In Europe, new kosher ski options that won’t break the bank

Skiing has always been something of a rich man’s sport.

Between the costs of travel, accommodations, lift tickets and lessons, a family with children can easily drop upward of $6,000 for a few days on the slopes. If you keep kosher, the costs can be even higher.

No longer. Over the past decade, Jewish entrepreneurs have been crafting affordable alternatives to Europe's handful of $250-per-night kosher ski lodges. The result is that nowadays, hundreds of observant middle-class families flock each winter to Europe’s Alpine slopes.

“With the financial crisis, few can afford a Jewish four-star hotel,” says Dolly Lellouche. She and her husband, Chlomo, run D'holydays, a travel agency that operates a two-star “kosherized” hotel — a regular hotel that is temporarily made kosher to accommodate an observant clientele. This year, D'holydays took over the Hotel Grand Aigle at Serre de Chevalier, a major resort in southeast France.

The newer, cheaper alternatives to all-year kosher hotels include kosherized hotels like the Grand Aigle, which are typically available to kosher travelers for just a week or two; do-it-yourself options, where agencies or groups of friends rent ski apartments and prepare food themselves; and discounted kosher trips run by Jewish nonprofits.

Ideal Tours, a Jerusalem-based travel agency, lists several kosherized ski hotels operating in world-class ski locales such as Courchevel, in France’s Tarentaise Valley, the Crans-Montana resorts in Switzerland and Pinzolo in Italy.

But nowhere are low-cost solutions and workarounds more abundant than in France, a country of more than 550,000 Jews and home to some of the largest ski resorts in the world.

Eli Club, a Nice-based kosher ski agency, will set you up at the Serre de Chevalier at Hotel La Belle Etoile, a three-star establishment, while Club J, another agency, will send you to Hotel La Ruade — both kosherized hotels. Toruman, a Belgium travel agency, and Maagalei Nofesh in Israel offer a range of hotels in which a family of four can expect to bid adieu to $3,000-$4,000 for a week of skiing, Jewish hospitality and certified glatt kosher cooking.

Though still a handsome sum, it is far less daunting than the $6,000-$8,000 price tag for a family of four to vacation at one of Europe’s four-star kosher ski hotels, like My One Kosher Hotel in Italy or Metropol Hotel Arosa in Switzerland.

That’s especially true considering that accommodation is only the beginning. Ski passes can cost an adult another $250 or more per week. Renting gear can pile on another $100 per person. Ski lessons for kids can cost $300. But there are ways to cut down on those costs as well.

“A good hotel should be able to get you a good discount on these expenses,” Lellouche said.

Still, no matter how many stars they have or what peripheral discounts they offer, kosher ski lodges tend to cost substantially more than their non-kosher equivalents, according to Pinchas Padwa, an Amsterdam-based rabbi who has been providing kosher certification to ski resorts in Europe for two decades.

“The overhead of running a kosher hotel in the Alps is overwhelming,” Padwa said. In Switzerland, where ritual slaughter is prohibited, all kosher meat and many other kosher products need to be imported. On top of that are kosher certification costs and special expenses associated with finding cooks capable of making Jewish foods.

To keep expenditures down, some skiers get together and rent non-kosher vacation units for a lower rate. The downside there is vacationers need to bring their own kitchen equipment and a taste for vegetarian home cooking, as they are likely to depend for their nourishment on the limited supply of certified kosher products available at the local supermarket.

“In renting an apartment or choosing a hotel, it’s important to check how close the locale is to the actual piste,” or slope, Lellouche said. Another complication to watch out for is that most ski apartments are rented for one week starting Saturday, an arrangement that deprives observant families of two skiing days.

Young adults or couples without children have more options — especially in Holland, where for the past two winters, Jewish organizations have subsidized a ski getaway organized by the Maccabi Skijar group for about 60 young Jews. Participants pay only $650 for flights from the Netherlands, food and accommodations for eight days in France’s Tarentaise Valley.

The Maccabi Skijar group is predominantly but not exclusively Dutch, with some participants coming from England and Israel, according to one of the group’s three leaders, Maxime van Gelder. This year, skiers will descend on two chalets, one reserved for kosher eaters.

Van Gelder plans to buy kosher meat in Lyon, some 50 miles away, and deliver it himself. “The idea is to help Jews be together and have fun together,” he says.

For Shabbat, the group will be joined by Rabbi Menachem Sebbag, the Dutch army’s top Jewish chaplain and rabbi of the popular AMOS shul near Amsterdam.

The Israeli organization Keneski runs a similar program for singles, but for more money ($1,000-$1,250, flight not included) and in more luxurious surroundings. This year the “Keneskiers” — an international group with a strong Israeli contingent — will stay at the kosherized four-star Royal Olympic Hotel in Pinzolo, Italy.

For the past two years, Keneski brought skiers to My One Kosher Hotel, a permanently kosher, four-star establishment in Canazei, Italy. The hotel owners, Avi and Belinda Netzer, opened their hotel four years ago.

“At first other hotel owners seriously resented us coming here,” Avi Netzer recalls. “They didn’t understand this kosher business and thought competition was fierce enough without our 50-room hotel. It took a while before they saw our hotel brought in clientele that would otherwise never come.”

Menachem Glik, an Israeli who participated in Keneski’s 2011 trip, said his vacation was filled with “suspense, emotions” and even “romance growing on the slopes and on the lift.” At the same time, he says, it was a chance to get in touch with “young people from all over the world, from different cultures and backgrounds and speaking different languages, but with one common denominator” — a love for skiing.

Teshuvah and Penn State

In our busy lives, there are lots of decisions to make. Although we know that quick judgments made without all the facts may be faulty, we do not have the time to dwell on each decision, and we learn to live with a kind of necessary impatience. Whether it is a route across town, what we want for lunch or the selection of a shirt to wear, we need to make our choices quickly and then get on with the day. 

Thus do we approach many things in life — including stories in the news. Even when the story is important, we want to finish it quickly. We want to know what happened and why it happened, and we want to get some kind of expeditious resolution (lesson learned) before we move on.

The problem, however, is that some stories do not conform to our impatience. Complex events elude quick and simple conclusions and are not conducive to the few minutes we are willing to give them. 

Of course, when we are the ones involved in controversy — when our reputations are at risk and our feelings are being battered — we want plenty of time to defend ourselves. Many of us have known the frustration and hurt of being falsely accused, and I suspect that this fear of false accusation is at the heart of our legal system’s many safeguards. “Innocent until proven guilty” is no abstract principle. It is one of our nation’s most important protections.

The problem, however, is that the time delays necessary for our day in court — all those procedures and facts — can get in the way of a good story. Although not every accusation leads to an indictment, and not every indictment leads to a conviction, there is that rush of excitement when evil is exposed and we get to watch the bad guys squirm. In many ways, the truth seems less important than the fun and titillation of lashon harah (gossip, the “evil tongue”). 

This year, I am particularly aware of our human tendency to rush to judgment, and of the injustice it can cause, because I live in a town that has been at the center of an enormous news story. State College, Pa., the home of Penn State University, has been rocked by the indictment and conviction of Jerry Sandusky, the former football coach who sexually victimized a number of young boys. That this happened is horrible enough, but the revelations were particularly shocking to this small town because Sandusky was such an integral part of the community’s social fabric. When a trusted and respected member of the community turned out to be a pedophile — a serial pedophile — people were stunned and wondered how their judgment could have been so wrong, their trust so abused. There was grief that the crimes were committed, sympathy for the victims and anger that no one saw through the criminal’s deception.

This anger is overwhelming, and people have furiously sought places to focus it. One would have thought that the rage would have been addressed by the criminal’s arrest, trial, conviction and incarceration, but this has not been the case. The outrage is too great for the criminal alone and from the beginning, allegations and stories of a highly placed conspiracy have become well known and frequently repeated.

Here’s what this story says: Coach Sandusky’s criminal activities were well known at the highest levels of the university administration. The men at the top of the Penn State power structure did not care about his crimes, allowed them to continue on campus and then conspired to conceal them for the sake of the football program. As everyone knows, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Therefore, people as powerful as the late Coach Joe Paterno and then-university President Graham Spanier must have been corrupt. They must have known everything that was transpiring on campus, and their corruption included a criminal conspiracy to cover up child abuse.

Of course, we do not actually know any of these things. Although this story has been repeated again and again, the charges have never been proven. Indeed, no grand jury or governmental prosecutor has ever even alleged these accusations. What we have is a rush to judgment and a conspiratorial tale that is more entertaining than factual.

In the very long and complicated Freeh Report, spearheaded by former FBI director Louis Freeh, a team of investigators looked into some of the evidence and concluded that high administrators did not adequately respond to this situation. They based their opinion on some of the evidence, but there is additional evidence and other possible interpretations of it. Inasmuch as the university authorities reported the suspicious behavior to the district attorney, and inasmuch as the district attorney’s official investigation did not find enough evidence for an indictment, one could conclude that the university leaders did their jobs. One could conclude that the criminal was deceiving people — as criminals are wont to do. In other words, rather than imagining a conspiracy that allowed Sandusky to continue his crimes, one could conclude that his deception worked. Therefore and tragically, he was able to continue his criminal behavior. 

A careful reading of the Freeh Report would have revealed this possible interpretation, but reading the report would have been tedious and taken a long time. Besides, what people wanted was a conclusion and dramatic punishment. Public anxiety demanded answers and action immediately. So instead of a careful discussion of the Freeh Report’s opinions and some patience as the legal system worked its slow process, we saw the NCAA and its hurried imposition of dramatic sanctions rescue public patience. In lieu of an actual investigation, the NCAA gave us closure. Much less interested in the truth than in resolution, many people are happy with the penalties, regardless of whether they are properly directed. Instead of fact-finding and legal dilly-dallying, this crisis was met with a swift and decisive rush to judgment. The important thing is that we see someone punished; now we can get on with other concerns.

In the interest of clear thinking and the possibility of justice, it is important, however, to remind everyone that the oft-repeated and salacious stories have not been proven. In other words, the common knowledge of a high university conspiracy and the NCAA sanctions are based on nothing more than gossip, and that is a shandah — a shame and a scandal in and of itself. 

As mortified as I am about the terrible things Jerry Sandusky is convicted of doing, I am also disappointed in the way that the rest of this story is being told. Rushing to judgment does not make for justice, and we should all know better. Our Jewish tradition teaches that relying on premature conclusions and gossip is not just — that this kind of behavior is unfair and sinful. I believe that many people in the media, in the NCAA and in the public are guilty of these sins this year.

For the sin of believing gossip, for the sin of repeating it and for the sin of rushing to judgment, many of us have some teshuvah, repentance, to do.

Bentsch it like Beckham?

We have bad news and good news to report on David Beckham.

As everyone in the free and enslaved world knows (except some benighted American colonials), Beckham is the world’s best, or best publicized, soccer player, a multimillionaire and husband of Victoria, aka Posh Spice.

The bad news is that Beckham, shortly after joining the Los Angeles Galaxy on a zillion-dollar contract, sprained his right knee during a match against a Mexican team, and is probably out for at least six weeks of the season.

The good news, at least for readers of this fine publication, is that Beckham is — JEWISH.

Well, if you want to quibble, he’s half-Jewish, or maybe a quarter Jewish, but what with anti-Semitism rising at the rate of 2.755 percent in North Dakota, according to scientific surveys, we can use every muscular tribesman we can get.

After tireless investigations, The Journal has learned that Beckham’s maternal grandfather, Joseph West, was Jewish, and that Sandra, West’s daughter and Beckham’s mother, is either Jewish or half-Jewish (in all the available literature, we found no mention of Mrs. West).

The point is that Sandra must have felt Jewish, for the idol himself has written that “I’ve probably had more contact with Judaism than any other religion” and “I used to wear a traditional Jewish skullcap.”

He also recalls attending various Jewish weddings with his grandfather.

Need more proof? The richly tattooed Beckham has inscribed on his left arm a verse from the biblical Song of Songs, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine,” in Hebrew letters yet.

His wife was so taken by this romantic sentiment that she has had the same verse tattooed on the back of her neck and part of her spine.

Furthermore, there are reports that Beckham has dabbled in kabbalah studies, but then, who hasn’t?

Purists might quibble that Beckham also has a large cross tattooed on his chest. But who, I ask you, is perfect?

To diligent researchers, all this startling information isn’t exactly breaking news. Beckham wrote about his Jewish connection in his first biography “My World,” published in 2004, and touched on the same theme in his second autobiography, “My Side.”

Nevertheless, publishing this information now should be of some service to the Los Angeles Jewish community.

At this very moment, we should think, subcommittees at The Jewish Federation, the Wiesenthal Center, Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee and American Jewish Congress are busy inscribing plaques for upcoming fundraisers, honoring the greatest One-Fourth Jewish Athlete of the Year.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

L.A. ‘boys of summer’ take to the diamond in Israel

Echad, shtaiyim, shelosh strikes and you’re out at the new ball game. That’s right, sports fans, America’s favorite pastime is set to become Israel’s favorite pastime. At least that’s the hope of the new Israel Baseball League (IBL). With six teams, three stadiums and a 45-game schedule, IBL is ready to play

Meet the players
By Carin Davis

Team: Raanana Express
Hometown: West Hills
High School: El Camino
Position: Catcher
Date of Birth: April 17, 1984
Height: 5-foot-9
Weight: 175 lbs
College Experience: UC San Diego
Bats: Left
Throws: Right
Resides: West Hills
Birthplace: Tarzana
Synagogue: Temple Judea
Favorite Hobbies: Politics, listening to music, playing guitar, working out
Favorite Foods: Sushi, chicken, hibachi
Superstitions: “Pine tar on my bat and helmet.”
Top Three All-Time Movies: “Braveheart,” “Gladiator,” “The Rock”
Nickname(s): Coach
Been to Israel before: 18 months ago on Hillel birthright trip
Interesting Trivia: Won gold medals in four straight Maccabi games, now coaches for Maccabi and Harvard Westlake High.

Team: Modiin Miracle
Position: Shortstop
Date of Birth: Sept. 1, 1985
Height: 5-foot-9
Weight: 175 lbs
College Experience: Pace University
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Resides: Los Angeles
Birthplace: Santa Monica
Favorite Hobbies: Video games and scuba diving
Favorite Foods: Hamburgers
Top Three All-Time Movies: “Top Gun,” “Wedding Crashers,” “Good Will Hunting”
Nickname(s): Woody
High School: Brentwood
Been to Israel before: No
Interesting Trivia: Played on the same Maccabi team as Seth Binder.

