Quantcast

Jewish Journal

JewishJournal.com

June 11, 1998

Community

An 11-year-old boy creates a loving depiction of his autistic brother's life

http://www.jewishjournal.com/articles/item/community_19980612

Mori's World

An 11-year-old boy creates a loving depiction of his autistic brother's life

By Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson

Diagnosis: Compassion

Through a unique program, UCLA Medical School students donate their time and care to disabled or ill children

By Wendy Madnick, Valley Editor

Lobbying 101

Federation activists from Los Angeles and the Valley spend a day in Sacramento

By Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

L.A. 5758

B'nai David-Judea's Renaissance

Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky's bold innovations have brought the Pico-Robertson shul community-wide attention and new members

By Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Religion Editor

Community Briefs

The screaming, crying, and loss of emotional control is excruc-iating.

Mori's World

An 11-year-old boy creates a loving depiction of his autistic brother's life

By Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson

"Mori's Story: A Book About a Boy with Autism" by Zachary Gartenberg with photographs by Jerry Gay

Lerner Publications Company

"This is a story about my brother, Moriel. Moriel has autism. My parents gave him a Hebrew name which means 'God is my teacher.' I think they just thought the name was beautiful, but its meaning came true in a way they didn't expect. Moriel teaches others that people with disabilities, such as autism, can accomplish many things. I think God wants us to understand that there are different kinds of people, and nobody's perfect. Anyway, we call my brother Mori for short."

So begins one of the most profound and compelling books I have ever read. This loving depiction of Mori's life, written by his wise (and 11-year-old) brother, Zach, will open up a world that few people know about, much less seek to enter. What makes this fine book particularly compelling is that Zach has no ax to grind, no political battles to fight. Poised at the brink of his bar mitzvah, he has the acumen and insight of an adult, but he retains a child's faith and honesty. There is no better voice to articulate the world of an autistic child.

Mori, Zach, and their sister, Fay, are the children of Rabbi Dov and Celia Gartenberg. Once of Los Angeles, the family now lives in Seattle, although Rabbi Gartenberg continues to participate in Camp Ramah's family camp each August.

The Gartenberg family, formerly of Los Angeles and now of Seattle, in a photograph from "Mori's Story."

This book brings us into their family and into their home, as they work to provide a full and rich life for all of their children. Zach's writing is a wonderful sign that they are succeeding.

But "Mori's Story" is not saccharin or false. Without editorializing, Zach lets us in on the heart-rending struggles involved in raising a special-needs child. Zach writes: "Mori has to take special medicine so he can stay calm. When he doesn't have his medicine, he has screaming fits and might bang his head on the floor. He also goes around wrecking things in the house throwing food, spilling toys, pulling down curtains. He especially likes to take apart mattresses and stuffed toys. You can imagine that this behavior is hard to live with, and it can get expensive."

Any parent can imagine the torment of watching a child recede behind a disability that commonly shows no signs until the child is about 2 years old. The screaming, crying, and loss of emotional control is excruciating. I know because I, too, have an autistic son, Jacob. We used Zach's book to read to our 5-year-old daughter, Shira, to help her understand (and give words) to her brother's challenge. She was deeply moved by the book, wanting to read it several nights in a row.

When she got to the part of the book where the Gartenbergs were planning a year's sabbatical in Israel, and they decided that they would have to leave Mori in a group home for children with disabilities, Shira burst out in tears. Her sorrow at the possibility of autism separating our family is precisely what all relatives of special needs children endure. Now, through Zach's wise words, we have someone who has told Mori's story, and our own.

But I don't want to leave you with a sense that Mori's life (and Zach's) is one of relentless struggle to contain tragedy. To the contrary, what is wonderful about this book is that Zach sees his brother, not just his brother's illness. And Zach loves his brother as a friend and companion.

So many well-meaning people offer sighs and sympathy, allowing the illness to obscure the wonderful person who lives with it. Zach's book makes no room for such misguided sentimentality. He writes about their lives together, and all the family adventures they have together. And special mention must be made of the superb photographs of Jerry Gay, who has truly captured on film the joy and the caring in the Gartenberg family.

This is, above all, a book about two brothers and their family. Autism may set the context for their own unique adjustments, but it does not set the tone for their love. Human beings have a God-given capacity to rise above their struggles, to define themselves despite their limitations. Mori's story is just such a triumph. Let Zach have the last word:

"Some people think that people with disabilities are not smart, but my brother is smart. He remembers everything you teach him. He's always eager to learn and then to go out and play. I really love him."

