Rebel Without a Cause Fanatical Fischer goes haywire in ‘Pawn Sacrifice’

If there is any lingering goodwill in the world toward the late Bobby Fischer — the once-in-a-century chess whiz who achieved fame as an unlikely Cold Warrior — “Pawn Sacrifice” pretty much snuffs it out.

Veteran director Edward Zwick’s fast-paced, bleakly entertaining film builds relentlessly from Fischer’s Brooklyn childhood to his internationally celebrated 1972 showdown with Soviet grandmaster Boris Spassky in Iceland.

A jittery retelling of the rise and zenith of a man with undiagnosed mental illness that manifested itself in paranoid (and frequently anti-Semitic) delusions, “Pawn Sacrifice” presents Fischer as a deeply unlikable and unsympathetic protagonist. He is not, to use the vernacular, someone you’d like to have a beer with.

Some of that can be attributed to the unfortunate casting of the eternally boyish Tobey Maguire, who plays Fischer as a petulant child rather than a calculating genius.

Maguire’s tics and tantrums do serve the film, ultimately. In a singularly subversive strategy for
a mainstream movie, Steven Knight’s shrewd screenplay forces viewers to confront the fact that the social misfit and erstwhile American underdog we are rooting for is, in reality, a lunatic and a mamzer.

“Pawn Sacrifice,” which opens Sept. 18, is worth seeing for that reason as well as to revisit a period when the Soviet Union was the U.S.’s great rival, and — before the Miracle on Ice, before Reagan moved into the White House — a skinny 29-year-old New York Jew emerged as the locus of national pride.

Another incentive is the always-terrific Liev Schreiber, whose delicious performance as the taciturn Spassky conveys imperiousness or bemusement with a raised eyebrow or barely perceptible head tilt. The Jewish actor, who played a Jewish Belarus resistance leader in Zwick’s “Defiance,” likewise delivers his few Russian lines with a wonderful clipped accent.

While Spassky is a shades-wearing nonconformist, to the degree he could be, disdaining white shirts and ties in favor of his signature black turtleneck and blazer, Fischer is a rebel without a cause beyond his own single-minded drive to win. Actually, “destroy” is a more accurate word.

In flashbacks to his adolescence, we see the seeds of paranoia planted by his Jewish mother (played by Robin Weigert), whose Communist beliefs and friends attracted FBI surveillance. The young Fischer’s trust was further eroded by her refusal to tell him who his father was.

By his teens, Fischer wouldn’t listen or take advice from anyone. Paradoxically, just a few years later he embraced audiotapes that pinned the ills of the world on the Zionist conspiracy (among other villains).

As its title promises, “Pawn Sacrifice” poses the question, “What does it avail a man to win the world and lose his mind?” To its credit, the film doesn’t try to explain Fischer’s illness nor put too much diagnostic or symbolic weight on the episodes it depicts from his youth.

Consequently, “Pawn Sacrifice” isn’t a cautionary fable except in the sense that Fischer didn’t have the tools and help to stop himself from slipping down the rabbit hole.

His erratic behavior during the 1972 World Chess Championship led the media to portray him merely as an enigmatic, mercurial iconoclast. In one of the movie’s occasional forays into black comedy, Nixon and Kissinger telephone their support. (Apparently, among paranoids, it takes one to know one.)

That series of matches between Fischer and Spassky provides the dramatic crux of the film, and it is
undeniably riveting and unpredictable.

But to counter the fundamental unhappiness at Fischer’s core, as well as the static nature of chess games, “Pawn Sacrifice” employs rapid-fire editing and a double LP’s worth of 1960s rock hits.

The strategy effectively mitigates the main character’s depressing aspects without obscuring his legacy: Bobby Fischer was neither a hero nor an anti-hero, but an irredeemable narcissist with a mean streak.

‘An Inspector Calls’ Director Noah Himmelstein opens Everyman’s 25th season

091115_everyman1For Noah Himmelstein, who grew up attending Everyman Theatre matinees as part of his high school alma mater George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology’s curriculum, returning to Baltimore to direct “An Inspector Calls,” which opens the theater’s 25th season, is one of what Himmelstein refers to as life’s “full-circle moments” for which he considers himself fortunate to experience. Some of the actors he admired back then he’ll direct in the play, an Edwardian-era psychological thriller that still holds uncanny contemporary relevance today.

Written by J.B.Priestley, the play is described as a theatrical page-turner that feels like a cross between “Downton Abbey” and “Sherlock Holmes.” The respectable Birling family is hosting a dinner party in honor of their daughter’s recent engagement when a surprising knock at the door brings a sudden stop to the celebration. Inspector Goole has brought word of the unexpected death of a young woman. As the inspector questions each family member, a trail of dark secrets is revealed, replete with twists and turns. Slowly the mystery unravels, but the action keeps the
audience guessing up to the last
moment.

Referring to the play’s ability to strike a chord for viewers even though written decades ago, Himmelstein, 30, said, “One of the wonderful things about art is that no matter when you look at it, it affects where you are.” He added that there is a design aspect used that brings the drama closer to the audience, which is self-reflective, literally and figuratively.

The play is “about the chain of events in our lives and the ripple effect and how one small action can have [many] different ramifications,” said Himmelstein. “It’s also about our responsibility to other people and to society.”

Now based in New York, after graduating from Boston’s Emerson College in acting and directing, Himmelstein is fresh off of a unique directing experience that clinched Everyman founder and artistic director Vincent Lancisi’s decision to work with him.

“It’s very hard for a director to audition,” said Lancisi. “Actors can do a monologue or do a scene with a partner and we can get a sense of their ability, but a director needs a production.”

Lancisi ascertained from conversations with Himmelstein that “he had the aesthetic that matters to me about how you work with actors, how you illicit strong truthful performances … so I knew his point of view and that he was someone I wanted to work with. What I didn’t know was his capabilities as a director to impact a work.”

Last year, Lancisi traveled to New York City’s Lincoln Center to see Himmelstein’s direction of “I Am Harvey Milk,” an oratorio written by Andrew Lippa, celebrating Milk’s life, that is an intriguing hybrid of opera and theater featuring a 120-voice men’s choir, an orchestra and starring Lippa and soprano Kristin Chenoweth.

For a mostly aural-based production, “I’m telling you he transformed that piece with visual touches throughout that enhanced the piece and that made it more theatrical,” Lancisi said. “It really worked in the spirit of the piece and connected it to the people in the room viscerally.”

