Rabbi Moshe Cohen is running the Los Angeles Marathon. Picture courtesy of Saul Blinkoff.

Why is this 62-year-old Irish rabbi running the LA marathon?


Rabbi Moshe Cohen of Pico-Robertson area synagogue Community Shul recently picked up running for his health. This weekend, the 62-year-old Irishman will run for a cause.

After nine months of training, Cohen will trade in his black hat and traditional orthodox attire for black shorts and run the March 19 Los Angeles Marathon to raise funds for his shul’s bar and bat mitzvah program.

“I never really ran anywhere. I guess I ran to the bathroom,” he said of life before his new hobby.

Cohen, who practiced law in Ireland before moving to Los Angeles 30 years ago to become a rabbi, was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes early last year. After his doctor recommended more exercise, he started modestly, with a short run around Circle Park in Beverlywood.

“I thought I was going to die,” Cohen said, drawing chuckles from Community Shul President Saul Blinkoff and Vice President Justin Levi as they sat at The Milky Way, a Pico-Boulevard kosher eatery. “But you just keep going. You just keep doing it. The marathon will be exciting.”

In the final stages of his training for the 26.2-mile race, Cohen has been completing late night runs of 11 miles from his Pico-Robertson home to West Hollywood and back. Distance running, he said, provides a unique tranquility. He doesn’t wear headphones as many runners do. Wearing his yarmulke is enough.

“No music for me. I get this runner’s high that I don’t get in shul when I’m out there,” he said. “It’s peaceful and it gives me time to think.”

Blinkoff, who is encouraging Community Shul members to donate at least a dollar for every mile Cohen runs in the marathon, was mystified when the rabbi came to him with this fundraising idea.

“I thought he was kidding when he first told me,” Blinkoff said. “Seriously, I thought there was no way.”

For Blinkoff, an animator with credits on Disney films including “Pocahontas” and “Tarzan,” disbelief morphed into plans to distribute water cups along the marathon course with Levi and other shul members.

“It’s going to be awesome when he passes us,” Blinkoff said. “It’s amazing that he’s really going to do it. He’s running for the Jewish people, even people who aren’t in his synagogue.”

Blinkoff shot a video that shows Cohen training “Rocky”-style for his upcoming race and sent it out to the community to drum up support.

“Community Shul’s Bar and Bat Mitzvah Experience” program is open to members and unaffiliated Jews alike. Blinkoff said they’re raising funds to bolster marketing, add administrative staff and hire a rabbinical assistant to expand the program’s reach.

“I get this runner’s high that I don’t get in shul when I’m out there. It’s peaceful and it gives me time to think.”

— Rabbi Moshe Cohen

The free program, with a curriculum overseen by Cohen, includes six free once-a-week sessions led by volunteer Jewish community leaders from a variety of fields who will discuss such topics as what it means to be Jewish today, Jewish history and connecting to Israel. Community Shul also partners with the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust to offer one-hour sessions at the museum taught by museum educators.

Participants don’t have to read from the Torah or learn a haftarah portion but must give a speech reflecting on the program at their bar or bat mitzvah service. Families only have to pay for their own party, which they can throw at the synagogue. Community Shul membership isn’t required.

Levi, who teaches Jewish history to bar and bat mitzvahs, said the sessions are meant to be informal and accessible.

“We want to really focus on people who are not members and who don’t go to shul every day,” he said. “It’s not that kind of thing. It’s more about understanding our place in the world and in the community as Jews.”

As an example, Blinkoff brought up his sessions with bar and bat mitzvahs in which he talks about his own work-life balance, illustrating that practicing Judaism isn’t a one-size-fits-all proposition.

“I talk openly about how I balance my life as a Hollywood filmmaker,” he said. “I tell them that when Shabbat comes, I spend time with my family and that takes precedence. They talk to me and it shows them that you don’t have to be a rabbi to want to live a Jewish life. Finding your own way to live a Jewish life — that’s what we’re trying to help with.” 

So far, only a handful of kids have gone through the program, which began late last year. Cohen said he’d like to see the program grow, particularly among young Jews unaffiliated with a shul.

“We really want things to ramp up, hopefully with more awareness after the marathon and Pesach,” he said. “I’m realistic enough to know that these kids probably aren’t going to change their lives because of the program. But hopefully it will make an impression on them and they’ll look back at it and recall a good experience, a real connection.”

One recent bar mitzvah, Zachary Light, applauded Cohen for using the marathon to expand the program.

“It’s pretty impressive. I’m not going to lie,” he said. “It’s just awesome. I’ve got to give it to him.” n

Olympics-LA heat to test Rio hopefuls in U.S. marathon trials


Unseasonably high temperatures will challenge runners at the U.S. Olympic marathon trials on Saturday with the top three finishers in the men's and women's races earning spots on the United States Olympic team.

A record field for the trials, comprising more than 370 athletes, will have to cope with temperatures of up to 82 degrees Fahrenheit (28 Celsius) in downtown Los Angeles where the race will start and end.

“Coming into it, I think it's the training that you do and you just try to prepare yourself as much as possible,” Luke Puskedra, the third-fastest men's qualifier, told reporters about the impact of the heat.

“The weather makes it more tactical. You have to be ready for everything. That being said, it's going to take a 2:08:00 effort (to qualify).

“A lot of it (coping with heat) comes with the toughness and some of it will probably be more of a mental head game. I stayed at home training in Eugene, Oregon, and turned the thermostat up to 80. My wife didn't enjoy it as much as I did!”

Puskedra, 26, will be making his debut in the U.S. Olympic marathon trials and will vie for a spot in Rio de Janeiro along with three-time Olympian Meb Keflezighi and Dathan Ritzenhein, who placed ninth in the marathon at the 2008 Beijing Games.

Also competing will be Galen Rupp, the 10,000m silver medallist at the 2012 Olympics who will be making his marathon debut.

Another three-time Olympian, defending trials champion Shalane Flanagan, will head the women's field where her leading challengers are expected to be Desiree Linden, Kara Goucher and Amy Cragg.

“The heat is going to obviously play a part,” said Linden, 32, who represented the U.S. at the 2012 London Olympics. “It's handling that last 10km and being able to finish the marathon.”

The top three finishers from each race who meet Olympic time standards will be nominated to represent the United States in the Rio Games. 

Local mom-athoner pounds pavement for a cure


Shannon Griefer ran a 135-mile ultramarathon in Death Valley in the middle of July, across the scorching hot terrain in the glow of the fiery sun. 

And on April 13, she was slated to run 135 miles, this time to benefit reserch into a condition she was diagnosed with in 2005: multiple sclerosis (MS). Despite her illness, Griefer, a 52-year-old mother of three, doesn’t let the disease slow her down. 

“My ultramarathon running is a metaphor for my life and for my disease,” she said. “It hurts to run 100 miles and you feel bad and you want to quit. But you can’t just quit and leave the race. You have to keep going. And you have to keep fighting MS. It’s the perfect thing for me to do to help others who have it a lot worse than me.”

It seemed natural, then, for her to be selected to kick off this year’s MS Run the U.S., a 3,000-mile relay beginning in Calabasas and ending four months  later in New York City. Griefer’s assigned segment included the Santa Clarita Valley, Palmdale and Victorville, where temperatures dip to 40 degrees at night at this time of year. She expected to run to Barstow over the course of  two days.

“If it’s 2 a.m. and I’m tired and freezing, I’ll sleep until sunrise or take a break until the sun comes out,” she told the Journal before the relay, which took place after this issue’s press deadline.

MS affects an estimated 400,000 in the United States alone, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. It occurs when the immune system attacks myelin, the substance that surrounds and shields the central nervous system’s nerve fibers, as well as the nerve fibers themselves. The damaged myelin forms scar tissue, which interrupts the nerve impulses that go to and from the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms can include walking and balance issues, fatigue, cognitive dysfunction, pain and depression. 

Griefer, an entrepreneur, owns Moeben, a sportswear company specializing in UV-protective arm sleeves, and swimwear business Jetanna. She also coaches ultramarathon runners on the side and volunteers at a children’s hospital. She said that nine years ago, when she was first diagnosed, she was having hallucinations, even while running. Her neurologist told her that an upcoming run she was set to compete in would be her last; afterward, she took a vacation with her husband at the time, who wanted her to relax before starting treatment. On the trip, she became pregnant with her third son. No new lesions appeared on her brain for a while, which the doctor told her was a miracle.

These days, she can still function well — every week she runs 20 to 30 miles while training around her home in Hidden Hills. But she does face physical challenges on a regular basis. 

“My left side is mostly affected,” she said. “At times I wear a sling, because the arm becomes dead weight. I need help getting dressed sometimes.”

In the past, she’s also lost hair and gained weight when receiving injections of Copaxone, a drug designed to decrease the frequency of MS relapses. Right now, she has 60 lesions on her brain. 

Maybe all of these difficulties are actually part of why she continues to run.

“When people are given this diagnosis, they get depressed and they don’t want to do anything,” she said. “It’s important that I run. It shows other people that you can run 135 miles in two days — or five miles a day.”

Ashley Kumlien, whose mother was diagnosed with MS in 1980, started the nonprofit behind the race in 2009. According to the Wisconsin native, there are 14 runners this year, some doing back-to-back segments, who will be passing off their batons across the country. Aside from Griefer, two other runners in the race have MS. Last year, $175,000 was raised for the organization.

Kumlien said she was impressed with Griefer and accepted her application to be a runner after Griefer found out about the relay online. 

“It’s important that Shannon is participating because she’s living with MS and she’s an endurance runner,” Kumlien said. “She’s had some ups and downs recently with her symptoms. On some level, this event will give individuals living with MS a purpose.”

Many of the runs Griefer has taken part in have benefited charities for sick and/or autistic children. She said that one of the reasons she chooses to take part is to give back and set an example for her three boys. 

“You never know what someone is going through until you’re given a diagnosis,” she said. “I’m glad it’s me and not my kids, but MS is hereditary. There are so many ways to run races to help other people. My kids should give back. I instilled this in them. I want to help others who don’t have it as good as we do.”

