Thoroughly modern ‘Altina’

Altina Schinasi studies one of her projects in this 1970 photo. (Photos courtesy of

Altina Schinasi studies one of her projects in this 1970 photo. (Photos courtesy of

LOS ANGELES — Ambitious girls of yore looking for role models among successful and accomplished women might turn to scientist Marie Curie, aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart or first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, a social justice champion.

And then there was Altina Schinasi, the subject of a new documentary feature, “Altina,” directed by her filmmaker grandson Peter Sanders.

“Tina” grew up among the opulent splendor of a New York mansion, became a painter and innovative sculptor, then an Oscar-nominated film producer, inventor, business executive, backer of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and an advocate for refugees fleeing the Nazis.

The new feature on her life was shown last month in New York City and Beverly Hills, Calif.; future screenings are planned for Washington, D.C.

Altina Schinasi-Sanders-Barrett-Carey-Miranda was born in 1907 and raised in a 12-bedroom white marble mansion that’s still standing on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, at Riverside Drive and 107th Street.

Her father, Morris Schinasi, arrived in New York as a penniless Jewish immigrant from Turkey. He invented a cigarette-rolling machine at a time when people still rolled their own, then branched out into making and selling his own brands of cigarettes packed with strong Oriental tobacco. Morris Schinasi managed to build a business empire without learning how to read or write — but he spoke eight languages fluently.

Tina Schinasi attended a predominantly Episcopalian boarding school in Wellesley, Mass., where she got her first youthful taste of anti-Semitism.

Despite her family wealth, she went to work during the Depression, designing window displays for Fifth Avenue stores. Schinasi also collaborated with the surrealist painter Salvador Dali on some assignments and studied under the German exile artist George Grosz.

She found the spectacles worn by women in the early part of the 20th century to be unflattering, so she created Harlequin — or cat’s eye — frames, which swept the country in the 1930s. Subsequently, Schinasi established her own company to distribute her invention.

The Schinasi Mansion on Manhattan's Upper West Side as it looked in 1907, the year of Altina’s birth.

The Schinasi Mansion on Manhattan’s Upper West Side as it looked in 1907, the year of Altina’s birth.

Striking out as an artist, she experimented with bold paintings, showing the influence of Picasso and Chagall. Then, turning to sculpture, she created “humanistic” benches and chairs that she dubbed “chairacters,” depicting lovers in passionate embrace or coolly turning their backs on each other.

“I never thought I was a great painter, but I had a passion for the arts,” she says in the film.

In the 1940s, she moved to Los Angeles and naturally directed her talents toward making a documentary film. Titled “Interregnum” (“Germany Between Wars”), it tracked the artistic and political career of her ex-teacher Grosz, whose biting anti-Nazi caricatures led to his forced exile when Hitler came to power.

This first-time effort won her an Oscar nomination and the prestigious Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.

During the civil rights confrontations of the 1950s and ‘60s, she befriended King and obtained his agreement to make a film about his life and struggles. The project was too controversial at the time, and Schinasi was unable to find studio funding and backing, Sanders said.

During the communist-hunting era of the 1940s and ‘50s, Sanders noted, Schinasi sheltered movie director John Berry, who was trying to avoid a congressional subpoena, in her Beverly Hills home.

Alongside these varied activities she married a procession of husbands. In chronological order they were architect Morris Sanders; Eric Barrett, a Viennese doctor and concert pianist; Charles Carey, her co-producer on “Interregnum”; and finally, Celestino (“Tino”) Miranda, an artistic refugee form Castro’s Cuba who joined Tina in her painting and sculpturing studio.

Miranda makes for one of the more arresting figures in the film. He married the considerably older Tina in 1981, when she was already in her 70s. Speaking in Spanish, he tells the viewer, “She was hot, she liked sex. She didn’t just lie there, she had the stamina of a 25-year-old.”

Schinasi died in 1999 at age 92. In making his documentary, Sanders was greatly aided by the discovery of footage that Morris Sanders shot on the couple’s honeymoon in 1927 and in 1928. A two-hour interview filmed with an 84-year-old Schinasi filmed by her son Terry Sanders also was instrumental.

During the last decade of her life, Schinasi and Miranda lived in Santa Fe, N.M., and Peter Sanders joined them for half a year at their combination homestead and artists’ studio.

He remembered his grandmother as cool and private, not the hugging type.

“I tried to decode what her paintings and sculptures meant,” Peter Sanders said. “And everywhere there were animals, inside and outside, peacocks, sheep, Chinese roosters and Bernese Mountain Dogs.”

Asked about the Jewish aspect of his family tree, Sanders observed, “My grandmother Tina was proud of her Jewishness, deeply affected by the rise of the Nazis and personally furnished 13 affidavits to enable Jewish refugees to enter the United States. But we were never practicing Jews in the religious sense.”

