Aly Raisman, Jason Lezak shine for Team USA

While both took to the podiums in London this week to receive a medal, 18-year-old Aly Raisman’s Olympic star was rising as 36-year-old swimmer Jason Lezak’s appeared to be setting.

Raisman, of Needham, Mass., helped Team USA take the women’s team gold on Tuesday—the first Olympic gold medal for the U.S. gymnastics squad since the 1996 Games in Atlanta.

Also, Raisman is favored to win the all-around individual competition on Thursday, as well as the floor exercise on Aug. 7, when she will be competing in the balance beam final. She and Gabby Douglas are representing the U.S. in the individual finals.

Lezak, a four-time gold medalist likely competing in his last Olympics, helped the American men’s swimming team qualify for the 4×100-meter freestyle swimming finals. The team went on to finish second, receiving a silver medal—Lezak’s eighth medal overall in four Olympics. Lezak did not compete in the finals.

[Related: Aly Raisman leads U.S. to gymnastics team gold]
[Related: Video of Aly Raisman’s parents goes viral]

Meanwhile, the Israeli delegation was experiencing its ups and downs early in the Games.

On Tuesday, two Israeli medal hopefuls were faring well in windsurfing. Lee Korzits was in second place in the women’s eight-day long RS:X event while Shahar Tzuberi was in 10th in the men’s competition.

The Israeli judo team was expected to do well after winning four medals in recent European matches, but judoka Alice Schlesinger was eliminated from competition early this week.

Political differences between Israel and its Arab neighbors came to London when the Lebanese judo team refused to practice next to the Israeli team. The Lebanese even erected a makeshift barrier to split their gym into two halves, according to the Times of Israel.

Meanwhile, even before the start of the Games, Iranian judo athlete Javad Mahjoob withdrew from the competition last week, citing “critical digestive system infection,” according to the Washington Post. That led to widespread speculation that Iran was maintaining a longstanding policy of not allowing its athletes to compete against Israelis.

At the Games, the American swimmers led all the way in the men’s 4×100-meter relay until Yannick Agnel of France pulled ahead of Ryan Lochte in the final lap. France finished first in 3 minutes 9.93 seconds, ahead of the United States (3:10.38) and Russia (3:11.41).

The French turned the tide on the Americans from four years ago in Beijing, when Lezak overtook the French world record-holder Alain Bernard in the final 25 meters despite being nearly a full body length behind him in the stretch. It was the fastest 100-meter freestyle split in history by nearly six-tenths of a second, and earned victory for the U.S. and kept alive Michael Phelps’ drive for a record-setting eight gold medals.

Lezak, though he did not swim in the relay on Sunday night, had helped his teammates Lochte and Phelps qualify in the morning preliminaries.

“The coaches had a tough decision to make with so many talented 100 freestylers and then the two best all-around swimmers in the world,” Lezak told late Sunday via email. “Of course, I would have liked to be a part of the final. If you asked any of us who swam prelims they would have answered it the same.”

While he has not specifically said he would return for another Summer Games, Lezak, who was inducted into the National Jewish Hall of Fame in 2010, is the oldest member of the U.S. men’s swim team.

“As the body gets older, sometimes the mind wants to go hard for a lot longer. But I’ve learned over the course of the last several years how many laps is enough, how many is too much,” he told the Los Angeles Times.

Since his historic comeback at the Beijing Olympics, Lezak has participated in Israel’s Maccabiah Games, winning four gold medals last summer, and taught swimming clinics for neighborhood kids at the Merage Jewish Community Center of Orange County in Southern California. He has two children and is an active member of Temple Isaiah in Newport Beach, Calif.

“It’s something for me to get in touch more with Jewish kids and hopefully inspire them,” he said in 2009. “I really didn’t have anyone like that growing up.”

Raisman scored 15.300 in the floor exercise to win the event, performing her routine to a string-heavy version of “Hava Nagila” as she did on Sunday. Raisman also had performed to “Hava Nagila” when she gained a berth on the U.S. team last year.

