Author Archives: Heidi Traband

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Have You Heard?

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“Tribes” centers around a young deaf Jewish man and his highly dysfunctional hearing family. Photo by Stan Barouh

With so much talk of inclusion, it’s easy to conclude it’s just a buzzword, the issue of the moment. Inclusion can be hard to define, and what feels inclusive to one person may not feel that way to another.

Yet, some institutions are taking meaningful steps toward including individuals with disabilities in their programming. Baltimore’s Everyman Theatre, for instance, has put the issue of inclusion front and center in its production of Nina Raine’s 2010 hit play, “Tribes.” The show, which won the 2012 Drama Desk Award for outstanding play, opened on May 22 and closes on June 22.

“Tribes” tells the coming-of-age story of Billy, a young Jewish British man who is deaf and lives with his highly dysfunctional hearing family. Billy is played by deaf actor, John McGinty. For the show’s Baltimore premiere, Everyman also premiered a brand-new handheld technical device that deaf and hard-of-hearing audience members can use to make the play more accessible.

Everyman Theatre is one of the first theaters in the country to adopt the new technology. The devices, which are complimentary, will be available throughout the run of “Tribes” as well as for all Everyman productions in the future.

When he saw “Tribes” in New York, Everyman’s founding artistic director and the play’s director, Vincent M. Lancisi, said it “hit him right between the eyes.”

“I knew Everyman had to do it, and I knew I had to direct it,” he said. “Everyman is sort of known for its family dramas. We kind of put the ‘dys’ in dysfunctional, and this play is definitely about a dysfunctional family!

“When we started working on the play, we knew we wanted to make it inclusive for deaf people. The more we learned about what it is like to be deaf, the more we realized that theater isn’t a particularly accessible art form for the deaf,” he continued. “So we hired Tim McCarty, the president of Quest Theatre [an inclusive, visually based theater company in Lanham, Md.] as our director of access and Will Conley, former chair of the theater department at Gallaudet University, as our director of artistic sign language. We also began to search for technologies that would make the play accessible. Lo and behold, we found a company that was developing one.”

In addition to providing the handheld devices, Everyman has also installed adjustable seat mounts to hold the devices comfortably in front of the seats.

Lancisi said that filtered screens on the devises ensure that those sitting nearby will not be distracted by light from its screen. An operator in the theater’s sound booth makes sure that the dialogue appears on the screens at the same time that actors are speaking their lines.

Yael Zelinger, of the Center for Jewish Education’s Jewish Advocates for Deaf Education, said the new
device is a great innovation for the deaf community.

“Anything that opens up accessibility and raises awareness in the hearing community about the deaf community is good,” she said.

Sheryl Cooper, an American Sign Language interpreter and coordinator of the deaf studies major at Towson University, agreed. Cooper, who was instrumental in promoting the show to members of Baltimore’s deaf community, believes the show will be a “boon” for all families, but especially for those with deaf family members.
Lancisi said that patrons are “loving it.”

The only drawback? It’s expensive. Lancisi hopes Everyman supporters will consider making a donation to offset the costs.

For tickets, information or to make a donation, visit everymantheatre.org.

sellin@jewishtimes.com

Editor-in-Chief

Where’s the Civility?

Josh_RunyanNo sooner had the international condemnations of the kidnappings of three Israeli teenagers begun their slow trickle that the hand wringing by some in the Jewish community sought to assign blame anywhere than at the foot of the Palestinian government.

The Palestinians are an occupied people, went one argument, so outbursts of violent activity are to be
expected. Indeed, news had surfaced just before Thursday’s kidnapping that Israeli security forces had prevented several attempted terrorist attacks — including intercepting a future suicide bomber outside Jerusalem — in recent months.

Another argument castigated the wider Jewish community for appropriating the motto of the Bring Back Our Girls movement that sprung up last month after the mass kidnapping of Nigerian girls by the Islamist group Boko Haram. To use #BringBackOur Boys as their rallying cry, the Israeli Embassy, Jewish federations, JCCs, synagogues and concerned citizens had caused a grave injustice to Nigerian victims of terror, according to this particular viewpoint.

The implicit assumption, of course, in both of these cases is that no Israeli citizen is innocent — not a child, not a mother and certainly not a “settler.” That there are those who, although they won’t admit it outright, think this way is deplorable. That some of them are Jewish is inexcusable.

