Beth Tfiloh On Top

Junior Marty Perlmutter (with ball) played an important role for the Warriors, both offensively and defensively. (Jenny Rubin)

Junior Marty Perlmutter (with ball) played an important role for the Warriors, both offensively and defensively.
(Jenny Rubin)

In this, his first season as the head coach of the Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community Day School’s boys varsity basketball team, Ari Braun led his players to a 17-9 overall record, 10-4 in their conference. That was good enough to earn second place in the Class C Division of the tough Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association. After making it all the way to the MIAA championship game this past weekend, the Warriors lost a heartbreaker to Indian Creek School from Crownsville, 48-45.

It was an amazing season under the guidance of the new coach. Braun, who clearly loves basketball, is an amazing teacher of the game whose journey to BT presents an interesting story.

Braun is a native of Silver Spring and a 1997 graduate of Yeshiva High School of Greater Washington. After graduation, he traveled to Israel to study, first for a year at Yeshivat Yerushalayim and then for six months at Yeshivat Ateret Yerushalayim. After returning from Israel in 1999, he got his first taste of what coaching was all about when he served as an assistant coach at Talmudical Academy in Baltimore under coach Harold Katz.

Braun then spent six years coaching in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio. He then spent spent five years as the athletic director and head
basketball coach of Yeshivat Rambam in Baltimore until the school closed in 2011. In 2012 he served as the head coach of the Shoshana S. Cardin School before taking over as the boys junior varsity head coach at Beth Tfiloh. After one season he was
elevated to his current position.

The Jewish Times spoke with Braun about his first season at BT, about the players who helped him achieve some instant success and what the future holds for the Warriors.

JT: Tell us about the players who made this season such a success.
Braun: I really walked into a great situation with five players returning from last year’s team. Danny Gross is a senior and one of our captains; he’s a great guy and an extremely hard worker. He’s got good size and strength and will outwork anyone. Spencer Kronthal is our other holdover senior from last year. He has been the biggest surprise of the team because of his great improvement. Our juniors are Jordan King, Marty Perlmutter and Dani Katz. The duo of Katz and King are the two leading rebounders and scorers on the team. Perlmutter has great athleticism and speed [and] has become a great player both offensively and defensively. Our top reserves are three guards who played for us last year on the junior varsity team, Matt Kassner, Eitan Hariri, and Peleg Ovadia. They have provided us with quality players. … That bench talent has been one of the main reasons for our success.

How much help do you get coaching?
A big reason for our success this season is because of the hard work of my assistant coaches, Pinny Margolius and Eli Creeger. Coach Margolius has instituted a brand new fitness program, as well as a nutrition program, that has been a huge help to our team. He also has done an outstanding job of going over our opponents on tape and helping with practices. Coach Creeger, a BT alumnus and veteran Warrior basketball player, is in charge of our junior varsity team and also does pregame scouting. Both these young men have helped me immensely.

Do you get much support from the Beth Tfiloh student body and community?
The support of the faculty, students, parents and alumni has been amazing. I love seeing alumni come out to support us, because that hopefully let’s our kids know that they are part of something much bigger then themselves. We even have former coaches come cheer us on. Stan Lustman, who coached the last championship team, and Mel Pachino, who was an assistant to Stan as well as on last year’s team, are frequently at our games.

Who are your coaching inspirations?
I have three; two are legends and members of the Basketball Hall of Fame, and the third is a very close friend. Dean Smith, who was the head coach of the University of North Carolina, impressed me with his dedication to the concept of playing as a team no matter how many stars he might have. The other [legend] is Morgan Wootten, who was the head coach at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Md. I had the honor of working with him at his basketball camps. He taught me a great deal about how to work with high school kids and how to prepare them for college. Last but not least is Harold Katz, who gave me my start in the profession and has provided me with invaluable guidance at every step of my career. I have had the honor of coaching all four of his sons, including Dani, who is on this year’s team. All three of these men have a profound influence on the way I coach today.

Will The NFL Still Be Around In 10 Years?

From the cover of Evan Weiner’s latest book, “America's Passion: How a Coal Miner's Game Became the NFL in the 20th Century.”

From the cover of Evan Weiner’s latest book, “America’s Passion: How a Coal Miner’s Game Became the NFL in the 20th Century.”