She is trained by Mihai and Sylvia Brestyan, the Romanian couple who coached the Israeli national team in the early 1990s. The coaches and her mother selected “Hava Nagila” after several exhaustive late-night online searches, they told JTA last year.

She is proud to be using the Jewish song “because there aren’t too many Jewish elites out there,” Raisman told JTA last year. And, she added, “I like how the crowd can clap to it.”

Raisman is a recipient of the Pearl D. Mazor Outstanding Female Jewish High School Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award given out by the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in New York.

Other notable performances of Jewish athletes included U.S. fencer Timothy Morhouse, who lost to Italy’s Diego Occhiuzzi in the quarterfinals.

In tennis, Israel’s Shahar Peer was eliminated by Russia’s Maria Sharapova, one of the top-ranked players in the world. Peer is winless against Sharapova in seven matches.

In men’s gymnastics, Israel’s Alex Shatilov qualified for the finals of the floor exercise after finishing fourth overall. He also qualified for Wednesday’s all-around individual final after finishing 12th overall.

In men’s rowing, David Banks of the U.S. team finished first in the preliminaries and qualified for the finals.

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Sunday wrapup from Beijing: U.S. swimmer Torres wins two silvers; Israelis lag

BEIJING (JTA)—United States’ swimmer Dara Torres won two more silver medals in Beijing.

Torres won the medals Sunday in the Women’s 50m Freestyle and the Women’s 4x100m Medley Relay.

Jewish-American swimmers Jason Lezak and Garret Weber-Gale both added another gold medal to their collection, joining Michael Phelps and teammates to win the Men’s 4 x 100m Medley Relay.

Israeli athletes did not fare as well Sunday. Alex Shatilov finished last in the Men’s Floor Exercise final, the only apparatus final the Israeli gymnast qualified for in the Beijing Games.

Shatilov fell on his final landing, and received a score of 14.125 after a .400 penalty. The gold medalist in the event was Zou Kai of China, with a total score of 16.050.

Shooter Doron Egozi finished 36th, while Gil Simkovitch finished 38th, in the Men’s 50m Rifle 3 Positions event. Shooters Guy Starik and Simkovich also competed Friday in the Men’s 50m Rifle Prone qualification round, but neither advanced to the final. Starik came in 12th with a score of 594, while Simkovich came in 22nd with 592 points. This finish was an improvement on Starik’s Athens finish of 16th. He joins sailor Yoel Selais as the only Israelis to compete in four Olympics.

Israeli windsurfer Shahar Zubari, who was leading in first place after five races, slipped to third place after his seventh race in the Men’s RS:X competition. Zubari finished 17th in race 5, sixth in race 6, and 19th in race 7. He was able to maintain a first place position after race 5 because he is allowed to drop his worst performance, but after continuing to perform outside of first place, he no longer retains his top rank.

Israeli windsurfer Maayan Davidovitch is 14th in the Women’s RS:X competition after seven races.

Israeli sailing duo Nike Kornecky and Vered Bouskila finished their eighth race in first place, and moved up to number three in the ranking of the Women’s 470 two-person dinghy event. With two more races until the top ten boats in the fleet qualify for the medal race on Monday, the Israeli pair looks solid for advancement.

Sondheim Knows How to Book ‘Em

Some people begin collecting because they’ve coveted certain objects for as long as they can remember. Others collect as an investment. And, of course, there are poseurs who hire prestige dealers to buy them trendy art because they want to be viewed as taste mavens.

Harry Sondheim, a retired criminal prosecutor for the L.A. County D.A.’s office, started to collect Judaica for none of those reasons. He was traveling in Holland when he simply noticed an artifact that appealed to him: “They had a museum, Der Weg, which means the Weighing House. They had an artist named Bicart. I bought some postcards with depictions of Jewish ceremonies on them. You can’t buy those postcards any longer.”