An upbeat aspect of the film is the musical score, including ragtime and jazz, reflecting the various decades of Tina’s life.

Following five years of work, “Altina” came in at a budget of about $250,000, mainly underwritten by Schinasi’s granddaughter Victoria Sanders, who first conceptualized the film, and executive producer Diane Dickensheid.

To borrow from satirist and songwriter Tom Lehrer’s paean to the much and famously married Alma Mahler, “a woman like this makes one realize how little one has accomplished in one’s own life.”

Ice Cold But Red Hot


Maryland native Nicole Feld, along with her team at Feld Entertainment, turned “Frozen” the movie into “Frozen” on ice. (Provided)

Baltimore just got a lot cooler. The Snow Queen is coming to town.

“Disney on Ice: Frozen,” an adaptation of  the highest-grossing animated movie of all time, will be at Royal Farms Arena from Oct. 29 to Nov. 2. Among those most excited to bring the Academy Award-winning retelling of the Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Snow Queen” to the area is Marylander Nicole Feld.

Feld, who is producing the ice-skating adaptation, said she first got wind of the project from the movie’s executive producer, John Lasseter.

Lasseter “called me excitedly when they first began working on the movie,” said Feld, a native of Potomac. “He told me, ‘We are working on the perfect ice show for you. It is even called ‘Frozen.’ We saw early cuts of the film and worked directly with animators to create the production.”

Disney’s latest box-office smash, ‘Frozen’ tells the classic story of two Scandinavian princesses, sisters Elsa and Anna, but it also provides a modern feminist twist on the fairy tale. With a Broadway score, decadent costumes and intricate sets, it seamlessly transitions into a live show for Disney On Ice’s 34th production.

“I have a 3-year-old daughter. When I’m not directing ‘Frozen,’ I’m watching ‘Frozen’ with her,” said Feld. “From ‘Let It Go’ to ‘In Summer,’ the music excites me. This movie was made to be on ice.”

The production comes as part of Feld Entertainment’s 35-year partnership with Disney. Feld joined the family business in 2001 and has produced more than 30 shows during her tenure. Her grandfather, Irvin, started the company after acquiring the rights to produce the Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus in 1967.

“I love continuing my grandfather’s work,” said Feld. “From seeing children dressed up in costumes to watching the audience’s eyes light up, I am privileged to bring these magical movies to life.”

With 39 performers and 20 crew and staff members, “Disney on Ice: Frozen” uses state-of-the-art special effects, modular set pieces, a snowflake-shaped stage and digital video projections, and seasoned ice skaters, producers and directors create a larger-than-life experience for fans, said Feld.

“They know every song, every line and every dance move” she said. “Because the bar is already set so high, there is a lot of pressure to live up to the fans’ expectations. We created the princesses’ castle, the North Mountains and even brought a blizzard and Marshmallow monster onstage. We do not want to disappoint our fans.”

By working closely with the animators from Day 1, Feld was able to meld Disney’s initial ideas into the show.

“We went through intensive character development with our skaters. The filmmakers showed us tiny nuances they used to create each character,” said Feld. “While Elsa’s movements are more definitive and sharp, Anna’s are more whimsical. If she slips and falls on the ice, you will never know if it was on purpose or accidental.”

While human characters such as Elsa and Anna were easier to get onstage, characters such as Olaf the Snowman proved to be more difficult.

“We had to sprinkle some Disney magic and use some tricks of the trade to create Olaf,” said Feld. “He does not come out until the second half, but when he does, the crowd goes wild. It is not easy to re-create a character with removable body parts.”

After nine months of development, “Disney on Ice: Frozen” opened to audiences in Orlando, Fla., last month.

“Surprisingly, our initial visualization of the show is almost identical to the final product,” said Feld. “We usually take a year to create productions, but this movie is so popular that we worked on a tight deadline to start our tour.”

For more information, go to

Orioles Rally

More than 300 people participated in an Orioles rally at Stevenson University as part of the team’s “We Won’t Stop” campaign on Monday. The event featured former Oriole Scott McGregor, the Oriole Bird and trivia with signed memorabilia as prizes.

The Right Call

Orioles fans celebrate before the last out against the Toronto Blue Jays at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Sept. 16. The O’s clinched the American League East that night with a 8-2 victory. (Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire 255/Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire/Newscom)

Orioles fans celebrate before the last out against the Toronto Blue Jays at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Sept. 16. The O’s clinched the American League East that night with a 8-2 victory. (Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire 255/Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire/Newscom)

Jewish baseball fans, journalists, broadcasters and players face a very important decision this week. They must choose between baseball or attending Yom Kippur services.

