The Mensch List: Sarah Loew’s optimistic vision


Sarah Loew didn’t just create the Loew Vision Rehabilitation Institute, which improves the lives of people with permanent vision loss — she is also a patient of the facility.

Approximately 10 years ago, when she was a 24-year-old struggling actress living in Los Angeles, doctors discovered a benign pituitary tumor in her skull. During the operation to remove it, the orbit around her left eye was accidentally shattered.

The surgery left Loew blind in her left eye. Presented with this unfamiliar challenge, Loew had to relearn how to drive and perform other tasks. 

“Every little detail, you kind of take for granted,” she said.

While still in her hospital bed, she and her family began looking for resources to help Loew adjust. They found very little in Los Angeles that provides comprehensive care for people with low vision. A subspecialty of optometry, it’s a condition that cannot be corrected by prescription glasses, contact lenses or laser surgery.

So, with the help of her parents, Fran and David Lowe, and a devoted eye surgeon, Dr. Glenville March, Loew founded the Loew Vision Rehabilitation Institute (LVRI), a nonprofit organization to provide the care that she herself desperately needed. 

Story continues after the video.

“There were two options … either live with it, or get off your butt and do something about it. We chose option two,” Loew, now 34, said.

Since opening its doors this past year, LVRI has helped between 100 and 200 patients, and many more through its outreach services, Loew estimated. 

Never turning any patient away, LVRI provides low-vision patients with examinations from a specially trained optometrist and follow-up care, assistive devices that allow for independent living, occupational therapy that helps one navigate in the home or work environment and counseling for the patient and the family. 

“We’re not necessarily going to be able to get your vision back, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make your quality of life better,” said Loew, who serves on LVRI’s board of directors.

Meanwhile, she has figured out how to live with her disability. At her workplace — she works in businesses management — her computer monitors are extra-large. She also wears polycarbonate eyeglasses to protect her right eye. 

“As painful as it was, and as much as I had to figure it out for myself, all these people are now getting help because of [what happened to me],” Loew said. “And in the end, it was worth it.”

P. S. Tikkun Olam: Veteran Jewish educator opens charter school driven by vision of a community


Strolling through his new charter school’s rented quarters on a recent morning, Matt Albert swings open a restroom door and smiles.

“Look,” he said, gesturing toward the tiled space. “Clean bathrooms. Often, that’s the scariest place in a public school.”

The citrus-hued rooms of the Oasis Theatre on Wilshire Boulevard near Highland Avenue might not seem like a standard site for a new public school. But maybe, Albert believes, a little diversity is just what the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) needs.

After two years of fundraising and petitioning the district, Albert is opening the doors of New Los Angeles Charter School (New L.A.) on Sept. 3 to 75 sixth-grade students. The former Milken Community High School educator hopes the middle school’s small class sizes and community-service-oriented curriculum will fill a need in a part of the city that has been underserved for years.

“We want to nurture a diverse body of students who are passionate about learning, engaged in their community and have respect for themselves and others,” said Albert, founder and executive director of New L.A. “We want kids to work on solving problems in their own communities and grow up to become civic-minded adults.”

To Albert, who also served as admissions director at the Los Angeles campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), that means getting the children out of conventional classroom programming and into the world around them. Once a week, students will walk three blocks south to Wilshire Crest Elementary School on Olympic Boulevard to read to second- and third-grade kids, through the Jewish Federation’s KOREH L.A. literacy program. They will aid cleanup efforts at the 200-acre Ballona Wetlands Ecosystem in Marina del Rey. Albert is also trying to partner with a local retirement community so the students can visit the elderly, soak up their oral histories and gain greater appreciation — and empathy — for senior citizens.

These community service activities, Albert said, will foster among New L.A. students a gut-level understanding of what makes up a neighborhood and the hard work, pride and leadership it takes to make one flourish.

“Teaching civic responsibility and the importance of knowing what’s going on in the world is a big part of the mission,” said educator Tanya Kennedy, who will teach Earth science at the school. “We want students to be connected — as part of the school community, the city community and ultimately as a citizen of the world.”

Such a mission would not be easy to carry out at a traditional public school, according to Albert.

“LAUSD is a huge, bureaucratic district with almost 800,000 students,” he said. “There are a lot of obstacles to actually getting things done within the district.”

With a charter school, Albert could create an outside-the-box educational program, while still keeping the school free and open to all L.A. students.

New L.A. is meant to serve students from both the Carthay area, which has not had a local middle school for decades, and the Mid-Wilshire area, which is served by John Burroughs, a large LAUSD middle school a few blocks away from New L.A.’s Wilshire Boulevard site.

“At some public middle schools, there are 2,000 kids,” he said. “You have a 10-year-old walking through the halls, and nobody knows them. This is a critical time for them.”

Private schools can provide a top-notch learning environment for students, Albert said, but soaring tuition fees keep many families out.

Yet charter schools — which collectively serve about 41,000 students in the Los Angeles area — come with their own set of assets and pitfalls. They are authorized and funded by LAUSD, but don’t have to follow the district’s standard classroom protocol. In exchange for greater freedom in terms of budget, curriculum and programming, they must find their own location and startup funds.

New L.A.’s initial enrollment is made up of 75 sixth-graders who will be divided into three classes, and the six classrooms at the Oasis Theatre, owned by the non-denominational Oasis Christian Center, provides ample space.

The school’s faculty will set aside time at the end of the school day for an intervention program that will focus on enrichment and skill-building. Kids will also meet with a student adviser for 30 minutes each day to talk about social and emotional issues, tolerance and community building.

“Our teachers have taken a huge risk coming here,” Albert said. “They’re out of the union; they’ve had to resign their positions at LAUSD. But they are confident about our mission.”

For Adina Ackerman, who will teach language arts and history, the chance to work at New L.A. was “something I couldn’t pass up.”

Ackerman has known Albert since her sophomore year at Milken Community High School, when he was her Jewish history teacher. They also worked together as counselors at Camp Ramah in Ojai.

The Los Angeles native got her start as a fourth-grade teacher at Temple Israel of Hollywood’s day school and then taught third grade at Figueroa Street Elementary School in South Los Angeles.

“There is very little freedom within the curriculum and a huge emphasis on testing,” she said of her experience with LAUSD. “You can’t really be a great teacher because you’re spending all your time preparing for tests.”