Team: Modiin Miracle
Position: First base/third Base
Date of Birth: July 19, 1985
Height: 6-foot-1
Weight: 220 lbs
College Experience: Cuesta Community College/ San Luis Obispo (assistant coach)
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Resides: San Luis Obispo
Hometown: Calabasas
High School: Calabasas High
Synagogue: Kol Tikvah
Been to Israel before: No
Interesting Trivia: Has been close friends with Jesse Michael since childhood
Birthplace: Los Angeles
Favorite Hobbies: Playing Sports, listening to music
Favorite Foods: Sushi and steak
Superstitions: “Eat the same thing if I have a good game.”
Top Three All-Time Movies: “Remember the Titans,” “My Cousin Vinny,” “Happy Gilmore”

Team: Netanya Tigers
Position: Second base/pitcher
Date of Birth: Nov. 14, 1983
Height: 5-foot-10
Weight: 163 lbs
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Resides: Los Angeles
Birthplace: Beverlywood
Favorite Hobbies: Playing and listening to music
Favorite Foods: Sushi, pizza, hamburgers
Superstitions: “When I’m on a hot streak I repeat the same pregame and morning rituals until the streak is over.”
Top Three All-Time Movies: “Major League,” “Gladiator,” “Rocky” (1-4 and 6)
Nickname(s): “Eich” sounds like “Ike”
High School: Beverly Hills High
Synagogue: Temple Emanuel
College: University of Arizona
Been to Israel before: Four times. In 2005, traveled there during a semester abroad in London.
Interesting Trivia: Favorite player is Mark Grace, but he likes to model his game after Derek Jeter.

Team: Tel Aviv Lightning
High School: La Jolla Country Day
Position: Catcher
Date of Birth: Nov. 17, 1984
Height: 6-foot-1
Weight: 200 lbs
College Experience: Wesleyan University
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Resides: Rancho Santa Fe
Birthplace: Phoenix
Favorite Hobbies: Golf, football, going to the beach
Favorite Foods: Carne asada burritos, burgers, sushi, garlic chicken
Superstitions: “Tightening and loosening my batting gloves between pitches.”
Top Three All-Time Movies: “The Godfather,” “Die Hard,” “Forrest Gump”
Nickname(s): Kopes
Local Synagogue: Temple Solel (Encinitas)
Been to Israel before: Age 7, for brother’s bar mitzvah
Favorite Team: San Diego Padres
Interesting Trivia: Favorite team is the San Diego Padres, favorite all time player is Tony Gwynn.

Team: Petach Tikva Pioneers
Position: Shortstop
Date of Birth: April 6, 1985
Height: 5-foot-9
Weight: 175 lbs
College Experience: Oberlin College
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Resides: Oak Park
Birthplace: Granada Hills
Favorite Hobbies: Baseball
Favorite Foods: Sushi and apples
Top Three All-Time Movies: “Shawshank Redemption,” “Good Will Hunting,” “Boondock Saints”
Been to Israel before: No
Interesting Trivia: Played on same Maccabi team as Adam Harwood.

ball, and several Southern California athletes are stepping up to bat.

Seth Binder (Oak Park), Josh Eichenstein (Los Angeles), Adam Harwood (Los Angeles), Adam Kopiec (Rancho Santa Fe), Jesse Michel (West Hills) and Aaron Levin (San Luis Obispo) were drafted by IBL teams and are currently in Israel for the inaugural season. They each heard about the league in different ways — Michel randomly came across it on, Harwood from a female friend who plays softball, Kopiec and Eichenstein from encouraging dads, and Levin’s name was thrown into the ring on his behalf.

“I had been to Israel 18 months ago on a Birthright trip through Hillel, so I got a feel for how amazing a place it is,” said Michel, who got his little league start with West Hills Pony Baseball. “When I heard somebody was going to put the two together, I said I at least have to tryout and see if I can go do this.”

Most of these SoCal players attended tryouts in Los Angeles, but Binder and Harwood flew to Florida due to a scheduling conflict. Harwood was the only player to hit a homerun during tryouts, so he was confident he’d done well. Eichenstein had the opposite experience.

“I thought I had about a 1 percent chance of making the team,” said Eichenstein, who was working at a talent agency at the time. His face lit up as he recalled the moment he received a congratulatory e-mail from IBL head of baseball operations, Dan Dukett. “I called my dad first; the rest of the day was a blur.”

Leaders of the PAC are back

The Pac-10 Mens’ Basketball Tournament returns to Staples Center this week, and Jewish athletes Derek Glasser and Alex Pribble join their teams in the quest for the Conference Tournament Title.

Glasser, the starting point guard for Arizona State Sun Devils (8-21; 2-16 in Pac-10) averages 27.7 minutes per game, logging more total minutes this season than any freshman in the school’s history. Glasser took Artesia High School to the 2006 California State Championship Title, and the 6-foot-1 player welcomes his role as a team leader for Arizona State.

“As a point guard, leadership is a role you have to take on. You’re the one with the ball the majority of the game, trying to get guys where they need to go,” said Glasser, who sunk a buzzer-beating three-point shot on Saturday, sealing the Sun Devils’ 42-41 win over UC Berkeley.

A three-time gold medalist at the Cincinnati, Houston and Philadelphia Maccabi Games, Glasser considers the games a formative moment in his athletic and Jewish life.

“Seeing all the Jewish athletes at that level of competition was a great experience,” Glasser said.

Ranked 10th in the Pac-10, Glasser and the Sun Devils face Washington (18-12; 8-10 in Pac-10) in their first round of tournament play, in what many consider the toughest conference in the nation. The Marina del Rey native is ready to take on the challenge and is thrilled to compete in front of his hometown crowd.
“Growing up in L.A., playing at Staples Center will be an incredible experience,” Glasser said.

UC Berkley senior Pribble happily returns to Staples for his fourth Pac-10 tournament.

“Everyone is so friendly, there are fans everywhere, it’s a lot of fun,” said Pribble, who earned Pac-10 all-academic honors his sophomore and junior years
Originally a freshman walk-on, the 6-foot-4 sociology major became a scholarship player at Cal in his junior year. He now contributes key minutes off the bench and plays an invaluable role on the team.

“As a short, fairly unathletic Jewish boy, I don’t necessarily have the natural athleticism to play with these guys who are so unbelievably talented and athletic,” he said. “So my role has been more of an energy thing, coming in, playing very tough and physical defense, just trying to make a difference and bring the whole energy up on the floor.”

Though Pribble’s not observant, Judaism plays a pivitol role in his life. “It’s a moral guide, not necessarily in a ‘go to temple everyday’ kind of setting, but in a ‘know the difference between right and wrong, what to care about, what to be thankful for’ setting,” said Pribble, who played on the U.S. team in the 2006 Maccabi Australian International games and returned wanting to have an adult bar mitzvah.

Pribble and the Cal Bears (14-16, 6-12 in the Pac-10) face the Oregon State Beavers (11-20, 3-15 in Pac-10) in the tournament’s opening round. Pribble, who started the past three games, is ready for the match-up and hopes his team goes deep in the tournament. “Basketball is about working hard and putting your effort on the floor — just play ball and play hard,” he said.

The Pac-10 Tournament runs March 7-10. For more information visit Syndicating Purim

Alter Kayakers make waves in Newport Bay

Every Thursday morning, 11 supremely fit old men come thundering into Newport Bay, rounding up all the good rental kayaks on the Balboa Peninsula and singing at the top of their lungs.

Most are major fundraisers for Heritage Pointe, Orange County’s Home for the Jewish Aging, and they call themselves the Alter Kayakers.

The name was a natural, said Stan Sackler, 70, of Newport Beach, a retired fuel dealer, who was already a member of a Jewish cycling group in Fullerton called Shlemiels on Wheels.

Sackler and Steve Fienberg, 67, of Irvine assembled the group four years ago, and let Howard Weinstein, 72, of Corona del Mar coin the name. They’ve never had a slow moment since.

“I look forward to this all week,” Weinstein said. “I can’t wait for Thursday.”
Not that Weinstein, or any of the other Alter Kayakers, lives in the slow lane the rest of the week.

Weinstein hiked and rode horseback through Patagonia for 18 days last fall. He plays tennis four times a week, works out with a personal trainer twice a week and he’ll have to miss the Alter Kayakers’ February cruise to Mexico because he’ll be in Botswana.

“I figure that if I stay active when I’m 72, I’ll still have a life when I’m 92,” Weinstein said.

The Alter Kayakers stand out for their awesome endurance and robust bearing, and they cram their days with endless bicycling, hiking, tennis, martial arts and river rafting. But no one has to quit when his abilities falter.

Seymour Lobel, 77, a retired auto financier from Corona del Mar, for example, has lost much of his vision. Other members of the Alter Kayakers drive him to Newport Bay each week, and in the water, someone always keeps an eye on his kayak.

Members love to reminisce about their Kern River rafting trip last September, when the raft overturned and all the members were dumped into the churning river’s Class 4 rapids. Stronger members helped stragglers get back onto the raft, and the team spirit that prevailed made even these tough men of steel mist up for a moment.

Two seconds of sober reminiscence passed, and then Weinstein said, “Stan Sackler, wearing a hearing aid, came damn close to getting electrocuted.”

Ephie Beard, 75, a Newport Beach resident of 13 years who owned car auction businesses in Anaheim and Fontana, introduced the Alter Kayakers to whitewater rafting.

“I’d been doing it for 21 years,” he said. But the day the raft flipped, he said, “it was pretty scary for some of those guys.”

But all this running around without performing a few mitzvot is against Alter Kayaker rules.

“We all try to do something for the Jewish community,” said David Stoll, who owns a boat engine business in Newport Beach. “Most of us are Diamond Donors to Heritage Pointe in Mission Viejo. My personal feeling is that you have to pay your Jewish dues. If you don’t pay the community back, it really gets on our nerves.”

Two of the Alter Kayakers aren’t Jewish, but they’re treated like Members of the Tribe. Stan Angermeir, 67, a nursing home operator who lives on Lido Isle, belongs to Temple Beth Sholom in Santa Ana with his Jewish wife. Wayne Harmon, 69, of Corona del Mar, the other non-Jew in the group, has a serious relationship with a Jewish woman.

“Believe it or not,” joked Stoll, 68, “we made Wayne our treasurer.”

“But we don’t have anything in the treasury,” added Stackler, a former director of the Orange County Jewish Federation.

Every year, the Alter Kayakers hold an awards ceremony.

“Everyone wins first place in something,” Stoll said. “Wayne Harmon won first prize for looking the least Jewish.”

Most of the Alter Kayakers are retired or semiretired professionals or businessmen.

Arthur Friedman, 71, of Balboa was a dermatologist. Sid Field, 77, who lives in Newport Coast, was a dentist. Robert Baker, 64, of Newport Beach and Fienberg were lawyers.

Weinstein was a pharmacist who became a pharmaceutical manufacturer. Harmon was an executive with J.C. Penney. The rest were entrepreneurs.

When they gather, they are sure to sing “Kayakers’ Spirit,” their own anthem, sung to the tune of the “Illini Fight Song.” Field, a University of Illinois alum, wrote the words. The anthem concludes their weekly Thursday ritual, which starts with a 4-mile, one-hour kayak expedition into Newport Bay and progresses to lunch at Newport Landing Restaurant.
“Same seats or we forget the name of the guy next to us,” Sackler explained.

Same menu, too, it turns out: A half portion of Caesar, Cobb or chicken avocado salad. Ironmen feasting on salad fragments?

“Some members are on diets or too cheap to buy a whole salad,” Weinstein said. “One member who shall remain nameless orders a sandwich off the menu, and he is penalized by getting a separate check.”

The Alter Kayakers say they don’t accept new members.

“Our membership is now closed because the group has such good chemistry, and we don’t want to tamper with it,” Fienberg said. “Also, the place we rent kayaks from only has about 11 good kayaks, and more than 11 for lunch is a bit much.”

They also discourage lunch guests.

“You must be mishpachah,” Weinstein said. “You can be a ninth cousin, but you have to be in the family.”

All but one of the Alter Kayakers are married, nearly all to their first wives — Stoll for 42 years, Baker for 41.

“My wife loves it,” Weinstein said. “It gives me an opportunity to socialize with the boys and to go out and exercise.”

There are no greens fees or memberships to eat away at the family budget; it costs $10 to rent a kayak.

So far none of the Alter Kayakers’ wives has taken to renting a kayak of her own.
“My wife came out with me in a tandem in Newport once,” Sackler said, “and loved it as long as I did the paddling.”

Come dive with me — Israeli skydivers training in SoCal

You do it … you can never go back,” Israeli Sharon Har-noy said recently of her passion for the sport of skydiving. She and teammate Adi Freid met with a reporter during a break from training at Perris Valley Skydiving, about 70 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

Har-noy and Freid make up the only all-female Israeli skydive team in the advanced category, which includes just six teams. They came to Perris to prepare for their nationals, set for April 2007, and hopefully the world competition in Australia to follow. Their U.S. training tour, sponsored by Israeli American Dr. Avraham Kadar and his company,, included stops at Skydive Cross Keys in New Jersey, Skydive Arizona Eloy, as well as Perris, before they returned to Israel Oct. 19.

The team’s home drop zone, Paradive, at Habonim Beach, between Haifa and Tel Aviv, is only open four days a week, and it lacks the opportunities available in the United States. At Perris, they trained seven days a week on faster planes that could carry more people, and they utilized a wind tunnel that simulated skydiving. The teammates said that during one week of training at Perris, they got in 70 jumps and made progress that would have taken them at least three months in Israel.

In Israel, the pair train on the weekends. During the week, Freid is a senior psychology major at Tel Aviv University and Har-noy produces animated films for, an education service.

The pair, both now 24, met about 3 1/2 years ago at Paradive and became quick friends. They had both done diving before — Har-noy took her first jump at the drop zone after high school and continued on weekend breaks from the army, while Freid’s first skydiving experience was in New Zealand, during her post-military travels in 2002.

“Two girls in the drop zone, we had to get together and start jumping,” Freid said.

About a year ago, while on a trip to Perris, they met manager Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld, a world champion diver who is also Jewish, suggested they team up and start competing.

“To be a good skydiver you have to jump with someone good, and if there is no good people in the drop zone, then nobody can get ahead,” Har-noy said.

Among those helping them prepare is coach David Gershfeld.

“They have that finesse that … drive and energy … to get better and actively progress,” Gershfeld said.

Freid and Har-noy say the sport is safe, more so, they argue, than driving a car.And while Paradive closed for a month during the recent war, both women say they didn’t feel threatened.

“Maybe it’s easier to skydive in Israel because you are used to being afraid, or used to being in dangerous situations. Skydiving really isn’t that dangerous,” Freid said.

— Sara Bakhshian, Contributing Writer

Pro soccer rookie Bornstein gives small goals a big kick

ChivasUSA’s Jonathan Bornstein is the top contender for the 2006 Major League Soccer (MLS) Rookie of the Year award. Not bad for the Los Alamitos native who was not invited to the MLS combine and was chosen in the fourth round (of four) of 2006 MLS SuperDraft (37th pick overall).

“Before the year started, I had small goals, such as getting some playing time on the team, maybe eventually getting a starting position,” said Bornstein, who started 30 games, leads the league in minutes played by a nongoalkeeper (2,698 — he only missed two minutes of the season) and leads MLS rookies in goals scored (six). With his undeniable success, he’s now setting his sights higher.