It is not in the nature of this column to take political stands, which is why there’s no problem in calling out the capture of Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Frenkel, 16, for the unjustified Palestinian terrorism that it is. Because there’s nothing political in condemning the purposeful targeting of innocents, especially when those targeted are children.

As you’ll read in this week’s JT, it is possible to have reasoned disagreements with your fellow man. That’s why in a democracy such as in the United States — and in Israel — you will find op-ed pieces like the spread in this week’s issue written by politicians of all stripes.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, whose passing 20 years ago is being commemorated by a slew of books and local events, characteristically refused to mention those with whom he disagreed by name. Moved by a profound love of the Jewish people and a belief in the innate power of the individual, the Rebbe provided a model of how to find agreement between opposing parties by limiting disagreements to ideas and not people.

But those who would choose to inflict death and disorder to achieve their ends are more like the hordes of ISIS terrorists sweeping through Iraq than the freedom-loving citizenry typified by the American ideal.

When such is the choice, between chaos and anarchy on the one hand and peace and prosperity on the other, the outcome should be predicted. And yet in the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Africa, it isn’t.

Maybe it’s time to simplify things a bit by invoking the famous choice presented to the Jewish people in the desert thousands of years ago, between “life and death, the blessing and curse.”

Let’s pray that we all — including our enemies — choose life. It’s time for our boys to come home.

jrunyan@jewishtimes.com

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The Next Eric Cantor

Sen. Lee Zeldin wants “to improve the branding of the Republican Party.” Photo by Office of State Senator Lee Zelden via Wikimedia Commons

Sen. Lee Zeldin wants “to improve the branding of the Republican Party.” Photo by Office of State Senator Lee Zelden via Wikimedia Commons

With House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s stunning loss last week, the highest-ranking Jewish Republican politician has suddenly been kicked from power.

But Cantor’s rise was almost as improbably swift. Elected in 2000 to represent Virginia’s 7th Congressional District, he was appointed chief deputy whip after only one term. When Republicans regained control of the House in 2010 and Rep. John Boehner was elected speaker, Cantor took the reins as majority leader, a heartbeat away from becoming the chamber’s top Republican.

Is there another Eric Cantor waiting in the wings? Another Jewish Republican who, through energy, fundraising abilities and disciplined public adherence to the GOP’s message, has the potential to repeat the Cantor magic?
Three up-and-coming Jewish Republicans look like they have what it takes: New York State Sen. Lee Zeldin, Los Angeles prosecutor Elan Carr and Arizona State Rep. Adam Kwasman.

Lee Zeldin

In New York, state Sen. Lee Zeldin is competing for the 1st Congressional District seat held by Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Tim Bishop, an Army Reserve major who served active duty in the Army Airborne and is an attorney. Zeldin’s first attempt at the seat in 2008 as a political neophyte ended in a loss. Since then, he won a seat in the state Senate and has been popular with constituents and local Republican Party organizations.

Zeldin is seen as having the best chance out of all Jewish Republicans running for Congress this year.

Despite the 1st District leaning Democrat, Bishop nearly lost his previous re-election bids to another Republican Jewish candidate, Randy Altschuler.

Since then, Bishop has been mired in investigations from the Congressional Ethics Office and the FBI into accusations that he solicited a campaign contribution from a hedge fund investor in exchange for using his
office to obtain fireworks permits for the bar mitzvah of the investor’s son.

“I think we need to improve the branding of the Republican Party,” Zeldin told Washington Jewish Week. “There are many voters who think that compassion and caring means liberalism, and that’s an important challenge for Republicans to overcome. I happen to believe that conservatives are showing the most amount of compassion when looking out for future generations of Americans who aren’t even old enough to vote yet.”

Zeldin’s popularity and record in the district makes him a formidable opponent to Bishop in the general election, but first he must first contest the party nomination against perennial candidate and former U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission prosecutor George Demos. Demos has run for the seat twice before,
losing in the primaries. He married the daughter of a wealthy California developer between the current and previous elections and has been able to lend $2 million to his own campaign, compared to Zeldin raising $735,000 and Bishop amassing $1.5 million, according to the most recent Federal Election Commission filings.

