Gallery Captures Variety, Complexities of Israeli Experiences

“Sunrise at Masada” by Toby Cohen

“Sunrise at Masada” by Toby Cohen

Capturing the complexity of Israel and the Palestinian territories and the varied identities of the region’s inhabitants and their deep, complicated relationships with the land is a tall order, but that is exactly what J. Susan Isaacs and Martin Rosenberg present in “Visions of Place: Complex Geographies in Contemporary Israeli Art.”

The exhibition, on display at Towson University’s Center for the Arts, features 52 contemporary art works by 36 Israeli artists that utilize a variety of media as well as mixed media.

Two of those artists are featured in associated galleries: Haifa artist Naomi Safran-Hon at the Silber Art Gallery at Goucher College; and Tel Aviv artist Dorit Feldman at the Jordan Faye Contemporary gallery.

The art provides a variety of lenses for the viewer to get a glimpse into the complexities of Israel. Through the pieces, artists communicate the despair of having to leave one’s home, spiritual connections to iconic places and pivotal events in the country’s history. Identities of the region’s various ethnic and religious groups are showcased through photographs and laid bare in portraits.

“The show is very broad, ‘Visions of Place,’ and it presents many different points of view; they’re not all my point of view, but there’s an attempt to be quite balanced,” said J. Susan Isaacs, a Towson art history professor who curated the show with Martin Rosenberg, chair of the department of fine arts at Rutgers University’s Camden campus. “We tried to put in works that could cause dialogue but hopefully not terrible argument.”

The show is split up into five units: The Past in the Present, People in the Land, Contested Geographies, Interventions and Diverse Identities.

Safron-Hon’s “Wadi Salib: Hollow Home” depicts a crumbling home, almost melting on the ink, lace and cement canvas. The home is in the former Arab and later Israeli neighborhood of Wadi Salib — Arabs fled when Israel was founded.

Toby Cohen’s “Sunrise at Masada” is a composite pano-ramic photograph showing three Orthodox men at the top of Masada, seemingly connecting to God through nature.

“Ehab Bi’ane” is a piece from Israeli photographer Natan Dvir’s photo essay exploring 18-year-old Arabs in contrast with Israelis, who graduate high school, can vote and serve in the Israel Defense Forces at that age. One of the gallery’s most poignant photos, “Last Supper,” also by Dvir, shows a large Jewish family eating a meal around a table with devastated looks and tears streaming down their faces as IDF soldiers stand at the head, waiting to escort them out of their home and the Gaza settlement in which they lived when the meal was over.

In the mixed media realm, Tamir Zadok’s “Gaza Canal” reimagines conflict and turns it into cooperation with this mockumentary where a canal is built, but then floods, making Gaza its own island. Even after an earthquake, island reconstruction is prompt and swift. Adorning the video’s corner of the gallery are “Gaza Canal Visitor Center” mugs and towels and “Gaza Canal Swimming Club” T-shirts.

“And hopes that set them sailing in other directions” by Dorit Feldman

“And hopes that set them sailing in other directions” by Dorit Feldman

Feldman’s “And hopes that set them sailing in other directions” superimposes an early map of Jerusalem over an image of Hula Lake in northern Galilee. The lake was dried up and flooded to become Israel’s first nature preserve in concert with the Zionist idea of reclaiming the land and making it productive.

“The cultural expressions of my life as an Israeli are local yet universal. I am linked to the landscapes, heritage, history, literature of my land. I live in the conflicted reality, but in my art I try to open my and the viewer’s mind to wider options of transmutations,” Feldman said. “Israel should be not observed only through the political issues, and that is the advantage of visual art that is chosen by the curators. … Not to be declarative, superficial, one-dimensional, but an outcome of humanistic, aesthetic values and multilayered theoretical preferences.”

Jordan Faye Block, who runs the Jordan Faye Contemporary gallery hosting Feldman’s work, said her pieces take the viewer to faraway places but also contain intimate moments.

