Filmmaker finds champions — and inspiration — in senior athletes

News of a then-upcoming film called “Pawn Sacrifice” about chess champion Bobby Fischer, played by Tobey McGuire, might have excited some who heard about it.

It devastated Eric Goldfarb.

It was 2012 and Goldfarb, an Emmy Award-winning television editor, had just finished his own screenplay about Fischer, the combustible Jewish figure whose celebrity at the height of the Cold War rivaled Muhammad Ali’s. Now, he decided, he had to scrap it and start looking for another subject.

“I just knew I wanted to tell the story of a champion, the making of a champion,” Goldfarb said.

One month later, through a family connection, Goldfarb met Daniela Barnea, a 72-year-old Israeli-born swimmer based in the Bay Area who holds world records for her age group.

According to Goldfarb, the words just came out, “Can I make a documentary on you?”

Barnea quickly accepted.

What followed was three years of Goldfarb filming and interviewing Barnea and other remarkable senior athletes he came across. There was a college professor well into his late 80s, sprinting at track and field events; a famous professional golfer working out in his early 80s; a legendary Jewish surfer, riding waves into his 90s; and a priest in her 60s, training to box after never throwing a punch in her life.

Earlier this year, “Impossible Dreamers,” Goldfarb’s first film, which he shot, directed, edited and funded, secured distribution. It’s now available on Netflix.

“In the landscape of today’s documentaries, there are a lot of social-political documentaries, which are important in their own rights,” Goldfarb said. “But today, people could also use positivity and a little inspiration. I thought senior athletes would be the best place to draw this from.”

In his search for a champion, Goldfarb found one within. The story of his filmmaking process also could be called the stuff of champions. He shot the movie over three years, all the while balancing a full-time editing gig on the show “Naked and Afraid.” He also got married in 2012 and became the father of two baby girls.

“It would’ve been very easy to let this project just not get finished, especially when you’re just doing it yourself,” he said. “But I just couldn’t stop.”

That notion is a recurring theme in the interviews from Goldfarb’s film — a drive from within, the need to prove something to your own  reflection. Many of the athletes say what fuels them is competition not against others but with themselves, specifically younger versions of themselves.

“I always look and compare my times to what I did years ago,” said Barnea, the swimmer featured in the film. “It’s wonderful to see if you can beat it. I’m always looking for a new challenge.”

Eric Goldfarb, filmmaker

Eric Goldfarb, filmmaker

“They all share an outlook on life that’s far different than your average senior,” Goldfarb said of his film subjects. “They don’t see aging as a coming end. They never look back, only forward in life. I myself, as a filmmaker, was inspired by this.”

Born in Jerusalem, Barnea didn’t start swimming until she was 15, long after most professional swimmers begin competing. She gave up swimming for many years and returned to it in her 50s. When she’s not swimming or training, Barnea tutors Hebrew and German to students of all ages in Palo Alto, Calif., where she currently lives.

She sets aside time six days a week to swim, train with weights or do yoga. She won’t give up a workout for “lunch with a friend or any reason,” she said. That dedication has led to awards such as three times winning Pacific Masters Swimming’s “Swimmer of the Year.” (Pacific Masters Swimming is a governing body for organized adult swimmers in Northern California and Nevada.) She holds a world record in the 200-meter butterfly in her age group that was held by a former Olympian in her age group. She hopes the film will change some preconceptions people have about aging and finding renewed vigor later in life.

“What I hope people take away from the movie is that there is no age limit for starting something new or age cap to a championship,” she said. “Moreover, there is always more to a person than meets the eye.”

For Goldfarb, seeing people such as Barnea and 81-year-old Gary Player, a pro golf legend with nine major championships to his name and an idol of Goldfarb’s, train like 20-year-olds was deeply affecting.

His life in an editing bay, a sedentary reality, had long contributed to an unhealthy lifestyle. A few months into filming, he and his wife, Jenny, became vegetarians, then vegans, and are committed to running every day.

“I run and then go back to work and feel reinvigorated. Everybody should do it,” he said.

Since the film and the process of making it had such an impact on him, Goldfarb, 42, has plans to use the film as a means for advocating healthy and active living.

Goldfarb recently finished compiling an additional 20 minutes of footage of the athletes showcasing training regimens in more detail. He is planning to organize screenings of the new DVD in places such as universities and senior living facilities, where some of the athletes will be present to talk with audiences.

“We’re interested in going to old-age communities and showing the film and what these athletes represent. We see the film as not only finding an audience with older people, but younger people, too,” he said.

In the end, Goldfarb was even able to make a film with a bizarrely close connection to Bobby Fischer. One of the subjects in the film is a competitive weightlifting couple, Harry and Sarah Sneider, who train clients in their Pasadena home. Harry was Fischer’s personal trainer and close friend during the 1960s and ’70s. He was among just a handful of people who were close to the notoriously reclusive figure.

“What an amazing synchronicity it was,” Goldfarb said. “I saw Sarah Sneider at a competition in Van Nuys in 2012 and she said, ‘You really should be interviewing my husband.’ I quickly realized I knew who he was because of all my Fischer research.”

Harry Sneider died in 2014 during the making of the film. A touching storyline details his wife’s journey back to competition, partly to cope with the grief of losing her husband.

“I grew very close to Harry,” Goldfarb said. “We became really good friends during the course of making the movie. When he died, I guess, for him, I still wanted to track his wife’s resiliency. She developed her own overcoming-the-odds story. I just really loved all of the athletes in this film.”

Aly Raisman, Munich 11’s David Berger to be inducted into Jewish Sports Hall of Fame

Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast Aly Raisman will be inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.

Raisman, 18, of Needham, Mass., will be among eight inductees into the hall in Commack, N.Y., in April 2013.

Also to be honored at the 21st annual induction ceremony is weightlifter David Berger, who was among the 11 Israelis killed at the Munich Olympics in 1972.

Raisman won a gold medal in the recently completed London Games on floor exercise with her routine to “Hava Nagila” and helped the United States to the women’s team title. She also earned a bronze on the balance beam.

Other inductees in April include sports photographer Andrew Bernstein; Steve Bilsky, the athletic director at the University of Pennsylvania; Bruce Cohen, a National Lacrosse Hall of Fame member; Randy Grossman, a former tight end for the Pittsburgh Steelers; and U.S. swimmers Marilyn Ramenofsky and Garrett Weber-Gale.

America’s Jewish Olympians head to London with Jewish pride

Jason Lezak—no newcomer to Olympic glory—recognizes the difficulty in returning to the medal stand at the London Games.

“I definitely would hope to … get onto the podium there and win a medal for the USA,” Lezak, a seven-time Olympic medalist, told JTA on Tuesday from the U.S. swim team’s training camp in France. “With Australia, France and Russia, there’s going to be a lot of tight competition, and it’s not going to be easy, that’s for sure.”

The Jewish swimmer, the winner of four Olympic gold medals, will race for the United States in the 400-meter freestyle relay—the event in which he provided one of the most enduring moments of the 2008 Games in Beijing. His frenetic sprint to the finish in the last leg, overcoming world record-holder Alain Bernard, earned victory for the U.S. and kept alive Michael Phelps’ drive for a record-setting eight gold medals.

