Something to Laugh About

032814_modiIt’s often said that the funniest people are really the saddest. But that’s not the case with Modi Rosenfeld, an Israeli-born stand-up comedian who will perform at the Gordon Center for Performing Arts on Sunday, March 30.

Going by the stage name of Modi, Rosenfeld is actually a very happy guy. It seems he’s also easy to please, since he has found fulfillment in the disparate realms of investment banking, which he left 15 years ago, synagogue performance — he’s a trained cantor — and film production, which is his current project. In between, Rosenfeld, who is in his early 40s, has managed to become one of the country’s top young comedians.

“I had no idea I had comedy in me,” he said. “But I’m good at imitating dialects. I used to imitate all the secretaries at Merrill Lynch, and finally one of the people at work set up an open mic night for me.” Right from the start, stand-up “just felt right.”

Rosenfeld’s family moved from Israel to the United States when he was 7, settling in Woodmere, N.Y. Now, the comedian makes his home on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. He spends much of his time performing at comedy clubs in New York City and Los Angeles, but he also performs at venues across the country and overseas.

“My colleagues at JCCs all across the country have been raving about Modi’s performances for years, and we are thrilled to finally have a chance to bring him to Baltimore for a night of hilarious laughter,” said Randi Benesch, managing director of arts and culture at the Gordon Center.

Rosenfeld says he is influenced by “old-school comedians” such as Alan King, Don Rickles and George Carlin.

“I was there for the tail end of the Catskills [culture] so I got to see some of the best. Performing there turns you from just a comedian to a performer,” said Rosenfeld.

When it comes to today’s comedians, he admires newer talents such as Louis CK, Nick DiPaolo and David Powell. “They’re all friends and great comics, good craftsmen,” he said.

Through his own observation, crowds can tell he’s a Jewish guy from New York as soon as he walks on stage. Although he performs for many Jewish groups and jokes about topics that reflect his Jewish heritage, Rosenfeld makes a point of performing comedy accessible to all.

“I joke about the differences between Jews and non-Jews but also about how we’re all the same,” he said. “Funny is funny!”

“I like to unite the audience,” added the comic, who says he can just look at an audience to know what it will find funny. “I feel the energy in the room.”

Audiences at the Gordon Center can expect a very funny show, said Rosenfeld. “I’ll be doing some new material. I’ve been honing it.”

For more information call 800-518-2819 X2 or to order tickets online, visit gordoncenter.com. The show starts at 7:30 pm.

sellin@jewishtimes.com

Tamir Goodman Stays in Game

032814_tamir-goodmanWhen he was sidelined by injuries during his time as a professional basketball player in Israel, Tamir Goodman’s mind was still in the game.

“Specifically during that time when I wasn’t playing, I was spending my time in rehab, but I’d go to every game, I’d go to every practice, and I’d study if there was a scouting report,” said Goodman. “I just spent hours on the sidelines thinking, ‘What’s really needed in basketball, what are the coaches expecting from players?’”

Goodman’s homework paid off, culminating in his creation of the Zone 190 — a basketball training tool that combines trampoline-like material with a 190-degree, professional-grade carbon steel frame that allows players to practice a wide range of skills without the presence of a partner. After spending three years in development, Goodman rolled out the first “real model” of the Zone 190 earlier this year.

Goodman said the product, priced at $699, has garnered sales at every level of basketball — from camps to high schools to colleges to the NBA’s Detroit Pistons.

Hoopsters previously only had access to “one-dimensional” training tools such as pitch backs or toss backs, Goodman explained. While such tools are traditionally placed under the net to deliver the ball to shooters in a straightforward manner, they require the recruitment of multiple practice partners for a shooter to replicate receiving the ball from the array of spots on the court from which passes in a real game would come. Goodman said the 190-degree frame of his product changes that reality.

“The uniqueness of the Zone 190 is that it allows players to replicate game-like scenarios,” said Goodman. “In basketball, you get the ball from multiple angles. If you’re a post player you get the ball from both sides of the block; if you’re a guard you’re getting the ball from multiple areas passed to you — the top of the wing, the wing or [elsewhere] depending on where you are. Depending on from where the ball is coming to you in a game, you have to set your hands and feet accordingly.”

The Zone 190 further simulates game-like situations in that it is “the first basketball training system that comes with defensive distractors,” its website says. The tool includes a defensive hand that can be raised, lowered or removed to accommodate each user.

Nicknamed the “Jewish Jordan” after being ranked among the Top 25 high school players in the country, Goodman was profiled in Sports Illustrated and went on to play collegiately for Division I Towson University and then professionally in Israel. As an observant Jew, he sported his yarmulke on the court in front of national television audiences.

A 32-year-old Baltimore native who now lives in Cleveland, Goodman began a career as a coach and motivational speaker after injuries forced him to retire from Israeli professional basketball in 2009.

When he was at Towson, Goodman’s coaches reworked their team’s entire game schedule to accommodate his strict observance of Shabbat and Jewish holidays. Goodman will be similarly accommodated for his Zone 190 presentation on April 6 in Nashville at the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association National Convention, held annually in conjunction with the Final Four of the NCAA Division I Women’s Tournament. In recognition of Shabbat, the WBCA has allowed Goodman to move his Zone 190 presentation from Saturday to Sunday.