South Africa native Tanya Kennedy said she was also drawn to New L.A.’s creative atmosphere after three years teaching second and third grade at an inner city San Diego school.

The other two teachers on Albert’s five-member staff bring a range of personal talents to the mix. Math teacher Lena Liu, fresh from a five-year stint at an elementary school in Koreatown, is also a violinist who has played with hip-hop orchestra daKah, MC Mos Def and musician Rahzel. Humanities teacher Stephen De Sal has 20 years’ teaching experience, including for gifted and talented students in the Pasadena Unified School District.

It’s mayor meets mayor at Temple of the Arts; Women of vision see Jews’ future in Iran


It’s mayor meets mayor at Temple of the Arts
 
Mayor Yona Yahov of Haifa received a standing ovation after his Kol Nidre address at Temple of the Arts in Beverly Hills Sunday night. A few minutes earlier, by way of introducing Yahov, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa spoke candidly about the feeling of disorientation his famously frenetic schedule tends to induce.
 
“It’s almost like not knowing where I am at any given moment,” Villaraigosa confessed.
 
Luckily, the sound of Hebrew prayers and his recollection of a Yom Kippur appointment at a temple in Northridge earlier in the evening helped Villaraigosa get his bearings. During his brief remarks he praised his counterpart from Haifa as a man of peace.
 
In his sermon on the seed of resiliency, Rabbi David Barron spoke more pointedly about Yahov’s aptness as a speaker at Sunday’s service. Citing Yahov’s ongoing efforts to create understanding between Arabs and Jews, Barron called Yahov “a man who is practicing forgiveness, which we are here to reflect on.”
 
“This has been an awkward, unprecedented war,” Yahov said at the beginning of his speech. “It has not been soldiers against soldiers or ships against ships.”Yahov said that when a rocket struck the Carmelite monastery above Haifa at the onset of the conflict, a local investigator at the scene was puzzled to find tiny ball-bearings scattered about the area.
 
“We learned these are often packed into the belts of suicide bombers,” Yahov said, “to widen the effect of the blast.”
 
When it become clear that civilians were to be the targets of Hezbollah’s missile campaign, Yahov said one of his first concerns was to keep life as normal as possible for Haifa’s children, even under the city’s constant curfew.Soft laughter rippled through the audience when Yahov, a big silver-haired bear of a man, asked, “Can you imagine what to do with your kids if they were stuck in your house for a month?”
 
Yahov’s solution was to place his city’s youngest citizens in a very familiar environment. Each day of the conflict, from early morning until late afternoon, thousands of Haifa’s children were sheltered on the lower levels of underground parking garages at the city’s shopping malls.
 
“No enemy can destroy our life,” Yahov said.
 
After he thanked the congregation for its support, he concluded his remarks by saying, “We showed the whole world that the Jewish people are one people.”
 
— Nick Street, Contributing Writer

Women of vision see Jews’ future in Iran
 
Amidst growing tensions between Iran and the United States in recent months, the Iranian Jewish Women’s Organization (IJWO) in Los Angeles is planning a seminar at the Museum of Tolerance focusing on the future security of Jews living in Iran today.
 
The event, scheduled for Oct. 10 and organized by the Women of Vision chapter of IJWO, will include prominent Persian Jewish activists, leaders and intellectuals from Europe and Israel, as well as Los Angeles, and aims to shed light on the political, social, and psychological challenges faced by the approximately 20,000 Jews in Iran.
 
“We didn’t really select this seminar or its topic because we wanted to make a statement about ourselves as women, rather because it is an important topic that has not been addressed by the Iranian Jewish community nor the larger American Jewish community,” said Sharon Baradaran, one of the volunteer organizers of the IJWO seminar.
 
Baradaran said the seminar is particularly significant for opening new dialogue between the various factions within the Persian Jewish community that for years have often been at odds with one another on how to best address the anti-Semitic and anti-Israel rhetoric of Iran’s fundamentalist regime without jeopardizing the lives of Jews still living in Iran.
 
“While every panel member has been very sensitive to safeguarding the best interest of the Jewish community, to address difficult questions about the future of the community in Iran is critical and if that means certain disagreements, then they should be discussed,” Baradaran said.
 
Local Persian Jews have expressed concern for the security of Iran’s Jews in recent months, following false media reports in May that the Iranian government had approved legislation requiring Jews to wear yellow bands on their clothing.In July, Iranian state-run television aired a pro-Hezbollah rally held by Jews living in the southern Iranian city of Shiraz, in what many local Persian Jewish activists believe was a propaganda stunt organized by the regime to show national solidarity for Hezbollah.
 
Maurice Motamed, the Jewish representative to the Iranian parliament, had been slated as a panelist for the seminar but withdrew, saying he will not be arriving in Los Angeles until after the seminar, Baradaran said. Some local Persian Jewish activists have expressed concern over public comments from Motamed during the past year, including his praise for Iran’s uranium enrichment program and his opposition to Israeli military actions against Palestinian terrorists in Gaza and Hezbollah terrorists in Southern Lebanon.
 
In January, Parviz Yeshaya, the former national chairman of the Jewish Council in Iran, issued a rare public statement questioning the logic of Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who had called the Holocaust a “myth”.
 
The Iranian Jewish Women’s organization was originally set up in 1947 in Iran and later re-established in 1976 in Los Angeles with the objective of recognizing the impact of Iranian Jewish women in the community. In 2002, the Women of Vision chapter and other chapters were added to the organization in an effort to reach out to younger generations of Iranian Jewish women.
 
The IWJO seminar will be held at the Museum of Tolerance on Oct. 10 at 6 p.m. For ticket information contact the IWJO at (818) 929-5936 or visit www.ijwo.org.
 
— Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer
 
Captured soldier’s brother addresses students
 
Gadi Goldwasser — brother of Ehud Goldwasser, one of two Israeli soldiers captured on July 12 and still held by Hezbollah — spoke recently to students at UCLA and USC during a brief visit to Los Angeles. He addressed the business and law schools at USC, as well as Hillel and Chabad student groups during their Shabbat dinners.