This year, in his fourth Olympics, the 36-year-old Lezak is one of five captains for the 530-member American squad. Fellow Jews joining Lezak on the U.S. contingent at the London Games, which has its opening ceremonies on July 27, include swimmer Anthony Ervin, gymnasts Alexandra Raisman and Julie Zetlin, rower David Banks, fencer Tim Morehouse and fencing coach Yury Gelman.

(Illinois-born Jillian Schwartz, a pole vaulter on the American team at the 2004 Athens Olympics, will be representing Israel.)

Some touted Jewish athletes didn’t make the cut this time. They include swimmers Dara Torres (five Olympics, 12 medals), Garret Weber-Gale (two gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Games), Andrea Murez (2012 NCAA champion in the 200- and 400-yard freestyle relays), Daniel Madwed (2012 Big Ten champion in four events) and Eric Friedland. Also not heading to London to compete are soccer player Yael Averbuch and gymnast David Sender.

For Robert Dover, who won four medals while competing in equestrian events in six Olympics for the United States, the road to Olympic glory began on Grand Bahama Island in 1969, where he celebrated his bar mitzvah. The event became unforgettable when his parents arranged for a horse to be flown in as the boy’s present.

“It was a great first horse for me. His name was Ebony Cash,” said Dover,  who grew up in Chicago and Toronto and is now heading to his seventh Olympics—for the first time as a coach and this time for Canada’s equestrian team.

Like Lezak, Gelman is heading to his fourth Olympics, all as a coach. He taught fencing to elite athletes in his native Kiev, then moved to New York in 1991. He couldn’t find work in America in his field, so Gelman spent a year-and-ahalf selling doughnuts at a flea market along a New Jersey highway.

Gelman would go on to serve 17 years as the fencing coach at St. John’s University in New York, and in 2007 he opened the Manhattan Fencing Center.

Morehouse and three other Gelman proteges qualified for London, where the fencing events will begin on July 29.

Robert Dover. Photo by Mary Phelps Photography

“I’m very proud of our group, and we’ll try our best,” said Gelman.

The Brooklyn resident does not belong to a synagogue or other Jewish groups, which he attributes to the Soviet repression that affected his late parents, Wolf and Malvina. Both were loath to introduce Judaism to their children because of the negative repercussions, he said.

“In the Soviet Union, we weren’t religious. It was prohibited,” Gelman said. “The Kiev synagogue was pretty far from where I lived. My parents never talked about it.”

Wolf and his sister were the only ones in their family to survive the Nazi massacre of Jews in the village of Gaisen, Ukraine. Gelman remembers his maternal grandmother, Esther Krakovitch, bringing matzah to their home for Jewish occasions, but he didn’t know anything about the Passover holiday to which, he later learned, the food correlated.

Dover does sometimes attend synagogue services in Wellington, Fla., the horse country where he lives most of the year. He says he is proud to be a member of the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.

“There are many more Jews in the sport than people know of,” Dover said.

In a best-case Olympics scenario, Dover said, Canada’s performance in Greenwich Park’s dressage arena will continue an upswing that saw the country attain seventh place at the world championships two years ago—its highest finish since 1988. Earning a bronze medal in London might take “almost a miracle,” he said, with England, Germany and either Demark or the Netherlands the favorites.

Even while coaching Canada’s three equestrians, Dover’s heart will remain stateside. His parents, who live in Austin, Texas, are ailing. So before heading overseas, he will visit his father, Herbert, 89, who lives in a treatment facility for Alzheimer’s patients. His mother, Jean, 84, has seen her body ravaged by the breast cancer she first fought four decades ago.

Dover believes that his mother, who lives nearby with his sister, is hanging on to watch her son compete one final time—this time on television instead of in person.

“My mom—I believe it will be the last time I will see her,” he said from his summer home in Fire Island, N.Y. “She’ll watch on TV. It’ll be live-streamed. That’s why she’s still here. She’s here until the Olympics.”

He adds, “It’s probably the hardest time in my life right now. They’ve both been quite amazing for me. They came to all but one of my Olympics and all but one of my world championships.”

Dover, who served as U.S. equestrian captain at each of his six Olympics, recalled meetings with captains of the sports teams to select the country’s flag bearer for the opening ceremonies.

“The stories you hear about the various people and what they’ve done and their hardships—it’s something that leaves your mouth hanging open,” he says. “They are extraordinary people.”

For his part, Lezak also is one of many Jewish Olympians – including nine-time gold medalist Mark Spitz – who have competed in Israel’s Maccabiah Games.

A member of Temple Isaiah in Newport Beach, Cal., Lezak lit the torch to start the 2009 Maccabiah near Tel Aviv. He has followed reports of the International Olympic Committee’s refusal to honor the memories of the 11 Israeli Olympians murdered at the Munich Games 40 years ago with a moment of silence.

Lezak is still hopeful that the IOC will make what he called the “right decision” in London.

“It would be nice, in my opinion, to have that moment of silence, but there are also people out there who would hate for that to happen,” he said, adding that the IOC “would have to weigh all the positives and negatives of both sides. I cannot make that decision. [The IOC is] in a no-win situation.”

VIDEO: Virtual Rabbi David presents ‘The Jewish Olympics’

Virtual Rabbi (and Olympics fan) David Paskin presents a Shabbat message based on the determination and dedication of Olympic athletes.

David Paskin, or Rabbi David as he is known by his congregants, is an accomplished spiritual leader, singer/songwriter, entertainer and award-winning Jewish educator. For more than a decade, David has served as full-time Spiritual Leader of Temple Beth Abraham in Canton, Massachusetts


VIDEO: Israeli Olympic athletes remembered

YouTube member JewishFan writes of his video:

Remembering the massacre, and the brutality and tactics of the Arab terrorists, is important and relevant: There are millions of radical Muslims today who, if they had the chance, would kill all the Jews and even be willing to blow themselves up to do it.

It reminds us that Israel cannot let its guard down for one moment nor can we, as Jews. There are murderers out there wanting to kill us; in fact, plotting to kill us even as this is being written.

Photo montages, vintage news footage, music (Enya.)

Big list o’ Jewish Olympians

Dara Torres on the Today Show, August 7, 2008

NEW YORK (JTA)—The following is a list of known Jewish athletes competing in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing:

United States

Fencing, Women
Sada Jacobson, saber

Rami Zur, 500-meter individual

Swimming, Men
Jason Lezak, 100-meter freestyle, relays
Garrett Weber-Gale, 100 freestyle, relays
Ben Wildman-Tobriner, 50 freestyle, relays

Swimming, Women
Dara Torres, 50-meter freestyle

Track and Field, Women
Deena Kastor, marathon


Artistic Gymnastics, Men
Alex Shatilov, all-around

Canoeing, Men
Michael Koganov, K-1 500 and 1000 meters

Fencing, Men
Tomer Or, foil

Fencing, Women
Dalilah Hatuel, foil
Noam Mills, epee

Judo, Men
Ariel Ze’evi, 100 kg
Gal Yekutiel, 60 kg

Judo, Women
Alice Schlezinger, 63 kg

Rhythmic Gymnastics, Individual
Ira Risenzon
Neta Rivkin

Rhythmic Gymnastics, Team
Kayta Pizatzki
Racheli Vidgorcheck
Maria Savnakov
Alona Dvorinchenko
Veronica Witberg

