Iraq fights cholera epidemic

This article first appeared on The Media Line.

Health officials in Iraq are working to contain an outbreak of cholera that could threaten millions of Shi’ite pilgrims due to visit holy sites in Iraq early next month. According to UNICEF, there have been over 2000 confirmed cases of the disease and two deaths reported in Iraq, as well as individual cases in Kuwait and Bahrain.

“The millions of pilgrims who come will be walking through areas that have cholera,” Jeffrey Bates, the Chief of Communications for UNICEF in Iraq told The Media Line. “If these people access contaminated water sources, they could get the disease. We are working with the government and religious sources to make the sure the water systems along the route are clean and that medical facilities along the way are equipped.”

The pilgrims are coming to the Muslim holy cities of Najaf and Karbala to mark the “arbaeen”, the end of 40 days of mourning for Hussein, the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson and the founder of Shi’ite Islam.

Outbreaks of cholera in Iraq are frequent, and usually come in the fall and spring, Bates says. This year it is more challenging than the past because the Islamic State controls about a third of northern and Western Iraq. It has been difficult to assess the cholera situation there, and there are fears that the three million displaced people might have less access to clean water than in the past.

Bates says that the key to controlling the spread of cholera is early detection. There is an anti-cholera vaccine that is effective in 50- 60 percent of the cases if two doses are taken. Cholera can be treated with oral rehydration solution, and in severe cases, antibiotics. The disease is spread through contaminated water or food.

Bates says that UNICEF has partnered with the Iraqi government to handle the cholera outbreak.

“The government came on board quickly as soon as cholera was identified in September,” he said. “Because of the conflict going on (with Islamic State) we had to re-gear quite a bit, but the response was rapid. The government responded with a round of oral cholera vaccine aimed at the displaced people and refugees.”

He said the first round of the oral vaccine was completed last week, and the second round is scheduled for early next month. In any case, the cholera outbreak, which tends to be seasonal, is winding down.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said it has launched a campaign to encourage families to purify water, prepare food carefully and to wash their hands. The organization said it has launched a campaign to use 510,000 doses from a global stockpile of one million of the anti-cholera vaccination and will use it to vaccinate 255,000 internally displaced people and refugees.

“Five countries – Iraq, Bahrain, Kuwait, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) – have reported cholera cases. The cholera situation in Kuwait and Bahrain is under control, however we are concerned about the current cholera outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Iraq. If not properly contained, cases could spike and spread across borders,” warned Coordinator, WHO Control of Epidemic Diseases, William Augusto Perea Caro.

He said the WHO needs five million dollars to ramp up its response to the cholera outbreaks. They said the situation in Africa is even worse than the Middle East.

“The cholera situation in the African Region is especially worrisome. WHO is working closely with national authorities and partners to manage the cases and provide access to safe water, adequate sanitation and basic hygiene needs,” said Dr Ibrahima-Socé Fall, Director of the Health Security and Emergencies Cluster at the WHO Regional Office for Africa.

In Tanzania, there have been almost 5000 cases of cholera and 74 deaths in the past few months.

For Jewish UNICEF official, it’s all about the children

Whether Caryl Stern, the president and CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, is touring a war-torn country, a natural disaster or a refugee camp, she always sees children playing.

They may be kicking a ball made of paper or hugging a doll made of rags or straw, but they are happily playing.

The kids’ ability to smile and play through the most extreme of circumstances is what inspires her every day. Since taking the helm of the organization in 2007, Stern has guided UNICEF’s responses to disasters as varied as the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and the Ebola crisis in west Africa.

She has also faced criticism that UNICEF is hostile to Israel. Many years ago, one of the camps it sponsored in Beirut to keep children off the street was subsequently renamed for a suicide bomber. Hearing this, the Reform movement of Judaism in the United States ended its sponsorship of the program. Although the camp’s renaming was unofficial, “the damage had been done,” Stern said, and for years Jewish children stopped carrying the bright orange UNICEF collection boxes during Halloween.