Everyone is Someone's Jacob: What I've Learned From My Autistic Son

When I first found out that my own son Jacob was autistic, I had fantasies of him dying.

I imagined being rid of him, of starting over. I couldn't face the fear and the pain of not knowing whether he would ever come out of his shell. I didn't know if I would hear him speak to me. I didn't know what his future would be.

I feared that he would have to endure a lonely old age in which nothing would make sense, his mother and father would no longer be there for him, no one would appreciate or love him. That nightmare terrifies me still. And so in those first horrible months, I would toy with the idea of his death.

This happened four years ago, after my wife and I endured a difficult pregnancy. She was bedridden from 26 weeks and ultimately required an emergency Caesarian section that delivered our children six weeks premature.

Shira and Jacob were beautiful babies, and they developed beautifully. Then, somehow, in the second year, something changed and our Jacob stopped growing. Our little boy who had been developing just like his sister stopped. Shira continued to surge: mastering new challenges and delighting in her new abilities.

Jacob was still Jacob, but somehow he was pulling away, somehow sliding into some other world, behind some wall that we couldn't penetrate. Our Jacob, who had been so vivacious and so enthusiastic, would play by himself for hours, compulsively repeating meaningless motions, endlessly plucking leaves or throwing pebbles, one after another.

His behavior wasn't the only source of distance between us. Jacob's words never came out. He wouldn't talk. We took Jacob to a specialist for diagnosis. After a futile effort to get Jacob to engage in the diagnostic test, the doctor kept referring to autism. I felt as though the entire universe had caved in.

Since that time, our life has become a battleground.Our home is ground zero in our private war against autism. We are fighting for a beautiful boy who's locked somehow inside himself, who needs to learn how to emerge. Every day is a struggle.The things that other parents don't have to worry about, we worry about.

This article is not meant to be just another anguished parent venting in public. I'm sharing this, my pain, because of all of us carry pain and all of us bear disappointments. I want to share with you what my Jacob has taught me about life because what he has taught me is precious and applies to us all.

Jacob has forced me to reassess what is really important in the world, what it is that really matters in our loved ones. Those daydreams I had about Jacob's death made me realize that the only possibility more terrifying than living with Jacob and his illness is the thought of living without him. His sweetness lights up my soul. When he looks at the Torah and smiles and says "Bye-bye Torah" at the end of the Torah service, something inside me glows.

With all of my fear of the future, with all of the suffering and uncertainty his autism entails, Jacob is a blessing as he is. Jacob has taught me that what really matters isn't the IQ, although it's nice. It isn't accomplishments, although those are also beautiful.

But what's really the core, what we can't give up, what is the essence, is soul. What is the essence is sweetness and goodness and loving and caring. Our worth is not what we do; it is that we are. Every child is a blessing as they are.

I can see in my son a beautiful soul, a zisen neshomeh trying to express itself, and I see his sickness trying to shut him in. I see Jacob beating against the limits of his autism, struggling to emerge. I know my Jacob from the inside out, and I know that my Jacob is not his illness. But I also see people shying away from Jacob, confusing his illness for him and not seeing the beautiful boy but seeing instead a label, autism. Jacob isn't autism and Jacob isn't autistic. Jacob is Jacob. And he is like every other child, precious, and sweet, and beautiful if you can learn to address him in a way that he can respond to.

It takes effort. It takes starting with Jacob's illness and working toward Jacob's soul, so that his label is a tool, not an obstruction.

But if my son has taught me anything, it is that everybody is somebody's Jacob.

And every Jacob has parents who, like me, pray that someone out there will be able to see their "Jacob" with love and with compassion. That some kind soul will look beyond the label and will care for their child with kindness, with warmth and with understanding.

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson serves Congregation Eilat in Mission Viejo. On July 1, he assumes the post of executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California in Los Angeles.

 

Above, CORE volunteer and recent UCLA Medical School graduate Gina Johnson bonded with 9-year-old Tyler, improving his grades and disposition and helping Johnson step outside the insular world of medicine. Photo by Peter Halmagyi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more information on CORE

and

Family Friends,

call

Jewish Family Service

at

(818) 761-3447

or

(310) 825-9647

Diagnosis: Compassion

Through a unique program, UCLA Medical School students donate their time and care to disabled or ill children

By Wendy Madnick, Valley Editor

In an era when health care is managed by nameless, faceless bureaucracies and the family doctor exists only in memory, one medical institution is striving to inject a shot of humanity.