“I just find them very engaging, and so I’m immersed in just sitting there and feeling all the texturesand feeling the presence in them,” she said. “They’re just really profound works that make you think more deeply about life and death and what those things are, and place does that for some people.”

For gallery and exhibit information, visit israelivisionsofplace.com,
jordanfayecontemporary.com and bit.ly/1oDTwHX.

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

New Book Prompts Soul-Searching in Lithuania about Holocaust-Era Complicity

Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff says Kaddish, the mourner's prayer, for Holocaust victims near Kaunas, Lithuania.

Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff says Kaddish, the mourner’s prayer, for Holocaust victims near Kaunas, Lithuania.

As the author of a best-seller that deals with female sexuality after 50, the Lithuanian novelist Ruta Vanagaite is used to embarrassing questions from journalists about her private life.

But even she was astonished when a reporter for a popular television station demanded to see her birth certificate to ascertain the veracity of claims that she is Jewish.

The question came during an interview about Vanagaite’s latest book, “Musiskiai” (“Our People”), a travelogue about the Holocaust consisting of interviews with witnesses to the atrocities perpetrated by Lithuanians against their Jewish neighbors.

The book’s publication last month has triggered the first major public debate in Lithuania about local Lithuanians’complicity in the genocide of the Jews. It currently tops the best-seller list of the Pegasas chain of bookstores and has prompted officials to promise to publish this year the names of 1,000 Holocaust perpetrators they have been keeping under wraps for years.

Vanagaite, who is 61 and not Jewish, visited killing fields in Lithuania and Belarus to research the book, which she co-authored with Efraim Zuroff, the renowned Nazi hunter and director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Israel office. Though she found the journalist’s request to see her birth certificate unsettling, she complied anyway.

“I know where it’s coming from,” Vanagaite said. “Lithuanian involvement in the Holocaust is such a taboo that being a Jew or a Russian spy are the only explanations for wanting to talk about it.”

But that is beginning to change thanks to Vanagaite’s book.

“In one fell swoop, the book has brought a wave of truth telling about the Holocaust to the mainstream of society who follow the large media outlets,” said Dovid Katz, a Yiddish scholar in Vilnius who has campaigned for historical accuracy on the Lithuanians’Holocaust-era role in the near annihilation of the Lithuanian Jewish community of 220,000. “It is of notable importance that a born and bred Lithuanian author tells the simple truth as it has never been told in a trade book not intended for scholars and specialists.”

Geoff Vasil, a spokesman for the Jewish Community of Lithuania, said “the turning of the tide within Lithuanian society” on this issue “now appears to be taking place like never before.”

The 304-page volume has prompted not just the official Jewish Community of Lithuania but also local media outlets to demand the government publish its list of suspected war criminals. The government received the names in 2012 from its own Genocide and Resistance Research Center but failed to publish them or issue any indictments. The center’s director now has promised to publish the names by 2017.

Vanagaite’s book also has highlighted the fact that despite ample evidence and testimonies of widespread complicity, not a single person has been imprisoned in Lithuania for killing Jews during the Holocaust.

“Germany, Austria, even Hungary and Poland have had this reckoning a decade ago, but there’s a strong resistance in Lithuanian society to follow suit and confront this stain in our history,” Vanagaite said. Yet failing to do so, she said, “will mean we will be branded as a whole nation of murderers, and rightly so, because we refuse to acknowledge and condemn a murderous fringe.”

Vanagaite experienced this reluctance personally last year when she made an unwelcome discovery that served as her motivation to write the book in the first place.

Ruta Vanagaite

Ruta Vanagaite

In researching the life story of her grandfather — a well-known activist against communist Russia’s occupation of Lithuania until 1991 — she found documents that showed he helped German authorities compile a list of 10 Jewish communists during World War II. The German authorities then gave him some Jews to work on his farm as slave laborers before they were murdered.

“It was devastating,” Vanagaite recalls. “This was a man who was a hero to me and my family.”

