Fans and family of Art Modell praying for Ravens Super Bowl victory, Hall of Fame entry


Every Sunday during the football season, a group of 30 diehard Jewish Baltimore Ravens fans suit up in purple pants, jerseys, socks, face paint and special Ravens tzitzit to watch the game together.

If the game falls on a Saturday, the club gathers for a “purple Shabbos,” when they wear Ravens jerseys under their suits, eat Ravens-inspired food from a purple menu and go into lockdown mode once the game starts so they don't accidentally discover the final score before they can watch the recorded broadcast post-Sabbath.

“Yes, we’re all absolute Ravens nuts,” Noam Heller, a 25-year-old Baltimore native, told JTA. “We’re not just casual football fans like some other states. Everyone who knows our crew knows we’re crazy.”

The group has been reveling in the Ravens together for about five years at the homes of its members. Wives and kids come along now, too.

With their beloved squad slated to face off against the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII on Sunday, Heller and company no doubt will get even crazier than normal.

Adding to its significance, the showdown comes just six months after the death of former owner Art Modell, the Jewish Brooklyn native who moved the team to Baltimore from Cleveland in 1996. Ravens players dedicated this season to Modell, wearing a patch with “Art” on their jerseys.

And even more poignancy: The Pro Football Hall of Fame will announce whether Modell will be inducted the day before the big game.

“Honestly, I’m kvelling over this game,” David Modell, one of the late owner's two sons and a former president and CEO of the Ravens, told JTA. “I’m not praying for results, I’m praying for the strength and courage of this team, and the rest will take care of itself. But a Super Bowl victory and a place in the Hall of Fame would be an incredible way to honor my father’s memory.”

Modell's legacy is something of a touchy subject for football fans. Supporters see him as a brilliant businessman best known for his role in negotiations with the ABC television network leading to the creation of “Monday Night Football” in 1970, and for his support for community charities in Cleveland and Baltimore.

In Cleveland, Modell isn't remembered as fondly. After 24 years as owner of the Browns, Modell took the team to Baltimore in 1996 and renamed them the Ravens. Many Cleveland fans remain bitter over the loss of their team and say it would be wrong to honor Modell with a spot in the Hall of Fame.

“I don’t care how much money he gave to either community or how well Baltimore is doing,” said one disgruntled Jewish Clevelander who asked that his name not be published for fear of bad football karma. “Art Modell stole our pride in Cleveland, and stealing in football should not be praised.”

David Modell told JTA that many Cleveland fans wrote to him and his brother, John, to offer condolences after their father passed away. It seemed they forgave Modell, who sold the Ravens in 2004, for abandoning Cleveland and now remember him mainly as a football legend.

Although Modell's two sons are Catholic, children from the first marriage of his wife Patricia Breslin, David Modell said his father made sure to teach them the basic Jewish traditions of the religion he loved.

“My father wasn’t the type of man who wore his spirituality on his sleeve, but he was a quietly religious and very spiritual Jew,” David said. “We knew that he carried around a piece of paper with God’s name in his pocket every day of his life. Every year he would light memorial candles for his parents death. He always attended temple on High Holidays. And Chanukah candles were so important to him that my brother in California and I Skyped together this year to light candles and recite the prayers.”

Modell had a special relationship with football players as well as fans, specifically with Ray Lewis, the Ravens' All-Pro linebacker who is retiring at the end of this season. Modell watched his team practice every day and had a father-son relationship with Lewis.

Unlike his former boss, Lewis did wear his spirituality on his sleeve — or at least on his chest. Following a 24-9 playoff victory over the Colts earlier this month, Lewis removed his game jersey to reveal a T-shirt that read “Psalm 91,” which concludes with the line, “With long life I will satisfy him, and show him my salvation.”

Heller and his friends responded by getting together for a communal reading of the psalm and to pray on the Ravens’ behalf.