UCLA Medical School, in collaboration with Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, is giving its students a unique opportunity to learn about what life is like for a child with a disability and his or her family. The Children's Outreach and Relief Effort (CORE) program matches first- and second-year medical students with disabled or ill children (often those being treated at UCLA) or, depending on a family's needs, with siblings.

The program not only provides the benefit of a "helping hand" to the family, but the medical students earn elective credit for their participation. Many students continue to participate even after they no longer receive credits, according to Shelley Fine, Project Social Worker for JFS/Valley Storefront.

"The main goal [of CORE] is to help the students understand the dynamics of how illness affects the whole family," said Fine. "Here they are, receiving excellent medical training at UCLA, but they're not always getting the human-interest side of it -- how siblings often feel neglected and start acting out, or how a child's illness puts a strain on a marriage. The main benefit is that the student doctors get to see a child as they are, instead of this walking diagnosis."

For medical students, CORE presents a chance to step outside the insular world of medicine. For the parents of the "matched" children, CORE is simply a blessing.

Pat Gutierrez, 33, lives in Panorama City with her 9-year-old son, Tyler. Her older son, Ryan, 14, who has muscular dystrophy, lives in a group facility with other disabled children but comes home twice a month. Between her full-time job and caring for Ryan on alternate weekends, Gutierrez found she had less and less time for Tyler -- and his behavior at home and school was deteriorating.

Then Gina Johnson, a CORE volunteer, entered their lives. Johnson and Tyler bond over McDonald's hamburgers, rollerblading outings and get-togethers with her family, who treat him like a long-lost cousin. Tyler also regularly accompanies Johnson to the Panorama Baptist Church. His mom said his grades and disposition have improved significantly.

"Being involved with [CORE] has made such a difference for me," said Gutierrez. "It means Tyler has religion in his life, and this extended family because of Gina. It gives me more time to be alone with Ryan when he comes home."

For Tyler, whose young life has been spent in the shadow of his brother's debilitating illness, life no longer seems so hard.

"Before I met Gina and started going to church, I wouldn't listen. I was angry because I didn't get to see my mom a lot," he said. "But now I like learning math in school and reading 'Goosebumps' books, and doing stuff with Gina."

It is apparent, watching Tyler with his new friend, that the feeling is mutual. Johnson, 24, graduated from UCLA Medical School on June 5. Her experiences with CORE contributed to her seeking a residency at Children's Hospital in Oakland.

"I'm going into pediatrics, where it's likely I'm going to see children like Ryan and Tyler, so this will definitely help me in my practice, treating chronic illnesses," she said. "I also think everything that helps me grow as a person will help me grow as a doctor."

In addition to providing experience and elective credits for students, CORE serves to educate the parents about medical personnel.

"They get to see these doctors sitting down and playing with their children, and it makes the medical people seem more human," said Fine.

CORE is modeled after Family Friends, a program devised by the National Council on Aging that has helped seniors become more involved with their community. Through a grant by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Family Friends now has 40 chapters across the United States, including the one run by JFS in Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley.

This past school year, there were 25 med students enrolled in CORE, and 54 seniors and others involved in Family Friends. All volunteers are required to take a special training course provided by the JFS before being matched with a family. In addition, all volunteers for CORE and Family Friends undergo background checks, fingerprinting and health certification (to guard vulnerable children against communicable diseases). Although many of the volunteers and families involved are Jewish, this is not a requirement to participate.

Dr. Etan Milgrom, UCLA's liaison for the program and an associate professor in the department of family medicine, sees CORE as part of a trend at UCLA and other medical schools to sensitize students to patients' experiences. For example, in teaching his physical-diagnosis class, Milgrom not only has students write a work-up of the patient's ailment but has the future doctors accompany the patient on any tests that need to be performed.

"Because physicians today often find themselves with less time to be with patients, there's even more of a need for them to recognize these issues and to be compassionate," Milgrom said.

The professor said that he would like to see CORE not only at the student level but as a part of every residency program, including at UCLA Medical Center.

"During medical school is a good place to start, but it's as a resident where you really develop as a physician," Milgrom said.