Reflecting his legal training, Sondheim answers questions methodically. Even his decision to focus on rare books, as opposed to art, shows a judicious attitude.

“It’s pretty hard to falsify a book,” he said, adding, “they’re not as likely to be stolen. If you have a thief in the house, they’re more likely to steal a silver menorah.”

Maybe it matters, too, that Sondheim attended the University of Chicago in the era when that institution still featured the Great Books courses.

Sondheim will be speaking at the 39th California International Antiquarian Book Fair’s “Collecting Your Roots” panel on Sunday, Feb. 19.

He especially likes rare manuscripts that include illustrations or, as he says, “depictions” of Jewish ceremonies and customs.

Sondheim has never taken a vacation specifically to collect books, but has purchased manuscripts at synagogues, museums and bookstores around the world, including Germany, where he can trace his genealogy back to around 1760. His family fled Germany in 1938, several months before Kristallnacht. The tomes he favors are typically printed in German, their existence all the more remarkable because of the Nazis’ program of burning Jewish books.

The best deal he ever got was a work by Arthur Szyk, a Polish Jewish artist from the first half of the 20th century who specialized in political caricatures and miniature painting. Given Sondheim’s background in the law, it is not surprising that he bought the “Statut of Kalisz.” The book is Szyk’s interpretation of a 13th-century manuscript that has been called the “Jewish Magna Carta,” a decree by which a Polish king gave Jews civil rights. Szyk illustrated the manuscript while also relating the statute to some other events in Jewish history.

“One page shows different occupations a Jew might have had, weaving, baking, a cobbler,” Sondheim said. “I acquired that at a reasonable price, around $17,000. Someone else’s copy was recently auctioned off for $64,000.”

Sondheim does not use eBay though he’ll search through an auction house’s Web site, which he calls “the equivalent of having their catalog.”

Collecting, he says, is “a sort of continuum. There are pictures of chuppahs from hundreds of years ago, and you have chuppahs today. You live the present through the past.”

The 39th California International Antiquarian Book Fair will be held at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel, 2025 Avenue of the Stars, from Friday, Feb. 17 through Sunday, Feb. 19. Harry Sondheim will speak at the “Collecting Your Roots” panel, a free seminar, on Sunday at 2 p.m. For information, call (800) 454-6401.


Bracelet Bandwagon


Don’t wear your heart on your sleeve — wear it on your wrist. And with the new Shalom bracelet, you can. The Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles is distributing 25,000 of the blue elastic bands adorned with a white dove and the word “Shalom” throughout the community.

It carries a simple message: Israel wants peace.

Yael Swerdlow, director of media relations at the consulate, said the target audience for the bracelets is a universal one.

“They are for anyone who wants peace,” Swerdlow said. “We are getting requests from all over the country, from yeshivas in New Jersey to human rights activists that vilify Israel. It’s an opening to dialogue.”

The public relations department at the consulate came up with the idea for the bracelets using Lance Armstrong’s yellow “Livestrong” bracelet as their inspiration. Bracelets are all the rage this year, with the yellow bands leading the pack. Although unlike the free blue Consulate bracelets, the yellow ones sell for $1 in Nike stores with profits benefiting cancer patients. Similar bracelet campaigns include several varieties of pink bracelets that support cancer research. They include the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer foundation bracelet (five for $5), the Melissa Etheridge bracelet (one for $5), and Target’s Share Beauty, Spread Hope bracelet (10 for $10).

Jewish organizations may have been ahead of the craze. is currently selling silver memorial bracelets, engraved with the name of victims of terror, for $2. Hillel and various synagogues nationwide began selling the bracelets in 2003, a concept created by the Israel Solidarity Fund in 2000.

“People wear this jewelry to make a statement,” Swerdlow said, “and we hope to make ours.”

To get your Shalom bracelet send a self-addressed stamped envelope to the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles, 6380 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1700, Los Angeles, CA 90048. Attention: Consul Yariv Ovadia.