Sailing, Men
Gidi Klinger and Udi Gal, 470
Shahar Tzuberi, windsurfing

Sailing, Women
Vered Buskila and Nika Kornitzky, 470
Nufar Eledman, laser radial
Ma’ayan Davidovich, windsurfing

Doron Egozi, 50-meter rifle 3, 10-meter air rifle
Gil Simkovich, 50-meter rifle 3, 50-meter rifle prone
Guy Starik, 50-meter rifle prone

Swimming, Men
Itay Chama, 200-meter breaststroke
Gal Nevo, 200 and 400 individual medely
Guy Barnea, 100 breaststroke
Tom Be’eri, 100 and 200 breaststroke
Alon Mandel, 100 and 200 butterfly
Nimrod Shapira Bar-Or, 200 freestyle

Swimming, Women
Anya Gostamelsky, 50 and 100 freestyle, 100 backstroke, 100 butterfly
Synchronized Swimming
Anastasia Gloushkov and Ina Yoffe, duet

Bat-El Getterer, 57 kg

Tennis, Men
Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich, doubles

Tennis, Women
Shahar Peer, singles
Tzipora Obziler, doubles with Peer

Track and Field, Men
Alex Averbukh, pole vault
Niki Palli, long jump
Haile Satayin, marathon
Itai Magidi, 3000-meter steeplechase


Hockey, Women
Gisele Kanevsky

Judo, Women
Daniela Krakower

Swimming, Men
Damian Blaum

Weightlifting, Women
Nora Koppel

Table Tennis
Pablo Tabachnik


Table Tennis
David Zalcberg


Adam Stern

David Zilberman, 96 kg
Ari Taub, 120 kg plus


Tennis, Men
Nicolas Massu

Great Britain

Josh West

New Zealand

Nathan Cohen

… And We Wouldn’t Mind $100 Million

Lakers’ basketball star Kobe Bryant “wouldn’t mind being Jewish.”

Bryant, who is Catholic, reportedly told a handful of reporters in Boston last month that, “I wouldn’t mind. Really.”

Well, why not? It’s fine by us.

The topic arose during a good-natured exchange with reporters during the Lakers’ late March appearance for a game in Boston. Of the game, the Los Angeles Times reported that Bryant scored 43 points, including the Lakers’ last 14, on 18-for-39 shooting in a 105-97 victory over the Celtics at TD Banknorth Garden. All this after a fan had foolishly taunted Bryant when seeing him at a local movie theater.

But the Times completely missed the Jewish angle, which was first reported in the Jerusalem Post.

A television reporter had asked on camera about the dearth of professional Jewish athletes.

“Not too many Jews in professional sports? Hmmm,” Bryant said. “That sounds kind of weird to me. Who did your research?”

Reeling from Bryant’s caustic tone, the TV reporter changed the topic to MVP talk.

A Jewish journalist from The Boston Globe, however, returned to the subject.

“We are very good at squash,” she insisted, adding “there were three hockey players at my college who were Jewish.”

“How ’bout that? All on one team,” Bryant said.

“The Red Sox have four Jews including [general manager] Theo Epstein,” another Jewish reporter added.

“What the hell? Who was doing your research?” Bryant asked the TV reporter “semifacetiously,” as the Post put it. “Put the camera back on, man. This guy is false man. This guy is lyin’.”

The inevitable recitation followed as reporters volunteered names: Dolph Schayes (Bryant threw in Dolph’s son Danny) and Jon Scheyer, a top Duke University recruit for next year….

“You’re getting shot down all over the place right now, buddy,” Bryant said. “It ain’t lookin’ too good for you at all.”

Sandy Koufax. Hank Greenberg.

“Oh it ain’t lookin’ too good for you at all,” he continued.

According to (Is there a or a There are no Jews currently in the NBA, but 24 in the National Football League, 18 in Major League Baseball and seven in the National Hockey League.

Bryant could claim the mantle as the highest-profile athlete to convert to Judaism. Baseball great Rod Carew married a Jewish woman and raised his children Jewish, but never actually joined the tribe.

Bryant, however, dispelled the notion of displacing Schayes as the greatest Jewish basketball player. “I don’t know if I’m converting, but if I do, you can definitely add another athlete to the pool,” he said.


Pin Up These Pinups

At last, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Model Calendar has some real competition — some Jewish competition. The latest thing in girly pinups — with class — is the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute’s (HBI) Jewish + Female + Athlete Calendar. So you can toss that traditional scroll of dates and holidays from your local Jewish mortuary, and instead pour over a showcase of strong, beautiful Jewish women champions.

Everyone knows of Jewish athletes like Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax, but how about Judo star Yael Arad, who won Israel’s first Olympic medal? Or Californian Deena Drossin Kastor, who won the bronze in the 2004 Olympic marathon? Or Charlotte “Eppy” Epstien, who fought to have women’s swimming recognized as an Olympic sport?

The calendar profiles 14 current stars and 13 legends from the past. It spotlights both athletic achievements, as well as contributions to the advancement of women’s sports.

“We are always trying to combat negative stereotypes of Jewish women,” said Shulamit Reinharz, HBI’s founding director. “Most people laughed when they first heard about the project and were surprised to learn we had so many high-caliber athletes to choose from, that it was hard to decide who to include,” said Reinharz, whose HBI also created a companion Jewish + Female + Athletes traveling exhibition.

Local legend, Thelma “Tiby” Eisen, 83, played in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League from 1943-54.

“Oh, we had the best time,” said the spunky Pacific Palisades resident, who played tennis in Echo Park and softball at the Wilshire Veterans’ complex before being recruited for the league.

“But they would never have had a calendar like this back then. Many people thought playing baseball was unwomanly,” said Eisen, who played for five different teams.

Another featured performer is former U.S. Olympic cyclist Nicole Freedman, 33. She expressed profound respect for the pioneering women who made her career possible.

“When you think how these athletes competed when women weren’t supposed to play sports, or about the Jewish athletes who boycotted the 1936 Olympics, you realize what got us to where we are,” said Freedman, who hopes to race for Israel in the 2008 Olympics.

Calendar sales proceeds will fund HBI and next year’s calendar production.

Eisen still assists the Dodgers and Angels with youth baseball clinics: “You can do anything you make up your mind to do.”

To order the $13.95 calendar, go to for information on booking the exhibition.


Maccabiah Games Bring Golden Times

When amateur soccer player Michael Erush went to Israel in July to play for Team USA in the 17th World Maccabiah Games, he was hoping to come home with gold. But following the Israeli team’s victory, Erush was content with the American silver-medal win.

“I always want to do the best,” the 22-year-old said. “We had one of the best Maccabiah men’s soccer teams, and we lost to a very good Israel team.”

However, his Maccabiah experience didn’t end with the medal ceremony. Erush extended his stay after an Israeli soccer franchise was so impressed with his level of play, that he was offered a 10-month contract for the following season.

He is currently shopping around for other offers, but his dream of turning pro could eventually become a reality in Israel — due to the Maccabiah Games.