Watched in nearly 30 million households in the United States each week, the National Football League is arguably the most successful and popular sports enterprise in our country. But there are problems on the field that could drastically affect the way the game is played in the future.

In August, the NFL agreed to pay $765 million to settle a lawsuit brought by thousands of retired players who alleged that the league had hid from them reports about the long-term consequences of concussions suffered during years of participating in the sport. Illnesses such as Alzheimer’s, dementia and Lou Gehrig’s disease are among the conditions that will qualify these football retirees or their families for settlement payments.

While the NFL will not admit any wrongdoing under this agreement and specifically is not accepting liability or admitting that the players’ injuries were caused by football, experts wonder what effects this legal action may have on the future of football — and particularly on the system of youth, high school and college teams that feed the ranks of professional football. To get the view of someone who has reported extensively on this topic, the JT spoke to Evan Weiner, an accomplished writer and commentator in the field of sports business and politics.

Weiner is a frequent guest on MSNBC and was the recipient of the U.S. Sports Academy’s 2010 Ronald Reagan Media Award. His latest book is “America’s Passion: How a Coal Miner’s Game Became the NFL in the 20th Century.

JT: What is the biggest threat you see to the continuing existence of professional football?
Weiner: When it comes to playing sports, all mothers become Jewish mothers. It comes down to trust. There must be a trust between parents and the people running the football leagues, so that if I let my children play the game in an organized youth league, in junior high school or in high school, they will be as safe as one can be playing sports. Parents understand that there will always be injuries on the playing field; that is the nature of participating in sports of any kind. But with football, we are talking about a child experiencing a series of concussions that possibly could cause long-term brain damage. So the biggest issue directly linked to the continuation of the NFL becomes the availability of a pool of amateur players that could become limited, as we find out more about the risks of playing collision sports such as football.

How will these trust issues affect organized football in the school systems?
The problem that most immediately affects the real future of all contact sports is the rising cost of insurance that may be necessary for schools to obtain. School systems nationwide deal with budget issues on a daily basis. If a family believes their child has been permanently disabled from concussions suffered during years of playing junior high school or high school football, they may sue the school system. Will school boards that either self-insure or pay a huge insurance premium really want to keep the games going? Those policies that deal with catastrophic injuries and their high price tags are going to be a real issue going forward. I can see school systems dropping football because of the vast increases in the costs they incur.

What other threats to organized football in the school systems do you see?
I feel that the possibility of a massive class-action lawsuit could really be — no pun intended — a game changer. The recent NFL settlement involved 4,500 players for $765 million; think for a moment what a suit with say 50,000 youth players could be worth if they sued state and county school systems.

Is the future of the NFL doomed because there will be an insufficient feeder system?
Professional football needs to learn from the history of other sports. For example, the NFL need only look back at how professional boxing went from being a major sport to becoming a minor one today because of safety issues. From the 1930s through the 1950s, boxing was extremely popular. A number of immigrants used boxing as a means to literally fight their way out of the ghetto and out of poverty. My Jewish grandfather was among those individuals. But during that time, the safety issues of boxing were never completely addressed, and now the sport has a very marginal following. Don’t think for a moment that in a generation the NFL can’t go the way of boxing.

So what’s the takeaway?
Those of us who have followed the game since we were kids want to see the NFL continue to flourish. But I believe the fierce and violent tackles that we see will be legislated out of the game. So in the future, I think we will see a less violent, more skilled and more position-oriented style of game. The NFL needs to demonstrate that it is serious about the head injury problem.

Weiner’s latest book, “America’s Passion: How a Coal Miner’s Game Became the NFL in the 20th Century,” can be found on Smashwords, Kobo, Nook, Sony e-reader and Apple iTunes, along with his three other e-books.

Pikesville Boys Take Aim At State Soccer Title

Pikesville varsity team (Provided)

Pikesville High School varsity team (Provided)

The Pikesville High School boys’ soccer team hopes to make history Thursday when it takes on North Carroll in the state Class 1A boys’ soccer championship.

“They’re ready to play,” said coach Mark Lavallee, who is in his 11th year of leading the Pikesville team.

