Call Of The Shofar

Rabbi Simcha Frischling’s Call of the Shofar program has been a cause for alarm in the Chasidic community. (Provided)

Rabbi Simcha Frischling’s Call of the Shofar program has been a cause for alarm in the Chasidic community.

On the surface, it all seemed so simple: Bring a group of men together to explore whatever was preventing them from individually achieving success, whether in business or in their professional and family relationships. It was touted as an earnest look at problems, both from a Torah perspective and from using therapeutic techniques developed from across several platforms, some not necessarily Jewish.

Prior to two weeks ago, in fact, few outside of the close-knit and predominantly Lubavitch neighborhood of Crown Heights in Brooklyn, N.Y., and the Jewish community in Baltimore had heard of Call of the Shofar. But then its founder, onetime Baltimorean Rabbi Simcha Frischling, granted an interview to a Jewish website; within days, an outcry from Crown Heights leaders and a ruling from the neighborhood’s rabbinical court led to the firing — and reinstating — of two spiritual guides from one of the Lubavitch movement’s central educational institutions. Some called Call of the Shofar a cult; others went so far as to pin its roots on idolatrous practices.

Frischling, who recently moved with his wife and children from their Cross Country neighborhood home to Australia, vehemently denies the charges of being a cult leader. He also has the rabbinical approbations — from Shearith Israel Congregation’s Rabbi Yaacov Hopfer, as well as from Rabbis Michel Twerski of Milwaukee and Shmuel Kamenetsky of Philadelphia — to back up his defense.

He speaks of the Call of the Shofar project­­­­ — like the hugely popular Landmark Forum program, Call of the Shofar falls into a subset of techniques some psychologists term large group awareness training — as a way to craft a “peak experience” that allows participants to confront their limitations and move along a spectrum of personal growth. Frischling, although not licensed as a therapist, says he earned rabbinical certification through the Pirchei Shoshanim project in Israel, studied at Yeshiva Ohr Samayach in Monsey, N.Y., and became acquainted with a host of alternative and Eastern-based philosophies, including Landmark. Call of the Shofar, he says, takes the best from those approaches and grounds them in Jewish principles.

“A lot of the principles or qualities that really worked for me in terms of my own growth and transformation are in the Torah,” explained Frischling. “I didn’t just Scotch tape Torah words on New Age philosophy. I’ve given this a lot of thought, and I’ve had a lot rabbis come through the program.”

Begun 12 years ago, Call of the Shofar reportedly has served close to 2,000 people, mostly men. It became popular among Lubavitchers about two years ago, and Frischling found himself running retreats in Morristown, N.J., near the movement’s Rabbinical College of America. The three-day weekend retreats, which cost about $750, are followed up by ongoing teleconferences. Today, by Frischling’s own estimate, maybe 90 percent of participants could be considered Lubavitch community members.

That’s a startling statistic to Rabbi Chaim Dalfin, a Lubavitcher Chasid and ethnographer whose books look at the history of the movement’s last century. He says that what worries his community’s leaders is the idea that younger members are apparently fleeing time-honored practices for an outside group neither grounded in Chasidic teachings nor recognized by professional psychological organizations.

“The cause for the alarm is that a community which is so dedicated to Chasidic thought and to the teachings of the Rebbe,” said Dalfin, referring to the late Lubavitch leader, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, “departed from its natural comfort zone. [Normally], when you have an issue of unhappiness, you speak to a rabbi, a spiritual guide, a friend in the community.”

In Crown Heights, Rabbis Yaacov Schwei and Yosef Braun announced in a letter that after launching an investigation into Call of the Shofar, they were forced to forbid participation in the program until they could be certain that its techniques and practices were 100 percent permissible according to Jewish law.

“Many therapies possess elements of avoda zara,” they wrote, using the Hebrew term for idolatrous practices, according to a translation of the letter published by websites popular among the worldwide Lubavitch community. “All therapies must be reviewed to ensure they have no inkling of serious halachic concerns.”

Hopfer’s approbation, though, states that Frischling’s program was “the beginning of a life-changing process” for many men known to him.

“Those of us who work with people and their personal issues are all too aware of the problems that come up in marriages, in relationships with our children, and in all aspects of our lives,” Hopfer wrote in September 2010. “Many of these problems are the result of poor communication skills and lack of personal awareness. The Call of the Shofar programs offer our community a practical, experiential method for learning principles and for practicing skills over time which impact men’s lives, create healthier marriages and help us function as better parents.”