“I’m still looking to different career paths,” said Erush, a research assistant for an private firm. “I might go back to school and get my MBA, or I might go play soccer…. I just want to keep my options open.”

Erush was one of more than 7,000 Jewish athletes from 55 countries, stretching from Brazil to India and Australia to Finland, who gathered this past summer in Israel to compete in the Maccabiah Games. In the first games in 1932, 390 athletes from 14 nations participated. Now, the games are the third-largest sporting event in the world, outside of the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games. Held every four years, this summer’s Maccabiah Games, which took place July 10-21, were the largest since its founding.

Competitions took place in approximately 30 categories, including track, tennis, swimming, baseball and even chess. The most dominant countries were Team USA and Israel. The American medal count was 222, with 71 gold, while Israel won 593 medals, 227 gold.

The hope of the organizers is that the games foster a sense of Jewish unity, awareness and pride among the athletes from around the world. In that spirit, this year’s games were the first to feature delegations from China, Macedonia and Grenada.

More than 90 athletes from Southern California were represented in such sports as track and field, basketball, volleyball, soccer, rugby and water polo. Among 20 medalists from the Southland, six won gold; nine, silver; and four, bronze. Some athletes took home multiple medals.

It was “an unforgettable experience, absolutely breathtaking,” said Danielle Arad, 17, of Yorba Linda who won four silver medals in the open swimming competition. “The hospitality and open arms that we received from the common citizens and Israeli athletes competing in the games allowed me to feel at home.”

For Shirin Lisa Golshani, 17, a Beverly Hills resident, walking into the packed stadium with Team USA during the opening ceremonies in Ramat Gan and being surrounded by Jews who had come from all corners of the world “was the most amazing experience I’ve ever had in my life.”

Golshani, who brought home silver and bronze from the girl’s youth karate competition, said that it “made it all the more greater of an experience because I was able to share it with my second family from karate.”

For USC graduate and businessman Ari Monosson, this year marked his second trip to the Maccabiah Games. During his first games in 2001, the 27-year-old runner won both a silver and a bronze medal. And while his dreams for gold this year were did not come true, his silver-medal win with the U.S. 4×400 relay team in no way diminished the experience. Monosson said there is nothing quite like the Maccabiah Games, and he recommended that Jewish athletes try out for the next games.

“Participating in them will be a life-changing experience,” he said. “There are moments and memories that you will cherish for the rest of your life.”

For rugby player Kevin Armstrong, 26, the long journey began with a discouraging setback. He broke his arm in the first 20 minutes of the first game. However, he still enjoyed both watching his team take a silver and being surrounded by Jews from around the world.

“On the field, it was business as usual, but off the field, it made the world seem very small, [especially] when you realize how people from across the world are very similar to you,” said the Angeleno.

Injuries and illness nearly kept Santa Monica residents Melody Khadavi and Fran Seegull from the games. The volleyball players each missed a month of practice in the United States due to different maladies, and when they landed in Israel, the combination of jet lag, hot temperatures and long days spent touring before the games caught up with them. But perseverance and antibiotics pulled the pair through the competitions to beat Canada for the bronze.

In the junior competitions, the gold-winning junior baseball team included Los Angeles resident Noah Michel. Alexander Hoffman-Ellis of Santa Monica High School helped the boys junior basketball team cruise to a gold. The girls junior soccer team brought home the gold with the help of coach Wendi Whitman of Long Beach.

For Erush, the next move is still up in the air. The soccer player said that may include the next games.

“Who knows,” Erush said. “I would love to win the gold and have silver, too.”


Quadriplegics Play a Murderous Game

In 2003, Dana Adam Shapiro was stunned by an article about quadriplegic rugby — a.k.a. murderball — played by testosterone-amped athletes who ram the hell out of each other in souped-up wheelchairs.

The quadriplegics, at least partially impaired in all four limbs, were trash-talking, beer-guzzling, ministry-blasting gladiators who partied hard, had hot girlfriends and plenty of sex.

“I had thought all quadriplegics were like Christopher Reeve,” Shapiro said, sheepishly. “No life, no movement, no sex and certainly no rugby.”

The former Spin magazine senior editor promptly called his producer, Jeff Mandel, and announced he’d found the subject of their debut film.

“But it wasn’t going to be just about the sport,” Shapiro said. “It was going to be about what it’s like to break your neck.”

The fierce, powerful “Murderball” revolves around athletes such as Mark Zupan, a goateed, tattooed Texan who reconciles with the friend whose drunk driving put him in a wheelchair. There’s also Joe Soares, crippled by childhood polio, who skulked off to coach the Canadians, with the American playbook in tow, when he was cut from the U.S. team. (“If Joe was on the side of the road on fire, I wouldn’t p — on him to put it out,” Zupan says in the film.)

The lauded movie won the audience award for best American documentary at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. According to Entertainment Weekly, it’s poised to become the latest breakout documentary (like “Spellbound” and “Fahrenheit 9/11”) and Zupan will be the summer’s most surprising action hero.

In an interview at the Meridian Hotel last week, the Jewish filmmakers were almost as hung over and trash-talking as Zupan, whose head was on the table after drinking Crown and Cokes until 6 a.m. at the film’s premiere. Henry Alex Rubin, the co-director, said he somehow lost his dress shoes in the revelry.

The filmmakers — all 31 — even sounded like the athletes as they razzed each other, while describing their Jewish backgrounds. Shapiro grew up in a Conservative home in Newton, Mass., spent a semester at Tel Aviv University and wrote an upcoming novel, “The Every Boy,” which revolves around a Jewish family. Mandel, from Great Neck, Long Island, read Torah weekly at the request of his yeshiva graduate father. And Rubin, who was raised in an interfaith household, lit a “starter kit” menorah that Shapiro gave him last year.

“Do you remember your bris?” Shapiro asked Mandel.

“Let’s say I have credentials in that area,” the producer replied.

But the talk turned serious when the filmmakers earnestly described the Jewish values inherent in the film. Shapiro was pleased when a rabbi used “Murderball” as the topic of a Passover sermon about overcoming obstacles.

“There are certain minorities you’re born into, like being Jewish, and then there are quads who are thrown into a minority, and face all kinds of prejudice,” he added.

As a result, the athletes are “like jock philosophers,” Rubin said. “They’ve had their diapers changed, their a– — wiped, which humbled them and made them incredibly introspective.”

Shapiro identified with his subjects’ struggle with God: “After their traumas, these guys do start questioning, and Judaism encourages dialogue with even the highest power. You may not come up with answers, but you’re allowed to ask, ‘Why, why, why, why, why?'”

When the filmmakers began shooting at the 2003 world championships in Sweden, the challenge was “breaking through the yawn barrier,” Rubin recalled. “When you see something about disabilities, you just f—- — yawn. We did not want to make a politically correct, quote-unquote inspirational, cue-the-violins type of movie. We wanted to show how these guys played and partied and lived.”

To do so, the filmmakers adopted what Zupan calls his “a—level” view of the world, by shooting from wheelchairs and strapping cameras to the chairs during games.

Zupan told The Journal he opened up to the directors to publicize his sport and “to be depicted as normal. People see quads in chairs, and they’re like ‘you’re different,’ and in actuality, we’re not. I might see your a — before your face, but that’s not such a bad thing, especially when it comes to women.”

