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  • ETTA opens 3rd Day Program group in Pico
  • ETTA to open new Day Program in the Conejo Valley in Jan. 2016! 
  • New ETTA office location open in Hancock Park

ETTA programs and services are vendored by the California Regional Center system. To locate a Regional Center in your area, please visit their website. To file appeals, complaints and/or comments, please visit the California Department of Developmental Services' web page or call 916-654-1987.



This blurb appeared in the 7/4/13 issue of Jewish Home, available at

Summer@ETTA, the ETTA Center's summer program founded in memory of Avraham Moshe Ten, z"l, is a unique social and life skills summer program designed specifically for Jewish teens and young adults with special needs. Held on the YULA Girls School campus, Summer@ETTA is the highlight of the year for participants and counselors alike. Favorite part? According to Sean Shaffa, 17-year old camper, it's "going on field trips because I like to go on a bus ride." This summer, over 75 participants and counselors are enjoying a program emphasizing independence, growth, and summer fun -- everything from karate and sports to Knott's Berry Farm as well as Safety Skills Training and Personal Health Skills. For example, the first day featured a presentation on oral hygiene by 13 UCLA School of Dentistry students led by Dr Joshua Lebovics. Director Leah Schachter says "The participants teach us how to appreciate every moment of our lives... and the counselors are incredible teens -- they give of themselves and their true happiness is seeing the happiness in the participants' faces." To follow Summer@ETTA, visit ETTA's Facebook page (Etta Israel Center) or Weekly enrollment is still available for participants. Please call 818-985-3882 ext 231 or email  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Last Updated on Wednesday, 13 November 2013 19:03

Putting the pieces together


YULA Girls High School
Going to: Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women

YULA Girls High School
Going to: Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women

Much has been written about the world’s heroes — big and small — but sometimes making a major difference in someone’s life doesn’t take a single word. 

Consider the example of Ruth Maouda, a sterling senior at YULA Girls High School who volunteers for ETTA Israel Center, an organization for teens and adults with special needs.

“When she worked at camp, she worked with a young man who is nonverbal and in a wheelchair,” Leah Schachter, who directs the organization’s summer camp, wrote in an e-mail. “When the Jewish music program started, she grabbed the wheelchair and started to dance with him, so that he would feel a part of the program, too. The smile on his face was the obvious answer … he absolutely loved it!”

The child of Israeli parents, Maouda views life with a level of maturity that is well beyond her years. Not only has she managed to maintain a stellar GPA on a demanding honors track, but Maouda approaches each small part of life as a building block of her whole existence — and this is what has allowed her to tackle so much more.

“My favorite motto comes from my mother: You never approach a puzzle all at once, but you start little by little, through all the bits of sky that seem to mismatch and [the] blur of colors that don’t seem to fit anywhere perfectly. You sort out one bit at a time, until the picture is complete.” 

With that in mind, Maouda has spent her high school years experiencing as much of life as possible. A member of the varsity tennis and soccer teams for four years, she served as co-captain of both. She also is a pianist who is co-head of the YULA Girls Ensemble. And she’s been involved in numerous groups, including the school’s genocide awareness club, its American Israel Public Affairs Committeegroup and a school community awareness organization. 

Outside of school, Maouda has been extremely involved in ETTA. She helps organize Shabbaton throughout the year, and during the summer she lends a hand at its day camp.

“ETTA is the most amazing program I have ever been involved in, so much so that I find it hard to discontinue my involvement after three years. The counselors and campers and participants are like a family,” she said. “I feel like I’m making a difference in not only the participants’ lives, but in my life as well.”

Maouda wraps up every week at Shenandoah Elementary School in a program called SCATCH (Shenandoah Caring Adults Teaching Children How) designed to partner elementary school kids from bad neighborhoods with high school students for help with homework and company until their parents can pick them up from school. 

“The goal,” Maouda said, “is essentially to keep them off the streets.”

The 17-year-old may have a lot to be proud of, but she understands that she is just starting to step over the threshold into adulthood, and that there’s still a lot to learn about the world and herself as she prepares to enter Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women in New York, where she may pursue her interests in creative writing and psychology.