He added, “Quite frankly I was smitten with him within minutes of meeting him. Anyone who knows Noah knows the great charm and ease with which he has a conversation. And it turned out he was a Baltimore boy done well,” so Lancisi was pleased to offer the opportunity to Himmelstein, adding that very few slots are open to new directors each year.

“I’ve watched processes enough to know what’s the director and what isn’t, and his imprint was strong and really told the story well.”

Himmelstein, who attended Oheb Shalom and Young People’s Summerstock in Owings Mills as a teen, credits his parents, Ellen and Ken Himmelstein, owners of Samuel Parker Clothier, as being influential and supportive of his love for theater during his formative years. They would regularly send him to New York City on the Superior Lines bus at about age 10 or 11 and he would “see a matinee, have a slice of pizza, go to a museum and come home,” checking in locally with friends upon arrival in New York.

“My mom would say I could sit through ‘Les Miz’ but I couldn’t sit through dinner,” he said, laughing.Himmelstein said it is “thrilling” to be back working in Baltimore and his nascent success is not lost on him.

“You have to take each experience and use it for the experience itself, and not a passport to other experiences.” He also credits timing, slowing down, staying focused and “saying yes to every experience” for his recent achievements.

Lancisi said audiences are in store for an entertaining evening at Everyman. He’s seen enough of the play to know that from the very first moment the audience will get sucked in and there’s a point “where there’s a huge revelation and I think it’s going to be a really surprising twist, that makes this play — written in the 1940s and set in 1912 in a country far, far away — hugely present and important now. And I think the audience is going to gasp with the relevance.”

Lancisi says the drama of a play isn’t about taking words at face value but instead it comes from getting at the meaning behind the dialogue.

“Digging for that subtext and that emotional truth is a rare gift and I knew that was a value of Noah’s,” said Lancisi. “I knew from conversations with him and I could tell from the kinds of artists that he works with that authenticity was a key factor. And the company has liked working with him from day one.”

In addition to Himmelstein the cast includes scenic designer Timothy Mackabee, a friend of Himmelstein’s who also designed “The Elephant Man” for Broadway; lighting designer Jay
A. Herzog; costume designer David Burdick and also Elisheba Ittoop for sound design; Jillian Matthews as props master and Naomi Greenberg-Slovin as dramaturg.

Actors in the performance are Josh Adams, Olivia Ercolano, Jamieson Foreman, Chris Genebach, Deborah Hazlett, Sophie Hinderberger and Bruce Randolph Nelson.

“It’s great for Baltimore when people who were nurtured here in their youth go off and further train and they get their skills and give back to their hometown. It doesn’t get better than that,” said Lancisi. “And it’s also fun to watch his career really start to take off. I think he’s destined to do some big things so I’m glad we can play a role in that.”

mgerr@midatlanticmedia.com

New York, New York It’s a helluva town, where new and old beckon the Baltimore traveler

091115_nycFrom Baltimore it’s an easy train, bus or car ride to New York City to revisit cultural meccas such as the Jewish Museum, wander the Lower East Side streets or lunch at your favorite deli. But if you haven’t visited since the One World Observatory opened in May at One World Trade Center where you can “see forever” it’s time to plan your next trip.

The well-designed and thoughtfully orchestrated One World experience gives you a sense of global connectedness right from the start, where greetings in dozens of languages fill the lofty entrance and the visible tally map shows how many visitors arrive moment by moment and where in the world they harken from. Since the opening, more than 735,000 people have visited, or about 1,000 people per hour.

Those numbers can make for long lines but time passes quickly for guests as the queues wind through a cave-like section featuring “Voices and Foundations” en route to the elevators. Videos encased in the walls feature interviews with designers, engineers, architects and construction workers as they describe what it was like to create the tallest structure in the western hemisphere. Even in the elevator guests are treated to a surround-experience as they travel 47 ear-popping seconds to the top. As the sky pod ascends, animated video engulfs riders, giving an historic overview of the New York skyline as it morphs from its beginnings in 1500 to present day. You literally have to see it to believe it.

Once on the observation levels (101 and 100) you can roam as long as you like — on a clear day you can see for 50 miles as far as Princeton, N.J., it’s claimed. The Discovery level on the 100th floor has huge circular multiscreen kiosks called City Pulse, the “interactive skyline concierge” that gives details for many landmarks, sites and events all across the city.

Guests can rent an iPad for $15 that geolocates anywhere you are standing in the 360-degree view. Touch the screen for more information about whatever it is you’re viewing. Only rented iPads work in the area, personal tablets won’t function in the same manner.

As if the 360-degree view isn’t breathtaking enough, guests can walk onto the14-foot diameter Sky Portal, but it’s not for the faint of heart or those with vertigo tendencies.

From a camera poised on One World Trade Center’s spindle, real-time high-definition video footage of the streets directly below is projected inside the portal’s floor, so you get the sensation of walking high above the streets of Manhattan with just a thin layer of glass between you and the bustling traffic below.

Of course, food and drink is available including a café, bar and full restaurant all with varying hours. Suggested timing is to arrive an hour or so before sunset and stay until dark to get the best of both views.

Exiting the tower you come upon the 9/11 Memorial plaza that features two enormous square waterfalls and reflecting pools, each set within the footprint of the original twin towers. The hypnotic cascading waters seem to disappear deep into the earth. Including the nearby 9/11 Museum, the memorial covers about half of the 16-acre site that was the base of the former World Trade Center complex.

The 9/11 Museum, which occupies 110,000 square feet of exhibition space, tells the story of the tragic event through multimedia displays, archives, written and audio narratives and hundreds of artifacts.

The experience consists of three distinct parts — the historical and memorial exhibitions and Foundation Hall, which is a cavernous space home to the “last column” where visitors can listen to audio recordings from the men and women involved in the immediate aftermath. The space itself leaves the visitor face to face with a huge underground section of the foundation of the original WTC site. Two to three hours is recommended to visit all three sections.

In the Historical Exhibition, visitors are led through sections that illustrate before, after and the day of 9/11, including events at the Pentagon and the story of Flight 93.

The Memorial Exhibition commemorates the lives of those who perished in 2001 and also during the WTC bombing of 1993. Names and photographs of each person, as well as commemorations and memorials from across the country and across the world, are documented.

One such commemoration was the story of the enormous U.S. flag that hung across from the World Trade Center site during the clean up, which became tattered and in dire need of repair. Communities across the country participated in mending it as it traveled from city to city in a gesture of unity, and in Baltimore three threads from the original Stars and Stripes that flew over Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore were woven into its fabric.