She hopes they pick up another lesson, too.

“I want to show my kids that there will be obstacles and hurdles and tough times in life. Never give up. Keep fighting.”

Gaza runner barred by Israel from Bethlehem marathon


Israel’s Supreme Court upheld a decision by the IDF to bar a Palestinian runner from Gaza from participating in a marathon in Bethlehem.

In the case of Nader Masri, a 2008 Olympian, the court ruled April 8 that it could not overrule a military decision. But the court also recommended that Israel consider allowing Masri to leave Gaza to participate in the April 11 race.

“It is hoped, of course, that in the future the security situation will improve that will allow an easing of such restrictions,” Judge Daphne Barak-Erez wrote in her decision.

Masri, 34, was rejected in his petition to Israel’s military seeking permission to travel to the West Bank for the second Bethlehem marathon. He turned to Israel’s high court through the Israeli human rights group Gisha — Legal Center for Freedom of Movement.

Masri represented Palestine in the Beijing Olympics and has represented the Palestinian Authority in several international competitions. 

Local girl battles cancer, fire and Miami Marathon


She may only be 10 years old, but Sienna Wolfe’s narrow escape from a bunkhouse fire during sleep-away camp last summer wasn’t the first time she’s eluded death: The Beverly Hills girl is also a cancer survivor.

Diagnosed when she was 6 with fibromyxoid sarcoma, a soft-tissue cancer — she’s now in remission — Sienna was among those endangered by an early morning fire at Camp Simcha, a camp in the Catskill Mountains for children with cancer and other serious diseases. 

Earlier this month, she joined another camper and 12 counselors to raise money for rebuilding the camp by participating in the Miami Half Marathon as part of Team Lifeline. Pushed in a wheelchair in the Feb. 2 race by her counselor, Penina Wolff, Sienna crossed the finish line in 3 hours and 13 minutes.

“She’s just a ray of sunshine,” said Wolff, who flew in from New York. “She’s super fun and always looks on the bright side.” 

Each team member in the Miami race had to raise $3,600; this year, the Team Lifeline program aims to raise $2 million for rebuilding and refurbishing the camp, as well as scholarships. 

Sienna, who lives with her mother, Michelle Kalt, and two older brothers in Beverly Hills, attends Beverly Vista School and studies Hebrew at Temple Emanuel. She said she was “scared and sad” when she was diagnosed with cancer, but that some good came of it, too. 

“I learned to appreciate things and think good thoughts,” she said.

For the past three years. Sienna has attended Camp Simcha, a kosher, tuition-free camp accommodating 430 campers. It holds sessions for young cancer patients and, as Camp Simcha Special, hosts those with chronic conditions, such as cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis and rare genetic diseases. It is operated by the organization Chai Lifeline as one of its many services for families dealing with pediatric illness.

Sienna said she loved the unique, nurturing experience, explaining that for the two weeks she’s there, “I feel like I’m not alone and not the only one.”

That comforting security was shattered last year in the predawn hours of an August Shabbat morning, three days before the end of camp. Wolff, who has worked at Camp Simcha for six years and as division head for the last three, remembers being awakened at 4:30 a.m. by another counselor who said the bunk next door was on fire. 

“I ran to see if everyone got out and saw a counselor carrying a wheelchair-bound camper out, against a background of flames. We counted and saw that everyone was out. Everything went as planned,” she said, explaining that they’d practiced fire drills, the fire department came quickly and no one was injured.

“But we were in shock. The bunk was destroyed.” Aside from someone’s keys, those campers and staff members “lost everything.”

Melanie Kwestel, Chai Lifeline’s director of communications, said the fire is believed to have been electrical in nature.

“It was a traumatic experience for everyone,” she said, adding that as cancer survivors, the children coped better than their counselors. 

“These kids really have been through hell. Pediatric cancer treatment is very painful, and these girls were in or had been through treatment and they had faced down death. Even though it was not a pleasant experience, they were able to take it in stride.”

The entire camp rallied around the affected campers, Kwestel recalled. 

“The other girls immediately came forward and gave them clothing, stuffed animals. These kids have some sort of object they take with them when they go through cancer treatment, such as a blanket or stuffed animal, something that comforts them,” she explained. “These kids lost that in the fire, and other kids said ‘Here, take mine.’ It was such amazing compassion.”

The campers wore pajamas all day that Shabbat, in solidarity with those who’d lost everything but their sleepwear, Wolff said. She recalled a speech Sienna gave to the camp assembly that Friday night about positive thinking and how she retained that attitude, along with her sense of humor, after the devastating fire. 

“We were all sitting there afterward, and she said, ‘Tragic times, Penina. Tragic times,’ and everyone laughed. She just has that way about her,” Wolff said. “She said, ‘We’re all alive. We all survived.’ ”

And they all did it together, which is one reason participants in the Miami race decided to rally as a group. Sienna, who needed a wheelchair for the half marathon because she tires easily, thanked her fellow racers and gave them medals at the finish line. 

She said she’s looking forward to returning to Camp Simcha this summer, and even though she wants to become an actress someday, she has a more immediate goal. 

“I want to work at camp as a counselor,” Sienna said. “I understand what they’ve been through.”

A suit and a story from a Holocaust survivor


It had been a tough week. The more news I read about the Boston bombing, the less I understood. Who were these young men, full of grievance, using a fresh start in America to maim and kill innocents?

In the midst of the mess, I decided to finally buy myself a new suit. I have just one, which I bought 10 years ago from an elderly Jewish man downtown.

I had a vivid memory of him, but I didn’t know his name. So I called Roger Stuart Clothes on Los Angeles Street and asked if the elderly man with the accent still worked there.

“Max?” the man on the phone said. “No, I’m sorry.”

“I guess I waited too long,” I said. Charming little old men don’t live forever, I thought.

“Just come tomorrow,” the man went on. “Max only works Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.”

Before the man hung up, I just had to ask him: How old was my salesman? Where was the accent from? What’s his story? 

“Max? He’s 94. A Holocaust survivor. From the camps.”

I told him I’d be in that week — for a suit and a story.

“Should we talk, or do you want to first look at suits?” Max Leigh was just like I remembered him: maybe 5-foot-4, sturdy, with a good head of graying hair, a crisp blue dress shirt, gray slacks and a flowered tie. His face was kindly, bespectacled — like a doctor who makes house calls. A Yiddish accent.

Max looked at me: “42 long. What color? Every man should have a navy blue, a black and a gray.”

He handed me a black suit; I tried it on. Perfect. I had him pick me out a shirt, a tie — and I was good for another 10 years. I paid, then Max took me to the back, to a couple of chairs near a dressing room.

I pulled out my notebook and digital recorder.

“Oh, my story,” Max sighed. “I told it to Steven Spielberg. Can you get it from him?”

He was talking, I assumed, about testimony he must have given to the USC Shoah Foundation, which the film director established. I couldn’t understand Max without listening to those testimonial tapes — which I later did — but the tapes, and their sad, brutal memories, only tell part of his story.

Max was born Max Leschgold in Dresden, Germany. When Max was a child, his parents moved with him and his two younger sisters back to their native Warsaw to be with relatives. 

Max was 19 when the Nazis came to Warsaw. He was taken to a series of camps, including Auschwitz. After the war, he learned that his parents had starved to death in the Warsaw Ghetto. One sister died fighting in the ghetto. Another was shot dead in the arms of her boyfriend after their hiding place was discovered.

Max’s Shoah testimony is a recitation of horrors — starvation, mock executions, beatings. On the tapes, he tells the story with distant matter-of-factness. The only time he chokes up is when the interviewer asks whether he ever had children.

“My wife had a child killed by the Nazis,” he finally said. “We have the picture in the other room.” 

With the help of Jewish organizations, Max came to Los Angeles after the war as a penniless refugee who spoke four languages, but not English.

They put him in a hotel in Boyle Heights. He didn’t want to be on welfare, so he took the first job he could, at a fishing line factory. His hopes of a professional education destroyed by the war, he became a machinist, working in the aerospace and computer industries. When he was downsized at the age of 52, he and a friend opened a suit store downtown. 

“I didn’t even know what size suit I wore,” he said. “But I went into business, and I started a company, and I was successful, and here I am.”

Max travelled around the world, including five visits to Israel. He said he has paid back in donations “a thousand times over” whatever money the Jewish organizations donated to help him get on his feet.

After he sold his company, he began working at Roger Stuart, in 1981 — that’s 32 years.

“I don’t need the money,” Max said. “If I wouldn’t like it, I wouldn’t work. I like people.”

Max was married to his first wife, Rosaline, for 54 years — they met just after the war, and she died not long after he made his video testimony in 1997. His second wife, Inna, is 66. Inna’s son and grandchildren are like his own, he said.

“I have family now, I didn’t have any before. I lost my whole family.”

I asked Max how he managed to deal with such terrible memories. Did faith help, I asked, a belief in God?

Max shook his head.

“I saw too much to believe in all that bulls—,” he said. “I had these discussions with rabbis, and they couldn’t give me an answer. You explain to me why 1 1/2 million children got killed without sins. I lost whatever faith I had, and I didn’t have much to start with.”

Yet, Max moved forward. He didn’t lash out. He didn’t stay bitter at having his family and his dreams destroyed. He was 19 when his life fell apart — the same age as one of those Boston bombers — and he rebuilt his life; he stitched it back together like a suit.

“Am I bitter?” Max said. “Yes, however, you can’t live that way all your life. If you’re going to live with it all your life, then you don’t have a life at all.”

There are a million stories in the naked city — and in the fully clothed city, too. 


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

Medical examiner keeps private how Boston bombing suspect died


An autopsy on Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev determined precisely how he died after a bloody shootout with police but the results can't be made public until the body is claimed, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Medical Examiner said on Monday.

FBI agents also spent hours at Tsarnaev's widow's family home in North Kingstown, Rhode Island, and came out carrying bags market DNA samples, a person familiar with the investigation said

Two law enforcement officials said both the FBI and local law enforcement agencies are now looking beyond the Boston area to try to identify associates or possible confederates of Tsarnaev and his younger brother, Dzhokhar. A federal official said that further searches by the FBI or other agencies for physical evidence were also possible.