With the June 24 primaries around the corner, both GOP candidates have been competing for the title of the “real conservative,” with Demos accusing Zeldin of voting to increase taxes and supporting the Affordable Care Act as a state senator and Zeldin accusing Demos of funding his campaign with his father-in-law’s money, which has also filled the coffers of leading California Democrats like Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

“Demos is rather loathed by most local Republican leaders because he’s always trying to muscle their candidates aside. But this is the first time he’s really had money and the reason is his wife,” said Cook Political Report house editor and political analyst David Wasserman. “He’s run for Congress twice before and done woefully. In between last time he ran, he got married to the daughter of a construction mogul in California and now all of a sudden he has $2 million to spend on the race — so you can connect the dots.”

Zeldin has received high-level endorsements from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), former Sens. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and Alfonse D’Amato (R-N.Y.), Donald Trump, and every local Republican Party organization. Cantor headlined a fundraiser for Zeldin on June 14 in the Hamptons, raising more than $100,000, according to reports.

In Wasserman’s assessment, Zeldin would give Bishop a “run for his money” if he were to win the primary, even though the Cook Political Report currently places the advantage on the Democrat side.

Elan Carr

With U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) retiring, the race to replace him in the 33rd Congressional District seat includes a Jewish competitor who earlier this month finished first in the district’s open primary. Elan Carr came in ahead of all the leading Democrats in the heavily Democratic district with 21.5 percent of the vote.

Carr, a criminal gang prosecutor in Los Angeles and an Army and Army Reserves Judge Advocate General officer, received international media attention for leading Chanukah and other Jewish services in the former presidential palace of Saddam Hussein while deployed in Baghdad — the city where his grandfather was persecuted and jailed after the creation of the state of Israel in the late 1940s.

“What a privilege it was to express myself Jewishly and provide Jewish services to Jewish soldiers in as unlikely a place as Baghdad, from which [Scud missiles] were launched into Israel only a few years before,” Carr told the Times of Israel in a profile written early last year.

His campaign has attracted a lot of attention among Jewish Republicans, including that of mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, who held a fundraiser for Carr last month.

But money isn’t enough for Carr to pull out a win in a district with such an immense registered Democratic voter advantage.

“I think the dynamic is more complicated and nuanced than simply party affiliation,” Carr told Washington Jewish Week, pointing to a crowded field of primary candidates on the Democratic side. “Also, when you have 11 Democrats in a race, you’re bound to increase the number of voters in total who vote for a Democrat, because each of those Democrats, in addition to drawing people from their own party, are relying on other things that draw voters, not just party affiliation.”

He also believes that the district has changed significantly from the Democratic bastion it has been for so long, partly because of redistricting but also due to disaffection with the intransience of Congress. Carr, as a moderate, bipartisan Republican, plans to work across the aisle and find compromise with his colleagues.

“A Republican ran against Henry Waxman two years ago and got 46 percent of the vote against Waxman, the poster boy for unbeatable, and that’s with Obama on the ticket,” he said. “A lot has happened in the last two years. It’s an open seat, I’m not running against an incumbent and there’s an enormous and deeply held frustration that’s palpable. People want bipartisanship and compromise, and my whole campaign is about moving the country forward. There’s a lot more bringing us together than holding us apart. We need to find common ground, reach across the aisle, compromise and move the country forward.”

Adam Kwasman

Another competitive House race to watch with a Jewish Republican is the contest for Arizona’s 1st Congressional District. In a right-leaning district within a deeply red state, incumbent Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick is an anomaly. She is seen as vulnerable and there are three Republicans competing for the chance to challenge her for her job.

Arizona State Rep. Adam Kwasman, 32, is one of those candidates. A product of a Tucson-area Jewish day school and a Conservative synagogue, he is an economist by trade. Kwasman is an energetic candidate with the most ideologically conservative stance of any Jewish Republican candidate. Calling himself a member of the “Kosher Tea” party, Kwasman takes a hardline stance against illegal immigration and government spending, and is a proponent of states’ rights.

“If there’s any group of people who should not trust government, it should be the Jewish people,” Kwasman told WJW. “The principles of free market economics, especially the major philosophers of free market and limited government in the 20th century were Jews. [Economist] Milton Friedman is a hero of mine.”

Kwasman is endorsed by controversial Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio — a photograph of them
together is proudly displayed on Kwasman’s campaign website — and the tea party grassroots organizing group, FreedomWorks.

Kwasman’s toughest challenge is in the primary, which will be held Aug. 26. Despite endorsements from tea party groups, Kwasman’s strongest GOP opponent is state Rep. Andy Tobin, speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives. Tobin is the local party choice and has recently hosted a fundraiser featuring Boehner.

