatment. However, her deepest concern centered on her then 3-year-old son, Zachary.

Telling her son about her illness was "by far the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do in my life," Marx-Rubiner said. In the five days between undergoing a biopsy and receiving the results, Marx-Rubiner and her attorney husband of 15 years, John, agonized over how to appropriately share such news with their son.

After fruitless searches for age-appropriate books, Marx-Rubiner finally found one that described cancer as a weed growing out of control. Because her son had been spending a lot of time in the garden, she seized on the metaphor to explain her illness and the ways her doctors planned to get rid of it.

"I told him it would take time, but as a family, we were all going to try and get me healthy. And his dad had the good sense to explain that cancer isn’t contagious," she said.

The candid, hopeful tone that Marx-Rubiner took is exactly the approach that mental health professionals recommend. "The more information children have, the less frightened they’re going to be," said Sally Weber, director of community programs at Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles and a licensed clinical social worker.

For example, Weber said it’s natural for children to worry about a parent dying, but parents are often hesitant to discuss the topic.

"Saying [scary] words doesn’t mean they’ll happen," Weber said, noting that parents can respond to the child’s concern by saying something like, "I’m not planning on dying."

"You can be very positive with your children even if you’re feeling very frightened," Weber said. "You can say, ‘Sometimes this scares me, but I’m doing everything I can to get well.’"

From diagnosis through treatment and beyond, communication is crucial not only with children but between spouses as well.

"In families, we all cope differently with crisis and trauma," Weber said.

Couples have to recognize one another’s communication styles and develop their own approach as a couple before the family can cope in a healthy way. For the Marx-Rubiners, "our roles were reversed immediately," the wife said. "All of a sudden, I was the one who needed to be cared for, and I needed to accept that, which was a challenge."

At the same time, she continued, "the spouse is supposed to be strong and supportive and become the caretaker and deal with their issues by themselves…. The challenge for me was to help my husband find ways to communicate with me and to know that he didn’t have to protect me from his fears and anger."

One of the places where the family explored these issues was at The Safe Spot, a one-day camp program for Jewish families with children, where a parent is afflicted with cancer. As a follow-up to this program — which was founded by Weber; Rabbi Ed Feinstein, of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino; and Carol Koransky, senior vice-president of policy, planning and community development for The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles — a series of evening workshops for parents with cancer will be offered next year.

When cancer occurs, "all that used to be normal feels like it’s ended," Weber said. Routines are disrupted. Housekeeping, cooking and other care-giving responsibilities are shifted. The family structure changes. "Now there’s a new normal, and … families learn to adjust to the new normal," she said.

For Marx-Rubiner, that meant hiring a nanny to do light housekeeping, pick her son up from preschool, prepare his dinner and give him a bath. Marx-Rubiner also looked for ways to stay connected with her son, even when she wasn’t feeling well, for example, by inviting Zach to crawl into bed and watch a movie with her.

"And he had a lot more daddy time, which was a real blessing," Marx-Rubiner added.

While there’s a tendency to focus on the patient, "cancer metastasizes to everybody in the family," said Valley Beth Shalom’s Feinstein, who has battled colon cancer twice. In fact, he said, cancer’s impact reaches far beyond the immediate family.

"I watched this ripple effect go through the whole community around me, my wife, my kids, my parents, my brothers, my friends, my kids’ friends and their parents," Feinstein said. "It shakes everyone’s sense that the world is safe."

For both Feinstein and Marx-Rubiner, community support was crucial. Parents from the Adat Ari El Early Childhood Center, where Marx-Rubiner’s son attended preschool, coordinated a schedule to provide daily meals for her family. Others drove her son to school, took him to Tot Shabbat services and invited him over for dinner.

Her husband took her to treatments in the morning, but friends would drive her home and stay with her until the nanny arrived.

"That’s God at work as far as I’m concerned," she said.

Feinstein also received "tremendous love and support" from his community.

