Visitors to Israeli park turned away for carrying chametz


Visitors to a public park in Israel were turned away because they carried food that was not kosher for Passover.

The security guard at the entrance to the park in Afula, in northern Israel, was checking visitor’s bags for weapons and for chametz, according to reports.

Visitors found to have chametz in their bags were not allowed into the park. Several ate their sandwiches outside the park before gaining entry.

“The Afula municipal park is a public facility that serves the residents of the city and its environs, and so the public is asked to refrain from bringing chametz into it during the holiday, as is customary in many other public institutions,” the municipality said in a statement.

Israeli law prohibits the display and sale of chametz during Passover. Chametz also is prohibited in hospitals and other public institutions.

Barak Avivi, a Tel Aviv attorney, told Haaretz that he was considering filing a class-action lawsuit with the municipality on behalf of those who were turned away for having chametz with them.

L.A.’s little-known plaque and grove of trees honor ‘Munich 11’


In the summer of 1984, when Los Angeles hosted the Olympics, then-Mayor Tom Bradley and the local organizers of the Olympic Games unveiled a large bronze plaque honoring the 11 Israeli athletes murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Summer Games in Munich. The Israeli Olympic delegation was present for the unveiling, as were Jewish community leaders, according to a Los Angeles Times report.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, at the time an L.A. City Councilman, remembers the ceremony and what stands out most, he said in a recent interview, was that it took place at Los Angeles City Hall.

“It was a big ceremony, and I kept asking myself, ‘Why is it here?’ ” Yaroslavsky recalled. “Why isn’t it at the Coliseum?” he said, referring to the venue where the games were taking place.

“The International Olympic Committee [IOC] said no, we couldn’t do it there, at the games,” said Federal Appeals Court Judge Stephen Reinhardt, who served as secretary of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee. Instead, the plaque was hung temporarily at City Hall, then was reinstalled at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum’s Court of Honor after the games ended,  Reinhardt said. It continues to hang there today, alongside other commemorative plaques.

Reinhardt said he was surprised in 1984 when the IOC refused all requests to officially commemorate during the games here the 11 Israelis killed in 1972. No IOC officials attended the Los Angeles City Hall ceremony.

So when Reinhardt heard of the IOC’s refusal to commemorate the athletes with a moment of silence at the opening ceremonies of this year’s Olympic Games, set to begin in London on July 27, he said it “sounded just like the old days, all over again.”

This year’s push to commemorate the Israeli athletes has been more concerted and more public than ever before. More than 100,000 people signed an online petition asking the IOC to hold a minute of silence at the opening ceremonies to mark the 40th anniversary of the killings. President Barack Obama and Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney both endorsed the call, and NBC sports anchor Bob Costas told The Hollywood Reporter that if the IOC does not observe a minute of silence, he will dedicate a minute of silence himself, on the air.

Nevertheless, IOC President Jacques Rogge refused the request, telling the Associated Press that “the opening ceremony is an atmosphere that is not fit to remember such a tragic incident.”

Instead, Rogge said the IOC will honor the athletes elsewhere and at other times, including at a reception in London on Aug. 6, during the games, and again at a ceremony on Sept. 5, the actual date of the anniversary, at the military airfield in Germany where they were killed.

In addition, at a ceremony in London on July 23, Rogge held an impromptu moment of silence in what he called “the first time [that the slain athletes were memorialized] in an Olympic Village.”

That the IOC is participating in any remembrance of the Israeli athletes, who have come to be known as “The Munich 11,” could be seen as progress, given the IOC’s earlier refusals to participate in commemorations such as the 1984 Los Angeles one.

However, Ankie Spitzer and Ilana Romano, widows of two of the Israeli athletes killed in Munich and the leaders of the campaign for the opening ceremony minute of silence, reportedly were outraged by Rogge’s action.

“This is not the right solution, to hold some ceremony in front of 30 or 40 people,” Spitzer told the Jerusalem Post on July 23. “We asked for a moment of silence at the opening ceremony, not for someone to mumble something in front of a few dozen people.”