“To win an MLS cup would be another huge goal of mine,” said Bornstein, who was named MLS player of the month for July. “And to eventually make it to the national team level and represent our country.”

Bornstein, 21, is taking the attention and accolades in stride, determined to take it practice by practice and game by game. A self-proclaimed average guy, he comes home from practice, fixes lunch and settles in with a video game or his new guitar.

“I just went out and bought my guitar once I got my first paycheck. I’m really interested in music,” said Bornstein, who spends the rest of his free time on the golf course, at the beach or with his girlfriend.

Bornstein spent the first half of his college career at Cal Poly Pomona, where he was named California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) Freshman of the Year, First Team All-CCAA and Second Team All-Far West Region. He then transferred to UCLA. During his senior year (2005-06) as a Bruin, he started all 20 games, scored five goals, made four assists, received All-Pac 10 honors and was named Met/RX Player of the Week.

Though Bornstein spent his entire amateur career playing forward, ChivasUSA head coach Bob Bradley moved him to fullback at the start of this season. He now clocks most of his time in the backfield, and, on occasion, plays forward or midfield. Bornstein shines in his new versatile role, having scored goals for ChivasUSA from all three positions.

With his transition to defense, new coaches, fresh mentors and the thrill of playing in the MLS, Bornstein has come into his own this year.

“I’ve been learning a lot from my teammates. These guys have so much experience beyond my years, so I just watch how they play and try to mimic them,” said Bornstein, who has four assists this season. “Also, I feel very comfortable here, and I think that has something to do with why I’ve been able to do so well here.”

It’s not surprising Bornstein feels at home on the Carson- based team. He is at home. He’s been playing soccer in the L.A. area since age 3.

“I really like it in Los Angeles. I was born here, I grew up here. I’ve been other places, and they don’t compare,” said Bornstein, who continues to live in Los Alamitos. “Playing in front of my family, my friends, my college buddies — it means the world to me.”

Bornstein also got the opportunity to play in front of an Israeli crowd when he led the United States to a silver medal in the 2005 Maccabiah Games.

“It was amazing. It was great. I loved it. It made me realize how fulfilling and enriched Jewish culture really is,” Bornstein said. “So in the past couple years, I’ve felt more Jewish than ever.”

His father is Jewish and his mother is a non-Jew from Mexico.

Bornstein grew up celebrating Passover and Rosh Hashanah with relatives. He did not have a bar mitzvah, and he doesn’t consider himself observant. The Maccabiah experience was a way for him to connect with Judaism.

“Outside of my UCLA teammate Benny Feilhaber, I never really thought there were other high-class Jewish soccer players out there,” he said. “With the Maccabiah Games, I definitely got the chance to experience a good thing. I realized there are a lot of really cool and really good Jewish athletes.”

Bornstein is hoping that his presence on ChivasUSA will help Los Angeles Jews feel a connection to the team and the sport of soccer.

“I’m hoping they’ll give it a chance — come out to one of the games, experience the atmosphere that comes with sitting in the Home Depot Center,” he said. “I think they would be surprised how much fun it is, how entertaining it is, how much of a real sport it is.”

ChivasUSA is headed to the MLS playoffs for the first time. The team plays Real Salt Lake at 4 p.m. on Oct. 15 at The Home Depot Center.

Chivas USA’s Jonathan Bornstein. Photo by Juan Miranda/Chivas USA

Freelance writer Carin Davis can be reached at


For the Children

Emunah of America held a West Coast fundraiser recently to raise money for the residential homes and after-school programs to help Israel’s needy children .One of those children, Dvora, attended the elegant buffet dinner and silent art auction at the Bel Age Hotel in West Hollywood.

Dvora, now a student of speech therapy at Tel Aviv University, grew up in Beit Elazraki in Netanya, a residential home for 180 children whose own parents couldn’t or didn’t want to care for them.

“I have broken the cycle of need,” Dvora told the crowd after a moving video that showed the children at the home and at Emunah’s other children’s programs. “I have managed to come out of this situation mature and successful, free of the terrible circle. My children will not have to suffer like me. They will not grow up in other people’s homes but in my own warm, loving home.”

Yehuda Kohn, director of Beit Elazraki, spoke of the baby brought in at 1 week old, with no name. He and his wife Ricky named him, and like they do with other children, will be surrogate parents, taking him to school, doctor appointments and birthday parties and tucking him in every night.

The Emunah benefit the first on the West Coast honored Celia Shire, who paid tribute to her late husband Harold.

The honorary chair of the event was Dr. Leila Bronner. Event chairs were: Dr. Gita Nagel, Marlene Einhorn, Sharon Katz, Rivki Mark, Mia Markoff, Fran Miller, Gittel Rubin and Elana Samuels. Emunah national president Heddy Klein attended.For more information or to volunteer, call (310) 837-1225 or visit

Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Education Editor

Music to Our Ears: A True Hacham

Roughly 1,000 members of the local Iranian Jewish community crowded the main sanctuary at the Nessah Cultural Center in Beverly Hills on June 11 for prayers marking the first anniversary of the passing of Hacham Yedidia Shofet, the late spiritual icon for Iranian Jews both in Iran and the United States. For nearly seven decades, Shofet, who died at 96, served both as a religious leader and as the liaison representing Iran’s Jewish community before the shah’s government in Iran. Shofet joined the thousands of Jews who left Iran following the 1979 Iranian revolution and in Southern California continued to serve as a religious leader for Iranian Jews living in America. Community leaders and close friends spoke of Shofet’s remarkable speaking ability and compassionate leadership style.

“Hacham Yedidia proved that he had the leadership ability to help maintain our sense of Judaism and the community warmly accepted him,” said Dr. H. Kermanshahchi, one of the founders of the Iranian American Jewish Federation.Last October, nearly 90 religious and social leaders from Southern California’s Iranian Jewish community formally recognized Shofet’s son, Rabbi David Shofet, as the community’s new spiritual leader.

Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

Heroes Among Us

June 7 was a time to honor two community heroes as University Synagogue hosted its “Heroes Among Us” event honoring Susan Corwin with the inaugural Margaret Zaas Avodah Award for Community Service.

The award is named after Zaas, a local and beloved resident who dedicated her life to helping others and spent 16 years at New Directions, a residential rehabilitation program for homeless and addicted veterans.

Corwin initiated the Mitzvah Corps program at University Synagogue in 2002 and created programming that extends into the community, including a Shabbat shuttle and bikur cholim program. She has launched support groups for people with aging parents, a cancer survivors network, parents of special needs children and the gay and lesbian social outreach. Corwin is also the regional representative for the Los Angeles Area and Pacific Southwest Council of the Union for Reform Judaism.

The evening also honored Richard Weintraub as Educator of the Year for his long-standing history of working with and on behalf of youth at University Synagogue. Weintraub was the president of the California Council on Children and Youth and supervisor of the Dare Plus Program, an after-school program for at-risk youth.

The Sporting Life

One of the best things about the Cedars-Sinai Sports Spectacular event are the faces of the kids who attend the dinner. They can hardly contain their excitement at rubbing elbows with all their favorite athletes and more than 100 came to help.

Over the past 21 years, the event, which this year grossed more than $1.5 million, has raised more than $16 million in support of the Sports Spectacular Endowed Medical Genetics Institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. The VIP event before dinner allows the kids to meet their favorite sports heroes up close and personal and the goody bags, well they are indeed legendary. (Take it from someone who met Sandy Koufax there, I am still excited by the memory.)

This year’s honorees were Jerome Bettis of the Pittsburgh Steelers, tennis champion Jimmy Connors and professional surfer Kelly Slater. Al Michaels and John Salley were among the evening’s hosts. l

My Yiddische Mama

What if famous people had Jewish mothers?

That’s the subject of a one-minute Internet film from, the Web site of Aish Hatorah, the religious outreach organization based in Israel with branch offices around the world, including Los Angeles.

The one minute “film” — it’s basically pictures with captions — was written for Purim, but is more in tune with Mother’s Day. It presents historical characters and conjectures what their mothers might have said to them — if they had been Jewish mothers.

Take the message from the “Jewish mom” of Christopher Columbus: “I don’t care what you have discovered, you still should have written.”

Mrs. Michaelangelo would whine about the Sistine Chapel: “Why can’t you draw on walls like other children — do you know how hard it is to get schmutz off the ceiling?”

The Beatles’ proud mother reminded the Fab 4 that she’d promised cousin Harold that he could play cello in their band. And Tiger Woods’ mom complained that golf “just isn’t our sport.” How about bingo?

Aish’s “Jewish Mothers” video is among a dozen or so mostly serious videos available at Most of the offerings provoke questions about life, spirituality and religion. The films are sent out to a mailing list of 170,000, according to the Web site.

Actually some of the chosen subjects did have Jewish mothers. So it’s actually possible that Einstein’s real Jewish mother was not amused by that wild-haired genius look: “But it’s your senior photograph, couldn’t you have done something with your hair?” — Amy Klein, Religion Editor

Real Estate Magnate Ready to Play Ball

A group of investors led by real estate magnate Ted Lerner and his family has purchased the Washington Nationals baseball team. Lerner and Major League Baseball wrapped up details of the $450 million purchase Tuesday night following a yearlong competition over ownership. Lerner, 80, was raised in an observant Orthodox Jewish family. One of the largest beneficiaries of his philanthropic work is his Conservative congregation, Ohr Kodesh in Chevy Chase, Md., to which he contributed $505,000 in 2003. The Lerners are partnered with former Atlanta Braves President Stan Kasten, the son of Holocaust survivors. The bid beat one by Fred Malek, a Nixon administration official who carried out an order from the president to purge the Department of Labor of Jewish statisticians.

Revved Up for Paper Clips

It’s not always a cause for concern when a platoon of bikers pulls up in front of your school. Some 400 Jewish motorcyclists turned up recently at the Tennessee school where students collected millions of paper clips to commemorate the Holocaust (the Academy Award-nominated documentary titled “Paper Clips” was made about the project). Members of the Jewish Motorcyclists Alliance visited the Whitwell Middle School to see the display of paper clips, which is housed inside a German railroad car once used to transport Jews to concentration camps during World War II.


Choices Snowball for Ski Adventures

Skiers and snowboarders who want vacations with fresh powder have an avalanche of options this winter. Jewish ski trips abound for teens to 40-somethings of all skill levels.

Mammoth and Lake Tahoe will be the setting for a variety of Jewish ski trips, and teens can hit the ditch at local terrain parks through day trips being organized by Orange County’s Merage Jewish Community Center.

Other action can be found in Colorado, where three separate Jewish events are meeting over the next few months. In Europe, Alpine adventures include a French ski school for Jewish teens.

So even if you’re groomed more for the bunny hills than black-diamond thrills, you can still find excitement schmoozing with tribe members during an apr?s ski at one of the following events.


Big Bear

The Merage Jewish Community Center of Orange County is featuring a teen trip to Bear Mountain for all skill levels of snowboarders and skiers, grades 6-12. Price includes transportation, lift tickets and snacks; equipment rental is available for an additional fee.

Dates: Monday, Jan. 16, 6 a.m.-7 p.m. (The JCC also has a trip to Mountain High in Wrightwood on Feb. 26.)

Cost: $80 (JCC members), $100 (nonmembers)

For more information, call (949) 435-3400.


Jski has three trips to Mammoth this season. Aimed at 20- to 40-something singles, the price tag includes roundtrip transportation via bus and two-nights lodging with a fireplace, color TV and Jacuzzi. Saturday evening features a wine and hors d’oeuvres party. Beginners welcome.

Dates: Jan. 20-22, Feb. 24-26 and March 17-19

Cost: $189

R.S.V.P. to Howard at (818) 342-9508 or at least two weeks before trip.

Lake Tahoe

Those who want a Jewish skiing package that includes some Texas Hold ‘Em and resort-style entertainment should consider the Lake Tahoe Jewish Singles Ski Week. Sponsored by United Jewish Singles Alliance and Travel Jewish, this trip for 20- to 40-somethings features six nights at the Embassy Suites, located in the heart of Tahoe’s casino action near the base of the Heavenly Ski Resort’s gondola.

The package also features transfers to and from Reno; a welcome reception; cooked-to-order breakfasts; daily skiing, including three days of lift tickets at Heavenly and one day at Squaw; apres ski events each evening; a lake cruise party; Shabbat service; roommate matching; and a farewell club dance party.

Date: Feb. 26-March 4.

Cost: $1,567. A $699 single supplement fee is available for guests who don’t want a roommate.

For more information, visit or, or call (877) 900-7022.

Jski’s own Lake Tahoe trip features roundtrip airfare from Los Angeles International, John Wayne International or San Diego International to Reno/Tahoe International; transfer to and from Reno; three-nights lodging (double occupancy) at the Best Western-Timber Cove Lodge; lift tickets to Heavenly, Kirkwood and Sierra Tahoe; round-trip shuttle to and from the slopes; and breakfast.

Dates: March 9-12

Cost: $639

R.S.V.P. to Howard at (818) 342-9508 or at least two weeks before the trip.


Crested Butte

Amazing Journeys and the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh are co-sponsoring the third annual National Jewish Singles Ski Week at the full-service Grand Lodge Hotel at this rustic, kitschy destination. The trip includes a seven-night stay (double occupancy), roundtrip transfers from Gunnison Aiport, five days of lift passes, a Super Bowl party, complimentary apr?s ski, dinner and pizza party, Shabbat services and a mountain tour.

Dates: Feb. 5-12

Cost: $1,249

For more information, visit or call (800) 734-0493.

Steamboat Springs

Mosaic Outdoor Clubs of America brings you its sixth annual Winter Events and Ski Trip, which is expected to draw club members from across the United States and Canada. The trip features a seven-night stay at the Timber Run Condominiums (three-bedroom condos are located 500 yards from the gondola); roundtrip Hayden Airport transportation; welcome dinner/hot tub party; evening tubing; sleigh ride, rodeo demonstration and gourmet dinner at cattle ranch; catered Shabbat dinner and games night; and mountaintop Western barbecue with dancing. Five-day lift ticket package is an additional $325. Rentals not included.

Dates: Feb. 26-March 5

Cost: $999-$1,199

For more information, visit, call (703) 471-8921 or e-mail


Jewish Heritage Tours is sponsoring the family-friendly Chanukah Glatt Kosher Ski Vacation at the Hotel Le Chantecler in Quebec. The package includes skiing on the resort’s 23 pistes, sleigh rides, snowmobiling and ice skating. The hotel features a synagogue, day camp, health and beauty center, indoor pool (with separate swimming hours) and a video arcade. Professor Elliot Wolffson and Rabbi Dr. Nosson Dovid Rabinowich will be the scholars in residence.

Dates: Dec. 27-Jan. 2

Cost: Call for rates.

