‘True Liberation, At Last’

It was 52 years ago, in December 1963, when Felicia Graber arrived in the United States. Graber remembers it as a moment — of feeling safe, of arriving home.

Her poem begins in February 1945, more than 70 years ago.  Her words bring us into another moment — that of shouts, singing and celebration.

Born in Tarnow, Poland in 1940, Graber spent her early years hiding her identity. Early during World War II, she and her mother fled from one Polish town to another. Later, they reunited with her father, who she thought was her uncle.

Until the age of 7, Graber was told that she and her family were Catholic and that her real father, a Polish soldier, was missing in action. Her parents hid their Judaism from her to ensure that Graber would not tell people that they were Jewish.

Because she had few of her own memories of the war, most people did not consider her a Holocaust survivor.

After Graber’s father died in 1991 and her mother in 1993, she spent two weeks in Poland, where, in 1994, she visited her hometown of Tarnow.

When she returned, she began to tell her friends about her journey and her childhood in Poland.  She started to write about her experiences during the war, but she did not share her writing with anyone — yet.

It took years for Graber to realize that she wanted to tell her parents’ story. It took even longer for her to recognize herself as a survivor.

In 1996, she began transcribing her father’s 12-hour oral testimony about his experiences during the Holocaust. In 2013, the testimony was published as a book, “Our Father’s Voice: A Holocaust Memoir,” co-edited by Graber and her brother, Leon Bialecki.

The Hidden Child Newsletter, published by the Anti-Defamation League, printed several of her essays in the mid and late 1990s.

After she retired from teaching in 1996, Graber served as a docent at the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center in St. Louis. Then, she began to tell her own experiences to museum visitors and community organizations.

In 2005, Smithsonian magazine included Graber’s poem “Liberation” — which follows — in the online version of its 60th anniversary edition celebrating the end of WWII.

Beginning in 2008, Graber participated in a writing class. The teacher encouraged her to write about her own memories of the war. Several of her essays are available on hmlc.org/category/memoryproject/feliciagraber/. Several of those essays became a part of her book, “Amazing Journey, Metamorphosis of a Hidden Child,” published in 2012.

Graber and her husband of 56 years, Rabbi Howard M. Graber, moved from St. Louis to Baltimore in 2012. Three Goucher College students interviewed her in 2013, learning and performing parts of her story as part of the college’s Oral Histories of  Holocaust Survivors course.

Pieces of Graber’s stories are available to be viewed as part of Goucher’s digital archives, ibraryguides.goucher.edu/holocaustsurvivors.

‘Pearls on a String’ Islamic works reflect a world of diversity at the Walters

The Walters Art Museum associate curator for Islamic and South Asian art, Amy Landau, is drawn in by a good story and knows that visitors are too.

So for “Pearls on a String: Artists, Patrons and Poets at the Great Islamic Courts,” Landau designed three distinct segments for the exhibition, each one focused on the work, achievements and public acts of an individual — a writer/historian, an artist and a patron — to create an access point for visitors and help make the 16th- and 17th-century Mughal, Safavid and Ottoman empires come to life. Set against the backdrop of  “a world quickly changing through global movement of people, ideas and technology,” the exhibition documents and suggests, through artistic discipline, what is possible to achieve in a diverse society rich in religious and cultural traditions.

More than 120 works make up the exhibition and include paintings, calligraphy, textiles, ceramics and jeweled luxury objects created throughout the 16th to18th centuries in historic India (which included today’s Pakistan), Iran and Turkey.

“Pearls on a string is a metaphor found in Persian, Turkish and Arabic that refers to particulars within collections,” Landau said, citing words strung together that make a poem or people joined together that create a community as examples.

“Through different media, [the three featured individuals] actualize their ambitions, which had a dramatic impact on the visual arts,” said Landau, whose interest in the Jews of Iran in the 17th century led her to a master’s degree in Hebrew and Jewish studies from New York University and a Ph.D. in Islamic art from Oxford University. “Yes, they were visionaries, they were geniuses, but they could not have achieved their goals without a community of people.”

The first section of the exhibition is focused on the work of writer Abu’l Fazl (1551–1602) who is described as “sensitive and awkward, sometimes argumentative” with an “extraordinary education and a passionate sense of right and wrong.” One of his major life accomplishments was a biography of Emperor Akbar in 16th-century Mughal India (today India and Pakistan), called the “Akbarnama,” detailing the events and people of Akbar’s court.

The biography includes intimate details of an emperor who was known for establishing “universal peace among the religious communities of Mughal India,” which included Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Jains and Zoroastrians.

Illuminated pages from the biography cover the walls, rich with intricate details and vibrant colors. Teams of calligraphers, papermakers and painters were involved in the creation of each page — using opaque watercolor, inks and gold on paper or cloth — and replicas of the tools and materials used are on also on display, such as reed pens, stone burnishers and pigments derived from plants and minerals.