Some participants and friends of participants, however, talk of coercive marketing tactics and brainwashing, the kind of critiques against Landmark and its progenitor, the hugely popular EST program from the 1970s.

“I remember a couple that I was involved with in Marin County in California years ago,” recalled Dalfin. “They were big in EST, were counselors. I remember that they were so caught up in the hype. Whether it was a cult or not, the hype takes over and manipulates, and when that happens, you convince yourself that you can change in the space of just three days.”

Back then, EST wasn’t so popular in the Lubavitch community, notes Dalfin. The allure of Call of the Shofar could be rooted more in the fact that it’s been almost 20 years since the Rebbe passed away in 1994. While on the one hand, the Lubavitch movement responded to that shock by strengthening and expanding institutions catering to Jews the world over — the many Chabad Houses and thousands of Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries are evidence of that push — many within the movement contend that the home neighborhood of Crown Heights was not a beneficiary of such renewed focus.

“What this is showing us is there’s a breakdown between the teachings of the Rebbe and the implementation and actualization of actually living those principles,” said Dalfin. “As soon as you strip chasidut from a Chasid, you get a fine Jew, but not a Chasidic Jew.”

Dalfin instead proposes that every Jewish community institute a professional program of licensed therapists and rabbinic oversight to ensure that members’ psychological needs are adequately taken care of.

Introduced to the phenomenon of Call of the Shofar just last week, Professor Jonathan Moreno at the University of Pennsylvania, who’s writing a book about groups such as EST and their place in modern American history, says that such movements fit into the uniquely American strain of decentralized religious authority.

“Jews, like everyone else, are looking for answers,” he said. The cult question isn’t important; what matters is how participants end up.

“The damage I’m sure people are worried about is an open-ended financial commitment,” explained the professor. “Are these participants leaving their friends and family? If people think they’ve had a good experience, there are a lot of worse things out there.”

For his part, Frischling says that “people are getting turned on to” what he’s offering.

“Are there things that need to be tinkered with? Possibly,” he stated. “I’ve always been open to that. I think it’s clear there’s a need in the community for emotional help, and if you can provide a program that’s powerful and is doing it in a language that’s acceptable to the community, then why not?”

Palestinians sign $1.2 billion gas deal with Israel

The co-owners of the Leviathan gas field off the coast of Israel has signed an agreement with the Palestine Power Generation Company for the sale of $1.2 billion in natural gas over 20 years.

As part of the agreement, the PPGC, which is slated to construct a power plant in Jenin, will purchase 4.75 billion cubic meters of natural gas.

Palestinian Energy Minister Dr. Omar Kittaneh and Delek Group owner Yitzhak Tshuva were present for the official signing of the agreement in Jerusalem.


Tel Aviv Startup Wins Developer Contest, a Tel Aviv-based startup, won the Walgreens API developer contest.’s newly launched app is an intuitive iPad photo book maker. Completed books can be printed and picked up the same day at Walgreens or Duane Reade.

Alice E. Krupsaw, 106


Alice E. Krupsaw (Provided)

When she passed away on Dec. 16 at the age of 106, Alice E. Krupsaw was one of the less than .02 percent of people in the United States whose lives reach the century mark. But to family and friends, she was one in a million.

A retired federal government worker, Krupsaw was a resident of Milford Manor Nursing Home in Pikesville. Natalie Ettlin, her niece by marriage and a frequent visitor, described Krupsaw as the most interesting person she knew.

“Alice sang and danced, was a wonderful artist and wrote beautiful poetry,” said Ettlin, who considered Krupsaw a second mother.

Genevieve Younes also described Krupsaw as a maternal figure. The transplant from France, who moved to the United States with her husband and two young children, met Krupsaw 10 years ago, shortly after her own mother passed away.

“I was so lonely and didn’t speak English, and then I got this wonderful idea to visit seniors,” she related. “I wanted to bring a smile, you know?”
Younes and her children found Milford Manor, and she and Krupsaw became fast friends.

“I was so lucky to meet her,” said Younes. “I needed to talk to an older lady because my mother had just died, and every time I left Alice I felt so much better. She was an amazing person, a gift for me.”

Younes said she loved hearing Krupsaw’s stories and enjoyed hearing them again and again. In fact, she said, the repetition helped her to learn English.

Krupsaw lived independently until 12 years ago, when she lost a leg due to a blood clot. It was at that point she moved to Milford Manor, where she was beloved by the staff.