The Orioles won the American League East title and hosted the Detroit Tigers, winners of the Central Division, in the league’s Division Series opener on Oct. 2. Forty-three south, the Washington Nationals won the National League’s East Division and open their division series on Oct. 3.

The Nationals’ game will be played on Erev Yom Kippur, and Game 2 of that series on Oct. 4, which is Yom Kippur. Game 2 of the ALDS between Orioles and Tigers also will be played on Erev Yom Kippur at Oriole Park.

The Lerner family, who own the Nationals, announced last week that it will not attend any games —  including the playoffs — that fall on Jewish holidays including, of course, Yom Kippur. Neither the Orioles nor the Nationals has a Jewish player.

Major League Baseball Commissioner Alan “Bud” Selig, who likely will be in Baltimore on Oct. 3 and in Washington on Oct. 4, will have to choose between baseball or Yom Kippur. So will Tigers manager Brad Aumus and his star second baseman, Ian Kinsler, who are in Charm City Friday night.

There are other Jewish players in the playoffs who will have to make the same choice: Ike Davis (Pittsburgh Pirates); Sam Fuld and Nate Freiman (Oakland A’s); and Joc Pederson (Los Angeles Dodgers).

Historically, two of the most famous of all Jewish baseball stars, Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax, faced the same decision: play or pray.

Greenburg, a first baseman for the 1934 Tigers, was the team’s best player. His Tigers were in the middle of a hot American League pennant race. It was Rosh Hashanah, and he had been pressured for more than a week from rabbis and Jews nationwide, some telling him not to play, others telling him that he could not let down his team.

See Orioles Rally pictures here.

Greenburg chose to play and hit two home runs, including one in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat the Boston Red Sox, 2-1. Nine days later, he sat on Yom Kippur, and the Tigers went on to represent the American League in the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. Greenburg had an outstanding Series, but the Cardinals rode the strong arms of standout pitchers — and brothers — Paul and Dizzy Dean to win the championship.

However, it was Koufax who made national headlines in 1965 for choosing “praying over playing.” He wasn’t just any other pitcher; the future Hall-
of-Famer was the Major League’s very best at the time.

He sat out Game 1 of the World Series against the Minnesota Twins. Koufax, one of the most private superstars in sports history, fasted and prayed in his hotel room in Minneapolis rather than draw attention by attending services at a local synagogue.

Don Drysdale took Koufax’s place in Game 1, and the Dodgers lost. Koufax started Game 2, and he too lost. But the Dodgers rallied to win the Series, as Koufax pitched shutouts in Game 5 and the decisive Game 7.

For journalists who have followed the Orioles and Nationals since February, when both teams started spring training, it has been an exciting nine-month, 162-game ride. Yes, the playoffs are what we all had hoped for; and yes, each one of the games is special. But there are far more important matters.

Despite wanting to cover the Orioles and Nationals, I will be attending services at Chizuk Amuno, not only because, to me, it is the right thing to do, but if the great Sandy Koufax can choose to sit out starting Game 1 of a World Series, one of the most exciting experiences in sports, out of respect and love for being Jewish, I can surely miss three first-round playoff games.

Jim Williams is a local freelance writer.

Playing a New Tune

Jose Antonio Bowen (Provided)

Jose Antonio Bowen (Provided)

With the selection of Jose Antonio Bowen as its 11th president, Goucher College has jumped with both feet into the 21st century. Since the semester began just weeks ago, Bowen, 52, an award-winning educator, author, arts administrator, jazz musician and composer, has begun signaling the Goucher community, as well as the academic establishment at large, that the times are changing at the Towson-based liberal arts college.

Yet, despite his modern outlook, Bowen said he chose to come to Goucher because of the institution’s “great history, stellar academics, financial health and commitments to inclusion and social justice.”

The new president, who is of Cuban and Jewish ancestry, spent most of his childhood in Fresno, Calif., and went on to earn four degrees from Stanford University: a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, master’s degrees in music composition and humanities and a joint Ph.D. in musicology and humanities. In 1982, Bowen became Stanford’s director of jazz ensembles, leaving in 1994 to become founding director of the Centre for the History and Analysis of Recorded Music at the University of Southampton, England.

In 1999, Bowen returned to the United States to occupy the first endowed Caestecker Chair of Music at Georgetown University. At Georgetown, Bowen created and led the now Department of Performing Arts. He was dean of fine arts at Miami University before moving to Southern Methodist University in Dallas in 2006 to become dean of its arts school. By the end of his time at Meadows, the school topped USA Today’s 2014 rankings for schools of music.

Bowen has published more than 100 scholarly articles, is the editor of the Cambridge Companion to Conducting and received a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship. He contributed to Discover Jazz (Pearson, 2011) and is one of the editors of the six-CD set, ”Jazz: The Smithsonian Anthology” (2011).