“We’ve loved the Ravens since Art Modell first brought them to Baltimore in 1996,” Heller said. “We all looked up to him as kids. And this Super Bowl is going to be ours.”

Drama queens


One of the biggest and most obvious challenges in raising Jewish awareness and building Jewish connection is finding ways of getting your point across. Every week, across Los Angeles, there are hundreds of classes and sermons that aim specifically to do that: get a Jewish point across.

This could be a Shabbat sermon on the parasha of the week, or weekday classes on raising Jewish children, improving your marriage, refining your character, connecting to Jewish peoplehood and so on.

These classes convey plenty of valuable information, but rarely will they use the device of drama. And by drama, I don’t mean a speaker using a dramatic tone. I mean real drama, as in professional theater drama.

Like the drama I saw the other night at Rosanne Ziering’s home, performed by the Jewish Women’s Theatre (JWT).

For almost two hours, professional actors performed mini-plays that dealt, in dramatic ways, with the kind of subjects I often hear about in sermons and classes. The only difference is that here, I was spellbound. I couldn’t keep my eyes off the performers or wait to hear the end of the stories.

There was a woman whose husband had personal habits that drove her nuts, but who discovers the depth of her love for him on a birthday card; a daughter who was disappointed that her mother didn’t share words of wisdom as she was dying—until the very end, when the mother spoke about her lifelong preoccupation with her weight.

There was a single mother whose teenage son ignored her—until she was diagnosed with breast cancer; a husband who admitted to his wife that, 50 years earlier, a woman they both knew almost seduced him, and that he still had the ticket where she wrote down her room number; a Jewish woman who shows up at a local fair at a Catholic high school and realizes how much she needs a community of her own.

There was a dancer-turned-successful lawyer who has an epiphany and ends up quitting her profession; a Jewish family traveling with a Palestinian family who were stopped at the Jordanian border when the Jewish women’s vitamins are thought to be drugs; a Christian woman in jail who discovers Judaism and leaves behind her mother’s oppression.

There was a woman reading a communist manifesto who learns from her father, who lived under Stalin in the 1940s, not to take words at face value but to question. She remembers this on his yahrzeit. 

There were stories like that all night long. The title of the show was “The Moment You Knew,” and it was billed as “Jewish women share stories of discovery and awakening.”

The theater group started pretty much the same way—with three Jewish women sharing stories around a kitchen table. It was in spring 2007 when theater lovers Ronda Spinak, Ellen Sandler and Deena Novak gave birth to JWT as a way to explore themes of Jewish identity for women in America.

The format is what they call “salon theater,” and it is usually performed in intimate home settings for audiences of about 50 to 100 people, depending on the size of the home. Over the years, they have attracted many volunteers and professionals from the theater and entertainment worlds as well as community funders, who have helped them grow their program.

They now have several shows a year based on different themes. Their previous show was titled “Saffron and Rosewater,” and it explored the search for Jewish identity among Persian women. They’ve also produced shows dealing with the theme of gratitude and one titled “Eden According to Eve,” which re-examined Bible stories from a woman’s perspective.

Last year, the group performed at the Museum of Tolerance a play titled “Stories From the Fringe: Women Rabbis, Revealed!” which used interviews with female rabbis in Los Angeles and was written by Spinak and Rabbi Lynne A. Kern.

Themes for upcoming shows will be “The Art of Forgiveness,” “Woman Plans, God Laughs” and “Oh Mother.”

A big key to their success is that they use theater professionals. Most of the plays are based on true stories, but these stories can’t simply be told: They must be produced, written and performed for dramatic effect.

That’s why the stories enter you.

The dialogue, the body movement, the timing, the delivery of the words, the pacing: Just like on a Broadway stage, everything is geared to getting you to listen to a story and absorb it.

By “adding” to reality, they deepen it. By “performing” the truth, they help you understand it.