"It’s important for the community to take responsibility … and to recognize that it’s not just the patient, it’s everybody in the family [who needs support]," he said.

Looking back on their experiences, both Feinstein and Marx-Rubiner found that cancer brought unexpected gifts.

"[My family has] a keen appreciation for each day," Marx-Rubiner said. "We take nothing for granted. I’m able to recognize that a piece of grass or a weed growing in a concrete block is a


"I gave up the idea that I have to be invulnerable," Feinstein said. "I gave up being Superman. I realized I have to share my agony and my struggles with my family."

Both Marx-Rubiner and Feinstein mentioned gaining a stronger spiritual connection.

"The things I believed in before in an abstract way, I believe in now from a much deeper place," Feinstein said.

"I don’t struggle with God anymore," Marx-Rubiner noted.

Feinstein’s advice to those dealing with cancer:

"Don’t give up. Even if you only have a little time left, you have time to do what’s important and to live big in the time you’ve got. If you don’t surrender, you will leave behind a legacy to your children of living with courage and light and humor and wisdom — and that’s why we’re here."

"I think there are tremendous blessings in all this," Marx-Rubiner stressed.

Despite all the challenges she’s faced, Marx-Rubiner is quite adamant about her experience with cancer: "I wouldn’t give it back."

For a list of resources designed for families dealing with cancer, call Jewish Family Service, (323) 761-8800, ext. 1255 .

Campaign by PETA Profanes Holocaust

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) took its campaign equating factory-farm animals to Holocaust victims to the streets of Los Angeles this week with a protest in front of the Simon Wiesenthal Center Tuesday at noon (see story on page 12).

The protest speaks to PETA’s well-earned reputation for disordered priorities and its utter lack of sensitivity in promoting its cause, whatever the merits of that cause are. For the record, I am all for treating animals ethically and humanely.

But PETA’s exploitative campaign that expropriates photographs of starving victims of the Holocaust in Nazi concentration camps and compares them to chickens that are waiting to be slaughtered for food is abhorrent. On its Web site, PETA justifies this campaign, in part, because the late Jewish author Isaac Bashevis Singer, a vegetarian, once took the literary license of stating that, “in relation to [animals], all people are Nazis; for [them] it is an eternal Treblinka.”

Of course, whether or not the Nobel Prize-winner would have actually lent his name to PETA’s outrageous effort is open to question, at best.

In an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times, (“Animals Suffer a Perpetual Holocaust,” April 21, 2003), Singer’s grandson, Stephen R. Dujack, a Washington-based environmentalist, professed to speak for his deceased grandfather and proclaimed, “My grandfather would have been proud of PETA’s bold campaign.”

If that is the case, then in the face of such obscenity, I must speak for my grandfather, whose ashes lie buried somewhere in the dust of Auschwitz.

To begin with, attempts to genericize the term Holocaust are generally misguided. The Holocaust was a unique historical event and describes the attempt by Hitler and the Nazis to systematically destroy and physically eliminate European Jewry. To be sure, there were also other victims, including homosexuals, the disabled, the psychiatrically disturbed, political dissidents, Gypsies, Poles, Slavs and others who were targeted for elimination.

For the record, Dujack’s assertion in his article that lampshades were made from bodies of Holocaust victims is also historically inaccurate, because no evidence for this has ever been produced.

While it is tempting to compare all acts that we may individually find abhorrent to the Holocaust and while the event itself has become the benchmark for abject evil in the world, wholesale use of the term desecrates the memory of what actually happened during those terrible years.

Whatever the arguments are for or against animal slaughter for food, it is simply not the Holocaust. Dujack may as well call it the Crimean War.

Why can’t PETA and Dujack let the victims of the Holocaust rest in peace and leave them out of it? How do the Jewish people (as usual) get dragged into the middle of this argument?