 

Members of the Los Angeles contingent that met with state lawmakers on Monday.

Lobbying 101

Federation activists from Los Angeles and the Valley spend a day in Sacramento

By Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

For the two dozen Jewish Federation activists from the San Fernando Valley, Monday's mission to meet and lobby state legislators started even before they reached Sacramento.

Waiting in line to catch the 8 a.m. flight from Burbank were two influential assemblymen.

One was Wally Knox, (pictured above) already on the group's later agenda. The other, an unexpected bonus, was Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa, who greeted some pals from a previous mission to Israel and immediately scheduled an impromptu meeting for the afternoon.

An hour later, in the state capital, the Valley group, led by Scott Svonkin, linked up with an equal number of lay and professional leaders from the Los Angeles Jewish Community Relations Committee, who had enplaned at LAX, plus participants from Hadassah and the American Jewish Congress.

Also on hand were another 50 people from San Francisco, Sacramento and San Jose, gathered for the day by the statewide Jewish Public Affairs Committee (JPAC).

For newcomers and veterans of the annual mission, the long day proved to be, in roughly equal parts, a morning crash course on the workings of the legislature, an afternoon introduction to the theory and practice of citizen lobbying, and after-hours socializing with lawmakers and their staffers.

The day's ambiance, to a first-time participant, was that of an amiable two-way courtship, with the visitors politely pushing their agenda and the legislators well aware of the Jewish activism and votes in their districts.

"They know that we do not just talk the talk, but also walk the walk," said mission member David Novak, of Santa Monica.

The general mellowness was leavened by Senate Republican whip Jim Brulte, the keynote luncheon speaker. His frank appraisal of citizen lobbyist-politician interaction included such mordant observations as, "We spend as much time reading the material you give us as you spend reading political appeals at election time."

In the afternoon, the Los Angeles/Valley contingent broke up into nine four-person teams for lobbying sessions with senators and assembly members.

Four key issues, as selected by JPAC, dominated the meetings, with each issue presented by a different team member.

* Opposing the repeal of the existing license fee for cars, a politically attractive measure pushed by Gov. Wilson. JPAC is opposed because the repeal could dry up funds to cities and counties for health, mental-health and social-service programs.

* Support for the Multipurpose Senior Service Program, which would provide additional funds for the state's rapidly growing number of elderly citizens.

* Support for the Religious Freedom Protection Act, which would protect religious liberty as a civil right, such as the right of government workers or school children to observe Shabbat or wear yarmulkes.

* Support of a measure by Assemblyman Knox to force European insurance companies doing business in California to provide to a state Holocaust Insurance Registry full information on policies taken out by Holocaust victims and survivors .

In almost all cases, and with only minor reservations, lawmakers agreed with the mission's agenda, though it must be noted that few teams met up with the legislature's more conservative members.

The reason was not partisan pre-selection but the fact that team members were generally matched with representatives from their own areas.

"It so happens that most Los Angeles-area legislators are Democrats," said Adine Forman, government relations director of the Los Angeles Federation's JCRC, who organized the mission with the Valley's Barbara Creme.

Summing up, JCRC Executive Director Michael Hirschfeld cited the mission's two chief values:

"There is no better way to get to know and influence legislators than face-to-face meetings, whether they always agree with us or not," he said. "The mission is also a great way to involve Jewish leadership and volunteers in substantive projects."

Hirschfeld believes that the missions have been so effective that he, and incoming JCRC Chair Howard Welinsky, are considering up to four to five missions to Sacramento each year, and perhaps expanding the program to include Washington.


L.A. 5758

B'nai David-Judea's Renaissance

Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky's bold innovations have brought the Pico-Robertson shul community-wide attention and new members

By Julie Gruenbaum Fax, ReligionEditor

The first time a woman carried a sefer Torah through B'nai David-Judea's cavernous main sanctuary, synagogue leaders waited with bated breath for the backlash.

Nothing.

After the first meeting of the women's prayer group, Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky (above, with congregants, and below) braced himself for a major uproar.

Barely a ripple.

And so it has gone, as the 34-year-old rabbi gingerly implements innovations at B'nai David-Judea, which celebrates its 50th anniversary at a banquet this month.

In the two years since Kanefsky moved with his wife and two sons from Riverdale, N.Y., to lead the congregation on Pico Boulevard, west of Robertson Boulevard, about 60 young families and singles have joined the now-250-family synagogue -- an almost unheard-of membership boost.