The work of painter Muhammad Zaman (circa 1650–1700) and his followers comprise the next section. Zaman, based in Isfahan, then capital of Persia, introduced the revolutionary painting technique farangi-sazi (Persian for European style). Farangi-sazi blends Persian artistic traditions with European iconography, and Zaman did this by using techniques not yet adopted by his in-country peers such as perspective and chiaroscuro — the use of contrasting light and shadow. Comparing the styles side by side (possible to do so in the exhibition), it is evident why his innovative approach was considered so groundbreaking.

Zaman’s works and those that emulated his style fill the space and seem to be representative of the evolution of this part of world at the time. The artists used different styles, materials and themes, and even the subjects’ clothing is reflective of the diverse population, which included Persian and Central Asian Muslims, Georgians, Armenians, Circassians, Jews and Zoroastrians. Later, during the 17th century, there was an influx of Europeans as well, as many artists, travelers and merchants gravitated toward the city.

The last section, dedicated to the life of Sultan Mahmud I (1696–1754), a patron of the arts and known for bringing peace to the Ottoman Empire, had a propensity toward “cleverly engineered objects,” Landau said. “He was fixated with bejeweled objects and those that could fit within one another.”

Case in point is Mahmud’s jaw-dropping jeweled gun, encrusted with hundreds of diamonds, emeralds and rubies and hiding a dagger and set of writing instruments that fit neatly into the gun’s design. (A video near the case demonstrates the removal and replacement of all the pieces.)

The collection is representative of Mahmud’s vast knowledge of and appreciation for art and architecture and his love of luxury goods — remarkable even by royal standards — as well as his influence in the creation and purchase of such goods.

The cases are filled with ornate cup and saucer sets, teapots, exquisite pocket watches, gold-encased and enamel-encased snuff boxes, silver and jewel pen boxes and many more beautifully designed firearms and writing instruments.

With more than 100 pieces and many with intricate detail that begs closer study, “Pearls on a String” visitors may be best served by choosing a few pieces in each section to examine closely and make multiple visits (admission is free).

Landau, who considers her role at the Walters “a dream position” since she arrived just over six years ago to catalogue its Islamic manuscripts collection, said she sees the role of a cultural institution as one that can help promote empathy and compassion in humanity by showcasing art that is representative of different worlds and views.

“Compassion could be just the willingness to hear someone else’s view point, just the ability to engage in what other people are saying,” Landau said. “I would like the visitor to take away that the Islamic world is not monolithic. There is a diversity of viewpoints. My hope is that people draw lessons from history. … These three [stories] are about human beings living in the Islamic world who were engaged with other intellectual, philosophical aesthetic traditions, and if people want to draw on those histories, that’s fantastic.”


‘Pearls on a String: Artists, Patrons and Poets
at the Great Islamic Courts’

Through Jan. 31

Walters Art Museum
600 N. Charles St.

For more information: thewalters.org; 410-547-9000



A Classic Forgotten Yiddish operetta revived for a new generation

The National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene’s “Di Goldene Kale” (“The Golden Bride”) is a 1923 operetta that’s playing at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York.

The National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene’s “Di Goldene Kale” (“The Golden Bride”) is a 1923 operetta that’s playing at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York.

NEW YORK — “For a German Jew, Yiddish is beneath contempt,” musicologist Michael Ochs said. “German Jews tend to think of Yiddish as bad German. The only use we had in our family for it was to make fun of it.”

So it is more than a tad ironic that it was Ochs, whose family fled Nazi Germany for New York in 1939, who rediscovered the “Di Goldene Kale” (“The Golden Bride”), the 1923 Joseph Rumshinsky operetta that spoke to the hopes and dreams of immigrants. It’s the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene’s latest offering — and its first production in its new home at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, adjacent to Battery Park.

How this brilliant but virtually forgotten musical went from obscurity to full-scale production is the result of several coincidences combined with some diligent detective work.

“The Golden Bride” originally played at the Second Avenue Theater, filling its 2,000 seats for 18 weeks before touring the country (including places such as Omaha, Neb.) and overseas (Buenos Aires and Manchester, England). It was one of 14 Yiddish productions at the time on Second Avenue, known as the Jewish Broadway.

The title character, Goldele — a presumed orphan raised by the local innkeepers in a Russian village — discovers she had a rich father who passed away and left her a sizable inheritance. This makes her a sought-after bride. Though secretly in love with Misha, the innkeepers’ son, she promises several suitors she will marry the one who finds her long-lost mother. Goldele then departs for the United States to live with a wealthy uncle and quickly acclimates.

It’s easy to see why this story — even though Ochs describes it as “typically implausible” — resonated with audiences at the time. Many were from Russia themselves, and almost to a person they were immigrants who were getting used to a new land and language. The time frame of the production is shortly after the Russian Revolution, when many hoped a new Russia would be a more tolerant place.