“Alice was wonderful. She had a great sense of humor and was way ahead of her time,” said Michele Gillis, director of activities at Milford Manor. “Alice had her own page [of poetry and short stories] in the Milford Manor newsletter.  And she always told everyone, ‘If there’s something you want to do, don’t wait. Do it now.’”

The eldest of three siblings, Krupsaw was born in Washington, D.C., to Louis and Ida Ettlin, Jewish immigrants from Ukraine. Louis Ettlin worked as a tailor; Ida was a homemaker.

The family moved to Baltimore when Krupsaw was a child. In “An Even 100,” a book of her writing and artwork published in honor of Krupsaw’s centennial birthday, she documented memories of growing up in “Little Israel” on Eagle Street and later on Monroe Street.

In the obituary posted on his blog, Krupsaw’s nephew, David Ettlin, a former editor at The Baltimore Sun, wrote that Krupsaw completed high school and attended Strayer’s secretarial school. She married Louis Krupsaw, a former Marine and cook, in her early 20s. The couple owned a delicatessen in Baltimore for a brief time and moved to Washington in 1950. Krupsaw’s husband became a delivery man for the Washington Daily News, and Alice worked at various jobs for the federal government.

After her husband’s death, Krupsaw moved back to Baltimore, taking a job at the Social Security Administration in order to be near her parents, who were in declining health. She retired in 1975.

“It was sad, she was a widow for 60 years,” said her nephew, who noted that as a writer, his aunt was an inspiration.

“She had a way of zooming in on emotions and was able to put everything into words,” said Natalie Ettlin. “And she had a great sense of humor.”

After retiring, Krupsaw studied painting at the Waxter Senior Center. An expert knitter, she also made clothes for herself and others. She was famous among family members and residents at Milford Manor for her small finger puppets, which were donated to sick and disadvantaged children in the U.S. and Israel. Krupsaw also made dolls, many of which she kept in her apartment.

In addition to her painting, writing and handiwork, Krupsaw sang and danced with local groups, the Liberty Super Senior Singers and the Prime Time Players.

Private services for Krupsaw were held on Dec. 19 at Beth Hamedrosh Hagodol Cemetery in Rosedale. In addition to those mentioned in this article, she is survived by her brother, Sam Ettlin of Lauderhill, Fla., and nephew Dennis M. Ettlin of Mount Airy.

Simone Ellin is JT senior features reporter

She Does It All

As resident service coordinator, Raisa Massuda helps residents with everything from planning dinners to accessing benefits. One resident said, “I am truly blessed to have her.” (David Stuck)

As resident service coordinator, Raisa Massuda helps residents with everything from planning dinners to accessing benefits. One resident said, “I am truly blessed to have her.”
(David Stuck)

For the residents of Weinberg Terrace and Weinberg Gardens, Raisa Massuda doesn’t just help them with their finances and party planning, she brings life to the tall brick towers.

“She’s just a lovable lady,” said Beatrice Petty, a resident of Weinberg Gardens. “I’m truly blessed to have her.”

As resident service coordinator at the senior living facility, Massuda’s duties range from helping seniors navigate the world of social services to planning outings to casinos, plays and other local attractions. Theme parties, she said, are kind of her thing.

“I do not believe in old — I don’t know this word ‘old,’ ” said Massuda. “I believe in senior. And to me, senior means wiser, smarter, more experienced and more interesting.”

Massuda moved to Baltimore from Russia in 2000. Fluent in Russian, English, Spanish, German and French, she took a job with Baltimore City Community College teaching English as a second language to people of all ages.

“I really, really love to work with people,” said Massuda.

After working for six years at BCCC, in addition to one year at Comprehensive Housing Assistance, Inc. (CHAI), Massuda decided she wanted to make a career out of helping others. She took a position at Weinberg as a services liaison, helping residents improve their quality of life by assisting them with everything from obtaining food stamps to organizing group luncheons to starting activity clubs.

“I do it all every day,” she said of her busy schedule bouncing between social activities and one-on-one meetings with residents to determine what government benefits they might be eligible for.

For Petty, who is the president of the Gardens’ tenant’s association, Massuda is key to achieving her goals. She and the Terrace’s planning president meet once a week with other residents to brainstorm activities that would interest residents. When the residents decide on something, Petty takes the idea to Massuda, and Massuda makes sure the residents’ vision becomes a reality. This could be driving to the store to pick up supplies (neither organizer drives), arranging for transportation to and from a musical or setting up table arrangements for an on-site theme party.