“I stand very proudly as a Jewish woman at the helm of this organization,” said Stern, 57. “Right now is our moment. This is our opportunity to stand up for everything we believe.”

Stern, who previously spent 18 years at the Anti-Defamation League and was a 2014 Jewish Women International Woman to Watch, said that her “firm belief in tikkun olam [repair of the world] and not putting the sins of our fathers on children” make it necessary to be involved.

Her current focus is the scores of young people fleeing their countries, sometimes without adult supervision.

“I call them children,” Stern said. “They aren’t migrants. They are not refugees. They are not illegal aliens. They are kids.”

Some 30 million children — 13 million of them from the Middle East and North Africa — need a permanent place to live and a school to attend regularly, she said.

Stern is aware that these children have “scars that are going to be with them for a long time,” including physical and intellectual problems due to malnourishment and disease.

But their resiliency motivates her.

“If you turn on music, they will dance,” she said, boasting that she’s  “played ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’ in just about every language.”

So many of the problems facing the children face “are fixable, curable,” she said. With proper medicine, vaccines and clean water — and with an end to war — many of their woes would disappear. Her goal is “zero hunger, zero poverty, zero disease,” which she described in her 2013 book, “I Believe in Zero.”

Stern was in Washington last week to attend Fortune magazine’s Most Powerful Women event and launch a new fundraising program, UNICEF Kid Power. A $40 bracelet encourages children to be more active while teaching them about other cultures in a game-like program that awards points for exercising.

The bracelet “lights up, and it buzzes,” she said. “Kids love it.” The money raised will be used to deliver food to malnourished children around the world.

Some might assume Stern’s position is an office job, but she said she needs to “bear witness” — in her eight years at UNICEF, she has traveled to 32 countries. Stern said that having grown up in a family steeped in Holocaust memories, she understands the importance of retelling stories from firsthand knowledge.

Stern’s mother was 6, and her uncle 4, in 1939 when their mother, Stern’s grandmother, kissed them goodbye and sent them from Vienna to America with a woman they didn’t know. They ended up in an orphanage on New York City’s Lower East Side.

That same year, her grandfather boarded the St. Louis, the German cruise liner filled with Jewish passengers heading to Cuba. The ship was forced to return to Europe when no country would open its arms to the Jewish passengers.

Growing up, “the two stories we constantly heard were how nobody gave a damn” to help the Jews, according to her grandfather, and “how nice people were to take my mother in and care for her.”

Stern, the mother of three sons, knew she wasn’t going to be the one to turn her back on children who, through no fault of their own, were suffering.

People sometimes hear that UNICEF has programs in areas hostile to Israel — including, most recently, the Gaza Strip — and they condemn the organization, Stern said. But UNICEF’s mandate allows it to operate only in underdeveloped countries, and Israel is not one, she explained.

There are exceptions, she added. It has set up a recreation center for children in Sderot, who grow up under the constant threat of bombing.

“UNICEF has absolutely no politics,” she said.  “We don’t deal with adults. … We only want to give the children what they need.”


Pakistan’s Malala challenges world leaders to educate Syrian refugees

Pakistani education crusader Malala Yousafzai and other youth activists challenged world leaders on Monday to come up with $175 million to educate 400,000 Syrian children who fled to neighboring Lebanon to escape a civil war in their homeland.

As leaders gather in New York for the U.N. General Assembly, Yousafzai, 16, who was shot in the head by the Taliban last year for demanding education for girls, and U.N. education envoy Gordon Brown received $1 million from campaign group Avaaz to kick off the push for money to send Syrian refugees to school.

U.N. children's agency UNICEF said 257,000 Syrian children were seeking education in Lebanon in 2013 and that was set to rise to 400,000 next year, swamping the Lebanese public school system that already educates 300,000 children.