Pikesville finished regular-season play with an 8-2-2 record, falling only to Catonsville and Hereford. The team’s Nov. 5 regional win over Central marked the first time the Panthers have advanced that far in the playoffs. On Nov. 9, they advanced even further by defeating Havre de Grace in the state’s semifinal round.

“I said if we ever won the region championship I would take them all for pancakes,” said Lavallee. “We won the region — this was a Tuesday night — and we went to IHOP on Thursday night.”

The team will have to settle for bragging rights if they win Thursday, because Lavallee said the IHOP offer doesn’t apply to the state championship.

Nonetheless, he said, the team’s excitement is sky-high as it prepares for its final game of the season. “It is incredible for these kids,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like it — how up they are, how positive.”

Thursday’s game is set for UMBC Stadium at 5 p.m.

New and Improved

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A JCC fitness instructor demonstrates use of the new equipment. (David Stuck)

It has been just over one month since the Jewish New Year and for people who want to keep with their resolutions of dropping a few pounds and/or increasing their stamina, now is a good time to do it at the Jewish Community Center.

Both the Weinberg Park Heights JCC and the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC have received new state-of-the-art fitness equipment in recent weeks, replacing old treadmills with newer, more accessible machines, adding better bikes and switching out some of the old weight machines.

“It shows we are up to date, state of the art and relevant,” said JCC President Barack Hermann.

The entire Park Heights center is also being enhanced. The lower level has a fresh coat of paint and new carpeting in colors and textures, said Hermann, that make the JCC feel more like “a home away from home.”

Hermann said wellness, fitness, aquatics and recreation are core programs of the JCC, and it is one of the center’s key responsibilities to the community “to provide a place where Jews can work on their minds, bodies and spirits.”

Plus, there’s a lot of competition out there.

“If we can provide a good value proposition, then people want to buy Jewish,” said Hermann. “They won’t buy Jewish and compromise.”

JCC Vice President Phil Miller, who is manager of the Park Heights center, said that in addition to the general fitness area, the JCC is also revamping both the men’s and women’s locker rooms on the Park Heights campus. He said that the women’s facilities should be done in about one week and then work will start on the men’s room.

“It will be absolutely fantastic,” said Miller. “No one will recognize them.”

Through its own funding and support from The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, the JCC will install new tiling,  flooring, paint and accessories.

“This is something we have heard for a long time that we needed to do,” Miller said, describing the work at Park Heights as a demonstration of the growing sense of commitment on behalf of The Associated and The Associated system to the Park Heights Jewish community.

“The Park Heights Jewish community matters to the larger Jewish community,” said Miller. “This just shows how much it is valued, that it is worth a significant investment.”

In addition to the physical renovations, the Park Heights JCC has also launched a series of new fitness offerings targeted specifically to men —
single-gender classes. Miller said that while the center has long offered a
variety of single-gender fitness ins-truction for women, lack of space and funding has kept the JCC from offering the same full menu for men.

Over the summer, the Park Heights JCC began staying open an hour later on Tuesday nights, until 11:15 p.m., for men only. The fitness center and the pool are accessible during that time, and there is a group fitness class called Insanity.

“It’s a real solid workout, and we have been getting a great turnout of 30 or 40 men,” said Miller of the class. “The JCC has an obligation to remember the family, and we want to do as much as we can for mom and dad.”

Starting this fall, the JCC will have at least one males-only fitness class Sunday through Thursday, including yoga and cycling.

“We need membership dollars to do mitzvahs,” said Hermann. “If we are equally competitive and valued, then we will have more money to do very important work.”

Maayan Jaffe is JT editor-in-chief — mjaffe@jewishtimes.com

A Tough Split

091313_a_tough_splitFor eight years, Irina Goldsmith has been taking her children, Jaxson, 12, and Payton, 10, to the youth duckpin bowling league at AMF Pikesville Lanes. This year, she said, league members will be traveling to the Westview lanes or dropping out entirely.

No one is more surprised about this change than the league members themselves.

The Pikesville Youth League has a strong history with AMF Pikesville Lanes. It has been playing there for more than 30 years, most recently from 1 to 3 p.m. on Saturday afternoons. At least one of the teams, made up of participants from Owings Mills, Pikesville, Randallstown and Reisterstown, has won the state championship the past four years. However, due to operational changes at AMF and AMF’s recent merger with Bowlmor Lanes, scheduling arrangements have become increasingly complicated.