Last revived in 1948, the show likely would have stayed hidden thereafter in the mist of Yiddish history were it not for a 1984 meeting in Boston of the Society for American Music. At the time, Ochs was the Richard F. French music librarian at Harvard’s prestigious Loeb Music Library. He found a large but incomplete manuscript of “The Golden Bride” score while scouring the stacks for material he might use in an exhibit tied to the meeting.

“I’d never heard of Rumshinsky,” Ochs said. “The music was excellent. What struck me was that this composer nobody ever heard of outside of people familiar with Jewish music had composed 90 to 100 operettas. Who knew?”

“The librettist was a woman [Frieda Freiman] who gave credit to her husband [Louis] to get her work
produced,” he added. “There is no question she wrote the original libretto.”

After the meeting, the score returned to the library stacks and presumable anonymity. Ochs left Harvard in 1992 to become a music editor at W.W. Norton, from where he retired in 2002. But “The Golden Bride” wouldn’t let go. He’d made a copy of the score and now, in retirement, “wondered if I can translate this,” he said. “It started out really as a language project.”

“I was never thinking in terms of a full-scale production,” Ochs added. “I was just thinking of getting this published, and that alone would have been pretty nice.”

So he sent a proposal to the American Musicological Association to see if they would be interested in a paper or book on the operetta as part of its Music of the United States of America series. When the association expressed enthusiasm, Ochs started additional research.

His first stop was YIVO, the Institute for Jewish Research in New York, which housed the librettist Freiman’s papers. As luck would have it, there he met the late Chana Mlotek, doyenne of the Mlotek family of Yiddish music experts and the organization’s musical archivist. The moment she heard about the project, the Yiddishe mama suggested Ochs call her son Zalmen, the Folksbiene’s artistic

Ochs didn’t have an opportunity to initiate the call — Zalmen Mlotek rang the next day, presumably ordered by mama.

“I wasn’t aware of the existence of the material,” Mlotek said in a separate phone interview. “But I was very familiar with a couple of the songs, the famous duet ‘Mayn Goldele.’ It was a big hit and sung in every generation since then.”

Mlotek was interested immediately; he and Ochs went into research mode. Scraps and bits of the original were scattered at Harvard, YIVO and UCLA, where heirs of Rumshinsky donated his papers. Ochs and Mlotek gathered the pieces and reconstructed the play.

“Our intention was to present it in a way that was as close to what we imagined it would have looked and sounded like in 1923,” Mlotek said.

At the same time, however, the pair realized “The Golden Bride” dealt with very contemporary themes.

“While the purpose of our presenting it was to show an example of one of the mainstays of the Yiddish Theater in its heyday, the fact that it deals with the idea of immigration, of coming to a new country and believing in the dream that one can make it — yeah, that’s a universal theme,” Mlotek said.

The show is artfully co-directed by the Folksbiene’s Bryan Wasserman and Motl Didner. Given the size and limitations of the set, Merte Muenter’s choreography and staging are superb. The cast is extraordinarily talented — Goldele, played by the opera-trained Rachel Policar, is a standout — and
infectiously enthusiastic.

The wonderful songs also reveal the very Jewish roots of the American Songbook.

“Rumshinsky, in his autobiography, writes about how he went to visit a friend and he heard someone next door playing something from one of his operettas,” Ochs said. “Who was it? A young George Gershwin. He regularly attended Yiddish theater and of course it influenced him. When he wrote ‘Summertime,’ he even asked if it sounds too Jewish.”

The Golden Bride runs through Jan. 3, but it may soon come to an opera company near you. “The Golden Bride” has been “curated in a way it can easily be used by an opera company, whether you have a Jewish audience or not,” Mlotek said.

“Super titles make it irrelevant that it’s in Yiddish; in fact, it makes it more interesting,” he said. “There is interest from young people and cultured people to examine and taste what this culture was and is.”

Soul Searching Child prodigy catalyzes unsettling Israeli drama

(Kino Lorber Inc.)

(Kino Lorber Inc.)

Under the influence of consumerism, militarism and the pace of the modern world, the People of the Book have  little use for poetry.

That’s one reading — and the most obvious and simplistic — of “The Kindergarten Teacher,” Israeli filmmaker Nadav Lapid’s unsettling saga of an adult’s missteps when presented with a preternaturally talented child. The film’s primary focus, however, is the vulnerability of children and the competing impulses to nurture, shape, protect and exploit them.

Shot in pastels and silhouettes and employing a minimum of carefully placed music, “The Kindergarten Teacher” paints a deceptively placid surface. The titular character, Nira (the excellent Sarit Larry), is a wife, teacher and would-be poet who  appears to be utterly reserved and self-contained.

When she discovers that one of her 5-year-old charges, Yoav (Avi Shnaidman), casually utters exceptional poems, Nira takes on the mission of shepherding his presumably sensitive soul around the landmines of a society  indifferent (or worse) to his gifts and art form.