If more than a one-day stay is in your plans, consider seeing the Lower East Side of Manhattan by way of the Tenement Museum walking tours. While the museum itself, at 97
Orchard St., is a living treasure of the local immigrant history, walking tours of the neighborhood point a focused lens at the different ethnicities, livelihoods and challenges that characterized the area during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Foods of the Lower East Side tour, offered only twice a week, runs about two hours. It’s an easy stroll and you’ll taste samples from neighborhood originals like The Pickle Guys and Kossar’s Bialys; newcomers like Panade Chinese pastry and Vanessa’s Mandarin-fusion dumplings, Italian cheeses from Essex Street Market, delicious Dominican plantains and candy from the venerable Economy Candy run by the Cohens, a Greek Jewish family that has been selling sweets on Essex St. since World War II.

Though it might tempt you to stop in Katz’s Delicatessen or Russ & Daughters nearby, you won’t be hungry after all those samples anyway, so wander west and pick up the Number 1 train to pay a visit to Barney Greengrass, “The Sturgeon King” for a nice late lunch at Amsterdam and 86th.

Keeping Manhattan (and anywhere you can ship in the U.S. — apparently Art Modell was a regular customer) afloat in gravlox, sable, whitefish and more since 1908, Barney Greengrass lives up to its commitment of being a “food store for those who demand the best.”

Half restaurant and half deli, the sights and aromas that greet you upon entering are guaranteed to stir your inner Jewish foodie soul. Cases on the right are filled with a bevy of fishes, meats and store-made salads and to the left are breads, bagels and sweet-baked goods. Shelves surround the jam-packed space with the likes of gefilte fish, caviar and pickled herring. Don’t miss the chunks of fresh halvah or babka loaves on the counter, and if you don’t want to assemble the meal, just step over the threshold to the full restaurant or put in your catering order to go.

What are you waiting for?!

mgerr@midatlanticmedia.com

 

From the Kitchen High Holidays bring special delights to the table

NEW-AGE POT ROAST  IN A CROCK POT

NEW-AGE POT ROAST IN A CROCK POT

Smells of a Jewish kitchen at the High Holidays is certain to stir up memories of times past. As sweet as it feels, it is time to update your palate and pantry for the new millennium. All of my High Holiday menus represent tradition, but I also add new gourmet twists that are sure to catch the attention of your kids and grandkids. Who knows? They may even put down their phones.

If your mother was like mine, you never saw her sit down at the table. These days, every
moment spent with busy families is priceless. Now I plan ahead and do lots of prep, so that I can actually talk to my guests when they arrive. For a quick but fancy touch to my table, I take one 14-by-90-inch piece of fabric (from Wal-Mart or a discount fabric store) and coordinate it with my dishes and tablecloth. This “runner” gives your holiday table a whole new look.

I still have wonderful memories of my mother and aunts making homemade gefilte fish and gently (or not so gently) arguing about how much white pepper to put into it. I loved when my mother would talk about her own mother keeping a live carp in the bathtub. But times do change. I need things easier and faster, and frozen gefilte fish fills the bill. There is even a new one already salt-and-pepper flavored! It may not be your mother’s gefilte fish, but it is still fabulous.

Apples dipped in honey don’t seem to thrill the grandkids these days, so I update this staple with dishes of assorted flavored honeys that I ask them to rate from 1 to 10.

If you haven’t incorporated pareve Puff Pastry into your cooking, 5776 is the year! You can wrap almost anything in Puff Pastry. See my easy pot roast recipe served in Puff Pastry shells. It made the biggest hit at a recent Shabbat dinner. You can also wrap slices of semi-frozen gefilte fish in it, brush with an egg wash and bake until brown. This is not your mother’s gefilte fish — but it is sensational.

Rosh Hashanah seems to fast forward right into Yom Kippur break-fast. I wanted to incorporate my Russian roots and experimented making forshmak.  It is a Russian herring dish, and you can often buy it in the Russian stores.  But I made my own and found the secret was to soak the herring in cold water overnight.  It was easy, not salty and a real treat for some old- and new-timers.  L’shona Tova to all for a healthy and peaceful 5776.

NEW-AGE POT ROAST IN A CROCK POT

FROZEN GEFILTE FISH WRAPPED IN PUFF PASTRY

FORSHMAK

AVOCADO DEVILED EGGS

DESSERT APRICOT BITES

Marty Friedman Comes Home Heavy metal guitarist, Japanese TV personality kicks off U.S. tour in home state

Heavy metal guitarist Marty Friedman performs at Baltimore Soundstage  on Sept. 9.

Heavy metal guitarist Marty Friedman performs at Baltimore Soundstage on Sept. 9.

It was the performance of a lifetime, the day Marty Friedman would become a man. No, it wasn’t his first gig with thrash-metal giants Megadeth nor was it his first time performing in Japan after leaving Megadeth and moving there in 2003. But it was a day that would set the tone for his career.

It was his bar mitzvah at Oseh Shalom in Laurel that prepared Friedman for a lifetime of performing.

“The bar mitzvah experience prepared me in so many ways for what I’d be doing for the rest of my career, which is basically studying really hard, learning a ton of material and living with this material,” he said, “honing it and getting good at it and going up in front of a bunch of people and performing the material the best [I can].”

Friedman’s career would include forming several bands prior to joining heavy metal icons Megadeth, for which he played lead guitar on five albums and one E.P. over the course of a decade, releasing a full catalogue of solo albums and becoming not only a mainstay of Japanese music, but also a TV personality, earning himself the nickname “Ryan Seacrest of Japan.”

The Maryland native, who lives in the Shuinjuku neighborhood of Tokyo, kicks off a month-long U.S. tour at Baltimore Soundstage on Wednesday, Sept. 9. It’s his first American tour in more than a decade.

While he grew up in Laurel, he considers the Baltimore show — the first stop on his tour — a big homecoming. Not only will family and childhood friends be there, but he said some “special stuff” may make its way into this show.

“I’ve never played a solo show [in Baltimore],” Friedman, 52, said. “It’s a big personal deal to me.”

Friedman’s upcoming tour will feature material from 2014’s “Inferno,” which marked his first album of original material in four years and his first in nearly a decade to be released worldwide simultaneously. The album features collaborations with those who consider Friedman an influence, with whom he did a back-and-forth songwriting process.