“I can feel what's happening in Syria because it's what happened to us in Pakistan,” Yousafzai said of being displaced by violence as she spoke with Syrian student Farah Haddad, 20, in New York. Yousafzai is now at school in Britain because she cannot safely return to Pakistan.

Haddad, who finished high school in Syria and moved to the United States in 2011 to attend college, has taken up the fight for education for Syrian refugee children.

“When the war is ended, there will be no way for us to bring back the dead, or mend the hearts of mothers in Syria, but we can surely equip Syrian children to wrestle with a Syria when the bombs stop exploding,” said Haddad.

Former British Prime Minister Brown announced on Monday a plan by the Overseas Development Institute to educate those 400,000 Syrian children by employing Syrian refugees who were teachers, opening Lebanese schools 24 hours a day to teach children in double or triple shifts and providing school meals.

“A 100 years ago the Red Cross secured the right that health care should be provided even in conflict. We want in this generation to secure the right of every child to education even when there's a conflict,” Brown told reporters.


“Instead of 400,000 Syrian children doing nothing … perhaps becoming unemployable, a lost generation, a wasted generation, childhood destroyed, we can actually show that in the next few months these 400,000 children can actually get the opportunities they so richly deserve,” Brown said.

Brown said $175 million was needed to implement the education plan in Lebanon. Avaaz raised its $1 million donation in the past week from more than 32,000 people in 143 countries, and Western Union also announced it will match consumer donations to its newly created education fund up to $100,000.

“The U.N. Security Council … has failed the people of Syria. We can't fix that problem today but I can think we can still determine whether the children of this war become a lost generation or a generation of leaders that can rebuild and renew the hope of the country,” said Avaaz co-founder Ricken Patel.

The U.N. Security Council has been deadlocked over how to try and end the two-and-a-half year Syrian conflict. Russia and China have refused to consider sanctions on President Bashar al-Assad's government and have vetoed three resolutions condemning Assad's crackdown on opposition groups.

A World Bank report said Syria's conflict will cost Lebanon $7.5 billion in cumulative economic losses by the end of 2014. The report was prepared for a U.N. meeting this week to provide humanitarian aid and development assistance and strengthen Lebanon's armed forces.

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

UNICEF: Israel mistreats Palestinian children in custody

Palestinian children detained by the Israeli military are subject to widespread, systematic ill-treatment that violates international law, a UNICEF report said on Wednesday.The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) estimated that 700 Palestinian children aged 12 to 17, most of them boys, are arrested, interrogated and detained by the Israeli military, police and security agents every year in the occupied West Bank.

According to the report, most of the youths are arrested for throwing stones. Israel says it takes such incidents seriously, noting that rock-throwing has caused Israeli deaths.

UNICEF said it had identified some examples of practices that “amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention against Torture”.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said officials from the ministry and the Israeli military had cooperated with UNICEF in its work on the report, with the goal of improving the treatment of Palestinian minors in custody.

“Israel will study the conclusions and will work to implement them through ongoing cooperation with UNICEF, whose work we value and respect,” he said.

According to the report, ill-treatment of Palestinian minors typically begins with the arrest itself, often carried out in the middle of the night by heavily armed soldiers, and continues all the way through prosecution and sentencing.

“The pattern of ill-treatment includes … the practice of blindfolding children and tying their hands with plastic ties, physical and verbal abuse during transfer to an interrogation site, including the use of painful restraints,” the report said.

It said minors suffered physical violence and threats during their interrogation, were coerced into confession and not given immediate access to a lawyer or family during questioning.

“Treatment inconsistent with child rights continues during court appearances, including shackling of children, denial of bail and imposition of custodial sentences and transfer of children outside occupied Palestinian territory to serve their sentences inside Israel,” the report said.

Such practice “appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized”, it added.


UNICEF based its findings on more than 400 cases documented since 2009 as well as legal papers, reports by governmental and non-governmental groups and interviews with Palestinian minors and with Israeli and Palestinian officials and lawyers.