Restoration’s Silver Lining

Silversmith David Friedman has the unique ability to trace the origin of almost every antique that comes across his desk. “People ask me all the time, ‘How did you know that? How did you know that goblet was actually made in India?'” Friedman said. “We just know from experience. We see a lot of pieces and a lot of metal.”

The founder of Friedman & Co., an antique repair and restoration service, Friedman has been working with metal since he was 17. Trained in the apprentice style in southeastern Wisconsin, he began making his living repairing musical instruments. But when his clients urged him to expand his business further, Friedman discovered the world of antiques.

“I found this work much more interesting and stimulating,” said Friedman, who runs a store in Beverly Hills and a plating facility in North Hollywood. “Musical instrument work, although it’s very rewarding, can be somewhat repetitive, because once you’ve overhauled a clarinet and you’ve overhauled 1,000 clarinets, a clarinet is still a clarinet.”

Friedman prefers antiques because each one tells a story. He often sees pieces that have been passed down through generations or have sentimental or historical significance.

“I remember repairing a tray once that was buried before or during World War II,” Friedman said. “Jews often buried their possessions so that they would not be confiscated. When the owners dug up the tray after the war there was a pick ax hole through the middle of the tray, which they brought to me all these years later to repair.”

While Friedman often hears such stories because much of his clientele is Jewish, he insists that those who use his services are as diverse as the art itself.

“Silversmithing is an ancient art and there were Jews that were silversmiths. It’s part of Jewish life and Jewish history, but silversmithing covers the entire spectrum of humanity and it’s associated with all religions … our door is open and welcome to anybody to come here. Whoever comes to our counter we treat them with respect and try and help them.”

Silver Lining

Like his better-known silversmith counterpart, Paul Revere of Boston, Myer Myers (1723-1795) became one of the most accomplished artisans of Colonial America — a practitioner of Rococo-style objects. Unlike Revere, Myers, a New York Jew, also created religious articles, such as Torah finials, or rimonim. In fact, “Myer Myers: Jewish Silversmith in Colonial New York,” represents the largest collection ever amassed of Jewish silversmith work. The exhibit runs at the Skirball Cultural Center through May 26.

For the Skirball’s Grace Cohen Grossman, senior curator for Judaica and Americana, the exhibit captures the promise of freedom, democracy, and human rights already prevalent in pre-Revolutionary War America.

“The Skirball is the perfect venue for this show because he was an American Jewish craftsman,” she said. “He was a patriot, and he took advantage of the free society in New York. He would not have been able to do that in England. In a very culturally diverse New York, his Jewishness was not an issue, as it would have been elsewhere.”

Bringing the show to the Skirball is David Barquist, Yale University Art Gallery’s associate curator of American decorative art. “In the case of Myers’ synagogue silver and the church silver, they were preserved because they were used,” Barquist, 44, told The Journal.

Credit Myers’ shul, Shearith Israel Synagogue of New York, for the collection’s survival. Shearith Israel is also the source of many documents on Myers. The Myers exhibit represents 104 objects — a quarter of his surviving output — fashioned between 1746 and 1795. An additional 50 items of the epoch are also included, to place Myers’ work in context of the turbulent era.

Even though Revere is the more celebrated of the two men, Barquist says that, aesthetically, “Myers was probably a better silversmith than Paul Revere. Myers seems to have set himself up as the man you went to to get special luxury goods, unusual custom made productions with lavish ornament.”

It was unlikely that Revere produced any Judaica, despite the fact that Myers’ brother-in-law, Moses Michael Hayes, the first Jew to move to Boston, patronized Revere’s silversmith services.

“Revere didn’t make ritual silver,” Barquist says. “If he did, it hasn’t survived. But I don’t think he did, because there wasn’t a congregation in Boston in his lifetime.”