In Lithuania, locals who fought with the Germans against the Red Army are widely revered as patriotic freedom fighters — including Juozas Ambrazevicius, the leader of the Nazi collaborationist government. In a funeral organized by the central government, Ambrazevicius was reburied in 2012 with full national honors in the city of Kaunas. Four years earlier, Lithuanian prosecutors investigated for alleged war crimes four Jews who fought against the Nazis with the Russians. The investigation was dropped amid an international outcry.

Lithuania is the only country whose government officially branded Soviet occupation as a form of genocide. That “Soviet-sponsored genocide” is commemorated in Lithuania far more prominently than the Holocaust. And even any mention of the Jewish genocide had been absent from Vilnius’ state Museum of Genocide Victims until 2011.

“Exposing that some Lithuanians who are considered patriotic heroes are really war criminals would undermine the good-versus-evil narrative,” Katz noted.

It is precisely Vanagaite’s credentials as a good Lithuanian from a good Lithuanian family that has made her message so piercing to fellow Lithuanians, said Zuroff, the co-author of “Our People”
and longtime critic of Lithuanian governments.

“My voice [about Lithuania] was loud in international media, but I was not getting heard inside Lithuania, where I was pretty much portrayed as an enemy of the people,” Zuroff said. “It took someone like Ruta to achieve that.”

The second part of Vanagaite’s book is about her travels with Zuroff, where they spoke to octogenarians who witnessed mass executions. Referencing Zuroff — a reviled figure by many Lithuanians, including well-known cartoonists and nationalist columnists — Vanagaite titled that part of the book “Journey with an Enemy.”

But Vanagaite and Zuroff are not in full accord. She believes that in lieu of Lithuanian introspection, the extent and cruelty of Lithuanian complicity has been vastly exaggerated — including in survivors’ testimonies. She cast doubt on testimonies about a man who was boiled alive in Panevezys and an account that locals, after slaughtering dozens of Jews in Kaunas, sang the Lithuanian anthem. Zuroff says he has no reason to doubt these accounts.

“But these details are less significant in light of the movement that this book started,” he said.

Meanwhile, Vanagaite is experiencing the public denunciation that for years has been directed at Zuroff, Katz and other critics of Lithuania’s refusal to prosecute Holocaust perpetrators.

Cast as a Kremlin agent in some publications and as a closeted Jew in others, Vanagaite says some of her friends no longer wish to speak to her.

At a book fair next month, Vanagaite says she will hand out stones to visitors of her booth with the following instruction: “Any Lithuanian who’s certain that their family wasn’t involved in the Holocaust should throw one right at me.”

What’s Behind the Dark Charisma of ‘Son of Saul’ Star

Geza Rohrig spent hours visiting Auschwitz while a student in Krakow. His adoptive grandfather was an Auschwitz survivor.

Geza Rohrig spent hours visiting Auschwitz while a student in Krakow. His adoptive grandfather was an Auschwitz survivor.

BERLIN — When the Hungarian-Jewish poet Geza Rohrig agreed to play the lead role in the Oscar-nominated Holocaust drama “Son of Saul,” he knew he was taking on a daunting challenge.

With very little acting experience, Rohrig, 48, agreed to portray the complex lead in a shoestring production by a director who had never before made a full-length feature.

Two years later, Rohrig’s haunting performance is widely considered to be a decisive element of the film’s success. “Son of Saul” won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival in May and the Golden Globe for best foreign film in January. And it is favored to win the same category at the Academy Awards ceremony on Feb. 28 in Los Angeles.

In an interview last month in Berlin, Rohrig, an orphan who was adopted in childhood by a Jewish family, said he dove into his obsession with the Holocaust and his own tragic family story to find the intensity and sensitivity he needed to get into character.

“The acoustics that informed my portrayal of Saul, they came from inside me,” said Rohrig, a thin man with an intense gaze and raspy voice.

In the film, Rohrig plays Saul Auslander, a childless Sonderkommando charged with the gruesome task of ushering prisoners into the gas chambers and disposing of their bodies afterward. Saul is resigned to his own eventual death until he confronts the body of a boy he never met yet considers his son. He becomes consumed with a passion to bury the boy, repeatedly risking his own life and those of his fellow inmates and rendering hopeless a rebellion they had spent months planning.