A mesmerizing and worthy follow-up to Lapid’s remarkable but little-seen 2011 debut, “Policeman,” “The Kindergarten Teacher” is now available on DVD following its brief U.S.  theatrical run.

We gradually come to suspect that Yoav is not as introspective, innocent or interested in art with a capital A as his would-be mentor imagines. Consequently, we start to question Nira’s ability to understand and supervise children.

Sarit Larry and Avi Shnaidman star in this disturbing,  yet rewarding film. (Kino Lorber Inc. )

Sarit Larry and Avi Shnaidman star in this disturbing, yet rewarding film. (Kino Lorber Inc. )

That’s the moment when we feel the chill of foreboding and realize (with the title guiding us) that the film isn’t about the crucial immediate future of a pint-sized prodigy but rather a woman who has discovered a misguided sense of purpose. Bored witless after years on the job  surrounded by pre-adolescents — and a similar tenure with her unchallenging husband — Nira is calmly in the throes of a midlife crisis.

Like a good poem, “The Kindergarten Teacher” invites interpretation and discussion. For example, the film’s disparaging references to the  elevation of pop culture over high culture could conceivably be read  as reflecting Nira’s perception and frustration rather than as the filmmaker’s comment on Israeli society.

Perhaps, although Nira’s husband’s remark that only stupid and poor people pursue military careers these days takes on another shade of meaning if you recall that Yonathan  Netanyahu, the prime minister’s brother and the only Israeli casualty of the Entebbe hostage rescue in 1976, was a poet as well as a beloved officer.

Consequently, although “The Kindergarten Teacher” could take place anywhere — that’s partly what makes it such a disturbing and  rewarding film — one needn’t be a prodigy to recognize it as a meditation on the state of Israel’s soul.

Behind the Scenes ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ bounces back with same traditions, some new spins

Choreographer Hofesh Shechter (left) with "Fiddler" cast members at New West 42nd Street Studios. (Lindsay Hoffman/Jeffrey Richards Associates)

Choreographer Hofesh Shechter (left) with “Fiddler” cast members at New West 42nd Street Studios. (Lindsay Hoffman/Jeffrey Richards Associates)

NEW YORK — Ever since Zero Mostel imagined himself as a rich man in the original 1964 Broadway production, “Fiddler on the Roof” has been a cultural landmark on Broadway and in the Jewish sphere.

It’s one of those musicals that always seems to be in rotation. Over the years, many a Tevye — from Mostel to Theodore Bikel to Chaim Topol to  Alfred Molina — has inspired audiences to reflect on their own traditions, both those sustained and those lost.

Now in previews and set to open on Dec. 20, the newest revival and sixth Broadway production of “Fiddler” features a cast of Broadway veterans such as Danny Burstein (“Cabaret,” “South Pacific”) as Tevye and Jessica Hecht (“A View from the Bridge,” TV’s “Breaking Bad”) as Golde as well as “So You Think You Can Dance”  winner Melanie Moore as Chava.

After thousands of stage productions and an indelible movie adaptation, early ticket sales suggest that the  public’s interest in the musical have hardly waned.

What makes this revival of “Fiddler” worth seeing? There’s a talented cast, for starters, as well as some new spins on the old tale. Here is a behind-the-scenes look at some surprising facts about the current production of  “Fiddler on the Roof.”

> At 91, lyricist Sheldon Harnick still attends rehearsals.

More than 50 years after he wrote such poignant lyrics as “playing with matches, a girl can get burned,” lyricist Sheldon Harnick is still a presence in the rehearsal room, offering the cast feedback and guidance.

At 91, he’s the only remaining member of the original creative team, which included composer Jerry Bock, book writer Joseph Stein and director-choreographer Jerome Robbins. But Harnick’s still a force: In a video of the sitzprobe — the first rehearsal featuring the cast and full orchestra together — Harnick astounded Burstein by saying this orchestra sounded better than he ever remembered.

Harnick’s remarkably agile too. When posing for a cast photo at the show’s media event, he instinctively kneeled on the floor next to 20-something cast members. Naturally they insisted he stand, front and center.

> They celebrate Shabbat together.

Early in the rehearsal process, on Oct. 23, the cast and creative team of  “Fiddler” had a Shabbat dinner at Mendy’s Restaurant, the classic delicatessen in Midtown Manhattan. It may have been the first Shabbat dinner experience for several of them, but after a few “l’chaims” — and conversations that ranged from personal histories to religion, according to  a media representative — they were extended family.

> Current events inform the  production.

At early rehearsals with the cast,  director Bartlett Sher spoke of Syrian refugees and how they serve as an  essential access point for both the  actors and the audience. The significance of “Fiddler” today, he said, is in relating to people who leave their homes searching for security.

“Currently in Europe, we’re seeing the largest refugee crisis since World War II,” he said at a media event. “Tevye allows us to be in that situation as he figures out how to cope.”