The resulting album, with its head-banging rhythms, lightning fast guitar work and epic song structures, features contributions from acoustic duo Rodrigo y Gabriela as well as members of Children of Bodom, Revocation and Danko Jones as well as the first collaboration with fellow guitarist Jason Becker since he and Friedman were in Cacophony, a band the two co-founded in 1986.

“I wanted to do something a little more intimate than just have a bunch of friends blast solos on my stuff. I wanted them to be committed to it, ‘You guys, you write this song,’” he said. “I wanted that enthusiasm.”

Although he’s be returning to the state where he gave his first “performance,” Friedman doesn’t consider himself religious these days. Still, Judaism has been intertwined in Friedman’s music, from the band that inspired him to play guitar to those he connected with in the industry to his love of performing “Hatikvah” in Israel.

Friedman first picked up guitar at the age of 14 after seeing KISS in concert. At the time, he didn’t know that founding members Gene Simmons, born Chaim Witz in Haifa, Israel, and Paul Stanley, born Stanley Eisen in Manhattan, were members of the tribe.

“I had no idea they were Jewish. As far as I was concerned, they were from another planet,” he said. “It was amazing, obviously. Life changing. … You’re 14 and you’ve just smoked your first joint and you see KISS … that’s pretty much the ultimate time and place in someone’s life to see something like that.”

He would form several bands before co-founding with Becker heavy metal band Cacophony, which featured highly technical guitar shredding. His work in that band, as well as his debut solo release, “Dragon’s Kiss,” in 1988, earned Friedman a name in the heavy metal scene.

He joined Megadeth in 1990, and that fall, the band released its landmark album, “Rust in Peace,” which earned the band a Grammy nomination for best metal performance.

Although Megadeth lead singer and founder Dave Mustaine never told Friedman, according to some reports, the singer had reservations about Marty Friedman as a stage name.

“What can you do? I really had a name. I couldn’t change it to Marty Rocketship,” Friedman joked, adding that his name took on different status when he left the United States. “One of the great things about being in Japan, all of a sudden my name is cool because nobody knows it sounds like a bald accountant with a pot belly.”

Being Jewish didn’t come up much — “My Jew-fro gave it away a few times,” Friedman quipped — and he noted that there are a lot of Jews in the heavy metal and rock scenes.

During his time in Megadeth, the band garnered mainstream attention and airplay and sold more than 10 million albums. But in the late 1990s, Friedman started listening to something new to him, Japanese pop music or J-pop.

While it seemed to be from a different musical planet than heavy metal, Friedman was sucked in by the complex chord changes and musicality of J-pop.

“I started listening to it all the time, 100 percent,” he said. “I just kind of abandoned everything else because I was so passionately into this Japanese music.”

Friedman left Megadeth in 2000 and moved to Tokyo in 2003 to make his mark on the Japanese domestic music scene.

He has since performed in Asia’s largest venues including The Tokyo Dome and Budokan and has written and played on several Japanese Top 10 hits.

“If anything, I do much more metal here,” Friedman said. “The metal I was playing [in the U.S.] was really traditional, old-school heavy metal.

“Now I’m injecting metal into modern pop music and dance kind of things, all kinds of strange modern genres.”

As he made his mark on Japanese music, he also became a television personality, hosting programs and being featured in national ad campaigns. He estimates that he has made more than 600 network TV appearances in Japan.

“I kind of wanted to avoid it [becoming a TV star in Japan]. I came here to do music and my music started taking off little by little,” Friedman said.

“So when I started making waves in the domestic world just like I wanted, I got offered to do this TV show, it was like a comedy-variety show.”

The show apparently needed someone who could play guitar, who knew about Japanese music and spoke fluent Japanese, so Friedman fit the bill.

Out of that show, one of Japan’s top management firms picked up Friedman, and they’ve been managing him for 10 years now.

“It’s been a fantastic addition to my life in general,” he said.

While Judaism is not a big part of his life in Japan, he has reconnected to his roots in various ways over the years.

When he toured Europe in 2012, his entire band was Israeli, so he asked them all the questions about Israel and Judaism that were on his mind.

“I got to hear Jewish stuff from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. These guys see everything,” he said. “I just absolutely had a blast.

“I learned more from these guys in a couple of weeks on tour than I did in the last 15 years.”

Every time Friedman has played in Israel, including on that tour, in the 1990s with Megadeth and on another solo tour in 2007, he has played “Hatikva.”

“I wouldn’t go there without playing it,” Friedman said. “What a weapon that is.”

He loves performing in Israel, he said.

“The audience, they all look like total metalheads, it looks like a total Slayer concert,” he said, referring to another famed thrash-metal band. “Every single one of them is Jewish and every single one of them has an uber-Jewish name … [a guy’s name is] Shlomo Goldberg and he’s wearing a Cannibal Corpse T-shirt.”

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

Lecture Tackles Mencken’s Possible Anti-Semitism David Thaler will reveal what he believes to be definitive answer

David S. Thaler will give a lecture on Sept. 12 called “H.L. Mencken: Anti-Semite?”

David S. Thaler will give a lecture on Sept. 12 called “H.L. Mencken: Anti-Semite?”

Was H.L. Mencken anti-Semitic? The “Sage of Baltimore,” a journalist, satirist and scholar of American English who famously wrote about the Scopes monkey trial for The Baltimore Sun, and his relationship with the Chosen People has been hotly debated for decades.

David S. Thaler, president of civil engineering firm D.S. Thaler & Associates, believes he has the answer, and aims to put the debate to rest at the 2015 Mencken Memorial Lecture on Saturday, Sept. 12.

Thaler’s lecture, “H.L. Mencken: Anti-Semite?” is part of Mencken Day 2015 at the Enoch Pratt Central Library, located at 400 Cathedral St. in Baltimore. The day’s events, which are free and run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Mencken Room, include exhibits and the annual meeting of the Mencken Society. Thaler’s lecture takes place at 2 p.m. in the Wheeler Auditorium.

“He was the most powerful intellectual force in the 19-teens and the 1920s,” Thaler said, “He made the roaring ‘20s roar.” But there are no monuments to Mencken in Baltimore, and his home that was once a museum is shuttered. Thaler believes it’s because his reputation has taken on an anti-Semitic taint and, to a lesser extent, a racist taint.

Thaler has written four books and several articles on Mencken and believes he has the best private collection of Mencken first editions. But even his views of Mencken have changed over time. In his 2006 book, “The Mencken Paradox: Anti-Semite or MOT,” (member of the tribe), he charged Mencken with being “a little anti-Semitic,” he said. His updated opinion, captured in new book “Mencken’s Prejudices Debunked,” co-written with Marion Elizabeth Rogers and Larry S. Gibson, will not be revealed until the lecture.