Authorities and the public have been waiting to learn whether Tamerlan Tsarnaev died in a hail of police bullets or when he was run over by Dzhokhar when the younger Tsarnaev fled in an SUV they had stolen.

“The Medical Examiner has determined the cause of death,” said Terrel Harris, spokesman for the Massachusetts Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, but added that these findings will not be made public until the body is claimed and a death certificate is filed.

Tsarnaev's widow, Katherine Russell, would be permitted to claim the body from the medical examiner but she has been in hiding at her family's home. She was seen leaving the house Monday afternoon with her lawyers and was later seen leaving her lawyer's offices in Providence, Rhode Island.

Police said the Tsarnaevs set off twin bombs on April 15 that ripped through the crowd near the marathon's finish line, killing three and injuring 264. The Tsarnaevs led police in a wild car chase through metropolitan Boston three days later, throwing grenades and exchanged gunfire as the officers closed in.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev had stepped outside the SUV to shoot at police when he was hit by gunfire and was run over by his brother when the younger Tsarnaev escaped. He was pronounced dead at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Dzhokhar, 19, was captured on April 19 and has been recovering from bullet wounds at a prison medical center outside Boston.

Russell said through her lawyer last week that she was doing everything she could do assist officials with the investigation.

Her lawyers have not said anything else, but a person familiar with the matter said they have been negotiating how much access officials will have to their client.

Russell, 24, lived with Tamerlan Tsarnaev and their young daughter in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Police have said they found bomb material in that apartment.

Her lawyers have said she didn't know much because she spent most of her time working as a health aide near Boston while her husband was at home watching the child.

The brothers' parents, now living in Russia, said on Sunday that they have abandoned initial plans to come to the United States to claim their older son's body and visit their younger son.

Additional reporting by Aaron Pressman in Providence, Rhode Island, and Mark Hosenball in Washingbton; Editing by Philip Barbara

My cousin Bruce: a Boston hero


When the first bomb went off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, Bruce Mendelsohn was partying in an office overlooking Boylston Street. The blast knocked him off of his seat. 

“Get everybody away from the window,” Bruce yelled to his brother, who had finished the marathon about an hour earlier. “There might be a secondary.” 

Then the second bomb went off. 

Bruce, 44, is my second cousin, and in the hours and days after the April 15 attack in Boston, he became the go-to guy for news outlets trying to make sense of the incident. He was both uninjured and articulate in describing the aftermath of the explosions. The fact that he’s a PR professional with an active Twitter account certainly helped reporters find him. 

But the most significant reason Bruce was key to stories in The New York Times and on CNN, ABC and other outlets around the world — doing what he calls “therapy-by-media” — is because he ran down the stairs and into the street, toward the smoke, toward the injured. 

Even before many first responders could arrive at the scene, Bruce had helped reunite a distraught — but unhurt — mother with her son, who also survived. He helped an EMT roll a seriously wounded woman from on top of another victim. And using a T-shirt, he tied a tourniquet around a college student’s leg, which, her doctors later told her, probably save her life. 

“I don’t know what my thought process was,” Bruce told me by phone a little more than a week after the attack, which left three dead and injured more than 260. 

Bruce told me he couldn’t really explain why he ran toward the carnage, which he described on Twitter that day as “like a scene from Tel Aviv or Pakistan or Baghdad, not Boston.” 

“I guess it had something to do with the way I was brought up,” he said. 

I’ve known Bruce all my life. At Passover seders and various family gatherings, Bruce and his two brothers always seemed to be laughing and having an even better time than anyone else. I usually try to find a seat on their side of the table. 

But Bruce has never been a particularly observant Jew. His day school career ended before I was born, cut short when his school asked him to leave. At my bar mitzvah, just a few months after he completed three years in the U.S. Army, Bruce sported a camouflage kippah that looked like it had seen only occasional use. And when I got married, his wife jokingly told my wife that our wedding was livelier than the WASPy ones she was used to. 

So I was somewhat surprised when Bruce confided that he had been thinking about the Jewish context of what he did during the 12 minutes he spent on Boylston Street that Monday before police told him and other unofficial responders to leave. 

“I didn’t do it as a Jew, but if I look back at it, I think there was something implicit in my faith that said to me, when people need help, you help them,” he said. 

When I reached him on his cell phone on April 23, Bruce had just left Tufts Medical Center, where he was visiting Victoria McGrath, the 20-year-old Northeastern University student whose wounded leg he treated. He’d come at the invitation of the “Today” show, which had reunited him and McGrath for the show — along with firefighter Jimmy Plourde, who carried McGrath to safety; Tyler Dodd, who helped calm her while she was being treated in a medical tent on the scene; and former Navy medic Alicia Shambo, who rode in the ambulance with her to the hospital. 

“The doctor told me, if you hadn’t have done that, then I would have died,” McGrath told Bruce, as NBC’s cameras rolled. “You saved my life. Otherwise, I would have bled out, ’cause it hit the artery.”

If the marathon bombings changed McGrath’s life — she might walk again without a limp, according to the NBC report — they also changed Bruce’s. He says he now becomes emotional at unpredictable times, and he feels very angry when he thinks about the terrorists who carried out the attack. 

But also, in a strange way, Bruce said, the experience has also given him a deeper understanding of himself — as a person, as a human being and as a Jew. 

“As Jews, we talk a lot and we study a lot about pikuach nefesh,” Bruce told me, using the Hebrew term for the rabbinic imperative that permits a person to violate almost any Jewish law in order to save a person’s life. “I can hold my own in a conversation about Jewish liturgy, but I think there’s a difference between Judaism in theory and Judaism in action.” 

What is Judaism in action?

“The guys in Israel who go in after bombings and clean up the friggin’ messes” are one example, Bruce said. 

Bruce may continue to sometimes take a pass on synagogue services, as he has in the past. But as Rabbi Shai Held, co-founder, dean and chair in Jewish thought at New York educational institution Mechon Hadar, wrote in a post for Tablet the day after the attack, running down the stairs when most everyone is, quite rationally, heading the other way, represents the best of Jewish practice. 

“You want to serve God? Run towards the very people and places you most want to run away from,” Held wrote. “You want to be religious? Learn to be present for other people when they are in pain. All the rest is commentary.”

Rabbi leads interfaith service at Boston Marathon bombing site


About 100 people attended a rabbi-led interfaith service for the victims of the Boston Marathon attack at the site of the bombing.

Rabbi Howard Berman of the Central Reform Temple in Boston led the short service of prayer and songs for runners, marathon volunteers and first responders at the race's finish line on Boylston Street, WBUR radio in Boston reported.

“In whatever way we sing, in whatever way we pray, may we go forth in the spirit of shalom, of wholeness, of healing, and of peace,” Berman said.

Central Reform Temple and five area churches organized the service.

Israel at 65


I watched the video of the Boston Marathon bombings and thought, of course, of the bus bombings that wracked Jerusalem and Tel Aviv a decade ago. The mundane calm violently shattered. The screams giving way to sirens. The bodies sprawled on the ground. And the smoke — movies never show how much smoke explosions really cause, because there would be too much to see anything.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one making these associations.

Dr. Alasdair Conn is chief of emergency services at Massachusetts General Hospital, where at least 22 of the severely wounded victims were rushed.

“This is like a bomb explosion we hear about in Baghdad or Israel or other tragic points in the world,” Conn told The New York Times.

The way Dr. Conn put it jarred me. Sixty-five years after its founding, Israel is vibrant, creative, tough, embattled, intense, exhausting — but tragic? Nope.

It’s not because enemies, like the terrorist or terrorists who attacked Boston, haven’t tried for years to reduce Israel to a nation of blood and tears. Just since the Second Intifada, the terror death toll of Israeli Jews and Arabs has topped 1,000. In the latest attack, in July of last year, a Hezbollah bomb planted on a bus full of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria claimed six lives.

Numbers don’t begin to reveal the human agony behind each of these attacks. Beyond the casualties and their anguished loved ones, there are the wounded, who bear the scars for life. Israel has known tragedy, and how.

But Israel — as a nation, as a set of ideals, as a population within its (somewhat iffy) borders — continues to thrive. If any one word could describe Israel, it would not be tragic. It would be resilient.

Research now shows that people who fare best in life are ones who’ve undergone some adversity — not too much, and not too little.

“In our trauma-focused age,” psychologist Anthony Mancini writes,we sometimes lose sight of our innate capacity to endure. We seem to assume that ‘traumatic events’ must result in ‘trauma.’ And yet the research tells us the opposite. Most people cope with the worst things with only modest and transient disruptions in functioning.”

By that measure, Israel was forged in just the right degree of adversity.

The sites of some of the worst terror attacks in modern history bear no lasting signs. Israeli leaders made a decision early on to restore attack sites to normality as soon as possible. The message that sends is the same as what grass reminds each time you mow it — “we’ll be right back.” All that marks the place is a plaque or some kind of permanent memorial — because preserving memory of sacrifice is also a way of ensuring resilience.

Israel’s economy has a kind of unplanned resilience — not relying on any one commodity or industry, but constantly inventing new ones. So, too, its agriculture, which has moved from simply growing stuff to engineering the finest ways to breed, plant, irrigate, harvest, process and ship produce. Dozens of other countries can grow cheaper potatoes, but all over Europe you’ll pay six bucks a kilo for Israel’s Avshalom brand.

Part of this resilience is born of an innate restlessness. But it also comes from being not just a country, but a People. As Gidi Grinstein, founder of the Israeli think tank Re’ut has pointed out, Jewish longevity and success is in large part due precisely to worldwide networks of communities that could grow when others shrank, or disappeared, that could help when others were hurting.

“A secret of Jewish survival, security and prosperity over centuries of exile has been its geographic spread among nations, cultures and languages,” Grinstein writes.

Israel was supposed to herald the Ingathering of the Exiles, when the far-flung Jews, called, disdainfully, the galut, would all drop their briefcases and flock to Zion.

Thankfully, our innate sense of resilience kept us from doing exactly that. Israel grew strong and has prospered by drawing on the talents and resources and experiences of Jews, non-Jewish friends and, yes, former Israelis throughout the world.

