Have You Heard?

061314_everyman

“Tribes” centers around a young deaf Jewish man and his highly dysfunctional hearing family. Photo by Stan Barouh

With so much talk of inclusion, it’s easy to conclude it’s just a buzzword, the issue of the moment. Inclusion can be hard to define, and what feels inclusive to one person may not feel that way to another.

Yet, some institutions are taking meaningful steps toward including individuals with disabilities in their programming. Baltimore’s Everyman Theatre, for instance, has put the issue of inclusion front and center in its production of Nina Raine’s 2010 hit play, “Tribes.” The show, which won the 2012 Drama Desk Award for outstanding play, opened on May 22 and closes on June 22.

“Tribes” tells the coming-of-age story of Billy, a young Jewish British man who is deaf and lives with his highly dysfunctional hearing family. Billy is played by deaf actor, John McGinty. For the show’s Baltimore premiere, Everyman also premiered a brand-new handheld technical device that deaf and hard-of-hearing audience members can use to make the play more accessible.

Everyman Theatre is one of the first theaters in the country to adopt the new technology. The devices, which are complimentary, will be available throughout the run of “Tribes” as well as for all Everyman productions in the future.

When he saw “Tribes” in New York, Everyman’s founding artistic director and the play’s director, Vincent M. Lancisi, said it “hit him right between the eyes.”

“I knew Everyman had to do it, and I knew I had to direct it,” he said. “Everyman is sort of known for its family dramas. We kind of put the ‘dys’ in dysfunctional, and this play is definitely about a dysfunctional family!

“When we started working on the play, we knew we wanted to make it inclusive for deaf people. The more we learned about what it is like to be deaf, the more we realized that theater isn’t a particularly accessible art form for the deaf,” he continued. “So we hired Tim McCarty, the president of Quest Theatre [an inclusive, visually based theater company in Lanham, Md.] as our director of access and Will Conley, former chair of the theater department at Gallaudet University, as our director of artistic sign language. We also began to search for technologies that would make the play accessible. Lo and behold, we found a company that was developing one.”

In addition to providing the handheld devices, Everyman has also installed adjustable seat mounts to hold the devices comfortably in front of the seats.

Lancisi said that filtered screens on the devises ensure that those sitting nearby will not be distracted by light from its screen. An operator in the theater’s sound booth makes sure that the dialogue appears on the screens at the same time that actors are speaking their lines.

Yael Zelinger, of the Center for Jewish Education’s Jewish Advocates for Deaf Education, said the new
device is a great innovation for the deaf community.

“Anything that opens up accessibility and raises awareness in the hearing community about the deaf community is good,” she said.

Sheryl Cooper, an American Sign Language interpreter and coordinator of the deaf studies major at Towson University, agreed. Cooper, who was instrumental in promoting the show to members of Baltimore’s deaf community, believes the show will be a “boon” for all families, but especially for those with deaf family members.
Lancisi said that patrons are “loving it.”

The only drawback? It’s expensive. Lancisi hopes Everyman supporters will consider making a donation to offset the costs.

For tickets, information or to make a donation, visit everymantheatre.org.

sellin@jewishtimes.com

Make It Memorable

Poor Dad! For Mother’s Day almost 114 million greeting cards are purchased annually; for Dad’s big day, 90 million. And while many restaurants are bombarded for reservations on Mother’s Day, the same ones often are less than full on Dad’s special day. The most hallowed tradition on Father’s Day is for everyone to gather around the grill while Dad cooks!

Getting fathers to recall their past can be a gift for them and for the rest of the family. There are many commercial “memory” books that encourage Dad or Zayde to write down his blasts from his past. You can buy one such as “Dad, Tell Me a Story: How to Revive the Tradition of Storytelling with Your Children” (a great gift for dads with children of all ages). Or you can make your own. Get paper and a loose-leaf binder. Have kids and grandkids write a question at the top of a page such as, “What was your favorite game when you were 10?” “Who was your favorite teacher?” And since Dad still remains king of the grill, here are some side dishes that will please him and all guests. Make Father’s Day a celebration he deserves.

ILENE’S CORN CHIP SALAD
STRAWBERRY MOZZARELLA WITH BALSAMIC GLAZE
EARLY SUMMER GREEN BEANS

Tips & Tricks

  • Crumple up and soap a piece of aluminum foil (even slightly used, but clean) into a ball to clean the grill or tough surfaces on pots/casseroles. (better than steel wool).
  • If you’re short on refrigerator space, fill your bathtub, laundry sink or top-load washing machine with ice and chill bottles until you need them.
  • Knot the corners of a cloth when eating outdoors to prevent flapping. Slip a tiny bouquet of herbs or dried flowers in each knot for decoration.

Diamond minds

(From left) Ron Shapiro, Caden Shapiro and Mark Shapiro share a special bond over baseball.  (provided)

(From left) Ron Shapiro, Caden Shapiro and Mark Shapiro share a special bond over baseball.
(provided)

Standing on a hill on a glorious Sunday morning, Mark and Ron Shapiro are kvelling as they watch Caden Shapiro — son of Mark and grandson of Ron — pitching — in a baseball tournament in Aberdeen, Md., after having been shelved for nearly two months by a broken ankle.