To connect to Saul’s character, Rohrig revisited his own family tragedy. Orphaned as a child — his father died when he was 4 and he declined to discuss his mother — Rohrig was placed in a Budapest children’s home, where he lived until his adoption by a Jewish family at age 11.

“My uncle didn’t want me to go to my father’s funeral, which would’ve actually been very helpful for me to do,” Rohrig said. “Staying home when he was being buried meant I couldn’t really grasp his death and it remained unresolved for years. Well, I never experienced a concentration camp, but this movie is basically about someone who desperately wants to bury a loved one. For me it was my father.”

Rohrig first learned of the Holocaust from his adoptive grandfather, an Auschwitz survivor who lost his brother at the death camp. Later, as a teenager studying in Krakow, Poland, some 30 miles from the camp, Rohrig spent hours at Auschwitz.

Though he was raised secular, Rohrig became religious at 21 while studying in yeshiva in Jerusalem. Today he lives in New York and is religiously observant, wearing a yarmulke and eschewing work on the Sabbath. “Son of Saul,” which was filmed in one month on a set near Budapest, was not shot on weekends for this reason.

It was a constraint that the director, Laszlo Nemes, had taken into account before offering the part to Rohrig, whom he had met at the home of a mutual friend in New York.

A former kindergarten teacher and the author of six volumes of poetry and one of short stories — all in Hungarian — Rohrig has written about the Holocaust and Auschwitz. But the film does not offer
him a chance to showcase his eloquence.

While deeply morbid, “Son of Saul” is not very graphically disturbing. The carnage in and around the gas chambers remains mostly out of focus and serves as a soft background for long shots of Rohrig’s face as he carries out his daily routine. With so little dialogue, Rohrig had to rely on body language and facial expressions to convey Saul’s hopelessness.

To do that, Rohrig plugged into his own deep pessimism about the world today. Though he is happily married to his second wife and a father of four, Rohrig repeatedly spoke of his sense of foreboding over coming global upheavals. When nearly half a million Syrians are slaughtered while the world stands by, Auschwitz is not merely history, Rohrig said.

“We are heading toward chaos,” he said. “These are hard times, war is on the horizon, our Judeo-Christian culture is under threat from rising Islamic extremism, which is clearly going to be the story of this century, with guerrilla warfare in Paris and New York. We are not heading to good times, and I say this as a father.”

Despite the bleak outlook, Rohrig said he was able to draw from happier moments of his troubled biography as well. Asked why Saul, who unemotionally herded countless Jews to their deaths, suddenly becomes so moved by one boy, he thought of his own adoption as a child.

“I think it’s like falling in love,” Rohrig mused. “A couple comes into an orphanage. They think they know what child they want, but then their eyes meet the eyes of another child and it’s too late. Their souls meet and they need to act on the encounter.”

Key to Good Sex and Relationships? Take Risks, Says Orthodox Therapist

SexLOS ANGELES — What makes for good sex? It’s an unusual question for the wife of an Orthodox rabbi to talk about publicly, but Doreen Seidler-Feller has made a career of it.

A clinical sex therapist and professor at UCLA, Seidler-Feller has been married to Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, the campus rabbi at the UCLA Hillel, for more than 40 years, and she’s been talking about sex for about that long.

In fact, the two often host public talks about sex and Jewish tradition, as they did at the Limmud FSU West Coast conference in Pasadena, Calif., in late January. Theirs is a practiced routine. Chaim, with
unruly white hair secured under a kippah, enthusiastically discusses passages about sex in the Talmud. Doreen talks about how to make Jewish sexual traditions relevant in modern times.

When Doreen first met Chaim all those decades ago, it “wasn’t in the script” to marry a rabbi and become Orthodox, she says. The daughter of a Holocaust survivor, she grew up eating pork and shrimp in her secular South African Jewish community. But her family’s history, and being a child of divorce, motivated her to help “shattered hearts” and articulate a new Jewish identity for herself, she says.