In November Weinberg residents hosted a “Recital by Candlelight” that included food, drinks and classical music performed on the cello and piano. (provided)

In November Weinberg residents hosted a “Recital by Candlelight” that included food, drinks and classical music performed on the cello and piano.

For a lot of the programs that Massuda helps organize, such as visits to the opera or the aquarium, Petty said Massuda makes it almost effortless for residents to take part, something that makes life at Weinberg even more enjoyable.

“We don’t have to leave our apartments,” said Petty. “And then when we do leave, she takes us [where we have to go].”

For Massuda, the most satisfying part of her job is a little more nitty-gritty.

“There’s nothing like seeing people starting to live better,” said Massuda of her work with matching residents with the benefits they need.

Often, people who come into her office for the first time have no idea what they’re entitled to.

“They do not know that somebody can help them. And that’s where I step in,” Massuda said.

Massuda makes sure to introduce herself to every new resident. She encourages new residents to come see her so she can look at their history and assess whether there is something she can do to help make things easier for them. While a lot of bills seniors receive don’t actually need to be paid in full, for those that do, Massuda said, “there is always a way to bring them down.”

“A couple weeks after they move in, I see them here,” she said. “That’s how our way to a happy future starts.”

With a hand in almost every facet of life at Weinberg Terrace, Massuda gets to know many of the residents very well. Whether it’s through planning an event or making a payment plan for medical bills, said Massuda, “they don’t feel alone.”

Psagot Criminals Captured

Two Arab men responsible for the Oct. 5 attacking and stabbing of an Israeli girl in Psagot were arrested by Israeli Police and Shabak, the army announced Sunday.

Abdallah Shahadeh Abu Kabitah, 22, and Shabel Atef Karan, 20, both residents of El-Bireh, a Ramallah suburb adjacent to Psagot, were arrested for attacking Noam Glick, 9, stabbing her twice in the neck. She subsequently recovered from her wounds.

During his questioning Abu Kabitah stated he tried to break into a home in Psagot to steal a weapon. He claimed he needed the weapon to resolve a personal dispute. He and Karan both scouted the Psagot security fence a few days before the attack; they cut the fence and Abu Kabitah advanced towards a house. A car passed by and he retreated.

On Oct. 5 Abu Kabitah returned, this time alone. He entered the security fence at the same point he did the first time, and on his way to one of the houses he encountered Noam. He was surprised by her, stabbed her twice and escaped.

Some sources have stated that it is unclear if the incident was a terror attack or if it was criminally motivated. The IDF has stated that it believes that the attack was a terrorist act, but the Israel Security Agency is treating it as a criminal act.

Somewhere In The Middle

Beth Shalom Congregation is spearheading area efforts to bring Jews and Muslims together to talk about pressing issues, such as Middle East peace. From left: Mandee Heinl and Art Abramson, both of the Baltimore Jewish Council; Ghaith al-Omari, American Task Force in Palestine; Rabbi Susan Grossman, Beth Shalom; and David Pollock, Washington Institute for Near East Policy. (Provided)

Beth Shalom Congregation is spearheading area efforts to bring Jews and Muslims together to talk about pressing issues, such as Middle East peace. From left: Mandee Heinl and Art Abramson, both of the Baltimore Jewish Council; Ghaith al-Omari, American Task Force in Palestine; Rabbi Susan Grossman, Beth Shalom; and David Pollock, Washington Institute for Near East Policy. (Provided)

“What we have now are politicians and not statesmen,” said Hillel Schenker, co-editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal. “Statesmen [are people] who are ready to take risks for the long term — on both sides.”

Think Pericles of Athens, Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill; for all three men, their bedrock of principles rested on the ideal of freedom with a vision of expanding liberty out to the common man.

Today, weeks after the death of Nelson Mandela, a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, politician and philanthropist, Israeli, Palestinian and U.S. leaders are still struggling to determine a path to peace. Three weeks ago, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told Secretary of State John Kerry that if there was any delay in the release in the next round of Palestinian prisoners, he would “feel free” to take unilateral steps through international organizations, something the Palestinian Authority agreed not to do before entering renewed negotiations with Israel.

At the same time, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has insisted that talks cannot move forward without agreement of an Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley for 10 years following the signing of a peace deal.