“When I was a little kid, I had this dream of playing Division I basketball and professional basketball, and doing this without playing Shabbat and always wearing my kippah, and that was seen as pretty much impossible,” said Goodman. “But thank God I was able to live out my dream, and now through Zone 190 I’m almost continuing the same dream. Everyone accommodated me through my playing days, and now the WBCA has accommodated me as well in my post-playing career. It has just been such a great blessing, and I’m just so thankful to everyone for their help.”

Bonnie M. Norman, manager of professional development and legislation for the WBCA, said the association turned to the Zone 190 to address “education around the art of shooting” at this year’s convention.

“We know there are lots of great coaches and shooting instructors out there; we decided to go with Tamir because his product allows players
to have an independent shooting workout with a real game-like feel in any location,” explained Norman. “The Zone 190 allows players of all levels, from beginner to pro, to work on foundational fundamentals such as ball handling and their hand-eye coordination and catch-and-shoot skills. Because one piece of equipment can offer so much, it puts developing these skills back in the hands of the player in the offseason.”

Norman, who calls the Zone 190 “unique,” said that if she were still a coach at the scholastic level, she “would have purchased one because it is affordable even for programs that fundraise for everything they purchase.”

To enhance the experience of those who buy the product, the Zone 190 website features a series of instructional videos for drills in ball handling, shooting, passing, post skills and conditioning. Goodman said he has used the Zone 190 to work with thousands of kids from all levels, noting: “The same tool can help a 7-foot center, a point guard, an NBA player, a special-needs kid, and anybody in between.”

In fact, the Friendship Circle of Cleveland — a nonprofit that pairs teenage volunteers with children with special needs, primarily for social interaction — is using the Zone 190 “to stimulate ball movement so that the children with special needs feel empowered to play along,” said Rabbi Yossi Mazarov, the organization’s executive director.

“It’s purely a matter of confidence,” explained Mazarov, “when kids can throw a ball and it comes back to them, like they’re playing catch, … You don’t have to throw it into a small, defined net. They can use it in this zone, which has so much space and is so intuitive. [Zone190] just works for them. For many of the children who have handicaps and disabilities or are weakened, they find a sense of confidence in this type of equipment.”

Mazarov adds that Goodman is “purely genuine and humble, when he brought the Zone 190 and started interacting with the children, you could see the kids’ faces light up; you could see that difference that he makes, that he’s there and doing ball movement with the kids.”

This summer, Goodman will employ the Zone 190 in his work at two Jewish camps in Pennsylvania — Camp Nesher and Camp Ramah in the Poconos.

“I’m always working with a lot of Jewish athletes throughout the year, and I’m very passionate about teaching young Jewish athletes the lessons of basketball, the lessons that they can apply to their life, which is maximize your potential and help everyone around you as well as time management, teamwork, respect,” said Goodman.

“All these attributes you learn through basketball, and I think Zone 190 is the physical tool that can help that.”

Regarding the injuries that led to his brainstorming on the bench in Israel and thus his eventual creation of the Zone 190, Goodman said he is “just grateful that I’ve been able to turn a negative experience around to a positive.”

“I’m unable to play professionally again,” he said. “At least my team and I have created something that is going to be able to benefit the next generation of players and the current generation of players.”

From Farm to Seder Table

Julie Sperling works the matzah dough at the Naga Bakehouse in Vermont. (Courtesy Naga Bakehouse)

Julie Sperling works the matzah dough at the Naga Bakehouse in Vermont.
(Courtesy Naga Bakehouse)

NEW YORK — In their small farmhouse bakery in Vermont, Doug Freilich and Julie Sperling work around the clock producing matzah in the period preceding Passover — a matzah that feels ancient and modern at once.

Using a mix of grain they grow on their own farm and wheat sourced from other local farmers, the couple create hundreds of pieces of the wholesome unleavened bread they call Vermatzah.

“The idea came because of our initial interest in growing grains, looking at them from the harvest to the baking in a very simple sense, and highlighting grains that have good flavor,” said Freilich. “We celebrate our own Passover each year, we go through the matzah-making ritual for both the spring awakening and remembering the storytelling of this holiday.”

Freilich and Sperling, co-owners of the Naga Bakehouse in Middletown Springs, Vt., are among American Jewish bakers looking at new ways to create matzah in ways that dovetail with the concerns of an age of foodies and locally sourced groceries.

They are joined in the process by their teenage children, Ticho and Ellis.

“Between the four of us, we are working each and every piece by hand: They are handmade with fingerprints, and heart, and soul,” said Freilich. “Our matzahs are tinted and kissed by the fire of the wood oven.”

At the end of the labor-intensive process, each matzah is wrapped in parchment paper and hand tied before being sent off — with a bonus seed packet of wheatberries from the family’s farm — to prospective customers throughout the country.

Vermatzah is primarily available in Vermont, New York and Massachusetts, but Freilich said a huge increase in Web orders means the product is now making it across the United States.

Freilich and Sperling have been making Vermatzah for six years. Now others are beginning to embrace matzah’s role in the farm-to-table trend.