Qadoura Fares, chairman of the Palestinian Prisoners Club which looks after inmates and their families, praised the report and called for Israel to be held accountable.

A spokeswoman for Israel's Prison Service said there were currently 307 Palestinian minors in Israeli custody, 108 of whom are serving a prison sentence. Most of them, 253, are between the ages of 16 to 18 and the rest are under 16.

A senior Israeli officer in the Military Advocate General's office said one of the jailed Palestinians, aged 17 at the time of his arrest, had stabbed to death two Jewish settlers and three of their children, including a three-month-old baby, in 2011.

He denied that minors, while in interrogation, were not allowed access to family members or a lawyer. “Very few of the parents take the time to come (to the police station),” he said.

UNICEF said Israel had made some “positive changes” in recent years in its treatment of Palestinian minors, including new hand-tying procedures meant to prevent pain and injury.

It also noted a 2010 military order that requires Israeli police to notify parents about the arrest of their children and to inform minors they have the right to consult a lawyer.

The Israeli officer said the army was considering videotaping interrogations and that a new military order, coming into effect in April, will limit to 48 hours the time a minor can be held prior to appearing before a judge.

Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Andrew Roche

Joe Sherwood: Honoring good police work

It started with the morning paper. Every day, when Joe Sherwood read the news, he was struck by an imbalance he saw in law-enforcement reporting. 

“Anytime there was a bad cop, it would be front-page news,” recalled Sherwood, 95. “They never talked about all the good police work they were doing. I said to my wife one day, ‘Gee, there must be a bunch of good guys out there, too, and we could really do something if we give an award to the ones who fight hate crimes.’ ”

So the Sherwood family partnered with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and in 1996 launched the Helene and Joseph Sherwood Prize for Combating Hate. The award is presented annually to a handful of law enforcement personnel who have gone “above and beyond the call of duty” to fight bigotry and racially motivated violence, said Howard Sherwood, Joe’s son. 

It’s a collaboration that reinforces ADL’s already strong relationship with Southern California’s crime-fighting agencies while shining a spotlight on “the folks in the trenches — cops on the street, prosecutors in the courtroom — who do something extraordinary,” added Amanda Susskind, ADL’s Pacific Southwest regional director. “We think it’s very important for people to hear the positive news about our law enforcement partners. They are heroes among us who go unrecognized every day.”

For Joe Sherwood, the prize is just one highlight in a lengthy résumé of giving that spans much of his near-century of life — and that acts as a bonding agent among four generations of his family.

“I’ve always believed in philanthropy,” said Joe, who established the Sherwood Family Foundation, a charitable fund, with his late wife, Helene. “We want the next generations to understand how important charity is.”

In a bright office at the Culver City headquarters of his family’s business, Daniel’s Jewelers, Joe and his sons, Howard and Larry Sherwood, reflect on a legacy of generosity that his great-grandchildren are now starting to emulate. Tall, with tufts of white hair over his ears, Joe smiles when he recounts the places where his family has contributed: A Place Called Home, a youth safe-haven in South Los Angeles; the Children’s Defense Fund; UNICEF; Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles; The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles; and, of course, ADL.

“My grandfather is truly remarkable. He is very conscious of the value of a dollar,” said Laurie Bahar, Howard’s daughter and Joe’s granddaughter, who is president of the Sherwood Family Foundation. “My grandparents always instilled in all of us, from early on, the importance of generosity and sharing with the community. They inspired me to follow in their footsteps in every way.”

Born in Denver in 1917, Joe moved with his family to Los Angeles early in his life, and he attended Fairfax High School amid the Great Depression. “Nobody had any money in those days,” he recalled. “A nickel was important.”

His father, who’d gone into the jewelry business, died while Joe was still a teenager — but not before influencing Joe’s career path. Joe was hired at a jewelry company downtown and sold jewelry and watches for 17 years. 