The movie features frank discussions about sex, including positions, Viagara, videos and how to pick up women.

Perhaps that’s why one observer dismissed the film as grotesque, exploitative, and asked, “What’s next? A movie about midget tossing?”

In response, the filmmakers pointed out that the response to “Murderball” has been overwhelmingly positive from both disabled and able-bodied viewers.

“This movie will make you forget everything you thought you knew about quadriplegics,” Shapiro said.

“Murderball” opens today in Los Angeles.


Jew Jokes Not a Joke

A Jewish teenager in Ventura County has filed a federal lawsuit against the Conejo Valley Unified School District (CVUSD), alleging that his high school coach and teammates repeatedly made anti-Semitic remarks to him and that school officials were indifferent to his complaints.

In U.S. District Court papers filed May 26 in Los Angeles on behalf of Samuel Goldstein, 16, the former Newbury Park High School (NPHS) student alleges that for the past two school years his teammates made repeated anti-Semitic jokes and taunts around him.

The lawsuit states that teammates made jokes to Goldstein such as, "What’s the difference between a Jew and a canoe? A canoe tips," and, "How do you fit 500,000 Jews in a car? Two in front, three in the back, and the rest in the ashtray."

The lawsuit also states that Newbury Park High baseball and football coach John Marsden in March 2003 allegedly, "told Sam that ‘God didn’t like him, because he was a Jew.’"

At a January 2003 birthday party with other athletes, Goldstein had to endure a "concentration camp" game in which, the lawsuit alleges, "his teammates from baseball and football pressed him against a fence and told jokes about how, unlike pizza, Jews scream when placed in an oven."

"In or about June 2003, Sam saw a group of students on the school campus saluting Hitler and drawing swastikas," the lawsuit said. "Altercations between this group and other students resulted."

Last fall, the Anti-Defamation League wrote to and met with the high school’s principal. "In meetings with NPHS, the ADL offered to arrange for Holocaust survivors to speak at a school assembly," the lawsuit stated. "NPHS rejected the offer on the asserted basis that the students’ curriculum was already too full."

ADL Pacific Southwest Region spokeswoman Allison Mayerson confirmed this week the ADL’s involvement, but told The Journal that there would no further ADL comment since the incidents now involve litigation.

After he complained to school officials about Marsden, Goldstein alleges that his teammates called him "kike," "faggot Jew" and "dirty Jew," according to the lawsuit, which names the school district and Marsden as defendants. It claims the defendants violated Goldstein’s civil rights, were negligent and intentionally inflicted emotional duress.

Along with seeking an end to further harassment, the lawsuit asks the federal court "to require defendant CVUSD to implement religious tolerance education for faculty and students and a civil penalty of $25,000 and attorneys fees."

Goldstein had played on the school’s basketball, football and baseball teams, but he quit the baseball team in February. His parents have taken him and his younger brother out of the school district and moved. The high school is in an unincorporated part of Thousand Oaks.

Conejo Valley School District Superintendent Robert Fraisse did not return calls for comment, and the district has declined to discuss the case’s specifics, because it involves personnel matters.

Marsden had been a part-time baseball and football coach at the high school since 1987. He was not involved in teaching classes. His last day at the school was Jan. 22, according to a school district official.

Asked if Marsden would be returning this fall, the official said, "I don’t believe so."

In April 2003, the lawsuit states, the coach asked Jewish students on the basketball team who would not be at practice because of Passover. Although Goldstein arranged to attend practice and also observe the holiday, another Jewish player did not, and the coach allegedly stated, "Next year, I won’t have to worry about the boys missing practice, as I’ll cut all the Jewish players from the team."

The lawsuit filed by Goldstein’s parents claims that for two years, his mother and father repeatedly contacted school district officials about Marsden.

"Sam and/or his parents wrote letters to, sent e-mails to, made telephone calls to, and/or had in-person meetings with CVUSD personnel," the lawsuit states. "Despite its knowledge of the facts, CVUSD did little or nothing to remedy the discrimination experienced by Sam."

The lawsuit claims that Goldstein was a leadoff hitter and played first-string outfield on the baseball team, plus was a first-string defensive player in football. In spring 2003, the lawsuit states, Goldstein’s mother met with Marsden, who allegedly, "retaliated against Sam by benching him for most of the remaining baseball season…. Marsden then proceeded to tease Sam in front of his peers about the fact that Sam’s mother came to speak to him."

‘Show & Tel’ Dials the Right Artwork

"Show & Tel: Art of Connection," the Zimmer Children’s Museum’s exhibition of 179 telephones decorated and deconstructed by painters, sculptors, politicians, athletes and others, features an array of artworks ranging from the whimsical to the confrontational.

Grouped by such themes as sports and color schemes, the often funky and always surprising phones fill several rooms at the Zimmer. Taken together, they show that a little imagination can go a long way toward transforming a prosaic object into something compelling and original.

All the phones are up for sale. Proceeds will go to youTHink, a Zimmer program for students that uses art to discuss important social issues.

Curator Kate Stern, a former talent coordinator for "Rock the Vote" and ex-casting director, leveraged her contacts to land some big-name celebrities for the show.

Screen legend Elizabeth Taylor submitted a purple flower pot sprouting a pink phone covered with violets. Basketball star Jason Kidd’s phone has a large 5, his number, plastered across his phone’s keypad and his last name spelled out in big letters across the receiver. Venice artist Aaron Kramer’s "It’s Fore You" features a phone encased in metal that is supported by four wood drivers. A wood barbell hangs from the base of the phone.

But it’s the lesser-known creators who, in many instances, have produced the most affecting pieces. Beth Livingston, an artist and U.S. Paralympics Ski Team member, created a massive piece titled, "Follow Your Heart," which features a 5-foot-long mermaid holding a phone receiver in her left hand. A colorful mosaic of jewels, plastic flowers, antique buttons and bottle caps decorate her belly.

New York firefighter Hugh Giffords’ "Never Give Up" has a backdrop of the charred remains of World Trade Center after the Sept. 11 attacks. In the foreground, a red phone peeks through the rubble of smashed cinder blocks.

Giffords, who plans to attend the Zimmer’s June 6 preview opening, lost 14 of the 16 members of his fire company in the terrorist attack.

"The greatest virtues that mankind possesses, marched straight into those buildings, [and] they did it for love," he wrote in text accompanying his work.

Curator Stern said she was happy with the diverse talent she assembled for the exhibit. Some participants responded quickly. R&B musician Alicia Keys turned in her phone only two days after receiving it in the mail. Others needed a little more prodding.

Artist Charles Arnoldi reluctantly agreed to participate but kept putting Stern off. Undeterred, she dropped by his studio when he was out and left one pound of homemade toffee, along with Post-It notes with messages such as "Chuck for president" and "You’re the man." Arnoldi sent in his painted phone soon thereafter.

Stern said she wasn’t able to get everybody she wanted. David Hockney said he was too busy. Madonna, a practitioner of Kaballah, a branch of Jewish mysticism, never responded. Poet Maya Angelou initially said she would participate and then vanished on a three-month book tour, ("I literally begged her," Stern lamented).

