A Tennis Lesson for the World

The news out of Dubai has been rife with speculation about who assassinated Hamas terrorist commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in a local hotel. Israeli
agents and al-Mabhouh’s Palestinian rivals are high on the guess list.

But amid the who-did-it debate, a happier Dubai event was taking place. A few weeks ago, Shahar Peer became the first Israeli woman to compete in a professional sporting event in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Peer, a superb tennis player, defeated several highly ranked competitors on her way to the semifinal round of the annual Dubai championships. The 22-year-old then lost to American star Venus Williams, who went on reclaim the title she had won the previous year. But no less significant was Peer’s stunning performance and how she got there in the first place.

Her appearance was a year overdue. Peer was part of the draw for the 2009 Dubai championships, and her name, like that of the other players, had been supplied to the Emirates authorities long in advance. Yet the day before the opening matches, Peer received word that the UAE had denied her a visa.

Tournament director Salah Tahlak said Peer’s presence “would have antagonized our fans” because of their opposition to Israeli policies.
In fact, 2009 was dotted with international insults to Israeli athletes. Weeks after the Dubai event, the Swedish Taekwondo Federation blocked Israeli participation in the annual championships at Trelleborg. On the eve of the tournament, 45 Israeli athletes had to cancel their flight plans.

In October, at the fencing world championships in Antalya, Turkey, the Iranian team dropped out without notice. The Iranian government forbade its fencers to compete after learning that they were in seeding brackets with Israeli athletes. Iran’s disruptive behavior drew barely a nod from the Turkish hosts.

Effrontery to Israeli delegations was not limited to athletic competitions. Two Israeli women, both research doctors, were abruptly disinvited to a conference in Egypt on breast cancer. The sponsoring organization, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, told the women that the Egyptian Health Ministry was barring them. The doctors were doubly shocked by subsequent Komen and Egyptian claims that the Israelis themselves had decided not to attend.

Neither the Swedish, Iranian, Turkish nor Egyptian authorities were seriously criticized for their misbegotten behavior. But sponsors of the Dubai tennis tournament reacted differently, and therein lies a huge lesson.

Peer responded indignantly when she was notified of her ban in 2009. Larry Scott, the chief executive of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) tour, echoed Peer’s assertion that politics should be kept separate from sports. After consultations among the players, and with Peer’s concurrence, the tournament was not canceled, but the Dubai authorities were hit with an avalanche of penalties.

Scott warned that if Peer were prevented from playing in Dubai in the future, “they would run the risk of losing their tournament.” Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal’s European edition dropped advertising for the 2009 event and cable television’s Tennis Channel canceled its planned coverage.

Soon after, the WTA levied a fine of $300,000 on the Dubai tournament organizers. The WTA board also demanded that the organizers post a $2 million guarantee that henceforth all players who qualified would be allowed to compete. The UAE would have to show proof of entry permission for any Israeli player at least eight weeks prior to the tournament.

Further, Williams said she would not play again in Dubai unless Peer was admitted to the 2010 contest.

The threat of losing the tournament and its accompanying money, attention and prestige evidently impressed the Dubai organizers. Peer’s participation in 2010 made that point even though none of her matches was on the center court. All were relegated to an outside court with limited seating, presumably as a safety measure.

Still, Peer’s iron determination to play, and play well, drew plaudits from commentators around the world. Above all, her presence signified the ability to rectify a wrong when good people are insistent.

The Iranian fencers in 2009 were permitted to let politics trump their commitment to compete. Their Turkish hosts and fellow competitors remained stone silent rather than call for penalties for the Iranians’ blatant discrimination. Nor were the Swedish and Egyptian authorities who disinvited Israeli participants even censured, let alone penalized.

If ignored, such injustices will be repeated. Dubai 2010 demonstrated how concerted efforts can help change errant behavior.

Overseers of all these events would do well to heed Scott’s words after the UAE agreed to the WTA’s stipulations: “Thanks to the courage of Shahar and all those individuals and organizations, including her fellow players that supported her, the UAE has changed their policy, and another barrier of discrimination has fallen.”

Leonard A. Cole is the co-chair of the Task Force on Anti-Semitism for the Jewish Agency and former chair of the Jewish Council of Public Affairs.