In 1954, he bought a bankrupt jewelry store in Bell Gardens. The area was home to poor migrant workers who had come to California to escape the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. Nearby bean fields offered a source of employment. “They used to come in without a shirt on, with no shoes on,” Joe recalled. “Anytime anybody asked me for anything, I just believed in giving, in helping other people. I’d never turn anybody down.”

Joe and Helene let customers buy goods on credit and befriended the locals. Word got around that they dealt fairly with clients, and the business flourished. As their company grew, so did the Sherwoods’ charitable donations. “Between the two of us, anytime we could give something, we would do it,” Joe recalled.

Daniel’s Jewelers now has 61 locations in Southern California. Larry’s son, David Sherwood, is the company’s CEO. 

Joe still goes to the office at least once a week. And although his hearing is declining (he jokes that his favorite word is “what?”), his passion for philanthropy hasn’t dimmed.

“He finds a cause, or he finds someone in need, and he finds a place where he thinks his contribution could make a difference,” said Howard, a member of ADL’s national advisory committee. “He has always talked about how important it is to be there for others.”

With the Sherwood Prize, Joe hopes to show law enforcement officers that the larger community is there for them. Except for a hiatus from 2000 to 2003, the prize has been awarded annually for 17 years. Next year’s honors will be given at the Skirball Cultural Center on March 12, which happens to be Joe’s 96th birthday.

Each year, officers from San Diego to San Luis Obispo are nominated. Four to six prize winners are selected by a panel consisting of local police chiefs, sheriffs and other law-enforcement officials, along with members of the Sherwood family. Honorees receive a plaque and a decorative medal at a celebratory luncheon among their families and peers. 

Past prize winners include a detective who created an educational course on radical Islam, a deputy sheriff who brought together African American and Latino residents to ease racial tensions in Compton, a police sergeant who advocated for the LGBT community at UCLA, and several multi-agency task forces that have investigated and prosecuted some of the region’s most notorious gangs.

The prize “has created an avenue for law enforcement officers who are committed to improving human relations to be honored for their dedication to making a difference in their communities,” said Long Beach Chief of Police Jim McDonnell, who sits on the prize selection panel and also serves as chair of the ADL’s law enforcement advisory board. 

The ADL, which runs hate-crime training sessions with thousands of law enforcement personnel each year, appreciates the Sherwoods’ initiative, Susskind said. “Joe doesn’t want his name on a building; he just wants others to follow his example,” she said. “He is one in a million, and we’re all extremely grateful.”

He is already a role model for his great-grandchildren. Ethan Bahar, 15, has taken part in student council since fourth grade and tutors with KOREH LA. “A lot of that comes from seeing him be a leader,” he said.

For his part, Joe doesn’t like to laud his own achievements. He prefers to talk about those of Sherwood Prize honorees.

“The great reward for me, in giving these prizes, is the opportunity to meet so many good guys. They have done so much for their communities — not for recognition. They just do the right thing at the right time. Just to shake hands with them and say thank you is so important to me,” he said. 

“If God said to me, ‘What did you ever do,’ I might say this is the thing I’m most proud of: We rewarded people who went out of their way to do good for other people.”

Israeli tablets to purify water for Syrians

Citing humanitarian reasons, the Israeli Finance Ministry recently gave the green light for a subsidiary of Israel Chemicals – which is owned by the Israeli company but is based in Ireland – to sell water purification tablets for distribution in war-torn Syria, even though it is considered an enemy state.

With clean water availability at an all-time low in Syria, the United Nations international aid agency UNICEF has been working to rehabilitate the country’s water sources.

The organization turned to Medentech, Israel Chemicals’ Ireland-based subsidiary, with a request to buy its AquaTabs water purification tablets. But the law prohibiting Israeli companies from selling a product to a hostile state could have sunk the plan.

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz was called to authorize the deal and did so, noting that the world’s best-selling water purification tablets would not be sold directly to Syria but rather to the UN agency.