The last Israeli election, which saw the ascendancy of parties informed by a more open — that is a more American-Jewish — approach to Judaism is a good indicator of how Israel’s future also depends on the strength and ideas of outside Jewish communities. It doesn’t just take a village, it takes a web — or, to be geeky about it, it takes an interconnected network.

What binds these networks together is a common story, a shared narrative of struggle, endurance, redemption. That story has enabled Israel, in the words of the late Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, to emerge “stronger than before from the test of fire and blood.” That story has been both a source of hope, and its fuel.

Because, really, what is resilience but a fancy word for hope — HaTikvah. And if we lost that — now that would be tragic.

Marathon bomb suspect eludes police, hunt shuts Boston down


Black Hawk helicopters and heavily armed police descended on a Boston suburb Friday in a massive search for an ethnic Chechen suspected in the Boston Marathon bombings, hours after his brother was killed by police in a late-night shootout.

The normally traffic-clogged streets of Boston were empty as the city went into virtual lockdown after a bloody night of shooting and explosions. Public transport was suspended, air space restricted and famous universities, including Harvard and MIT, closed after police ordered residents to remain at home.

Officials identified the hunted man as Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, and the dead suspect as his brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, who was killed Thursday night in the working class suburb of Watertown.

Details emerged on Friday about the brothers, including their origins in the predominantly Muslim regions of Russia's Caucasus, which have experienced two decades of violence since the fall of the Soviet Union.

The fugitive described himself on a social network as a minority from a region that includes Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia.

A man who said he was their uncle said the brothers came to the United States in the early 2000s and settled in the Cambridge, Massachusetts, area.

“I say what I think what's behind it – being losers,” Ruslan Tsarni told reporters in suburban Washington. “Not being able to settle themselves and thereby hating everyone who did.”

Tsarni said he had not spoken to the brothers since 2009.

He said Monday's bombings on the finish line of the world-famous Boston Marathon that killed three people and injured 176 “put a shame on our family. It put a shame on the entire Chechen ethnicity.”

The bombing, described by President Barack Obama as “an act of terrorism,” was the worst such attack on U.S. soil since the plane hijackings of Sept. 11, 2001.

The FBI said the twin blasts were caused by bombs in pressure cookers and carried in backpacks that were left near the marathon finish line as thousands of spectators gathered.

Authorities cordoned off a section of the suburb of Watertown and told residents not to leave their homes or answer the door as officers in combat gear scoured a 20-block area for the missing man, who was described as armed and dangerous.

The manhunt has covered 60 percent to 70 percent of the search area, Massachusetts State Police Colonel Timothy Alben said Friday afternoon. “We are progressing through this neighborhood, going door-to-door, street-to-street,” he said.

Two Black Hawk helicopters circled the area. Amtrak said it was suspending train service between Boston and New York indefinitely and the Boston Red Sox postponed Friday night's baseball game at historic Fenway Park.

The events elicited a response from Moscow condemning terrorism and from the Russian-installed leader of Chechnya, who criticized police in Boston for killing an ethnic Chechen and blamed the violence on his upbringing in the United States.

“They grew up and studied in the United States and their attitudes and beliefs were formed there,” Ramzan Kadyrov said in comments posted online. “Any attempt to make a connection between Chechnya and the Tsarnaevs is in vain.”

INTERNET POSTINGS

The brothers had been in the United States for several years and were believed to be legal immigrants, according to U.S. government sources. Neither had been known as a potential security threat, a law enforcement official said on Friday.

A Russian language social networking site bearing Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's name paid tribute to Islamic websites and to those calling for Chechen independence. The author identified himself as a 2011 graduate of Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, a public school in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

He said he went to primary school in Makhachkala, capital of Dagestan, a province in Russia that borders on Chechnya, and listed his languages as English, Russian and Chechen.

His “World view” was listed as “Islam” and his “Personal priority” as “career and money.”

He posted links to videos of fighters in Syria's civil war and to Islamic web pages with titles such as “Salamworld, my religion is Islam” and “There is no God but Allah, let that ring out in our hearts.”

He also had links to pages calling for independence for Chechnya, a region of Russia that lost its bid for independence after two wars in the 1990s.

Video posted on NJ.com showed a woman, Alina Tsarnaeva, who described herself as a sister of the suspects.

“I'm not OK, just like anyone else is not OK,” she told reporters from behind the closed door of an apartment in West New York, New Jersey.

She said the older brother “was a great person. He was a kind and loving man. To piss life away, just like he pissed others' life away … “

She said of the younger brother, “He's a child.”

HOUSE-TO-HOUSE SEARCH

In Watertown, the lockdown cleared the streets for police, who raced from one site to the next. The events stunned the former mill town, which has a large Russian-speaking community.

During the night, a university police officer was killed, a transit police officer was wounded, and the suspects carjacked a vehicle before leading police on a chase that led to Tamerlan Tsarnaev being shot dead.

“During the exchange of the gunfire, we believe that one of the suspects was struck and ultimately taken into custody,” Alben said.

The suspect died of multiple injuries including gunshot wounds and trauma, said Dr. Richard Wolfe, chief of emergency medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

The older brother was seen wearing a dark cap and sunglasses in surveillance images released by the FBI on Thursday. The younger Tsarnaev was shown wearing a white cap in the pictures, taken shortly before Monday's explosions.

“We believe this to be a terrorist,” said Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis. “We believe this to be a man who has come here to kill people. We need to get him in custody.”

Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball, Alex Dobuzinskis, David Bailey, Peter Graff, Stephanie Simon, Svea Herbst-Bayliss, Aaron Pressman, Daniel Lovering and Ben Berkowitz; Writing by Daniel Trotta and Grant McCool; Editing by Doina Chiacu

Obama in Boston vows U.S. will find perpetrators of bombings


“You will run again,” President Barack Obama told an interfaith service on Thursday for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, in a stirring speech aimed at bringing solace to the city and settling the nerves of a rattled nation.

At a Boston cathedral about a mile from the spot where two bombs on Monday ripped through the crowds at the marathon finish line, killing three people and injuring 176, Obama sought to convey strength by vowing “we will find you” to the person or people behind the attack.

Monday's bombing began a week of security scares that rattled the United States and evoked memories of the Sept. 11, 2001 hijacked plane attacks, ranging from false bomb reports to mail sent to the White House and other federal officials containing the deadly poison ricin.

Investigators in the Texas town of West were looking into the cause of an explosion on Wednesday night at a fertilizer plant that killed up to 15 people and destroyed dozens of homes.

Some of the victims of the Boston attack suffered gruesome injuries, and at least 10 lost limbs as a result of the blasts. Investigators believe the bombs were made of pressure cookers packed with shrapnel.

“As you begin this long journey of recovery, your city is with you, your commonwealth is with you, your country is with you,” Obama said. “We will all be with you as you learn to stand and walk and, yes, run again. Of that, I have no doubt. You will run again.”

Hundreds of people crowded outside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston's South End. Police were out in force, and some officers listened to Obama's speech over the radio while standing next to their squad cars.

Among them was Philip Beauregard of Boston, who said, “The president was fantastic. He made it clear that the country is behind the city of Boston.”

After his speech, Obama met with volunteers and Boston Marathon organizers, many of whom cared for the injured, and with victims at Massachusetts General Hospital.

'WE WILL FIND YOU'

While investigators have made no arrests yet, Obama said of the perpetrator or perpetrators of the attack, “We will find you and you will face justice.”

Investigators are combing through thousands of pieces of evidence, from cell phone pictures submitted by spectators to shards of shrapnel pulled from the legs of victims.

They have not identified any suspects but they want to talk to two men who they have identified in images taken before the blast, law enforcement and national security officials said on Thursday.

“There is some video that has raised the question of those that the FBI would like to speak with,” said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said at a hearing in Congress on Thursday. “I wouldn't characterize them as suspects under the technical term. But we do need the public's help in locating these individuals.”

Police had considered making an appeal to the public for more information at a news conference on Wednesday, a U.S. government source said, but the FBI canceled it after a number of delays. The FBI said on Thursday it will issue new information on the case at a 5 p.m. ET (2100 GMT) briefing.

The bombs in Boston killed an 8-year-old boy, Martin Richard; a 29-year-old woman, Krystle Campbell; and a Boston University graduate student and Chinese citizen, Lu Lingzi.

Before his visit, Obama declared a state of emergency in Massachusetts, a move that makes federal funding available to the state as it copes with the aftermath of the bombing.

Boston Mayor Tom Menino, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Cardinal Sean O'Malley also spoke at the service. Former Massachusetts Governor and 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney also attended.

“This is Boston, a city with courage, compassion and strength that knows no bounds,” said Menino, who was rolled to the podium in a wheelchair but stood for his remarks despite breaking a leg over the weekend. “We love the brave ones who felt the blast and still raced through the smoke with ringing in his ears … to answer cries of those in need.”

Additional reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss and Daniel Lovering in Boston, Deborah Charles, Mark Hosenball and Roberta Rampton in Washington; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Grant McCool

‘Running Rabbi’ recounts chaos at Boston Marathon, vows to run in next year’s race


“It was a beautiful day. I was so excited to run and having such a good run. The crowd was unbelievable. The whole experience was amazing. It was almost magical.”

That’s how the Boston Marathon began for Rabbi Benjamin David, head rabbi at Adath Emanu-El in Mount Laurel, N.J. It’s not how it ended.

David, 36, had completed the marathon and was back at his hotel when the twin explosions went off Monday afternoon near the finish line. The apparent terrorist attack killed at least three people, including an 8-year-old boy, and wounded more than 140, some critically.

David was running with Rabbi Scott Weiner, senior rabbi of Temple Israel of New Rochelle in suburban New York's Westchester County. The two rabbinical school friends are co-founders of the national organization The Running Rabbis, which encourages clergy — Jewish and not — and their congregants to run. They always run for a charity and their race in the Boston Marathon raised money for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.