Scores of people -- from the right and the left, the newly observant and those born into the traditional fold, accomplished screenwriters and struggling graduate students -- spend Shabbat morning in the main sanctuary, a former theater with a vaulted ceiling, gold trim and red carpet. The vast hall becomes surprisingly intimate as voices young and old join in prayer and song.

Kanefsky, who looks no older than 18, approaches Judaism with an open mind, welcoming interdenominational ties and exploring all the options halacha has to offer. It is an attitude that has often landed him in the spotlight. While his philosophy engenders suspicion among many in an Orthodox community that is generally moving to the right, it has also generated a significant following.

People are attracted to "the idea of having a community that is intellectually open, that invites women's participation, that is politically not pigeonholed and one where people take their observance seriously, with Shabbat, kashrut and taharat hamishpacha [family purity]," Kanefsky says, comfortable in his near-trademark short-sleeve, tieless shirt. "It's our niche."

One of Kanefsky's more controversial moves has been to open up women's access to prayer and Torah. Every Shabbat morning, a woman carries the velvet-cloaked scroll through the women's section. Bat mitzvahs, like their male counterparts, deliver a drash, a speech, after services. They can also celebrate at Shirat Chana, a year-old monthly prayer group for Shabbat Mincha, afternoon services, where the Torah reading is chanted from a scroll -- a first for the Los Angeles Jewish community. Services have attracted upward of 100 women from shuls across the community.

"There were people who thought the sky would fall as soon as women started carrying the sefer Torah, the sky would fall when Shirat Chana opened, and it just hasn't happened," says Kanefsky.

While Kanefsky's standing at the Orthodox Rabbinic Council of California has been jeopardized by his support for women's prayer groups, it appears that controversy will be averted, as moves toward reconciliation are under way.

Some quietly attribute the peace to Kanefsky's appeasing personal manner. In fact, only one family left the shul when Kanefsky took over. He has also created an atmosphere of mutual respect between the younger crowd and the shul's builders.

For most of its life, the shul was a traditional, mechitza-less congregation under the leadership of Rabbi Philip Schroit (pictured above). Just before he retired in 1988, Schroit installed a mechitza, as he looked toward a more vibrant future in the increasingly Orthodox neighborhood. (Schroit will be honored at the shul's 50th-anniversary banquet, at which hundreds are expected to come to pay tribute to the rabbi who left his mark on many lives across the community.)

Soon after the partition between men and women went up in the main sanctuary, the congregation lost two-thirds of its members. But a few years later, that mechitza made it possible for Rabbi Danny Landes to take leadership of the congregation; he brought with him 50 young families from Beth Jacob's Upstairs Minyan.

Landes' departure in 1995 was a blow to those members and the many more who had joined.

"When the board decided to hire Kanefsky, it was with the feeling that he would eventually revive the synagogue. He had the dynamism and ability to do that," says Robert Smith, president of the congregation. "Obviously, he succeeded."

But Kanefsky isn't so quick to admit victory.

"I'm never happy with where we are," he says. "If anything, where we are just whets our appetite to strive even higher."

Still, he admits that he is thrilled that shul has been able to affirm and reclaim the label "Modern Orthodox."

"We seek to be unashamedly and unapologetically who we are and, at the same time, earn the respect and admiration of those to our left and to our right, and we don't see this as a contradiction."

B'nai David-Judea will celebrate it's 50th anniversary, Israel's 50th birthday, and 50 years of service by Rabbi Philip Schroit, on Sunday, June 21, at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. For more information, call (310) 276-9269.

Also at B'nai David-Judea...

B'nai David-Judea finds itself on the cutting edge yet again, this time hosting a Shabbaton with Julie Stern Joseph, congregational intern at Lincoln Square Synagogue in Manhattan. Joseph made headlines this year when she became the first woman to take on a professional leadership role in an Orthodox synagogue.

On Saturday, June 13, following morning services (about noon), Joseph will address leadership opportunities for Orthodox women. Later that day, at 5 p.m., she will join Shirat Chana, the women's prayer and study group, to lead Torah study.

Saturday, June 13, 8906 W. Pico Blvd. (just west of Robertson Boulevard). For more information, call (310) 276-9269.