For 35 years, he has performed, composed and toured through the U.S., Europe, the Middle East, the Americas and Asia with jazz greats, including Dizzy Gillespie, Dave Brubeck, Bobby McFerrin, Liberace and Stan Getz. But Bowen even found musical ways to pay homage to his Jewish roots, composing a body of Jewish music including jazz Shabbat and klezmer services, Jewish choral music, a song-cycle with text from Anne Frank’s diary called “Voice from the Attic” and a Chanukah play for children.

Despite Bowen’s strong credentials, some may wonder why Goucher chose a president whose background has been so musically focused. But Bowen explained that music, especially jazz, lends itself well to his work as a college president.

“Musicians must be great collaborators and great listeners,” he said. “Especially in jazz, you must be spontaneous and know when to fit in your part and when to sit back and let someone else play. Ultimately, it’s the total product that matters.”

Although he hopes to continue composing, teaching and performing music, Bowen said that for the time being, most of his time will be spent focusing on his work as Goucher’s president. He and his wife, Kimberly, live on campus, and Bowen said they rarely have had occasion to get off campus since they moved to Baltimore. The couple has a 21-year-old daughter, who is a senior at SMU.

Soon after his arrival, Bowen made headlines with his announcement that the college will soon permit students to side-step what for many has been a tortuous application process and instead apply to Goucher by submitting a two-minute video presentation and two pieces of work — one written — of which they are especially proud. The groundbreaking policy has pleased some and raised red flags for others.

Bowen was quick to explain that the alternative application process will not affect the majority of students who apply to Goucher and that the new process is “only experimental.”

“If it doesn’t work, we’ll stop,” he said. “It is simply a different way to look at talent. We’re looking to start conversations with more students who might find the traditional application process too intimidating.”

As evidenced by the new application process, his robust website and his blog and tweets, Goucher’s new president is clearly a fan of technology. Yet his book, “Teaching Naked,” which won the Ness Award for the “book that best illuminates the goals and practices of a contemporary liberal education,” advises educators to remove technology from their classrooms. “Teaching Naked,” said Bowen, “is about the value of face-to-face study.”

With the wealth of information available free on the Internet and the tremendous cost of college education, he said, parents must be convinced that students will receive significant benefit from their time in the classroom. If teachers follow certain techniques, Bowen believes that they will be convinced.

“The Internet has changed everything. Today, there is more information on our phones than can be gotten from any scholar in any class. The best place for technology is outside the classroom,” he insisted.

Bowen suggests that teachers use technologies such as social media to keep students engaged and thinking about ideas generated during classroom interactions when they are outside of class. “The value of the classroom is more about pedagogy— teaching students to think,” he explained. “The trick is to [teach
students to be] discerning and analytic. Students need to learn the difference between fact and fiction. Can they sort through all the stuff on the Internet and find what they really need? This is more important than ever.”

Liberal arts colleges and universities that aren’t prepared to rethink their methods of education, concluded Bowen, may not survive. In fact, he said, 30 to 40 percent of these institutions will fail in the next 15 years.

“Every year, we lose a couple of dozen,” said Bowen. “The number of high school graduates has fallen, and the baby boomers are over; the median income is down, and skepticism about liberal arts education has increased. The real answer is that each campus must be unique.”

End-of-Life Insights

“Redefining Moments” wasn’t written only for the terminally ill. (Beaufort Books)

“Redefining Moments” wasn’t written only for the terminally ill. (Beaufort Books)

Gordon Zacks was a successful businessman, a leader of Jewish life and a confidante and adviser to President George H.W. Bush. He knew that he had prostate cancer, but doctors advised him that it was very slow growing and nothing to worry about. Then came the day when the doctors told him his cancer had metastasized to his liver and that he had only three months to live.

Zacks — who would die in February 2014 — decided to make his bedroom a school in which he and those he loved would study together about how to live at the end of life. What a school it was and what a faculty gathered at his bedside. The details are chronicled in Zacks’s posthumously published book, “Redefining
Moments: End of Life Stories for Better Living.”

Natan Sharansky — the refusenik Zacks helped rescue from the Former Soviet Union and now head of the Jewish Agency for Israel — showed up at the door one day just to say “thank you,” but ended up staying longer to discuss the meaning of life. Leslie Wexner and Jay Schottenstein, both renowned figures in Jewish education, showed up to thank the man who had given them their start on careers in Jewish philanthropy. Perhaps the most important of all the visitors was Zacks’ 7-year-old granddaughter, who crossed the country just so that she could give her grandfather a hug and a kiss before it was too late. Zacks taught those who convened for this informal seminar that each person must find his passion—whatever it is—and follow it to the very end. Whoever does that will have done his part in making this world a better place.