> “Fiddler” runs in the family.

Michael Bernardi — who plays Mordcha, the innkeeper, and is also the  understudy for Tevye — makes his Broadway debut in this production. He’s the son of Herschel Bernardi, who replaced Mostel as Tevye in the original Broadway production and later reprised the role in 1981.

But the family connection extends another generation: Bernardi’s grandfather performed the stories of Sholem Aleichem in the Yiddish theater. (“Fiddler” is a compilation of several of the writer’s stories, though it takes some liberties with them.)

> Look out for some new  choreography.

Most “Fiddler” revivals hew closely to the original choreography — but for this production, the Robbins  estate permitted more freedom. This has enabled Israeli choreographer Hofesh Shechter — his England-based troupe, Hofesh Shechter Company, is known for modernist, gritty movement set to percussive electronic music — to weave in some contemporary movement. Trained in traditional Israeli and Russian folk dance, Shechter aimed not to redo but to expand Robbins’ iconic dances. The result is a balance of  tradition and progress that connects to the musical’s central idea.

> There’s some new music too.

Sher has become a coveted director for reviving classics. He’s breathed new life into the works of Rodgers and Hammerstein (“The King and I”) and Clifford Odets (“Awake and Sing!”). In each of these productions, Sher researches like a professor: He begins by studying early versions of the script — including songs that were cut and dialogue that was rewritten — in order to build a  musical from the ground up.

The result is a production that looks and sounds like the original — yet also feels vital and relevant for  a contemporary audience, with some surprises too. Look out for new music featured in some of “Fiddler’s” dance scenes.

‘Lubavitchers Can Do Anything’ New book delves into past, present and future of Chabad

Rotator_ChabadIt’s been 12 years since Rabbi Eric Yoffie, then the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, pointed to the Chabad-Lubavitch movement as a source of inspiration for his own movement’s synagogues and congregants.

“It is hard for me to say this, but I will say it nonetheless,” he told attendees of the Reform biennial conference in 2003. “We must follow the example of Chabad.”

Since then, numerous studies have indicated the growth of Chabad in cities such as Miami, in Jewish day school education and in the online sphere.

Against such a backdrop comes a new book attempting to explain the reasons behind such growth — and what it portends for the future of the movement, Judaism in general and the American Jewish community. As its title suggests, Rabbi David Eliezrie’s “The Secret of Chabad: Inside the world’s most successful Jewish movement” seeks to answer those who want to know why a movement with roots in 18th-century Russia — “Lubavitch” refers to the town that for several generations served as the Chasidic group’s center of power, whereas “Chabad” is an acrostic of the three Hebrew terms, chochmah, binah and da’at occupying the foundation of its philosophical outlook — has become so commonplace in Jewish life that a long-running joke has Chabad being as ubiquitous as Coca-Cola.

To be sure, other books have also explored the Chabad phenomena: Sue Fishkoff’s “The Rebbe’s Army,” for instance, analyzed the intellectual, philosophical and psychological underpinnings of the uniquely Chabad institution of shlichut, in which husband-and-wife couples become emissaries, founding schools, synagogues and treatment centers around the globe. Several books released last year in proximity to the 20th anniversary of the passing of the seventh Lubavitch leader, Rebbe Menachem M. Schneerson, looked at the animating presence of the Rebbe and his teachings that provide the spiritual heft of the movement.

Eliezrie, however, focuses on the Lubavitchers themselves, from the rank and file to the emissaries like him — a veteran shliach (the preferred term for emissary), he is the director of North County Chabad in Yorba Linda, Calif., and president of the Rabbinical Council of Orange County and Long Beach and sits on the board of the Jewish Federation and Family Services of Orange County, and he serves as a liaison between Chabad-Lubavitch and the Jewish Federations of North America. His thesis is that the self-sacrifice of previous Lubavitch generations that saw the movement break through the oppressions of the Iron Curtain lives on in a spirit that puts a premium on individual action and responsibility.

“Lubavitchers can do anything,” he told me this summer soon after the book’s release by Toby Press. It was a statement that, while bombastic, represented his true belief. And it’s a belief I’d say is shared by most Lubavitchers. How else could a young North American couple today be asked to take up a post in the farthest corners of Russia, where they’d be expected to raise their children to the strictest of religious standards and to remain for decades?

(Full disclosure: On the book’s cover image, a group shot of the thousands of attendees of an annual International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries outside of the movement’s headquarters in Brooklyn, N.Y., in the late 2000s, I’m the 13th rabbi from the left on the seventh row down.)

Weaving his case through several episodes from the movement’s modern history, Eliezrie bases his assertions not only on his own expertise, but also on copious interviews, all documented in endnotes. A thorough index, however, is lacking.