Myers’ life has been nothing short of an odyssey for Barquist, who started his research as a dissertation six years ago. In the process of exploring Myers’ art, the Skirball exhibit also explores the silversmith’s trade in 18th century New York, as well as the Jewish communities of New York, Philadelphia and Newport, R.I. In fact, the Myers show is as much an examination of Jewish life in the Colonies and post-Revolutionary War America as it is of Myers the man and artist.

“One thing that surprised me is that I really didn’t encounter much in the way of prejudice or any difficulties that Jews experienced in New York during Myers’ lifetime…. We quoted some derogatory caricatures from England, but in the practice of daily life, the Jews of New York City seemed to experience very little anti-Semitism.”

Myers was born to Solomon and Judith Myers in New York City in 1723. Myers’ parents came to New York from Holland, but were most likely from Eastern Europe originally.

After the traditional seven-year apprenticeship with a master silversmith, Myers registered as a goldsmith in 1746. He became the first native Jew within the British Empire to establish himself as a working retail silversmith since the incorporation of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths in 1327. By 1753, Myers had established himself as an independent producer of artifacts, at a time when the leading merchants in New York made their fortunes supplying the soldiers during England’s wars with France and Spain in the 1740s and, later, the Seven Years’ War.

Myers left New York during the Revolutionary War period (1776-1783), relocating his family to two different locations in Connecticut.

“Jews were supporters of the Patriot cause,” Barquist says. “The few Jews who stayed behind because they were loyalists — I’m not sure how they fared. They would be supporting a system that didn’t consider them a full citizen.”

Myers was definitely a Patriot. He once informed the magistrates of a Tory Jew he overheard in a New Haven tavern making drunken, inflammatory pro-Royalist statements.

Another discovery Barquist has made revolves around the status of Myers’ personal life, although, according to Barquist, “personal” might be too strong a word.

“Marriage in the 18th century, whether rich or poor, had not a lot to do with romantic love,” Barquist says. “They’re on the other side of the Victorian period. The 19th century had greater sentimentality, a whole different outlook. Life in the 18th century was very hard. Unmarried people were very unknown — you married for survival. It was as much a business arrangement.”

In terms of New York’s Jewish community, the arrangement nature of these unions was even more dramatic.

“In a city with 200 Jews, the options were extremely limited,” Barquist explains. “For [Myers’ second wife] Elkaleh Myers Cohen, her father had already died when she married. She came into money. Any up-and-coming man would look for that kind of capital.”

The Cohen family was definitely instrumental in backing Myers’ business. The husbands of Cohen’s sisters were involved in Myers’ shop.

As for the nature of their union, Barquist says, “There are no letters that survived, from each other, so it’s impossible to know.” However, Barquist has learned from legal documents that Myers’ children from a first wife did not like their stepmother.

Barquist believes that people interested in both art and American history will be well- rewarded by a viewing of the Myers collection, which travels to the Winterthur Museum, near Wilmington, Del., this summer.

“I hope they’ll appreciate how the American culture has been rich and diverse,” Barquist says. “Colonial times have traditionally been presented as this monolithic era. There was much more diversity and color to Colonial history that went beyond the Puritan people. Myers was an example of that. He makes a real contribution to American art and great contributions to Jewish American culture. America has benefited from its diversity from Day One, and as much as historians have tried to simplify it, it’s a much more complex situation.”

“Myers,” Barquist concludes, “is a very important figure in the history of American silver. Probably the most important figure in Colonial history who hasn’t had an exploration done.”

Until now, of course.

“Myer Myers: Jewish Silversmith in Colonial New York” runs at Skirball Cultural Center through May 26.

Michael Prokopow, assistant professor of history at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, will lecture on “At Empire’s Edge: Myer Myers, Refinement and the Construction of Material Taste in Georgian America, 1720-1770,” March 15, 2-4 p.m.

Tickets for each lecture are: $8 (general), $6 (students) and free (members). For tickets, call (323)655-8587.

For more information, call (310) 440-4500 or visit .