David had an additional motivation for running. Although he had run 20 half-marathons and 13 marathons, David had never run the Boston Marathon and he wanted to beat his personal best time of 3 hours, 23 minutes. After 10 months of training, he did just that, running the 26.2 miles in 3 hours, 21 minutes. Weiner was one minute ahead of him.

From his hotel room two blocks from the blast site, David explained Monday night what happened next.

“Usually at these big races, it takes a while to exit the area because you pick up the medal and your tote bag and shuffle along because you are so tired,” David said. “Getting out of the finish area took us at least a half hour. We went to the hotel, and I was about to put my hand on the door to go into the lobby when I heard a massive explosion. It was an extraordinary sound. You knew instantly that something was wrong.”

David knew what kind of wrong that was. He was in Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2001, blocks away from the World Trade Center at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

Rabbi Benjamin David, having finished the Boston Marathon earlier, was at his hotel room two blocks from the site of the two bombs when they exploded. (Courtesy Rabbi Benjamin David)

“In my mind, I instantly compared it to when I was in New York on 9/11,” he said. “I mean, it was a different sound. But when the first plane hit the tower, it was a sound like a sound you don’t normally hear. That’s what this was today. A sound that you don’t normally hear and your brain says, ‘Is something wrong?’ Then today when we heard the second bomb, like when there was the second plane on 9/11. Then we knew for sure that something was very wrong.

“People were running toward the scene and away from the scene,” David said. “Police were scrambling. The hardest part is that no one knew what happened, so you don’t know what to do. We thought maybe the grandstand had collapsed, or a building. I grabbed someone, and he said that two bombs went off.

“I went up to my room and put on the news,” he said. “Isn’t that strange? Here I am, two blocks from the thing, and my instinct is still to turn on the TV to see what happened. But then, from the window in my room, I could see basically everything. So the local news was on and there was confusion and speculation, and I’m looking out the window and looking right at what is being called a terrorist attack.”

Other than using the word “surreal,” David didn’t get into details about what he saw.

“You know one weird thing? They stopped the race in progress,” he said. “I heard on the news that there were supposedly 4,500 people still on the course. I wonder what happened to them. What were they told? What was it like for them, not knowing what was happening?”

Luckily, David’s family did know what was happening with him. Like most other marathoners, he had a chip on his clothes that enabled the tracking of his progress via a secure website.

“I knew that he was finished with the race, and I texted him to see how it went and he texted back, ‘Turn on the news,’ ” said his father, Rabbi Jerome David of Temple Emanuel in Cherry Hill, N.J. “I was shaken, even though I knew he was safe. It brought back memories of 9/11 because Ben and his brother John were both very close to the Trade Center that morning and we couldn’t reach either of them. This time, at least I heard from him. But even so, it’s the same feeling. It’s worrying about your child — and I know very well that he is a grown man — but he is my child. And he was again in the middle of danger. And there was nothing I could do about it right then.”

A friend called David’s mother, Peggy, on her cell phone.

“I was on a break from work and had just turned my phone on when a friend called and said, ‘There was a bombing near the finish line,’ ” Peggy David recounted. “I was sure he was done and I know that he usually goes back to the hotel pretty quickly. But I didn’t know exactly where he was when the bomb went off. Then his wife sent out a group text saying that he was OK.”

David’s wife, Lisa, the mother of their three young children, was tracking her husband’s progress and received an immediate text from him about his safety. That was a good thing because within hours she was aboard a plane headed for Israel on a business trip. She is associate director of camping for the Union for Reform Judaism’s Camp and Israel Programs.

Dr. Steve Gitler, president of Adath Emanu-El, found out about the bombing via a text from his daughter.

“She texted, ‘Is Rabbi alright?’ and I answered, ‘What do you mean?’ and she wrote back, ‘There were explosions in Boston.’ I went to CNN.com and read what happened. Then I got the text that Rabbi was OK, and I posted a message on our synagogue’s Facebook page, then sent an email to the board and sent an email to the congregation so that everyone knew he was OK.”

Rabbi Richard Levine, the rabbi emeritus of Adath Emanu-El who led the congregation for more than 46 years, heard the news on KYW-1060 radio.

“I knew that Ben was trying to run the marathon in less than 3 hours and 20 or so minutes, so I thought that he was done and probably safe, but that didn’t mean he was,” Levine said. “We texted back and forth so I knew that he was OK. But I was still very worried for a period of time. You don’t want someone you care about to be in harm’s way.”

In fact, Levine thinks the timing of the bombings was deliberately set to harm as many people as possible. A former distance runner himself, Levine knows how marathons are staged.

“Sometimes in these races, they stagger the start times and have the all-star runners go first, then there is a break, then another class of runners goes and another follows,” he said. “Anyone who did some homework would know that the vast majority of runners — the average runners who are not professionals — finish the Boston Marathon right at about the time that the bombs exploded. At that time, people are crossing the finish line en masse. And these are people who run purely because they love to run and want to be part of the Boston Marathon.

“So were the bombs intentionally set to explode then? Yes, I believe so.”

If there was any blessing in this, Levine said, it was that medical personnel were at the finish line waiting for runners and they immediately helped the injured.

David’s father, who was also a runner, sees other silver linings in the day’s events.

“In a moment, your whole life can change,” he said. “You start off in one direction and then it goes in another. It also reminds you of what is important and that is family, health and friendship. I am a rabbi and lead my congregation, but I am also a father and grandfather and tonight, I needed the support of my congregants. I went to a men’s study group and an executive board meeting and was surrounded by friends and supporters. Rabbis need that, too, you know.”

His son also got the support he needed.

“On my end, people were just remarkably kind and forthcoming,” the younger David said. “My phone has not stopped ringing for seven hours. It’s been calls, texts, Facebook. Everyone knew that I was doing this race. The congregation and my family and friends have been amazingly supportive today.”

But he still had to deal with the logistics of being two blocks from a terrorist attack. And he had just run 26.2 miles. He was hungry after the race, but when he tried to get something to eat in the hotel lobby, the police came in and “kicked us out of the hotel because they didn’t want large crowds gathering. They wouldn’t let me back in, even though I said that I was a guest.”

So he went to the house of his wife’s college roommate three or four blocks from the hotel and took refuge there for an hour, he said, before returning to the hotel.

“And then again I realized that I forgot to eat,” David said. He went in search of food, encountering a “horrible” scene outside, with barricades and police everywhere. He found an open restaurant,  a Cheesecake Factory, where there was an hour wait for seating. So he took something to go and returned to his hotel room.

David described his state just hours after the attack as” feeling dazed.”

“My body is, like, exhausted. Annihilated. The marathon is so emotional and you spend so much time preparing,” he said. “God willing it goes well and it’s an accomplishment. And I do feel that accomplishment. But then, there are people who died today and they died right outside my window.”

But he also had a different view he was trying to maintain.

“Today, we saw what looks like hate and violence. But what I also saw was a day of togetherness and community and caring and support — much like the Marathon itself,” he said. “Every marathon is about celebrating the human spirit and supporting one another. It’s about people from around the country and around the world, from different backgrounds and different religions running together. That is what I will remember from today, from before the bombing and right after it.

“Tragedy reduces things to the most primal and most important factors,” he said. “Family, friends, community and what strangers need help.”

In the attacks both on 9/11 and on Monday, he said, “we will see the best in humanity come out.”

“And one more thing: I will run the Boston Marathon next year,” David said. “Nothing will keep me from it.”

Jewish community ‘vigilant’ in the wake of Boston Marathon bombings


The head of the security network for U.S. Jewish organizations said the community is “standing vigilant” following bombings at the Boston Marathon.

Two people were killed and more than 30 injured in two blasts at the marathon on Monday, according to reports. One of the bombs exploded at the finish line.

“We know that unfortunately 30 percent of terrorist attacks had Jewish institutions as secondary targets,” said Paul Goldenberg, director of the Secure Community Network. “However, I must stress that there is absolutely nothing here that indicates any connection to an attack on the Jewish community. But based on history, we are standing vigilant for at least the next 48 hours.”

Police exploded at least one device in Boston that did not go off.

The identity of any perpetrators has not been discovered.

Man dies, dozens in hospital from heat at Tel Aviv marathon


One man died and as many as 12 people suffered serious medical complications during a marathon held in Tel Aviv despite government warnings of extremely hot weather.

The municipality cut the marathon short.

According to Army Radio, the man, in his 30s, died on Friday as a result of heat exhaustion and possibly dehydration – the two causes that sent a total of about 30 runners to hospitals. Army Radio said 12 were in serious condition, while Israel Radio listed 3.

The Health Ministry advised runners to stop running after 8.30 A.M. because of the heatwave but many of the 35,000 who had gathered to run pressed on in the event’s two courses of 13 and 6.2 miles.

Shortly after medical teams reported serious cases, the city cancelled the event, which was held in humid conditions and a temperature of roughly 96.8 degrees. Average daytime temperatures in Tel Aviv in March are around 66.56 degrees.

Army Radio also quoted Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai as saying that President Obama's scheduled visit to Israel next week made it impossible to postpone the event.

Orthodox women marathoners don’t skirt a 26-mile challenge


At 4:30 a.m. on Sunday, May 20, four cars headed from Los Angeles to the 2012 Pasadena Marathon filled with members of the Skirts for SOLA team. Despite training for weeks, many of these newly minted runners still could not fully grasp that the day truly had come. “There were moments when I thought, ‘It’s not going to happen,’ ” said Sarah Chin, captain of the Skirts team, which is made up of a group of Orthodox women from the Chabad-Lubavitch community of South La Cienega (SOLA) who would be testing their abilities in the marathon or its accompanying shorter runs.

“The beginning was very slow,” Chin said. “My very first run was just me and another girl, and the next week it was just me. I was really trying hard, and my initial goal was to get 10 women. We got 10, then we got 11, and then we needed to get to 25 and people started to join. One of our community members signed up her newborn baby to the kids’ race the same day he was born! We ended up with 38 registrations.”