Perhaps most revolutionary is his conclusion, which asserts a realigning of Jewish life in the United States. He predicts the overall decline of the current denominational system that places Jews in orderly categories of Reconstructionist, Reform, Conservative and Orthodox and the supplanting of it by a new system oriented
between liberal Jews on the left and today’s Orthodox on the right, with the middle ground being occupied by Chabad and those drawn to its combination of unwavering tradition and welcoming spirit.

“In the center of the community,” he writes, “will be a new paradigm. Significant numbers of Jews, who are either observant or traditional, will elect to affiliate with Chabad.” He then points to his own experience in Orange County, Calif., where
a network of 15 Chabad centers draws three times the attendance during the High Holidays as the local Conservative synagogues.

“Bottom line, in the next generation, a significant percentage, if not the majority of Jews engaged in Jewish life, will either belong to Orthodox synagogues,” he surmises, “or be on a trajectory toward fuller observance through their involvement with Chabad.”

Whether you view such a statement with alarm or pleasure is beside the point; the fact that the movement keeps growing more than two decades since its leader’s passing is reason enough to see in it a model worthy of at least inspiration.


When the Sirens Sound … Haifa hospital can now go completely underground

Within 72 hours, a three-level 1,500-vehicle parking garage on the Rambam Health Care Campus can be converted into a 2,000-bed hospital — underground.

Within 72 hours, a three-level 1,500-vehicle parking garage on the Rambam Health Care Campus can be converted into a 2,000-bed hospital — underground.

An alarm sounds and the clock begins ticking down at the Rambam Health Care Campus in Haifa. In just 72 hours, the largest hospital in the north of Israel moves all of its patients and staff into a secure underground facility and readies itself to take in the wounded.

This is the challenge that Rambam, through the opening of its underground hospital a little more than a year ago, hopes to never encounter but is prepared to meet nonetheless.

During the Second Lebanon War in 2006, approximately 60 rockets landed within one kilometer of the hospital. Over the course of 34 days, 792 wounded were treated in the Rambam emergency room.

“It was very stressful conditions, because a hospital under fire has to continue to treat patients and soldiers and civilians and all kinds of people,” said Dr. Rafael Beyar, director of Rambam. He convened his board and together they decided that the hospital needed a secure location to treat patients during times of conflict.

Health.IMG_8094_4cIn consultation with the Israeli government, Beyar and his team settled on an underground facility that in 72 hours can be converted from a three-level 1,500-vehicle parking garage into a 2,000-bed hospital set 16.5 meters into the earth. It is by far the largest facility of its kind in the world.

“It’s a unique facility. There’s a need for that,” Beyar said, adding after a pause, “I hope that the need will not be used ever, but we’re prepared to treat patients under fire.”

The engineers who designed the Sammy Ofer Fortified Underground Emergency Hospital —named for the late Israeli shipping magnate who gifted nearly $20 million for the project — journeyed to Singapore to study that Asian country’s convertible hospital.

Though the Singapore hospital offered a starting point, said Beyar, to meet Israel’s needs many adaptations and innovations were necessary.

“We had to build a surgical suite into the underground hospital; we had to build close 100 intensive care beds,” said Beyar. “We have also to include close to 100 dialysis units.”

These challenges were in addition to figuring out how to provide electricity, water, the food supply, showers and toilets that can operate [when] sealed off from the rest of the world for three full days at a time.

But innovation has long been part of the hospital’s DNA. The hospital has a partnership with the Technion, considered to be the MIT of the Middle East, and is a global leader in cardiovascular and neurosurgery breakthroughs. (Just prior to his conversation with the JT, Beyar met with the president of Johns Hopkins University to discuss one such

Health_cars_4cSome of that medical technology has been used to treat Syrian patients. Dr. Yoav Leiser, a maxillofacial surgeon, led the efforts to create a titanium lower jaw, created on a 3-D printer, for a Syrian man whose lower half of his face was destroyed by a projectile during his home country’s ongoing civil war.

Beyar estimated that in the last year, Rambam has treated more than 100 injured Syrians who cross Israel’s border through the Golan Heights.

“Rambam is an island,” said Beyar. “Everyone works together, everyone is friends with one another. That’s how our neighbors from around us continue to be treated. We get
patients from Syria, from the West Bank and Gaza. It’s really an island of coexistence in peace, and it’s a model for how people should act in the future.”

Flexibility is also key. Beyar explained that the bunker can be sectioned off depending on the need. Hospital staff and the Israel Defense Forces coordinate on drills to simulate how the hospital should react in the event of an attack or national emergency.

Though more work continues on the facility, Beyar said, “We are really safe and ready for anything that can happen. Rambam has always been a place of security for people in the North in times of peace and in times of war.”