Today, that identity means helping couples work on their relationships — and sex. For a relationship to succeed, Seidler-Feller says, there must be a balance between stability and eroticism. That means risk-taking both in the relationship and in the bedroom.

“Where sex is concerned, be experimental,” she said. “Be willing to explore new territory because that’s what gets the neuro-chemicals going.”

Seidler-Feller’s specialty is Orthodox sex therapy, where she is one of only a few clinical psychologists working on the issue. Others include David Ribner, founder of the sex therapy training school at
Bar-Ilan University in Israel and author of manuals for sexual intimacy for Orthodox couples, and Bat Sheva Marcus, a modern Orthodox, New York-based sex therapist.

In strictly Haredi Orthodox circles, Seidler-Feller says, young men and women receive their only bit of sex education right before their wedding night. Due to the lack of knowledge about sex and human anatomy, young Haredim often suffer acute anxiety when it comes to sex. Frequently they come to Seidler- Feller because they are unable to consummate their marriage.

The problem often is that the men simply don’t know where to put their penis. Seidler-Feller tries to guide them by describing the female anatomy in painstaking detail — without using pictures, which would be forbidden.

“I ask him to close his eyes so he can visualize, simplify the stimulus, using descriptive and explicit language, to walk him through the anatomy,” she said.

Orthodox patients typically are referred to Seidler-Feller either through religious community leaders, medical professionals or from other patients.

Seidler-Feller’s main mission is to support monogamy and marriage, and much of her practiced talk is about how religious values can benefit any relationship. She offers three guiding principles. One, take risks and commit. With apps for dating and hookups, uncommitted premarital sexual encounters are easy to find. But “the more the merrier” flies “in the face of what is good for men and women,” Seidler-Feller says.

The risks people once had to take to find partners — committing to an actual date, going to a young woman’s house and asking her parents for permission to date her — were good because they helped make us stronger, she says. Without taking these initial first risks and opening ourselves up for rejection, Seidler-Feller argues, men and women are less likely to commit in any capacity, either in dating or marriage.

“Everyone gets their heart broken on the road to love — and they should, because that’s the only way they develop any grit and strength,” she said during her presentation at the Limmud FSU conference.

Seidler-Feller’s second tenet is that both men and women need to be honest with themselves about what they want out of a relationship. Women especially, she says, shouldn’t be ashamed of their desire for someone to lean on.

“One’s capacity to say ‘I need help’ or ‘I feel vulnerable, I need you to be strong so I can let go,’ creates so much breathing room for a woman,” she said. “I think it’s important that women don’t lose contact with that side of themselves.”

While looking for dependency may not be politically correct, Seidler-Feller says it’s definitely not anti-feminist.

“Dependency is not the same as weakness,” she said. “It’s an interdependent recognition of complementary limitations that each of us have as humans.”

Seidler-Feller’s third tenet is that couples should confide in each other. Opening yourself up and sharing your deepest secrets, fears and desires with your partner creates loyalty and satisfaction, she says.

“If you want to be in a good relationship, you have to engage in deep conversation,” she said.
With a foundation of trust and reliability, partners are less likely to look for that elsewhere.

“This is an inoculation against intrusion of third parties, affairs,” Seidler-Feller said. “How deep is your conversation? What do you demand of the other person? What do you demand of yourself?

“If you can do that and avoid the easy way of blaming the other person and looking outside yourself instead of looking inside yourself, I think you’re on the road to a lasting relationship.”

You Should Know… Sara Berlin

Sara Berlin (Photo by Justin Katz)

Sara Berlin (Photo by Justin Katz)

Sara Berlin, 32, has a special place in her heart for children with special needs.

A Marylander through and through, she grew up in Columbia and studied at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County for her undergraduate degrees in psychology and early childhood education. She completed her master’s work in teaching severe and profound handicapped children at Johns Hopkins University.