Thaler plans to present both sides of the argument, and there is plenty of ammo for each.

A lot of the anti-Semitic theories about Mencken can be traced back to his book, “Treastise on the Gods,” in which he said “the Jews could be put down very plausibly as the most unpleasant race ever heard of.” Thaler believes this might have simply been a literary device, since he later calls Jews the “chief dreamers of the human race and beyond” and praises Jews for Psalms and poetry found in Judaism. Thaler also noted that Mencken insulted everybody, calling Poles “brutal ignoramuses” and the Dutch “money-grubbing” and “unimaginative,” and even trashed Baptists and Methodists as deserving “no more respect than a pile of garbage.”

While Mencken used the word Jewess in his diary, Thaler has found that it was a word people used at the time, even finding it in an Oheb Shalom newsletter from that time period. But Mencken’s use of “kike,” found twice in his diary, is more trouble- some for those who have examined the scholar’s feelings toward the Jews.

“‘Kike’ is a very specific word coined by German Jews about Russian Jews and ‘kike’ is a scruffy, uneducated, uncultured Russian Jew,” Thaler said. “Until very recently, it was a word you could still hear among old German Jews.”

German Jews, having come to Baltimore in the early to mid-1800s, were assimilated and highly cultured by the time Russian Jews started coming to Baltimore later that century into the early 1900s. There were cultural clashes as well as labor strife — the Russians worked in German-owned factories — between the two groups.

With Mencken being vehemently pro-German, feuding publicly with President Franklin D. Roosevelt and opposing the United States’ entry into World War II, combined with his use of the K-word, many paint him as an anti-Semite.

But perhaps one of the biggest strikes against Mencken comes from the trip he took to Germany in 1938.

“This was the most acute observer of world affairs and he didn’t say a peep,” Thaler said. “Hitler was firmly in power, he saw the Jewish shops with Jewish stars on them, and he didn’t say a peep. And this was no secret.”

Thaler admits that this is a terrible blot on Mencken’s reputation. But why Mencken didn’t say anything and whether or not the reasoning is anti-Semitic is “the punchline of my talk,” Thaler said.

Thaler will also discuss the evidence that paints Mencken in a better light. He wanted to see Germany’s monarchy restored, defending the Jewish people in a 1933 article for The Jewish Times and saying he hopes Hitler “and his hoodlums will pass quickly” in private letters.

“He was virtually the only public figure who advocated for the unlimited admission of Jewish refugees” to the United States during World War II, Thaler said.

He was also a champion of civil rights, working with the NAACP to get a black law student admitted to the University of Maryland. The first editorial in his brainchild publication, The American Mercury, attacked the Ku Klux Klan. The last article he wrote pushed for the desegregation of the tennis courts at Druid Hill Park.

Thaler also noted that almost all of his friends were Jewish, including his publishers, a co-author, a rabbi from Oheb Shalom and musicians he would play with on Saturday nights. On a portrait of himself that was drawn by a Jewish artist, he scribbled “kosher” on his hand in Hebrew and wrote a Yiddish word on his typewriter.

“There’s not an anti-Semite in the history of the earth who ever wrote kosher on his own hand,” Thaler said.

He would later defend his calling Jews unpleasant, saying that he meant Judaism had so many prohibitions, and none of his employees would come to work on the High Holidays, so he thought unpleasant was a fair descriptor.

It’s even possible his use of the K-word was more because of his connection to the German community than anti-Semitism.

“The Germans all considered themselves one community,” Thaler said. Ethnic slurs were used in that time period as well, he noted.

“There are at least 100 people who have weighed in on this issue. By and large, the gentile authors have said he was anti-Semitic, and by and large the Jewish authors said he wasn’t,” Thaler said. “I’m going to present both arguments.”

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

Bridging the Gap For Chasidic Jew who consults for Google, no college degree required

Issamar Ginzberg was  featured at the Temech  Conference for Women in Business in Jerusalem this past June.

Issamar Ginzberg was featured at the Temech
Conference for Women in Business in Jerusalem this past June.

JERUSALEM — When Issamar Ginzberg enters his Jerusalem office on a sweltering summer day, he’s wearing a long black coat tied at the waist and a black hat. His long, scraggly beard and sidecurls, or payos, offer no relief from the heat.

The office — thank God — is air-conditioned, and Ginzberg offers kosher candy from a bowl on his desk. Nearby sit his laptop and LG phone, complete with a “kosher” filter that restricts it from many websites. While some Haredi Orthodox men do without any smartphone, Ginzberg has two. He also keeps a Blackberry handy for U.S. business trips.

On a nearby shelf sits a series of Yiddish audio CDs on how to succeed in business that Ginzberg produces and sells. The room, which has an interior that wouldn’t look out of place in a Tel Aviv office building, is on the parking level of his apartment building in a Haredi neighborhood about where the building superintendent might sit.

A scion of a Chasidic rabbinic dynasty, Ginzberg lives in Jerusalem’s Haredi world, attending synagogue daily and spending hours every morning learning Torah. But by afternoon, evening and night, he is a marketing consultant to more than 100 clients, among them Google and Oracle.

“My key clientele is the corporate world and entrepreneurs in the non-Jewish, non-Orthodox world,” said Ginzberg, 35, a father of four. “One of the reasons I’m trusted so much by the Orthodox community is because they know I’m legit, because I actually work in the real world.”

The Brooklyn, N.Y., native moved to Jerusalem five years ago, just as the movement in Israel to integrate Haredim into the army and labor force was gaining attention. Labor force participation rates for Haredi men have risen in recent years and now stand at 45 percent; many Haredi men still opt to study Torah full time rather than work.

Many Haredim see a contradiction between secular workplace culture and their own, but Ginzberg says his black hat and beard are a feature, not a bug. He emphasizes his religious background on his promotional materials, calling himself “Rabbi Issamar” and “a character who just stepped out of ‘Fiddler on the Roof.”‘

“It’s harder to be taken seriously, but the novelty that you look different gives you 10 seconds of, ‘Let me see what this guy has to offer,’” he said. “If you meet 20 WASPs and one guy who looks like me, which one will you remember six months later?”

Ginzberg grew up speaking Yiddish and English in an Orthodox neighborhood of New York and had an early appetite for business. As a teenager, he used classified ads and the early Internet to buy 386-model computers in bulk and resell them for profit. He became a mortgage broker 15 years ago and parlayed that into a consulting business. He now has 120 regular clients that pay $3,000 for 10-hour packages.