Mark Shapiro, the president of the Cleveland Indians, was back recently for the three-day competition as a coach for his boy’s Cleveland Spiders, not to see his Tribe play the Orioles at nearby Camden Yards.

The site for the tournament — a complex of beautifully maintained fields — was named for Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. — the most recognizable client of his dad, an eminent sports agent.

At 11, Caden is the latest Shapiro drawn to baseball, a chain emanating from the 1950s, when Ron’s immigrant father, also named Mark, took his young son by train from their home in Philadelphia to a World Series game at Yankee Stadium in New York

Ron and Mark Shapiro have combined for 62 years of baseball-related employment that began when the Orioles’ then-owner Jerry Hoffberger asked Ron, a lawyer friend, in 1975 to assist Brooks Robinson with financial problems the team’s All-Star third baseman was experiencing.

It launched Ron Shapiro into a lucrative career as an agent representing athletes in contract negotiations.

The work appealed to Mark Shapiro too, but he blazed a different path to his baseball life. In 1991, he took an entry-level job with the Indians that included chauffeuring prospective free agents such as pitchers Sid Fernandez and David Wells from the airport. From there he would serve as director of player development, assistant general manager and general manager before being promoted to president four years ago.

Their jobs, at least occasionally, would have pitted Shapiro the agent against Shapiro the executive. Instead, they recused themselves from face-to-face involvement.

“When it came to doing contracts, he delegated and I delegated,” Mark Shapiro said. “It just seemed like the right way, the honest way, to handle it.”

Ron Shapiro said he’s heard plenty of kind words around baseball about Mark’s integrity.

“What does a father feel other than unbelievable pride?” he said. “I look at Caden looking at his father, and the relationship continues.”

Mark and Ron Shapiro see each other five or six times a year — they had been together a month earlier at the New Jersey bat mitzvah of Mark Shapiro’s niece — but speak by telephone several times a week.

“Nothing happens of major importance where we don’t talk to each other,” said Ron Shapiro, 71.

“It makes me happy to see kids play and parents and kids interacting around baseball,” said Mark Shapiro, 47.

It was Mark Shapiro who co-founded the Spiders — a name the Indians had used in the late 19th century — two years ago to imbue youth baseball with values that he thought were missing.

In youth baseball, “the overarching opportunity is character development,” Mark Shapiro said, sitting with his father in the shade following Caden’s game. “Character is how do you respond to adversity [and] setbacks? Being a great teammate, showing respect — that’s at the core of what this experience provides for us as coaches and as fathers.”

They have the perfect role model in Ripken. The Orioles former star infielder, baseball’s Ironman, had stood with Ron Shapiro not far from here surveying the acreage that would become a stadium and complex for the minor-league Aberdeen Ironbirds and youth leagues to draw the next generation of players.

At the Ripken facility, Mark Shapiro called over former major-league first baseman Sean Casey to address the Spiders. Casey, coaching his son Jake’s Pittsburgh club, stood beside his own father, Jim, who had enlisted Ron Shapiro as his son’s first agent upon his being drafted by the Indians in 1997.

Jake and Caden’s teams would square off that afternoon. Close friends Casey and Mark Shapiro would be in the coaching boxes.

“Take it easy on us,” Casey told the Spiders.

Coaching the Spiders helped Mark Shapiro overcome the temptation to attend the Indians-Orioles series. So was visiting with his father and stepmother, Cathi, at their suburban Baltimore farm.

Father and son exude warmth. Ron Shapiro, unable to stay for the afternoon game, told Mark upon departing, “Give me a kiss and a hug,” and through their embrace the men uttered their mutual love.

Their personal-baseball time together here was a weekend to savor.

“For me, baseball has always been relational — and nothing is more relational than family,” Mark Shapiro said. “My love for baseball has always been tied to my father. And to be able to see that relationship and love for the game shared with my son, and to have my dad here, is incredibly special.”

Caden gets the whole baseball-family thing.

“It’s pretty cool, passing down baseball generation to generation,” he said, grasping the white sphere. “It’s a great experience I’m living with my father and grandfather. Baseball just runs in our family. I’ll pass it on to my grandkids.”

A ‘Rocky’ Road to Stardom

Margo Seibert stars as Adrian in the Broadway production of “Rocky.” (Provided)

Margo Seibert stars as Adrian in the Broadway production of “Rocky.”
(Provided)

Margo Seibert was babysitting when she learned she had been chosen to play the role of Adrian in the first Broadway production of “Rocky,” a musical version of the 1976 Academy Award-winning film starring Sylvester Stallone, who co-authored the show’s libretto.

“The director, Alex Timber, called and said, ‘We want you to have the role of Adrian. You’ll get a formal offer on Monday,’” Seibert, 29, recalled. “I called my mom, and whispered, ‘I got the part.’ I couldn’t scream because the baby was sleeping. As an actor, you have a lot of part-time jobs in between shows.”

The story is a charming reminder that before she landed the role of a lifetime, Seibert was a nice Jewish girl from Glenelg, Md., who began her career performing in school plays in Howard County public schools and got her first professional break at Toby’s Dinner Theatre in Columbia when she was 16. Her first job was assisting the music teacher at the religious school of Columbia Jewish Congregation, where she was a member and became a bat mitzvah.