Maybe it was the fact that they weren’t trying to teach me anything that made me feel I learned a few things that night, in addition to being entertained. Among other things, I learned that a “women’s” show must absolutely be seen by men, if for no other reason than that the sexes need to understand each other better.

At the end of the show, I went over to Spinak, who runs the group and is the artistic director, and made a suggestion: Create a show for next year on “Receiving the Torah” and perform it on Shavuot night in an Orthodox synagogue in Pico-Robertson. The only restriction, I said, would be no music.

She smiled, and without any hint of drama, said it would be a great idea.

Bubbie’s Menorah Miracle


Bubbie, my sweet grandmother, is a small woman, barely
5-feet tall. Her candelabra wasn’t just a candleholder used for the Sabbath and
Chanukah lights. It was a family symbol; a magnet that brought family and
friends together. On Sabbath evenings Bubbie would don a special Shabbos
kerchief. With great fanfare she would light each candle. When she finished
lighting the last candle she stood in front of the candelabra and clenched her
eyes; tears ran down her cheeks. She prayed for her husband, her married children
and her grandchildren. She spoke in Yiddish, “Her mien tinere tata heat mien
kinder un de eynikloch” (Dearest Father, God watch and protect my children,
grandchildren and great-grandchildren. May it be Your will that they grow up to
be good people and are loyal to our religion. Please grant my dear husband a
livelihood and patience. Watch over us all.).

We all stood by the Shabbos table in awe. Bubbie looked like
a queen speaking to the King of Kings, the Almighty God. When she finished her
prayer, we began our Sabbath.

As our family grew, Bubbie spent more time with her candles.
By the time she reached the beginning of her 96th birthday, Bubbie had many
married grandchildren who also had children. There were five generations in
Bubbie’s family. When lighting the candles, Bubbie prayed for each family
member.

Her candelabra was made of solid silver with a heavy silver
base. It was 2-feet tall. Year round it had three branches of two candlesticks.
In the middle was a stem for another candle. The traditional custom for Shabbos
eve is to light one candle each for the father, mother and children. As each
child is born, another candle is added. Throughout the year Bubbie’s candelabra
was fitted for five candles.

During the week of Chanukah she added another branch of two
candlesticks each, making a total of nine candles. The candelabra was built in
such a way that the candle holders could be removed and oil cups could be
inserted for the special lighting on Chanukah. Our Shabbos candelabra became a
menorah.

During Chanukah the prized candelabra was given to my
grandfather. He used it to fulfill the commandment of lighting candles for the
holiday. Chanukah was the happiest time for the family. All the children,
grandchildren and great-grandchildren came to Bubbie and Zadie to receive
holiday gifts of Chanukah gelt and joined in the lighting of the menorah.

Imagine the menorah lit with nine candles shining in its
glory. Zadie stood like a Kohen, the Jewish high priest, when he lit it. He
would be dressed in a special fur hat, called a streimel, with a magnificent
long, silk caftan.

When Zadie died, Bubbie would spend her winters in Miami
Beach. She took her candelabra with her. Every Shabbos, Bubbie would polish
it and pray, “May my mazel (luck) always shine!”

All this came to an end when someone stole her candelabra.
Bubbie was livid. Her small body shook like a willow in a storm as she spoke
about her most prized possession. How could anyone steal it? Her only concern
was how she would light her candles.

She believed it would return.

“I have prayed that the menorah would protect us and I’m
sure that the menorah has done just that. Now I pray that the menorah protect
itself and be returned to me.”

With silent determination she prayed and prayed. We, the
family, did not know what to do. Unexpectedly, a childhood friend from Austria,
Bubbie’s birthplace, visited us and announced, “I have never seen another
menorah like yours until today. I always wondered if there was a second
majestic menorah. Surprisingly I just saw a menorah just like yours in the
window of a gift store. It is a replica of yours.”

We were dumbfounded. Could it be that our guest had seen the
stolen menorah? Bubbie jumped up and said, “Let’s get my menorah back! It soon
will be Chanukah and I need the menorah.”