Friday Night Live

For young people with, at best, tired memories of main-sanctuary services, Sinai Temple is offering a second chance at shul. Under the leadership of Rabbi David Wolpe and musician Craig Taubman, Friday-night services will come to life with singing, dancing and learning. A similar service for young Jews at New York's B'nai Jeshurun attracts about 1,500 people a week. Wolpe and Taubman are hopeful that they can tap into the same yearning for warmth and dynamism in a direct religious experience. Friday Night Live will be held the second Friday of every month.

The first Friday Night Live is tonight, June 12, 7:30 p.m., at Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., in Westwood. For more information, call (310) 474-1518. -- J.G.F.

Mystical Journeys

As Californians make plans for vacations this summer, congregants at Beth Jacob of Beverly Hills are thinking about traveling inward, with four lectures on Jewish mysticism from one of Israel's experts. Rabbi Ariel Bar Tzadok of the Science of Kabbalah Institute will speak on comparative Kabbalah, prophetic meditation, healing and Israel and messianism.

Monday, June 22- Thursday, June 25, 7:30 p.m. at Beth Jacob, 9030 West Olympic Blvd. (corner of Doheny); $10 per lecture or $30 for all four; (310) 551-1901.

Community Briefs

Off the Rack

Aurora Gamboa, a fourth-grader at Franklin Elementary School in Los Angeles, was thrilled with the plastic sunglasses she received at the first annual Jewish Federation/Camp Max Straus Clothing Distribution Day last year. She is even happier to be returning to the camp for a second year.

"It was like being out in the West," she said of the camp, which is located on 112 acres in the rustic Verdugo Hills area of Glendale. She learned to horseback ride and swim and became an expert archer.

The second annual Clothing Distribution Day took place last Sunday at the Westside Jewish Community Center. About 700 children and their families showed up to receive donated clothes, which included shirts, shorts, sweat shirts, socks, hats, towels and laundry bags. A total of 1,000 youngsters will receive the clothing.

The event, co-sponsored by J.C. Penney, Lee Thomas and La Mode, was supported by the Federation's Fashion Industries Division, some of whose members passed out bundles at the three-hour event.

Jewish Big Brothers, a Federation beneficiary agency, owns and operates Camp Max Straus, a 60-year-old coed residential camp that primarily serves underprivileged children.

"Our goal is to touch these children in a way that can give them hope and aspiration to do something with their lives that is more than they could have done before," said Brian Weitman, president of Security Textile and chair of the event.

Also on hand Sunday were actors Megan Parlan and Chad Gabriel of NBC's "Hang Time." "I remember how great it felt to get free stuff when I was a kid," said Gabriel, who is a Jewish Big Brother himself.

For more information on the camp or the reunion, contact Jewish Big Brothers at (213) 761-8675. -- Ruth Stroud, Staff Writer

Camp Compassion

"Summertime, and the living is easy," goes the old Gershwin tune. But for many children with developmental disabilities, summer isn't an easy time. Other youngsters go to camp, but kids with autism, cerebral palsy, mental retardation and other disabilities usually don't have the opportunity -- at least in Los Angeles. But, now, some of them will. A new day camp for children with special needs -- which its backers claim is the West Coast's first -- is being launched by the Etta Israel Center, a Los Angeles organization that serves the educational and social needs of children with disabilities. Camp Avraham Moshe will operate from Aug. 10 to 14 for girls and from Aug. 17 to 21 for boys. Director Avi Stark hopes it will expand from there.

The camp will offer usual recreational fare, such as swimming, horseback riding, hiking and a Disneyland trip, all in a Jewish setting. Because of the need for individual attention, the ratio of counselors to campers will be about 2 or 3 to 1.

"Traditionally, kids with developmental disabilities have been excluded from regular Jewish day camps," Stark said. "[Camps] don't have any expertise or interest in providing what these kids need. We're filling the gap."

The camp is sponsored by Rabbi Hershy Ten and his wife, Blimy, as a tribute to their son, Avraham Moshe, who died last year at the age of 12 after a long illness. "Children, regardless of their abilities, should have the opportunities that all children have," said the rabbi, who is president of Jewish Healthcare Foundation-Avraham Moshe Bikur Cholim. "Unfortunately, there was no camp available for [my son]. If he'd had a camp, I'm certain, without any reservation, that it would have enhanced his life."

A total of 25 girls and 25 boys will be admitted. The camp will take place on the campus of Maimonides Academy in Los Angeles, where Etta Israel already runs a program for children with special needs.

