November 16, 2018

The Golden Calf of Leftism

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Last week, the Nation of Islam called the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) a “racist spy agency.” “Sisters” Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour bullied Starbucks into dropping the ADL from co-leading its diversity training. Students with Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine were arrested at an Israeli Independence Day celebration in New York City for setting an Israeli flag on fire and assaulting another student. And Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut called Muslim reformer Zuhdi Jasser “anti-Muslim.”

No one on the left had anything to say about any of this. Indeed, it was just another week in the descent of the left into tribal, anti-feminist, anti-Semitic illiberalism. Or more simply: #woke.
But it was not another week entirely. At the White House Correspondents Dinner on April 28, comedian Michelle Wolf’s venom-filled monologue was so egregious that a handful of “names” from the left, including two New York Times reporters, tweeted afterward their horror and embarrassment. Wolf had crossed a line, creating a crack in the status-obsessed leftist orthodoxy.

Will it shatter from this? Doubtful. The left still hasn’t processed the fact that President Donald Trump didn’t cause the left to go off the deep end into this intolerant groupthink. Trump is a result of the left having already gone off this cliff. The most glaring example: the disallowance of any criticism of former President Barack Obama, no matter how respectfully it was voiced.

Yes, of course, the right has its own version of this. The right’s thought police won’t allow you to criticize Trump’s vulgar, dehumanizing language. It won’t allow you to say that many Americans who own guns are obsessed with them in a disturbing way. That building a wall on the United States’ southern border is not the most rational idea.

But I don’t think it’s going out on a limb here to say that the number of extremists on the right are far fewer than those on the left, that most people who still consider themselves proud members of the Democratic Party have bought into this leftist orthodoxy to some extent.

Today’s golden calf is the anti-Semitic, illiberal propaganda. 

Otherwise, how to explain the fact that Mallory and Sarsour remain unscathed — even after showing the world their bigoted, illiberal agendas? That criticizing them — as the ADL did — will just get you thrown to the ground and stomped on by every virtue signaler needing a status boost? That thousands of professors have remained silent while their universities have turned into propaganda machines, where freedom of speech is considered fascist?

The genius of classical liberalism is that it can instantaneously call the bluff of hypocrites on both the left and the right. It’s like a mirror to your political soul.

If you truly are a racist, classical liberalism will out you in a second. But it will also out you if you don’t believe in freedom of speech or if you think journalists or professors should be biased. And it will most especially out you if your compassion is merely a show for status. Maybe this is why classical liberalism is so hated by many on the left today, where protecting one’s status is far more important than standing up for liberal principles.

I have come to think of the election of Trump as an act of God, a Biblical act meant to teach all of us a lesson. Kind of like Moses throwing the Ten Commandments to the ground after descending from Mount Sinai and seeing the golden calf.

Throughout history, each and every time the left has gotten off the classical liberal path and descended into illiberal orthodoxy — communism, socialism and now, Islamist-led leftism — disaster has been the result.

You might think Trump is a disaster. And you have every right to do so. But if you haven’t yet considered the possibility that the way the left worshipped Obama — “utter only sanctimonious praise or I will publicly scream racist at you till you disappear” — led to Trump, or the way the left is now handling Trump — when they go low, we go lower — then we are still a long way from learning something from this saga.

Today’s golden calf is the anti-Semitic, illiberal propaganda — victimhood! identity politics! intersectionality! — emanating from self-proclaimed activists whose real agenda is so diabolical that only the most impetuous (Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, Sarsour) dare speak its name.

And so the question remains: Who is going to burn today’s golden calf?

Karen Lehrman Bloch is an author and cultural critic.

The Dark Secret of Sexual Assaults

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Fact No. 1: People with intellectual disabilities are sexually assaulted at a rate seven times higher than those without disabilities, according to Department of Justice data reported by NPR.