“I’m most scared of the fact that I will be doing a lot of things on my own and away from my parents, my No. 1 supporters,” Maouda said. “However, I feel that now that the rest of the world is acknowledging me as I enter adulthood, I can come to accept myself as an adult, too, and start to truly find what it is that I’m able to share as a functioning part of society.”

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A version of this article appeared in print.
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Last Updated on Wednesday, 13 November 2013 19:05

ETTA Israel Reception

(L-R) Uriel Gurvitz and Yitzy Rosenberg of the Ner Yaakov class; event host Steve Spira receiving a basketball signed by the entire boys class; and Etta Israel’s Executive Director Dr. Michael Held.

(L-R) Uriel Gurvitz and Yitzy Rosenberg of the Ner Yaakov class; event host Steve Spira receiving a basketball signed by the entire boys class; and ETTA’s Executive Director Dr. Michael Held. 
Photo Credit: Shimmy Lautman Photography

ETTA Center’s 11th Annual Dessert Reception took place recently in Los Angeles. ETTA’s well-respected programs include the Ner Yaakov class for boys with learning disabilities, founded in memory of Aharon Yaakov Kornwasser, z”l, and the Ner Shoshana class, founded in memory of Shoshana Hayman Greenbaum, Hy”d.

ETTA creates programs and services that help Jewish adults achieve inclusion and integration into the mainstream Jewish community. It works to raise community awareness and sensitivity toward people with special needs by providing the full spectrum of services for Jewish adults with special needs: residential, educational, and social. ETTA strives to help members of all ages of the special-needs community achieve greater independence. Its work has provided inspiration to the Jewish community at large.

Originally published in

Last Updated on Wednesday, 13 November 2013 19:06

A Home Like No Other - ETTA in Action

By Rachel Wizenfeld
At 4pm on a Monday afternoon, in a spic and span house in the heart of Valley Village, Avremel is jamming on his guitar, Mark is relaxing while watching TV, and Tamir is displaying his artwork and chatting about manning his day program’s grocery canteen.  The six male residents of the house know that dinner will be served shortly, and each can point to his chore chart posted on the wall with a description of his responsibility to keep the place clean and functioning.
It’s an idyllic scene, and one there’s an urgent need for more of in Los Angeles.   Currently the ETTA Center is the only provider of Jewish group homes for adults with special needs in the LA area, but with their fourth home opened last summer, they still have only 24 slots, and over 100 people on their waiting list. 
Why are group homes so vital? 
“It’s an incredible model,” says Josh Taff, Director of Outreach and Jewish Life for ETTA.  The level of support for residents and families, along with a strong connection to the community, helps residents thrive and grow, he says.
One such resident is Avremel Mayer, 28, who grew up in Pico-Robertson and frequents the Chabad of Beverlywood on his visits home.  When Taff started working at the home as resident director four years ago, Mayer would often say how he wanted to go to college.  With support from Taff and his parents, Mayer began taking courses with support at Los Angeles Valley College.  Taff says he can still recall the smile on Mayer’s face every morning when he was getting ready for class.  Mayer also learned to take public transportation by himself and, after applying for various local jobs, was recently accepted to be assistant program director at a nearby assisted living facility opening in June.
It’s stories like this that make his work so meaningful, says Taff.

In addition to growing their independence, residents -- who must be clients of Regional Center and have developmental disabilities like Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism, eplispsy and mental retardation to qualify for a home -- also cultivate a strong sense of community, within and outside of their homes. 

“The key is the idea that support is in place, in terms of establishing connection to Jewish community,” says Taff.
Each Shabbos, residents at the Valley homes are placed for meals at nearby families and often go to synagogue.  “There’s the feeling that – we matter,” says Taff, which he doesn’t see in other residences, which can often have a feeling of isolation. 

One such host is Sharon Levine, co-president of the new ETTA/OHEL board who lives in Valley Village and frequently hosts residents for Shabbos and holiday meals. 