One of Zacks’s daughters recalled that when she was in Israel during her gap year between high school and college, a teacher in the seminary she was attending quoted something from the Talmud that she thought was morally offensive. She called her father back in Columbus, Ohio, and told him about how much the teacher offended her. The next morning, she opened the door, and there was her father! He had flown all the way from Columbus to Jerusalem to be with her and to help her resolve this moral issue. He took her to Rabbi David Hartman, the open-minded Jewish philosopher who was known for taking on Jewish tradition with both love and honesty, and they spent the whole day studying together. Hartman showed them that the offensive passage did exist in Jewish tradition, but that it had to be understood in its historical context and it needed to be matched against the many moral passages in the Talmud that teach the opposite.

Zacks’ daughter thanked her father during the “seminar” for what he did that day in Israel, and rightfully so. How many fathers can you think of who would fly halfway across the world, on a day’s notice, simply to help a daughter understand tradition as it should be understood? I imagine that there were probably lots of plaques on the wall of Zacks’ home that bore testimony to his generous donations to worthy causes over the years, but I must say that this gesture he performed for his daughter was probably worth more than all of them put together.

At several points, Zacks — ever the organized executive — offered some sets of questions that he felt every person should ask himself as his end draws near. These questions, in my estimation, should be posted on the mirror of every hospice room. One set reads: “Do I still have an overarching purpose and a task to attend to — even now? Am I trying to complete the tasks I still have to do? Do I ask for help from others now that I realize that I can no longer do what I once could by myself? Have I conveyed my goals and entrusted my unfinished tasks to others who will take them up after I am gone? Have I come to terms with the disappointments in my life, and am I now focused on the doable, instead of dwelling on the things that I did wrong but can’t undo? And even if the end of my life is not close, do I still give the things that count the most priority in my daily life?”

There are more insights in this book that everyone should think about at the end of life — and beforehand. For instance, Zacks asks a question that most of us dread: What should I do if I reach the stage when I need to use a walker, a wheelchair or even diapers?

The instinctive reaction most of us would have to such a question is: How can I live without my dignity? But Zacks gets past that question and says that what we think of as “dignity” may sometimes be vanity in disguise. He says that man doesn’t give dignity to man—God does. Therefore, a person should come to terms with who he is now and what he can and can’t do now and must understand that dignity doesn’t depend on appearances but rather on a commitment to his tasks and values, even when he can no longer live without the help of others.

You don’t have to be terminally ill to learn from this book or to think of organizing such a “seminar” for those you love, although impending mortality does concentrate the mind. You only need to have strong convictions and goals, the desire to teach them to your children and the hope that they will carry them on when their turn to lead comes. If you have these convictions and goals, this is a valuable book to study — and then to emulate.

“Redefining Moments: End of Life Stories for Better Living,” by Gordon B. Zacks, edited by Catherine Zacks Gildenhorn, Beaufort Books, New York, July 2014, 158 pages, $19.95.


Jordan Fliegel (Courtesy of CoachUp)

Jordan Fliegel (Courtesy of CoachUp)

When you look at the history of Jews in sports, there were a number of outstanding coaches and managers who also were outstanding teachers and mentors. A couple of Hall of Fame examples who come to mind are  Arnold “Red” Auerbach, a graduate of George Washington University who won nine NBA championships as the head coach of the Boston Celtics.  Auerbach led the Celtics to the 1957 title, and then from 1959 to 1966, Boston went on a run, winning eight straight NBA crowns.

Another Hall of Fame coach who is worthy of note is the Buffalo Bills’ Marvin “Marv” Levy, whose teams of the early 1990s were some of the most successful in NFL history. He has the distinction of being the only coach in NFL history to win four straight AFC championships (1990-1993), then to lose four consecutive Super Bowls.

So where are the next great Jewish coaches coming from?

Jordan Fliegel, founder and CEO of CoachUp and author of ‘Reaching the Next Level,’ a book about the importance of good coaching, thinks a large number of talented people could come from JCCs and private Jewish high schools.

His company is a leader in pairing coaches with teams as well as with individuals who want instruction and teaching. What makes CoachUp special is that it has a national database of coaches that can either find or place coaches for any sport on a local basis.

Fliegel is proud of his Jewish heritage, and with his partners — former Major Leaguer Gabe Kapler, who played 13 seasons in the big leagues, and financial wizard David Fialkow —the trio feels there are plenty ofopportunities for Jews to be more involved in coaching.

JT: How did you get started in CoachUp?

Fliegel: I founded CoachUp from my heart and my personal experience. I had a private coach in basketball who worked with me, helping me improve from an average high school player to a collegiate, and then to a professional player in Israel. His coaching had a tremendous impact on my game and on my confidence, both on the court and in the classroom. Private coaching really changed my life. I later became a private coach to have that same impact on the next generation of basketball players along the talent-rich Interstate 95 corridor from Boston to Washington, D.C.