The public-radio network has been airing an eight-part series on the horrifically high number of sexual assaults perpetrated upon one of the most vulnerable segments of our population: people with intellectual disabilities. Titled “Abused and Betrayed,” the report, based on a yearlong investigation, has many disturbing facts and searing personal stories on a topic that long has been whispered about. As a parent of a young adult with developmental disabilities, listening to this series has been very difficult.

Fact No. 2: Predators target people with intellectual disabilities because they know the victims can be easily manipulated and will have difficulty testifying later. The predators typically are staff members of facilities where the victims visit or live, or they are family friends.

There was the story of Maryann, 58, who is nonverbal but uses some sign language. She has lived in a Washington state institution since she was 10. A staff worker walked into Maryann’s room late one night in 2016 and saw the night supervisor, Terry Wayne Shepard, with his pants down behind Maryann.

The police report details what that worker said: “She advised me that Shepard had the client’s legs pinned up to her chest and that he was making back and forth movements like he was having sex….” Shepard had worked at the facility for 34 years.

It was later learned that there had been numerous previous allegations of sexual assault by Shepard. When investigators visited the facility, another female resident, 66, said he had hit her in the head and touched her breasts and genitals. Shepard is now in jail, awaiting trial.

Fact No. 3: Even when sexual assault victims who have disabilities speak up,  these crimes go mostly unrecognized, unprosecuted and unpunished.

There’s the story of Pauline, 46, who was living with her paid caregiver and her extended family when, in February 2016, she was raped in the basement of the caregiver’s home by two boys, ages 12 and 13, who were part of that extended family.

One boy was a foster child of the paid caregiver while the other was the caregiver’s adopted son.

Predators target people with intellectual disabilities because they know the victims can be easily manipulated.

The two boys confessed to police that they had raped Pauline. But the foster mother who reported the rapes to police later pressured Pauline to change her story to say that the acts were consensual. Eventually, the two juveniles were found guilty and sent to a state treatment center. The foster mother was tried on separate charges of giving false information to police with the intent to try to implicate someone.

The outcome of Pauline’s case was not typical. Predatory sexual assault cases rarely reach a courtroom or end in a conviction. Police have trouble investigating the crimes, and prosecutors don’t often take these cases into court, knowing their odds of winning are slim.

Many victims have trouble communicating and recalling details of the crime.

Fear of sexual assault weighs heavily on parents’ minds, which is why  many prefer to keep their adult child with intellectual disabilities at home, even when there are government-paid, licensed options available.

As hard as it can be to learn about the abuse of people with intellectual disabilities, the only way to reduce this crime is to take it out of the shadows and put it into the bright light of public knowledge and awareness.

The entire series is available at npr.org/series/575502633/abused-and-betrayed.


Michelle K. Wolf is a special needs parent activist and nonprofit professional. She is the founding executive director of the Jewish Los Angeles Special Needs Trust.

The Beauty of Yes

Photo from Max Pixel.

When you have a child with significant disabilities, you get used to hearing “no.”

From nationally recognized speech therapists who say, “Sorry, my cutting-edge techniques won’t work for your son,” after you have schlepped the family halfway across the country to work with them, to Jewish educators who will open their classrooms to some “higher-functioning” students with special needs but not to those who need one-to-one assistance. Not to mention navigating the world of special education in the public school system in which you need to become an expert on the governing federal laws in order to get the services to which your child is entitled.

Such was the case with Birthright. Although I have worked on and off as a Jewish community professional for many years, I never imagined that our son, Danny, now 23, would be able to go on Birthright — the program providing free Israel trips to adults between 18 and 26 — in spite of the fact that he would be the perfect candidate in many ways.

He grew up watching kids’ musical videos in Hebrew, understands a lot of Hebrew, attends Shabbat services weekly at a Conservative synagogue and has visited Israel with our family. He loves Israeli dances and enjoys flying on planes.  He has probably watched the documentary “Hava Nagila” more than anyone else in the world, and his older sister spent a Masa-sponsored gap year in Israel, speaks Hebrew fluently and has staffed two Birthright trips.