Margo Seibert is still kind of stunned. “It is so thrilling. Most people told me I’d be here, but I really didn’t know.”

For mother Debbie Seibert, having a daughter on Broadway has been “otherworldly.”

“There’s really no one else I can talk to about it, because so few people have experienced this,” said Debbie Seibert, who still lives in Glenelg. “I knew she had the talent, but I was also realistic about what she was up against. The big joke was that I made her go to American University. They have a great musical theater program, but I told her, ‘You can do as much musical theater as you want, but you have to get your degree in something else. So Margo got a degree in international relations. When she called and told me she got this part, I said, ‘Finally, someone sees what I see!’”

Although she’s been watching Margo perform all of her life, watching her daughter on a Broadway stage was nevertheless deeply moving.

“I had to keep reminding myself I was at the Winter Garden Theatre,” she said. “There is one point in the show when it’s just her on the stage singing, and it’s such a beautiful moment. I just started to cry.”

For Margo Seibert, playing the role of Adrian has been a wonderful journey. “I wasn’t really familiar with the movie, and I didn’t watch it until the fifth or sixth round of auditions,” she said. “It was interesting to find the Adrian in me. I’m a lot more outgoing than she is, but she has a vulnerability that we all have. It causes defenses, and we all express [our vulnerabilities] in different ways.

“In the play, Adrian’s role is expanded, and she really gets to blossom,” Seibert continued. “It’s very fulfilling. Who wouldn’t want to have a role where they fall in love and grow in self-confidence? I love the role.”

Seibert said she is also grateful to have had the opportunity to make her Broadway debut playing a new character in a new show. “This is what I have always done but on a smaller scale,” she said. “If I can have the opportunity to craft new characters and work with writers on brand new pieces, I will be very happy.”

Working with mega-star Stallone has been an extra perk, added Seibert. “It has been amazing and surreal,” she said. “He generously shared stories about his experience writing the screenplay for ‘Rocky,’ and his feedback during the preview process was incredibly helpful to the dynamic between Rocky and Adrian.”

Now that she is a Broadway star, Seibert’s life is busier than ever. “We do eight shows a week and also press events,” she said. “It’s very taxing energy-wise, but it’s so enjoyable. It’s like a marathon.”

Seibert noted that her costar, Andy Karl, also a Baltimorean, has an even more grueling role. “As Rocky, he’s working his butt off,” she said.
The fact that they grew up outside of Baltimore and performed — at different times — at Toby’s has strengthened their onstage bond. “We’ve really formed a kinship,” she said.

While Margo Seibert said she’s very happy living in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, she credits Howard County, her family and her teachers there with helping her to become a successful performer.

“There was such an automatic respect for the arts there,” she said. “My music and drama teachers at Glenelg High School were like second and third mothers to me. High school is such a delicate time, and they were always so supportive. I don’t think I’d be where I am if I had not grown up in Howard County.”

sellin@jewishtimes.com

For the People

A new book by historian Gary Zola explores how American  (Southern Illinois University Press) Jews adopted President Lincoln as one of their own.

A new book by historian Gary Zola explores how American
(Southern Illinois University Press)
Jews adopted President Lincoln as one of their own.

Jews have held many U.S. leaders in high esteem over the course of American history, but they maintain a particularly emotional bond with Abraham Lincoln.

Gary Zola’s recently released book, “We Called Him Rabbi Abraham: Lincoln and American Jewry, a Documentary History,” sheds new light on that storied 19th-century relationship. From the time of Lincoln’s presidency to the present day, American Jews have persistently viewed “Honest Abe” as one of their own — casting him as a Jewish sojourner and, in certain respects, a Jewish role model.

“Everybody venerates Lincoln,” Zola, who is executive director of the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives and a professor of the American Jewish experience at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, said. “He is beautified and becomes an icon all over the world. But I challenge anyone to identify an American hero, not a Jewish hero, who has been taken into the Jewish experience as if he were really one of us. There’s a difference between admiring an American hero and considering that American hero to be a Jewish role model.”

Published in March, Zola’s book is the first volume of annotated documents to focus on the history of Lincoln’s image, influence and reputation among American Jews. What exactly is behind the president’s special relationship with the Jewish community? For starters, his biblical name.

“The soldiers referred to him as ‘Father Abraham,’” Zola said. “He had the beard, and also Lincoln assumes this role as an emancipator of the slaves. He is in so many ways reminiscent of this part of our religious heritage that seems to work for both the Jews and the Americans. Lincoln had numerous significant encounters with the Jewish community during his day, and they were dramatic.”

The most prominent of those encounters, said Zola, was Lincoln’s revocation of General Grant’s Orders #11, which had ordered the expulsion of all Jews in his military district as part of a Union campaign against a black market in Southern cotton, which Grant believed was run “mostly by Jews and other unprincipled traders.”

James Cornelius, curator of the Lincoln Collection at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Ill., said Zola’s book “clearly assembles more material, in a more intelligible way, than any other book on the topic.”