What You See Isn’t Quite What You Get


I am at my desk, trying to read papers and look at my computer screen. Sounds simple, right? Ha. This entails putting on my reading glasses when I want to look at the papers. But then to see the computer screen I need to flip the glasses up and use only my contact lenses (contacts so strong, I might add, that I should have X-ray vision). Up, down, up, down, up, where are the glasses now? My son points out that they are on the back of my head. And I have a splitting headache.

Everyone’s vision changes with age. The big shift is the one I’m struggling with: presbyopia, a hardening of the eye’s focusing lens.

“When the lens of the eye loses its elasticity, it can’t adjust to the proper shape for near vision,” said Dr. Marguerite McDonald, clinical professor of ophthalmology at Tulane University School of Medicine. And new technology makes it even tougher, as we struggle to focus on items at a variety of distances — everything from the minibuttons on our cell phones to the flashing digital signs on highways.

But the technological revolution has brought medical innovations as well.

You Never Needed Glasses Before, and You Don’t Want Them Now!

For the past decade, nearsighted people who didn’t want to wear glasses or contact lenses have been able to correct their myopia with LASIK surgery. But when it came to presbyopia, the laser procedure presented some challenges, leaving most middle-aged folks with no alternative but reading glasses. Less than two years ago, however, the FDA approved a procedure for treating presbyopia that uses radio waves to reshape the eye. Called conductive keratoplasty (CK), the whole correction takes roughly three minutes, and recovery time is about a day. (The cost — from $1,500 to $2,500 — is generally not covered by insurance.)

Here’s the unusual thing about CK: The procedure is performed on only one eye. The other eye, which sees distances well, is left alone. The brain selects the image — near or far — that it wants. “Most people’s brains are good at this, but some are not,” says Dr. Robert Maloney, associate clinical professor of ophthalmology at UCLA. How can you tell beforehand whether your brain will cooperate? You wear a contact lens for one week to simulate the effect.

The risks of CK are minimal. Approximately 10 percent of patients need a touch-up to adjust their vision. Also, you may notice a glare when you drive at night (special glasses that force the eyes to work together can take care of that). And the procedure is not permanent; you may need to have it redone every few years as your presbyopia progresses.

You Wear Glasses for Nearsightedness, but Now You Can’t Read Small Print

You’ve got three options: a separate pair of prescription reading glasses; bifocals, which give you both distance and close-up correction, or progressives, which, along with distance and near correction, also give you something in between. But you may find progressive lenses skimpy in that midrange zone, especially if you use a computer a lot. One solution: glasses calibrated for the distance that you sit from your screen.

You Don’t Want to Give Up Your Contacts

That would be me. But my lenses just aren’t doing the job up close anymore. Some people can get by with nonprescription (magnifying only) reading glasses, which they wear with their contacts. But, again, this combo may not work at the computer. I’ve solved the problem (at least for now) with a pair of cute drugstore half-glasses that I wear with my contact lenses; this way, I can see through the glasses when I look down to read and over them when I need to look up at the screen.

Monovision contacts are another option, with one lens corrected for far vision, the other for near. They take some getting used to and, as with CK, they don’t work for everyone. There are also bifocal contacts — you get near and distance correction in both of the lenses.

You’d Love to Wear Contacts, but You Have Astigmatism

This is an irregularly shaped cornea (the clear, outermost layer of the eye); until recently, the only way to correct for it was with glasses or hard (and hard-to-wear) contact lenses. But new toric lenses have two curvatures — one for the astigmatism and one for your nearsightedness — and can be made from the same soft materials as regular contacts.

Keeping Your Eyes Healthy

• Have Regular Checkups
You need an exam every two years; make it annual starting at age 40, when your risk of developing serious problems goes up. Glaucoma (an increase in pressure within the eye) can arrive suddenly and, if left untreated, lead to blindness. Who should perform the exam? If you have a family history of eye disease, an ophthalmologist (an M.D.); otherwise, an optometrist is OK, McDonald said.

• Stop Smoking

You’ll cut your chances of developing both cataracts (clouding of the lens) and age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a disorder that destroys central vision.

• Wear Sunglasses Whenever You’re Outside During the Day
And make sure they offer 100 percent ultraviolet protection; UV exposure can contribute to AMD, cataracts, and other disorders.

• Eat Right
Lutein, that mysterious element touted in “senior vitamins” (and found naturally in dark green leafy vegetables), may cut your risk of AMD. If you are not getting enough of the good stuff in food, take 10 to 20 milligrams a day in vitamin form, said Dr. Lylas Mogk, medical director of the Visual Rehabilitation and Research Center at Henry Ford Health Center, in Detroit.

“I Can See Clearly Now…”

Lillian Fazzi, a Los Angeles-based fashion designer and mother, is singing that old song. Until a few years ago, the 40-something Fazzi had perfect vision. Then presbyopia set in, and she found it difficult to see up close. This posed problems at work (“I couldn’t thread a needle”) and at home (“I had trouble reading to my son”). Fazzi, who didn’t want the inconvenience of glasses, consulted ophthalmologist Dr. Robert Maloney.

Maloney thought she’d be an ideal candidate for CK, which corrects for presbyopia. First, though, she had to see whether she could adjust to monovision — using one eye for distance, the other for up close.

A week’s trial with a single contact lens convinced her it would work: “I could see beautifully, though I found the actual lens uncomfortable.”

In December 2003, Fazzi underwent the procedure in Maloney’s office. First he placed numbing drops in her eye; she felt a very slight pressure — from the probe that transmits the radio waves — “and in three minutes, it was all over,” Fazzi recalled.

Recovery was just as easy — no bed rest, just antibiotic and moisturizing drops. Within three days, she had started to see more clearly, and at the end of a week, she could see perfectly. The only downside: Fazzi does have some glare when driving at night; she eliminates it by wearing special glasses.

“It’s amazing,” she said. “I sew. I read. I look at the paper–and I don’t even think about it.”

Beth Levine is a writer whose essays have appeared in Redbook, Woman’s Day, Family Circle, the Chicago Tribune, USA Weekend and Newsday.

Smaller Classes for Smaller Kids


"I want to create a place of wonder," said Lindy Lane-Epstein, who spent the summer attempting to animate her vision for a scaled-down preschool and kindergarten for members of Santa Ana’s Temple Beth Sholom.

She started with painting in primary colors and moved on to culling well-loved toys for the best specimens.