Berlin always knew she wanted to make a difference in the lives of others, but despite being a third-generation educator, the choice to work with children with special needs wasn’t entirely clear from the start.

Berlin met up with the JT at the Arbutus Branch of the Baltimore County Library, where she also works, to talk about what drives her passion to work with children who pose the greatest challenges to any educator.

How did you become interested in teaching and why special education?

My father was [a teacher] and my mom’s mom before him. I’ve always loved children. I was always the babysitter and the kid on the block who had other kids around them. Originally when I went to college, I thought I wanted to be a social worker. I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to make an impact, and even then it was with children. In my freshman year, I wound up volunteering with Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters and was matched with a young adult with cerebral palsy. I started working very closely with her. I was still studying psychology and social work at UMBC, but I remember sitting in my dorm room and having this moment of, ‘Who am I kidding? This is what I’m supposed to do.’ I had this amazing opportunity to work with this young adult, and through her [I got involved with] the JCC in Baltimore. She and I participated in their programs together, and I actually wound up being employed there. It changed my life. It completely solidified that not only was I meant to be a teacher, but a special needs teacher. And specifically, it’s the population with severe special needs that I really love and was meant to work with.

Where are you working now?

I’m on a hiatus from the classroom. I taught for 10 years at Baltimore County Public Schools teaching kindergarteners with moderate to severe autism. I still work for the county, but now I’m a consulting teacher so I work with first-year teachers. Primarily, I help them become professionals and develop their skills. And I have the privilege of working with only special education teachers so I get to go into their classrooms and help them become really great educators.

Does any one student really stand out?

I credit [the young adult with cerebral palsy] with changing my path in my life, but I have had the privilege of working with so many incredible kids that I can’t point to just one. I really love the truly challenging students — the ones [about whom] people have said, ‘They can’t do it,’ or ‘They’re not capable.’ I think every child is capable and every child can learn. It’s up to us as teachers to figure out how to reach these children. Whether it is communication or some other life skill we’re working on, I love that challenge. They push me as a professional and as a person to grow and think outside of my box.

What is something people don’t understand about children with special needs?

I think we get so caught up on what they can’t do that we forget all the things they can do. In team meetings with parents, I always want to start with what [their children] are doing well, who are they as a person, what do they like? I start with that because even small progress is progress, and we have to be willing to embrace every small victory. For some of these families it’s huge, and for these kids it’s so important. All of these kids are capable. It’s up to us to figure out how we [can] connect with them.

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

On a Winter’s Day Get out the crockpots and chop and mince

Reprinted with permission from The Seasonal  Jewish Kitchen © 2015 by Amelia Saltsman, Sterling Epicure, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. Photography by Staci Valentine

Reprinted with permission from The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen © 2015 by Amelia Saltsman, Sterling Epicure, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. Photography by Staci Valentine

The recent blizzard certainly smacked some wintry sense into us — Game on! Get out your crockpots and containers. Match up those lids with the bottoms. Be ready to label what you put in the freezer. Chop and prep is what tires me out the most. It’s like shoveling snow — exhausting. But once that part is over, it’s easy!

Chop, mince, brown your ingredients the day before. Then you can simply throw things into the slow-cooker or big pot the following day. All these dishes can be made in part or in total in advance. Then you won’t be too pooped to put some pizazz into presentation such as making twists for ribbon salad. Or serve your favorite chili in corn bread muffins. Scoop out the baked muffins and fill with the chili. Sprinkle a few scooped out crumbs on the tops. And no more excuses to eat unhealthy foods, just because you are stuck indoors.

Amelia Saltsman, a cookbook author, advocates “eating out less” and “cooking more” for a healthy 2016. Her newest book, “The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen,” is focused on tradition and seasonality, inspired by the Jewish calendar. Her diverse Romanian and Iraqi background make for some delicious flavors. Try her unique fish and roasted ratatouille recipes (very yummy!).