Chin herself is not a newcomer to marathon running: “I started doing it when I lived in Washington, D.C.,” she said. “Everyone does running out there. There are races every weekend, and the majority of my friends did endurance sports. I didn’t like the way I looked anymore, and one day I saw this sign on the Metro that said, ‘Remember the time when running used to be fun?’ and I just couldn’t remember. I never thought running was fun.  I went to the Web site of the marathon training program and thought to myself, ‘If they can do it, I can do it.’ That was the first one. And then I got hooked.”

An Orthodox all-women’s team is not something you see every day. For one, they face some very particular challenges: First and foremost, running in pants, covered by a skirt, while also wearing a long-sleeved shirt is hot, and Chin reports that some women stopped training because they were uncomfortable. In addition, most of the team members are married and have children, so training during the week was not really an option.  Jewish holidays also presented an issue; during Passover, for example, the team missed a weekend of training.

Asked whether their spouses were supportive, all of the women agreed the responses were amazing. Their husbands had to give up much of their own free time and their hobbies to sit home with the kids while the team members participated in long practice runs. Yet, the team members said, all of them are very proud of their wives.

Chin said she also received mostly positive responses from the rest of her community. “I’m sure some people think that us running outside is inappropriate, but there are always going to be critics of something. Most people thought it’s really great and were very supportive.”

By 6:30 a.m., the half- and full-marathon teams had started their run. A short time after, the 10K, 5K and kids’ runs were on their way as well. Thousands of onlookers and supporters were cheering from the start line, which became the finish line. In the meantime, in the Skirts for SOLA tent, Rabbi Avraham Zajac, the Chabad SOLA rabbi, was giving a Tanya lesson to family members and friends who had come to cheer the runners.

“When people achieve a goal, it gives them a special power,” the rabbi said, while waiting for his own wife to cross the finish line, “The body is tired, but the spirit is full with energy, and not only for those who run, but those around them as well. This power is contagious. The power of finishing something is awesome.

“When the idea of starting an Orthodox women’s team first came up, I thought it was so important for Orthodox people,” Zajac said, “The Orthodox community is sometimes missing a healthy kosher outlet, so I thought this idea will be a great inspiration for the community. It showed you can do all this without breaking any rules.”

Zajac believes in a healthy balance in life and ends every morning’s minyan with a physical exercise class at Chabad SOLA. “The soul really needs the body. The spiritual aspect is important, but you shouldn’t neglect the physical. This concept is not promoted enough within the Jewish community, because people feel there is a contradiction between religion and exercise, but one complements the other.”

Skirts for SOLA fans encourage the runners.

At noon, all of the group’s members have passed the finish line after a long and hot run. The temperature outside is about 90 degrees, but the heat doesn’t seem to affect the general mood, and in the Skirts’ tent the party has just begun.

“It feels incredible,” said Dina Forer, who had just completed her first full marathon. “It was such a challenge and is such an accomplishment. I had my doubts, but I thought, ‘When am I going to get another chance to do it again?’ And I just knew I’m going to do it.”

“There were hard moments,” admits Yumi Abigail Levine, a half-marathoner, “but all these great women were doing it, and they inspired me to keep going.” Dina Shallman, a full marathoner, said, “The toughest moment for me was when we hit the 13-mile mark. What kept me going was talking to my team members. That and the coffee goo [gel] shots,” she said, laughing.

Hudy Lipskier said her toughest marathon moment also came at mile 13. “What got me through,” she said, “was knowing that I trained long and hard for this, and that it’s my will that will enable me to finish the marathon.”

“You really don’t know what you’re getting yourself into,” said Rebecca Green, who had just completed her first full marathon. “You think you can do it, and along the way you gradually see how difficult it gets, and then in a day like this, when it ends up 90 degrees, you find you have no choice. You’ve trained for it for so long, and you just have to do it.

“Training with this team was amazing. Seeing people who aren’t necessarily fit or into sports all coming together and joining forces to do this, I think it’s amazing. I have blisters, but it was totally worth it. I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

“This team is amazing,” said Stery Zajac, the rabbi’s wife. “Very strong, determined, amazing women. I’m so inspired. I feel like I can do anything with this community.” Asked whether there will be a SOLA team next year, she replied: “There is a chance it’ll become a trend; people are already talking about the next marathon. This community doesn’t stop.”

“Hot, sodium-deficient, exhausted, hungry and still, everyone just kept going,” team captain Chin said. She is already training for her next adventure race. “I did the ‘Tough Mudder’ last year, and it was a crazy-difficult adventure race. Running 10 miles on a mountain, jumping into an ice bath, swimming under tubes, climbing on 20-foot walls, crawling through tunnels when it’s pitch black following only the sound of the aluminum foil of the person in front of you. Just one more thing to check off my bucket list,” she said, laughing.

“My ultimate goal is Iron Man,” Chin added. “Who knows? Maybe this will become the Skirts’ next challenge.”

Ethiopian immigrant is top Jewish finisher in this year’s Jerusalem Marathon


Ashrat “Assaf” Mamo is such a common sight when he pounds the pavement in Jerusalem that he’s on a first-name basis with city bus drivers who, he said, always “ask me about the marathon and encourage me.”

On Friday, Mamo, a 27-year-old immigrant from Ethiopia, became the first Israeli to cross the finish line in this year’s Jerusalem Marathon, coming in 11th with a time of 2:33:12. David Cherono Toniok, of Kenya, won the race in 2:19:52, breaking the course record. Ethiopian Mihiret Anamo Antonios was the female winner, with a time of 2:48:38, and Moran Shabtai, with 3:38:35, was the first Israeli female finisher.

In an interview at the finish line in Sacher Park, Mamo told JTA he had expected to do better after completing a personal best time two months ago, with 2:22:32, in the Tiberias Marathon in northern Israel. But Mamo, wrapped in warming foil, appeared happy to have been Israel’s top finisher even though the country’s best marathoners did not participate.

“Jerusalem is the holy city,” Mamo said. “It is my home court.”

More than 14,000 runners from 52 countries competed in the event, which was launched just last year. The route takes runners through the walled Old City, past the president’s residence and up to the Hebrew University campus on Mount Scopus. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and a 77-year-old Holocaust survivor, Hanoch Shahar, participated in shorter versions of the race’s 26-mile course.

In the lead-up to the race, runners had spoken about the capital’s notorious hills as the most likely impediment to posting good times. But weather conditions for the race—rain and hail fell through the morning and the the sun only periodically poked through thick clouds—heaped on additional challenges.

Mamo, for whom this marathon was his eighth, said he blocked out the distractions of familiar neighborhoods and the kaleidoscopic lures of the Old City during the course’s brief foray there, staying focused on his running and continually checking the pace on his running wrist watch.

Mamo left the northern Ethiopian city of Tigry for Israel in late 2000 along with his father, who has since passed away. He lives in the Kiryat Hayovel neighborhood and is unmarried.

The slight Israeli with silver braces and a winning smile works as a contractor repairing car windshields. He described himself as a traditional Jew who attends synagogue only on High Holy Days.

Toniok said he was thrilled that, as a religious Catholic, his first ever marathon win came in Jerusalem. He expressed mild disappointment that the event did not start in the Old City, but said that he hoped to visit the following day before returning to Kenya on Saturday night. He lives in Eldoret, which is where the country’s legendary long-distance runners also reside and with whom he trains.

“I’m very happy because most Christian people [back home] learn about Israel but don’t have the chance to visit,” Toniok said. “I know about King David. I am King David of Israel because I won the Jerusalem Marathon.”

Marathon’s wrong turn, Dylan’s return, underground hospital


Here are some recent stories out of Israel that you may have missed:

Race to the (wrong) finish

With all the twists and turns in Jerusalem, perhaps it was no surprise that the first three runners to complete the city’s first official marathon ended up at the wrong finish line.

Three Kenyans mistakenly ended up at the finish line for the half-marathon, but they were still credited with their spots in the international event after their official finish times were calculated.

Some 1,500 runners from around the world, including Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, participated in the 26.2-mile race on March 25. More than 8,000 competed in the half-marathon and 10K races.

The marathon took place just two days after a bomb attack in central Jerusalem left a British tourist dead and more than three dozen people were injured. No runners reportedly withdrew due to the attack.

Dylan’s return

Nearly two decades after his last concert here, Bob Dylan is making his way back to Israel.

Dylan agreed to play Tel Aviv in June during the middle of his world tour following lengthy negotiations between his people and Israeli concert promoters. The folk rock icon last played Israel in 1993; he also had performed here in 1987.

He is among several musical heavyweights coming to Israel, notably the teen sensation Justin Bieber, who will be performing April 14. Less than a week later the British singer Bryan Ferry, who reached the heights of his popularity in the 1970s and ‘80s, also will perform in Tel Aviv.

Megadeth will play Tel Aviv in May—the heavy metal band’s fourth appearance in Israel. Its former guitarist Marty Friedman, who is Jewish, will perform a solo show on May 31.

Finally, Irish musician Bob Geldof, who in 1985 staged the Live Aid charity concert to help famine-stricken Africa, will visit Israel for the first time in May to receive an honorary doctorate from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. The award will honor his successful musical career and his charitable activities.

While in Israel, Geldof also will participate in the conference “Israel in Africa: Past, Present and Future,” organized by IsraAID-The Israel Forum for International Humanitarian Aid.

Hospital under attack? Go underground

When is an underground parking lot not for cars?

When it becomes an underground hospital able to provide protection against conventional, chemical and biological attack.

Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv in March unveiled the largest bomb-proof medical facility in Israel. The building, which goes four stories underground, can hold up to 1,000 hospital beds. The facility will be able to function for a week without external power sources.

When not needed as an emergency hospital, the below-ground floors will be used for short-term parking for patients.

Above ground, the 13-floor Sammy Ofer Heart Center will house internal medicine departments, cardiology units and other departments that handle heart problems, blood supplies and testing, and brain trauma.

Barlclays ready for high finance in Israel

Tel Aviv is the new home for a technological research and development center for Barclays Capital.

The IDEC, or Israel Development and Engineering Center, will provide development and engineering services that will support the international finance operations of Barclays Capital.

The financial group is taking advantage of the Israeli government’s Comparative Advantage program, created by the Ministry of Finance and Industry to encourage the establishment of knowledge-based industries in Israel. The program includes tax breaks and subsidizing some labor costs.