One of Lincoln’s well-known Jewish connections, Cornelius noted, was his political and personal friendship with Abraham Jonas, a Whig/Republican organizer who in July 1860, during Lincoln’s presidential campaign, alerted Lincoln about rumors started by Democrats that he was an anti-immigrant “know-nothing.”

“Lincoln quickly wrote back [to Jonas] to deny [the rumors],” said Cornelius.

Zola said Jonas was Lincoln’s most valued friend.

“Lincoln proves, through this relationship with Jonas, that he is capable of being a friend and an ally to like-minded people. It doesn’t matter to Lincoln that Jonas was a Jew,” said Zola.
In three chapters in Zola’s book — “Lincoln and the Chaplaincy Controversy,” “Lincoln and the Revocation of General Orders No. 11,” and “Lincoln and the Movement to Christianize the U.S. Constitution” — Zola provides documentation that shows Lincoln handled controversies with deference to Jewish people and to all people.

Had Lincoln not been assassinated, Cornelius suggested, he likely would have extended to smaller minorities all the rights he had fought to win for African-Americans. Everything about Lincoln’s thought and character suggests that he saw no differences between citizens of the U.S. or aspirants to citizenship, said Cornelius.

“Thus, votes for blacks once the war was won,” he said. “Perhaps eventually votes for women, though he had not addressed that topic since 1837.”

In the chapter titled “Lincoln and the Movement to Christianize the U.S. Constitution,” Zola writes that in the weeks following Lincoln’s assassination, many Jewish leaders pointedly described Lincoln as a man who was always ready to recognize “in full” American Jewry’s “claims to an equality before the law.”

“In eulogizing Lincoln, Philadelphia newspaper editor and Jewish communal leader Alfred T. Jones maintained that whenever the minority rights of American Jewry had been impugned, Lincoln ‘promptly recognized our claims as a religious body to national protection and acceded unhesitatingly to all our just demands,’” Zola writes.

In his sixth chapter, Zola describes how David Einhorn, a distinguished reformer and probably the nation’s most outspoken rabbinic opponent to slavery, elevated Lincoln to an almost saintly status. “The ‘High Priest of Freedom’ had been murdered, Einhorn lamented. Lincoln, he euphuistically proclaimed, was ‘his people’s messiah.’ Einhorn literally described Lincoln’s death as a form of ‘Kiddush Ha-Shem’ — the act of forfeiting one’s life for a sacred cause,” writes Zola.

Cornelius said that he hears on a weekly basis “from people — many of them with religious interests — who try to embrace Lincoln more than the next group.”

“Everyone wants Lincoln on their team,” he said. “For Jews, as a religious group, he is perhaps more attractive as one of our most interesting religious thinkers or personalities to occupy the White House: a natural humanist and egalitarian.

Zola said that over the course of the last 150 years, “as Lincoln has helped Americanize Jews, Jews have consistently, persistently Judaized Lincoln.”

“This is a unique phenomenon for any American figure, even to the degree that he appears in Jewish religious textbooks as a role model for how to be a good Jew,” he said.

A Nice Guy Who Finished First

Shep Gordon’s life has been filled with relationships with celebrities, including the Dalai Lama. (Courtesy of RADiUS-TWC)

Shep Gordon’s life has been filled with relationships with celebrities, including the Dalai Lama.
(Courtesy of RADiUS-TWC)

A half-hour doesn’t go by any faster than listening to longtime rock ‘n’ roll manager Shep Gordon’s anecdotes.

In an interview coinciding with the recent San Francisco International Film Festival screening of Mike Myers’ briskly entertaining documentary, “Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon,” Gordon offered firsthand memories of Groucho Marx and Barbra Streisand, Bill Graham and Marvin Hamlisch.

And those were just the Jews.

Gordon was 22 and Groucho’s co-manager with Erin Fleming, when she took him to a meeting with a music executive in 1972. The comic icon’s mercurial late-in-life companion berated and cursed A&M Records co-founder Jerry Moss until he asked Gordon outside for an explanation.

“Groucho can’t afford his nurses,” Gordon said, “and you have an album coming out with him [“An Evening With Groucho” recorded live at Carnegie Hall], and I thought maybe you’d give him an advance, because you have a way to recoup it.”

Moss wrote a large personal check and handed it to Gordon. “I’m only going to ask you one thing,” he said. “Don’t bring her back.”

Gordon laughed with pleasure at the recollection, noting that they are friends to this day.

“He’s a great Jew,” Gordon said. “I am proud to be a ‘landsman’ of his.”

The lively and affectionate “Supermensch,” which opens today, assembles Michael Douglas, Sylvester Stallone, Emeril Lagasse, Alice Cooper — Gordon’s first and longest-tenured client and friend — and others to describe the path and character that led a gangly New Yorker to wind up cooking dinner for the Dalai Lama.

Or, to put it another way, how a nice guy finished first.

“I give all credit to my DNA and my cultural background,” said the New York native. “A lot to my father, but I think it’s much broader than my father. I think that there’s a strain in many Jews of being social liberals, and that’s one of the things I love about being Jewish: So many people I meet who are Jewish actually care about other people.”