With enrollment capped at under 50 children aged 2 to 6 and a state-mandated teacher-student ratio of 1 to 6, Lane-Epstein predicts both students and instructors will enjoy a far different experience when classes start Sept. 8.

She was hired as the preschool’s new director in June to revamp the synagogue’s program with a more pronounced Jewish curriculum. "I like the idea of a more intimate program," Lane-Epstein said.

While her most recent job was an assistant math teacher at a Jewish day school, Lane-Epstein also worked as a Judaica educator, teacher and assistant director of the Jewish Community Center’s preschool in Costa Mesa, which then enrolled 140 students.

That and more were enrolled in Beth Sholom’s preschool up until last spring. Yet after more than 30 years, operating deficits forced the synagogue to let go its full-time preschool staff and close its award-winning children’s learning center (CLC), a community day-care facility used by as many as 160 children, including infants.

"When we really looked at it, it was worse than we thought," said Sylvan Swartz, the congregation’s president. Costs for health insurance and worker’s compensation had increased so dramatically in recent years, he said, that the congregation was contemplating program cuts elsewhere to make up the deficit.

"Did it make sense to reduce the quality and quantity of temple programs when our CLC, comprised of 75 to 80 percent non-Jewish families, was a major source of our cash drain?" Swartz explained in a synagogue bulletin.

"It didn’t make sense," he said in an interview. "When we stepped back, it was obvious. We were cutting the wrong program."

The wrenching financial decision was made easier when synagogue leaders settled on starting fresh with a more Jewish orientation for its 650 families. Nonmembers could enroll their children, but at higher fees.

"We decided as a synagogue that it made more sense to start over and keep it more manageable," Swartz said.

Praised as one of the county’s best child-care operations, Swartz said, "Like any small business in America, it’s difficult to compete with large operations."

Neither did the synagogue management want to tackle finding a solution.

"We’re not there as a day-care center," Swartz said. "Our commitment is to lifelong learning."

The full-time staff of the larger preschool was uninterested in the part-time hours at the revamped operation, he said.

For Lane-Epstein, 44, starting fresh is a rare opportunity to make concrete her many creative ideas, particularly in Judaica where preschool curriculum is not standardized. To teach kindergarten, she hired Felicia Fields Bennett, a former Morasha Jewish Day School teacher. The class is likely to be no more than 12 children, well under state requirements.

"I’ll have my style," Lane-Epstein said, which will include creating a Jewish environment with Israel posters, Hebrew writing and Jewish-themed puzzles. She is equally enthusiastic about enriching the preschool’s Jewish content with the effervescent presence of Rabbi Heidi Cohen, whose daughter, 5-year-old Dahvi, is enrolled.

As is her practice during Beth Sholom’s summer camp, Cohen will make weekly Shabbat visits to the preschool.

Sharon Loses Some Influence With Bush


After President Bush’s late July meetings with the Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers, one thing is clear: Ariel Sharon no longer will have things all his own way in Washington.

Bush pointedly expressed admiration and respect for Mahmoud Abbas, the new Palestinian Authority prime minister, whom he called "a leader of vision and courage and determination."

Still, Sharon was able to deflect U.S. pressure on Israel over the security fence it is building along the border with the West Bank and to underline Israel’s insistence that the Palestinians must crack down on terrorist groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

The fact that Bush was effusive in his praise of Abbas — despite Abbas’ refusal to dismantle terrorist groups — worries the Israelis.

In his meetings with Bush and Condoleezza Rice, the White House national security adviser, Sharon made it clear that unless the Palestinians dismantle terrorist groups — as they are obliged to do in the first phase of the "road map" peace plan — Israel will not move on to the second phase. Sharon added that he doubts that the Palestinians will act without considerable U.S. pressure.

So far, such pressure has not been forthcoming. Israeli analysts believe that Bush went easy on Abbas, because, having invested so much in Middle East peacemaking, he wants to show the Palestinians that the United States is an "honest broker" that can deliver a fair deal.

Bush also hopes his overt show of support will shore up Abbas’ shaky status among the Palestinian public, analysts say. Ironically, Abbas’ weakness on the Palestinian street is proving to be his strength: Against the backdrop of that weakness, he has been able press for U.S. support and Israeli gestures of compromise.

Nowhere has the new U.S. "even-handedness" been more apparent than on the issue of the security fence. After his meeting with Abbas, Bush even adopted Palestinian terminology, calling the fence a "wall" and saying he would speak to Sharon about the route, urging changes wherever it causes hardship for Palestinians or cuts too deeply into the West Bank.

Sharon went to his meeting with Bush armed with aerial photographs showing that only 10 percent of the security barrier actually is a wall, in areas where snipers in Palestinian cities along the West Bank border could fire at drivers on a major Israeli highway. The rest of the barrier consists of an electronic fence, barbed wire obstacles and patrol roads, like the security fences along Israel’s borders with Lebanon and Jordan.

For weeks, Israeli officials at all levels have been trying to convince their U.S. counterparts of the need for a barrier to stop terrorists from infiltrating Israeli cities. In almost three years of the terrorist intifada, they note, not a single suicide bomber has successfully infiltrated from the Gaza Strip — which is fenced off — while more than 250 have entered Israel from the West Bank.

In their meetings with Sharon, Bush and Rice raised two concerns: That the fence creates political facts on the ground in advance of a territorial settlement with the Palestinians, and that it encompasses too much Palestinian land.

Sharon has said that the fence is not meant to have any political significance, and in the future, it could be moved, depending on where the final borders are drawn. Moreover, he said, the most controversial segment — a sizable bulge into the West Bank to include the city of Ariel, one of Israel’s largest in the West Bank — is not scheduled for construction until early next year, leaving time for disagreements to be resolved.

Bush did not pressure Sharon to stop construction of the fence or move it back to the Green Line — the pre- 1967 border between Israel and Jordan’s West Bank — but the two sides agreed to hold further consultations on the route, with the aim of minimizing hardship to Palestinians.

The U.S. intervention on the fence may not have stopped its construction, but it certainly ended any notion Sharon might have entertained of building a second fence along the Jordan Valley to protect Jewish settlements there.