Another resident, 36-year-old Tamir Appel, says he likes going to people’s houses for Shabbat, although “it’s a long walk.”
Appel, who spends his day at a nearby day program called PathPoint, has also advanced to taking public transportation by himself – thanks to transportation training from ETTA and Regional Center. 
Both Appel and Mayer exhibit pride and happiness when talking about their accomplishments, making the group home model speak for itself.  But because opening a new home is so expensive – houses have to be bought outright with philanthropic dollars – ETTA is exploring other models, like an apartment community in which residents would pay rent and receive auxiliary services and support onsite, which would be covered by both the state and ETTA.

Operating expenses for group homes are partially paid for by the state, but aren’t nearly enough for a decent quality of life, according to Taff.  And going to a non-Jewish home is just a hard option – one mother he knows is forced to deliver kosher food every single day to her son – not a convenient situation. 
ETTA has also recently become vendored by the Regional Center to help clients gain independent living skills like personal hygiene, money management, transportation and more.  For adults living on their own or with families, the weekly support and skills enhancement is invaluable, Taff says, and offering these services helps them reach more families even if there aren’t housing slots available.

Parents themselves need support through the transition to independent living, something else that ETTA provides counseling and support for.  Though there is some measure of relief that their child is out of the house and in a secure and supportive environment, Taff often sees parents hesitating because they’ve put so much dedication into that child, and it’s hard for them to fathom that child ever leaving home and living independently.
“That’s where we provide support,” he says.  “It takes time; we teach them about looking to the future.”

ETTA recently started two new programs for residents– the B’lev Ari learning program, where male residents are invited to learning and pizza at Shaarei Torah synagogue in Hancock Park (they plan to create a women’s chavruta learning program as well), and a partnership with Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters to do get-togethers, bowling events, outings with residents and more.
While housing for special-needs adults is currently the main focus at ETTA, it wasn’t always this way.  When the organization started nearly 20 years ago, they focused more on children’s needs, says Taff.  Partly due to their clients growing up, as well as the existence of other organizations like Friendship Circle, which ETTA works closely with, ETTA is able to focus more on housing and adult independent living skills.
There are however two educational programs through ETTA– one for middle school boys at Toras Emes and one for high school girls at Bais Yaakov, which are self-contained classrooms for Jewish children with special needs or learning challenges. 
And each summer, Taff helps direct Summer@Etta, a five-week day program for special needs teens and adults ages 14 and up. 

But housing remains front and center. And while real estate is cheaper in the Valley, opening homes in the city is a priority as well so that adults already living in Pico-Robertson can stay connected to the community. 

Turnaround at homes is basically nonexistent.  When ETTA accepts a client, it’s accepted that it’s for life. 
“I started out at 18 working in Tikvah in Camp Ramah (a special needs camp program), and we would talk about what happens when our campers grow up - because transition occurs, and need to take care of everyone in our community,” Taff recalls.

Big Changes at ETTA
Merger with OHEL Means More Opportunities for Jewish Adults with Special Needs in LA
An exclusive Q&A with Dr. Michael Held, founder and executive director of the ETTA Center

How did the merger with OHEL  - which took place this past October - come to be?  Who approached whom?
ETTA approached OHEL because we were facing a significant demographic change - an increase in the number of people with special needs, fueled by an increase primarily in the number of people with autism.  ETTA is the only Jewish organization in California that offers residential support and group homes for Jewish adults with developmental disabilities, and because of the number of people on our waiting list, and families approaching us over and over again for housing support, we wanted to grow.  We currently have four homes (for which we worked very hard), but OHEL is the largest Jewish provider in the country.  It’s (the merger) strategic. OHEL is going to help ETTA to grow bigger and faster and help more people. 425 (OHEL's adult housing portfolio) is a lot bigger than 24 people, and there are a lot of other aspects of working with lifetime care, lifetime support, how people change and age over their lifespan, and agencies like ETTA are responsible for understanding a client’s needs at 30 and at 50 and at 70.  Merging with OHEL gives ETTA and the LA community the opportunity to be part of an agency that will help us all grow.