Esther Netter, the Zimmer’s executive director, borrowed the idea for the phone exhibit from a similar show that ran in Haifa two and a half years ago. She took more than a good idea — 29 of the Zimmer’s phone artworks come from the original Israeli exhibit.

"This is the biggest exhibit in Zimmer’s history," Netter said. "We’re preparing for a big party, so we’re putting our best, most shiny face first."

The "Show & Tel" preview will take place June 6 at 6 p.m. Tickets cost $100. The show opens to the public June 8 and runs until Sept. 10. For more information, call Carrie Jacoves at (323) 761-8992.–MB

Athletes Sport Skills in Chile

Did you hear the one about the Jewish linebacker? If you did, don’t tell it to Jed Margolis, executive director of Macabbi USA/Sports for Israel. “The joke is always that there are no good Jewish athletes, but that’s not true, especially in Southern California,” Margolis said. “Some of our Southern California Maccabi athletes are the best in their sport.”

From Dec. 24, 2003-Jan. 4, 2004, 57 of those California athletes participated in the 10th annual Pan American Maccabi Games in Santiago, Chile. According to Macabbi USA, more than 2,000 Jewish athletes from 20 countries were participating, making the event larger than the Winter Olympics.

The all-Jewish competition provides a unique opportunity for the athletes who are used to open playing fields. Jon Levin, a Team USA golfer from Huntington Beach, is thrilled with the prospect.

“When I played professional golf, I was in the minority. I was often the only Jew. I can’t wait to be around fellow Jews from all walks of life who all excel in athletics,” said Levin, who played on the Asian Golf Tour.

The Pan American Games, which take place once every four years, are an offshoot of the Maccabiah World Games in Israel. Athletes participate at junior (13-16), youth (17-19), open (12-62) and masters (35 and up) levels in sports ranging from baseball to table tennis.

With this year’s official dual theme of “Now More Than Ever” and “If Not Now, When?” the 2003 games emphasized the importance of building a worldwide Jewish community. Maccabi USA sent over 400 athletes, its largest delegation ever, as a sign of Jewish strength, solidarity and unity.

“Part of our goal is to celebrate Jewish athletes, and the other part is to simply bring Jews from around the world together,” said Margolis, who played basketball in the 1973 Maccabi Games.

Zak Murez, a Venice High School swimmer, was looking forward to socializing with other Jewish teens from around the world.

“I’m excited to meet new people, hang out and talk and have a good time,” said Murez, 14, whose family belongs to Mishkon Tephilo. “I just know we’re going to have so much fun together.”

For more information, visit

And the Shul Goes Wild!

Six Jewish sportsmen from the United States, Britain and Canada have been elected to the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Stone, tennis champion Harold Solomon, Olympic track and field coach Mel Rosen and Hank Kaplan, boxing historian and editor, made up the American contingent elected for 2004.

Also named were British boxing promoter Jack Solomons and Canadian football coach Lew Hayman.

The election results were announced by R. Stephen Rubin of London and Alan Sherman of Potomac, Md.

Since 1979, a total of 299 athletes and sports figuresfrom 23 countries have been elected to the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, whosemuseum is located on the campus of the Wingate Institute for Physical Educationand Sport in Netanya, Israel. For more information, visit .

Up Front

JCC Wants a Few Good

The Jewish Community Center (JCC) is on the lookout for teen
athletes who want to compete in the 2003 JCC Maccabi Games, a week-long
international Jewish youth summer games competition, to be held Aug. 8 through
Aug. 15.

This year, 70 local athletes will be able to participate in
games to be held in Houston and St. Louis, said Matt Lebovits, a Maccabi
coordinator. This year’s sports include boys basketball and soccer (for those
14 and under), boys and girls soccer (for those 16 and under), girls volleyball
(16 and under), baseball, tennis, dance and swimming.

Last year, the 82-person local contingent included a newly
formed girls volleyball team that defied expectations by competing in the final
medal round against Israel. Though gold medals eluded the Cinderella-team,
their coach said the six girls returned enriched and pride-filled from Baltimore,
which hosted 2,000 athletes from six countries.

The experience proved infectious to another adult chaperone,
Julie Rubin, the JCC’s assistant director. Her goal is for Orange County to
host the games in the near future.

Israel Merchants on

With violence scaring off trinket-buying tourists, Israeli
merchants are turning the tables and bringing their wares to shoppers. On Jan.
5, a caravan of 30 Israeli artists and craftsmen will open up shop in the high
school campus of Irvine’s Tarbut V’Torah Jewish Day School, the first stop in a
75-day national tour of 35 cities from Hawaii to Maine.

“With tourism at all-time lows in Israel, this is a great
way for us to show solidarity with Israel by helping her economy,” said event
chair Charlene Zuckerman of Laguna Niguel. The fair is the second initiative of
the Orange County Israel Solidarity Task Force, a community-wide group, and the
Jewish Federation.

While sympathy has stimulated shop-in-Israel initiatives
online, Zuckerman figures personal chemistry will help draw a projected 2,000
visitors for the event, which will include kosher refreshments. “It’s nice to
see who you are helping. It’s also nice to be able to see the goods,” such as
the contemporary kiddush cups created by Judaic artist and silversmith Dan Givon,
or the contemporary jewelry crafted by his wife, Stacy. Their studio is in Zur Hadassa,
in Jerusalem’s Judean mountains.

A similar fair, organized independently and held last summer
on Long Island drew 17,000 people and netted merchants $750,000, said Stuart A.
Katz, president and owner of New York-based Tal Tours, an Israel-tour operator
who organized the national merchant tour. “Frankly, I was surprised,” he said.

With his own business down 70 percent compared to 2001, Katz
figured he could apply his skills in reverse. By aiding merchants, who pay
their own way, he might still serve his own interests. “Our goal is to promote
tourism,” he said.

Guess Who’s Coming to

In a warmup for Orange County’s second Jewish
scholar-in-residence program later this month, the Bureau of Jewish Education
is putting on its own scholarly event Jan. 12, but adding an edible twist.

“Dinner With a Scholar” is a one-night affair featuring five
different experts that intend to share their scholarly pursuits in the
salon-like setting of private homes. It is hoped they will be joined by 14
dinner companions willing to pay $125 for the privilege.

“It has the potential to turn into our main fundraiser,”
said Joan Kaye, executive director of the bureau, which creates youth programs
and trains local religious-school teachers. She modeled the event after one in Boston.
“This is who we are,” Kaye said.

To mark its 25th year, the bureau held a fundraiser last
October with a Catskill-styled dinner. A comedian who lived up to his name,
“Noodles,” entertained at the event.

Dinner guests have varied menu choices on several counts.
Host sites include three homes and an art gallery in Newport Beach and one home
in Long Beach. Topics range from social responsibility to the history of
chutzpah to whether God had a consort. Presenters include scholars of
archeology, management and Midrash, the biblical interpretations of rabbis.

Archaeologist Looks at Science
Behind Exodus

To set the stage for Passover, Aliso Viejo’s Kershaw Museum
will host a slide show by an archaeologist who has written a best-selling book
that links scientific findings to biblical history.