Last year, Goldsmith said, parents were told that the league could no longer continue with the 1 p.m. slot. Instead, the center wanted to accommodate birthday parties that would begin at that time. According to Goldsmith, the center informed parents that the only way the youth league could continue at Pikesville is if it began at 9 in the morning.

This news split up the league, as the older and more experienced bowlers left to join other leagues. Goldsmith’s children went to AMF Westview Lanes, where they could bowl in the afternoon.

“We tried to do different things to stay at Pikesville because the league at Pikesville is so popular,” said Goldsmith. “We tried to change it to 11 a.m. instead, but to the AMF Center, it was either 9 in the morning or forget it.”

Over time, Pikesville altered that decision, deciding to allow the league to bowl at 10 a.m. during the upcoming 2013-2014 season, as long as it finished by noon.

Many parents were happy to come back, even for an earlier time.

“Those who had left agreed to come back this year,” Eric Ball, a coach on the league, explained. “Even though it wasn’t the best time option, it was better to stay together. After four state wins and traveling together, the families had really bonded.”

With the expectation of reassembling the original league members, parents were startled to find out that AMF backtracked and decided to close out the Saturday youth league entirely.

Just a few weeks before the league was to begin at the end of August, the center’s manager at Pikesville informed AMF volunteer youth coordinator, “Miss Beth” Schlein, about the change via email. Schlein was told that the center would be opening at 11 a.m. and would no longer be able to accommodate the leagues; leagues wouldn’t be finished by noon, the time designated for parties and “open bowling,” which is casual bowling outside of a league. The decision displaced the Pikesville youth league and adult special-needs leagues.

Now, of the 40 bowlers in the original youth league, only about 15 will continue to bowl in other leagues.

“What I would really like is for them to open the center one hour earlier because it’s not just the youth league, but the special-needs leagues that are also getting displaced,” said Goldsmith.

Gregg Nichols, the area’s district manager for AMF Bowling Centers, denied that the league was being shut out but did not return calls.

Chad Waetzig, chief marketing officer of Bowlmore AMF, explained in an email that the merger between the two companies took place as AMF was struggling financially. As a result, certain operational changes had to be made that could not accommodate all the leagues.

“In many locations, we’ve adjusted our operating hours during nonpeak times, which have impacted some leagues,” Waetzig wrote. “In many situations, we have been able to accommodate leagues with our new schedules. Regrettably, some leagues we were not able to accommodate.”

Schlein, who has volunteered for AMF Pikesville for 28 years, understands that there may have been financial motivations for the changes at Pikesville. But she also believes that more open communication from the management might have prevented the scheduling confusion and disappointment.

“It’s just really sad that no one wants to stand up and talk to people face-to-face,” Schlein said. “You aren’t always going to get your way, and things aren’t necessarily going to change, but if the management doesn’t keep the line of communication open, they are going to shoot themselves in the foot.”

For Goldsmith, these changes at Pikesville represent a shift in priorities.

“The corporate bowling philosophy is changing” Goldsmith said. “It’s a shame that Pikesville would lose the chance to instill the love of bowling in dozens of youth and to cultivate their business.”

Pitta of Despair

David SnyderThis past spring, the Ravens rewarded Super Bowl-winning quarterback Joe Flacco with a $120.6 million contract.

I’d be willing to bet he’d give a few of those millions back if it meant he could have his favorite target healthy and back on the field.

Late last month, fourth-year tight end Dennis Pitta dislocated his hip after a training camp collision with safety James Ihedigbo. The injury will sideline Pitta for the entire 2013 season, and it creates a gaping void in the Ravens’ passing offense.

While wide receivers Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones figured to highlight the big-play potential of the Ravens’ offense, Pitta steadily had evolved into Flacco’s most dependable option over the 2012 season. And when you factor in that the Ravens traded receiver Anquan Boldin, the team will now be forced to replace a duo that reeled in a combined 129 catches — approximately 40 percent of Flacco’s total completions — last season.