What did OHEL see to make the merger attractive?
Part of the appeal to OHEL is that ETTA has a great reputation for almost 20 years.  We have a lot of support in the LA community, and we’re a thriving, functioning organization. OHEL had established a strategic plan to expand nationally, to share their expertise outside of NY and elevate a message of support for Jews with different types of challenges: developmental disability, mental illness and more.  They were looking for an opportunity, and we spent a year in conversations exploring the possibility, concerns, risks, and benefits.  All parties, the two boards, myself, and the CEO of Ohel, David Mandel, felt like it was a perfect fit.  ETTA and OHEL aretwo organizations that share the philosophy of serving the entire family and including and integrating people with disabilities.

Can you give me specifics on how ETTA and OHEL are collaborating on the West Coast? 
We’re talking (ETTA and OHEL senior staff) every day about new ideas, new directions, and how to reach out, whether in fundraising and philanthropy, program operations, grant writing or government relations.  
They’ve strengthened our outreach efforts to become a service provider in areas that we already operate in. The State government provides services through the Westside Regional Center, and there are many, many services that an agency can get vendored for.  Vendoring is crucial because it shifts the burden of cost of away from the families. We  became an approved vendor in January  to provide independent living skills (ILS) and supportive living services (SLS).  Partnering with Ohel accelerated the work. This is in addition to our four group homes, each of which is vendored by the Regional Center.
Another visible sign of our collaboration is our new office in Pico-Robertson.  We wanted to be more visible and offer more services to access more easily than coming to the Valley.  

Where is most of your funding from? Has your budget expanded due to the Ohel merger?   
Our current budget is 2.7 million dollars annually and a good portion is government-funded.  The ratio of government funding and philanthropy is about 40/60.  We have other initiatives underway for expanded fundraising – OHEL has expertise in this and has some very successful fundraising techniques – but fundraising is very individual to each city and community – you can’t just translate from one city to another.  The merger also strengthens ETTA when applying to foundations. 

We also get funding from the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles, which provides critical support for the operations of our residential programs and the operation of our annual summer camp.

(While OHEL provides fundraising expertise and assistance, they do not provide actual funding.)

What are your plans for expansion of ETTA’s programs and services?  What services (and for what demographic, age and disability type) are most in need in the LA Jewish community?
We’re finalizing a plan to significantly expand -- through apartment buildings and additional group homes -- creating many more housing spaces in the coming years.  We have over 100 people on our waiting list; that’s a significant number of Jewish adults who don’t know where to turn when their child with a disability becomes a young adult.  Because of the California economy, there are  no non-profit  housing providers adding slots.  For the most part, adults with disabilities are living with their families for a longer period of time.  Moving out is an individual decision, client by client, family by family, but our experience is a person with a disability  generally wants to do what his or her peers are doing.  People in their 20’s move out,  begin a career, and we generally advise families that by the age of 30 it’s a good idea to help their adult children transition to independent supported housing.

We’re also focusing on all the wraparound services that go with housing: employment, job coaching and finding supportive employment opportunities in the community, whether working at a market or a Starbucks.  For a level of functioning that requires more support, we plan to establish  a site-based day program so there is a place to go to work on a daily basis, that is  safe, profesianl and supportive of Jewish identity.  Activities may include computers,  art, or  work-related skills and tasks. It’s not just the housing that’s meaningful to an adult life, it’s what  an individual is  doing during the day.  We’re planning to develop and grow a significant program for job coaching, employment and day programming in the next 12-24 months.  
Why the focus on adults with special needs?  Are other ages less important?
Needs are equally important along the entire age spectrum.  Some would argue that early intervention is possibly the most important of special needs services, but there are other service providers providing these.  Also, a family’s sense of energy and purpose is strong when their children are  young, but paernts find it ahrder to meet the needs of their disabled children as they reach the age of young adulthood. Helping a 25 or 30 yr old adult with disabilities find the balance of independence and support is a task that is larger than the family unit itself – it is a community challenge to create the scaffolding for an independent life with appropriate support. And then there  are so many families and young adults looking for housing right now.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 13 November 2013 19:08
Large Turnout for Los Angeles ETTA-OHEL Dessert Reception