For more information, call (718) 796-3199 or e-mail


Join more than 100 Jewish singles in the Italian Dolomites as the British Ski and Sun Club takes its 10th annual trip. This year marks the club’s first trip to the Val di Sole ski area, which features the resorts Madonna di Campiglio, Folgarida and Marilleva. Price includes flights and transfers from Gatwick to Verona, accommodations in a twin room, half board, lift passes and travel to the slopes.

Dates: March 4-11.

Cost: $1,225

For more information, visit or call (44) 7887-710150.


Join JC-Life for Jewish Ski Week in Austria, a.k.a. Absolut Ski. More than 200 young Jews (18-35) from Europe and the United States will join this legendary weeklong ski experience at the resorts of Gerlitzen and Nassfeld in Velden am Wörthersee. Package includes lift passes, kosher food (mashgiach Rabbi Abe Reichman from Jerusalem), programs and lectures and nightly parties.

Dates: Dec. 22-29

Cost: $530 (airfare not included)

For more information, visit or e-mail


Camp Espa ña Ski is the international ski camp for Jewish youth (13-20) located in Châtel on the border of France and Switzerland. Campers will spend more than 20 hours in ski instruction, studying with teachers from École du Ski Francias. The camp provides kosher French cuisine in a chalet that features its own disco. New Year’s Eve will be celebrated in the village with fireworks, Alpenhorns, torchlight ski descents and hot chocolate.

Price includes full board, ski instruction and rental, lift passes and round-trip transportation from Geneva Airport or Thonon les Bains railway station in France.

Dates: Dec. 25-Jan. 1

Cost: $1,004 (airfare not included)

For more information, visit


Israel’s Grand Duo

Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram think they can win the upcoming U.S. Open. Come again? The Grand Slam tennis tournament that no Israeli has come close to winning?

“Every tournament we enter we think we can win,” Ram said.

Erlich and Ram nearly backed that up two years ago at Wimbledon. They reached the doubles semifinals, and Ram butted into the mixed doubles final. That makes them the top Israeli Grand Slam duo in history.

Last month, Erlich and Ram were in the heat of the Mercedes-Benz Cup on the UCLA courts, reaching the final. The U.S. Open begins in New York on Aug. 29.

“We’re playing at a really high level,” Ram said, “and we’re communicating well.”

They yak in Hebrew. But the inseparable friends also could banter in English and Spanish, thanks to their South American heritage, but they consider themselves “100 percent Israeli,” as Erlich put it.

Erlich was a 1-year-old when his grandfather packed up the family in Argentina and landed in Haifa. Ram was 5 when his parents said it was time to leave Uruguay and make Jerusalem home.

Erlich, 28, and Ram, 25, have won a combined $1 million in career prize money.

The night after chatting with The Journal, Erlich and Ram beat a French team in three tight sets in the L.A. quarterfinals.

A sparse crowd stayed until the midnight finish. Among the diehards was Avi Suriel, who led his wife and two sons in cheers for the Israelis. No wonder. He served four years in the Israeli military before coming to Los Angeles at age 25.

“I can’t believe more from our Jewish community aren’t here,” he said.

Erlich appreciated the support.

“Thanks for waiting,” he said to fans as he left the court.

For more information on the U.S. Open, visit

Running the Gamut of Faith

“God on the Starting Line: The Triumph of a Catholic School Running Team and Its Jewish Coach” by Marc Bloom (Breakaway Books, 2004).

In the celebrated world of competitive high school athletics, cross-country barely makes the map. Or more like it rarely makes the map, and when it does, it’s on the back side, below the fold. Cross-country runners don’t get an all-school pre-meet pep rally, a mascot on the sideline or cheerleaders at the two-mile point. Racing fans don’t fill out cross-country brackets at the office or lay down a C-note in Vegas on a marathon. But in his book, “God on the Starting Line: The Triumph of a Catholic School Running Team and Its Jewish Coach,” Marc Bloom turns this discounted sport into a captivating tale and lures readers into its unexpected intensity.

Bloom, a contributing editor to Runner’s World, former editor-in-chief of The Runner magazine and New York Times features writer, felt an insatiable void when his two daughters left for college. A lifelong runner, he knew coaching youngsters could fill the hole. He just didn’t expect those hole-fillers to attend a private Catholic school in New Jersey.

A practicing Jew and member of Temple Shaari Emeth, Bloom was shocked when St. Rose High School, a 75-year-old Catholic high school with 637 students, hired him to coach the Running Roses. What did a regular at Friday night services know about leading kids who recite a Hail Mary before every meet? And would kids taught by sisters and clergymen respect a coach who missed a meet for a bar mitzvah?

Working in a crucifix-filled school, Bloom could have downplayed his Judaism; but instead, he wore his religion on his whistle. He pulled a Sandy Koufax and rescheduled a Yom Kippur meet. He said Misheberach on behalf of an injured runner, kissed the mezuzah around his neck for another and likened his relationship with track team parents to the “enriched understanding (of) congregants clasping hands at the end of Shabbat services.”

While coaching at St. Rose, Bloom came to see that Jews and Catholics both put their jogging suits on one leg at a time. He used the religions’ shared themes of sacrifice, hard work, and perseverance to encourage the boys’ running and used running to support their spiritual lifestyle. Bloom looked “to fortify some touchstone that we, Jew and Catholic, share,” he writes. “It’s about realness, authenticity. It’s about living an honest life. Running can teach that.”

But this is not a book burdened by religious preaching. Bloom’s spiritual musings are but one lap of the relay. It’s Bloom’s depiction of racing — the technique, the training, the strategy — that make this sports book a winner. I am a self-proclaimed sports fanatic: I live for March Madness, inhale SportsCenter, and suffer as only a Cubs fan can. But beyond the regular jogs I take around my ‘hood, I’ve never given the sport of running much thought. A race seemed like little more than people running their fastest. And teamwork? Well there’s no ‘I’ in team, and as far as I was concerned, no cross-country in team either. I was wrong.

As the Running Roses demonstrate, cross-country running is all about team bonding and group strategy. A team controls a race by setting the pace and blocking their opposition’s path. A team’s top-five finishers determine its place, so St. Rose wins when all its runners finish together, not when one of its runners finishes first. Bloom teaches his kids to “run for the team and individual success will follow.”

An avid runner and veteran writer, Bloom goes beyond coaching the Running Roses and coaches the reader, too. He delves into the intricacies of cross-country running, details strength, speed and distance training, describes the biology behind oxygen consumption and lactic acid and explains how a smart runners can conserve 7 percent of their energy by drafting. On my morning runs, I now keep my elbows in, run tall and stay close to the weekend warrior in front of me.

At times, Bloom’s book feels heavy-handed. He attempts to draw a connection between today’s instant gratification society and a runner’s refusal to pace himself. He tries to establish a causal relationship between celebrity culture and impaired health. He suggests that affluence weakens runners and that “a life of hardship is one reason Kenyans and Ethiopians dominate Olympic distance running.”

The book’s moving themes of teamwork, friendship, and hard-earned success are global enough. These other sweeping sociological theories are unnecessary.

Like H. G. Bissinger’s “Friday Night Lights” and blockbuster films like “Hoosiers,” “Rudy” and “Breaking Away,” “God on the Starting Line” takes a close look at young athletes and how their lives away from the team influence their performance on it. Ryan Lavender struggles with his parent’s divorce; Mike Dunn with a lack of confidence; Justin Gallagher is swayed by drugs and the wrong crowd; John Lennon by the glamour of basketball. Bloom conveys what he hopes to have taught these students and shares what he has learned from them. In his most notable achievement, Bloom is able to craft the story of a cross-country season that competes with the best of high school football and basketball tales. Tension, competition, stats, records, injuries, disappointments and breakthroughs — it’s in there. With “God on the Starting Line,” Bloom transforms the laborious sport of long-distance running into a quick read.


Let the Games Begin


Let the games begin — in Israel.

The 17th World Maccabiah Games, an intense, world-class Olympic-style competition, will begin July 10 in Israel. The quadrennial games will bring together more than 7,000 Jewish athletes from 60 countries in 30 sports and four age divisions: youth, juniors, open and masters. More than 80 of those athletes hail from the greater Los Angeles area.

“I’m so excited, so thrilled, you don’t even know,” said Dr. Jonathan Davidorf, a Calabasas ophthalmologist who will compete in masters tennis.

Although he has played tennis for more than 30 years, the Maccabiah Games will be Davidorf’s first international competition.

“I keep running late with my patients, because I’m talking to all of them about this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said. “It’s my fantasy baseball camp, my Olympics.”

Like the Olympics, the World Maccabiah Games kicks off with extravagant opening ceremonies. The four-hour grand spectacle, held at Ramat Gan Stadium, will feature Israeli pop stars, a parade of participating athletes and a crowd of 40,000 spectators.

“I am so looking forward to marching into that stadium wearing my U.S.A. jersey,” Davidorf said.

The Maccabiah movement has come a long way from its humble 1895 inception, when the first all-Jewish Maccabi Gymnastics club was created in Constantinople. By the end of World War I, more than 100 Maccabi-style organizations existed across Europe. In 1932, 390 athletes from 14 countries participated in the first World Maccabiah Games. The games have attracted Jewish champions ever since.

Notable Maccabiah alumnae include swimmers Mark Spitz and Lenny Krayzelburg, gymnasts Mitch Gaylord and Kerri Strug, NBA stars Ernie Grunfeld, Dolph Schayes and Danny Schayes, golfer Bruce Fleisher, tennis pros Brad Gilbert and Dick Savitt, World Cup soccer star Jeff Agoos and Olympic triathlete Joann Zeiger.

Drawing world-class participants, the Maccabiah Games have gained an impressive reputation. No longer looked upon as a casual gathering of Jews who enjoy playing sports, the games are now considered one of the top international sporting events in the world.

The 2005 games will feature NCAA athletes, nationally ranked athletes and members of the Olympic Development Program. Team U.S.A. members were chosen at intense national tryouts earlier this year, and once selected, trained rigorously on their own. Now that the games are near, many teams have gathered together for extended practices.

Beverly Hills real estate broker Yael Chotzen, 22, spoke with The Journal from New York, where the U.S.A. women’s open soccer team held its demanding weeklong training camp.

“You realize quickly that these are some of the best athletes in the country,” said Chotzen, a forward who’s played soccer all her life. “It’s more than just a Jewish event. It’s a major sporting event. The caliber of these athletes is outstanding.”

Despite the tough competition, Chotzen and her teammates have big goals. “We’d like to bring home a medal,” she said.

Winning is on all the athletes’ minds, but it’s community that lies at the center of the Maccabiah Games.

“Sports is the attraction. The Land of Israel is the vehicle. Jewish continuity is our primary goal,” said Jordan Weinstein, general chairman of the U.S. Maccabiah Committee.

The Maccabiah community starts at home. Southern California athletes spoke of the amazing monetary and spiritual support they received from their local synagogues. Many athletes’ proud families are traveling to Israel to cheer on their loved ones.

The sense of community deepens at the games, where Los Angeles athletes will bond with their international counterparts.

“I can’t wait to represent my country, but I’m also excited to meet Jewish kids from other countries,” said Jillian Schnitman, a Team U.S.A. junior tennis player, who helped Calabasas High win the CIF championship. “Everyone will be so different, and yet, because we’re all Jewish, we’re all kind of the same,” said Schnitman, whose father competed in the 1981 games.

Amanda Maddahi, who will compete in open karate, echoed those thoughts. “I’m excited to compete on the world level. Combine that with going to Israel and meeting other Jews who are passionate about sports — it’s great,” the UCLA pre-med student said.

She expects to connect with participants on several levels. “My two worlds of Judaism and karate have always been separate,” she explained. “But with the games, everything will come together.”

Maccabiah officials foster the idea that it’s a small Jewish world after all.

“It is the goal of the U.S. Maccabiah Organizing Committee that the members of Team U.S.A. come to Israel as Jewish athletes and return as athletic Jews,” Weinstein said.

But how do 10 days of tough competition lead to Jewish solidarity? Sportsmanship. Shared experience. Shared respect. Shared memories.

“Remember that feeling of brotherhood you felt on Friday night a Jewish camp?” Davidorf said. “I’m expecting the Maccabiah Games to bring on those same feelings. Life doesn’t offer many experiences that create a bond as strong and memorable as that.”

To further enhance their Jewish experience, members of Team U.S.A. will have enjoyed a weeklong cultural tour of Israel before the games begin.

“I’m ecstatic. Not only do I get to go to Israel for the first time, but I get to go with a team,” said Lisa Shirin Goldshani, 17, a recent Beverly Hills High graduate who will compete in karate.

The games focus on extraordinary athletic achievement, social interaction and a unique visit to Israel, but Southern California sportsmen realize the Maccabiah Games also serve Israel’s greater good.

“My wife and I want to show our support for Israel; it’s important in these times and this seems like the ideal way to do so,” said Davidorf, who has not been to Israel since he was 12.

But perhaps showing support isn’t enough. Some athletes believe the Maccabiah Games are a missed PR opportunity.

“I wish that the competition was on U.S. TV,” Chotzen said. “It would show that Israel is about more than conflict, violence and struggles with our neighbors. Jews are about so much more than that. We’re fun, we go to parties, we excel at sports. I wish people could see this side of Judaism.”


Going to the Games

The Southland will be represented by a large contingent of athletes competing in various sports at the Maccabiah Games in Israel.

Baseball — Juniors: Kurtis Brown, Agua Dulce; Noah Michel, Los Angeles; Samson Reznik, Encino.

Basketball — Masters: Steven Mayer, Los Angeles.

Basketball — Mens: Harrison Schaen, Huntington Beach; Shawn Weinstein, Rancho Palos Verdes.

Basketball — Juniors: Alexander Hoffman-Ellis, Los Angeles; Richard Polan, Tarzana.

Basketball — Womens Juniors: Ashley Finkel, Tarzana.

Fencing: Theodore Levitt, Pacific Palisades.

Field Hockey: Madeline Rottman, Los Angeles.

Golf: Jon Levin, Huntington Beach; Ivan Samuels, Palm Desert.

Golf — Juniors: Joshua Fishman, Beverly Hills; Ross Gasmer, Tarzana.

Gymnastics — Juniors: Talia Kushynski, Sherman Oaks; Adee Schoffman, Woodland Hills.

Karate: Amanda Maddahi, Beverly Hills.

Karate — Juniors: Calvin Berman, Beverly Hills; Yavar Zarinkhoo, Los Angeles.

Karate — Youth: Shireen (Lisa) Golshani, Santa Monica; Yacob Iloulian, Beverly Hills; Jonathan Mehrian, Beverly Hills; Rambod Peykar, Beverly Hills.

Lawn Bowling: Samuel Benjamin, Los Angeles; Stanley Bloom, Santa Barbara; Jordan Melton, Los Angeles; William Wolff, Los Angeles.

Rugby: Kevin Armstrong, Los Angeles; Aaron Blatt, Tarzana; Aaron Davis, Los Angeles; Michael Fair, Santa Barbara; Stuart Krohn, Santa Monica (coach); Darren Pitzele, Los Angeles; Jeremy Revell, Los Angeles.