AMELIAS “MANTA RAY” CEVICHE
ROASTED ROMANIAN RATATOUILLE
GREEN TAHINI DIP

Tips & Tricks
• Using a sharp veggie peeler, scrape large ribbons for your salad. Zucchini, carrots, cucumbers and even asparagus can be placed flat to get ribbons.
• Look for Minneola or Honeybell oranges that are “in season” now for citrus recipes.
• Make a unique green tahini dip for raw vegetables and/or chicken strips.

Ilene Spector is a local freelance writer.

‘Jeopardy!’ Champ Can Thank Joe Biden for His Win

Sam Deutsch poses with “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek after winning the show’s college tournament. (Courtesy of Jeopardy Productions, Inc.)

Sam Deutsch poses with “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek after winning the show’s college tournament. (Courtesy of Jeopardy Productions, Inc.)

Sam Deutsch of Bethesda. Md., knows the answer to “What is it like to win $100,000, Alex?” after being crowned “Jeopardy!” College Champion.

The Richard Montgomery High School graduate was the only one of the three contestants to write the correct question to the final “Jeopardy!” clue, identifying Vice President Joe Biden as the senator who cast 12,810 votes from 1973 to 2009. The show aired Feb. 12.

Biden sent Deutsch, 20, a congratulatory letter. The student had entered the two-day final in second place, by a dollar, having earned $22,000.

He credited his success partly to his high school’s international baccalaureate program and also to his participation on its Quiz Bowl team, “which really helped me prepare for the pressure of answering the questions, but a lot of my knowledge has come from what I’ve learned in school or just what I’ve read on my own.”

A student at the University of Southern California, Deutsch wants to attend law school but probably will work for a few years before enrolling. He also hopes to travel.

Deutsch is in USC’s liberal arts general education honors program, majoring in political economy and double minoring in business law and consumer behavior.

His economics and businesses classes might be the key to making his $100,000 prize go a long way.

“I’m going to invest a lot of it and use it in the future to help pay for law school. That said, I’ll definitely set some aside to hopefully go back to Tokyo for a post-graduation gift,” he said.

Deutsch, who had his bar mitzvah at Temple Sinai in Washington, also plans on donating some winnings to the Nina Hyde Center for Breast Cancer Research at Georgetown University. “My mom is a survivor and a huge inspiration,” he said. “Every year, she has run in fundraisers for breast cancer research, and I look forward to supporting her this year.”

When he’s not studying, “I really enjoy listening to music. I’m into all sorts of stuff from hip-hop to indie to electronic, and L.A. is great because I’m able to go to concerts all the time here,” Deutsch said. “My love for music led me to get into DJing with my roommate.”

He is a great admirer of Kanye West and mentioned the hip-hop artist while on “Jeopardy!” — although he was not quick enough on the buzzer to answer a question about his idol.

Deutsch pointed to West’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” and said it was “honestly the album that got me through high school.” He called it “incredibly well made and powerful.” Deutsch also is a fan of the musician’s line of fashion, especially his shoes.

“I greatly respect how he’s not afraid to say what he thinks. While I may disagree with some of the things he says, I know that it’s coming from an honest and authentic perspective, not one warped by a PR machine.”

As for his other likes, Deutsch is a fan of the television show “Mad Men” and definitely enjoys his lox and cream cheese.

Traveling is another one of Deutsch’s loves. He spent last summer in Japan and Korea. He connected with the JT by email from the Netherlands, where he is studying. “I’ve been to five countries in the past few weeks alone,” he said.

To become a “Jeopardy!” champion, Deutsch bested 14 other college students. He called his first appearance, shown on Feb. 3, “very nerve-wracking … just because you have to get used to the whole environment.” (The programs were recorded in early January.)

His goal “was just to make it to the semifinals,” he said. “Actually, winning the whole thing wasn’t even on my mind.”

His nerves aside, he had a great time. Host Alex Trebek is a “funny guy” and “is pretty skilled at witty banter.” However, to make sure the host didn’t show any favoritism, he didn’t really mingle with the contestants, Deutsch said.