Humanitarianism trumps politics

The Israeli law drafted in 1939 forbids Israeli companies from knowingly selling products that will benefit an enemy state. According to a report in Calcalist, the government must authorize all business agreements between Israel and enemy nations.

The Israeli business daily reported that while this is not the first time the government has okayed such a transaction, it is unusual.

But as Israel is known for its humanitarian efforts around the globe, obtaining special authorization and waiving the law for the water purification deal was more a formality than an anomaly.

The AquaTabs are effervescent tablets that kill micro-organisms in water to prevent cholera, typhoid, dysentery and other water-borne diseases. The chlorine pills are considered a better alternative to boiling water to remove contaminants.

“UNICEF is urgently scaling up its emergency response to reach hundreds of thousands of children with child protection, water, sanitation and hygiene, health and nutrition, and education initiatives,” according to a UNICEF statement.

According to the UN about 1.2 million Syrians have been internally displaced within the country, and hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees have fled to neighboring countries. The UN also estimates that there are another one million Syrians still living in their homes in need of humanitarian aid.

NGOs call on Israel to lift Gaza blockade

Some 50 nongovernmental organizations called on Israel to lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip.

“For over five years in Gaza, more than 1.6 million people have been under blockade in violation of international law,” the groups said in a petition issued Thursday. “More than half of these people are children. We the undersigned say with one voice: ‘end the blockade now.’ “

Israel initiated the blockade five years ago when the terrorist Hamas organization took over the coastal strip, which is home to 1.6 million Palestinians.

Signatories to the petition Amnesty International, Oxfam and the World Health Organization, as well United Nations bodies such as UNESCO, UNICEF, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the World Health Organization.

Israel relaxed the blockade restrictions two years ago, including expanding the list of building materials allowed in, but continues to inspect all goods entering Gaza to prevent terrorist activity.

The Circuit

Art Accolades

Twenty-five years of great music and great Judaic art were celebrated at the 25th annual Festival of Jewish Artisans at Temple Isaiah in West Los Angeles. At the opening night concert, festival founder and arts educator Jean Abarbanel revealed how she and co-founder Marcia Josephy were “on the hunt” for Jewish artists.

Always an education event rather than a fundraiser, the festival has showcased more than 300 artists, who come at their own expense. Originally, Abarbanel said, they vowed not to raise money (but not to lose money, either), to always have an activity for children and to create a network for the artists.

Added Josephy, “The Festival enhances our Jewish lives in a meaningful way.”

Many artists, including longtime exhibitors Ruth Shapiro, a metal worker-jeweler from Mar Vista, and Middie Giesberg, who exhibits vividly colored Ethiopian embroideries through the North American Committee for Ethiopian Jewry, said this is the most prestigious show of its kind, and the artists are treated the best.

The opening night concert featured the 100-voice Angel City Chorale, directed by Sue Fink, with virtuoso John Bilezikjian and pianist Tali Tadmor. Also featured were Cantors Evan Kent (Temple Isaiah), Alison Wissot (Temple Judea, Tarzana) and Patti Linsky (Ahavat Shalom, Northridge) in a musical montage of the festival’s past 25 years. Musical selections included Yiddish, Hebrew and Broadway tunes. An artists reception and preview sale followed the concert.

The second day began with an artists networking and education brunch at the temple. All afternoon there was a steady stream of buyers sampling wares like Brian Bergner’s Jerusalem stone mezuzahs; silver and pewter candlesticks by Israeli Rafi Landau and San Diegan Lisa Slovis Mandel; and whimsical metal Judaic wall art by Arel Mishory of Denver.

Other wares included vivid glass platters by Gila Sagy, an Israeli now living in Northern California; sand-blasted etched glass plates and goblets by Michelle and David Plachte-Zuieback of Santa Rosa; and gold jewelry with ancient Israeli coins and ancient Roman glass by eighth-generation Yemenite jeweler Moshe David.

For more information, call (310) 277-2772 or visit ” target=”_blank”> or call (800) 486-4233.