The L.A. City Hall ceremony wasn’t the only way the Israeli athletes were remembered in Los Angeles in 1984, though. On June 24, about a month before those games began, a copse of 11 purple-leaf plum trees was planted at the top of a hill in Pan Pacific Park, in the heavily Jewish Fairfax District.

According to Laura Bauernfeind, principal forester for the Los Angeles City Department of Recreation and Parks, trees are often planted in city parks in memory or in honor of people. “What’s unique about the grove in Pan Pacific Park,” she said, “is that it has a plaque.”

“These trees stand as a memorial to the eleven athletes who were murdered during the XXth Olympiad,” reads the plaque, which was dedicated by the Los Angeles chapter of the Jewish National Fund (JNF).

Only nine trees stand on that hill today, and they appear to have been all but forgotten by the Jewish community. Little is known about the circumstances surrounding their planting; a representative from the JNF couldn’t uncover any records relating to the memorial grove, and Sanford Deutsch, who was president of the local JNF chapter when they were planted recently told The Journal in an interview that he didn’t remember the ceremony that took place almost 30 years ago.

These days, the grove looks a bit scruffy. The trees all appear to lean uphill at an acute angle, giving them a slightly cockeyed look. Two have no leaves at all, and five appear to have been replanted very recently. Of those, four are buttressed by wooden posts. 

Those posts ensure no lawnmower or young child will accidentally bump up against a tree (which could damage the underdeveloped roots), and are evidence of their care by the Department of Recreation and Parks. The department oversees between 850,000 and 1 million trees in the 16,000 acres of parkland in the city of Los Angeles.

“We think groves like this are important,” said Leon Boroditsky, whose official title with the department is “tree surgeon.” “And we want to maintain them to the best of our ability. But our staffing is really low.”

Budget constraints notwithstanding, Boroditsky, with help from volunteers from the nonprofit association TreePeople, oversaw the replanting of one of the trees in the grove just last April. Boroditsky said he plans to replant the two missing trees in the fall, when the weather is more conducive to growth.

“Being a tree in a park is a difficult life,” Boroditsky said, “Not as difficult as a street tree, but it definitely has its challenges, with kids and dogs and soccer players.”

Calabasas evens playing field for special-needs kids


For children with physically limiting conditions like cerebral palsy or spinal muscular atrophy, something as simple as playing in a park can seem impossible. Swings can be unsafe, and climbing equipment is unaccommodating to many children reliant on wheelchairs and walkers for support and mobility.

Most slides, swings, forts and crawl spaces are designed for kids who can run, jump and climb. But when parks don’t factor in the limitations of special-needs children, it denies them a fundamental childhood experience.

Now the city of Calabasas is preparing a play area where the thousands of special-needs children living in the Conejo and West San Fernando valleys can play alongside all children their age. Brandon’s Village, the area’s first universally accessible handicapped playground, is scheduled to open on Oct. 28 at Gates Canyon Park on Thousand Oaks Boulevard, just east of Las Virgenes Road. Brandon’s Village is aimed at children with special needs, but the equipment is designed to be fun for everyone.

The opening of this playground — and others like it — reflects a movement spurred by parents of special-needs children who want to see their kids mainstreamed in all areas of life, from playgrounds to school to shul.

Brandon’s Village is the result of a partnership between the Las Virgenes Special Education PTA, the city of Calabasas, the Talbert Family Foundation and the Friedman Charitable Foundation. But at the center of it all has been Dina Kaplan.

Her passion to make the world accessible for her 12-year-old son, Brandon, who has multiple physical and developmental disabilities, has been the catalyst for a fundamental shift in how Calabasas looks at the children who play in its parks.

“In order to be an ADA-accessible playground, all that [cities] have to provide is access to get to the playground, like a ramp from the parking lot. They don’t have to provide access to the equipment,” said Kaplan, referring to the Americans With Disabilities Act. Fully accommodating equipment has not been the focus of playground planning, she pointed out, because most people don’t understand the need. “They don’t have kids with disabilities. It was just something they didn’t think about or know about,” she said.
Brandon’s Village joins eight other universally accessible playgrounds in the Los Angeles area, including Shane’s Inspiration in Griffith Park, Neil Papiano Play Park at the Los Angeles Zoo, Aiden’s Place at Westwood Park and Parque de los Suenos in East Los Angeles. Another playground for the East San Fernando Valley is currently under construction at El Cariso Park in Sylmar.