Winning that much money was great, but Deutsch said he was truly pleased “to see all the friends, family, teachers, classmates and people from Bethesda cheer me on. That’s all that matters to me.”

You Should Know… Jake Lefenfeld

Photo by Daniel Schere

Photo by Daniel Schere

It was less than a year ago when brothers Jake and Ben Lefenfeld, along with Ben’s wife, Amy, decided to open the Basque-influenced La Cuchara in Woodberry. The restaurant features a menu that draws from French and Spanish cuisine, specializing in small plates and fine wines from the Basque region.

The brothers, of course, share a history of growing up in Columbia and attending Howard High School, but then their paths diverged. Ben, 34, trained in French cuisine and served as executive chef at Tony Foreman and Cindy Wolf’s Petit Louis Bistro, and Jake, 30, earned a degree in criminal justice from York College of Pennsylvania in 2008. But then Jake decided to re-evaluate his goals in life and spent some time as a bartender to sort things out.

The brothers’ paths converged again when the two opened La Cuchara, and the restaurant has been welcomed with rave reviews. The JT sat down with Jake at the brothers’ restaurant to talk about how things are going so far and where his passion for food lies.

How did you get into the restaurant business?

When I got out of college there weren’t many jobs in the criminal justice field, which was my major, so I started bartending. Later down the road I wanted to team up with this guy (pointing to brother Ben). So I started taking [being a restaurateur] a lot more seriously, [and] this is where I am now.

Did anyone in your family inspire you at a young age?

My parents very much influenced me. When I was 10, they started what became a very successful market research firm in our basement. Watching them work day after day to achieve their goals showed me up close what hard work and commitment to excellence really entails. My mother and father have also continued to be the most supportive and loving parents Ben and I could ever have asked for.

How has it been going at La Cuchara so far?

The day of the week obviously matters a lot. On a busy Friday or Saturday night we do anywhere from 350 to 400 [customers]. On a less busy weekday night we’re looking [at] 80 to 150, and the clientele is wonderful. They’re very receptive to good service and good food, and they show it. They’re very warm and appreciative of having a restaurant that they can come back to over and over again. It’s extremely nice to have a clientele that appreciates what you’re doing.

How did you come up with the concept for a Basque-inspired La Cuchara?

The Basque concept was Ben’s. It fits us great. The Basque cuisine uses many cooking methods that Ben has perfected over the years. As a team, we also felt this concept had not been represented in Baltimore, [and it] allows Ben to use the local farms he’s worked with in the past to provide the best products with the most flavor for our guests. Traditionally in this style of cooking, a great chef like Ben will make sure that the natural flavors from these foods are able to shine through.

What makes a great dish?

I believe [a great dish] makes such an emotional connection with a person that it must be repeated.

Do you have any hobbies?

I haven’t had much time for hobbies, but I do still have many goals in life. My goal at this point is to find new ways to wow the people of Baltimore with their dining experience. That includes La Cuchara and any other endeavors that may arise in the future.

Any advice for aspiring chefs?

Find a fine dining restaurant with a great chef where you can gain employment. The second step is simple: Listen.

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

|Snapshots|

(Snapshot: Courtesy of the Jewish Museum of Maryland, 1994.51.6)

(Snapshot: Courtesy of the Jewish Museum of Maryland, 1994.51.6)

Participants in the Walk for Israel, 1980.
Can you identify anyone in this photo? Contact Joanna Church, 410-732-6400, ext. 226 or jchurch@jewishmuseummd.org. To see more of the Jewish Museum’s extensive collection and find  out who has been identified in past photos, visit  jewishmuseummd.org/tag/once-upon- a-time-2/.

HACKATHON

(Amos Remer)

(Amos Remer)

More than 100 students from across the country came to the University of Maryland Hillel’s first annual National Collegiate Hackathon, which ran from  Feb. 12 to 14. Teams were tasked with creating new  and innovative software  applications for a chance to  win prizes including drones  and handheld computers.  Akash Magoon and Ephraim Rothschild won first place  for their Intelliflight app.