Gaffe-prone, cowboy hat-wearing businessman Gary Kiehne is the primary’s other competitor. Kiehne is funding his own campaign and his populist persona could cut into Kwasman’s primary results.

In addition to their conservatism, all three Jewish candidates share military service.

“I think that there is a sense of duty for a soldier to continue to serve.

It almost feels for me a personal, permanent commitment to try to leave this place better than I found it,” said Zeldin. “And there are many different ways to serve. So when that time comes when you take off the uniform and you become a civilian, if you feel that same strong desire to make a difference, this is another great opportunity to do it.”

dshapiro@washingtonjewishweek.com
JNS.org contributed to this story.

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‘The Ultimate Challenge’

Photo by David Stuck

Photo by David Stuck

While most of the expected 300 participants would be happy just to finish the Summer Death Race, which starts on Friday, June 2, in Pittsfield, Vt., Harrison Lessans, 23, of Pikesville is training for this ultimate challenge with the intent of being in the top percentile of the usual 15 to 20 percent of the entrants who finish.

The Summer Death Race is a grueling 48-hour event that presents numerous obstacles in the hilly terrain of the Green Mountain State.

Lessans, who has participated in other challenging events, such as the Spartan Races, says this event is tougher than that or the average Tough Mudder or Warrior Dash. He explained that the specifics of the upcoming race are not known, but previous challenges such as carrying five pounds of pennies up a mountain or bear crawling with a 60-plus pound pack for a mile uphill on rocks under barbed wire have been part of the race previously.

“I expect to be carrying large, heavy objects, splitting wood, not sleeping and not being comfortable,” said Lessans.

Andy Weinberg, one of the race founders and organizers, said, “The challenges are year to year and athlete to athlete. You never know what to expect, and I think that’s one of the hardest things. It’s really challenging every year, and we have different mental, physical and emotional challenges.”

The race’s website states, “The Death Race is the ultimate challenge, designed to present you with the unexpected and the completely insane. Nothing else on earth will challenge you like the Death Race, both mentally and physically.”

So what would motivate someone to compete in a killer event like this? After all, there is a $600 entry fee, plus the expense of traveling to New England, and there are no cash prizes. Lessans, who has a bachelor’s degree in exercise science from Towson University and works as a personal trainer at the Baltimore JCC, says it’s all about learning more about and improving himself.

“I’m always attempting to self-actualize myself and how much of my own potential I can bring out in myself,” he explained. “I think when people shy away from challenges or shun risks or wait for challenges, they are actually unprepared physically or emotionally to handle adversity when it hits them. If you try to hide away from the world, then you are in for a rude awakening when life doesn’t go according to your plans.”

Of the lack of a cash reward, he added, “The biggest prize is being able to meet myself. You can’t put a price on that.”

As part of the competition, Lessans will be partnered with David Mick, a 32-year-old lawyer from Virginia Beach. Lessans believes that working with another person will be beneficial.

“Strength will come when you take your eyes off yourself and put it on someone else,” he said. “You refocus your efforts to make sure the other person’s needs are met. I’ll get more strength trying to help someone else.”

Despite its intimidating name, no one has actually died in the eight-year history of the Death Races, but Lessans points out that in Mexico in March they started the race by placing all of the entrants’ race bibs in a live bull pit. Lessans explained that the participants also bring their own food to the race.

“I will have plenty of energy bars, liquid nitrates and electrolytes,” he said. Lessans’ parents, who are usually supportive, do not yet know about his entry into this race.

“They don’t exactly share the same enthusiasm for this,” he said, noting that he hopes his Jewish upbringing comes into play during the contest.

“I hope [God] is on my side for this,” he said. “Let’s just say I need the big guy.”

Lessans intends to finish the Death Race and derive one other benefit.

“I want to find out what my strengths and weaknesses are,” he said.

Last year he finished 27th out of 300 entrants in a Spartan Race in Killington, Vt.

According to Lessans, obstacle-course racing is rapidly growing.

“I can run anytime and anywhere I want,” he explained. “I don’t have to pay anyone to do that. Adding carrying and other challenges bring diversity to the race.”

Lessans’ passion for this kind of activity is motivating him to start an obstacle-course training class at the Owings Mills JCC.

“This will get people out of the controlled environment of the gym,” he said.

In reflecting about the upcoming Death Race, Lessans said a large part of this event is mental: “It’s hard to be prepared for this. No one is.”

Stacy Karten is an area freelance writer.