To accommodate his Haredi lifestyle, Ginzberg begins his days at 7 a.m., responding to late emails from U.S. clients before attending morning prayers at 8 or 9 a.m. He then studies Torah with a partner until 1 p.m., when he moves back to consulting, generally switching between clients in one-hour shifts. Aside from spending two-and-a-half hours with his family in the evening, Ginzberg works well past midnight with West Coast businesses, getting five hours of sleep at most.

“He and I as well think it’s better to learn [Torah], but you can’t learn all day because there’s no salary,” said Moti Feldstein, director of Kemach, an organization that has helped 7,400 Haredi men find work. “You have kids. You need to make a living. He says, ‘Look at me: I go around with my suit, with my hat, I learn Torah and I work.’”

Clients say what makes Ginzberg valuable is his ability to quickly understand a diverse set of topics despite having no professional training in them. Ginzberg says that comes from being an autodidact with a work ethic formed by learning at yeshiva. He doesn’t have a college degree, but has taught himself, he says, by voraciously reading books and papers on business and psychology.

“I like that he can get to the point,” said Yael Sela-Shapiro, a Hebrew-English translator who consulted with Ginzberg and helped set up a seminar he gave to Google’s Israel
office in 2013. “He talks for a few minutes and manages to pinpoint the exact question that can get the information he needs to give you the best advice.”

Since moving to Israel, Ginzberg has become involved in increasing the employment rates of Haredi men. He interfaces between Kemach and potential employers such as  Google and Intel, helping bridge cultural gaps between the high-tech and Haredi worlds. And he lectures at yeshivas in Israel and America, introducing students to the fundamentals of business.

“He explains what it is to work, professionalism,” Feldstein said. “You work with a staff, you have a manager, you have to come on time, how to work when there’s someone different next to you.”

Judging from Ginzburg’s Facebook page, he doesn’t just use the Internet to make a living — he also enjoys it. In addition to business advice, he posts links to articles on the Middle East, Shabbat and, in one case, being mistaken for an Amish man. Ginzberg maintains it’s all part of the effort to promote his work.

“You can’t run away from social media,” he said. “Business is three-dimensional. People are three-dimensional. When I say, ‘Have a good Shabbos,’ I’m basically proud of the fact I’m a religious Jew. I’m reminding people, whether they’re religious or not, Shabbos is coming. I’m showing everyone that I’m lucky to be who I am and do what I do.”

Hitting the Right Notes Spreading Shabbat joy from the Upper East Side around the world

Karina Zilberman rocks Shababa at New York’s 92nd Street Y.

Karina Zilberman rocks Shababa at New York’s 92nd Street Y.

NEW YORK — To Jewish parents of young children on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Karina Zilberman is something of a celebrity. She is the tall, blonde, guitar-strumming founder of the 92nd Street Y’s Shababa, a multigenerational musical celebration of Shabbat whose name is a mash-up of the modern Hebrew word “sababa” (meaning “cool” or “chill”) and Shabbat.

While the program incorporates dancing with stuffed Torahs, doing conga lines, jumping and playing, Shababa is equally about slowing down and being mindful — two of the most important elements of Shabbat, according to Zilberman. During quiet songs and prayers such as the Shema, when lights are turned down, kids and parents are encouraged to be as silent as possible, to close their eyes and take it all in.

Puppets are an integral part of the Shababa experience.

Puppets are an integral part of the Shababa experience.

On any given Friday morning, more than 100 participants pack the Y for Shababa; witness the row after row of Bugaboos and Maclarens parked outside the door. It’s grown from about a dozen parents and kids to some 300 families, with offerings that now include occasional Saturday mornings in Central Park and a challah-making activity called Shababa Bakery. The Shababa umbrella has expanded to include non-kid-centric events such as Shababa Mamas — a group of women who love to sing — as well as Shababa Nannies, Shababa Bubbies and Shababa Abbas.

Zilberman is generous with smiles and hugs, offering well wishes to both regulars and newbies, all delivered with a lilting Argentine accent. Now, however, Zilberman no longer regularly hosts the weekly Shababa experiences at the 92Y — she’s passed the torch to singer and actress Rebecca Schoffer — dedicating more of her time to spreading the Shababa mission to the rest of the world.

At the beginning of this year, Zilberman officially launched the Shababa Network, an effort to guide synagogues, Jewish centers and schools around the world in the ways of Shababa. The network currently includes 18 organizations, from Texas to Israel, as members.

While at first glance it may seem a difficult feat — how could a program that relies so heavily on Zilberman’s dynamic presence be replicated? — but part of Shababa’s appeal is just how adaptive and inclusive it is. Zilberman stresses the importance of each congregation, community center or school in the Shababa Network creating its own unique experience.

“It’s not a franchise, it’s an approach,” she says. An approach she hopes to become a movement.

Shababa has caught on with everyone from day school parents to unaffiliated Jewish families to non-Jewish caregivers, many of whom sing along to every word of the original Shababa songs.

The fact that all are invited — and encouraged — to become involved is at the heart of the experience.

“It’s beyond interdenominational; it’s interfaith,” explains Zilberman, who refers to caregivers of all faiths as “shlichot mishpacha,” representatives of the families. Many of these caregivers bring Shababa songs to their churches, she adds.

Shababa began in 2008 with a small group of parents and young children in the 92Y lobby.

“I worried that the security guards would get upset by it,” says Zilberman, a former cantorial soloist who is married to Marcelo Bronstein, a fellow Argentine and a rabbi at B’nai Jeshurun, a Manhattan congregation that fuses music and spirituality. “After two meetings the security guard was holding a tambourine and joining in.”

Dasee Berkowitz brings Shababa BeZion, a Hebrew version of Shababa, to Kehilat Zion, a Jerusalem congregation, with the tagline “Come as You Are.”

“One of the special things about Karina and the Shababa approach in general is that she honors every person’s gifts — from the children to the parents to the musicians she works with, and especially to those of us in the network,” Berkowitz says. “Through my training with her, I have never once felt like I needed to ‘be Karina,’ but rather I needed to be myself and bring my unique gifts and talents to inspire those around me.”

Congregations and leaders tailor their songs to their specific audiences. Most use guitars, but Congregation Agudas Achim in San Antonio, Texas, for one, has a piano accompaniment. Original songs such as “Bye, Bye Yuckies,” about wishing away sickness, and “Hello Everybody,” which welcomes children and adults in multiple languages, are sung in Hebrew and Arabic at Shababa BeZion. In Texas, they include Spanish and English lyrics.