Soccer — Masters: David Parks, Los Angeles.

Soccer — Mens: Jonathan Bornstein, Los Alamitos; Michael Erush, West Hollywood; Benny Feilhaber, Irvine; Jordan Katz, Mission Viejo.

Soccer — Womens: Yael Chotzen, Los Angeles; Jacqueline Stein, Arcadia.

Soccer — Junior Boys: Jordan Asheghian, Los Angeles; Bradley Bernet, Los Angeles; Joel Glanz, Santa Monica.

Soccer — Junior Girls: Morani Stelmach, Encino; Wendi Whitman, Long Beach (coach).

Softball: David Blackburn, Venice (coach); Jason Gluckman, Granada Hills.

Softball — Womens: Lauren Bierman, Laguna Niguel.

Squash — Masters: Jeremy Hurwitz, Los Angeles.

Swimming: Lenny Krayzelburg, West Hollywood.

Swimming — Juniors: Vlad Bekerman, Calabasas; Rose Cohen, Santa Barbara; Tal Kempler, West Hills; Justin Wellins, Canyon Country.

Tennis — Grand Masters: Ralph Finerman, Santa Monica; Gerald Friedman, Inglewood.

Tennis — Masters: Dr. Jonathan Davidorf, West Hills; Jody Helfend, Calabasas.

Tennis: Julia Feldman, Studio City.

Tennis — Juniors: Daniel Desatnik, Irvine; Jillian Schnitman, Calabasas.

Tennis — Youth: Logan Hansen, Santa Monica.

Track & Field: Daniel Glass, Los Angeles; John Goldman, Long Beach (coach); Ari Monosson, Los Angeles; David Schapiro, Tarzana; Sol Wroclawsky, Long Beach (coach).

Triathlon — Masters: Gary Bub, Pacific Palisades; Jonathan Vakneen, Santa Monica.

Volleyball — Beach: Jon Aharoni, Santa Monica; Ilan Goldstein, Pacific Palisades; Melody Khadavi, Santa Monica; Fran Seegull, Santa Monica; Amitai Strutin-Belinoff, Marina del Rey; Aaron Wexler, Venice

Volleyball — Mens: Adam Aronowitz, Santa Barbara; Matthew Morris, Agoura; Nir Ofer, Irvine (coach); Michael Spector, Los Angeles (manager).

Volleyball — Womens: Marisa Fair, Calabasas; Drew Steinberg, Beverly Hills.

Volleyball — Junior Girls: Alissa Jameson, Beverly Hills; Leli Kiesler, Woodland Hills; Karly Sills, Santa Ana.

Water Polo: Jason Kutcher, Santa Ana; Richard Offsay, Encino.

Staff Trainers: Jerome Bornstein, Tarzana; Barak Mevorakh, Sherman Oaks; Charlene Negari, Beverly Hills.

Shabbat on Slopes Takes Wrong Turn


To me, skiing is almost a religious experience. When you’re flying down the back bowls, sun on your face, cool air filling your lungs and a warm feeling filling your heart, it’s like you can feel the hand of God.

Last winter, my wife and I went skiing in Deer Valley, Utah.

Deer Valley opened in 1981, and the idea was to create a luxury ski resort with every possible amenity and in the best possible taste. Everything from the incline of the slopes to the way the sun hits them has been considered. The food couldn’t be more delicious, nor the staff more solicitous. It was perfect.

On the last full day of our trip, a Friday, I went downstairs to where the ski report was posted. The report was pretty much the same as it’d been all week: “Spring conditions, 91 groomed trails, all lifts open, Shabbat services at 3:00.” Yes, Shabbat services at 3 p.m.

Deer Valley, in addition to featuring 91 trails, 21 lifts and fantastic food, had Shabbat services on the mountain at someplace called Sunset Cabin. The services were at 3 p.m., shortly before the lifts closed.

Do I go?

Sure, skiing has its spiritual side — the hand of God and all that — but I hadn’t planned on having an actual religious experience. I like Shabbat services, and I’ve found myself atop a slope or two where praying to God seemed my best bet for getting down alive. But did I really want to spend part of the afternoon — my last afternoon — at services?

We hit the mountain. Sure enough, at every lift, between the Kleenex and the urgent messages (“Hannah Silverblatt! Call Danny!”) was a sign: “Shabbat services. Sunset Cabin. 3:00.”

I’m 45, but I remember when skiing was still the domain of tall Aryan people in stretch pants. For years, of course, Jews have taken to the sport with gusto. Indeed, throughout our stay when anyone asked why the slopes were so crowded, the answer was the same: “The New York schools are on vacation.”

When I was a kid, most people still hadn’t seen a bagel, and every year I’d have to explain to my non-Jewish friends what Rosh Hashanah was. So it was quite something to have Shabbat services atop a mountain — in Utah of all places. What an advancement! Yet, the whole thing stuck in my craw.

First off, Shabbat begins at sunset. Even in Utah in March, 3 p.m. simply is not sunset. (Maybe they called it “Sunset Cabin” to distract you.) And besides, how many of these people so anxious to observe Shabbat were planning to take the following day off the slopes? Especially after they’d schlepped to Utah.

I skied all day, going back and forth on whether I would attend services or not.

Suddenly, it was 3 p.m. I was obsessed. Who went to these services? Was this, as it were, Muhammad coming to the mountain? Or had the folks at Deer Valley found a way to bring the mountain to Muhammad?

3:05. 3:10.

At 3:16 p.m., while happily shushing down a crowded slope, there it was. Sunset Cabin sat atop the snow, between verdant trees under a bright blue sky. There were no Stars of David or Hebrew letters, but I knew what it was the moment I saw it.

Perhaps it was the young woman standing in the doorway — it was standing-room only — with an expression of duty and resignation. Was she upset because she couldn’t get inside, or because she wasn’t outside on the slopes? And her resignation seemed to turn into belligerence, or judgment, as she caught my eye and my landsman’s punim outside skiing, rather than inside praying.

Should I catch the rest of the service? What was my problem, anyway?

I slowed down. And, as I avoided the skiers whooshing by — Texans? — I heard the unmistakable sound of many voices raised together, “Yitgadal, v’yitkadash, sh’mei rabbah.”

I knew what I had to do.

This is where I’m supposed to screech to a halt, whip off my skis, breathlessly stagger into Sunset Cabin — tears in my eyes, at one with my brethren, my dead ancestors, the mountain and God himself — and admit how foolish and cynical I’d been.

But, with one last, rather unfriendly look at the woman in the doorway, I sped up and skied on. I was, for lack of a better word, offended. After all, Kaddish is a serious prayer about a serious thing and the thought of intoning these beautiful and important words, then readjusting my goggles and stepping into my bindings seemed silly, stupid and sacrilegious.

Without a doubt, God and nature are a dynamite combo. But shouldn’t religious rituals have some dignity? Shouldn’t they demand some extra effort on our part? Like, say, waiting until Shabbat to have to a Shabbat service? Sure, it’s inconvenient to have a service on a ski slope after dusk; so, um, maybe the service should be somewhere else. Y’know, I’m glad that I can get Krispy Kremes at Dodger Stadium or Starbucks on United Airlines, but isn’t worship just a little different? What’s next — Kol Nidre at the ArcLight? A mikvah at The Grove? For that matter, why have Rosh Hashanah right after the kids go back to school? Let’s move it to June.

As I raced away, I thought: Was this service on the mountain about Shabbat, or was it just another amenity, no different in the end than the free ski boot storage or the famous seafood buffet? And is it really advancement to have a Shabbat service so in service to its surroundings? (3 p.m.? Kaddish, 16 minutes into the service?) Actually, perhaps the greatest sin of this Shabbat service on this most tasteful of mountains was that it was, in fact, just plain tacky.

For sure, I think it’s possible to find God when you least expect to. Like when you’re flying down the back bowl of a beautiful mountain with the wind whipping through your hair. But I don’t think that God should have to look for you there, too.

I love skiing. And I love being Jewish. But to me, religion is not a skiing experience.

David T. Levinson has written for a variety of media outlets. His newest play, “Early Decision,” will have its world premiere in October.


Letters to the Editor


Jewish-Black Ties

The outrageous assertion that blacks and Jews have “passed through a period of hostility and animosity” and come together for “issues ranging from civil rights legislation to Israel” is absurd (“Jewish-Black Ties Loosen Over Years,” Jan. 14).

If it takes “a common thread to revive the relationship,” such as working to defeat David Duke’s run for political office, why does nothing similar happen against the left? The so-called coalition did not denounce black congresswoman Cynthia McKinney for her anti-Israel, anti-Jewish beliefs. It does not distance itself from Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson for their questionable attitudes about Jews.

The coalition does not condemn the NAACP for its racially inflammatory statements and divisiveness. When former NAACP leader Benjamin Chavis was removed for theft, he blamed the Jews. Lee Alcorn, president of the Dallas NAACP, stated his concern with black-Jewish coalitions because of what he called Jews’ preoccupation with money.

The assertion that anti-Semitism is not as strong among blacks as among mutual enemies of blacks and Jews is wrong. A 1996 Gallup survey reported that blacks were more likely than whites to blame liberal Jews for what is wrong with America. The Anti- Defamation League’s own surveys reveal that blacks have higher rates of anti-Semitic beliefs than whites.

A United Nations conference on racism held in South Africa had anti-Israel, anti-Semitic and anti-American themes. Hundreds of prominent American blacks, including Jackson, attended to show their support.

Superficial public relations events such as speaking at Black-Jewish forums do not indicate anything beyond political calculation. Jews would be far wiser to form coalitions with the political right, not the intolerant political left.

Caroline Miranda
North Hollywood

Shawn Green

When Shawn Green arrives for spring training with his new team, the Arizona Diamondbacks, he will be leaving a piece of himself behind while at the same time, he will be taking along large portions of our L.A. Jewish pride. Such is the dilemma that Peter Dreier’s (“Goodbye Shawn Green,” Jan. 21) 8-year-old twin daughters are faced with; who are they to root for now?

To date, there have been 161 men of Jewish heritage to have played major league baseball. The White Sox and the Tigers have listed 17 and 16 respectively, while the Dodgers and Giants have fielded 15 each (those damned Yankees have only had six).

So it looks as if we may have to wait for another Jewish Dodger. But we Jews are good at waiting. Green isn’t the Messiah, but it may take almost as long for the likes of another Shawn Green to wear Dodger Blue. In the meantime … go Diamondbacks!

Jonathan Blank
Calabasas Hills

Birthright Exploitation

I am no supporter of the extreme aspects of Israel Solidarity Movement’s (ISM) agenda, but I am appalled by Gaby Wenig’s implicit suggestion that Jewish love for Israel should come with a political litmus test (“Do ISM Activists Exploit Birthright?” Jan. 21). Perhaps Wenig does not know that there are many Israelis (Jews and non-Jews alike) who have concerns about “the occupation,” that “pro-Palestinian” is not a synonym for “anti-Israel” and that all of us who “love Israel,” as Wenig understands Birthright’s aim, whether we are on the left or the right, have a wide range of views on how Israel can live up to its full potential for social, economic and political justice.

Despite the fact the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress) does not appear among the list of Birthright funders on, Western region associate director Allyson Taylor suggests that Birthright alumni who engage in political activism with which she disagrees should have to repay the cost of their trip. Does Taylor also think Aish HaTorah should send a collection agency after every Discovery alumnus who steps foot in a Reform or Conservative synagogue? Should college kids who flirt with Buddhism or Hinduism repay their parents for their bar and bat mitzvah expenses? Perhaps all the ex-AJCongress members in Los Angeles should simply bill the national office for the return of their pre-1999 contributions.

Shawn Landres
Los Angeles

On behalf of 4,000 Birthright Israel alumni from greater Los Angeles, we are responding to the article (“Do ISM Activists Exploit Birthright?” Jan. 21).

It would be extremely unfortunate if your article left the impression with your readers that ISM activists taking advantage of free Birthright Israel trips is a significant problem. In fact, Birthright Israel staff has only been able to find evidence of six people out of more than 70,000 participants who have done so.

Birthright Israel, which provides the gift of first time, peer group, educational trips to Israel for Jewish young adults ages 18 to 26, is one of the most powerful and successful Jewish continuity programs ever devised. As program alumni ourselves, we can confirm the findings of a recent Brandeis University study, Bbirthright Israel participants have a stronger and more sustained connection to Israel and the Jewish people than do their peers.

Thanks to the foresight and funding of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, our groundbreaking birthright Israel alumni association provides local alumni with opportunities to connect with each other and with the L.A. Jewish community. Information is available at

We know Birthright Israel and its alumni association has been instrumental in our connection to Israel and the Jewish community. We would hate for the success of this important organization to be tarnished by a story that creates a controversy where there really isn’t one.

Kimberly Gordon, Joshua Kessler, Abtin Missaghi, Ben Schwartzman,
Members of the Leadership Board
Birthright Israel Alumni Association


Twin Triathletes Go for the Gold

The U.S. may have the Hamm brothers, but Israel has the Alterman brothers. Like their American counterparts, these 24-year-old twins have their eyes on Olympic gold.

Ran and Dan Alterman are Israel’s reigning triathlon champions. For the past four years, they have dominated the sport in their native land. Now, they look to bring their success to the international arena.

To qualify for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, the Altermans must compete in six races abroad annually. On Sept. 12, they will bring their speed and power to the Los Angeles Triathlon.

“It’s very exciting to come to Los Angeles and represent Israel in the race. And to know that people here are so proud of Israel that they wanted to help us make the trip, that’s just great,” said Ran Alterman, who along with his brother, had his trip to Los Angeles sponsored by Factor’s Deli owner Marvin Markowitz, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles. The brothers, who were born in Tel Aviv and grew up in Netanya and Even Yehuda, began competing in triathlons at 13. A decade later, the brothers have a healthy competition going between themselves.

“Racing against Ran is like racing against myself. We have the same training schedule, diet and ability, so to beat him is to better my own performance,” said Dan Alterman, who as the Israel Triathlon Association’s youth chairman, helps run camps, clinics and a boarding high school for young triathletes in training.

When it comes to major races, the Altermans run against each other but also pull for each other.

“It’s most important for the family to come in first and second. As to which of us comes in first, it depends on the day,” said Ran Alterman, who, with his brother, is enrolled at the college of management at Rishon LeZion.

While both Altermans served in the Israeli army, they believe it’s through their sport that they contribute most to their country.

“There will always be good Israeli soldiers, but there aren’t many great Israeli sportsmen,” Ran Alterman said. “We’ve been given the chance to travel the world, talk to people and show them that Israel is about more than war, and that Israelis are strong.”

The Los Angeles Triathlon will be held on Sunday, Sept.
12. For more information, go to

Israel Serves Up a Star

When the U.S. Open swings into New York Aug. 30, you’ll have to squint to find Israel’s tiniest tennis player.

It’ll be easier to catch her on the scoreboard. She’s the one with the muscular name — Anna Smashnova-Pistolesi — and the big game.