Gordon said he was very vocal with prospective clients that other managers could make them more money. His particular talent, which he deployed on behalf of Alice Cooper, Teddy Pendergrass, Anne Murray, numerous other performers and countless celebrity chefs (a category he pioneered, without compensation), was making people famous.

“I always felt that my social liberalism didn’t come from consciousness,” Gordon said. “By cause and effect it came from DNA. That it was beyond me, there was nothing I could do about it. So many times, like the chefs, I was not going to do that. I knew they had this need for somebody to make them famous. I was not going to be that guy, and at some point the consciousness went away and the DNA took over, and they needed help and I could help them. That’s Jewish.”

He turned very serious at the mention of hard-nosed Holocaust survivor and promoter Bill Graham, who booked and ran the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco, among other venues.

“I had the utmost respect for him,” Gordon said. “Because he had the tattoo. And because he had the tattoo I acted in ways that weren’t the smartest, but I’m glad I did them. But they always backfired on me, because he was a very difficult guy.”

On one occasion, Graham called to object to Pendergrass playing a competing Bay Area venue. Gordon phoned Teddy, explaining Graham’s background while making it clear that his offer was for less money and might provoke a lawsuit from the original promoter.

Pendergrass didn’t hesitate for a second nor did he ever bring it up to his manager. “If it’s important enough for you to make the call,” he told Gordon, “we’re doing his show.”

A touching tale, but the capper is Graham withheld a portion of the fee because he was dissatisfied with the sound quality of Teddy’s show. Gordon was unable to change Graham’s mind and made up the difference — without Teddy ever finding out — from the safe of Carlos and Charlie’s, a restaurant he owned in nearby Tiburon.

“That was difficult,” Gordon said with a sigh. “But I was glad I did it. I would do it again. I understand the tattoo wasn’t just numbers; this was a guy who lived a life, for all of us. The scars he had I could never in my wildest dreams ever approach, so God bless him.”

As for Streisand, suffice it to say that a wary Gordon’s perception — based on hearsay — that she was tough and demanding was erased by her gracious behavior as a guest at Gordon’s house in Maui with her husband.

If one needs more evidence that Gordon is no more than two degrees of separation from anyone in show business, Marvin Hamlisch had relationships with Erin Fleming as well as Carole Bayer Sager, one of Gordon’s clients.

“I moved his piano more times than I like to think of,” Gordon said, this time without a smile.

Michael Fox is a San Francisco-based film critic and journalist.

Season of Success

Pikesville High School was home to several successful teams this spring season.

The boys track team led the pack with a state championship title, something coach Adam Hittner described as the perfect end to a great season.

The win was the first boys’ outdoor track title in school history, but Hittner said, “I was very confident. I knew that we were the best team.”

After finishing third in last year’s state meet, close enough to whet the team’s appetitie, the championship served as a strong focal point for the Panthers’ 2014 season.

“The conversations I had with the kids all season were just, ‘all we have to do is just get there and do our jobs, do what we’ve always done, and we’re going to be fine,’” said Hittner. Throughout the season, no matter the individual meet results, the team hung onto that confidence, carrying it into the final meet of the season. In fact, he said, the team willingly sacrificed results, training harder and working through regular rest days in order to time the athletes’ peaks with the conclusion of the season.

“From an outside perspective, [the team’s regular-season record] looks up and down, but in reality it was just a matter of we were always gearing toward the regional and state meets,” Hittner said. “That’s where we were always intending to run all of our guys in all of our best events and do our best, so a lot of our early season results didn’t always look as good because we were training through meets, we were working out very hard the day before meets, and we were just in very heavy training cycles a lot of the way.”

Additionally, in a sport where the team aspect can be eclipsed by individual performances, making sure every athlete had a coach cheering him on was imperative, said Hittner, even if they stressed to the athletes to simply focus on their own event.

“We knew on Day 1 which coach was assigned to which area,” he said. “[We had] someone to be at the long jump, someone to be at the high jump, someone at the throws, someone at the track, someone doing the team and making sure everyone’s getting where they should be as far as checking in on time, getting warmed up and all of that.”


Created with flickr slideshow.

 

The Panthers’ lacrosse team finished 2014 strong as well. The girls made it to the regional championship after finishing the regular season undefeated in their division. The boys team, led by eight players who received All-County honors — one of whom was also recognized with Academic All-American honors — finished their season 11-5 with a loss in the third round of playoffs.

Chemistry was the key to success for Pikesville’s baseball team this year, said head coach David Kopel.

After losing seven seniors from last season, “I thought it would be a rebuilding year,” he said. “The chemistry is what got us to where we are.”

The team’s 13-3 season ended last month with a 5-4 loss to Sparrows Point in the second round of the MPSSAA tournament.

“The kids really worked hard,” said Kopel, who is in his sixth year of coaching the Panthers. His son is a junior on the team.

Instead of relying on one or two superstar players, the team comprised kids who appreciated the opportunity to play the game and respected each other as players, Kopel added. Instead of a set-in-stone lineup, he sometimes rotated players based on who was performing better that week or that day, something he said helped keep the students on their toes and emphasized the overall success of the team over the success of individuals.