After getting my MBA at Tel Aviv University, I worked at a venture-backed online marketplace and spent weekends in the gym conducting training sessions for my athletes. I recognized the need in the market to help athletes connect with private coaches [and] also to find coaches for teams in all sports in schools from the eighth grade through high school and into college. My goal is simple: to help former athletes earn a living doing what they love either as a private coach or getting involved coaching team sports.

Are there places for young, talented Jewish coaches to start or to take the next step in their careers?

Both locally and nationally there is a need for quality coaches working at the JCCs as well as Jewish high schools. We as Jews learn from a very early age the most important part of becoming a successful coach, and that is the importance of being a great teacher. The better the teacher, the better the coach, and I do feel that inside the Jewish community at the JCCs and the private Jewish high schools there are great opportunities for young coaches to begin their careers. The JCCs and high schools need quality young men and women to serve as head coaches in all sports as well as private coaches who can take talented players to the next level. That next level could be a college scholarship, or in some rare cases in sports such as tennis and golf, the step could be getting the players ready for a professional career. I really think JCCs and Jewish high schools are the best jumping-off points for young coaches to get their start, and CoachUp is getting involved in matching the right coaches with the right jobs.

What do young coaches need to know before entering the business?

Let’s begin with team coaches: They have two central roles. They must have not only an in-depth knowledge of the sport they want to coach, but also outstanding organizational skills. Coaching a team requires that a person excel at being a good teacher of the sport while developing strategy, plays, lineup changes, practice schedules and individual player development. Meanwhile, the private coach is focused on his pupil with the main goal of maximizing their skills and talents to take them to their highest level. Most athletes who want to be Olympians seek out the help of private coaches because it takes more than just their team coach to put in the long hours and personal attention that goes into developing someone into an elite athlete.

I think that it is also important to note in the case of a private coach you certainly do not have to be an Olympic-quality athlete to need one.  Any parent or athlete at a JCC or Jewish day school who is looking for sports lessons for their child or for golf, tennis, swimming, yoga or dance lessons or for a personal trainer could use a private coach.”

Your Grandfather was a big part of your life and influenced why you played basketball in Israel. Tell us about him.

My grandfather was Bernie Fliegel, one of the greatest college and professional basketball players in the United States in the late 1930s and early 1940s. He played center for City College in New York, and in 1938, as a senior, he was named a first-team All-America. He won the Haggerty Award, given annually to the best player in New York City. He went on to have a very successful professional career in the American Basketball League, before leaving the sport to join the Army and fight in World War II.

He encouraged me after college to make aliyah, gain Israeli citizenship and experience my dream of playing professional basketball. He had three main passions outside his family: Judaism, basketball and Israel. He passed away during my second year in Israel, but to have shared that one season in which I played for Hapoel Jerusalem was very special for both of us.

My grandfather and all of my coaches, both here and in Israel, taught me the importance of dedication, loyalty, leadership and treating your teammates like family. Those traits are all so very important in becoming a successful coach.

Fliegel’s book, “Reaching the Next Level,” is a super read for anyone interested in coaching. The book has chapters contributed by professional coaches and athletes, such as hockey great Cam Neely and basketball’s Tommy Amaker. Those interested in either becoming a coach or finding a coach can access all of the key information at, and search the site for available coaches in the Baltimore area.

‘That’s When the Music Really Hit Me’

Rabbi Lionel Chiswell, born in Liverpool England, attended the same  synagogue as Beatles manager Brian Epstein. (Marc Shapiro)

Rabbi Lionel Chiswell, born in Liverpool England, attended the same
synagogue as Beatles manager Brian Epstein. (Marc Shapiro)

He may be a Beatles fan now, but it wasn’t until a 1963 Christmas radio broadcast that Rabbi Lionel Chiswell caught on, late for someone from Liverpool, which was well engulfed in Beatlemania by then.

The rabbi, who now lives in Pikesville, grew up in Liverpool and attended synagogue with Brian Epstein, who would later become the Beatles’ manager. Read about the Liverpool days in this story.

He remembers one of The Beatles saying something that resonated with him, so he took a deeper listen.

“It was very beautiful the sentiment I think John expressed it. He says, ‘Ya know, there’s a lot of people who don’t care to keep Christmas Day because they have another religion, some don’t believe in it,’ and he said it must be very lonely for them, so he says ‘as a treat we’ll take over the airwaves,’” Chiswell remembered. “I had nothing to do because Christmas Day was a bit lonely, although I knew it wasn’t my Yom Tov. … That’s when the music really hit me.”

Even when other artists performed their songs, it affected him. He remembers one performance by Matt Monro, who he said was akin to England’s Frank Sinatra.