Generating power with her 5-foot-2, 117-pound frame, Smashnova-Pistolesi has smashed her way to No. 19 in the Women’s Tennis Association rankings.

You can simply count on Smashnova-Pistolesi. This is her third straight year ranked in the top 20. She’s 9-0 in WTA tournament finals. That makes her one of Israel’s most effective athletes.

Smashnova-Pistolesi has done it on the go. She was born 28 years ago in Minsk, Belarus. Her family moved to Israel when she was 14. She stays at her parents’ home in Herzelia when she’s in the country. She has her own home in Italy, where she lives with her husband, the former pro Claudio Pistolesi.

You can call Smashnova-Pistolesi a walking United Nations. But she knows her loyalty.

“I always play under the Israeli flag and represent my country at every tournament,” she said. “I am always happy by the widespread support that I receive from Israeli fans throughout the world.”

Even though Smashnova-Pistolesi stands tall in Israeli sports, her Italian shift makes it tough for her to connect with some Jews. She keeps trying to win points well after serving in the Israeli army in the mid-1990s.

“If there are people who don’t appreciate what I have done,” she said, “I can only say that I am sorry that I cannot reach out to everyone, but with so many tour events, the rigorous training necessary and the constant traveling, tennis is really a demanding sport.”

She also waves the flag for other Israeli players: “Shahar Peer has a lot of potential. She is ranked No. 17 in the juniors and has a very good attitude. She could become quite good, and there are also some good boys; Dudi Sela got to the semis of the U.S. Open junior boys event last year.”

Smashnova-Pistolesi has had an active summer. She entered all the California tournaments and the Olympics. She didn’t win a trophy or medal, but in Los Angeles she picked on someone much bigger, Daniela Hantuchova, and cut down the once-rising Slovakian.

The next day, Smashnova-Pistolesi wilted under a sizzling sun and against a hot Svetlana Kuznetsova. The fullbacklike Russian proved too strong.

“She didn’t give me many chances,” Smashnova-Pistolesi conceded after getting cooked.

Smashnova-Pistolesi hopes to bounce back at the U.S. Open. She certainly has the strokes, especially one mean backhand. It could be the third best one-hander among women pros after Belgium’s Justine Henin-Hardenne and France’s Emelie Mauresmo.

If Smashnova-Pistolesi beats top pros such as those, her name will grow. Even if her body doesn’t. — Bucky Fox, Contributing Writer

A Kick Out of Torah

What do you get when you cross Judaic philosophy with Chinese martial arts? Tora Dojo. The brainchild of Gandmaster H.I. Sober, Toro Dojo combines elements of traditional Karate and Kung Fu with Jewish spirituality. Tora Dojo, which started more than 30 years ago with 12 Yeshiva University students, is now taught to 30,000 people worldwide. There are no storefront studios; classes are held in synagogues, JCCs and at Jewish day schools and universities.

“Tora Dojo is a sport, but it’s more of an art form,” said Ben Andron, the head of Los Angeles’ Tora Dojo West . “Students learn to defend themselves, fight, even break bricks, but the main goal is to improve their ability to focus and unlock unlimited potential.”

Andron, a member of B’nai David Judea, has studied Tora Dojo for 20 years and teaches weekly youth and adult classes. His students range from 6-60 year olds. “In yeshiva, students are told to pray with concentration, but no one explains how to do that,” Andron said. “At Tora Dojo, students learn to concentrate and be mindful of doing things in a Jewish way.”

On Tuesday, June 8, Sober will make his inaugural appearance in Andron’s Los Angeles class. A professor of Hebrew and Jewish history at Yeshiva University, Sober will travel cross-country to watch Darren Melameth become the first L.A. student to test for a black belt.

“There are only 200 black belts out of 30,000 students, so this is a big night,” said Andron.

To honor Sober’s appearance and Melameth’s test, Tora Dojo West students will perform fighting and weapon demonstrations, brick breakings and forms. The free, public exhibition will be held at 7 p.m. in the ballroom at B’nai David Judea. Guests can observe the martial art in action and learn about local classes.

“You don’t have to be athletic be involved with Tora Dojo,” said Andron. “But you do have to be Jewish.”

For more information on Tora Dojo and Tuesday night’s
exhibition, go to

Coming of Age on a Basketball Court

Eight years ago, public relations guru Dan Klores received a distressing telephone call from Steve Satin, his childhood friend from Brooklyn’s 2nd Street Park. In high school, Satin had been popular, co-captain of the basketball team and, presumably, bound for medical school.

But his life had unraveled during years of addiction to cocaine and heroin, Satin told Klores. Although he eventually got sober, his 5-year-old son died of leukemia, his second marriage failed and he found himself homeless and wandering the streets with a suitcase in 1995. Finally he took refuge in the Port Authority bus terminal, where he spent nights moving from bench to bench so as not to draw police attention. Three months later, he did draw their attention, for writing bad checks; he was about to be arrested, he told his old friend.

"So he came to see me and it was pretty shocking," said Klores, whose tender documentary, "The Boys of 2nd Street Park," revolves around Satin and their Jewish basketball-playing gang. "He hardly had any teeth in his mouth, his nose was bashed in, he wore a suit that looked like he hadn’t worn it in 20 years … he just looked like a beaten-down man."

Klores got Satin an attorney, a dentist, an apartment and a job driving a taxi, but he, too, felt beaten down. Around 1980, he had given up his first love, writing, for public relations, eventually landing clients such as Jennifer Lopez and Donald Trump.

"But I never really liked it," he said from his Long Island beach home. "In spite of my success, PR never gave me the feeling of satisfaction I’d had writing a book or a magazine piece."

For 20 years, he hadn’t used his creativity to express himself, and he felt "trapped" and "frustrated."

As Klores pondered how to solve his dilemma, his thoughts turned to Satin and the other boys with whom he had shot hoops in Brighton Beach. He decided to make a film not about his rich and powerful clients, but about the friends of his youth.

"I knew this could be a good story because so many different things had happened to people," said the soft-spoken Klores, sounding more like an introvert than a schmoozer. "You have a group of guys, and one is homeless, one wins a $45 million lottery, two lose their children and one lives without electricity or running water in Woodstock, N.Y."

According to Satin, now a chemical engineer, the film works because Klores did the interviews.

"We opened up to him because we trusted him," he said. "Dan may not physically be in the movie, but it’s really his story, too. He has the same background and he was there with us, part of it."

Like the other "boys," 53-year-old Klores grew up in a one-bedroom apartment, 30 yards from the "L," sharing a bedroom with his brother while his parents slept on a convertible couch in the living room. The 2nd Street Park provided a refuge from the cramped quarters and from the tedium of religious school: "Even on the High Holidays we’d sneak away and shoot hoops in our sports jackets," he said.

Klores’ working-class parents, meanwhile, had ambitious plans for their eldest son. "The mantra was, ‘All we want for you is to do better than us,’ which is one of the things I reacted against," he said. The perceived Jewish pressure to excel did just the opposite; by the 10th grade Klores had become fiercely rebellious.

"I was the perfect candidate for the counterculture," he said. "I was alienated and angry and all of a sudden everyone was alienated and angry."

Klores said he failed classes, cut school and began using drugs at age 17. With Satin and some of the other "boys," he grew his hair long, spent weekends at an upstate New York farm and took road trips in a VW van.

The change came in 1973: "I woke up one day and I said, ‘Whoa, wait a second,’" he recalled. Klores quit drugs, finished school and landed his first real job, at 29, writing political ads for $100 a week plus a bottle of Scotch. He went on to write a book on the popular culture of college basketball and to freelance for publications such as New York magazine; he switched to PR for a more steady paycheck around 1980.

Since founding Dan Klores Associates in 1991, his assignments have included representing Sean "Puffy" Combs after his infamous arrest and Rudolph Giuliani during his prickly divorce. Eventually, his past caught up with him.

Around the time Satin phoned in 1995, Klores was diagnosed with hepatitis C, contracted as a result of his youthful drug use, he said. He began an excruciating, year-long regimen of drug therapy that at the end, left him bedridden with pneumonia. It was that brush with mortality — plus Satin’s haunting story — that helped push the now-healthy Klores to pursue more fulfilling work.

To make "Boys," he turned to another park friend, Ron Berger, a prominent advertising executive with ample production experience. The co-directors put up their own money for the summer 2001 shoot, when Klores traveled to nine states to interview 25 subjects, ultimately narrowing the major characters down to six.

"While we were editing the film, Dan would be dealing with his high-profile clients and taking calls from Giuliani," Berger said. "Meanwhile, I would be dealing with my high-profile corporate clients. But then at the end of the day we’d be in this small editing room, working on stories from our childhood and making them come to life, which was so fulfilling."

Satin said telling his story on camera was "cathartic and healing."

For Klores, who’s now working on his second documentary, the process was also transforming.

"What’s amazing for me is how the movie has resonated with people all over the country," he said of his film festival experience. "At the outset, the movie appears to be about Brooklyn and basketball but then it becomes something much more universal. A lot of people of our generation have taken a parallel kind of journey…. The film is about a particular generation as told through the lives of six boys turning to men."

"Boys" airs on Showtime Sept. 28.

Words From the Old Ball Game

With Seth Swirsky’s Beatles-style haircut and soothing voice, one would probably hand him a guitar rather than a baseball bat. But if Swirsky — a pop songwriter who has written gold- and platinum-selling albums for artists like Celine Dion and Taylor Dane — were asked his preference, he might opt for one of each.

“I love baseball for the kind of background to our summers that it gives us,” Swirksy said. “It’s like a soundtrack to our great summers when we’re growing up.”

In his new book, “Something to Write Home About” (Crown, $25.95), Swirsky pays tribute to the sport that has played such an important part in his life. A collection of personal baseball memories written to Swirsky by everyone from Paul McCartney, to the grandson of the inventor of the Wiffle ball, “Something to Write Home About” affirms Swirsky’s assertion that “baseball connects us.”

Of all the letters in the book, Swirsky’s favorite is that of Jewish Dodger Shawn Green, recounting the time he found himself on the field with two other Jewish players around Rosh Hashana.

“The idea that three Jews were kibitzing at home plate in major league baseball is so great,” Swirsky said. “It was so particularly Jewish.”

The third book in a trilogy, “Something to Write Home About,” is the completion of an effort that began during the baseball strike of ’94 — around the time that Swirsky’s eldest son, Julian, was born. “I thought to myself, if I write to some players and they give me some interesting answers, I would love to save this for my son,” Swirsky said.

While Julian is only 9 years old, Swirsky hopes his son will one day appreciate the sport as he does.

“I go to a baseball game [regardless of] who I’m going with,” Swirsky said. “It doesn’t matter whose playing. If my dad wants to go to a baseball game, it is a yes, because men don’t ask each other to go to a park and have a picnic — that’s how men go to a park.”

Seth Swirsky will be signing copies of his book,
“Something to Write Home About,” on June 7 at 2 p.m. at Borders in Chino, 3833
Grand Ave.; June 8 at 2 p.m. at Borders in Glendale, 100 S. Brand Blvd.; and
June 12 at 7:30 p.m. at Barnes & Noble at The Grove, 189 Grove Drive. For
more about Swirsky, visit

Mainstreaming Makes a Difference

Eight-year-old Tamar’s fingers dance across a set of harp strings like small waves rhythmically pounding the surf. While the large instrument dwarfs her, she doesn’t seem to mind as she sits and plays a complicated classical tune. After the musical interlude, she hops onto her living room couch; her shiny dark hair bounces as she moves. Her bright smile reveals a missing front tooth with its adult counterpart just barely poking through.

“Tamar is a real leader among her friends and she’s so good at sports. Oh, and she takes dance and gymnastics,” her mother, Margie Levinson, informed me privately. With so many activities, boundless energy and obvious talent, it is hard to believe that like 40 to 50 percent of students across the nation, Tamar has faced serious learning problems in school.

Class participation and oral presentations were sources of frustration for her. But just as her mother focuses on her attributes, so does the philosophy behind Schools Attuned, the teaching method that helped Tamar cope with an expressive language difficulty.

Teachers at Yeshiva Ohr Eliyahu in Culver City noted the problem back when Tamar was in first grade. As the best selling book “A Mind at a Time” by learning expert Dr. Mel Levine, says, the eight types of learning differences that Schools Attuned addresses are more minor and subtle than problems that demand special education.

When Tamar’s teachers identified her weaknesses, they took advantage of her excellent leadership skills. By putting her with friends during group presentations and allowing her to prepare early for upcoming class discussions, Tamar was able to succeed. Her music and dance talents help her with organization, as both skills involve sequencing. Without Schools Attuned, Levinson says it would have come to a “high-anxiety” situation. “But it turned into pleasant one, where she gained confidence.”

Tamar is currently a happy and well-adjusted student gearing up for third grade.

For many Jewish day schools in Los Angeles, placing children with learning differences has become somewhat of a gray area. Until two years ago, private schools had access to special education services through public school programs. While a child with learning differences may not have severe difficulties that require a full-blown special education program, that child can still benefit from parts of these programs. Recently, the laws have changed and a federal mandate stipulates that each district must decide how much they are willing to offer.

While Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) used to provide services to day school students, support is now very minimal. “There are a lot of kids who were really left in a lurch when the district changed that [policy],” says Rabbi Shmuel Schwarzmer, a local Schools Attuned mentor and facilitator. “The schools have been trying to pick up whatever slack they can. Often parents have to go to private sources, which are very expensive.”

This year, 3,200 educators were trained in Schools Attuned, a national program enabling kindergarten through 12th-grade educators to evaluate students and then adjust their teaching styles to accommodate the children. At the Los Angeles Regional Training site, 325 educators from about 100 schools in the Los Angeles area went through the training. The numbers of teachers who’ve gotten onboard with the program has tripled since local training began three years ago.

Through training, teachers learn about neurodevelopmental function and dysfunction, allowing them to refine their awareness of language, attention, memory, neuromotor functions, social cognition and other factors. Rather than labeling a child with terms like “Attention Deficit Disorder” or “Learning Disabled,” teachers identify a student’s strengths and weaknesses in regard to learning. The strengths are then used to overcome areas of difficulty.

Schools Attuned stems from the All Kinds of Minds Institute, a not-for-profit organization in Chapel Hill, N.C. The institute was co-founded by Charles Schwab and Dr. Mel Levine, professor of pediatrics and director of the Clinical Center for the Study of Development and Learning at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. The program is based entirely on Levine’s research theories. His philosophy is that different minds work differently and everyone has certain strengths and weaknesses. “We’re teaching teachers to observe how [children] are in the classroom. To notice how a kid holds his pencil,” explains Levine. “If he has trouble writing, to recognize the reasons why he has trouble writing. To call on a kid and notice that he has trouble converting ideas into words, for example.”