In my former position at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, I sat in on many meetings with Birthright staff members and always enjoyed hearing all of their post-trip stories and adventures. But I couldn’t imagine a Birthright trip that would be able to accommodate Danny, who has limited mobility, not to mention a complicated medication regimen. The 10-day Birthright trips are known for their fast-paced, grueling schedules, including intensive physical activities and moving from hotel to hotel.

How could Danny ever participate in a trip like that?

Then in September, I received an email from the national Conservative-affiliated Camp Ramah Tikvah network. It was announcing the first-ever Birthright Israel: Amazing Israel-Ramah Tikvah trip for young adults ages 18-29 with disabilities. Ramah has organized previous Israel trips for Tikvah program participants and alumni, but this would be the first one being offered in collaboration with the international Birthright program, which has brought more than 600,000 young Jews to Israel since 1999.

The trip starts on Dec. 18 and will include classic Birthright Israel activities such as visiting Masada (by cable car) and Yad Vashem and spending Shabbat in Jerusalem, while also adding programming geared specifically for these participants, such as meeting Israeli soldiers with special needs.

Thanks to Elana Naftalin-Kelman, Tikvah director at Camp Ramah in California in Ojai, Danny has been an overnight summer camper there for the past nine years, always accompanied by a personal aide to help him with such everyday activities as dressing, eating and showering. Danny loves his time at camp, and we also love our “time off” from family caregiving. Last summer, Danny was able to gain vocational experience doing his favorite activity — being a DJ at the side of the pool, which also is his favorite place in camp.

I never imagined that our son, Danny, would be able to go on Birthright.

Elana helped me connect with Howard Blas, National Ramah Tikvah Network director, who is coordinating and leading the trip in partnership with Amazing Israel, the Birthright tour provider. Howard has led many trips to Israel with young adults with disabilities and fully understands the need to adjust the trip’s pace and intensity.

During our Skype call with him, Howard was very welcoming and open to the idea of having our personal aide from camp accompany Danny on this trip. He told us, “While we will all learn a lot from the explanations of our very experienced tour educator, Doron, each person will experience Israel differently. The trip takes each participant’s unique needs and learning style into consideration. We will experience Israel through all of our senses — riding a jeep in the Golan Heights, floating in the Dead Sea, planting trees, making chocolate and T-shirts, touching the Kotel and lots of singing, dancing and eating delicious Israeli foods!”

The word “yes” has never sounded so good.


Michelle K. Wolf is a special needs parent activist and nonprofit professional. She is the founding executive director of the Jewish Los Angeles Special Needs Trust. Visit her Jews and Special Needs blog at jewishjournal.com/jews_and_special_needs.

Trump budget will devastate children with disabilities

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“Trump Budget Guts Medicaid, Disability Programs” read the headline from Disability Scoop, the news service that covers children and adults with developmental disabilities, which accurately and without hyperbole summed up the full budget submitted to Congress by President Donald Trump’s administration.

In its unrealistic desire to simultaneously cut taxes for the rich, increase defense spending and make no changes or reforms of any kind to Medicare and Social Security, the Trump administration’s budget eviscerates multiple programs that help Americans with disabilities. Nowhere is that more evident than when  looking at the federal government programs that currently help low-income children younger than 18 who have developmental disabilities such as autism, cerebral palsy, intellectual disability and severe epilepsy.

Let’s take a hypothetical example — a child named Bobby, age 10, who was diagnosed with autism and an anxiety disorder at age 3. Bobby was born into a low-income household in Los Angeles and has two younger siblings. In California, he would likely qualify for assistance from the state’s Regional Centers, which provide care coordination and funding for vital services throughout a person’s lifetime. Paid largely by Medicaid waiver programs, the Regional Centers can pay for behavioral and social skills training for Bobby, as well as respite for his parents (typically the primary caregivers).

Once he entered the local public school system at age 5, Bobby would most likely be eligible for special education, which is based on each student having an Individual Education Plan that creates educational goals and outcomes, put together by a team of teachers, other professionals such as a speech therapist, and Bobby’s parents.