“He sang a beautiful song, I still remember it and it still captivates me today. It was called ‘And I Love Her,’” he said. “After it, I get farklempt sometimes when I talk about it, he says ‘this beautiful music,’ he says it to the camera, ‘that was created by Lennon and McCartney.’ I said ‘my goodness.’”

Once he left Liverpool to pursue his career as a rabbi, he lost touch with the Epstein family. But years later, he wound up connecting with Brian and Clive’s aunt, whose name he can’t recall, when he was the rabbi at a retirement home in Cincinnati. Their aunt was a volunteer at the home, and asked to meet with the rabbi when she heard he was from Liverpool. She brought a scrapbook she had made that had newspaper clippings, including a photo of all four Beatles at Brian Epstein’s memorial service in 1967. Epstein would have been 80 on Sept. 19.

“She brought me things I hadn’t seen … the four Beatles with — well they obviously never wore a yarmulkes — with yarmulkes perched on their head,” he said. “There was genuine grief if you could see their faces.”

And although he missed them in the early days, Chiswell almost met Paul McCartney in Atlanta in 2002. A man who knew McCartney’s American manager had paid for Chiswell’s flight to Atlanta and arranged a meeting for them to talk about Liverpool and the Epsteins. However, McCartney’s wife-to-be at the time, Heather Mills, cancelled the meeting saying Paul was tired and needed to rest before his show. Chiswell still got to see the show.

“It was fantastic,” Chiswell said. “It was all him. He played two-and-a-half hours.”

Does Chiswell still listen to The Beatles?

“Oh, if they’re on, yeah,” he said. “If they’re on, I don’t want to be interrupted. I tell someone to call back later.”

Around the Clock

082214_i24For many years Jews in the United States and throughout the world longed for an all-cable news channel that really understood Israel. And for years, networks such as CNN, BBC, MSNBC, Fox News, France 24 and Al Jazeera have come up short in presenting Israel’s side of the story, especially when covering the Palestinian conflicts.

Now there is i24 News, which broadcasts in English, French and Arabic, working out of its modern state-of-the-art broadcast center in the ancient port area of Jaffa in Tel Aviv. It is a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week, year-round, all-news operation.

i24 News became a true power in the cable-news industry with its coverage of Operation Protective Edge in Gaza. The network made great use of online live-streaming and through its apps while engaging viewers via social media through the i24 News Facebook page and Twitter feed.

In covering the Gaza conflict, i24 News used its “home-field advantage” to get access to all of the key players in the region, and the i24 News’ “ground troops” were posted in Gaza and throughout all of Israel.

Launched in July 2013, the driving force behind i24 News was Swiss billionaire Patrick Drahi, who owns Altice, a multinational company specializing in telecommunications and cable networks. He has cable and satellite services throughout Europe, the Middle East (including Israel) and South America.

Like CNN, which gives us the news from a U.S. perspective, and the BBC, which offers a more European view of world news, it was Drahi’s dream to have i24 News offer, for the first time, the world as seen through the eyes of Israel.

It was former French political insider and media executive Frank Melloul who made the dream come true. Before joining i24 as CEO, Melloul was part of the creative team that launched the very successful European all-news channel France 24. This multilanguage network can be seen worldwide, including in the Baltimore-Washington area on Comcast Cable.

“I set all the international development strategy for France 24, and I learned that synergy is the key to success,” said Melloul.”This is my philosophy at i24 News.”

When Operation Protective Edge started, the savvy Melloul knew that this was an opportunity to use his talented team of anchors, reporters and technicians to cover every aspect of the conflict.

“To cover a war after less than a year on the air is not an easy thing,” he said. “The biggest challenge was to show the highest level of professionalism in such a situation, and I’m really proud of my team.  We have no reason to envy the biggest TV news channels.”

Attracting new viewers in the United States and worldwide has helped build the network’s brand, increase ratings and build loyalty to i24 News’ English, French and Arabic language channels.

“Yes, we are getting new viewers from the United States, and not only Jews,” said Melloul. “We have also been able to build extraordinary ratings in Europe, where we succeeded in overtaking Russia Today, France 24 and Al Jazeera English in the biggest countries. We can start seeing the same patterns in Africa and a stronger impact in the Arab world.

“But having a message is worthless if it is not understood,” he continued. “Multilingual broadcast are essential to the i24 News strategy. We want to target all those who consume international news channels, and that is why we must speak the language of all the people we target.”

Its creative and production staff comes from all over the world, and it is the diversity of the team that makes its programming fresh and interesting. i24 News has a staff of 250, including 150 journalists from 35 countries.

“I am proudest that i24 News is already recognized as the alternative to Al Jazeera in the Middle East,” said Melloul. “But foremost, we have managed to have in the same newsroom Jews, Muslims, Druze and Christians working together, producing the same content in order to provide the Israeli point of view in all its diversity.”