For more information, call the Etta Israel Center at (310) 285-0909. -- R.S.

'Pillars of Memory'

Six Holocaust survivors who came to this country with little or no money and achieved success beyond their wildest dreams were honored last Monday evening by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum at a special dinner at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

Hundreds attended the moving tribute, which featured keynote speaker Abba Eban.

Max Webb, Arnold Lorber, Dr. Fred Kort, Sigi Ziering, Leslie Gonda and Nathan Shapell -- all of whom will be profiled in next week's Journal -- were recognized as "Pillars of Memory" by the museum, which raised $7 million through the event. -- Staff Report

Summer Session

For more than a decade, educators from all parts of the Jewish world have flocked to the University of Judaism for its annual Summer Institute. Some come from as far away as Israel, Australia, Russia and the British Isles to enroll in five days of intensive course work. They go home with two units of university credit, as well as a sense of having acquired new, practical knowledge that can immediately be put to use in a classroom setting.

This year's institute, which runs from June 28 to July 2, promises to be the biggest ever. The affiliated Whizin Seminar in Jewish family education -- catering to delegates from day schools, religious schools, and community agencies -- is already full to capacity. Other 25-hour courses (on such topics as prayer, Hebrew instruction and "Educating B'nai Mitzvah and Their Families") are filling up fast. So interested teachers (and laypeople with a yen for Jewish learning) should contact the UJ about openings in specific courses. "For those in the trenches of Jewish education, the institute can be a morale booster. By the end of the week, there's a feeling of camaraderie, a feeling that we're in this together," said program administrator Lois Rothblum.

For information about the UJ's Summer Institute for Educators, call Rothblum at (310) 476-9777, ext. 240, or Jill Lasker at ext. 296. -- Beverly Gray, Education Editor

Providing a Helping Hand

For Los Angeles' 50,000 Russian-speaking Jewish immigrants, Alla Feldman is a bridge between the past and the future.

Feldman, who, for six years, has worked jointly for the Bureau of Jewish Education and the Federation's Council on Jewish Life, accepts as her personal mission the welcoming of new arrivals from the former Soviet Union into the local Jewish scene.

Feldman, who hails from Kishinev, Moldova, busily racks up grants designed to introduce other Russian-speaking émigrés to religious Judaism.

Through a new $8,000 grant from the Council on Jewish Life, she has begun flying in Russian-speaking rabbis to stage weekend-long Shabbat experiences for young adults.

A second grant (from the Federation's Western region) provides monthly rosh hodesh events for women, and a third (through the Metro division) establishes outreach activities for singles.

Teaming with Jewish Big Brothers, Feldman has also devised an after-school program at Adat Ari El, where elementary-school children can participate in Jewish educational opportunities as well as special-interest groups.

And she has invented a floating "coffee house," which encourages high school students of Russian background to learn and kibitz together.

An annual event for the indefatigable Feldman is the massive community seder co-sponsored with the Association of Soviet Jews and attended by some 400 local Russian-speakers.

After one seder, a woman approached Feldman with tears in her eyes and said, "I'm 60 years old, and it's my first time I feel I'm Jewish."

For information on programs designed for Russian-speaking Jewish immigrants, call Alla Feldman at (213) 761-8618. -- B.G.

Standing, from left, Max Webb, Arnold Lorber, Dr. Fred Kort, Sigi Ziering, Leslie Gonda and Nathan Shapell. Seated from left: Anna Webb, Anita Lorber, Barbara Kort, Marilyn Ziering and Susan Gonda. Photo by Robert Lurie

Etta Israel Center's new camp for children with special needs is the West Coast's first, backers say. Above, Etta Israel Center students.

Brian Weitman, left, chair of The Jewish Federation/Camp Max Straus Clothing Distribution Day, outfits one of the kids at the event.

JewishJournal.com is produced by TRIBE Media Corp., a non-profit media company whose mission is to inform, connect and enlighten community
through independent journalism. TRIBE Media produces the 150,000-reader print weekly Jewish Journal in Los Angeles – the largest Jewish print
weekly in the West – and the monthly glossy Tribe magazine (TribeJournal.com). Please support us by clicking here.

© Copyright 2014 Tribe Media Corp.
All rights reserved. JewishJournal.com is hosted by Nexcess.net
Web Design & Development by Hop Studios 0.2772 / 38