Network members get a puppet named Toda (Hebrew for thank you), a sloth who’s said to have been born in the “Chesed Jungle.” He’s a cousin of Coco, Zilberman’s puppet sidekick. As a sloth, Toda and Coco represent the beauty of taking life — and Shabbat — slowly.

Puppetry is an important part of Shababa.

“The puppet is a bridge between the leader and the audience,” Zilberman says, adding that puppets help engage parents and “empower the child within us.”

It’s not about ventriloquism, though; Shababa puppets communicate by whispering into the ear of the leader.

“Our ultimate goal is to bring Shababa in all ways to our community — our shul, our preschool and even to older kids,” says Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham of Agudas Achim in San Antonio.

He is also one of the mentors who will be teaching other community leaders in the Shababa ways this year. “It’s about creating an experience, not just a service,” he says.

Abraham’s wife, Lauren, who runs Agudas Achim’s version of Shababa, says for her it’s about creating a series of interconnected moments, the way Zilberman does.

“She doesn’t just sing the Shema. She does it after there’s been a warmup, and the kids have sung and danced,” Lauren Abraham says. “At that point they’re ready to embark on this great Shema moment. That approach has really changed the way we do things. We try to bring prayer into their hearts through those moments.”

Play, wonder and awe become the center of the religious experience at Shababa, says Berkowitz.

“It enables us to enter into the world of children,” she says. “The adults get to honor what children bring to a spiritual life, and we get to see our own spiritual lives through them.”

The Hills Are Alive … with Yiddish Chasidim discover Norman Rockwell country, thanks to Chabad of the Berkshires

Jiminy Peak has become a popular August destination for Haredi Orthodox Jews.

Jiminy Peak has become a popular August destination for Haredi Orthodox Jews.

HANCOCK, Mass. — The lazy days of August have a special flavor in the rolling hills of the Berkshires, in western Massachusetts.

The flowers are blooming in dazzling colors, the corn at roadside farm stands is delectably sweet, the lakes are refreshingly cool, and the area’s picturesque New England villages are chock-full of families wandering between antique shops, bookstores and ice cream parlors.

It’s real Norman Rockwell country.

But in recent years, the tide of summertime visitors has brought with it a new constituency not much seen before in these storied hills: Haredi Orthodox Jews.

For the most part, the Haredim seem to be heading to one place: Jiminy Peak, a ski resort along the Massachusetts-New York border. Like many such mountains, during the summer season it transforms into an adventure park replete with alpine slides, high-ropes courses, zip lines, mountain biking and scenic chairlift rides. But Jiminy Peak is unique in that it also features a kosher cafeteria for about three weeks in August, courtesy of Chabad of the Berkshires, along with regular prayer services and even separate swimming hours for men and women.

“This is really a service for the Jewish community, not necessarily a profit thing,” said Rabbi Levi Volovik of Chabad of the Berkshires, which is located about 20 minutes away in Pittsfield. “Jews started coming to Jiminy Peak and using our services, and our shul. As they started growing, Jiminy Peak requested our help to coordinate.”

This is the third consecutive summer that Chabad has operated the kosher cafeteria, which sells pizza, falafel, fries and ice cream (it’s cholov yisroel, a more stringent form of kosher dairy). A corner of the cafeteria is set aside as a makeshift synagogue and study hall, and there are Talmud classes in the evenings. Many of the Orthodox visitors stay at the all-suite Jiminy Peak Country Inn at the mountain’s base lodge, where every unit has a kitchenette.

“It’s nice and scenic, and the kids are happy,” Chaya Klein of Lakewood, N.J., said during a recent visit with her husband and five children. “It’s very peaceful here.”

It’s not clear how Jiminy Peak became a stop on the Haredi vacation circuit. Orthodox Jews long have summered in the Catskills. The Berkshires, an area steeped in WASPy culture, more recently has become popular among more liberal Jews.

Whatever the reason, word about Jiminy Peak clearly has spread in the strictly Orthodox community.

“It definitely provides a lot of business for us,” said Katie Fogel, director of marketing for Jiminy Peak. “We don’t necessarily market to that segment. We started working with Chabad of the Berkshires because we noticed an increase in visits among that population and decided that we would partner with them to make it the best experience we could.”

On a recent August afternoon, young and old Jews and non-Jews alike waited in line for the mountain coaster. When boarding, the Orthodox men tucked their yarmulkes into their pockets to keep them from flying off during their high-speed descent down the track.

A Jiminy Peak staffer at the disembarkation point, a girl in her teens who was instructed by an administrator not to provide her name, said that mountain staffers hadn’t been given any cultural sensitivity training.

“We don’t know anything about them,” she said of the Haredi Jews. “I wish I did.”

At the chairlift, which whisks passengers to the top of Jiminy’s alpine slide, a teenage girl wearing a bright-orange staff T-shirt and khaki shorts hoisted a young boy with peyos sidecurls onto a chair. As they ascended, the boy’s father’s ritual fringes flapped in the air.

Families congregated around the bungee trampoline watching their little ones bounce up and down. Nearby, little children in big black velvet yarmulkes and matching outfits stared wide-eyed at screaming teens aboard the giant swing.

Most of the excitement seemed to be up on the high-ropes courses at the adventure park, which combine rope bridges, zip lines, cargo nets and other challenges up in the trees. About 20 feet in the air, a young girl in a long skirt and black stockings wearing a safety harness ventured out onto one of the airborne obstacles as her father waited behind her on a small wooden platform attached to a tree trunk. Her mother watched warily from below, rocking an infant on her hip and holding a stroller with her free hand. Behind her, dozens of young children romped around the playground, jabbering excitedly in Yiddish.

Menachem Tzvi Eisenberg, 18, came back to Jiminy Peak this summer after a visit last year with his grandparents. He said the adventure park is his favorite feature.

“The rope course made me feel very accomplished because I was scared,” said Eisenberg, a Lakewood native. “It’s very high up, and the ropes were shaky. It helped me overcome my fears. It showed me I could do this.”

When it rained on the second day of his visit, Eisenberg and his family tried two nearby bowling alleys and the Crane Museum of Papermaking, but they were all closed.

“What we planned Hashem didn’t want,” he said with a shrug.