The fear of being left with a minuscule Palestine, enclosed by fences on all sides, was one reason Abbas sought an American-led peace process. Preempting a two-fence plan is the first major achievement of the new Abbas strategy — though Sharon also can claim that the fence galvanized the Palestinians into choosing diplomacy over war.

For Sharon, though, it’s not the fence or its route that is likely to undermine the peace process. It is the Palestinians’ failure to disband terrorist groups. Getting that point across was the main objective of Sharon’s Washington visit. He told Bush that he believed the peace process would collapse in a matter of months if Abbas failed to act against the terrorist groups.

"We are concerned that this welcome quiet will be shattered any minute as a result of the continued existence of terror organizations, which the Palestinian Authority is doing nothing to eliminate or dismantle," Sharon said at a news conference.

In the news conference, Bush demanded that the Palestinian Authority undertake "sustained, targeted and effective operations to confront those engaged in terror and to dismantle terrorist capabilities and infrastructure."

However, Israeli analysts point out that, in his meeting with Abbas, Bush did not lay down a timetable for such action, nor did he specify how the terrorists should be confronted.

The question is whether, in the wake of the meetings, Bush will find ways to persuade both sides to do what is needed to advance the diplomatic process and rebuild mutual trust.

Stanley Hirsh


I first met Stanley Hirsh in 1984 when he stopped by tovisit an after-school program in Jerusalem where I was working as a counselor.The kids and I were playing a game of basketball on a cracked blacktop court.

After watching from the fence for a while, Stanley called meover and introduced himself. I assumed he was going to congratulate me forhelping the indigent immigrant children of Israel.

“How can someone as tall as you,” he asked, “stink so bad atbasketball?”

Hirsh was several handfuls of human being. He belonged to avanishing generation of Jewish philanthropists, self-made men (they were mostlymen) whose drive, talent, luck and brazenness made them rich. They were tough,sometimes even gruff, and yet exceedingly generous. Their philanthropy arosefrom the same impulse as their wealth. They wanted to make the most, and givethe most.

Stanley’s involvement with The Journal came toward the endof a long life of achievement and giving. But he showed great, youthfulenthusiasm for this paper. He shared a vision of a newspaper that could serveas a kind of hub for an increasingly diverse and far-flung community. Hesupported decisions that greatly increased The Journal’s size and distribution.He supported editorial content that was tough, fair and compassionate.

We at The Jewish Journal mourn his loss, and extend our deepestcondolences to his family. 

Man With a Plan


Students from Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life gathered one night during the recent General Assembly of the Jewish federation system and confronted Richard Joel.

The students peppered Joel, Hillel’s president and international director, with criticism that events during the United Jewish Communities’ annual gathering had condescended to them.

Joel — who had delivered speeches, participated in panels and spent days working the summit halls — listened intently. He expressed sympathy for the students and asked them how they would have done things differently.

For Neil Moss, the chairman of Hillel’s board of directors and a longtime colleague, Joel’s reaction was “warm and engaging” — typical for a corporate chief who also plays accordion, dances and sings into the wee hours at summer Hillel retreats.

“Sometimes I joke with him that he’s an overgrown camp counselor,” Moss said. “He’s the guy who loses his voice.”

Joel’s voice now will resonate in a much wider arena as the president of Yeshiva University (YU).

Joel is expected to stay with Hillel through the spring of 2003, at which time he will take up his post at Yeshiva University. Hillel has assembled a search committee of 12 members, representing its philanthropists, national and regional staff and student activists.

No short list of prospects is yet in the offing, and it could take from one to sixth months to find a new president.

Joel’s election capped a controversial two-year search that reflected the debate over whether to allow someone other than a Torah scholar to head the world’s largest Orthodox university.

“I think he’ll take an excellent institution and take it to all kinds of places we haven’t dreamed about,” said Barry Shrage, president of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston.

Shrage, who also is a member of the modern Orthodox movement, predicts Joel is “going to continue to develop a vision for modern Orthodoxy that can be communicated within the community and outside of it.”

But others aren’t as pleased, because Joel is neither a rabbi or an academic.

“The choice of Richard Joel for the presidency of Yeshiva University raises a question on leadership of the institutions of Judaism in the USA: what credentials are required?” Jacob Neusner, Research Professor of Religion and Theology at Bard College wrote in a letter. “The trustees of Yeshiva University have repudiated the twin-ideals that Yeshiva University was founded to embody: both Torah and secular learning (Torah umada). Mr. Joel has neither.”

For his part, Joel insisted he’s setting his sights strictly on the world of YU, where he once was dean of the Cardozo School of Law. He has a daughter at the school’s Stern College for women and a son at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS).

“With real humility, I’ve accepted the presidency of YU. No one has offered me the leadership of the Orthodox world,” he said.

Many who have worked with Joel said they’re confident he’ll succeed. In part, they point to Joel’s professional skills and his 14-year track record at Hillel: He took an organization of campus religious chapters loosely tied to B’nai B’rith and on the brink of financial collapse, and transformed it into a high-profile, well-funded, corporate-style entity, they said.

“He took an organization that was considered dorky and turned it around into a place kids want to be,” said Lynn Schusterman, president of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation, which has donated a good portion of Hillel’s $46 million annual budget.

Many involved in Hillel said Joel fueled the turnaround with his sheer magnetism. Schusterman calls Joel a “pied piper,” while many cite his “charisma” in the near-reverent tones groupies reserve for rock stars.

“He has a vision for Jewish life that is very deep and compelling and profound,” said Rabbi Jim Diamond, director of the Center for Jewish Life at Princeton University and of the Princeton Hillel.

“He is the total package. He has extraordinary ability in all areas — vision, speaking, people skills, management skills, creativity,” added Jay Rubin, Hillel’s executive vice president.

Joel’s rhetorical abilities are well-known. Nathan Diament, director of the Orthodox Union’s Institute for Public Affairs, said Joel “realizes the power of language in conveying ideas, in motivating people and institutions.”

It was Joel who created the two key catch-phrases at the core of Hillel: “Jewish renaissance” and the motto, “maximize the number of Jews doing Jewish.”

Still, some say the key is Joel’s ability to marry lofty words to real strategies.

“It’s not a JFK-style charisma, it’s something deeper,” Shrage said. “What he has is a real vision that he can articulate and bring to life. People know he’s for real.”