The Yiddish Farm, an eclectic collective in Goshen, N.Y., that combines Yiddish language instruction with agriculture, is producing its own matzah this year baked with grain grown in its fields.

The matzah will be whole wheat and shmurah — a ritual designation that refers to a process of careful supervision that begins when the matzah’s grain is harvested and doesn’t stop until the matzah is baked. The process involves planting, combine-harvesting, reaping, milling and sifting at the Yiddish Farm, according to the Forward.

The end result is a locavore’s matzah dream that will travel from Goshen, in upstate New York, to Manhattan and New Jersey prior to Passover.

For Anne Kostroski, the owner of Crumb Bakery in Chicago, making her own matzah has less to do with food ideology than more practical matters.

“I don’t like eating store-bought matzah because I think it tastes awful,” she said, laughing.

Kostroski, 41, has been making her own signature matzah for nearly 10 years, since her conversion to Judaism in the mid-1990s.

“The matzah I make is made with honey, locally sourced eggs, black pepper and olive oil,” said Kostroski. “It’s flat and crunchy, but not as dry as the regular store-bought plain matzah. There’s a hint of heat and sweetness that makes matzah more interesting.”

For Kostroski, matzah making has been a part of her Jewish journey, even when she hasn’t been able to attend synagogue regularly under the strain of a baker’s life. Matzah creates a feeling of connection with history and tradition, she explained.

And her homemade matzah, which she sells at farmers’ markets, her Chicago eatery, the Sauce and Bread Kitchen, and by preorder — is made lovingly and painstakingly by hand.

“I make several hundred matzahs a year, mixed, rolled and baked,” she said. “One batch is maybe two dozen, and it’s really labor intensive.”

Kostroski said demand is increasing slowly but surely year by year.

“I came across this recipe in 1995 and I started making it, and I’ve been making it ever since,” she said. “People are not expecting different types of matzah — they expect something flavorless, and it doesn’t have to be.”

Slam Dunk

The UMd. Hillel hosts the  Kiddush Cup on March 28.  (University of Maryland Hillel)

The UMd. Hillel hosts the Kiddush Cup on March 28.
(University of Maryland Hillel)

For the past three years, University of Maryland Hillel has hosted a basketball tournament for Hillel teams from around the country. Students will gather in College Park once again on March 28 for the National Hillel Basketball Tournament, a weekend of food, speakers and basketball. The winning team will take home the Kiddush Cup.

The tournament was founded by students and continues to be mostly student run. Members of the tournament board are “people who just love basketball, love Jews and love camaraderie,” said senior Mike Shrager, who is chairing the tournament with Joseph Tuchman.

The tournament is at capacity, organizers said. There will be 41 teams — 32 men’s and nine women’s — from more than 30 schools and made up of almost 300 students. Maryland has five teams — three men’s and two women’s — but there are also teams coming from as far away as the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles.

Shrager described the tournament as a “whole weekend experience” for participants, most of whom will stay in university housing. “We use the tournament as a way to bring Jewish students together,” he said.

The games begin on March 29 with each team playing three preliminary games that night and the following morning, and the single-elimination bracket tournaments begin late on the morning of March 30. There will be separate men’s and women’s brackets.

Participants will arrive next Friday, participating in what Shrager called a “huge kickoff Shabbat dinner” to which everyone is welcome. Following dinner, Jewish comedian Joel Chasnoff will perform. Afterward, the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity will host an oneg Shabbat.

Past winners of the tournament reflect the diversity of its participants. The inaugural tournament was won by Washington University in St. Louis, followed by Yeshiva University in 2012 and the John Jay School of Criminal Justice, a New York City senior college, last year.

Maryland Hillel’s executive director, Ari Israel, said that while Hillel staff is involved, it is there to support the students and help with what is needed.

“We do everything we can to help them to grow and nurture,” he said.

The tournament “is a real tribute to what students can do,” he added. “It’s very sophisticated; students and staff put together a full gamut of events.”

Israel, like Shrager, stressed that the tournament weekend will be “more than just 10 minutes of playing ball.” While the games will take place in campus gyms, Israel said other events will take place “all over campus,” with Shabbat dinner taking place at the Adele H. Stamp Student Union, and other events being hosted by Hillel and AEPi.

For the first time, the tournament will allow teams to include up to three NCAA athletes. While Shrager said that no Division I athletes will be participating, he said that there will be several Division III players.

Brad Alhadef, a recent Maryland graduate, is preparing to play in the tournament for his fourth straight year. The Dallas native will be involved for the first time this year as just a player. Previously, he was on the board.

“As a board member, it was a great experience,” he said, “and to be a part of it from the beginning was great. Being a player, it’s a very different experience.”

Alhadef, who is competing on Maryland’s Langer team this year, is looking forward to seeing friends from his yeshiva as well as fans who attend the games “all decked out in Maryland gear.”

He said that the tournament is a great chance to showcase the university’s successfully large Jewish community, specifically the modern Orthodox community.

Last year, students had the opportunity to hear from then-NBA commissioner David Stern following the championship game. This year, after the men’s final game (which will take place late afternoon on March 30), they will hear from Bruce Levenson, owner of the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks.