­Through rainouts and long practices, the team stuck together, he said, and after this season, he is expecting even more success next year.

Said Kopel: “We have a ton of kids who just love the game and work hard.”

hnorris@jewishtimes.com

Surprise Ending

Philip Roth receives an honorary doctorate at the Jewish Theological Seminary's commencement in New York. (provided)

Philip Roth receives an honorary doctorate at the Jewish Theological Seminary’s commencement in New York.
(provided)

“What is being done to silence this man?” an American rabbi asked in a 1963 letter to the Anti-Defamation League. He was talking about the novelist Philip Roth, whose early novels and short stories cast his fellow American Jews in what some considered a none-too-flattering light.

Fast-forward half a century.

On Thursday, the writer whose works were once denounced as profane was honored by one of American Jewry’s sacred citadels: The Jewish Theological Seminary, Conservative Judaism’s flagship educational institution, awarded Roth an honorary doctorate at its commencement ceremony.

“From enfant terrible to elder statesman. Time heals all wounds,” Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles remarked via email.

Early in his career, Roth drew outrage with sometimes stinging depictions of Jewish life, as well as his graphic portrayal†in his 1969 novel “Portnoy’s Complaint” of the†protagonist’s sexual desires. Some worried that his work would endanger American Jews, providing fodder for anti-Semites.

In one notorious incident, Roth was shaken by a hostile reception he received at a 1962 literary symposium at New York’s Yeshiva University. Recalling being shouted at by hostile students after the event, Roth vowed to “never write about Jews again” — a promise, of course, that he did not keep.

“There is a certain amount of poetic justice, an aesthetically satisfying irony, in Philip Roth’s beginning his career with a brouhaha at Yeshiva University and ending it with an honorary doctorate from the Jewish Theological Seminary — an honor perhaps more significant than the Nobel Prize that eludes him,” Michael Kramer, associate professor of literature at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, wrote in an email. “Would Roth himself have imagined such a plot? His endings tend to the tragic.”

Now the 81-year-old Roth’s own career is itself at an end. In 2012, Roth announced that he would not be writing more books. Earlier this month, he declared after a reading at New York’s 92nd Street Y that he was done with public appearances.

“This was absolutely the last appearance I will make on any public stage, anywhere,” said Roth, although on Wednesday news broke that he will appear as an interview guest on Comedy Central’s “Colbert Report” in July.

Roth, in his books, poked fun at the wrath he incurred from some in the Jewish community. One of his recurring protagonists, Nathan Zuckerman, is a novelist whose own writings have similarly upset many Jews.

But after decades as one of America’s leading literary lights, the anger Roth once evoked has been eclipsed by acclaim.

In a phone interview, the seminary’s chancellor, Arnold Eisen — a sociologist and the only non-rabbi to lead JTS since World War II — called Roth the “greatest sociologist on American Jewish life, without doubt.”

Eisen said that in his previous job at Stanford University, he frequently assigned Roth’s books to students in his classes on American Judaism. Eisen noted his admiration for the Roth novels that examined the relationship between Israel and the Diaspora, such as “The Counterlife” and “Operation Shylock,” as well as works that explored the American scene, like “The Human Stain” and “American Pastoral.”

“We are a community that treasures someone who holds up such a penetrating and insightful mirror to who we are and reveals the dilemmas and contradictions and aspirations of the community,” Eisen said. “We are grateful for the mirror even if not everything you see in it is easy.”

Elisa Albert, a fiction writer and the author of an epistolary short story in which her alter ego offers to have a baby with Roth, called the JTS recognition “a small honorary justice.”

“I’d imagine it’s an irresistible offering: a major institution of the very community that once upon a time so narrow-mindedly shunned him and his work now honors him, decades later,” she wrote in an email.

Roth, however, has not exactly been a communal pariah over his long career. Three of his books were honored with the American Jewish Book Award, and in 1998 he won the Jewish Book Council’s Lifetime Literary Achievement Award.

The JTS honor seems to have elicited little controversy. Though Roth has faced criticism from feminists over his depictions of women, a query from Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg to the listserv for female Conservative rabbis soliciting reactions to the honorary doctorate yielded no responses.

The president of the Philip Roth Society, Aimee Pozorski, said that Roth and JTS are not so different in their values.

“Ultimately, for the last 50 years, and despite opinions to the contrary, they have fought for the same ideals all along,” Pozorski added. “From the very beginning of his career, he has been deeply invested in representing the lives and fates of Jewish youth.”

Roth, however, has demurred when it is suggested that he should be defined as an American Jewish writer.

“I did not want to, did not intend to, and was not able to speak for American Jews; I surely did not deny, and no one questioned the fact, that I spoke to them, and I hope to others as well,” Roth wrote in his essay “Writing About Jews.”

At JTS, though, appreciation abounded for Roth’s contributions to the Jewish world.

“If the Western world views itself through the lens of the modern Jewish experience, it is in large measure due to the novels, novellas and short stories of Philip Roth,” wrote David Roskies, a JTS Jewish literature professor, in a note to the class of 2014.

He added that Roth “has done more than anyone to further the literary exploration of the Holocaust, in his own writings, and by promoting great works and writers throughout the world.”