So reports the media. So goes another round of negotiations — theater of the absurd for many watching from the sidelines.

Aside from the very real prospect of continued violence — in the last two weeks there have been nearly one dozen terror attacks or attempted terror attacks — and the loss of Israeli territory, also apparently at stake are the Jewish identities of America’s millennials, people such as day-school educated Tali Ruskin, 29, who told the JT that she disconnected from Judaism when she discovered there were two sides to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, that the Palestinians were real people and not the terrorists she had learned about growing up.

The recent Pew Research Center survey of U.S. Jews likewise showed a stark disconnect between the youngest generation and the Jewish state. Of those from ages 18 to 29, only 32 percent said that concern for Israel is “an essential part of being Jewish” as compared with an average of 50 percent of those in older age ranges. Sixteen percent of the younger cohort said Israel “is not important” to them at all.

During a recent presentation in Baltimore, Laurence Kotler Berkowitz, senior director of research and analysis and director of the Berman Jewish DataBank at the Jewish Federations of North America, said there are many explanations for these numbers, among them the potential lack of a nuanced understanding of what is happening in the Middle East and a deeper focus by the younger generation on social justice and human rights, something for which — right or wrong — Israel has come under scrutiny.

In a separate interview, Israeli author and journalist Yossi Klein Halevi explained that older generations were raised on an Israel that could do no wrong. Many young Jews, he said, are now focused on an Israel that can do no right.

Part of that is because the Jewish state sits halfway around the world, bearing little daily impact on American Jews’ lives. Media sound bites are the only connection. And a perceived Jewish lack of understanding for the other side can — and is — leading to a deeper disconnect.

But for Israelis and Palestinians, that tiny land, just about the size of New Jersey, is home. Israelis are not soldiers or settlers, but mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers. Many Palestinians, similarly, are not terrorists or extremists, but people looking to put food on their tables, to live in equality.

“We are more similar than some protagonists like to admit,” asserted Palestinian Mazin Qumisyeh.

But peace does not sell papers.

“Extremists get preferential press coverage and in a lot of ways have disproportionately influenced the public idea space,” said Yale University Professor Bruce Wexler, formerly of Baltimore. “If the current peace talks fail, extremists on both sides will be emboldened, and the moderates on both sides will be disempowered.”

Not For Women Only

Alan Blassberg, with sisters Lisa (left), who underwent a double prophylactic mastectomy, and Sammy, who died from breast cancer in 2011. (provided)

Alan Blassberg, with sisters Lisa (left), who underwent a double prophylactic mastectomy, and Sammy, who died from breast cancer in 2011.

Since before Alan Blassberg’s birth, breast cancer had taken a heavy toll on the 43-year-old Los Angeles-based television producer and his family. His grandmother succumbed to breast cancer two weeks before he was born; his aunt died from the disease at age 49, when he was 27; and his sister, Sammy Blassberg, learned she had breast cancer in 2008. She died after a three-year battle at age 47.

Sammy’s cancer was caused by a genetic mutation called BRCA 2. The BRCA 2 and BRCA 1 mutations, which are carried by one in 40 Ashkenazi Jews as compared with one in 345 people in the general population, significantly increase the risk of developing breast cancer, as well as several other types of cancer.

While Sammy received treatment, Lisa Brandes, Blassberg’s other sister, underwent testing for the BRCA 2 gene. She tested positive for the mutation and eventually made the painful decision to undergo a double prophylactic mastectomy. The surgery reduced her odds of getting breast cancer from 80 to 90 percent to 2 percent.

Meanwhile, Blassberg’s girlfriend, Stephanie Swartz, received the news that her own breast cancer had recurred. How much worse could things get?

“The Jewish guilt kept coming down, and Lisa and her oncologist kept telling me I needed to get tested [for BRCA 2],” Blassberg said. “I knew that men could get breast cancer, but I’m a very positive person, and I didn’t think I would have the mutation.”

But in late 2011, Blassberg tested positive for BRCA 2.

Men with the BRCA 1 and 2 mutations have a 6 to 10 percent likelihood of developing breast cancer; men in the general population face a likelihood of less than 1 percent. Although the number of men with breast cancer is low, men are more likely than women to die from the disease. They are also at a higher risk for other types of cancers, such as colon and pancreatic, and melanoma.