Students can also submit their picks for the men’s and women’s tournament victors with the prize being a registration discount for next year’s tournament, “the NHBT Ultimate Fan Swag Bag Package,” and, perhaps most importantly, “national bragging rights,” according to hilleltournament.com, where the survey form can be found.

Alhadef, whose teams have not previously been successful in the tournament, believes his team will be competitive this year.

“We’ve never gotten that far,” he said. “We’re hoping to change that.”

The National Hillel Basketball Tournament will begin at 8:30 p.m. on March 29 and continue through March 30.

mmoline@washingtonjewishweek.com

Family Business

Rick Grossman will play Sancho Panza in an upcoming performance of “Man of La Mancha.”

Rick Grossman will play Sancho Panza in an upcoming performance of “Man of La Mancha.”

Asked how he got his start in the theater business, veteran actor and director Rick Grossman will tell you he was born in a trunk. And things haven’t changed much. These days, Grossman, who was raised among three generations of theater people, is living not in, but out of a trunk, as he tours the country playing the role of Sancho Panza in “Man of La Mancha.”

“My grandparents were pioneers of the Yiddish theater in North America,” said Grossman, who is private about his age. “My grandmother had an acting background, and when she met my grandfather, a tailor by trade, she pushed him into theater too.”

Though the Yiddish theater in America was based in New York City, Grossman’s grandparents broke ground by taking it on the road.

“Everywhere in the country where there were Jews, there was a thirst for Yiddish theater, and they would go there,” he said.

Eventually, Grossman’s grandparents settled in Chicago, where they formed the Grossman-Reinhart Repertory Company. Grossman’s father and his three siblings got their starts there, as did Broadway star and Academy Award-winning actor Paul Muni.

Grossman’s parents, Irving Grossman and Dinah Goldberg, met in New York City, where they performed together in Yiddish theater companies on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The couple had two children, but only Grossman was involved in the theater.

“When I was 6 years old and my parents were in a show and needed a child for a role, there I was,” he said. “I’ve been in theater since then, with a few breaks when I’ve done other things.”

Although he recalled a time during his childhood when he resented the expectation that he would become an actor, Grossman said he always found his way back to the theater. He received acting training from Stella Adler, who was also from a Yiddish theater family, and he attended the High School of Performing Arts in New York City. After graduation, Grossman headed to California, where he acted at the Pasadena Playhouse Theater Academy. He later returned to New York, where he studied at Hofstra University.

Grossman’s favorite roles include Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof” and Eddie Jacobson in “Harry and Eddie,” an off-Broadway play about Harry Truman and his Jewish friend, Eddie Jacobson, but he noted that the role of Sancho in “Man of La Mancha” holds a special place in his heart for several reasons.

Rick Grossman first played the role of Pancho Panza 35 years ago. His uncle, Irving Jacobson (left), played the role on Broadway.

Rick Grossman first played the role of Pancho Panza 35 years ago. His uncle, Irving Jacobson (left), played the role on Broadway.

For one thing, his uncle (by marriage) Irving Jacobson starred in the original Broadway production in 1965. When Grossman played Sancho Panzo in a revival 35 years ago —he’s played the role five times — he was honored to have Jacobson in the audience on opening night.

Beyond his family connections, Grossman also loves the show because of its messages of hope.

“When I first saw the show in 1965, I was taken with it from the get-go,” he explained. “I knew the story of Don Quixote, a man who is always trying to look for the good in people and the world and denying all the evil. It’s a transforming message. As an actor, you are trying to transform people’s lives, to touch them. If I do that each night, I have done my job.

“Many people who have seen other productions [of “Man of La Mancha”] want to come back again because they were touched by the show and want to re-experience it,” he continued. “You don’t find a lot of shows written like that today — shows that really challenge the audience. I’m very fortunate to be doing what I love and doing it for so many years.”

“Man of La Mancha” comes to the Patricia and Arthur Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric on March 14 and 15. For more information and tickets, visit lyricoperahouse.com.

Rocking into the Night

From swing to rock and roll, Divine Intervention was in the groove at Beth Shalom Congregation. (Provided)

From swing to rock and roll, Divine Intervention was in the groove at Beth Shalom Congregation.
(Provided)

The frigid night air of winter was stopped at the door to Beth Shalom Congregation as the Columbia synagogue’s in-house band heated up the sanctuary for the congregation’s second annual concert.

Divine Intervention headlined “An Evening at the Coffee House” Jan. 25, playing through an eclectic program of swing standards such as Glen Miller’s “In the Mood” and Bart Howard’s “Fly Me to the Moon” to rock-and-roll classics such as Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” and Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train,” among many other songs.

A total of four sets entertained the crowd; the second was made up entirely of ukulele duets played by Randy Dalneoff and Mark Schaffer.

The revelry, however, could not mask the somber background of the evening; just hours earlier a shooter killed two people at nearby Columbia Mall. Steve Cohen, a member of the synagogue’s board of directors who served as the event’s emcee, asked the audience to observe a moment of silence for the victimsbefore the band began to play.