Joel is also a workhorse, many said. Seth Goldstein, now a New York University law school student, earned an Edgar Bronfman scholarship while he was a Hillel member at Cornell University, which enabled him to work as an aide to Joel for a year.

“He’s nonstop; he never said no,” recalled Goldstein, 24. “His days start at 6:30 a.m. and go to 2:30 a.m. I would leave him at 1:15 a.m. and he’d still be going.”

Joel also served as chairman of an Orthodox Union (OU) commission that investigated sexual harassment in the case of Rabbi Baruch Lanner. In December 2000 the panel released part of a scathing 332-page report blaming OU leaders for ignoring reports of Lanner’s abuse and urging major organizational reforms

At Hillel, Joel applied the kind of power-sharing leadership techniques that management gurus advocate. Colleagues speak of having “autonomy” and being allowed to “take ownership” of their work.

But he also set the bar high.

“One of Richard’s hallmarks was to say, ‘We’ve done this — now what?'” Rubin said. “He strives for excellence.”

“Now what?” is a good question.

The search for a new YU head was so fraught with tension that it was only in the two days preceding the Dec. 5 vote that the boards of trustees for the university and RIETS appeared ready to back Joel.

Even then, it came only after Joel met with the trustees at length, face to face.

In the end, YU officials arrived at an arrangement that some called surprising: Joel was named president of YU and chief executive officer of RIETS, while YU’s outgoing president Rabbi Norman Lamm, a highly regarded Torah scholar, will become rosh yeshiva of RIETS and university chancellor.

Yeshiva, a top-ranked university with five locations in New York — including RIETS, medical and law schools, affiliated health-care centers and high schools — has become a “variegated” entity, according to Julius Berman, president of the RIETS board and a former president of Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s board of directors.

In light of its “complex” character, Berman said, Yeshiva “requires that much more leadership.”

The institution will remain committed to the motto “Torah U’madda” — Torah and science — indicating a synthesis of Jewish and general studies, Berman said.

Joel also has vowed to encourage “a more integral relationship” between different segments of the university, Berman added.

For example, Joel might invite Lamm or other Torah scholars to lecture at the medical school on cloning and Jewish law, Berman said, or ask a medical school professor to speak at the college.

Exactly how Yeshiva’s new power structure will develop remains to be seen. Berman and others, including Joel himself, said the exact parameters of the roles Joel and Lamm will play still need be defined.

But those who know Joel said he embodies what Yeshiva is about, and is deeply committed to the university’s success.

A former New York assistant district attorney, Joel remains devoted to his wife and six children, reportedly never missing a Shabbat with them.

He also helped found a modern Orthodox congregation, Kemp Mill Synagogue, in his home city of Silver Spring, Md., that today includes 250 families.

Diamond said Joel will “do great things” for Yeshiva, though even his friend is “not the Moshiach.”

No one is perfect. He moves very fast, he has a clear idea of what he wants and doesn’t want, and he can be very tough,” Diamond said. “But I think that’s going to help him at Yeshiva. To be a university president, you have to be tough.”

Can Bob Hertzberg Save L.A.?


On a drizzly morning, with the city just opening its eyes, Bob Hertzberg is sitting at Solley’s Delicatessen in Sherman Oaks. Even before having his coffee, he seems animated, even agitated, by his great new project: how to save Los Angeles.

To Hertzberg, speaker emeritus of the state Assembly, saving Los Angeles is not what the new civic patriots opposing Valley secession will be telling us over the next months. It’s not about maintaining a dysfunctional system at all costs — one whose greatest beneficiaries are city bureaucrats, well-connected developers and a political class whose living depends on keeping things just the way they are. It’s not about how, if the Valley secedes, those of us who live there will no longer be able to identify with the Lakers or the Dodgers, enjoy the Hollywood Bowl or have dim sum in Chinatown.

Hertzberg’s vision goes to the heart of politics, to where people live and how they interact with government. As I worked with him on his borough plan, I could see he was looking not only for a "political fix" to a problem, but also a way to re-energize a failing political culture. By dividing the city into nine smaller boroughs, each with considerable powers of self-government, he is trying to bring accountability and accessibility to a city regime that long ago forgot about average citizens, most particularly in the middle-class warrens of the San Fernando Valley.

This is not what the current string-pullers and current Mayor James Hahn, want to see. They like the status quo, it provides for expensive council races — manna for consultants, unions and big developer donors — in huge districts that often have about as much coherence as a George Bush (pick either one) monologue. To preserve the municipal monstrosity, they are willing to use any kind of tactic — from race-mongering to suggesting the lights will go out — to "save" the city that they feed upon.

This is what most weighs on the mind of Hertzberg.

"What is the point of stopping secession by scaring people to death?" Hertzberg asks over his salami and eggs. "It’s good for the campaign consultants, but it is going to leave a city divided. It will be like World War II."

Hertzberg spells out his disaster scenario: Hahn, backed by unions and the insider culture, uses his vastly superior resources to get out a message that secession is, as the mayor says, "a harebrained scheme" that will raise taxes, hurt the poor and create a whole new layer of politicians. The fact that other cities have such systems — such as New York — will be used to raise the specter of "Eastern" corrupt politics.

In Hertzberg’s worst-case scenario, the Valley’s now overwhelming support for secession erodes, but it still passes by 55 percent or more. But the rest of the city — scared that its cash cow is about to wander off the ranch — forces the recalcitrant Valley to stay. A new mayor and council elected by the Valley become, in essence, what Hertzberg calls " a government in exile." Hahn and his consultants get their win, but at a terrible price.

"Secession may not win, but it won’t go away," explains David Abel, a key Hertzberg adviser, civic activist and publisher. "What the Hahn people don’t understand is there’s a city that’s hurting. On what graveyard do they hope to build the new L.A.? Yet, that’s what we face unless Bob saves the day."

Hertzberg’s emergence as the erstwhile architect of Los Angeles’ salvation reflects his unique upbringing, and his decidedly secular, but very much Jewish, roots. His father, Harrison, was the son of rag dealers who fled the pogroms at the turn of the last century. He trained as an engineer at the University of Wisconsin, served in the military and then went to law school at Harvard.