William G. Dever, 69, a retired professor who has excavated
in Israel for 40 years, is now busy developing television shows for the BBC
based on his first nonscholarly book, “What Did the Biblical Scholars Know and
When Did They Know It?” which was published last year and is a runaway
bestseller for its publisher, Eerdmans Publishing of Grand Rapids, Mich.

Dever’s museum lecture retraces the biblical exodus from Egypt
with illustrations of Pharoah’s monument building, Moses’ journey into Sinai to
receive the Ten Commandments and the Ark’s passage from the Tabernacle to
Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. His lecture notes are a soon-to-be-published
second book, “Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From?”

“The answer is not from Egypt,” Dever said, explaining that
the book and lecture attempts to steer a middle course between biblical
literalists and those who call the exodus fiction.

The book is written for a nonscientific audience, but is
based on excavations and surveys in the West Bank made in the last decade by
Israeli scholars, whose findings have not been popularized, Dever said.

Dever’s talk was scheduled as a preview of a planned exhibit
in March about the early Israelites emergence from slavery to freedom, but the
focus of the exhibit is now uncertain, said Gail Levy, a museum board member.

After the museum lecture, he is also scheduled for a talk
titled, “Did God Have a Consort? Archaeology and ‘Folk Religion’ in Ancient
Israel,” as part of the Bureau of Jewish Education’s “Dinner with a Scholar”

Dever said architectural evidence shows that all deities in
the ancient world were paired, a concept monotheistic Judaism abandoned. “Did
God Have a Wife?” is the working title of his third planned book.

2 p.m. Jan. 12 at Temple Beth El of South Orange County, 2A Liberty,
Aliso Viejo. (949) 362-3999.

Biblical Scholar Will Give 
30 Talks on Ancient Texts

Biblical scholar Shalom Paul will hold 30 talks as part of
the second Orange County Jewish Community Scholar Program beginning Jan. 19.

For a nonacademic audience, Paul’s talks are a rare
opportunity to glimpse how scholars solve mysteries within ancient texts. Paul,
65, also chairs the Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation and a Bible curriculum
committee for Israel’s Ministry of Education. His topics will include, “The
Genesis of Genesis,” the keynote address Jan. 20 at the Jewish Community
Center, to innovations by classical prophets.

More than 2,000 people attended talks by the previous
scholar-in-residence, Avigdor Shinan. As a result, more synagogues, schools and
special interest groups clamored for a slot in his schedule and twice as many
individual patrons wrote checks.

“We’ve raised sufficient money to fund the program through
2004,” said Arie Katz, an Irvine lawyer who, late in 2001, started the program
that has since mushroomed with a calendar of unusual speakers. “We almost have
more people who want to come here than places to put them,” he said.

An advisory board of rabbis compiled their own wish list of
high-profile thinkers that Katz promised to tackle. This year, Katz also
scheduled a separate session for the more advanced theologians, requested by
one rabbi eager to engage in a higher level discussion.

Phoenix of the Games

A month ago the hopes, dreams, spirit and hard work of an immeasurable number of Jewish athletes, coaches and support personnel from around the world appeared to be going to waste. Due to the unrest in the Middle East, the 16th World Maccabiah Games were in jeopardy.

But as the week of games came to a close, many felt that they had been saved by something unforeseen, something not easily explained. And all were glad to have attended.

"My mom was against me going, but my dad really wanted me to, and they actually had big fights about it. But in the end it was my decision, and I’m glad me and dad won," said Anaheim Hills’ Danielle Perkel, 16, a member of the U.S. junior girls soccer team.

Perkel, a center midfielder whose team won a gold medal, said she was moved by the whole experience.

"Once I got there and saw Israel," she said, "it was the most amazing experience I ever had. Just the history, and everything the Jewish people have been through, and now we have our own country — which will last forever — is something that will live with me forever. The Maccabiah has truly been a life-altering experience. It has given me a whole new perspective on Jewish people, as well as myself."

Discussing what it means to be in Israel and part of Maccabiah is practically a sport in itself. Having never before been to Israel, Roman Veytsman and Shawn Weinstein, both members of the U.S. junior basketball team, said the games get everyone to realize how alike people are.

"Being here at a time when we’re constantly hearing about how badly Israel needs us is indeed very special," said Weinstein, 15, an incoming junior at Peninsula High School in Rancho Palos Verdes who averaged close to 22 points a game during her play for the U.S. squad, which won the gold medal for the first time since 1993.

"Israel is almost indescribable in that it’s so beautiful, and every day we saw something more fascinating. From the touring to the trading to the Israeli people, everything and everyone has been tremendous. My parents wanted me to have the experience and encouraged me from the start. I knew things would be fine, and, sure enough, I never once felt unsafe," Weinstein said.

An incoming junior at El Camino High School, Veytsman, 15, said, "I knew it would be special being here, but the feeling I had marching into Teddy Stadium for the opening ceremonies will live with me forever."

The games, which were shortened in length from 10 to seven days, took place from July 16 to 24. In a normal year, the Maccabiah Games are one of the world’s five largest international sporting events.

Sixteen years ago, there were 390 athletes from 18 countries. This year’s games, despite numerous cancellations, featured more than 3,000 athletes from approximately 35 countries, competing in 38 sports. Israel alone had more than 1,500 participants.

In the athletics, the United States won gold medals in open and junior basketball, junior girls soccer, water polo and beach volleyball. Overall, the United States finished second to Israel in the count, winning 74 medals (21 gold, 23 silver and 30 bronze). Israel won a whopping 244, including 96 gold.

The undisputed star of this year’s United States team was West Hollywood swimmer Lenny Krayzelburg, who won three gold medals at last summer’s Olympic Games in Australia. Krayzelburg, who passed up going to the world championships in Japan to participate in the Maccabiah, was selected to carry in the flag for the United States at the opening ceremonies.

"It’s one thing to represent a team, or your school, but to represent your country and all the Jewish people from the United States is a tremendous honor of a completely different kind," said Krayzelburg, who despite an injured shoulder won gold medals in the two events in which he participated: 100-meter backstroke and the 4 X 100M medley relay.

As the starting point guard on the U.S. men’s open basketball team, Tustin’s Doug Gottlieb said he came to Israel partly to win the gold medal his team failed to win in 1997. The last open hoops gold medal won by the U.S. team was in 1985, 16 years ago.

"I felt that, from last time, we had some unfinished business (the U.S. team lost in the semi-finals to Great Britain in 1997), and I wanted to experience winning with some of my former teammates and coach Herb Brown," said Gottlieb, who this past year played professionally in Russia. "The gold medal game against Israel was very tight again, and to pull it out was a tremendous feeling."

Gottlieb, who played college ball at Oklahoma State, added that being in Israel is a very special thing indeed.

"You can’t judge Israel by what you see on television, because if you do, you would never come here, and would miss one of the greatest countries in the world," said Gottlieb, who was once voted the best quote in college basketball. "I’ve been here five times, and I’ve never felt unsafe. What is really special about these games is all the people really chose to come, and there’s nothing like being in Israel and competing in the Maccabiah Games to make you really feel what it’s like to be Jewish."

At the closing ceremonies, Matan Vilnai, Israeli minister of science, culture and sports, expressed thanks to the athletes who came to Israel.