However, it was the Griffith Park playground, which opened in 1998 and was the first of its kind in Los Angeles, that inspired Kaplan’s vision for Brandon’s Village.

“Brandon had gone to Shane’s Inspiration when he was 5, and I’ve always wanted to bring that kind of playground to my community,” said Kaplan, a special-education attorney and executive director of The K.E.N. Project, a nonprofit that helps explain laws designed to protect special-needs children to parents and professionals.

Such playgrounds allow children with limited physical abilities to enjoy playing by themselves alongside typical children. Park features include high-backed swings; wheelchair-accessible modular play areas; a spongy, wheelchair-friendly ground covering; and low-lying slides and crawl spaces. Additional traditionally sized forts, slides and climbing opportunities make these mixed-use destinations popular among all children.

Kaplan and Joann Melancon, both cofounders of Las Virgenes Special Education PTA, first approached the city of Calabasas with the Brandon’s Village idea more than three years ago. The two mothers, both Jewish, took Jeff Rubin, the city’s community services director, on a field trip with other parents to visit Shane’s Inspiration.

Melancon said that she and Kaplan laid the groundwork together slowly, taking their time and building support.

“It ended up being a huge community building project. All over, people would ask what they could do to help,” she said. “People would be on the golf course talking about the project.”

While approval from the city was easy to come by, funding for the project initially proved more difficult. After Brandon’s Village was turned down for a grant by the state, Kaplan was despondent. Her brother-in-law, mortgage banker Bruce Friedman, asked her how much she needed.

“I said ‘I need a million dollars’ really flippantly, like it was 50 cents, and he said ‘OK.’ I was shocked,” she said.

Last January, Friedman and his wife, Wendy, donated $1 million from their Friedman Charitable Foundation, which funds children’s programs and scholarships for college-bound seniors. The donation is the largest in the history of Calabasas.

Once the money was in place, officials broke ground in May.

Brandon’s Village was created by Shane’s Inspiration, the nonprofit that established the eponymous Griffith Park playground in 1998 to honor Shane Williams, son of organization founders Catherine Curry-Williams and Scott Williams. Shane died from spinal muscular atrophy a few weeks after birth. Had he lived, he would have spent his life confined to a wheelchair.

Shane’s Inspiration has completed 10 playgrounds and has 55 in development around the world.
Tiffany Harris, executive director of Shane’s Inspiration, said that park planners need to put themselves in the body of a child with disabilities as they consider designs.

“I think they really need to stop for a minute and consider giving able-bodied children the opportunity to socialize with [special-needs children],” she said. “It really does become a wonderful opportunity to integrate these two populations and dispel some of the myths.”

For Calabasas, the addition of the playground to Gates Canyon Park is a source of pride.

This playground is “going to stand for the way this community and this region reacts toward kids with special needs,” then-Calabasas Mayor Barry Groveman said during a ceremony to honor the Friedmans’ donation in January.

“What I found so thrilling about the project is not simply what it does to enhance kids with special needs, but what it does for able-bodied kids” when they all play together, he said.

A Garden Tour of Biblical Proportions


 

Majestic fig trees bear their succulent fruit amid enormous leaves. Boughs of olives suggest the impending harvest as their color changes from green to black. Massive citrons emit their magnificent scent.

You’ve just entered Neot Kedumim, Israel’s biblical landscape reserve. With relevant selections from the Bible and other ancient texts paired with each exhibit, this beautiful, tranquil place puts a new spin on the idea of a “biblical theme park.” These 625 acres of majestic trees, grapevines, shrubs and flowers were once barren territory, used as an army training ground.

Thirty-five years ago, a visionary named Nogah Hareuveni, now 81, conceived of reclaiming the land to its lost glory. His simple but profound idea? Looking at “text in context,” said Beth Uval, Neot Kedumim’s native English-speaking guide and writer, a former American who moved to Israel in 1970.