Eternal optimists will tell you not to worry, that the Ravens always have someone ready to step up.

Forget that.

I’d rather be pessimistic now and pleasantly surprised later. That’s more my style.

After Flacco and running back Ray Rice, I contend that Pitta was the last offensive player that Ravens could afford to lose.

The Ravens have no replacement for Pitta, who is also regarded as Flacco’s closest teammate off the field. Fellow fourth-year tight end Ed Dickson will get the starting role, and although he’s shown he can put up numbers — Dickson caught 54 passes for 528 yards and five touchdowns in 2011 — he does not have Pitta’s hands or the familiarity with Flacco.

When it comes to weapons in the Ravens’ passing attack, Smith, Jones and an unproven Deonte Thompson all have the kind of speed to get behind defenses and make teams fear the deep ball. However, none offers the physical frame that Pitta (and Boldin as well) possess when it comes to making the tough catches over the middle, an area in Flacco’s game that improved rapidly when Jim Caldwell replaced Cam Cameron as offensive coordinator toward the end of last season.

This isn’t a knock on any of those receivers’ toughness, it’s simply a statement of fact that none presents the kind of wide-bodied target that Flacco can look for as the pass rush envelops him when a play breaks down.

So, how do the Ravens overcome this injury? Dickson, and recently added free-agent tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, will have to develop a chemistry with Flacco as the season progresses. The team will also revert back to relying heavily on Rice as a ball carrier and as a pass catcher. Although he’s averaged nearly 70 receptions over the last four seasons, expect an even more increased role from Rice as a receiver.

And, don’t forget, the Ravens figure to have a revamped defense this season, which will hopefully place less of a strain on the offense to put up points and provide an advantage in the field-position battle.

Still, my whole point here is that the Ravens have beaten the phrase “next man up” to death. With Pitta there is no next man. There’s only hope that he can return healthy in 2014 without missing a beat.

Discs ‘R’ Us

Along with camaraderie and fun, a big draw for Ultimate players is the health benefit. Standing around is not part of the game.  (David Snyder)

Along with camaraderie and fun, a big draw for Ultimate players is the health benefit. Standing around is not part of the game.
(David Stuck)

Jon “Yaakov” Goldman may have just turned 50, but fortunately for him, when it comes to playing Ultimate Frisbee, his most highly coveted and personally gratifying skill doesn’t age along with him.

Goldman’s favorite element of Ultimate — an outdoor sport invented in 1967 that requires no more than an open field, a Frisbee and a handful of orange cones — is delivering the perfect pass. With a quick snap of his wrist, Goldman can hurl the Frisbee as far as 75 yards, and having learned spin nuances while playing the game in college, Goldman can manipulate the disc and make it go exactly where he wants it to.

“Imagine you’re a quarterback,” explained Goldman, “and you can send your receiver right into the very back corner of the end zone and you know how to throw [the disc] so it curves outside the field, whips in like a ‘C’ right in the corner and misses the defender by a foot. That’s really fun.”

Thanks to a weekly local pickup game, Goldman — and several other Ultimate enthusiasts from Jewish Baltimore — have the chance to experience that level of enjoyment every Sunday morning.

Since the spring of 2010, the game has taken place from around 9 to 10:45 a.m. on the fields at Wellwood International School. The game used to be held on Saturday nights but was moved to Sunday mornings so it could be even more open to the community. Usually around 10 to 12 people show up for a 5-on-5 or 6-on-6 game. From beginners to seasoned veterans, all skill levels and ages are welcome.

Nationwide, the sport is growing at an enormous pace. Almost five million people participate in Ultimate Frisbee in the U.S. alone, more than in lacrosse and hockey combined, according to a 2012 Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association report. Worldwide, there are more than seven million participants in more than 80 countries, according to the World Flying Disc Federation.

Part of the reason the pickup game is so open and fun is the essence of Ultimate itself. It’s a sport — even when played at the highest levels — that is centered on a positive attitude and good sportsmanship. Even the official Ultimate rulebook emphasizes upholding “Spirit of the Game” regulations, which prohibit taunting opposing players, dangerous aggression, belligerent intimidation or any “win-at-all-costs” behavior.