This scholarly bent — accompanied by left-wing politics — shaped Hertzberg. The Constitution, he notes, was, in some sense, "the family business." Religious Judaism was not part of the picture. Hertzberg, for example, was not bar mitzvahed, even though he was raised in "a Jewish culture."

Yet as he grew into a man, went to school at Redlands and then gained a law degree at Hastings, Hertzberg’s latent Jewishness seemed to emerge. Today, his two sons from his previous marriage are at Stephen S. Wise Temple. He now counts Abraham Joshua Heschel, along with his father and the great constitutionalists, as major influences.

"I think in terms of structures that can work," Hertzberg suggests. "My view of the world is it’s good to make things that help people. I want to make an alternative that brings people closer to government and feel more in control of things. To bring back a sense of place."

This highly practical view, however, also masks a kind of messianic passion, something that makes him push proposals, like boroughs, that seem unlikely to make it through the usual political process. Journalists describe the bear-hugging pol as "hyperactive," but Hertzberg is more self-deprecating. "I’m kind of a nut," he says, with a kind of perverse pride. "That’s who I am."

Yet Hertzberg also is very much a postmodern Angeleno, who understands that coping with the diversity of the city is part of making the place work. He cut his teeth politically not in the Berman-Waxman machine, but working for the United Farm Workers and for Eastside firebrand Gloria Molina. His second wife, Cynthia Telles, is a Mexican American who teaches at the UCLA School of Medicine. Her son, also from a previous marriage, is being raised Catholic.

He is also a good politician, in the sense of getting other politicians to back him. His personal talents helped him become speaker in 2000. He worked assiduously to craft legislation. Some complain, however, that Hertzberg was less than effective as a speaker; certainly in term-limits time, no one has come close to the legislative power of the late Jesse Unruh or Willie Brown. But Hertzberg used the system well, and to the benefit of the Valley constituents who elected him — something that few Valley councilmen have done in recent years.

Compromise, he reminds me over and over, is what politics is about; something you need as a legislator and even more as speaker. Weighing the interests of various groups and individuals, like the Constitution does on a broader scale, the boroughs proposal reflects that notion completely. It allows for even small sections of the city — borough districts would be as small as 80,000 — to express themselves and elect genuine, part-time "citizen politicians." Koreatown, Pico-Robertson-Fairfax, Watts, San Pedro, all the wondrous neighborhoods of this city, get a chance to elect someone from around the neighborhood.

But key issues of citywide interest, the airport, the Department of Water and Power and the like, would be controlled by a council of borough presidents. The mayor would retain his expanded powers granted by the slightly reformed new City Charter.

If Hertzberg is to be faulted, it is in coming out too late with the program. With $1 million in campaign funds in his kitty, Hertzberg could have financed a signature-gathering campaign that would have allowed him to place the measure on the ballot without council approval. Working on a short timetable, he did a brilliant job of marshaling support from academics like state Librarian Kevin Starr, New York urban expert Fred Siegel and political scientist Eric Schockman. He also rallied sympathy from the top media — from the fervently anti-secession Los Angeles Times to the pro-breakup Daily News, and even a mild endorsement from LA Weekly’s Harold Meyerson, the social democratic rabbi of the rational left in Los Angeles.

But, unfortunately, prestige and rationality don’t often count for much in politics. Hertzberg’s real struggle is against his own caste, the city’s political animals. It’s an uphill fight to convince a bunch of committed pols –the best paid city council in the nation and due for yet another raise — to change the way it, and its backers, do business. There are reasons for them to be, as the Roman author Seneca put it, "resolute in their madness."

Hertzberg knows that the reasons to kill boroughs, from the perverse values of petty politics, are understandable. Alex Padilla, the council president from the Northeast Valley, does not want to abandon a system that serves his political controllers, even if it does precious little for his hard-pressed district. Jack Weiss, who perhaps should know better, doesn’t feel the oppression of the city since his largely Westside 5th District does relatively well under the current system. In addition, the loss of the Valley would leave the posh Westside virtually the only large affluent pocket in the city. With the Valley no longer available for ransacking, the Westside may find itself more a target for downtown’s redistributionist urges.

The others, for the most part, will do as their masters — powerful developers, union bosses, political consultants — tell them. They will concoct "patriotic" reasons, or find fault in some detail of the plan, but basically it’s against their narrow interests. A better, more responsive city is not on the agenda for most of the council, anymore than it is for the small group of insiders who animate the otherwise-lifeless mayor.

For these reasons, it seems the die against boroughs seems already cast, although Hertzberg is likely to press on until the end of July, when the plan must be put on the ballot by the council. If it fails the feared scenario — the anti-secessionists "winning ugly" as he puts it — will then unfold, with the attendant tragic consequences of even greater alienation and internecine conflict.

But even under this likely scenario, Hertzberg is not likely to let go of the borough plan. Even as he takes a hiatus for two or three years from elective office, he is likely to bring the idea up again, perhaps as a grass-roots ballot initiative. As he sees it, the divided outcome of a secession vote makes even more critical the launch of another, new Valley-led effort to restructure the city.

"I am not about to give up," he says. "Ideas never die. I think this is the future whether it’s today or tomorrow."


Joel Kotkin is a senior fellow with the Davenport
Institute for Public Policy at Pepperdine University and at the Milken
Institute. He is the author of “The New Geography: How the Digital Revolution is
Reshaping the American Landscape” (Random House, $12.95) and can be reached at
joelkotkin@newgeography.com .

Everyday Judaism


Late-night giggles in a bunk bed, lazy afternoons in a cool pool, sweet summer Shabbats with friends that will last a lifetime — to Rabbi Daniel Greyber, the new executive director of Camp Ramah in California, the Jewish camp experience is a delicate balance of athletic, social and artistic adventures, all peppered with soulful Jewish traditions.

“There’s a Jewish way to play basketball, to paint, to write, to do everything in life. And camp is the perfect place to learn that Judaism can enrich everything you do,” said Greyber, a 2002 graduate of the University of Judaism’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. “Ramah is a place for campers to discover what Judaism means to them in their own everyday life.”

With this philosophy in tow, Greyber prepares to head up his first summer at the Conservative camp in the Ojai Valley. “At Ramah, our staff doesn’t supplant a fixed form of Judaism on the campers. Instead, they help each camper uncover their own personal Jewish vision,” said Greyber, who lives in West Los Angeles with his wife, Jennifer, and their two young sons, Alon and Benjamin.

