December 27, 2007
Mensches: Our third annual salute to big-hearted Angelenos
(Page 2 - Previous Page)Shapiro has overseen B'nai David's volunteer security force for the past five years, training and scheduling members to patrol on Shabbat and holidays. He also supervises other safety issues, such as fire drill evacuations.
He is also an EMT-certified member of the Pico-Robertson Division of Hatzolah Los Angeles, one of about 30 who respond to medical emergencies. "I was always interested in health and helping people who get hurt or need medical help," he said.
Shapiro and his wife, Fay, have three sons, 21, 17 and 10, and despite all his activities, he makes family a top priority.
For the past 15 years, every Sunday from April to mid-June, he puts in time volunteering for his sons' baseball leagues. He began by coaching one of his son's teams and, for the past seven years, has either managed or co-managed the 240-player Maccabee Baseball League.
In 2001, Shapiro also founded an Orthodox Cub Scout pack in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood, initially chartered by B'nai David-Judea and open to all Jewish boys. It began with about a dozen Cub Scouts. A few years later, Boy Scouts were added, and it has grown to 55 youngsters. Shapiro serves as a co-den leader.
"Neal is in many ways the conscience of the shul," B'nai David-Judea's Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky said. "He has his eye on everyone's health and welfare and is quietly persistent in not letting us overlook these fundamentally important things."
Allison Diamant: Hands-On Community Health, With Heart
by Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Education Editor Sometimes, Dr. Allison Diamant has those reaffirming moments at the Venice Family Clinic -- like when the woman in her 40s she diagnosed with diabetes came in a few weeks later to thank her not only for her medical care, but also for caring.
But more of the time, Diamant sees the slow movement and systemic problems. The woman who came in with a suspicious breast mass, but whose cancer had spread by the time she was able to get care at a county hospital. Or the man with chest pains, who was too worried about leaving work and his family to get treatment.
Venice is the largest free clinic in the nation, with 2,400 volunteer doctors and 22,000 patients. Diamant has been volunteering there for 15 years, and in her three shifts a month she gets hands-on experience with an issue she spends most of her time researching. On faculty at UCLA School of Medicine, where she sees patients and teaches new doctors, Diamant is a researcher for UCLA and the Rand Corp., with a mission of improving access to and quality of regular, preventative healthcare among underserved populations.
"Sure, health is about going to the doctor and getting immunizations and being diagnosed with a condition," said Diamant, sitting amid stacks of articles and patient files at her UCLA office. "But it is also about having the education to be able to know what might or might not be best for you, knowing how to read a medication bottle, knowing how to understand what a physician tells you and how to ask the right questions," says Diamant, 46.
Tall and athletic in a flowing, ethnic-print dress, Diamant's ready smile bunches her cheeks into a self-conscious blush when the attention is on her. But when she talks about her work, her passion overshadows her shyness.
Her research addresses basic questions: How is a homeless diabetic supposed to take insulin, which needs to be refrigerated? How can patients take a doctor's advice on healthy eating and exercise when there is no fresh produce in the neighborhood and the streets are unsafe for walking?
She works with L.A. County to analyze and implement solutions to issues like treating breast and cervical cancer in uninsured women, or making sure gays and lesbians are getting the right medical care. Her work has changed the way the county reaches out to those without insurance and ineligible for Medi-Cal, and how private institutions and public programs collaborate most effectively.
Diamant always knew she wanted to go into public health. Living in downtown Philadelphia as a medical student at Hahnemann Medical College (now part of Drexel University), she saw disparity she hadn't seen growing up in West L.A., or as a teacher in a school she set up in a village in Botswana when she spent three years in the Peace Corps, or in Thailand, Nepal and India, where she traveled for months.
While in medical school, Diamant helped set up a homeless clinic, she read to the blind, and she taught adults to read. Today, while she does spend time gardening, throwing large dinner parties, and on amateur photography, her singular focus overlays most aspects of her life.
She rides annually in AIDS LifeCycle, a weeklong bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles, during which she starts each morning staffing a medical tent.
She is on the ethics committee at UCLA, and for the past year and half she has traveled to New York about once a month to help her partner, Eileen Gorman, care for her ailing parents.
Diamant has been on the board at Beth Chayim Chadashim (BCC) since 1999 and decided years ago not to work on Shabbat. But even at synagogue, Diamant is on call, frequently helping people navigate the medical system, or being the resident physician for High Holy Day emergencies.
"Dr. Diamant is an extraordinary physician," BCC's Rabbi Lisa Edwards said, "the kind so many of us long for."
Julie Housman: Peer Empathy Born of Own Travail
by Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Education Editor For Julie Housman, the hardest part about fielding phone calls at Teen Line isn't listening to the involved and often disturbing tales of distraught teens or figuring out how to advise them. The biggest challenge is following the guideline that she keep her own experience out of the anonymous conversations. When it comes to family tragedy, dealing with mental health issues, drug experimentation or just finding yourself in a confusing world, Housman, 17, a senior at Beverly Hills High School, has too much firsthand knowledge.