“Highly competitive play is encouraged, but never at the expense of mutual respect among competitors, adherence to the agreed upon rules or the basic joy of play,” reads Section 1, Item B, of the sport’s official rulebook.

For Goldman, the ability to compete among a bunch of mensches has always been a huge part of the draw.

“There’s no smack talk, you’re not rubbing anyone’s nose in it,” Goldman said. “It’s just really healthy energy, and that’s really important to me.”

The health factor also plays a role in Ultimate’s overall appeal.

The sport is similar to football in that it involves advancing the Frisbee down the field while the opponent attempts to intercept or knock passes down to gain possession. However, it also mirrors the endurance-factor of soccer in that the action is continuous. Players can only advance the disc by throwing it (one cannot run while holding the Frisbee), but when not with possession, players are almost always sprinting regardless if they are on offense or defense.

Playing on grass reduces stress on the legs and joints. And, particularly when it rains and the field becomes muddy and even softer, players relish the ability to lay out and dive for passes. The end result is a full body workout.

“With a hectic schedule of Jewish praying and learning, work, kids and grad school, I have a very limited time to exercise,” said pickup regular Brett Weil, 36. “Ultimate packs in lots of aerobic exercise in 90 minutes on a Sunday.”

Ultimate requires virtually no equipment. In addition to the necessary 175-gram (less than half-a-pound) disc, cones are set up to mark the boundaries of the field and the two end zones. The group recently invested $35 in colored scrimmage vests, which are worn to help differentiate between teams.

And, Goldman said, it truly is a sport for anyone. He likened Ultimate to golf, in that one doesn’t have to be muscular or supremely athletic to be a quality player. Experience and repetition are the keys to honing one’s game.

Weil added that those interested in trying out Ultimate shouldn’t be afraid to jump right in.

“The veteran players are happy to help, whether it’s the rules of the game, throwing/catching mechanics or Ultimate game strategies,” Weil said. “But most importantly, we are there to have fun.”

For more information about the pickup games, contact Yehuda Bennett at yehudabennett@gmail.com.

Maccabiah Bar Mitzvah Ceremony Proves Games Are About More Than Sports

NEVE ILAN, Israel (JTA) — Luke Rosener removed his orange T-shirt, changed into a white dress shirt and alighted from a chartered bus.

The garb was a far cry from the uniform Rosener will wear while playing for the U.S. volleyball team at the Maccabiah Games, the 78-nation sports competition that began this week in Israel.

The attire was more befitting a religious ceremony — in this case, his bar mitzvah.

Rosener, 22, of Cupertino, Calif., had never had a bar mitzvah, owing to his family’s financial situation and his early struggles with dyslexia. But as part of the 1,200-member U.S. Maccabiah delegation, Rosener encountered a ready-made opportunity to become a bar mitzvah alongside scores of new friends also celebrating the traditional rite of passage.

That’s because Maccabi USA, the American branch of the international sports movement, brings participants to Israel a week before the competition for a mandatory program of touring and discussions rich in Jewish content. In recent years the program, known as Israel Connect, has featured a mass bar mitzvah ceremony for participants who never had one.

“There’s so much more to [the Maccabiah] than playing sports,” said Jeffrey Bukantz, Maccabi USA’s general chairman and a former fencing Olympian. “We really do consider it the flagship of the program. It’s to the point that Israel Connect is more important than the actual sports. The kids are really impacted by the program.”

On the lush grounds of a reception center in the hills west of Jerusalem, a mile beyond the Elvis Inn pub guarded by a white statue of the King, the delegation gathered in the setting sun Tuesday for the ceremony. The entry hall’s long red carpet was lined with red, white and blue balloons and round tables in the vast garden were stacked with wrapped presents.

The ceremony coincided with Tisha b’Av, the 25-hour fast commemorating the destruction of both ancient Temples — a day on which celebrations are frowned upon. But as he prepared to chant the Torah portion designated for the closing hours of many fast days, Daniel Greyber, the delegation’s official rabbi, offered a fresh perspective.

“The afternoon of Tisha b’Av is a time of rebuilding, of looking forward,” Greyber said. “The b’nai mitzvah ceremony connects us to the Jewish people — not only in this world at this time but for all of history. In that regard, it requires celebrating.”