Greyber first embraced his own Jewish vision while competing at the 1993 World Maccabiah Games. Ranked 33rd in the world in the 100-meter backstroke, he gold medalled in the event at the international Jewish competition. “Being in Israel, winning the gold while surrounded by so many other amazing Jewish athletes — at that moment, I felt for the first time how important my Judaism was to me,” said Greyber, who captained the Northwestern University swim team while earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in communications.

The University of Judaism (UJ), which owns Camp Ramah in California, is thrilled to welcome Greyber into his new career. “The board is delighted with the selection and unanimous in their approval” UJ President Dr. Robert Wexler said. “In Rabbi Greyber, the board found someone who could serve as a role model for both campers and staff, a deeply spiritual individual and the type of person who can connect with young people.”

Greyber envisions Ramah as a place for adults as well as youths, a place for campers of all ages to explore their own spirituality. “I see Ramah and its programs as an invaluable resource for the entire Los Angeles Conservative Jewish community,” Greyber said. “It’s an incredible summer camp, but it’s also a place for family education, for adult retreats and young adult experiences,” said Greyber, who will continue Ramah’s tradition of family camps, Israeli dance weekends and winter week. Greyber also hopes to expand the yearlong programming to include para-rabbinic training.

Greyber contributed to Camp Ramah’s expansion long before he accepted the executive director position. Inspired by his own experience at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem, Greyber proposed that Ramah establish a similar study environment in Southern California.

A former media buyer and planner with The Leo Burnet Agency, Greyber gathered grant money, recruited faculty and spearheaded fund development. While still a rabbinic student, Greyber watched his vision become a reality. Lishma (from the phrase “Torah studied for its own sake”), Ramah’s egalitarian yeshiva study summer program for young adults ages 18-25, opened in 1998. Greyber spent his past two summers at Ramah, overseeing the newly created program. For his work with Lishma, Greyber was selected as a Joshua Venture Fellow.

Greyber not only brings his rabbinic knowledge, Lishma experience and athletic prowess to Ramah, but a true, deep-rooted belief in the camping experience itself. “If Shabbat is a respite from the chaos of the week, then Camp Ramah is a respite from the craziness of life. Both provide time to spend with family and friends, to study Torah, to celebrate soulful Judaism and to do this all in an environment that promotes peace and contentment,” Greyber said.

For more information on Camp Ramah in California, call
(310) 476-8571 or visit

Why is This Seder Different From All Other Seders?


Every seder presents its own challenges, whether it’s in deciding which haggadah to use or how much wine to add to the haroset. But for families of people with special needs, the usual frenetic Passover planning can go into overdrive as they search for ways to make the seder meaningful for all their loved ones.

Fortunately there are a number of Jewish resources that can help. The New York-based Jewish Braille Institute, for instance, provides haggadot in Braille, large print or audiocassette versions for the blind and visually impaired. The institute carries nearly every haggadah imaginable, from the “Women’s Haggadah” to the heavily traditional “Birnbaum” edition and even the standard “Maxwell House” version.

Israel Taub, associate director of the institute, said the aim is to keep people who lose their vision involved with their family’s holiday celebration.

“Say Grandpa has led the seder for many years, but now, even with special glasses, cannot see well enough to read the haggadah,” Taub said. “He is then forced to sit on the sidelines, trying to remember what comes next. He no longer feels like the patriarch of the family. Along comes JBI and the first thing we want to do is get Grandpa back at the head of the table. So we send him the materials he needs to put him there.

“It’s the same with any holiday. We need to find a way of including someone with a visual impairment, rather than having them feel excluded or, which is especially true of the elderly, becoming a shut-in,” Taub said.

The materials are free (even the postage is paid for by the U.S. Postal Service), although a certification of visual impairment, usually in the form of a doctor’s note, is required. The organization also loans audio books to people with dyslexia and other learning disabilities. For more information, call (800) 433-1531 or visit the JBI website at www.jewishbraille.org.

Relatives of the deaf and hearing impaired face the opposite challenge: How to make the seder visually stimulating in the absence of sound. Jan Seeley, administrator of Temple Beth Solomon of the Deaf, said her congregation uses props like frog puppets during the reading of the plagues to keep people, especially children, interested during their community seder.

“You also need to make sure the room is logistically good for signing,” she said. “Everyone should be seated so they can see the leader. It’s also nice to make sure the lighting in the room is bright enough — some of those banquet rooms at hotels can be awfully dim — and that if there are curtains or a backdrop [make sure] it is dark and the pattern is not too busy. A backdrop that is light in color doesn’t work for us because it makes a signer’s hands blend in.”

Seeley said the congregation follows a traditional service, but with a twist — like having a finger spelling contest for the song “Had Gad Ya.”

“It gives us a visual break in the service,” she said. “To watch someone sign for three hours is just exhausting.”

Like the third and fourth of the fabled Four Sons, autistic, developmentally delayed or learning disabled children have a tough time grasping the meaning of the Passover experience. A traditional seder, with its heavy reliance on sitting still and reading from a book full of archaic and unfamiliar words, simply will not work. Instead, parents of these children, like Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, often find it easier to create their own service.

“The requirement of the Passover seder is fairly broad,” said Artson, who was recently appointed dean of the University of Judaism Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies and whose son, Jacob, has autism. “You have to mention certain things, but the core of the haggadah is in the telling of the story.”

Artson said his family follows the traditional ceremony through all the brachot until they reach the midrash about the journey out of Egypt. They then close their books and tell the story through a mixture of music and drama.

“We actually dress the kids up and they enact the story, confronting the Pharaoh and signing songs about the plague and marching to freedom. Then we go back to the table and complete the seder, which meets the halachic requirements.”

Artson, along with Ruth Lund, has compiled a booklet titled “Kid’s Songs for Passover” to help families in creating their own seder rituals. It is available free through the Board of Rabbis of Southern California at (323) 761-8600.

The rabbi said the important thing is for each family to make the seder something their children and loved ones can appreciate, each at their own level.

“Forcing children to endure an endless ritual they don’t understand is a perversion of the intent (of the seder),” Artson said. “This is our ‘kid phase’ of life, so we have a seder that is different than the one we will have ten years from now.”