The irony is that in Jewish law there are numerous examples of mitzvot (praiseworthy deeds) that advocate for the humane treatment of animals. An example is that a young bird should never be removed from the nest in the presence of its mother so as not to hurt the latter; indeed, the prohibition against eating milk together with meat derives from a similar sensibility.

In fact, the laws of kosher slaughter of animals are far more humane than was the slaughter of Jews by the Nazis, which was notable for its excessive and intentional cruelty.

Human consumption of animal products as food appears to be instinctual, has occurred for millions of years and is the accepted norm in most societies. The systematic suspension of human rights, imprisonment, torture, experimentation on and murder of a people that went on in full view of the world for 12 years in the middle of the 20th century is, thank God, an inexplicable aberration in human behavior that is so far out of the norm that it had to be given its own name — the Holocaust.

To conflate the two activities is absurd. To examine just how absurd and dangerous this game can be, we just need to turn it inside out a couple of times. If killing of animals for food is the same as exterminating Jews, then how convenient would it be the next time someone wants to commit a pogrom against the Jewish people just to turn it around the other way with the reply, “They kill chickens, don’t they?”

In the name of my grandfather and all other victims of the Holocaust, I call on PETA to retract and apologize for its shameful campaign. The shock value and attention have already been wrung dry.

Whatever the arguments for or against vegetarianism, in the interest of decency, let us leave the memories of the unfortunate victims of the Holocaust out of it.

Dr. Joel Geiderman is a member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council in Washington, D.C.

Hidden Impact of Sweatshop Laws

Is your image of a sweatshop a black-and- white photograph of Jewish garment workers marching for labor rights 100 years ago, or the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire in 1911, in which hundreds of Jewish workers were trapped inside a burning building in New York (see sidebar)? If so, then you should update it: As of 2003, Los Angeles is leading the nation in sweatshop labor.

A coalition of activists under the title of No More Sweatshops, headed by former state Sen. Tom Hayden, is currently pushing legislation through the Los Angeles City Council, the Los Angeles School Board and the California Legislature to fight the illegal labor practice of sweatshops and to ensure these government bodies do not purchase any items with city or state funds that are produced by sweatshops.

On Sept. 9, the Los Angeles School board will hear advocates testimony on behalf of anti-sweatshop legislation to ensure that no school board funds are used to purchase sweatshop-produced uniforms. Similar hearings with the L.A. City Council and the Legislature are expected to follow in the coming months.

While no one exactly advocates sweatshops, critics of the activists say that legislation might target the only income source of an already vulnerable illegal immigrant community depends on sweatshops for their livelihood and that garment manufacturers would simply move their operations overseas rather than reform. Critics charge that activists should instead work with sweatshops to change their labor practices rather than pass more legislation against them.

Sweatshops in the 1900s were fueled by immigrant labor — much of it Jewish. Today, immigrant labor still fuels sweatshops; only the immigrants are now primarily Latino and Asian. Today’s sweatshops are manufacturing centers in which few if any federal or state labor laws are observed. Laborers often work 16-hour days, seven days a week for far below minimum wage with little or no provisions to ensure their health and safety. Additionally, workers are often subject to physical abuse.

Sweatshops workers are often forced into a type of indentured servitude in order to pay off the people who smuggled them into the United States, often paying off thousands of dollars in debt while making only a few dollars an hour.

"It’s a form of slavery that’s alive and well," said Anat Tamir, program director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance, which is a key Jewish player in the No More Sweatshops campaign in Los Angeles. "It’s a chain of production that exploits the most vulnerable people, and everyone from subcontractors to CEOs of large corporations are setting the tone for this kind of abuse and exploitation for the sake of profit. It’s dehumanization at its worst."

The problem of sweatshops in Los Angeles has reached epidemic proportions. Los Angeles has approximately 140,000 garment laborers who are primarily Latino and Asian undocumented workers. According to U.S. Labor Department studies, only about one-third of L.A. garment factories follow federal and state labor laws that are designed to protect workers. Garment production is Los Angeles is currently a multi-billion dollar business.