Along with the U.S. team’s assistant rabbi, Noam Raucher, Greyber led the crowd in spirited singing. And he punctuated the Torah reading with references to group discussions he had led the previous day covering biblical events and their relevance today.

Dave Blackburn, a standout softball pitcher who has competed in six Maccabiah Games, recited the Birkat Hagomel traditionally recited by those who have escaped harm. In 2009, Blackburn was nearly killed in a car crash, an accident that claimed his right leg below the knee and broke 27 bones.

“I’ve lived to share this Maccabiah experience with you, my extended family,” Blackburn said from his wheelchair.

Greyber called the Maccabiah participants to the Torah in three groups, and as the last one ascended the podium, he called for attention.

“Everyone,” he said, “look at the miracle that is happening as the sun goes down over Jerusalem, as this group that has never been to Israel and never had a bar or bat mitzvah is having an aliyah for the first time.”

Then Blackburn’s nephew Landon stepped forward.

“My uncle,” he began, struggling through tears to get the words out, “is keeping me alive, and that’s all that matters.”

Landon Blackburn, a wrestler, said later that his uncle’s participation in the games is his most cherished aspect of the trip. His own father would not have permitted him to participate without his uncle’s influence, he said.

A native of La Porte, Ind., Landon, 18, said he grew up celebrating Jewish holidays, but as a rebellious child opted not to have a bar mitzvah.

“But all that did was make my life harder, that the weight of the world was on my shoulders,” he said. “I didn’t have anything to help me cope with the hardships of life.”

Having this bar mitzvah, Landon said, makes him feel “100 percent better about my outlook on life.”

The final blessing chanted, Greyber led the singing of “Siman Tov” as candies were tossed onto the podium and participants wiped tears. Members of the two rugby teams leapt from their front-row chairs and posed near the stone wall overlooking the hills. Some did a jig in the seating area.

Greyber offered another song, and then another. Tisha b’Av was just about over, but the celebration wasn’t. Athletes jumped onto the podium to pose with their rabbi, who offered one last thought to those milling about.

“We are blessed to be here together,” Greyber said. “I have no idea what great and amazing things will come from this moment, but I am sure that within you is the infinity of God’s goodness.”

Rosener emerged fulfilled.

“I was in the moment, surrounded by other people, saying the blessing. I felt complete,” he said. “Something was added that had been missing from my life.”

Read more coverage of the 19th Maccabiah here.

Maccabiah Games Open With Record Number Of Athletes

JERUSALEM (JTA) — U.S. Olympian Aly Raisman lit the torch at the opening ceremony of the 19th Maccabiah Games, which features a record number of nearly 9,000 athletes.

Thursday night’s ceremony at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem featured pyrotechnics and performances with hundreds of dancers and popular Israeli singers, as well as electric violinist Miri Ben-Ari. American “X Factor” runner-up Carly Rose Sonenclar sang “Hallelujah” joined by many in the crowd of 30,000.

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U.S. Olympic gymnast and gold medalist Aly Raisman lighting the torch during the opening ceremony of the 19th Maccabiah Games at Jerusalem’s Teddy Stadium, July 19, 2013. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90/JTA)

“After winning medals and winning achievement, go tour Israel. This is your country,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a welcoming speech that alternated between English and Hebrew. “I’ll tell you the truth. I hope you and your families decide after this visit to come and live here.”

Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres rose and applauded as Israel’s blue-and-white-clad delegation of 2,270 athletes entered the stadium. The 1,100-member U.S. contingent wore red, white and blue sweatsuits with white baseball caps.

President Obama greeted the athletes via video, referencing the “unshakeable bond” between Israel and the United States.

Athletes from a record 78 countries will participate in 42 sports, as well as Paralympic events. Some 150 athletes who participated in the recent Olympic Games will be competing in the Maccabiah, the quadrennial event known as the Jewish Olympics.

Former Israeli Olympians carried a large Israeli flag into the stadium, each accompanied by a participant in the special-needs events.

Amitzur Shapira, an Israeli athlete at the Munich Olympics, recited the Yizkor prayer of mourning in memory of the nine members of the Israeli delegation who were killed in the 1972 Summer Olympics and the four Australian athletes killed in the the 1997 Maccabiah bridge disaster.