When Roth was given his hood, he received a sustained standing ovation.

And at the ceremony’s end, Roth walked off stage in the final procession, bareheaded among the kippah-clad crowd.

Eye On The Future

Simon Galpin, director-general of investment promotion for Invest Hong Kong (InvestHK), says Hong Kong is the ideal destination for Israeli investment, citing the city-state’s high degree of autonomy, low barriers to entry and simple low-rate tax system. (InvestHK)

Simon Galpin, director-general of investment promotion for Invest Hong Kong (InvestHK), says Hong Kong is the ideal destination for Israeli investment, citing the city-state’s high degree of autonomy, low barriers to entry and simple low-rate tax system.
(InvestHK)

Israel’s business community has increasingly turned eastward toward booming Asian markets — so much so it was recently reported that in 2014, Israel is expected to export more on an annual basis to Asia than it will to the United States.

Fittingly, then, Asian countries had a major presence at the prestigious MIXiii — Israel Innovation Conference 2014, held on May 20-22 in Tel Aviv. Hong Kong, represented by a diverse 31-member delegation, was no exception. The group was led by Invest Hong Kong (InvestHK), a government-backed financial body whose goal is to “encourage new global companies to set up their businesses in Hong Kong and to help those existing companies expand,” said Simon Galpin, its director-general of investment promotion.

In addition to attending the conference, InvestHK used its trip to discuss the various advantages of doing business in Hong Kong with Israeli government officials, tech startups, business incubators, educational institutions and venture capital investors.

Galpin said that his Israel delegation included “a mixture of people [such as] key investors and entrepreneurs looking to invest or collaborate with Israeli startups”; some of Hong Kong’s leaders in innovation, high-tech and R&D (research and development); and one of the country’s chief scientists. He hoped that the trip would “plug the entrepreneurs we have into what’s going on in Israel” and encourage Israeli startups to explore Hong Kong as an option for expansion.

In Galpin’s estimation, Hong Kong is the ideal destination for Israeli investment. He cited the city-state’s high degree of autonomy, low barriers to entry and simple low-rate tax system.

“We can register a new company in just about an hour,” he said.

Galpin stressed that Hong Kong already has a large Israeli population and noted that it is one of the safest cities in the world, with a “secure environment and high-quality lifestyle.” The local Israeli community stands at more than 4,300 people and includes a Jewish day school. Many Israelis living in Hong Kong work in the diamond industry.

Additionally, according to Galpin, Hong Kong can serve as an effective means for Israeli companies looking to make inroads in businesses on the nearby Chinese mainland.

“Sometimes Israeli companies, when looking to do business with China, assume that going straight to the mainland will save time and money,” he said. “However, in many cases, going through Hong Kong, with its limited bureaucracy and many accommodation options, a company can find the right accommodations and at the right price.”

“The communication and collaboration between Hong Kong and Israel is gradually building up,” added Galpin. “That’s why we are putting more emphasis here [in Israel] than in any other part of the world.”

Jonathan Sternberg, a Jerusalem-based InvestHK consultant who spent his week with the group from abroad, explained that his role “is to advise and support Israeli companies across all sectors who are looking to expand their businesses in Asia and Hong Kong and help them make informed business decisions.”

Sternberg said InvestHK’s Israel office “provides a range of free and confidential services to Israeli companies that are sector focused.” For example, “we have diamond industry experts in Hong Kong who can assist Israeli experts in that sector,” he said.

The office also provides Israeli companies with information on the availability of government support or grants that can be tapped into and fosters business connections between Israeli companies and relevant partners in Hong Kong, according to Sternberg.

Sternberg said the idea is to “roll out the red carpet” for Israeli businesses in Hong Kong, ensuring “that their set-up is smooth and that they can succeed.”

“We want to alleviate any concerns or potential headaches they might have to deal with when entering the market,” he said.

Parallel to the InvestHK mission to Israel, on May 19 the group kicked off its global 2014 StartmeupHK Venture Programme competition. The contest aims to help innovative ventures launch and develop their global businesses throughout Hong Kong. Last year’s competition received 384 entries from around the world, including 43 from Israel. Two Israeli startups made it to the semifinals, and one — IT Central Station — was a finalist.

One of the judges who traveled to Hong Kong for last year’s StartmeupHK competition was Jon Medved, CEO of OurCrowd — an Israeli company that is the world’s largest platform for equity crowd-funding. Medved, who addressed the InvestHK delegation during its visit to his company’s Jeru-salem office, said that Asia is at the top of the list of locations where his company is looking to open a new office.

Medved said OurCrowd “is committed to building stronger ties between Israel and Hong Kong,” and he sees significant commonalities in the cultures of the two nations.

“We [in Israel] offer a different kind of model than the innovation coming out of Silicon Valley,” said Medved. “Silicon Valley doesn’t emphasize respect for traditions or elders, but here we can be innovative and still have serious respect for tradition. That’s important in our work and relationships with Asia, Hong Kong and China.”

For Medved, meeting with the Hong Kong delegation was just part of an eventful week in Israel, the so-called “startup nation,” thanks to the MIXiii conference.