The network can be seen in more than 800 million homes throughout Europe, the Middle East, the West Indies and Africa, and viewership is growing each month. Locally, i24 News can be seen through its arrangement with Jewish Life Television, which can be seen throughout the Mid-Atlantic on Comcast as well as satellite services Dish Network and DirecTV. JLTV has committed to airing a morning news block from 10 a.m. until noon on weekdays, and it also carries a prime-time newscast Sunday through Thursday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

i24 News offers a live-streaming option from its website Also, i24 News offers free apps, which can be downloaded either at the iTunes Store or at Google Play by searching i24 News.

Recipe for a Heated Competition

Tournament founder Erik Folkart interviews chefs Yaini Livaditis of Basta Pasta and Nina Swartz of AIDA Bistro during the competition. (Photos Provided)

Tournament founder Erik Folkart interviews chefs Yaini Livaditis of Basta Pasta and Nina Swartz of AIDA Bistro during the competition. (Photos Provided)

Now in its fourth summer  of fierce competition, the annual Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament has enjoyed ever-increasing popularity, and two individuals involved since the tournament’s inception played a big part in creating that success. By day, tournament founder  Erik Folkart is an award-winning marketing associate for Sysco, but his spring and summer evenings are filled with planning and hosting the  all-summer-long event. Folkart has grown the Iron Chef-style live competition into an exciting annual affair that allows chefs to showcase their talents and food lovers to watch and interact with the chefs, their teams and even the judges.

Appropriately, Folkart conceived the idea for the tournament over a family dinner in 2009. Karen Folkart, Erik’s sister-in-law and now partner in running the event, recalled, “I think it started something like, “Karen, I have an idea … and it grew from there into the first tournament, which we launched in 2010 with 32 chefs. “I credit him with making the tournament a success,” she continued. “He’s a person who makes things happen.”Fuel for the idea came from Erik Folkart’s passion for the food industry and his desire to highlight the quality organizations and chefs with whom he works. The tournament provides a platform where chefs can showcase their skills and talents and also to introduce new products to the public in a creative way.

Folkart is hands-on for all aspects of the event, including set up, clean up and as master of ceremonies.

“What I enjoy the most is the evolution of this concept and the feedback we get from the live audience on what they enjoyed most or what wowed them,” Folkart said. “Also hearing from the chefs about how the tournament has given them a new perspective on how they cook — and inspired them to be more critical in their approach and ultimately to be better chefs — is very rewarding.”

Baltimore native Mitchell Platt, a longtime Folkart friend and tournament judge, has been involved with the competition since its beginning four years ago. Though he holds a degree in business management from Towson University, Platt was drawn into the club management industry by positive experiences at Woodholme Country Club, where he worked for 30 years. He started as a busboy in 1983 while in high school and worked his way to general manager in just 10 years.

It was at Woodholme where Platt and Folkart met, when Folkart was the club’s snack bar manager and Platt was his supervisor. Now manager at the prestigious Cosmo Club in Washington, D.C., Platt ensures high-quality cuisine for its elite members that include Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners, presidents and other notables.

Platt finds great fulfillment in his role as judge for the Mason Dixon tournament.

“I love seeing the creativity and hard work that the chefs put into the competition,” he said. “Baltimore’s culinary scene has dramatically improved over the last 10 years, and there are a lot of talented chefs within our community. The Mason Dixon tournament is one of a kind for Baltimore chefs.”

Laughing, he added, “And most importantly, I love a good meal.”

Folkart and Platt, both members of the Chizuk Amuno congregation, credit their faith as a primary guiding factor in both their personal and professional lives.

“I would have to say my faith has a big impact on my overall positive outlook,” Folkart remarked. “The Jewish people throughout the millennia have always been optimistic and resilient, and I believe I share that same drive to be the best I can be and to not get discouraged by adversity or hard work. I have used that faith through my education as well as my professional career.”

Both men also prescribe to a strong religious foundation as the basis for community.

“The foundation [Judaism] provides us and our kids, from both a cultural and religious perspective, has helped guide us morally,” said Platt. “It not only fosters a sense of community but teaches us the importance of responsibility to more than just ourselves.”

082214_chef2Platt serves on the JCC board of directors and has also served on the Jewish Big Brother/Big Sister and Sports Legends at Camden Yards/Babe Ruth Museum boards. In addition, Platt works with the American Institute of Wine and Food’s Days of Taste program that educates school children about cooking and natural foods, including a field trip to a farm and hands-on food preparation.

Folkart shares his energies with local charities too and donates a portion of the Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament proceeds each year — in the first year to Moveable Feast and now to Meals on Wheels.