Meet the Maccabeats! ‘Regular Jewish guys having fun’ in an a cappella kind of way

The Maccabeats will perform at the Peggy and Yale Gordon Center for Performing Arts on Dec. 13. Ari Lewis is third from the left; Michael Greenberg is third from right; and Yonatan Shefa is fourth from right. (Abbie Sophia Photograqphy)

The Maccabeats will perform at the Peggy and Yale Gordon Center for Performing Arts on Dec. 13. Ari Lewis is third from the left; Michael Greenberg is third from right; and Yonatan Shefa is fourth from right. (Abbie Sophia Photograqphy)

From performing for free at school events to singing at the White House, the Maccabeats have brought the sounds of Judaism into mainstream music, and they’ll bring those same sounds to a sold-out audience at the Peggy and Yale Gordon Center for Performing Arts on Dec. 13 for a Chanukah Concert.

The 13-member Jewish a cappella group, which was formed at Yeshiva University in 2007, released its latest song, “Latke Recipe,” a parody of Walk The Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance,” last month ahead of the upcoming holiday. But what may surprise some fans is why the Maccabeats’ founding member, Michael Greenberg, formed the group.

“When I got to YU, there was no a cappella group, so I started the Maccabeats,” said Greenberg, 27, who studied psychology with a minor in French. “It was largely an attempt to make myself as happy as possible in New York because I was upset about being unable to move to Israel at that point.”

Yonatan Shefa and Ari Lewis, who will perform in Baltimore with Greenberg, joined the group after a mass email was sent out to Yeshiva students announcing auditions.

Shefa, 29, who majored in psychology, said choosing to attend YU was a simple decision since he knew he wanted to pursue Jewish studies. Like Greenberg and Lewis, he became interested in singing at a young age.

“The year before I auditioned they weren’t the ‘Maccabeats,’” said Shefa, adding that the a cappella group existed at YU before it took up its well-known name. “I happened to see them [perform] in a ceremony… I was moved and impressed. The following year they sent out an email blast saying they were holding auditions so I decided I’d give it a shot.”

Lewis, 28, was in Israel when he made the decision to study business management and marketing at YU.

“My roommate in Israel [who is also a Maccabeat] and I knew we wanted to continue singing [while at] college,” said Lewis. “We were excited for the opportunity, which pretty much fell into our laps.”

Lewis explained the climb in popularity started off slowly, first by performing at YU events,  followed by putting on their own shows and then paid performances. Those performances would let them release their first CD. But Lewis said the  release of their “Candlelight” video, a parody of Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite,” which has more than 10 million views on YouTube, made them go viral.

“The question is, what makes any video go viral? To some degree, people are still trying to crack that code,” said Lewis. “On top of the fun and colorful content of ‘Candlelight,’ we filled a niche in the market that until then had been empty. We gave Jews all over a holiday anthem in a world populated with Christmas songs.”

Parodies and rewrites have been a large portion of the Maccabeats’ repertoire. Among other songs, they have also made videos of “D’ror Yikra” to the tune of the song “Cups” from the movie “Pitch Perfect” and a parody of Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass,” called “All About That Neis.”

Aside from experiences such as meeting President Barack Obama, which Greenberg and Shefa singled out as a high point of being a Maccabeat, Lewis  emphasized the opportunity to travel.

“The places I really look forward to [visiting happen during] Shabbat weekends when we bring along our families,” said Lewis. “It feels less like a job and more like an experience.

“The group and our families establish close relationships with the baalei simcha [the people who host them] that lasts for years,” Lewis added. “It’s always a good time when we get  together as a group, but when we bring our families along it makes the experience that much sweeter.”

When asked about what brought the Maccabeats to where they are today, Greenberg and Shefa both  described the group’s rise to popularity as a “perfect storm.”

“I would say it’s half luck. We found a great song that was infectious, and no one else really put out content like that,” said Shefa. “I think we have personality that people connect to. We give off a very real impression that people relate to: regular good Jewish guys having fun.”

Greenberg has enjoyed the journey and opportunities the Maccabeats have created for him, but he recognizes much of the success and popularity was beyond their control.

“I think there have been a number of factors — some identifiable and others not that have contributed to the group’s popularity,” said Greenberg. “I don’t think we could replicate the perfect storm that has brought us to this point.”


Music-Making Mensch Kol Rinah’s new choral director has wide range of musical experience

Rotator_ChoirIn just 30 years, Kol Rinah’s new choral director, Joshua Fishbein, has dabbled in more musical zones than most people can imagine. He is a composer, a pianist and conductor. And that’s just part of the list.

Fishbein grew up in Owings Mills and began taking piano lessons at age 7, which, he says, is where his passion for music began to blossom.

“I just kept on taking more lessons and singing in choirs and eventually writing music,” he said.

At 15, Fishbein started singing in the chamber choir at Franklin High School and the men’s choir at Beth Tfiloh Congregation before spending three years at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University, where he learned music theory. He then spent his undergraduate career at Carnegie Mellon University, where he earned degrees in psychology and composition. He also has two graduate degrees, including a Ph.D. in music from UCLA that he earned last year.

Fishbein, now 30, said he is not sure whether he enjoys composing, directing or performing the most, but he finds that the two often go hand in hand.