Bubbie, my parents, Bubbie’s girlfriend and a policeman made
their way to the gift shop. With a gleam in her eyes and a shout of joy Bubbie
pointed to the menorah and said, “Yes, you have done well. You have protected
us and now you have protected yourself. Come back home to my family and me.”

Before anyone could say anything, Bubbie grabbed the menorah
off the shelf and held it close to her heart. Nobody was going to stop her.
Neighbors, Jewish and non-Jewish, joined her in her triumphant walk home. The
closer she got to her home, the more people that joined her. Bubbie, dressed in
the European manner, with her slight frame carrying a menorah that was almost
as big as her, with a procession of excited family and friends following, was a
sight to see. It truly was a Chanukah parade. The owner of the shop was
flabbergasted.

Needless to say, the menorah was given a special cleaning.
It became the most respected object of our Bubbie’s home. That Chanukah was the
brightest in Bubbie’s home. Who says that miracles can’t happen anymore?  


Rabbi Eli Hecht is vice president of the Rabbinical Alliance of America and past president of the Rabbinical Council of California. He is the director of Chabad of South Bay in Lomita.

Letters to the Editor


Orthodox Numbers

As a sociologist of American Jews, I read the three articles (“Setting the Record Straight,” “Flawed Methodology” and “Standing by the Data,” Sept. 15) with great interest. Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, along with Anthony Gordon and Richard M. Horowitz, raised important methodological issues which – if unaddressed – do indeed have the potential to undercount the Orthodox population. These Orthodox advocates also correctly pointed out the explosion of Orthodox Jewish institutions in numerous neighborhoods. Nonetheless, I would tend to agree with Pini Herman that the numbers of Orthodox Jews in Los Angeles has not increased in recent years.

How can this be? How can these two facts exist simultaneously? The answer lies in understanding important generational differences in the social construction and definition of Orthodoxy. For the older (65 and over) generation of Orthodox Jews, historical and sociological conditions in the U.S. dictated a more integrated, acculturated approach to American life. These Jews, for example, would often attend public schools, eat in restaurants not under rabbinical supervision and cover their heads while in synagogue or at home, but not at work or in the street. For younger Orthodox Jews, by contrast, individual and institutional distinctiveness, visibility and separation (parochial day schools, kosher pizza parlors and even Hatzolah ambulances, to name but a few examples) are fundamental elements which shape their understanding of contemporary American Orthodox life.

A drive down Pico Boulevard reveals the strength of the younger generation of American Orthodoxy. But the older, less visible – yet demographically substantial – Orthodox generation is dying out. Recent community and national studies, such as the 1990 National Jewish Populations Survey, have consistently demonstrated that older American Jews are more likely to self-report as Orthodox than American Jews of any other age range. In the short term, at least, the quantitative state of L.A.’s Orthodox Jewry will not change significantly. In qualitative terms, however, it has already dramatically redefined what it means to be Orthodox in American society.

Jonathon Ament, Instructor
American Jewish Studies/Modern Jewish Sociology University of Judaism

One of the many problems with this type of study is that the respondent defines himself subjectively rather than by any objective criteria. As a day school principal for 27 years, numerous parents told me that they came from Orthodox families. Subsequent discussion revealed this to be inaccurate. However, parents or grandparents who attended an Orthodox synagogue more than twice a year and kept some form of kosher observance were considered Orthodox even if they worked on Shabbos.

For many years, I worked for a large Orthodox congregation of 700 families, of whom perhaps two dozen were actually Orthodox. Yet the members clearly identified themselves with the Orthodox movement. Such congregations and even Orthodox day schools where the large majority were not observant in the Orthodox manner were very common 30 years ago. Today, this is not common partly because of the rise in the number of non-Orthodox schools. Most Orthodox congregations today have only a few non-Orthodox members.