While Schools Attuned is available at six training sites around the country, the Etta Israel Center (EIC) has served as the Los Angeles Regional Training site since 1999. EIC is a local nonprofit organization that provides direct service to people with special needs in the Jewish community. In addition to supporting Schools Attuned, EIC also provides educational services, disability programming for the Los Angeles Iranian Jewish community, a residential group home for Jewish adults with developmental disabilities and help for students with developmental disabilities.

EIC offers an extensive School’s Attuned training program in Los Angeles each summer and several smaller groups throughout the year. In late June, EIC offered an intensive five-day program for administrators and counselors from public and private schools all over the city and beyond. Dr. Michael Held, EIC’s executive director feels that “by using [the Schools Attuned] practices, teachers can make fewer and more responsible [special education] referrals.” Having utilized Schools Attuned for the last three years, Vaughn Next Century Learning Center, a LAUSD charter school, reported a 50 percent drop-off in these referrals. Held also believes that Schools Attuned can be particularly effective in the Jewish day school system, where services for children with learning differences are scarce.

Currently, when a day school student is referred to special education, an LAUSD employee comes to the school once a month for a one-hour consultation with the child’s teacher. However, this service is only available to children who qualify for special education — not lesser difficulties, like those of Tamar. “There are a number of kids with more minor problems,” Schwarzmer says. “If their problems are not severe enough to qualify, the federal government won’t help.”

Aviva Ebner, principal of secular studies at Emek Hebrew Academy in Sherman Oaks, believes that her students’ standardized test scores were higher than expected after the school incorporated Schools Attuned into their curriculum. Dr. Andrea Ackerman, a psychologist at Sinai Akiba Academy, has served as a training facilitator since 1999. “I see such an infusion of optimism,” she says. “I think students start to feel optimistic when they see other students with difficulties succeeding.”

But not everyone is convinced that Schools Attuned is the answer. Loren Grossman, an educational advocate and consultant specializing in special education and gifted children, says that the program is one of many, like Tomatis, Earobics, Fast Forward, Linda Mood Bell and SOI Learning Systems. Levine’s theorie, she said, are not necessarily superior to the others. “With all of these [programs], you’re getting at the same thing. You’re turning up visual or auditory processing problems,” Grossman says. “None of these programs have been tested. There are only anecdotal studies. It’s not absolutely certain that these will work and some may have very short-term effects.” While statistics show that Schools Attuned has had steady growth in Los Angeles, Grossman comments that the program isn’t very widespread in this city.

Wendy Mogel, a clinical psychologist and best-selling author of “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee,” feels some parents have unrealistic expectations of their children and look to special education or other resources as solutions. “I often see children who don’t have anything wrong with them, except they’re not spectacular in a certain area. I see kids in private schools who request untimed SATs who don’t need it and kids who get tutored and don’t need it.” She says she has heard “mixed reviews” on Schools Attuned.

Skeptics in the field may change their minds in the next few years, as CSUN’s College of Education will be conducting research on the effectiveness of Schools Attuned in months to come. Recently, the Eisner Family Foundation, an organization dedicated to helping enrich the lives of underserved children, made a $7 million donation to the CSUN’s College of Education. This gift will establish a new Center for Teaching and Learning, which will be the first college program in the country to incorporate Levine’s theories.

While the philosophy may have yet to prove itself to some, it is already a state initiative in both North Carolina and Oklahoma. As the program continues to expand in Los Angeles, local parents, teachers and students seem more than pleased with the results.

Leading me into a guest room, Tamar shows me a picture of her second-grade class from last year. “Show me your friends,” I say, and she points to more than half of the uniformed girls in the photo. Again, a smile lights up her face. “With Schools Attuned, Tamar is allowed to feel successful,” Levinson says. “She’s doing great and we’re just going to keep strengthening her strengths.” The image of Tamar’s fingers methodically tweaking the harp strings comes to mind — a skill she will use to enhance organization and help get her thoughts in order — and I am reminded of the cornerstone of Levine’s teachings: “Different minds learn differently.”

Excerpts from “A Mind at a Time”

by Dr. Mel Levine

“Different minds learn differently.”

“Different brains are differently wired.”

“I am beckoning parents, teachers and policymakers to recognize how many kinds of young minds there are, and to realize we need to meet their learning needs and strengthen their strengths, and in doing so, preserve their hopes for the future.”

“A school for all kinds of minds will not label its students.”

“Labeling is reductionistic. It oversimplifies kids. The practice overlooks their richness, their complexity, their strengths and their striking originality.”

“Schools are like airport hubs; student passengers arrive from many different backgrounds…. Their particular takeoffs into adulthood will demand different flight patterns.”

Community Briefs

Action Israel Comes to L.A.

On Sunday, Feb. 24, student activists will gather from colleges all over Southern California for Action Israel, a conference held in response to the increasing concern about anti-Israel sentiment on college campuses throughout the country. Comparisons of Nazism with Zionism at CSUN and UCLA as well as a speech given by Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi at UCSB are only a few of the events that have called students to action.

The purpose of Action Israel will be to provide students with an opportunity to acquire skills to increase awareness about Israel on campus, and meet other activists from more than 20 campuses in Southern California to build powerful networks and share ideas. Speakers at the conference, which is being co-sponsored by The Jewish Journal, will include: Yuval Rotem, consul general of Israel in Los Angeles; Rep. Howard Berman (D-26); Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky; and author and UCLA professor David Myers. The conference will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. Cost is $15. For more information, contact (323) 761-8163. — Merav Tassa, Contributing Writer

Jewish Schools Make Playoffs

If you thought it unlikely that both the Lakers and the WNBA Sparks won the championships last season, get ready for another unusual event in basketball. Three Jewish high schools — Yeshiva University of Los Angeles (YULA), Valley Torah, and Milken Community High School — are currently competing in statewide intramural basketball playoffs.

Of the three schools, YULA Boys had the closest shot at victory, until this past Tuesday, when they lost a game to Verbum Dei, a Catholic school in South Central Los Angeles.

“We got to the final eight and that’s as far as we got,” said Joel Fisher, YULA Boys’ athletic director, who oversees the boys basketball team with coaches Ed Gelb and Dave Winnik. Fisher added that while there was some post-game depression, YULA Boys are taking their loss in stride.

“For a school of our size with no gym to compete with these powerhouses, it’s a testament,” Fisher said. “The boys are realistic.”

No matter which team wins or loses, this amazing feat of Jewish representation in the high school playoffs is, in itself, something of a victory for the Jewish student athletes, which compete while maintaining a double curriculum.

However, the road to victory for the three schools was not without complications. Shabbat forced the schools to rearrange game schedules for YULA and Valley Torah. For YULA, that meant that the Pico-Robertson area school, which had a game at Arrowhead Christian rescheduled last weekend, had to spend Shabbat at a San Bernardino hotel, complete with sefer Torah for their minyan.

So is there a master plan in place at YULA Boys to improve their fortunes in 2003?

Said Fisher, sense of humor intact, “We’re going to try to find the tallest Jewish boys that we can find. Even if it takes genetic engineering.” — Michael Aushenker, Staff Writer

First Ramat Zion Kindergarten

Temple Ramat Zion of Northridge will open its first kindergarten class this September. “For the past several years, many parents have requested that we open a kindergarten,” said Betty Gorelick, nursery school director.

The nursery school will last from three to eight hours per day, as opposed to public school kindergarten, which can run less than three hours a day. The school day will be from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m., with early daycare starting at 7 a.m. and late daycare going until 6 p.m.

Temple Ramat Zion is located at 17655 Devonshire St., Northridge. For more information call (818) 366-1773. — Staff Report

Chabad Women’s Shabbaton

Chabad of the Conejo is hosting the a Women’s “Survivor” Shabbaton on March 1-3, at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley.

Fee for the weekend is $225.00 per person, based on double occupancy. For more information please call Chabad at (818) 991-0991. — Staff Report

Karate Kids

March’s Athletes of the Month are siblings Ashley Sherman, 13, and Brandon "B.J." Sherman, 10. These San Fernando Valley martial artists were recommended by their grandfather, Eli Sherman, founder of the Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and physical education director at the West Valley JCC.

Ashley was born with a karate belt in one hand and a crown in the other. Barely 1 year old, Ashley was already raking in beauty contest wins. She started Tang So Doo karate at 9, achieved first-degree black belt status three years later and was second-degree two years after that.

Ashley is as talented a student as she is an athlete. Elected Castlebay Lane Elementary student body president in October 1997, Ashley was the first seventh-grader to become a student representative to the Parent Teacher Student Association at Nobel Middle School.

Brandon also enjoys karate, but he prefers basketball to beauty contests. Brandon started Tang So Doo as a white belt at 4, was a first-degree black belt by 8 and second-degree one year later. (To date, Brandon and Ashley are the youngest sibling team to achieve such ranks.)

Brandon began playing basketball for a pee wee league in November 1998. Last year, he was part of a Castlebay Lane Elementary all-city win and was voted Outstanding Player after helping to lead the West Valley JCC basketball team to the championship. Brandon also served as president of his fourth- and fifth-grade classes.

Look for these young stars to grace the Maccabi Games and the karate world in the near future.

A Jewish Olympian Reflects

As an athlete training with a single-minded focus of becoming the best I could possibly be, I think I sometimes lost sight of the big picture. I had no idea of the impact that our gold-medal victory in the 1984 Games would have on not only my life, but on the lives of others as well. The men’s gymnastics team went down in history as the first and only team from the USA to medal as a team, and I became the first American gymnast in history to receive a perfect 10. Yes, those Olympics were an amazing experience for my teammates and for me, but there was something beyond the success that took place.

I remember thinking to myself how special it was during those Games that the entire Israeli gymnastics team came up to the podium to cheer me on during the event finals for the still rings. I had great feelings towards the country of Israel for several reasons. One, I was raised in a Jewish family, attended religious school, had a Bar Mitzvah, and, of course, learned of the importance of our heritage. And two, I was able to go to Israel and compete in the Maccabiah Games in 1981, which to this day I look upon as one of the greatest experiences of my life. Not only did we, as American Jews, get to travel to and see the country of Israel at 20, but we also got to interact with the Israeli athletes and experience their culture first hand. So, as I approached the still rings to be lifted up, it dawned on me that I was not only competing for the USA, I was in fact going to make a lot of Israeli citizens proud too. I ended up winning the bronze medal on this event to add to a gold, silver, and another bronze, truly surpassing all of my dreams and expectations for the Games. When I landed my dismount I remember the ‘home’ crowd erupting in thunderous applause, but it was nothing compared to the six men and women gymnasts from Israel standing behind the podium.

Now, some sixteen years after those 1984 Games, I can’t tell how much it means to me that I was able to have such a positive impact on the sport of gymnastics, as well as make not one but two countries feel a sense of pride that one of their own brought home the gold. After those Games, I traveled to Israel yet another time for the Maccabiah Games, only this time I was not an athlete but an honored guest with Mark Spitz.

What started out as a somewhat tunnel-visioned pursuit of an Olympic dream has turned out to me to become something that I cherish even more than the medals – the fact that I was able to share that success with my country and my heritage. As I leave the house this afternoon to share my Olympic medals, the Olympic torch, and my Olympic experience with the students of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, I am reminded that the Olympic Games are for all of us, Americans, Israelis and Jews around the world.

Mitch Gaylord won individual silver and bronze medals and led the U.S. men’s gymnastics team to a gold medal at the 1984 Olympic Games. He lives in Los Angeles.

Starting Over

Millions of immigrants have flocked to the United States looking for streets paved with gold. Lenny Krayzelburg, who came to Los Angeles from Odessa, Ukraine, in 1988 is searching for gold as well – but in a pool at Sydney’s Olympic Games.

Several Jewish athletes from the former Soviet Union are competing for Israel in this year’s Games, which begin today, but the one competing for the United States – Krayzelburg – appears to be the one most likely to win.

“My parents felt my sister and I would have more opportunity in America, that leaving Russia would give us a chance to follow our dreams,” said the 6’2″, 190 lb. Krayzelburg, adding with a smile, “My dream since I was 5 or 6 was to win an Olympic gold medal.”

Krayzelburg, who will compete in the 100- and 200-meter backstroke, was identified as a possible world-class athlete in his native Soviet Union before he was 10.

This identification entitled him to attend a school with 44 other swimmers who went to classes and swam together 12 hours a day.

“A lot of who I am today is what I learned back in Russia – the work ethic, the commitment. I attribute a lot of my success to what I learned” in the former Soviet Union, said Krayzelburg.

After Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev loosened economic restrictions, Krayzelburg’s father, Oleg, opened a small, private business.

But the possibility that Krayzelburg might have to serve in the army when he turned 18 – the Soviet Union was then engaged in a war against Afghanistan – and anti-Semitism in that part of the world motivated his parents to emigrate.

Settling in the Fairfax district of Los Angeles, Lenny, then 13, found himself attending public school and swimming only four days a week. “In Russia I trained 4-5 hours a day since I was 8, so it was different here.”

The Krayzelburg family had little money, but were comforted by the kinship of other émigrés familiar with their journey and struggle. Lenny’s father found work as a cook, and his mother as a pharmaceutical technician. In order to make money to help out his family, Lenny worked as a lifeguard at the Westside Jewish Community Center on Olympic and Fairfax.

When Lenny met coach Stu Blumkin at Santa Monica College, his swimming career took off. He broke the national Junior College record in the 200 backstroke in 1995, but gives a great deal of the credit to Blumkin. “Even having swam for 14 years, I was pretty ignorant about some things,” he admitted, adding, “Pacing, racing, developing a consistent workout pattern, these were all things Stu worked with me on.” Krayzelburg earned a full scholarship to the University of Southern California, where he found himself surrounded by the best bodies and minds in swimming. “Mark Schubert was the coach, and Brad Bridgewater [The 1996 Gold Medalist in the 200 Back] was my teammate” he remembered. Again, Krayzelburg improved by leaps and bounds. “I won the NCAA 200 in 1997, then I beat Brad at the Pan-Pacific Games and set the American record,” he recalled, adding, “All of that happened after Mark told me he thought I could be the best in the world, which was just an amazing thing for me to hear, and drove me to work harder than I ever had before.”

At the 1996 Olympics, Lenny finished fifth in the 200-meter, and holds the world record in both the 100 and 200.

He also earned a degree in finance from the University of Southern California.Even though he is swimming for the United States, Krayzelburg, described by The New York Times as “movie-star handsome,” knows a lot of his friends and family in Odessa will be following his races with special interest.

Krayzelburg, who has a reputation as one of the hardest trainers on the U.S. team, tries to deal with the pressure he faces by enjoying himself in the pool.

“I’ve kind of already proven myself. I just try to go out and swim well – and that puts a smile on my face. If I swim my best and someone swims faster, I can’t control that,” he said, before adding, “The way I feel now, I don’t think anyone can beat me.”

Los Angeles writer Jason Levine contributed to this story.