“We are proud to be the first international financial institution to take part in this program,” said Len Rosen, CEO of Barclays Capital in Israel. “The significant involvement of Barclays Capital in the Israeli market, and our work with clients in the technology field, allowed us to benefit from the existing capabilities in this high tech market. This project indicates Barclays Capital’s commitment to the Israeli market, as shown in recent years by the expansion of our operations here.”

Israel already is the site of R&D centers for global behemoths such as Intel, IBM, Motorola, Cisco and Hewlett-Packard. All told, some 35,000 Israelis are employed in R&D.

Something old, something new

The rededicated Hurva Synagogue located near the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter hosted its first official wedding ceremony since its destruction in 1948.

The ceremony was held in the synagogue courtyard. Prior to its rebuilding and rededication, couples were married among the synagogue’s ruins. A second wedding took place several days later.

While the wedding in March is the first official chupah to be held at the synagogue since its rededication, a video on YouTube and several bloggers are reporting that a chupah actually took place in front of the synagogue on the day of the rededication last year, when a young American soldier, his Ethiopian bride and their handful of guests came to the Old City in search of a place to hold a chupah. The guests from the dedication ceremony reportedly remained and danced the couple to their chupah.

‘Central Park’ in Bnei Brak

The mostly haredi Orthodox city of Bnei Brak is planning its own version of Central Park for city residents.

The plan for the 105-acre park along the Yarkon River includes an artificial pond with observation posts, footpaths, bicycle trails, a skateboard park and extreme sports fields, picnic areas and a promenade, Ynet reported.

Property taxes will fund the project.

Upgrade to iPhone

Israeli senior civil servants can’t get enough of Angry Birds, it seems.

Some 500 senior civil servants, including government ministers, have upgraded to the iPhone 4 in recent weeks, according to Globes.

Up to 2,000 government employees are eligible for the upgrade. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not yet asked for an upgrade, according to Yediot Achronot.

Israel in fashion

Fashion-forward consumers looking for clothes in the Urban Outfitters spring catalog will enjoy Israel in the background.

The American fashion chain spent a week photographing fashion models at popular and scenic sites throughout the country, including Dead Sea, the Judean Desert, Jaffa and the Tel Aviv coast. The models also were given cameras to photograph their own experiences.

The photos taken in Israel are published in the brand’s catalog, and posted on its Facebook page and blog.

In other fashion news, Ivanka Trump has signed a deal to import and market her line in Israel. The daughter of Donald Trump, who recently converted to Judaism, will begin selling her accessories for women in Israel next August. She also plans to open a store in central Israel.

Meanwhile, senior buyers for the French cosmetic chain Sephora visited Israel to discuss collaborations with some Israeli cosmetics companies. The chain doesn’t have plans to open stores in Israel.

The new face of currency

A new series of Israeli banknotes will feature some beloved national poets.

Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fisher in March announced the personalities who will grace the new notes in denominations of 20, 50, 100 and 200 shekels: Natan Alterman, Leah Goldberg, Shaul Tchernichovsky and Rachel the Poetess.

The list was finalized following more than a year of heated debate and still must be approved by the government. Others considered for notes’ appearances were writer Shai Agnon and former prime ministers Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin.

The members of the Committee for the Planning of Banknotes, Coins and Commemorative Coins, and Fisher said in a statement that featuring these personalities on the banknotes will “help to instill in the younger generation of Israelis an appreciation of their contribution to Israeli society and to the state.”

Alterman, an author, playwright, poet and newspaper columnist who died in 1970, won the 1968 Israel Prize for Literature. Rachel, who died in 1931, is a leading poet in modern Hebrew whose works have been set to music.

Goldberg, who died in 1970, was a poet, author, playwright, literary translator and researcher of Hebrew literature who translated “War and Peace” into Hebrew. Tchernichovsky was a two-time winner of the Bialik Prize for Literature.

The current faces on Israeli currency are former Prime Minister Moshe Sharett on the 20 shekel note; Agnon on the 50 shekel note; and former presidents Yitzhak Ben- Zvi and Zalman Shazar on the 100 shekel and 200 shekel notes.

Three Kenyans take Jerusalem marathon


Three Kenyans won first, second and third place in Jerusalem’s first marathon.

Raymond Kipkoechh, 34, was first to cross the finish line Friday with a time of 2:26:44.

Second place was taken by Mutai Kopkorir, 24 with a time of 2:26:55 and third was Kiman Njorage, 33 at 2:27:19.

The first three women were: Oda Worknesh, 26 of Ethiopa with a time of 2:50:05; Rosaline David, 35 of Kenya at 2:50:06; and Wioletta Kryza, 42, of Poland at 2:51:21.

More than 10,000 runners—over a thousand from 40 countries, the rest local—ran a hilly, challenging race that included the Old City, the Mount of Olives, the promenade overlooking the Holy Basin and the Knesset.

Jerusalem’s mayor, Nir Barkat, ran in the marathon and said it was a triumph over the terrorists who planted a bomb Wednesday at Jerusalem’s central bus station that killed one woman and wounded dozens.

“Just two days ago our city was targeted once again by a deadly terrorist attack, but our people and our city are strong—and the terrorists will not prevent us from running on this important day,” Barkat said.

The run was sponsored by the city, its development authority and Israel’s tourism ministry.

A number of teams raised money for a variety of charities.

Jewish runners decry post-Yom Kippur marathon


Jewish marathon runners are racing to complain about the timing of the Chicago Marathon, which is set for the day after Yom Kippur.

The runners have called and sent e-mails to the Bank of America Chicago, the marathon’s sponsor, saying that they will not be able to take in enough carbohydrate-laden food following the fast in time to prepare for the 26.2-mile run on Oct. 9, the Chicago Tribune reported Tuesday.

The marathon is traditionally held each year on Columbus Day weekend, which does not conflict with other city events. Hotels and other supporting organizations have been planning for that date for several years, the newspaper reported.

The Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago reportedly was asked to provide outreach to Jewish runners who could be affected by the fast. The federation has not criticized the date of the race.

The Roots of an Israel Marathon


Some people raise money for Israel, other people visit Israel, and still others look for a unique way to support the country, like Eat4Israel. Now a new group of local athletes wants to Run for Israel, in Israel. A marathon, to be precise.”Roots Marathon” is starting their training program this summer, inviting people of different faiths to run the 30th Tiberias Marathon or 10k in Northern Israel next winter.

The 10-day tour, from Dec. 30-Jan. 11, will take the group from Tel Aviv to Haifa to Acrw and Safed, to the Galilee and Golan Heights, stopping off along the way at religious and historical sites, like a Bahai Shrine, a site of Christian miracles and, of course, a Jewish holy city.

“When you train for a marathon you bring people close together, and this is a way to bridge different religious faiths,” said Dan Witzling, a long-time Jewish activist and marathon runner who is co-organizing the trip.

The other organizer, Avner Hofstein, is the West Coast correspondent for Yediot Achronot, Israel’s largest newspaper. He wanted to show people a different Israel.

“Israel is a lively place filled with fun, sports and action, very different from the action in which it is portrayed in the news,” said Hofstein, who has been based in Los Angeles for the last four years.

Roots has been coordinated by Israel’s Ministry of Tourism, and The Israeli Consulate of Los Angeles, Board of Rabbis of Southern California and Interfaith Environment Council of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life/Southern California all support the marathon effort.

Is running 26.2 miles a lot to run to see and support Israel? Hofstein gives it a historical spin: “If the Jews walked 40 years in the desert, they won’t mind running 26 miles, or much less, a 10k.”

For more information contact: www.rootsmarathon.com.

— Amy Klein, Religion Editor

Two Finish Lines


 

What is the touchstone that unites a 26.2-mile marathon with a Siyum Hashas celebration of completing the 7.5-year page-a-day Talmud cycle?

The concept shared by both events is human striving — or in the language of the Lithuanian yeshiva, the commitment to shteig, to stretch one’s limits. Someone who studies one page of Talmud a day, Daf Yomi, logs text pages; the marathon runner logs miles. Trappings of mortality bedeck the starting line — the talmudist seeking better understanding of his mortality, and the marathon runner physically defying that same mortality.

This unlikely comparison of both fetes of transcendence occurred to me, based on my bicoastal participation at a Siyum and a marathon. One night, in early March, I was at New York’s Madison Square Garden celebrating the completion of the Talmud cycle; the following afternoon I was flying to the Quality of Life Expo prior to the Los Angeles Marathon, the nation’s fourth-largest long-distance race.

Adding my voice to thousands of my fellow Daf Yominiks at the Garden, I passionately and thankfully shouted, “May His great name be blessed for now and for eternity,” and swayed to the musical beat of the chasidic songs.

At the three-day expo preceding the marathon, I manned a booth together with my editor, Peri Deavaney, promoting my book, whose theme is also one of striving. This first biography of the founder of the New York City Marathon (“Anything For a T-Shirt: Fred Lebow and the New York City Marathon, the World’s Greatest Footrace,” Syracuse University Press) shows how an impresario convinced the plodders and shleppers of the world that they could go a marathon’s seemingly fearsome distance.

The similarity between these two enterprises crossed my mind during a slow patch Thursday afternoon where. Viewing a large-screened film clip in the auditorium of past L.A. marathons, particularly the slow runners and the wheelchair athletes, my thoughts somehow turned to the simcha I reveled in only a day and a half earlier in New York. Both of these events, I thought, were triumphs over human ordinariness and complacency.

True, on the surface, there was no hashava (the Talmud’s word for common denominator) between these two enterprises — and a God-fearing Jew would be best off uttering a lehavdil (a statement of demarcation) before drawing similarities between a siyum and a marathon. After all, one undertaking is spiritual; the other, physical. The marathon represents a legacy of a hedonistic ancient Greek culture; the Talmud, a work of faith and holiness.

But is there any question about the commonality of obstacles facing the student of the daily page of Talmud and the marathon runner in training? Both often launch their daily trajectory at dawn, defy sleep, knowingly cut into family time and are undeterred by inclement weather and life’s distractions. Many runners mark their miles in the company of other runners, encouraging one another. The Daf Yomi learner also tackles his talmudic page in a shiur, a group setting, rather than by himself.