Although Bobby is very strong academically, he has trouble self-regulating his body, and is given to erratic mood swings, especially when his schedule changes or there is a substitute aide who accompanies him to mainstream classes. The only topic he really cares about is Disney movies, many of which he has memorized in their entirety. Because he doesn’t answer any non-Disney questions and has some strange mannerisms, the other children don’t play with him and he usually is alone at recess.

He sees a child psychologist to treat his anxiety, as well as a pediatrician, both paid by Medicaid.

Bobby’s mom is a high school graduate with health issues related to her being a breast cancer survivor, and she has never been employed at anything other than minimum-wage jobs. His dad works in construction on a gig basis, with some months good and others very bad.

The annual household income is at 110 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, so the family qualifies for Bobby to receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI). This provides a monthly cash amount of $735 that helps to pay for the family’s rent of $2,000 a month for a modest two-bedroom apartment.

How would the proposed Trump budget cuts impact Bobby and his family? Because of Medicaid cuts, Bobby probably would see a reduction in his social skills therapy paid by the Regional Centers, and if his psychologist won’t accept reduced payments, then Bobby will no longer have access to mental health services.

SSI and Social Security Disability Insurance are slated for 10 percent cuts in the Trump budget, so that means less money for monthly rent. And the family already has been told that its rent is due to go up by another $50 a month. If Dad can’t get more construction work, it will be that much harder to make ends meet.

With the proposed special education cuts, Bobby could lose his one-to-one aide and be told that he should get by using “natural supports,” meaning same-age peers (this happened to my family).

Meanwhile, President Trump’s youngest son, Barron, age 11, is set to attend private St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Maryland in the fall. St. Andrew’s is a coeducational college preparatory school founded in 1978 and carries a hefty annual tuition of $40,000.

Its website says that its programs “are designed to serve students of varied interests and abilities capable of achievement in a challenging academic environment.” According to the Washington Post, “St. Andrew’s is known for its small classes, pioneering use of brain-based research to help students of all abilities to succeed and for providing extra support for students who need it.” In short, this is the perfect school environment for someone who is academically strong but may need help in other areas.

But not everyone can afford to send their child to a school with the very best programs and services that would meet the needs of children on the spectrum. The larger question is whether it is moral for the president to deny that to Americans like Bobby. 


Michelle K. Wolf is a special needs parent activist and nonprofit professional. She is the founding executive director of the Jewish Los Angeles Special Needs Trust. Visit her Jews and Special Needs blog at jewishjournal.com/jews_and_special_needs.

Letters to the editor: Criticism and love for columnists, response to GOP health care bill

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Dennis Prager Misses Mark With Crime Wave Premise

Congratulations to Dennis Prager. His splenetic “No Wave” column exceeded his usual repugnant level of see-through propaganda (“There Is No Wave of Trump-Induced Crime in America,” March 10). This inexplicable Nazi/white power apologia reached all the way to outright sick-making (especially appearing in a Jewish publication).  

Bonus points for tacking on, at the thrilling conclusion of this slop, blithe lecture-y dismissals of the effects of climate change, AIDS, rape and racism among police, too (efficient!). Love how you brought a little Kellyanne into our Jewish world — fun!  

Grrrr.  

Steve Heller via email

Columnists Stir Strong Feelings Among Readers

Dennis Prager and David Suissa appeared to be an oasis of credible journalism and well-thought-out commentary in the March 10 edition. It wasn’t a Purim joke; it was rational, credible journalism. In particular, Dennis Prager clearly showed that there is no wave of Trump-induced crime in America. David Suissa exposed the so-called Women’s March as a political movement with a bias toward the liberal left (“Why I’m Protesting the Protests of March 8,” March 10). The Women’s March completely ignored the real persecution of women, such as in some countries that persecute women under Muslim law.

Rob Eshman should, by now, get the message that his bias toward the liberal left has created a disconnect with the Los Angeles area Jewish community. He should take a lesson from and try to emulate Dennis Prager and David Suissa.