Paralympics tennis gold medalist Noam Gershony, four-time windsurfing world championship winner Lee Korzits, former Israel national soccer team goalkeeper Nir Davidovich and Israeli judoka Arik Ze’evi carried the Maccabiah torch into the stadium. They passed it to Raisman, an Olympic gold medalist, who lit the Maccabiah flame.

Earlier in the day, Peres at a meeting in his Jerusalem office implored New York Knicks forward Amar’e Stoudemire, a coach for the Canadian Maccabiah basketball team, “to join the Israeli National Team and be a part of our country.”

Stoudemire, a one-time all-star, met with Peres to present the educational project he has launched to promote in Israel — learning science through sports.

 

 

Check it out!

071913_check_it_outThe prospect of getting a crowd of teenagers to pipe down and focus can be a challenging task.

However, when Jill Mull addresses dozens of 11th- and 12th-grade girls, she says it’s quiet enough to hear a pin drop.

Mull is one of several breast cancer survivors who volunteer to speakin front of female high school audiences as a part of Hadassah of Greater Baltimore’s Check It Out program. In its 19th year, the initiative combines the insights of breast cancer survivors and medical professionals to educate and empower girls to take a proactive approach toward breast cancer prevention.

The innovative program has reached more than 140,000 young women in public, private and parochial schools throughout the Greater Baltimore Metropolitan area. Since 1999, the program has also educated more than 30,000 boys about testicular cancer and self-examination.

On Sunday, July 28, Hadassah will host its annual Check It Out Challenge, a run/walk event that raises funds for the organization and its programs.

Organizers and volunteers alike stress that Check It Out is not intended as a scare tactic. Mull said she emphasizes during her talks that 18-year-olds have a one in 25,000 chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer. However, she does accentuate that the onus ison the girls to know their bodies and alert a doctor when something doesn’t feel right. She said that 85 percent of breast cancer patients have no genetic connection to the disease.

“I was taken out of the blue with my breast cancer diagnosis, but you have to be your own advocate,” said Mull, 40, and the immediate past chair of Check It Out.

Listening to real life experiences from a survivor is just the first piece of the puzzle. After the disease is“humanized,” Mull said, the audience is educated on how to conduct a breast exam from a medical professional.

Barbara Berg, a health educator for more than 35 years, said thatthe detailed instruction on how
to examine one’s body is a part of what makes Check It Out such an effective resource.

“My sense is that even though there are pink ribbons and walks for cancer and people talking about breast cancer, young women aren’t necessarily educated about what kinds of things in their own body they should be aware of, and, as they get older, the kinds of things they should [check for],” said Berg, a part-time staffer at Hadassah who also helps oversee the program.

Following the two elements of the program, each student is provided an index card to write down questions that they may feel uncomfortable asking in front of their peers. Additionally, speakers stick around following the presentation to answer questions one-on-one with teens. Each student is also provided with a Check It Out kit that includes a handbag with an evaluation sheet for the presentation and a self-examination checklist. Some years, the kit has also included model breasts for practicing a self-exam.

Perhaps the true sign of Check It Out’s effectiveness is that, aside from technological enhancements here and there, the program has essentially remained the same since its inception. It continues to rely on a committed group of staff and volunteers who are working to ensure that teens are aware that early detection can be the key to saving a life —  maybe their own.

Marsha Oakley has seen the imp-ortance of early detection from both sides. Oakley, the nursing coordinator at Mercy Hospital’s Hoffberger Breast Center, is a two-time breast cancer survivor herself. She’s spoken at Check It Out programs both as a survivor and as a medical professional.

“I have never doubted that I am alive because I found that thing. I use myself as an example that [early detection] works,” Oakley said. “[Through this program] we know people’s lives have been changed.”

Hadassah Check It Out Challenge
Benefiting breast and testicular cancer education programs for Greater Baltimore kids and other local initiatives
8K-5K-1Mile Run/Walk
Sunday, July 28; Goucher College
Cost: $35 before July 26; $40 on race day
Register online at active.com.
For more information, contact baltimore.chapter@hadassah.org or call 410-484-9590.

David Snyder is a JT staff reporter dsnyder@jewishtimes.com