Olympic Moments

That Jews have been prominent in the history of ancient and modern sport, and specifically the Olympic Games, should not come as a surprise. We tend to forget that one of the sparks that ignited the Maccabbees’ revolt was – as the Jewish historian Josephus Flavius recorded some 2,000 years ago – that some high priests in Jerusalem’s Holy Temple neglected their holy duties and instead, exercised in the nude, Greek style. Josephus also recorded that Herod the Great [Herod The Wicked, to some], King of Judea, saved the ancient Olympic Games from bankruptcy by endowing them with gifts and revenues upon which “he was generally declared in their inscriptions to be one of the perpetual managers of those games.”

The involvement of Jews in athletics during the late 19th century coincided with their rise in the ranks of the middle class in Europe and the United States. Participating in sports was just another way by which the Jewish middle class pursued its social and psychological integration and assimilation.

In 1896, one of the men who helped usher in the modern Olympic Games was Dr. Ferenc Kemeny, a Hungarian Jew. Dr. Kemeny became one of the most ardent supporters of Pierre de Coubertin, the romantic French aristocrat credited with the establishment of the modern Olympic movement. While his Jewishness was not pertinent at the time, it became so when he and his wife committed suicide rather than be forced to wear the yellow star that identified Jews during the Holocaust.

Similar tragic fates awaited the first two German Olympic champions, Alfred Flatow and Felix Flatow (not related). After winning several gold medals in gymnastics during the 1896 games in Athens, Alfred Flatow died in Auschwitz, Felix Flatow, in Theresienstadt. As a former Olympic medalist, Felix Flatow received a special invitation from the Sportfuhrer, Hans von Tschammer und Osten, to the opening of the Nazi Olympic Games in 1936. He courageously declined. His rationale: Since he was excluded from his sport club by the Nuremberg Laws, he should not participate in the Olympic celebrations either. Among the modern games, the Berlin Olympics of 1936 generated perhaps the most pregame controversy. To placate American and world opinion, the Nazi sports authorities felt pressured to organize training camps for Jews. Among those invited to train there was half-Jewish fencer Helene Mayer, living comfortably in California at the time. Eventually, all Jews, even European record-holding high jumper Gretel Bergman, were excluded from participation in the Games. Mayer and another half-Jew, ice hockey player Rudi Ball, were included on the German team as tokens, averting an American boycott. Mayer, who ironically exemplified a statuesque Aryan blonde, raised a few eyebrows with her Nazi salute on the victory stand as she received a silver medal. She shared the stand with two other half-Jewish fencers: Ilona Elek of Hungary who won the gold and Ellen Preis of Austria, who took the bronze. There also were several other Jewish fencers in Berlin who won medals. Among them was Endre Kabos, winner of two gold medals for Hungary. He later died in the Holocaust.

The most heated debates about the Berlin Games raged in the United States, where a boycott was supported even by the U.S. ambassador to Germany, William E. Dodd, and Consul General George Messersmith. Despite their strong objections, the American team participated. The only two Jews on the U.S. track team, Sam Stoller and Marty Glickman, were replaced in the 4-by-100-meter relays with two African-American athletes, Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe. Glickman continues to believe that an anti-Semitic coach was behind the switch.

Another tragic anecdote involves the Polish fencer Roman Kantor, who had taken part in the 1936 games, and Nazi Gen. Reinhard Heydrich, an avid fencing aficionado. The feared head of the Gestapo provided Kantor with money and travel papers after the Jewish athlete fled from the Soviet occupation zone in 1939. His story ends, like so many of his contemporaries’, in the Majdanek Nazi concentration camp.

It is easy to see that, of all the Olympic events, fencing might be considered the ultimate Jewish sport. It is not an exaggeration to say that Jews won more medals in Olympic fencing – based on their representation in the general population – in the first half of the 20th century than any other ethnic group. Hungarian Jewish fencers were especially dominant in the Olympics, winning a total of 20 medals. Ivan Osiier, the leader of Copenhagen’s Jewish community, garnered a silver medal in Stockholm in 1912. He holds the record for participating in more Olympic Games – seven – than any other athlete.

The exact number of Jews participating in the Olympic movement as athletes, coaches, referees and officials may never be known. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, more and more former athletes are willing to reclaim their Jewish heritage.

There are many records held by Jewish Olympians. Two outstanding Jewish gymnasts, Agnes Keleti from Hungary and Maria Gorochovskia from the Soviet Union, amassed 18 medals in the 1952 and 1956 Games. Keleti defected from the Melbourne Olympiad after the revolution in Hungary and made aliyah to Israel, becoming its national coach. Gorochovskia, on the other hand, had to wait until the collapse of the Soviet empire before making aliyah. Among other heroes, we all remember and cherish the exceptional performance of Mark Spitz in Munich, winning the most medals (seven) anyone ever garnered in one Olympics.

But Spitz was not the only Jewish swimmer of note in the history of the Games. Alfred Hajos, who was dubbed the Hungarian Dolphin by the admiring Greeks, won two gold medals in the first Olympiad in 1896.

The Olympic Games have influenced Jewish sport on many levels. Among the most important contributions was the establishment of the Maccabiah Games, modeled after the Olympics. The idea of a Jewish Olympiad was raised as early as 1912 in Germany. But World War I interfered with the movement’s realization.

As a world event, no other festival showed all the beauty, hypocrisy and tragedy of the Games than the 1972 Munich Olympics. The shadows of Palestinian terrorists and their victims are etched into the consciousness of the world. These images remained when Avery Brundage, president of the International Olympic Committee, announced at the Munich Games the dictim: “The Games Must Go On.” And, so, the Games have gone on for the Jews. And it is somehow comforting, and poetic justice, that two young Israelis, Yael Arad and Oren Smadja, won Israel’s first Olympic medals four years ago in such an “un-Jewish” sport as judo. They and others are this year anticipating writing a new chapter to the long history of Jews and the Olympic Games, a saga filled with tragedy and triumph.

George Eisen wrote this article for the Baltimore Jewish Times.

Exercise is Good for the Soul

Maybe it’s a stereotype, but Jewish people have always been considered smart. Not just by others but by themselves, too. We pride ourselves on making education a priority for our children. We encourage them to study, to go for the extra credit, and we imbue them with the value of education that they will pass on to their own children. But there’s a type of education that we – and many other Americans – have been ignoring, that may have a direct impact on brain power: physical education. According to new research by neuroscientists and educators, physical exercise “may boost brain function, improve mood, and otherwise increase learning,” writes Dolores King for the Boston Globe.

The body/mind connection

Physicians have known for years that depressed people often improve when they exercise. Sometimes that’s all it takes. “It’s helpful to think of the brain as a muscle,” says Dr. John Ratey of Harvard Medical School in an interview with the Boston Globe. “One of the best ways to maximize the brain is through exercise movement. Everybody feels better after exercise. There’s a reason for it.”

That reason, shows research, is that physical activity increases blood flow in the brain, which helps you think better, and also increases the levels of a brain-cell growth hormone. Exercise, points out Ratey, also has a positive effect on mood-altering brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. That’s possibly why depressed people feel better when they exercise.

Missed opportunities

If exercise is so great for the body, mind and soul, then why don’t more schools require it? That’s a question many parents and educators want an answer to. According to the Boston Globe, a 1997 survey by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education showed that only one state, Illinois, mandates daily physical education for students in grades K-12.

Get physical

Here are some ways to encourage your child to be physically active despite the lack of official school encouragement:

1. Support your child’s participation in gym class. When your kid comes home with his or her report card, don’t poo-poo the grade in gym. Take it as seriously as other grades.

2. Many girls try to get out of gym class by getting their parents to write them excuses about menstrual cramps. Don’t do it (unless it’s medically advised by your doctor). Instead, tell your daughters how physical activity helps keep their bodies and minds in shape – and helps to alleviate menstrual cramps if they indeed have them.

3. Work with your school board in reinstating more comprehensive gym programs or after-school physical activities.

4. Encourage, but don’t push, your kid to take up a sport that he or she really likes. Not so much for the winning or the need to excel, but for the sheer joy of movement.

5. Buy your child some fun sports gear or equipment to encourage him to do some physical activity.

And if you’re really smart, you’ll stop preaching to your kid about how good physical activity is for the body and mind – and get out and do some sweating yourself. n

This article reprinted with permission

Co-Existence on the Court

Against the backdrop of four impeccable tennis courts in the exclusive Israeli town of Caesarea, an elegant female attorney addressed an attentive audience, a virtual “Who’s Who” of the Israeli tennis world: stars, Glickstein, Perkis, Blum and Mansdorf; local and international supporters of the Israel Tennis Centers; and officials of various tennis organizations. Interspersed among them were 50 excited boys and girls wearing brand new tennis tee-shirts. Although, few had ever picked up a racket, the children had been chosen to undertake a five-year program of intensive tennis instruction.

The attorney was addressing the mixed-crowd in her native tongue: Arabic.

The occasion was last month’s inauguration of the Israel Tennis Center’s pilot project “Co-Existence in Tennis,” whose main funding comes from donations of Los Angeles businessman Dan Harrari. Although Arab children already participate in Tennis Center tennis programs — notably in Haifa, Jaffa and Beersheba — this unique new program is geared towards very young players, ages six to nine, comprised equally of Jews and Arabs.

The inspiration and driving force behind “Co-Existense” is the energetic and visionary, Freddie Kravine, 80, who serves as president of the Israel Tennis Federation and is one of the original 1976 founders of the Tennis Center.

Kravine, alternatively addressing the assembled guests in the precise English of his native Britain, and in resounding unwavering Hebrew, declared, “We don’t see any difference between a 6-year-old Arab girl from Faradis and a 6-year-old Jewish girl from Ramat Aviv.”

When asked what motivated him, Kravine is incredulous. “In all the years that our Centers have been in existence,” he says, “not one single Arab youngster has risen to be among the top players, despite [the fact] they comprise a full 20% of our nation’s population. This program aims to change that.”

Another goal of the program, no less important, is to establish an on-going conduit of communication among Arab and Jewish children. Although all the children live in fairly close proximity, the chances of these Arab youngsters ever stepping foot in Caesarea and meeting their Jewish Israeli counterparts is remote — their homes, towns, schools and friends are either all Jewish, or all Arab.

For the next five years, this segregated world will be breached. Thirty-six children from four neighboring communities will learn how to play tennis, together. The children are drawn in equal numbers from affluent Caesarea, the adjacent Jewish working-class town of Or Akiva, the middle-class Arab village of Faradis and the less well-off village of Jissar al Zarka.

All participants of the program will get intensive training by a leading coach, who himself plans to teach with a lot of smiles, encouragement and body language: Most of the Arab children speak no Hebrew, and the coach knows no Arabic.

The program is a luxurious one: Educators will help the children with their homework on the three afternoons they play tennis, as well as on the other days of the week. Caesarea has put its country club at the disposal of the project. Coaches were staggered when 360 children showed up to be tested for “tennis potential.” Two-hundred and fifty children came from the village of Jissar al Zarka alone.

“Co-Existence in Tennis” is a radical and visionary program.

Glorifying DiMaggio, but Not His Times

By the time you read these words, the death of Joe DiMaggio will be old news. I grew up in a New York City in which he was the greatest of our sports heroes, and I was blessed as a child with an Uncle Ike who took me to the bleachers in Yankee Stadium. My love for baseball and loyalty to the Yankees have remained strong (although George Steinbrenner can really test a man’s faith…).

New York Jews in the 1930s and 1940s were divided into two, the all-rightniks who rooted for the Yankees and the poor schlumps who favored the Brooklyn Dodgers. (The New York Giants must have had some Jewish fans, but I cannot recall any, offhand). Not until 1941 (I don’t count 1916 and 1920) did the Dodgers, perennially mired in the National League basement, win a pennant, only to be crushed by the Yankees in the World Series.

I don’t believe that we young, Jewish Yankee fans ever thought of DiMaggio in ethnic terms, although ethnicity was a factor in our lives. In 1940, I attended junior high school in Corona, a largely Italian community in Queens. That was the year that Mussolini joined Hitler in World War II. On the day that sad event occurred, there was loud cheering from the nearby classrooms; our Rapid Advance class, filled with young Jewish scholars from neighboring Forest Hills, was silent and depressed.

Before World War II, ethnicity was not viewed as positively as it is today. The New York Times’ obituary of DiMaggio included the following quotation from Life Magazine, in a 1938 issue that featured his picture on its cover:

“Although he learned Italian first, Joe, now 24, speaks English without an accent, and is otherwise well adapted to most U.S. mores. Instead of olive oil or smelly bear grease, he keeps his hair slick with water. He never reeks of garlic and prefers chicken chow mein to spaghetti.”

The Times obituary writer pointed out that this was intended to be complimentary.

Such a jarring statement, appearing in a major publication not noted for its ethnic or religious biases, reminds us that, while society has changed over the years and not always for the better, the “golden ages” of the past, lovingly recalled by politicians and some religious leaders, were as much fancy as fact.

For a more accurate picture of America in those years, tune in any evening to American Movie Classics on cable. There, you will see, in grainy black and white, the movies we were viewing while growing up. In them, blacks are jungle savages, housemaids, tap dancers and comic foils. Asians (Mr. Moto, the perfect Asian stereotype, excepted) are present only as assistants, evil enemies (during the war) and background natives for adventure stories that star white Christians. And Jews don’t exist at all.

In the DiMaggio obituaries that I read, there were several references to Muhammad Ali as being the only American sports figure who matched the Yankee Clipper in stature. In DiMaggio’s time, we would have substituted for Ali, Joe Louis, the “Brown Bomber,” who endeared himself to Jews by knocking out Max Schmeling in the first round of a much-anticipated rematch. The German, to the evident delight of Hitler and his propaganda experts, had stunned Louis in their first bout.

But Louis was not a hero to Jews only; he was, in the patronizing phrase of his day, “a credit to his race.” Louis was praised in the media precisely because, outside the ring, he was humble, deferential, apolitical and “knew his place” — the antithesis of Ali, whose showbiz aura and aggressive but controlled persona were as much reflections of America in the 1960s as was Joe Louis of the earlier period.

In some of the DiMaggio obituaries, I sensed an undercurrent of resentment that today’s heroes and celebrities are so different from those in the years of his prime. It is true that DiMaggio did not conform to our modern concept of celebrity (although he did marry and divorce Marilyn Monroe). He did not live flamboyantly, and he did not seek out the media; he even resented publicity in his post-career life.

I grew up in New York. Nevertheless, Joe DiMaggio was one of my heroes. But I was a child and didn’t appreciate, until much later, how greatly DiMaggio exemplified values at variance with those of the society in which he lived. In the 1930s, the United States was, in large measure, racist, sexist, homophobic, uncaring about the less fortunate, and isolationist. Never did DiMaggio’s image include any of those characteristics.

Six decades later, while we have not eliminated these evils, we are a far different, far more tolerant society. Joe DiMaggio would still be a highly regarded athlete and a highly respected individual. But those who urge a return to some of the questionable values of the years of his triumphs lead us astray. It was enough that he did what he did; we need not, in his name, glorify the past he belonged to.

Contributing writer Yehuda Lev writes from Providence, R.I.