“This country is on fire,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. This week alone I’ve spoken to delegations from all over the world. People [from] all over are making pilgrimages to Israel, the startup nation. We don’t even have to tell the startup nation story anymore. Everyone gets it.”

An Israeli Olympic equestrian?

Equestrian show jumper and Olympic hopeful Danielle Goldstein is Israel’s best hope to compete in equestiran show jumping at the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Games. (Ben Sales)

Equestrian show jumper and Olympic hopeful Danielle Goldstein is Israel’s best hope to compete in equestiran show jumping at the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Games.
(Ben Sales)

YAGUR, Israel — The crowd was sparse and admission was free. Pop music from 10 years ago blared from loudspeakers. A few families sat on bleachers near the athletes, who hopped over a low fence when it was time to compete.

The Israeli Equestrian Championships wasn’t the most obvious place to look for an accomplished athlete with Olympic aspirations. But Danielle Goldstein, an American who speaks little Hebrew and spends most of the year in Florida, is Israel’s best hope to compete in equestrian show jumping at the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Games.

“It’s important to have a presence here,” said Goldstein, 29, as she surveyed the competition two weeks ago. “I’m excited to be at the championships, [excited to be] in the community.”

A native of New York’s Upper East Side, Goldstein fell in love with horses at an early age and later focused on show jumping, a discipline in which riders traverse a course of obstacles. In high school, she was active in jumping competitions across the United States but felt drawn to the prospect of representing Israel after traveling there on a bat mitzvah trip.

So her decision to apply for Israeli citizenship after going pro in 2010 came naturally to her, but it surprised the Israel Equestrian Federation.

“It’s not something that was like, ‘Yeah, great,’ “ Goldstein said. “It was very much like, ‘Who are you? What are you doing?’”

Goldstein says joining Israel’s horse riding scene has been “a little of an initiation,” but she feels welcomed. Since immigrating, she has qualified for this year’s International Equestrian Federation World Games, putting her on the verge of qualifying for Rio.

But she isn’t content with carrying Israel alone on horseback. Goldstein and another New Yorker, Deborah Schultz, are working together to promote horse riding in Israel, both by getting more people in the saddle and by teaching skills to more experienced riders.

Schultz’s nonprofit, The Equine Athletic Mission Israel (or TEAM Israel), organizes riding clinics hosted by Goldstein and other Israeli riders and works to coordinate teams for international equestrian events. With the support of TEAM Israel, which was founded last year, Israel fielded a show jumping team in the 2014 FEI Nations’ Cup for the first time.

“The more we do this, the more people who ride are popping out of the woodwork,” Schultz said. “Every time you bring a new sport to Israel, they’re typical Israelis, [saying] ‘Eh, no.’ But then it happens.”

Immigrants have played a large role in boosting Israeli athletics over the years. Soviet immigration in the 1990s helped broaden Israel’s presence at the Winter Olympics, while North Americans have helped expand the state’s athletic repertoire beyond mainstays such as soccer and basketball. Associations promoting Israeli baseball, American-style football, lacrosse and even curling have been launched at the initiative of immigrants.

But unlike those sports, Goldstein has a long tradition to draw upon in helping to push competitive horse riding to a higher level. The Israel Equestrian Federation, the organizer of the recent event, has promoted riding in Israel for 50 years, but the sport remains a niche interest.

Federation committee member Noam Zered said the quality of Israeli riding has picked up in recent years, as riders gained more access to the sport’s centers in Europe and the United States.

“More of the young generation saw the world and want to have high quality,” Zered said. “People come back here with expectations. We’re building now.”

One up-and-coming Israeli show jumper, Eyal Gat, moved from Israel to the United States at 16 and has lived for the past year in Holland, which has better access to top horses. Israeli riders have formed a community in Europe, he said, joining last month for a Passover seder in Belgium.

“It’s impossible to advance without being there,” Gat said. “It’s clearly difficult to live alone in a country that’s not yours, but that’s part of the deal.”

While a few Israeli riders lamented that the sport’s popularity is constrained by the high costs of accessing a horse, some Israelis are finding an alternative to the saddle through therapeutic riding, which uses exercises on horseback to improve various conditions. Therapeutic riding is subsidized by the Israeli health system, making it more accessible than recreational riding for those who need it.

Yonatan Dresler, who was born with cerebral palsy, said therapeutic riding has helped him improve his balance and develop a relationship with his horse. Now 27, Dresler rode for Israel in the 2012 London Paralympics and is ranked 10th worldwide in paralympic dressage, another equestrian discipline.

“The connection with the horse makes you feel like you have responsibility over another being,” Dresler said. “Whether the competition is paralympic or [regular] dressage, you need the same abilities.”

Schultz’s goal is to make Israel a place riders can stay if they want to advance. Raised in a religious household in Brooklyn, N.Y., with little exposure to the sport, Schultz insists “the horse thing is in my DNA.”

Now a high-tech consultant, Schultz comes to Israel occasionally to advise Tel Aviv technology companies and wants to bring her startup mentality to equestrian.

“It’s not part of the myth of Israel,” Schultz said. “But there’s a lot about horses that’s similar to Israel. They’re independent, spirited. This country is ripe for that. I want to get them hooked on horses.”