The concert was well attended by congregants, their relatives and friends, young and old. The sanctuary was elegantly decorated for the occasion with most of the guests sitting at large tables and availing themselves of a vast array of desserts and snacks; some even took to dancing.

The band itself is a multigenerational group of professionals in fields other than music. There are doctors, lawyers, government contractors and even college and high school students; some are children of other band members.

“What’s exciting is that we really have a musical culture here at Beth Shalom Congregation,” said Rabbi Susan Grossman. “What’s so powerful about this is that it is an intergenerational effort to bring music into the congregation and to provide an opportunity for people to get together.”

Cohen, a mining consultant, explained that the idea for the evening came from successful performances in another annual musical production at the synagogue called the Silly Symphony, which is in its 17th year.

“We had a really great Silly Symphony and I was like, ‘Wow, we should be able to do something pretty special, have a good evening for the synagogue and for us,’ ” said Cohen.

Cohen and the adults in the band began organizing rehearsals for the concert in September but had to be creative about working around the intricate schedules of the younger students.

“This really is only the third time the whole band has played together,” Cohen remarked, smiling. “It serves two purposes; it is a fundraiser for the synagogue, but more importantly, it is a gathering event to get people in the community and in the synagogue together on a cold winter night so that they can get out of their houses and have a little fun”

The band includes a number of seasoned players, including trumpeter Howard Lessey, who plays in the Washington Redskins’ Marching Band.

Another experienced player, Beth Shalom musical director Rabbi Daniel Plotkin, played trombone with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Marching Band.

After last year’s Silly Symphony, “Steve Cohen talked to Mike Colton, who was the lead trombone player, saying that there are a lot of talented musicians in the congregation,” recalled Plotkin. “So we saw there was interest to get this kind of event going, and I was definitely interested to do what I could to support it.”

Plotkin, who was making his on-stage debut that night playing the trumpet, also spoke about the talent from some of the younger members of the band.

“Some of our younger people have come of age in terms of their musicianship,” he said.

“Add the experienced players into the mix and you’ve got a pretty solid group of musicians.”

The congregation has some big plans for this year’s Silly Symphony on Purim, according to Grossman, which will be themed Esther Goes Rock and Roll.

“They’ll start practicing for Purim as soon as they’re done with this,” said the rabbi.

“We’ve reset the entire Jewish liturgy, the Megillah, to the theme. Every song this year will be a rock-and-roll tune; every paragraph is going to be to a different song.”

Founded in 1970, Beth Shalom Congregation is a Conservative synagogue that serves approximately 325 families.

“We take great pride in our amazing religious school, and we are very creative,” said Grossman.

“We have themed Shabbat programs that transform the entire synagogue into the theme. For example, we did Jewish ‘Pirates of the Caribbean,’ and this place looked a Caribbean island.”

dshapiro@washingtonjewishweek

Beth Tfiloh On Top

Junior Marty Perlmutter (with ball) played an important role for the Warriors, both offensively and defensively. (Jenny Rubin)

Junior Marty Perlmutter (with ball) played an important role for the Warriors, both offensively and defensively.
(Jenny Rubin)

In this, his first season as the head coach of the Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community Day School’s boys varsity basketball team, Ari Braun led his players to a 17-9 overall record, 10-4 in their conference. That was good enough to earn second place in the Class C Division of the tough Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association. After making it all the way to the MIAA championship game this past weekend, the Warriors lost a heartbreaker to Indian Creek School from Crownsville, 48-45.

It was an amazing season under the guidance of the new coach. Braun, who clearly loves basketball, is an amazing teacher of the game whose journey to BT presents an interesting story.

Braun is a native of Silver Spring and a 1997 graduate of Yeshiva High School of Greater Washington. After graduation, he traveled to Israel to study, first for a year at Yeshivat Yerushalayim and then for six months at Yeshivat Ateret Yerushalayim. After returning from Israel in 1999, he got his first taste of what coaching was all about when he served as an assistant coach at Talmudical Academy in Baltimore under coach Harold Katz.

Braun then spent six years coaching in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio. He then spent spent five years as the athletic director and head
basketball coach of Yeshivat Rambam in Baltimore until the school closed in 2011. In 2012 he served as the head coach of the Shoshana S. Cardin School before taking over as the boys junior varsity head coach at Beth Tfiloh. After one season he was
elevated to his current position.

The Jewish Times spoke with Braun about his first season at BT, about the players who helped him achieve some instant success and what the future holds for the Warriors.

JT: Tell us about the players who made this season such a success.
Braun: I really walked into a great situation with five players returning from last year’s team. Danny Gross is a senior and one of our captains; he’s a great guy and an extremely hard worker. He’s got good size and strength and will outwork anyone. Spencer Kronthal is our other holdover senior from last year. He has been the biggest surprise of the team because of his great improvement. Our juniors are Jordan King, Marty Perlmutter and Dani Katz. The duo of Katz and King are the two leading rebounders and scorers on the team. Perlmutter has great athleticism and speed [and] has become a great player both offensively and defensively. Our top reserves are three guards who played for us last year on the junior varsity team, Matt Kassner, Eitan Hariri, and Peleg Ovadia. They have provided us with quality players. … That bench talent has been one of the main reasons for our success.