“My primary focus is composing, but I couldn’t imagine composing and then not being involved in performance,” he said.

Fishbein said since taking over Kol Rinah, a mixed-voice a cappella choir, after the High Holidays he has enjoyed working with the group’s 21 members. He has tried to expose them to a wide range of musical generals in attempting to create an Anglican style of music making.

“I feel strong you shouldn’t neglect music from any era,” he said.

Fishbein said his interest in this period of music came from some of his prior experiences of singing in church.

“When I moved to San Francisco I got a job directing an Anglo parish’s music department,” he said. “I directed a vocal ensemble that did a lot of early music, and I became interested in music from a lot of medieval eras.”

Currently, Fishbein divides his time between directing Kol Rinah, teaching part time at the Peabody Institute and singing on a substitute basis at the Washington National Cathedral. Fishbein said he often draws his energy from music that he performs, such as a piece based on a poem by Emma Lazarus about the Statue of Liberty.

“We’re singing different settings of the same text, and I’m inspired by different settings,” he said.

In rehearsal, Fishbein said he often jumps around between different vocal parts, although he normally sings baritone.

“I try to be flexible based on what the group needs at a different time,” he said.

Bill Saks, a member of Kol Rinah for 19 years, said the group’s sound quality has improved dramatically since Fishbein took over, in part because they have learned to appreciate what they are singing.

“He tells us the history behind his music,” he said.

Saks said Fishbein has a no-nonsense but friendly demeanor that has given members reason to arrive on time, as opposed to past years where attendance often lagged.

“He’s managed to achieve the impossible and stop that,” he said.

Saks said it has been a joy so far to learn about the dynamics and various styles of music Fishbein has taught, and they have added several new pieces to their repertoire.

“He’s a consummate professional, and we’re thrilled that he’s with us,” he said.

Fishbein has finally settled down in one place and can spend more time with his wife and 2 1⁄2-year-old daughter. He taught part time at the University of Nevada Las Vegas last year.

“After a year of flying back and forth between D.C. and Vegas, I was ready to come back East,” he said.

Kol Rinah’s next performance will be Dec. 15 at the North Oaks Retirement Community, and Fishbein says it is never too late to join.

“We’re looking for more singers, especially male voices,” he said.


It’s That Time Again! Let’s talk turkey and Shabbat

It’s time to talk turkey. Turkey on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day is the quintessential All-American meal, dating back to the Pilgrims. For those used to poultry on Shabbat, Thanksgiving Thursday sometimes poses a dilemma: Eat turkey on Thursday or wait till Shabbat? When

Pumpkin-Swirled Mini Cheesecakes.

Pumpkin-Swirled Mini Cheesecakes.

For instance, you can have roast turkey on Thursday and “Jewish up” the meal by adding a side dish such as Kasha Chili (delicious recipe below). You can use the leftover turkey on Shabbat for a hearty turkey soup or turkey chili with salad and sides. My sister uses her Thanksgiving turkey every year to make a “one-dish” Shabbat meal. She uses turkey and carcass for the broth, adds chicken or turkey broth (and chicken thighs if not enough leftover turkey) and tons of veggies and finally, barley. Serve with challah, and Shabbat is done.

For me, Thanksgiving turkey, celery, onion, cornbread, sage and pumpkin pie remain essentials. After many years of trial and error, I have perfected my method of serving turkey by slicing it ahead.

112015_food2First, roast the turkey so it will be ready early in the day or the day before. Stop roasting when the turkey is brown but slightly underdone (an internal temp of about 160 degrees). Take it out to rest, and then get your cellphone! Seriously. Now snap a photo of that magnificent turkey. Remove the skin in as large pieces as possible. Now, slice your very slightly underdone turkey carefully. Arrange slices and pieces on a large oven-proof platter, pour over some turkey juice, reserving some juice. Press skin tightly over slices, and cover tightly with foil. Refrigerate and bring to room temp before reheating.  Reheat in a 350-degree oven for about one hour, basting often. Remove the skin and pour remaining juices over slices. You will save time to allow decorating your platter and have moist delicious slices. And remember that photo? You can whip it out to show guests what your turkey looked like before slicing!

Pumpkin pie for your finale is always popular.  My dessert table will have a traditional one as well as some mini-swirled cheesecakes for guests. For place cards, I use mini-pumpkins (or apples) and toothpick flags with guests’ names on each.  And always remember to invite a guest or guest couple who would otherwise be alone on this holiday.
> Fresh fragrant sage is worth the investment; fry it or add raw to stuffing and decorate platters with the leaves.
> Want made-from-scratch stuffing fast? Buy and combine two different flavors of boxed stuffing mix.  Add chopped fresh sage and sauteed chopped onions. Tastes homemade!
> Decorate your turkey platter with fresh sage, kale and raw cranberries or canned sliced apple rings.