“Men are more likely to die from breast cancer because [typically] they don’t go to the doctor until they are at stage III or IV (the stage at which cancer has spread elsewhere in the body),” said Blassberg. “By then, it’s too late. There’s a stigma about this, and our society has such a weird attitude toward breasts. No one is talking about this.”

No one, that is, except for Steve Del Gardo, founder of Protect the Pecs, a Cincinnati-based organization Del Gardo started after completing his fourth and final round of chemotherapy for treatment of breast cancer. Del Gardo also had a double mastectomy.

“When I was going through it [diagnosis and treatment], I couldn’t find any information,” he said. “After my second round of treatment, this wave came over me, and I realized I needed to start a foundation.”

Protect the Pecs was born in March 2013. Through his foundation, Del Gardo is attempting to raise awareness and money to fund research and treatments for men with breast cancer.

After he tested positive for the BRCA 2 mutation, Blassberg scheduled an appointment with his girlfriend’s oncologist, Dr. Armando E. Giuliano, at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles. Accompanied by Swartz, Blassberg arrived at the doctor’s office to find 20 women in the waiting room.

“I was given a form to fill out, but I couldn’t answer any of the questions because none of them applied to men,” Blassberg said. “When was your last menstrual period? Are you experiencing vaginal dryness? There was a picture of a female breast on the form. I had to turn in the form without information. Although I didn’t feel uncomfortable, I thought that most men would.

“When the assistant came into the waiting room to call me into the doctor’s office, she called for Mrs. Blassberg. The robe I put on had a huge pink ribbon. It’s just about making people feel comfortable, you know? Why can’t they just order 20 blue robes?”

Despite having the BRCA 2 mutation, the doctor found no evidence that Blassberg had cancer. He has opted against preventive mastectomies but has mammograms and MRIs every six months.

Blassberg, who founded First Prize Productions in 2004, has produced television hits such as “Temptation Island” for Fox, “Who Wants to Marry My Dad?” for NBC and the Emmy Award-winning documentary “America’s Deadliest Season: Alaskan Crab Fishing” for the Discovery channel. He is now in the process of making a documentary about male breast cancer.

Blassberg said the film, “Pink and Blue,” will not only educate people about male breast cancer but also will identify modifications that caregivers can make to encourage men to seek treatment without shame and embarrassment. Featuring interviews with top oncologists, “Pink and Blue” will look at the topic of male breast cancer from a personal and relatable point of view.

“Breast cancer is not just a female disease. Awareness to this disease is paramount in saving lives,” said Blassberg, who expects “Pink and Blue” to be released in the summer of 2014. “If it even saves one person from having to hear a loved one moan from pain, it is worth it. Those sounds will never leave your head.”

For more information, visit >>.

For information about Protect the Pecs, visit >>.

Simone Ellin is JT senior features reporter —

Mitzvah Day

Upward of 1,000 people packed rooms at both the Park Heights and Owings Mills branches of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore for this year’s Mitzvah Day, assembling winter care packages, making peanut butter sandwiches and taking part in other activities to benefit those less fortunate in the Baltimore area.

“Mitzvah Day brought out a great conglomeration of the Baltimore Jewish Community,” said Michelle Damareck, who co-chaired the event on behalf of the Jewish Volunteer Connection, an agency of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. “There was a great energy; people were having fun while taking care of the needy.”

Activities in Park Heights included a celebratory art project sponsored by the Baltimore Jewish Times – the winners can be found here – in which children drew pictures encapsulating their Mitzvah Day activities; a stress ball factory run by BT Cares benefiting the Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital; the making of placemats for Meals on Wheels recipients coordinated by Jewish Camping Experience; and many others.

Created with flickr slideshow.

Holocaust Survivors Teach Israeli Chefs

Hungarian chicken paprikash is just one of the dishes survivors are teaching top Israeli chefs to make. (©

Hungarian chicken paprikash is just one of the dishes survivors are teaching top Israeli chefs to make. (©

When Itzik Yaacobi was a hungry teenager in the Auschwitz concentration camp, he used to dream about food he didn’t have — a pear, an apple, a watermelon — but he never dreamed that one day he would cook with a dean of Israeli chefs, in this case Shalom Kadosh.

Yaacobi is sitting in Kadosh’s small office in the Leonardo Plaza Hotel in Jerusalem, surrounded by photos of the chef with U.S. presidents, most recently Barack Obama. He has come here to cook with Kadosh as part of a project with the Shorashim Group, an Israeli organization that helps Holocaust survivors and the elderly.