Net losses for Israelis at Olympics

BEIJING (JTA)—Israel’s tennis players were eliminated from the Beijing Olympics.

Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram, the third-seeded men’s doubles team with perhaps the best chance at a medal among the Israelis on the court, were upset Tuesday by the unseeded tandem of Arnaud Clement and Llodra Michael of France, 6-4, 6-4, in their first-round match.

Erlich and Ram had beaten the Frenchmen in January in the Australian Open final to give Israel its first Grand Slam title.

Also Tuesday, Tzipora Obziler fell to Mariya Koryttseva of Ukraine, 5-7, 7-5, 6-4, in a grueling three-hour women’s singles match. The deciding set lasted an hour, 6 minutes.

That same evening, Obziler and Shahar Peer dropped a women’s double match, 6-3, 6-2, to Gisela Dulko and Betina Jozami of Argentina.

Peer, the 24th seed in women’s singles, was eliminated in the second round Monday by Russia’s Vera Zvonareva, 6-3, 7-6. The second set took 1:11.

Peer had won her first-round match, 6-3, 5-7, 6-0, over Sorana Cirstea of Romania.


The Power of Yiddish

The Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring honored Yiddish translator Hershl Hartman Nov. 7 at its annual awards banquet and silent auction, held at the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) union headquarters on Wilshire Boulevard.

“Yiddish is the language that embodies the very soul of secular Jewishness,” said Hartman to the 115 people in attendance. Hartman pointed to studies showing that world Jewry’s birthrate will increase heavily among young, Yiddish-speaking Chasidic families: “Young Chasidim who opt for modernity know well enough that it [Yiddish] is available to them.”

Hartman accepted the Workmen’s Circle’s Yiddishkayt Award and Los Angeles City Councilman Martin Ludlow accepted the Melvin S. and Erma B. Sands Memorial Award for Human Rights. Children’s radio show host Ruthie Buell received the group’s Member of the Year award, partly for her work playing guitar on picket lines during last winter’s supermarket strike.

Kirsten Cowan, assistant to the director of the Workmen’s Circle’s Southern California District, articulated the slight sense of depression at the leftist banquet held five days after President Bush’s re-election.

“Yes, the election was very depressing,” she told the crowd. “It just kind of re-energized our organization.”

Also attending were Jay Greenstein, a field deputy for West Hollywood’s Democratic Assemblyman Paul Koretz, and UTLA union representative Steve Klein.

“I do so many sort of left-leaning comedy benefits,” said comedienne and MC Jackie Wollner, who enjoyed entertaining at the event. – David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Puah Plants a Seed

Attention infertile couples: Don’t give up hope. At least that’s the message offered by representatives of the Israel-based Machon Puah (Puah Institute) who visited Los Angeles recently to lay the groundwork for branch of the institution here. Machon Puah – named after the biblical midwife who kept Jewish babies alive even after Pharaoh commanded they be killed – is an organization that offers free counseling services to couples to let them know about all the halachically approved fertility treatments available to them. They also offer a supervisory service for couples undergoing IVF treatment.

On Oct. 23, Rabbi Gideon Weitzman, the head of the English-speaking division of Machon Puah, spoke at Congregation Beth Jacob on “Jewish Law and Cutting-Edge Reproductive Medicine,” and on Oct. 30, Rabbi Menachem Burstein, the head of the Puah Institute, gave a lecture at Young Israel of Century City on “Be Fruitful and Multiply – A Modern Medical Perspective.”

In addition, the rabbis visited IVF clinics and met with medical specialists in anticipation of establishing fertility supervision services in Los Angeles.

For additional information, e-mail info@puah.org.il, or visit www.puah.org.il.

Spicers Save Lives

Ann Spicer spent her youth in Nazi concentration camps, where it was only the rapidly advancing Russian army that saved her from a Mengele-imposed death sentence. Her husband, Ed, was also incarcerated in the Lvov concentration camp, but he escaped four times – and the last time he managed to join the partisans fighting in the forests of his native Poland.

After the war, the Spicers moved to America, with only $5 in their pockets given to them by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. Now they live in Studio City, but they haven’t stopped helping their Jewish brethren all over the world.