Marshall Lerner, Beverly Hills

Thank you, David Suissa. Your take on recognizing Trump as a bullshitter (“Is Trump Worse Than a Liar?” Feb. 24) and on handling acts of Jew-hatred in America from a position of strength (“Fight Jew-Haters but Don’t Promote Them,” March 3), I found right on the mark.

And I especially want to thank Gina Nahai for her firsthand illuminating account of life under the shah (“The Nature of Rubbish,” March 3). I gained tremendous understanding and compassion for what her family and other Persians went through. We Americans need to understand and appreciate how people cope with and survive totalitarian regimes, including “fake news.”

Sharon Alexander, Torrance

GOP Caught in Health Care Trap

Michelle Wolf wrote that the proposed Republican health plan will drastically cut Medicaid benefits from the most needy and vulnerable Americans (many of whom voted for Trump) (“The Cruelest Cuts of All,” March 10).

That is only part of the story. Many, but not all Republicans would like to repeal Obamacare altogether and do away with all government assistance to the medically needy. They got elected on the promise to abolish Obamacare.

However, when it comes to reality, there is a conundrum: Many Republicans campaigned on the shortcomings of Obamacare that, indeed, over promised. They not only promised repeal, but a substitution program which would retain all the popular provisions of Obamacare and add more benefits but cost less.

Now they are caught in the trap of over promise. The actual proposed plan (Trumpcare) would indeed cost less, but would drastically cut benefits, leaving about half of the approximately 20 million newly insured without insurance and most of the rest paying more for less. There is no magic. You usually don’t get more for less. If there is a lesson to be learned from what happened to the Democrats, the Republicans have not learned it.

Or maybe they just painted themselves into a corner. Consider turning over a new leaf: Medicare for everyone.      

Michael Telerant, Los Angeles

Watch Your Language, School Board Candidate

Thank you very much for your coverage of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board candidates, including Nicholas Melvoin (“Melvoin: ‘New Blood, New Ideas’ and Charter Schools,” March 3). If I were Harvard, I’d ask Mr. Melvoin to return his English diploma: “Me and Steve could be brothers.” This from someone who is seeking a seat on the Board of Education? Why would anyone support a candidate who cannot construct a simple declarative sentence correctly?

Mine will be one less vote for Mr. Melvoin.

Beryl Arbit via email

Finding their place [VIDEO]

Lauren Levine is settling in with a group of friends apartment to watch “American Idol,” when a look of panic comes over her face. She rummages around, finds her keys and darts out.

“I left the hair thing on,” she says when she returns, breathless, from her own apartment downstairs. “I was straightening Jasmine’s hair before we came up here, and I forgot to turn it off. Wow. That was close.”

Levine has wide blue eyes accentuated with sparkly eye shadow, and her voice is spiced with a sense of interested wonder. She wants to be a cosmetologist — she’s taken some classes — but for now she is just happy to be living on her own, and working the front desk at a gym in Century City.

Levine’s developmental delays are less obvious than those of her roommate, Jasmine Banayan, who has Down syndrome. Banayan is gregarious and warm and asserts herself as something of a leader among the dozen or so friends who live in a cluster of apartments in Westwood.

The group gets together every night to hang out at one or another of their homes, or to go out to dinner, and, on Friday nights, the five Jewish members of the group are regulars at Shabbat dinner and services at nearby UCLA Hillel.

All are participants in a parent-led experiment in independent living for adults with developmental or cognitive disabilities.

Today’s 20-somethings with disabilities have grown up at the vanguard of a successful mainstreaming model, and they and their parents now are determined to continue to break the mold, to live adult lives with high expectations, in keeping with the ideal that not only is there a place for them within mainstream society, but that they can contribute in meaningful and enriching ways.

While the impetus for change exists, needed funds won’t necessarily follow. Government budget cuts are endangering existing programs, and start-up costs for new programs can be prohibitive.

Story continues after the video.