On Sunday evening April 21, the 11th Annual Dessert Reception was held for the ETTA Center-OHEL Organization, hosted by Steve and Lorraine Spira.
The ETTA Center provides services to enable people with special needs to live rich, active lives as members of the Los Angeles community.
It is not surprising that Jews from throughout Los Angeles attended this reception for an organization that does so much for so many. Most likely everyone there knows someone in the community who relies on ETTA for some kind of help. Whether it is their Educational Programs, Summer Program, Life Skills Training or Residential Services, ETTA is there, doing its job in a most exemplary manner.
Among the programs are the Ner Shoshana Class, which teaches social skills, life skills and functional academic skills, in addition to Jewish education for high school-age girls with developmental disabilities. The Fund was started by Eliyahu Dovid and Shifra Hayman in memory of their daughter, Shoshana, Hy”d, who died in the terrorist bombing of the Sbarro pizza restaurant in Yerushalayim in 2001.
Another program is the Ner Yaakov Class, in memory of Reb Aharon Yaakov Kornwasser, z”l, which provides an academically focused Jewish  education  for boys with learning disabilities.
Reb Moishe Streicher was the emcee, who extended thanks to Eliyahu Dovid and Shifra Hayman, Sharon Levine, Tali Merewitz, Brenda Walt, Penny Pflaster, GEMS Party Rentals, and Karen and Richard Lesser.
The co-chairs were Lila Eilat, Tzipporah Coronel, Jackie Kest, Rivka Gross, Tali Merewitz, Cheryl Nagel, Betty Ryzman and Deena Zyskind.
Two Ner Yaakov students, Gadol Aaron Stern and Yitzy Lunger, under the direction of Rabbi Benzion Litenatsky, enthralled the audience with their a cappella vocal renditions.
Dr. Michael Held, Executive Director of the ETTA Center, described the recent activities and growth of ETTA, now joined with OHEL of New York.
The merger has resulted in an ability to better serve the diverse and growing needs of individuals and families. ETTA and OHEL are the largest providers of residential services for Jewish adults with special needs in the U.S. There are now over 30 programs for children and adults.
A special basketball was presented to the host, Mr. Steve Spira, by two students of Ner Yaakov School; a video of the ETTA and OHEL programs was shown.
The guest speaker, Mr. Charles Harary, has traveled all over the world on speaking engagements. Mr. Harary is a Clinical Professor of Management and Entrepreneurship at the Syms School of Business at Yeshiva University.
Mr. Harary began by recalling a conversation he had had with his grandfather, whom he had asked, “Zaide, if there is one thing that you feel I should know in life, what is it?”
His grandfather thought for a moment and said, “You need to know how a Yid deals with darkness.” 
“Sometimes there is darkness in our lives. Sometimes there is pain. And we ask, why is there darkness?"
“I got the answer to my question from a Jewish doctor in Florida whose father was a Nazi, ym”s honored by the German leader, ym”s. Growing up in Germany in the 70s, he knew nothing of the Jews and the Holocaust. After hearing of the murder in Munich of the Jewish athletes, he decided to find out about the Jews and their devastation by the Germans."
“The result of all his searching was a desire to be a Jew; after many years, he was finally converted. This converted Jew told me that he discovered that the Jewish people are eternal, and that they deal with darkness with hope. With light."
“This is the legacy of our people and of the parents of those who are part of ETTA. Not to despair, not to curse the darkness, but to create light."
“Let us all remember that we are eternal. That Ner Shoshana and Ner Yaakov are our response to darkness. May we get to a place where there is no more darkness. May it come soon in our day, bimheira b’yamenu.”
The large turnout and support for ETTA by the community was overwhelming. For more information about their programs and the ETTA Center, call (818) 985-3882.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 13 November 2013 19:10
Jewish Journal icon The Sound of the Breaking Dam
Nov. 20, 2012
Collaborating over services for individuals with special needs
Last Updated on Wednesday, 13 November 2013 19:10
Jewish Journal icon ETTA Israel Center gets help from new partner
Oct. 19, 2012
Merger helps those in need and enriches communities
Last Updated on Wednesday, 13 November 2013 19:12
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