Stepping Stones

Israel is preparing a package of gestures designed to revive the Mideast peace negotiations that have been frozen since work began on a contentious Jewish housing project at Har Homa in East Jerusalem two months ago.

The measures are expected to include firm steps toward building homes for Arabs in Jerusalem and the restoration of residence rights in the holy city to hundreds of Palestinians who forfeited them by moving out.

A government spokesman, Moshe Fogel, said this week that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was determined to prove that he was not bluffing about Arab housing. “He wants to see 3,000 new Arab homes materialize,” Fogel said, adding that this was the best answer to Palestinian charges that Netanyahu was interested only in “Judaizing” the city, which both peoples claim as their capital.

The Israelis are also contemplating a more flexible approach on various unfulfilled commitments made by the previous Labor government under the interim agreement — so long as the Palestinians resume full-blooded cooperation in the war on terror.

Among the issues being considered are Palestinian air and sea ports in the Gaza Strip; a safe-passage road link between Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank and Gaza; and access for Palestinian workers to jobs in Israel, from which they are frequently barred by security closures.

The Palestinians remain skeptical, however, about whether Netanyahu can or will deliver. The Bar-On fiasco over the dubious appointment of an underqualified lawyer to the post of attorney general has left him both weaker and more dependent on hard-liners in his right-wing and religious coalition.

He can no longer hold the threat of a national-unity government with Labor over his disaffected ministers. As former Washington correspondent Akiva Eldar put it in a wry Ha’aretz column, “The Bar-On scandal has removed only Shimon Peres from the government.”

“[Netanyahu] wants to see 3,000 new Arab homes materialize.” —

Moshe Fogel, government spokesman

The Interior Ministry, a fiefdom of the Sephardi Shas party, is resisting the prime minister’s attempt to stop its confiscating Jerusalem identity cards from Arabs who have moved either abroad or to the West Bank suburbs. And Netanyahu himself is defying international pressure to stop building 6,500 Jewish homes on Har Homa.

Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat complains that the Israeli government is not interested in salvaging the peace process. Speaking to reporters on his return from talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo last weekend, he accused Netanyahu of “continuing to violate signed agreements.” He recognized the “good intentions” of Ezer Weizman, with whom he was meeting on the edge of the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, but he also noted that the figurehead president could offer no more than a gentle warming of the atmosphere.

In the longer term, Israelis and Palestinians reluctantly acknowledge that their best hopes lie with the United States. Dennis Ross, President Clinton’s Middle East trouble-shooter, was returning to the region on Wednesday. Under Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Washington seems to have resigned itself to a more active role.

It has been pressing Netanyahu to come up with confidence-building measures, and American officials are now expected to take part in all negotiating sessions. Previously, the Clinton administration preferred to let the two sides solve their own problems, reserving its intervention for the final, critical stages, as it did over the Hebron redeployment in January.

This is clearly no longer enough. David Afek, the sober head of the Israeli Foreign Ministry research department, went so far last week as to pronounce the peace process dead. It will take all of Uncle Sam’s skill and leverage to resurrect it.

In an internal briefing that was leaked to the local media within hours, Afek reported that most foreign governments blamed Israel for the stalemate. He urged ministers to take the initiative and prove them wrong. Otherwise, he said, things could only get worse.

Aides to Foreign Minister David Levy denounced Afek’s assessment as a “provocation.” But it begins to look as if someone is paying attention.

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Palestinian Angst

Despite its propaganda success in the United Nations General Assembly, where 134 countries last weekend denounced Israeli construction on the disputed Har Homa site in East Jerusalem, the Palestinian Authority is in despair over the stagnant peace process.

Despite the fact that the United States was one of only three countries voting against the U.N. resolution (the others were Israel and Micronesia), Palestinian officials still recognize the Clinton administration as their best bet to bring Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, whom they accuse of dictating his own terms, back to the table.

The American Middle East peace envoy, Dennis Ross, is expected to