How much help do you get coaching?
A big reason for our success this season is because of the hard work of my assistant coaches, Pinny Margolius and Eli Creeger. Coach Margolius has instituted a brand new fitness program, as well as a nutrition program, that has been a huge help to our team. He also has done an outstanding job of going over our opponents on tape and helping with practices. Coach Creeger, a BT alumnus and veteran Warrior basketball player, is in charge of our junior varsity team and also does pregame scouting. Both these young men have helped me immensely.

Do you get much support from the Beth Tfiloh student body and community?
The support of the faculty, students, parents and alumni has been amazing. I love seeing alumni come out to support us, because that hopefully let’s our kids know that they are part of something much bigger then themselves. We even have former coaches come cheer us on. Stan Lustman, who coached the last championship team, and Mel Pachino, who was an assistant to Stan as well as on last year’s team, are frequently at our games.

Who are your coaching inspirations?
I have three; two are legends and members of the Basketball Hall of Fame, and the third is a very close friend. Dean Smith, who was the head coach of the University of North Carolina, impressed me with his dedication to the concept of playing as a team no matter how many stars he might have. The other [legend] is Morgan Wootten, who was the head coach at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Md. I had the honor of working with him at his basketball camps. He taught me a great deal about how to work with high school kids and how to prepare them for college. Last but not least is Harold Katz, who gave me my start in the profession and has provided me with invaluable guidance at every step of my career. I have had the honor of coaching all four of his sons, including Dani, who is on this year’s team. All three of these men have a profound influence on the way I coach today.

Olympic Preview

Gornaya Karusel, a sports and tourism area on Mount Aibga in Krasnaya Polyana will serve as one of the venues.

Gornaya Karusel, a sports and tourism area on Mount Aibga in Krasnaya Polyana will serve as one of the venues.
(Ivanaivanova via Wikimedia Commons)

With the 2014 Winter Olympics starting Feb. 7 in Sochi, Russia, the Jewish debate on the games mirrors the discourse taking place in the broader international and athletic communities.

While some Jews say they view the games purely as sport — with social or political issues not factoring into their evaluation — not all can ignore Russia’s controversial legislation aimed at the homosexual community, political detentions and allegations of Olympic corruption as well as the recent terrorist threats against the Games.

“I personally don’t plan to attend or follow the Games and actively encourage boycotting/not attending the Games,” said Anya Levitov, managing partner at Evans Property Services in Moscow. The various sensitive issues in Russia “make these Games anything but an event to follow.”

At the forefront of international criticism leveled at the Russian government in the months leading up to the Sochi Games is the country’s recent legislation against “gay propaganda.”

Masha Gessen, a Russian-American journalist and activist who is both Jewish and openly gay, told ABC News that the propaganda law, which was signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin last June, bans the distribution of information that could harm children’s development or encourage them to accept alternative sexual relationships.

“There have already been attempts to remove children from lesbian couples. So, basically, LGBT people [in Russia] have an incredible amount to fear right now, especially if they have children,” said Gessen. Furthermore, while the law itself only bans propaganda, there has been an increase in anti-gay violence around the country.

International Olympic Committee member Gian-Franco Kasper has claimed that as much as a third of the record-high $50 billion price tag for the Olympics has been siphoned off, while Boris Nemtsov, a critic of Putin’s government, told ABC News he has evidence that Russian officials and business executives stole at least $30 billion of the funds meant for Olympics-related projects.

In a separate interview, Levitov said that the Olympic sports venues were hastily built and may be hazardous to spectators and players.

“The [Olympic] construction was done by migrant workers, many of whom were sent back home without pay,” charged Levitov, adding that anti-immigrant sentiment has been growing in the country in recent years.

(Presidential Press and Information Office via Wikimedia Commons)

(Presidential Press and Information Office via Wikimedia Commons)

Putin has denied allegations of Olympics-related corruption.

“I do not see serious corruption instances for the moment, but there is a problem with overestimation of construction volumes,” Putin recently told reporters, explaining that some contractors had won tenders due to low bids that they subsequently inflated.

Putin’s presidency has not been associated with the kind of state-sanctioned anti-Semitism that was prevalent during the Soviet era. But Levitov believes that “the rise of state-sanctioned xenophobia and anti-gay hatred … as any intolerance, is ultimately a threat to the Jews.”

International Paralympic Committee editorial manager Stuart Lieberman — who will be reporting on the March 7-16 Paralympic Games, which are also taking place in Sochi — disagrees with boycotting the Olympics.

“I don’t think you can be entirely separate from politics [as it relates to the Olympics], but I don’t think you should be avoiding countries for reasons like this,” he said. Part of the value of the games is “to inspire and excite the world and to instill change in society.”

Sochi’s Chabad-Lubavitch Center is preparing to welcome an influx of Jewish athletes and visitors to its 3,000-member local Jewish community. Chabad has acquired two temporary centers that will be staffed by 12 rabbinic interns, and its staff has equipped itself to prepare about 7,000 kosher meals over the course of the games.

Rabbi Ari Edelkopf, the Chabad emissary to Sochi, does not take a political stand on any of the human rights or corruption issues in Russia.