“If we look at the text in relation to the climate, the nature and the harvest, we find the nuance, depth and power of Jewish sources,” Uval said.

As a result, Neot Kedumim’s appeal is now widespread among visitors who love exploring the natural beauty of Eretz Yisrael as well as students of the Torah, Talmud and halachah, or Jewish law. So treasured is Neot Kedumim, that in 1994, it received the Israel Prize, the highest honor awarded by the State of Israel, for its special contribution to the society and the state.

Shortly before Sukkot, I had the pleasure of touring this inspiring landscape on a trip sponsored by the Israel Ministry of Tourism and El Al. Neot Kedumim was already well on its way to welcoming guests with its annual holiday-themed exhibit. A two-story sukkah, a sukkah on the back of a camel and a sukkah on a boat are all recreated according to the text of the Mishna. Uval escorted a small group of us through the park’s “Four Species” section, which relates to the four flora used in the holiday’s commandment pertaining to lulav and etrog — binding branches of willow, myrtle and palm with citron fruit.

“We get people here with an open Mishnah and many people who enjoy nature,” Uval said. “That’s one of our aims, to find common ground among all Jews. If we try to look for a broad common denominator, anyone living according to the same calendar experiences this as a very unifying force.”

Near the pond hosting the floating sukkah, Uval pointed out a fascinating replica of ancient technology. A long wooden cylinder with iron supports was positioned between the pond and a small stone pool a few feet away. Between the pond and the pool, running beneath the upper most end of the cylinder, was a small stone channel. When we turned the crank at the top of the cylinder, we could clearly see a screw-like structure turning and we could hear the water moving inside. After a few minutes, a rush of water poured out of the cylinder, filling the channel and running directly into the stone pool, symbolic of a mikvah, or ritual bath. This “water screw” is discussed in Tosefta Mikvaot 4 and 5: “Archimedes screw does not invalidate the mikvah because the water is not disconnected from its source. The mikvah is kosher, the water comes in one continuous flow.”

This is just one example of the many fascinating displays throughout the park.

During holidays such as Sukkot, Chanukah and Passover, children’s activities dot the park’s many trails. For Aliyat Haregel, the three pilgrimage holidays of Sukkot, Passover and Shavuot, young visitors have the opportunity to make sandals and robes, as well as coins reminiscent of those once used as the half-shekel tax in the ancient Temple. They also participate in musical processionals to a threshing floor for a light snack.

Around Shavuot and Tu B’Av, visitors tour a “Song of Songs” path. The foliage and texts relate well to love and romance, themes replete in both holidays.

Further along in the park, at another interlocking landscape, is the “Seven Species” area. This section features an authentic olive crush and press. We each picked a green olive off a branch and gently squeezed a drop of oil out with our hands. The taste was extremely bitter but the oil was deliciously emollient on my hands.

Uval reached into her bag to reveal a replica of an ancient oil lamp of clay, a project kids enjoy creating during Chanukah visits. This region of Israel, the Modiin area between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, is believed to be the ancient home of the Hasmoneans, the leaders of the rebellion against the Syrian Greeks that led to the miracle of Chanukah.

“When we say a great miracle happened here,” Uval said, “it truly was here. That very much brings Chanukah alive.”

During Chag Urim, the holiday of light, as Chanukah is also known, young visitors experiment with creating olive oil, which was used in the biblical Temple to light the menorah. Guests pick black olives and place them under a massive crushing stone powered by a live mule. The resulting mash is placed in a flat basket positioned under a large log hanging horizontally. The log is lowered with weights, as described in the Mishnah.

The last stop was the “wedding trail.” It had been a very hot day, and as the sun set, the air felt particularly soft and fragrant. As a nearly full moon rose, we proceeded along a romantically lit path, taking in the last views of crimson pomegranates, their crown-like stems nearing the end of their reign.

Neot Kedumim is located off Route 443 near Modiin. It is wheelchair accessible. For more information, call 011-972-8-977-0770, visit gen_info@neot-kedumim.org.il. Due to cuts in recent government funding, Neot Kedumim is seeking support for its programming. Contact the American Friends of Neot Kedumim at (914) 254-5031 or