The cheap labor that sweatshops provide, however, is part of a system that fills a critical role in the clothing-production process. Garment manufacturers do not usually physically produce the clothes they make. The manufacturers take orders from retailers, design the clothing, market the label and then contract with independent garment factories to make the clothing. These subcontracted companies may use sweatshop labor without the manufacturer’s knowledge. All in all, consumers and manufacturers have difficulty ensuring that their clothes are "kosher."

Stan Levy, chair of the Labor and Public Affairs Committee with the California Fashion Association, has been working with manufacturers for 10 years to avoid worker exploitation. Levy pointed to legislation that responsible manufacturers have helped pass in recent years, such as 1999’s Assembly Bill 633, which allows workers who have not been paid by the subcontractors to file for payment on wages they did not receive. (This measure’s effectiveness is somewhat compromised by the fact that illegal immigrants fear deportation.) However, Levy pointed out that even with these safeguards, abuses can still occur.

"You have people with every good intention in the world who are horrified that workers are being exploited and want to help end the abuse of these people, but you are dealing with a problem that includes complicated cultural and economic issues," Levy explained. "Responsible manufacturers are trying to ensure this abuse does not occur, but we need government to offer better supervision and control."

Arthur Lujan, state labor commissioner, was unavailable for comment, but several people with knowledge of the workings of the commissioner’s office said they are not properly staffed or funded to oversee the garment industry.

Levy pointed to two independent monitoring agencies, Cal Safety Compliance Corporation and Apparel Resources, which offer certification that a garment factory is sweatshop free. However, Levy said they are only effective for registered companies.

"There is a whole garment underground," Levy noted. He added that it is unlikely for some subcontractors to stop using sweatshop labor without heavy governmental enforcement.

Richard Appelbaum, co-author of "Behind the Label: Inequality in the Los Angeles Apparel Industry" (University of California Press, 2000) and a professor at UC Santa Barbara, thinks it is possible to balance profits and fair labor in the industry.

"Labor cost is probably 6 percent of the retail price," Appelbaum said. "Even increasing the wages 50 percent would only subtract marginally from the profits. There’s a lot of profit in the industry, and there are significant profit margins. By cutting slightly into those profit margins, manufacturers could ensure a fair environment for workers."

Appelbaum also said he believes that most consumers would be willing to pay slightly more for garments that were not manufactured by sweatshops.

"Just like you pay extra for kosher food or bottled water, people would pay extra to know that their clothes are sweatshop free."

Levy said he thinks Appelbaum’s assessment doesn’t account for the complexities of garment productions.

"There is what it actually costs to make the product and then what it costs to sell that product in the store," Levy said. "Design, sales, production, advertising — all of those must come from the price as well. It may cost $5 to make and $50 in the store, but the actual profit the manufacturer makes is $5."

The quick closure of sweatshops is also too simple a solution in Levy’s eyes.

"No one wants to see abuse, but if you close down these companies completely, you’re going to have a lot of people deported and losing their jobs," Levy said. "You would create a huge crisis in a very vulnerable community, and all the people who are dependent of the workers to support them. And the abuse wouldn’t necessarily stop, it would just move overseas. That’s part of the anguish of this situation — as we try to ensure the fair treatment of workers it becomes a very difficult issue in light of the global economy. We need to work with the companies that are here to ensure fair labor practices."

Although the realities of sweatshops are complex, activists still believe than an idealistic approach is needed to solve this problem.

"Seventy-five years after the Triangle Shirtwaist fire tragedy, the language of immigrant sweatshop workers has changed from Yiddish to Spanish and Chinese," wrote the PJA and No More Sweatshops in a prepared statement. "But our intimate history as Jews rising from the sweatshops of New York and our strong tradition of social justice work demand that we once again fight egregious sweatshop abuses to protect a new generation of exploited low-wage workers."