While the runner’s gear is his sneakers, and the Daf Yomi stalwart his Talmud, each striver calls on aids making the challenge more manageable. For instance, the runner applies breathing strips to his nose, eats protein bars (some of which hold kosher certification) and carries instruments measuring his speed. The talmudist not only cites other commentaries helping him to understand the sugya (topic) at hand, but brings in visuals and diagrams (the layout of the Temple in Jerusalem, the anatomy of a bull) to clarify an obscure text.

In my Riverdale, N.Y., Daf Yomi group I see daily examples of discipline and modesty on the part of the text’s presenter, but this should not be surprising since immersion in holiness enhances character traits. But in this, my first experience in manning a booth, I also was exposed to real examples of humility.

Marathon officials had arranged to give gift copies of my book to some 300 “legacy” runners. These were finishers at the 19 earlier marathons and honorees, in a sense, at the marathon’s 20th anniversary. Two of these legacy runners came to my booth carrying copies of my book asking for my autograph. Both were men probably in their 50s. I learned that one worked as an air-traffic controller and the other in the county court system. The air-traffic controller told me that he had completed a total of nearly 50 marathons. What stood out was the modesty from both these marathon runners in response to my compliments; neither of the two seemed boastful or truly regarded themselves as exceptional.

To be sure, the Talmud uses the metaphor of running in stressing the superiority of Talmud study over ephemeral, worldly pursuits.

“We run, and they run,” states the Talmud in celebrating the completion of a tractate. The Jew “runs” toward eternal life, the others pursue vanity. Without minimizing the spiritual superiority of the Daf Yomi goal, the marathon runner also obeys the Torah’s edict “to watch carefully one’s soul,” interpreted by Jewish commentators as including health and physical fitness.

In competing against themselves, both the Daf Yomi student and the marathon runner are testing their limits and proving something about their core identities. May they both be blessed with the faith and energy to cross the finish — the Daf Yomi learner to go m’chayil l’chayi (from strength to strength), and the marathon runner to “go the distance.”

Ron Rubin is a professor of political science at Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY.

 

Purim Briefs


Run and Deliver

Unless you are actually running the Los Angeles Marathon, the marathon and the myriad street closures are likely to inconvenience you. This year, as the marathon falls on Purim (March 7), it may inconvenience Jews delivering mishloach manot, or food packages traditionally delivered to friends and family.

The city has found a way for Purim revellers to run around the marathon. Adeena Bleich, the Jewish community liaison for City Councilman Jack Weiss, organized access through “soft closures” — not the actual marathon route, but close by — which will allow people delivering shalach manot to go through. The main street closures are going to be staggered from 4:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., so deliveries could be times for after 2 p.m.

Copies of the marathon map and street closure times were sent out to area synagogues to ensure limited interruptions in shalach manot giving.

For more information about street closures in your area,call Adeena Bleich at (310) 289-0353 or send e-mail to ableich@council.lacity.org . — Gaby Wenig, Staff Writer

Megillah for the Deaf

It is a mitzvah on Purim to hear the reading of Megillat Esther, the scroll that tells the holiday’s story. In fact, some rabbis say that if you miss hearing one word of the megillah, then you have not fulfilled your obligation.

Certainly, deaf people would have a hard time fulfilling this mitzvah. The Orthodox Union has responded with a way that deaf people can “hear” the megillah.

The Orthodox Union’s National Jewish Council for the Disabled (NJCD) came up with the “PowerPoint Megillat Esther Program,” a CD-ROM that can be loaded into a computer and then projected to the front of the synagogue. A hearing person operates the equipment, following along with the cantor and pointing out the words being read using the mouse of the computer, which are the highlighted, karaoke-style, on the screen. Every time the name Haman comes up, the word is clicked and a graphic of stamping appears on the screen to simulate what should be going on in the synagogue at that moment.

Frank Duchoeny, the Montreal coordinator of Our Way for the Jewish Deaf, a division of the NJCD, developed the program two years ago. This year the CD-ROM, which is available to synagogues for $100, comes with a number of additional features.

“This year’s version has new graphics for Haman and the blessings recited before and after the megillah reading, and it also highlights the psukim [verses] that are recited by entire congregation,” said Batya Jacobs, Our Way’s program director. “The mitzvah of hearing Megillat Esther is a requirement for every Jew. Using our PowerPoint program will facilitate the inclusion of our fellow Jews who are deaf or hard of hearing within the community in this mitzvah.”

For more information or to place an order, call (212)613-8127 or send e-mail to arielib@ou.org . — GW

The Comic Esther

Think your kids watch too many cartoons with no educational value? Have them check out “The Queen of Persia,” a feature-length animated video about the story of Purim, and a graphic novel of the same title based on the video’s screenplay. The novel reads something like a Purim version of the “Asterix” comics — a guilty pleasure with a lot of humor and color on every page.

Shazak Productions, a Chicago-based media company, produced the Purim media to teach children in a fun way, said Rabbi Moshe Moscowitz, the company’s founder. A teacher for two decades, Moscowitz wants the book to spice up classroom learning, and therefore kept the book and video faithful to the authentic biblical sources.

“I want to give teachers new tools that really excite students,” he said. “Whenever learning material is presented in an exciting way, people will learn better. Our goal is to capture the fancy of everyone. Everybody, regardless of background, could pick up [‘The Queen of Persia’] and have a blast.”

For more information or to order “The Queen of Persia”CD, book or video, go to www.shazak.com or e-mail njpmail@mindspring.com . — GW

In the Running


Skylar Lenox, 14, hasn’t recently visited the cemetery where her father, John, is buried. "It’s just a plot," said Lenox, an award-winning platform diver and president of Adat Ari El’s United Synagogue Youth chapter.

The home-schooled ninth-grader finds more meaning in lighting a yahrtzeit candle in memory of her father and in a Los Angeles Marathon relay to benefit Our House — a nonprofit organization whose grief support groups have helped Skylar and her mother, Marsha, to heal.

On Sunday, Lenox will be one of some 32 Our House children, ages 5 to 14, who will each undertake one mile in memory of a loved one — the only relay race allowed in the 26.2-mile marathon. Skylar, who has participated in two other marathons since John unexpectedly died in 1996, will run the last mile of the course with two other girls and an adult chaperone. "It will be a real milestone for me," said Lenox, now a teen facilitator at Our House. "It will show how far I’ve come since the night my father died, and the difference I’ve made in my life and in the lives of other people."

It will also be an opportunity to remember her father, a tall, blond, strapping producer ("Splash," "Lucy and Desi") who spent a lot of time with his only child. Skylar grew up visiting him on the set of his television movies, where he always found her work as an extra. At home, she accompanied him on long bike rides and listened to him play Chopin or Bach on the family’s Steinway grand piano. Every Saturday night during the summer, the family attended the Hollywood Bowl.

Then, one morning when Skylar was 5, John, a Texas-born non-Jew, felt a tightness in his chest. After he was rushed to the hospital, the family learned that he had suffered a mild heart attack. But Skylar wasn’t worried. The doctors said his prognosis was good.

Five years later, however, the unfathomable occurred. Marsha, who is Jewish, awakened at 3:45 a.m. on July 23, 1996 — John’s 50th birthday — to find her husband absent from bed. She found him in the game room. "He was lying on the floor, and he was cold," Marsha recalled. "I checked his breathing and his pulse, but his fingertips and his face were already black. I was in shock."

Marsha awakened Skylar to break the news. "I knew intuitively what had happened, even before my mom said anything" Skylar recalled. Some time later, the 9-year-old stood in a daze in the front yard. "I remember the paramedics not wanting to talk to me," she said. "They wouldn’t look me in the eye."

At John’s funeral at Forest Lawn, Skylar played with her friends; his death wouldn’t sink in for 10 months. While Marsha intensely grieved ("There were days I couldn’t get out of bed," she said.) Skylar resisted therapy and seemed to be living on automatic pilot.

The dam broke around June of the following year. "I started to become really emotional, but I didn’t know why," Skylar recalled. "Every little thing would trigger me to cry or to behave erratically. I was really confused." Marsha’s private therapist had prepared her for Skylar’s delayed breakdown: "It’s not uncommon for children to wait to see that their remaining parent will be OK before they let themselves grieve," said Marsha, a 45-year-old writer.

Mother and daughter turned to Our House, founded in 1993 by grief specialist Jo-Ann Lautman, who previously ran support groups at Stephen S.Wise Temple. Not long after Skylar’s intake appointment, she attended her first group session, where she sat in a circle of beanbag chairs and passed the "talking stick" with six other children and two adult group leaders. Over the next year and a half, the children talked about their feelings, drew pictures of their loved ones, wrote down memories, played word games and discussed relationships with peers. "It was a safe haven," Skylar recalled. "It was a place to talk about things that your friends don’t understand or may not want to hear. It helped me to realize that what I was going through was normal, that it wasn’t bad, that it was part of a process."

"Most kids our age don’t have the sense that something terrible can happen," she said. "They feel fearless. But we at Our House really know that life doesn’t go on forever."

After attending her support group for 18 months, Skylar decided she wanted to give something back to Our House. Last year, she became a teen facilitator for the organization, helping two adults lead a support group for 8- and 9-year-olds. "The children can look at me and see that things do get better," Skylar said. "It means a lot to me when they say, ‘Thank you for being there.’"

Recently, Skylar and her mother moved back into the Van Nuys home they had left the night John died. Still difficult is the depression that descends upon Skylar every June, the month before the anniversary of John’s death. "I’ve learned not to create obstacles for it," she said. "I just let it come."

Running in the marathon has helped. "It’s a way for me to honor my father," Skylar said. "And it’s a way to raise money for Our House, so other children like me don’t have to feel alone."

For information about Our House, call (310) 475-0299. Our House representatives Lauren Schneider and Fredda Wasserman will be panelists Wed., March 7, at 7:45 at a Bureau of Jewish Education talk by Rabbi Naomi Levy. Call (323) 761-8605 for information.