“I was born in Hungary in 1929, and all my childhood was characterized by Hungarian dishes — goulash, csirke paprikash, capostash kotzke,” Yaacobi said nostalgically. “There was also an Austrian-Hungarian dish called gumboats, a ball made of potato, and inside was a plum or an apricot. Then it was wrapped in bread crumbs and fried in butter or oil.”

At 15, Yaacobi was taken to Auschwitz, where he survived eight “selections” by the notorious Joseph Mengele. He also had a cousin who worked in the commandant’s home who managed to get him extra bread rations.

After he was freed by the 761st Armored Brigade, he immigrated to Israel and was seriously wounded while fighting in the 1948 war. He then began working in the office of longtime Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek. He sharply remembers the day that Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, called him into his office to tell Yaacobi that Israel had captured one of the main figures in the Holocaust, Adolph Eichmann.

“He was sitting behind a desk; he was very small, you could only see his forehead and white hair,” Yaacobi said. “He said, ‘We caught Eichmann, the man who sent you and your family to Auschwitz.’ Then I got it, and I was trembling.”

But today is about the present, and about food. Yaacobi gives Kadosh careful, precise instructions about how to make chicken paprikash, watching closely to make sure that his instructions are carried out. Kadosh, used to giving the orders rather than following them, takes his job as a sous chef seriously. The two men quickly form a mutual admiration society.

“This is so exciting,” Kadosh said. “I’ve been doing so many state dinners for very important people — presidents, kings, queens — but today I feel so emotional. For me it’s a great day, and I’m happy that Itzik liked his visit in our hotel and our kitchen.”

After making Yaacobi’s chicken paprikash, a dish of chicken legs and thighs simmered in a paprika-heavy sauce, Kadosh offers an updated take on the dish, cooking the chicken sous-vide (vacuum sealed) and garnishing with beautifully cut vegetables.

The two dishes, and their creators, are photographed for an upcoming cookbook. Itzik’s dish is packed up, where it will be sold at the Tel Aviv farmers’ market. He says he wants to donate the proceeds from the sale to Shorashim.

“The idea is to take Holocaust survivors and have them meet the biggest chefs in Israel,” Tami Shachnaey, CEO of the Shorashim Group, said. “Many Holocaust survivors in Israel feel they have to choose between food and medicine.”

Shachnaey said that among the 200,000 Holocaust survivors still alive, about 50,000 live below the poverty line. The Shorashim Group organizes donations of large food packages to 1,150 elderly twice a year before Jewish holidays. The packages, which cost more than $100 to buy and weigh more than 50 pounds, include everything from chicken to fresh fruits and vegetables. Some 1,000 volunteers deliver the packages along with bouquets of flowers.

The organization also invites Holocaust survivors to partake in donated meals in restaurants, often as much for the companionship as for the food.

At another Jerusalem restaurant, the trendy Machneyuda in the outdoor fruit-and-vegetable market, Tzippi Kadosh (no relation to Chef Kadosh), who is 81, has come to show chef Uri Navon how to make stuffed wild artichokes, called harshuf in Hebrew. Kadosh came to Israel from Romania after the Holocaust.

She worked as a telephone operator and raised three children. Today she has six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

“This is really Israeli food, not Romanian,” she said. “I hardly cook any more. My daughter asked me if I would even be able to remember the recipe.”

The wild artichoke stalks are soaked in saltwater to soften them, the thorns peeled off, and the stalks stuffed with a mixture of meat and rice. They are then simmered in a tomato-based sauce.

“It is a great honor for me to cook with her,” Navon, wearing a grey fedora, said with a smile. “Besides being a Holocaust survivor, she made me miss my grandmothers, both passed away. I used to love to cook with them, and she brought it back.”

His restaurant, Machneyuda, has become a hit in Jerusalem’s burgeoning culinary scene. It is booked for the next month for both lunch and dinner.

Navon said the artichoke dish is labor-intensive, but the flavor is worth it, and the dish is going on his menu.

“The minute Tzippi said harshuf, wild artichoke, I knew we’re going to do it, because it’s really old school,” Navon said. “You can’t find it in restaurants — only in homes. It’s something with a fingerprint.”

Navon said he is happy to donate his time and ingredients to Shorashim.

“It’s an amazing project and helps raise awareness that we still have Holocaust survivors in Israel,” he said. “They’re still part of the community, and we need to remember them.”

Linda Gradstein writes for The Media Line.