"You can’t imagine how important it is for us that you came to Israel to take part in this Maccabiah," said Vilnai, who was one of the Israeli officials who insisted that the games take place. "Take back to your countries the knowledge of what life is really like here in Israel. We will see you at the next Maccabiah in 2005, or even before, if you choose to move here and make Israel your home."

Final results for the U.S. team can be found on the Internet by going to

Honoring Dedication

That joke about the world’s shortest book being “Great Jewish Athletes” was finally put out to pasture last week. On Jan. 20, the West Valley Jewish Community Center hosted the Ninth Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Bob “Super Dave Osborne” Einstein emceed the dinner, which lauded the efforts of 15 Jews whose achievements have had an impact in the world of sports, both on the field and off.

While the first Jewish Sports Hall of Fame was founded in 1958 in Ohio, the concept didn’t take off nationally until the ’80s and early ’90s. The international Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in Israel, which recognizes athletes and sports professionals worldwide, was established in 1981.

Director Eli Sherman and co-chair Joe Siegman founded the Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1989 to support individuals and the Jewish community through sports. The local Hall of Fame also works to promote the World Maccabi Games in Israel, Jewish Community Centers of North America Maccabi Youth games and the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles’ sports programs.

Athletes inducted into the Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame included Shawn Green of the Los Angeles Dodgers; Lenny Krayzelburg, Olympic gold-medal winner in swimming; golfer Carol Heiser Altshiller; gymnast Deborah Mink; water polo ace Robert Myman; softball star Beth Silverman Kaminkow; and tennis player Milt Nemiroff.
Inducted sports professionals included Martin Denkin, a legendary boxing official, and Andrew Bernstein, Alan Epstein,
Richard Levin and Ephraim Moxson for their exceptional work in sports media.

Three people were awarded the special Pillar of Achievement award: Robert Breitbard, former president of the San Diego Chargers responsible for building Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego; the late Eugene Klein, president of the Chargers (1966-1984); and the late Harry Ornest, former owner of the St. Louis Blues.

Nevin Barich, a journalism major at CSUN and Daily News sports writer, received the Allan Malamud Scholarship, established in honor of the Los Angeles sport writer. “Maybe I’ll never get to round the bases after hitting a home run,” noted Barich, “but through sports writing I’m still able to play.”


The Journal will regularly feature coverage of sports in the Jewish community in these pages.

We will feature profiles of local athletes and major sports figures, standings and news for local Maccabi, school and intramural teams, and stories that focus on issues surrounding sports in the community.

Please send your team scores and news to Ari Morguelan, who will coordinate our sports coverage.

To submit story ideas, scores, team news and suggestions for “Athlete of the Week,” contact Ari at (213) 368-1661 ext. 107, fax him at (213) 368-1684 or e-mail him at .

Now play ball !

Fern Milken Sports & Youth Complex

If anyone doubts the popularity of the new Fern Milken Sports & Youth Complex at the West Valley Jewish Community Center, just show up on any given weekday. The center, which used to attract primarily seniors, is now a hangout for youth of all ages, especially those with a love of shooting hoop.

It is a sight Eli Sherman, health and physical education director for the West Valley JCC, had dreamed of for years. He said the $4.5-million facility has increased participation in all areas, especially basketball. The 12,000-square foot auditorium is the setting for not only camp but ongoing classes, adult and youth leagues and open play times throughout the year. The Rita Room multipurpose room has given the center space to offer classes in fencing and table tennis. The interior lobby of the gleaming facility is home to the Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame with tributes to Jewish athletes, coaches and sports writers. Although not new, the pool and fitness areas continue to attract a daily round of regulars, mostly older adults, while high school students enjoy playing air hockey in the new teen lounge.

“We now have something for everybody,” Sherman said. “For a long time the center had the reputation of attracting either the very young or the older population. What has been missing is the young adults and the young families which are now coming in much greater numbers because of the variety programs we’re able to offer. It’s very exciting for us because the young families represent the future of the Jewish Community Centers in Los Angeles.”

According to West Valley JCC officials, the community center has experienced a 28 percent increase in the number of “member units” or paying members since the Sports & Youth Complex opened in December. Currently about 1,500 adults pay the additional fees on top of their JCC membership to belong to the Fitness Center; an estimated 200 children are signed up to take classes and participate in camping programs this summer.

The expansion of the JCC’s summer program is one of the biggest changes brought about by the new facility. This year the WVJCC will launch an ambitious program of specialty sports camps in five categories: basketball, gymnastics, soccer, tennis and dance. The dance camp will be taught by Laker girl Hope Wood and the basketball camp by former Harlem Globetrotter Sterling “Smooth” Forbes and Kelvin “Special K” Hildreth.

Another area the center staff hopes to promote with the new space is gymnastics. The WVJCC recently received a $25,000 grant from the Amateur Athletic Foundation – the folks behind the Olympics – to purchase equipment. Sherman said he has already hired three gymnastic instructors and on Sunday, July 9, at 10 a.m. the center will host a gymnastics demonstration to showcase the new equipment which includes balance beams, tumbling mats and uneven parallel bars.

As participation in the center continues to grow, so does the need for services. Additional adult classes being offered this summer for the first time include Israeli folk dancing and Krav Maga. Center officials also plan to offer babysitting services for infants and children up to age 3, so parents of young children can swim or participate in classes and league activities. “We are able to offer a lot of new activities, a lot of nice things that could never have been possible without the new Fern Milken Sports & Youth Center,” Sherman said.

Sherman should know – he has been with the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles for 45 years. Some of the kids he coached on his first job at the Westside JCC are now middle-aged men with children of their own. He has seen many changes over the years in the Jewish community’s attitude toward fitness, the most dramatic concerning women and sports. As Sherman recalls, in the 1950s girls might participate in one of the popular swimming programs at the “J” or take gymnastics, but never team sports.”The girls back then were the cheerleaders,” he said. “Now as many girls as boys participate in sports. It’s partly a change in attitude, but I think it’s mostly because of television. Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past four decades, it’s hard not to be affected by the marketing push to get sports into everybody’s life.”

Sherman said that talking about a sports hero in years past was like discussing “some biblical figure as far removed as Samson from real life.”
“Now every kid can talk about Kobe Bryant or the women of the WNBA,” he said.Although pleased with the new facility, Sherman said he wishes the center had the space to match some of the more impressive Jewish community centers in other parts of the country, such as the one in Cleveland that boasts running tracks, indoor and outdoor swimming pools and baseball fields.”Sadly, in Los Angeles, where we have the second largest Jewish community in the nation, we have never come near having the recreational facilities like you have back East or in the Midwest,” Sherman laments. “Plus in L.A. there’s a bank, a gas station and a fitness center on every corner, so we are in constant competition with the commercial clubs.”

The WVJCC is a part of the Bernard Milken Community Campus in West Hills, which also houses the Jewish Federation/ Valley Alliance. The new Sports & Youth Center was a collaboration of the two entities, which joined forces to raise the money necessary to finish the project, although fundraising will continue, according to Rhonda Wilkens, director of the West Valley JCC.

“We are continuing the campaign as an endowment fund so that any time the center needs something, the money is there,” Wilkens said, adding that building maintenance is a high priority. “We want the center to continue to look and feel as beautiful, with state-of-the-art equipment, 20 years from now as it does today.”