Most of the Orthodox visitors on a recent August afternoon appeared to be from the Orthodox strongholds of Lakewood and Monsey, New York, but Orthodox groups and camps also organize bus excursions to the mountain. Many visitors come for just a night or two, loading their minivans with kosher food and sundries they can eat without having to kosherize the kitchens in their hotel. Their visits are practically all midweek; the mountain’s rides violate Sabbath-day restrictions.

Orthodox Jews are hardly the only visitors to Jiminy Peak in summer, but the hills are alive with the sound of Yiddish especially during the peak Orthodox vacation season, after the three-week mourning period of Tisha b’Av, which this year fell on July 26. The kosher food operation at the mountain run by Chabad is open this summer until Aug. 26, and the rides at Jiminy will stay open until late October.

Then, in November, the mountain reopens for skiing.

The Wheels Are Turning In first, Israeli team competed in America’s top bike race

Members of the Cycling Academy, Israel's first professional team, were hosted by Michael and Michelle Osterman in Steamboat Springs, Colo., on the eve of the start of the U.S.A. Pro Challenge, Aug. 16, 2015. (Courtesy of Cycling Academy)

Members of the Cycling Academy, Israel’s first professional team, were hosted by Michael and Michelle Osterman in Steamboat Springs, Colo., on the eve of the start of the U.S.A. Pro Challenge, Aug. 16, 2015. (Courtesy of Cycling Academy)

As Israeli bicyclist Yoav Bear sped through the end of Stage 2 of the U.S.A. Pro Challenge race at nearly 11,000 feet of elevation in the Colorado Rockies, he thrust his water bottle into the hand of a young spectator clutching an Israeli flag.

Bear’s gesture made the day, if not the vacation, of the 13-year-old bystander, Ilai Engelhardt, a resident of the northern Israeli town of Avtalion who loves competitive biking. On Aug. 18, his American uncle and aunt had brought Ilai to the race, which aims to be America’s version of the Tour de France and runs for a week every summer.

Bear said that seeing an Israeli flag along the route warmed his heart.

“The encouragement spurs you to ride faster,” he said.

In the fifth year of the U.S.A. Pro Challenge, an Israeli team made its debut among the 16 teams that competed.

The mere existence of the Israeli team, called Cycling Academy, is remarkable. The idea of forming an Israeli club to compete on the international circuit developed serendipitously in late 2013, when Ran Margaliot, a former Israeli national cycling champion, went for a ride in the Nes Harim foothills outside Jerusalem and met Ron Baron, a recreational biker and fan of the sport.

Israeli cyclist Yoav Bear competing in the U.S.A. Pro Challenge in Colorado, Aug. 18, 2015. (Courtesy of Cycling Academy)

Israeli cyclist Yoav Bear competing in the U.S.A. Pro Challenge in Colorado, Aug. 18, 2015. (Courtesy of Cycling Academy)

Baron, a finance industry professional who lives near Tel Aviv, agreed to put up almost all the money required (about $1 million this year, with $100,000 going to cover the Colorado costs alone), and the pair got Peter Sagan, a successful Slovak cyclist, to lend his name to the venture.

Margaliot, 27, calls the team a typical Israeli startup — albeit in a realm where until now Israel has been virtually absent. Margaliot long had dreamed of becoming the first Israeli to qualify for the Tour de France, presumably on some other country’s team, but after falling short, he turned his attention to improving opportunities for other Israelis.

The team aims to project a positive image of Israel at races and events — to show that it “is a normal country, and that this is part of the development of a young country,” Margaliot said.

The Cycling Academy’s 13 riders, all men, included five Israeli Jews and eight non-Jewish Europeans: four Poles, two Slovaks, a Czech and a Spaniard. Its diversity is by design, according to Baron, who owns the team. He wants to attract fans from the riders’ homelands, many of which, such as Israel, lack a professional cycling culture.

The Israeli team has received inquiries from competitive cyclists throughout the world — including riders from Morocco, Algeria and even Iran, according to Baron. The Israeli rock star Ivri Lider, a biker, was enlisted to design the team’s green and black uniforms.

Among the highlights of the team’s first year are winning stages of the Tour d’Azerbaidjan, the Tour de Berlin and the four-country Visegrad 4 Bicycle Race.

The spectacle of the Israeli club’s rider — Daniel Turek of the Czech Republic — leading in Azerbaijan, with spectators in the Muslim-majority country lining the course, “was a proud moment,” said Tsadok Yecheskeli, an Israeli journalist who is handling the team’s media relations.

The cyclists train in Slovakia and Israel, but Colorado is being considered as an additional training site, Yecheskeli said. That’s because the altitude there offers ideal training opportunities — and because, Margaliot said, the team received a warmer welcome last week in the state “than anywhere else in the world.”

As at other races, the Israeli team built support last week distributing Israeli flags to bystanders at each stage of the Colorado competition. The race started Aug. 17 in Steamboat Springs, winding between several ski resorts before it ended Sunday with a final leg stretching from the city of Golden to Civic Center Park in Denver.

Australian Rohan Dennis won the men’s event; Olympic gold medalist Kirsten Armstrong of the United States won the women’s event. The Israeli team finished 15th overall.

One non-Jewish spectator, Gary Burge, waved the Israeli flag at Aug. 18’s stage in the mountains outside Steamboat Springs. A veterinarian, Burge was there with his wife, Lori, and another couple because they are all cyclists who admire the world-class athletes competing.

“I don’t think it changed anything about how we look at Israel and the plight of Israel because we know it very well. But it’s one more thing to be inspired by,” Burge said. Noting the appeal of rooting for an upstart on the circuit with talented young riders at its core, he added, “You don’t have to be Jewish to be aligned with them.”

Burge said the couples were drawn to the team when their Jewish friends, Michael and Michelle Osterman, hosted a reception Aug. 16 for the riders. The Ostermans had learned of the Israeli team’s existence just four days earlier.

On Aug. 14, the team’s director, Slovakia native Jan Valach, asked Michael Osterman to take the cyclists on a training ride. Osterman went the request one better, bringing them to the course of Stage 1, which they’d cycle three days later.

“It never dawned on me that Israel would have a pro bike team,” said Osterman, a retired marketing professional. “They’re planting the seeds to create something for the future — although for this event, it’s a pretty big deal that they made it this far, this fast.”

Osterman’s son, Matthew, runs a family business in Denver, the Sleeping Giant Brewery Company, which hosted the Israeli squad for a mellow evening of drinking craft beer this past Monday.

There were chairs there, of course. But after sitting all week, many of the cyclists opted to stand on their own two feet.