“I view my role in this community as a spiritual one; I’m here to cater to the needs of the Jewish community as well as to visiting tourists,” he said. “It is our goal as an organization that the spiritual and religious needs of those living and visiting Sochi are met and hopefully expanded.”

Edelkopf did, however, note that the Sochi Jewish community is “in touch with local officials and security experts” regarding safety precautions, in light of concerns that the Sochi Olympics may be a target for terrorist attacks, particularly from Islamist groups in the Northern Caucausus region.

In December, two suicide attacks killed 34 people in Volgograd, about 700 kilometers north of Sochi. An Islamist group from the Caucausus claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Police have started to impose long-planned restrictions of access into and movement within Sochi. Up to 70,000 personnel will be patrolling the Games, according to some estimates.

What’s Next on the Gridiron?

020714_football2

The Big Blue Jerusalem Lions won the IFL’s first championship.

NEW YORK — Days before Super Bowl XLVIII in New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium, a New York City room full of players, coaches and supporters of the Israel Football League — a group spanning several generations of Israeli sportsmen — looked forward to an upcoming signature event for American-style football in the Jewish state.

The Jan. 29 gathering marked the announcement that Jerusalem will host the 2014 International Federation of American Football Flag Football World Championships from Aug. 13 to 15. Thirty teams, composed of 500 athletes from some 20 countries, are slated to participate in the largest world championship sports competition ever to be held in Israel. The World Cup-style event will face political challenges; already Saudi Arabia has withdrawn from the competition, while a Turkish team is scheduled to participate.

American football in Israel began in 1989 with flag football games started by American immigrants looking for a taste of their homeland. Within 10 years, 35 IFL teams were in place. Israeli flag football league teams have had reasonable success in competition against international teams. At the moment, the Israeli men’s team is ranked fifth in the world, and the women’s team is ranked sixth.

In less than a quarter-century, “football has become an important strategic partner to the State of Israel,” said Ido Aharoni, consul general of Israel in New York.

Aharoni called sports “the No. 1 most effective bridge builder [that] establishes camaraderie and teaches responsibility, caring and protection — all the things Israel thrives on.” Sports, said Aharoni, are also a means to help “make sure the world understands that Israel is a real country, not just a place plagued with conflicts.”

“The partnership between the United States and Israel is unbreakable and is intensified through sports,” said Rabbi Michael Miller, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York.

In 2005, pioneers who wanted to play American tackle football founded the IFL to introduce the game to Israel. Initially, players hit the field without proper equipment or an official governing body. But within two years, a league was organized under the umbrella of American Football in Israel (AFI). In 2007, when players began using regulated protective tackle equipment, only four teams — the Big Blue Jerusalem Lions, the Real Housing Haifa Underdogs, the Dancing Camel Hasharon Pioneers and the Mike’s Place Tel Aviv Sabres — competed. The Big Blue Jerusalem Lions won the first championship. By 2009, the league had expanded to seven teams; 11 teams now compete. The annual championship game is broadcast on Israeli television.

Eli Groner, now Israel’s minister for economics in North America, was the quarterback of the Big Blue Jerusalem Lions. Recalling the feelings of making aliyah at the age of 15, he said football was “a place to call home, a place where people can get integrated into Israeli society. The league is a great absorption center, a real story of integration.”

The IFL counts the family of Robert Kraft, owner of the NFL’s New England Patriots, among its major sponsors. The Krafts endowed the Kraft Family Stadium in Jerusalem, the league’s first permanent home.

Football and Israel are “two of [Robert Kraft’s] major loves,” and the IFL gives him an opportunity to have both, said AFI president Steve Leibowitz. American tackle football in Israel is “a great combination — a development of teamwork that started a dream, then added instruction and support and is powered by determination,” said Leibowitz.

Betzalel Friedman, commissioner of the IFL, grew up in Indianapolis and became involved with football after he completed his service in the Israel Defense Forces. During the last six years, he has witnessed a 300 percent growth in participation in American football in Israel.

“Jews, Muslims, Christians — everyone is a team player,” said Friedman.

Yonah Mishaan, who has coached Israel’s men’s and women’s flag  football teams and will lead the Israeli national team for the 2016 European Federation of American Football, was featured at a Jan. 29 event in New York City that highlighted the growth of football in Israel.

Yonah Mishaan, who has coached Israel’s men’s and women’s flag football teams and will lead the Israeli national team for the 2016 European Federation of American Football, was featured at a Jan. 29 event in New York City that highlighted the growth of football in Israel.

Leibowitz anticipates that $400,000 in funding is needed to ready an Israeli team for competition in the European Federation of American Football in 2016. Steps are being taken to enhance the team’s personnel and equipment. Yonah Mishaan, who has coached Israel’s men’s and women’s flag football teams, has been hired to coach the Israeli national team for 2016.

“We expect to play well but need professional equipment and help encouraging development,” said Mishaan. University of Michigan quarterback Alex Swieca, who holds dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship, is expected to be part of Israel’s national team in the 2016 European competition.

Leibowitz looks forward to establishing football centers in every Israeli city, similar in concept to the success of tennis throughout the country.