Dr. Herman may be right in the number who identify with Orthodoxy, but there can be absolutely no doubt that the number of practicing Orthodox Jews is dramatically up. For him to simply dismiss the obvious realities in the number of day school and yeshiva students, synagogues, kosher restaurants, etc., without looking behind the facts or openly discussing the shortcomings of the methods employed smacks of arrogance.

Dr. George Lebovitz, Los Angeles

WJCC

I appreciate the opportunity to have contributed my thoughts to The Jewish Journal’s article on the Westside JCC (“In the Center of Controversy,” Sept. 22). However, there was such an expanse of time between my interview and publication that the situation is now noticeably different.

I wish to acknowledge the progress on security issues made by the center’s administration. I also feel that the core of my personal position was somehow lost in the editing process. I believe that the center is a place with great potential. My willingness to speak out is an expression of my hope for its future.

Karen Benjamin, Los Angeles

Jesus Day

If Fred Sands honestly wants to understand the brouhaha over Gov. George W. Bush’s calling June 10, 2000, Jesus Day in Texas (Letters, Sept. 15), I suggest that he give me a call at (310) 854-3381. I will introduce him to Zack, a 12-year-old boy from Texas. As reported on ABC’s “20/20,” three months before his Bar Mitzvah, Zack was invited to a Southern Baptist youth meeting and coerced by an adult into converting to Christianity. This Southern Baptist even told Zack that he could be Jewish and believe in Jesus at the same time. Zack and his parents will gladly explain the painful difference between “Jesus Day” and “Honor Israel Day.”

Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz , Jews for Judaism

Fred C. Sands completely misses the point of the “brouhaha over Gov. George W. Bush’s proclamation calling June 10, 2000, Jesus Day in Texas.”

The point is separation of church and state. Anyone in public office in this country must never blur the line of separation of church and state or people of all religions – particularly the Jewish people – will be in serious trouble.

Sands asks, “Why are Jews so afraid of the mention of Jesus Christ?” It is not the mention of Jesus, but who mentions it and under what circumstances that is frightening. When people are truly religious, they don’t push religion everywhere they go. If they do, especially if they are in public office in this country, one has to question their motive.

Let us ask all politicians to respect and adhere to separation of church and state and live each moment of their lives in a religious way but not preach to us about how religious they are.

Roslyn Walker, Marina del Rey

KOREH L.A.

As the first year of operation of KOREH L.A. draws to an end, I wanted to share some interesting statistics with you. Close to 600 KOREH volunteers worked in over 30 schools throughout Los Angeles during the past year. Another 800 people indicated their interest and are waiting to be trained.

In order to evaluate this first year, KOREH L.A. hired two Cal Tech researchers to probe the response of volunteers, teachers and principals to the program. One of the questions posed to the volunteers was where they heard about KOREH L.A. You will be interested to know that over 20 percent of our volunteers first learned about KOREH L.A. from The Jewish Journal.

As we recruit for our second year, we are keeping careful records of where each prospective volunteer heard about the program. The informal information that the KOREH L.A. staff has gathered indicates that close to 25 percent of the prospective volunteers heard about the program from The Jewish Journal.KOREH L.A. has touched the Jewish community in a very deep way. It has allowed many people to put into action their commitment to education and literacy, and especially their commitment to the welfare of our city. As we look forward to a second successful year of KOREH L.A., we thank you very much for your ongoing support.

Elaine Albert, DirectorKOREH L.A.

Teresa Strasser

When I read the letter written by a reader in Mission Viejo (Letters, Sept. 15), I had to respond.This person claims to be “unprejudiced” but seems to be intolerant of interracial marriages. I was unsure from the letter whether this person was more offended by the picture of a white woman in the arms of a Black man or by an assumption that this man was not Jewish.

What I would really like to know is would this reader be offended by my wedding picture – a nice Jewish white girl in the arms of a Black man, who also happens to be Jewish?

Name withheld by request, Los Angeles

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