In August 2003, Ed saw a news report of a suicide bombing in Israel, and was amazed at the quick response of the Magen David Adom ambulances. He and his wife decided that they were going to help save lives in Israel by donating an ambulance of their own.

In September of this year, the Spicers traveled to Israel to dedicate their own American Red Magen David for Israel (ARMDI) ambulance, which they presented to the people of Israel in memory of their relatives who perished in the Holocaust.

“You either have to fight for a country in a war or you have to work to save lives,” Ed Spicer said. “Well, I’m too old to fight, so I’m doing the next best thing.”

Visit to Vienna

Rabbi Marvin Hier, left, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, recently traveled to Vienna to meet with his organization’s namesake, famed Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal. Hier briefed Wiesenthal on the progress of the Frank Gehry-designed Center for Human Dignity-Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem, scheduled to be completed in 2007. Queen Elizabeth recently knighted Wiesenthal, who will celebrate his 96th birthday in December, for his “lifetime of service to humanity.”


On Sept. 8, Moshe and Hannah Shram hosted a cocktail party at their home to benefit the Israel Humanitarian Foundation (IHF). The 50 guests watched a video highlighting five of the 130 projects that the IHF supports in Israel, and learned more about the projects from Shelly Levy, IHF’s Western region director.

The IHF is the premier link between donor-directed American Jewish philanthropy and the unmet needs of medical, educational, humanitarian, geriatric and social service projects in Israel. It supports organizations that cannot afford to have a presence in America, and rely on IHF funds to operate.

For more information call (310) 445-8801.

Dreams Fulfilled

The Fulfillment Fund, the largest donor of scholarships to Los Angeles students and one of the largest local mentor programs, held its “Stars 2004” gala on Oct. 13 at the Beverly Hilton. The event, which honored Amy Pascal, chair of Sony Pictures Entertainment Motion Picture Group and vice chair of Sony Pictures Entertainment, raised $2.5 million. The event attracted some megawattage stars, including actor Will Smith, who presented Pascal with her award, and comedian Sinbad, who was the evening’s master of ceremonies.

Shelter of Warmth

On Sept. 29, Jewish Family Service’s Family Violence Project (FVP) received 50 quilts designed by children and adults from Camp Ramah’s Tikvah Program, which helps Jewish teens and young adults with special needs. The quilts, which campers designed by creating art on textile squares, will be used in FVP’s two shelters for victims of domestic violence.

Camper-artists Neda Rasmi and Max Kotonikov; the Tikvah Program’s Tara Reisbaum, and Cheryl Davidson, the project coordinator, presented the quilts to Kitty Glass, community outreach coordinator for the FVP, in a special sukkah ceremony at JFS’s Freda Mohr Center in the Fairfax District.

The date, which fell during Sukkot, and the venue, were specially chosen because as the sukkah provides spiritual shelter to the Jewish people, so will the quilts provide physical and emotional shelter to the victims of domestic violence.

USY Flies!

United Synagogue Youth (USY), the high school affiliate of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, recently gathered 65 of the country’s top young Jewish leaders and sent them off to Israel on USY’s Nativ College Leadership Program. Seven of the students came from Los Angeles: Tammy Farkas and Benjamin Braun, from Temple Beth Am; Danny Fleischer and Julie Hanna, from Temple Eilat in Mission Viejo; Arya Donner from Valley Beth Shalom; Lauren Klein from Adat Ari El; and Tanya Spiegel from Beth Shalom in Corona.

The students, who left in September, will be in Israel for nine months, where they will study, tour, volunteer and learn new leadership techniques.

For more information, call (212) 553-7800, ext. 2321 or e-mail nativ@uscj.org.

A Jolly Good Fellow

Sometimes rabbis need reinforcements, too. Synagogues: Transformation and Renewal (STAR) recently started a fellowship program – Professional Education for Excellence in Rabbis (PEER), which combines practical knowledge with ongoing mentoring to build a bridge between the spiritual and secular components of rabbinic training. The process of being chosen for a PEER fellow is a highly competitive one, and it is open to congregational rabbis who are two to five years past their ordination. In September, Rabbi Daniel Moskovitz of Temple Judea was chosen as a 2004-2005 PEER Fellow. The program will help Moskovitz acquire essential management skills, identify his personal vision for a successful rabbinate and develop a road map toward creating a vibrant community.