“There is an active and growing football community in Jerusalem,” said Leibowitz. “We hope to have centers from Nahariya to Be’er Sheva. We need to create a youth football league [and] high school and adult teams.”

While Israeli teams play a 60-yard, nine-on-nine game (as compared with the 100-yard, 11-on-11 American version), the IFL “must expand to a 100-yard field in order to be competitive in international play.”

Leibowitz anticipates that within a decade, 10,000 players will be involved in American football in Israel.

“What started as a part of bringing a piece of the U.S. to Israel has become much more than that,” said Groner.

‘The Monuments Men’ Recalls Allied Effort To Save Europe’s Heritage

020714_monuments-men2There’s nothing like a star-studded Hollywood movie to shine a light on a little-known piece of history.

That’s the hope of Robert Edsel, who wrote the book that inspired “The Monuments Men,” the George Clooney-Matt Damon film that opens Friday in theaters across the country.

The all-star cast also includes Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville and Cate Blanchett.

Clooney, who directed the film, teamed to write and produce it with Grant Heslov, bringing together the duo who produced last year’s Oscar winner for best picture, “Argo.”

The action-packed World War II adventure film is a fictionalized version of Edsel’s book of the same name. The book tells the compelling and surprising story of a special Allied military unit known as the Monuments Men sent into battle zones to protect historic buildings, churches and monuments across Europe.

The unit of 345 members from 13 countries — many were art historians, archivists and architects — rescued more than five million pieces of Nazi-looted paintings, sculptures and rare manuscripts. Among them were some of the world’s most treasured cultural objects, including works by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rembrandt and Vincent van Gogh.

Edsel said the visibility of a major feature film offers a chance to honor the legacy of the long-forgotten heroism of the Monuments Men, provide a path to reclaim art that is still missing and galvanize the public’s concern to prevent cultural destruction in war zones today and in the future.

Edsel suggested that while he is not Jewish, he sees in the Monuments Men a story that will resonate with young Jews, a different entry point to teach about Jewish culture and the Holocaust.

The movie provides historical context to events that reverberate in headlines today, from the discovery of a trove of Nazi-looted art in Germany to the destruction of ancient artifacts in Egypt and war-torn Syria.

Clooney said that making a film about saving art isn’t just about paintings hanging on a museum wall.

“It’s about the fabric of our culture,” he said at a recent news conference in Hollywood.

In the film, Clooney plays Frank Stokes, based on real-life George Stout, an art historian at Harvard’s Fogg Museum whose proposal to protect cultural property during the war led President Franklin Roosevelt to establish the unit. Gen. Dwight Eisenhower is credited with empowering the unit to carry out its mission.

It was a watershed moment in the preservation of cultural history, said Edsel.

Through the Monuments Men Foundation he established in 2007, Edsel is backing a bill in Congress that would award the Monuments Men the Congressional Gold Medal.

Robert Edsel, author of "The Monuments Men," attends a New Orleans screening of the movie based on his book.

Robert Edsel, author of “The Monuments Men,” attends a New Orleans screening of the movie based on his book.

“It’s a race against time,” said Edsel, who would like to see the bill adopted while there are living members of the Monuments Men.

Harry Ettlinger, whose Jewish family fled Germany in 1938 when he was young, is among only five Monuments Men still alive. Ettlinger was drafted into the Army in 1944 at age 18 and eventually was assigned to the Monuments Men unit for his fluency in German.

“It makes me feel good that I did something of value for the rest of the world,” Ettlinger, 87, said from his home in Rockaway, N.J.

In the movie, British actor Dimitri Leonidas plays Sam Epstein, a character based on Ettlinger. Following a recent private screening, Ettlinger gave the film a thumbs-up.

In November 2012, Ettlinger accepted an award from the American Jewish Historical Society on behalf of all the Monuments Men. The society also awarded its legacy award in memory of Col. Seymour Pomrenze, an archivist who served 34 years of active and reserve service in the Army, for his unique leadership role in the Monuments Men recovering and restituting millions of Jewish books and artifacts and nearly 1,000 Torah scrolls confiscated by the Nazis. Pomrenze died in 2011.

In many ways, Pomrenze’s work is a parallel story to the saving of looted art, said Lisa Leff, an associate professor of history at American University in Washington, D.C., and a specialist on the fate of Jewish archives in France during and after World War II.

But while the Monuments Men’s mission was to return the art to its original countries, much of what Pomrenze rescued became “heirless,” as the original Jewish owners and entire Jewish communities perished in the war.

An organization of Jewish scholars was established to deal with the books and manuscripts and other property, which was disbursed to Jewish institutions in Israel and the United States.

While the film is not an explicitly Jewish story, Leff imagined it will garner significant attention from a Jewish audience because so much of what was stolen was owned by Jewish collectors or created by Jewish artists.

Edsel said he hopes that a toll-free hotline set up by the Monuments Men Foundation will lead to the return of some of the art that is still missing. He hoped, too, that increased prominence of the Monuments Men story will inspire similar efforts today.

“Looking forward,” Edsel said, “we want to put their legacy to use so that the U.S. and other countries re-establish the high bar set by Gen. Eisenhower during the war.”