Purim starts tonight, on the full moon, as Jewish holidays of freedom do. So last night (March 22), being nearly the full moon, seemed an appropriate time for the annual Latino-Jewish Seder hosted by the American Jewish Committee and Valle del Sol – even though Passover won’t come till the next full moon.
The organizers seek to find common ground between the Jewish and Latino communities in Arizona by emphasizing Passover’s story of liberation in a way that leads many participants to examine their ethnic identity, that which comes to them through the stories handed down from their parents and grandparents.
This marked the fourth year that the event was held at the Cutler-Plotkin Jewish Heritage Center in Phoenix, and the 12th year that the two organizations have provided this “opportunity to engage in a cross-cultural experience” to those in Valle del Sol’s Hispanic Leadership Institute, AJC board members and invited guests. About 80 people attended.
In welcoming remarks, Lawrence Bell, the executive director of the Arizona Jewish Historical Society that owns the Cutler-Plotkin, stressed the history of the building, which was Phoenix’s first synagogue and later home to Chinese and Spanish Baptist churches, and observing there could be no better place for Hispanic and Jewish Americans to get together. He said that the seder is one of his favorite events at the center: “I attend every time, just because I like it so much.”
Carlos Galindo-Elvira, chief development officer of Valle del Sol, said that it was an accident that the seder fell this year on the same day as Arizona’s Presidential Preference Election (the proper name of what people know as our state’s presidential primary). “But what is not by accident is the theme … and that’s freedom,” he said. “The fact that there’s so many people standing in lines to vote, to exercise their right, affirms freedom.”
“We are gathered tonight to have a seder, which is the festive meal that celebrates Passover. Passover is the Jewish festival of liberation, based on, drawn from the story of the Exodus in the Torah, the Bible,” said Rabbi Dean Shapiro of Temple Emanuel, who led the seder again this year. His fluency with Spanish and Hebrew provided an important link for a group in which the lingua franca was English, accented or not.
Because this was not a Passover seder in the sense of celebrating the Jewish holiday religiously, but rather a social event with a purposeful overlay of producing dialogue and good will between people of different backgrounds, there was a liberating sense that rather than engaging in a ritual, we were engaging in a dialogue. In addition to listening to the story of the escape from Egypt, we were freed to listen to others’ stories of departure and arrival, often of departing a dark circumstance such as poverty or oppression to seek the freedom of America’s shores.
The rabbi prodded this dialogue, pausing our recitation of the Haggadah every so often to ask questions that people answered and discussed at length at their tables.
My wife and I have come to look forward to this celebration each year, precisely because it’s informal and creates unexpectedly deep conversations. At our table, we had a young lady whose parents came from Mexico, a woman whose forebears were from Ukraine, another woman from Guatemala, a man whose father’s family came from Germany and whose mother’s family came from Mexico and a couple whose roots were in Mexico and the American Southwest.
In explaining the central theme of the evening, the rabbi stressed that the events of the Exodus would have occurred about 3,500 years ago, so the experience of Egyptian slavery is something that no living Jew has had. “And yet, nonetheless, to this day, we tell this story, we eat these foods so that we will experience this story because we want to own a share of slavery, not so that we can be downtrodden but so that we can sympathize and empathize with those who are downtrodden … so that the story of oppression will never be someone else’s story, but our own, as well. So that our lot will always side with those who are hurting, enslaved, whose lives have been made bitter. We never want to forget this story. Its fingerprints are always on the Jewish soul.”
Sharing that story in this distinctly American context gives participants a vision of our country as it should be – one where unique individuals and communities don’t assimilate to become American but instead become American by adding the richness of their identity and heritage to a bountiful banquet of possibility and freedom.
– Salvatore Caputo
Year after year, Ronald Scheiman puts out an email to make American Jews aware of the availability of Hanukkah stamps. Just Googling his “The Quest for Annual Hanukkah Stamps” tagline finds his 2002 letter and 2013 letter within the first page of results.
Here’s his 2015 letter:
“Hanukkah stamps should be available now at your local post office. Although there is no new design, the 2011 and/or 2013 designs should be (available). You may be told the your post office can’t get them or won’t because it is not a new stamp. Well, if they have a religious-themed Christmas stamp, they have an old stamp because the United States Postal Service did not issue a new religiously themed Christmas stamp, they are distributing last year’s stamp.
“Ronald Scheiman, The Quest for Annual Hanukkah Stamps”
Kudos to Mr. Scheiman for persisting.
Word of a “concentration camp” activity in a Scottsdale high school class – modeled on the movie “Life is Beautiful,” in which a father acts as though their persecution by the Nazis is part of a game in order to shelter his son from fear – has sparked some activity on Facebook. Here’s an interview done on KTAR radio yesterday (April 30) with the Scottsdale sophomore who protested the activity to her school’s administration. The photo below shows the explanation of the activity. Click on the image to enlarge it. The school has stopped the activity, the ADL says.
The FBI has warned U.S. companies that hackers from the Middle East and North Africa plan to conduct cyber-attacks in an “electronic Holocaust” April 7 to coincide with the second anniversary of the first #OpIsrael attacks on April 7, 2013, the date of Yom Hashoah that year.
Those attacks were conducted by the international activist hacker group Anonymous. There is evidence, according to the ADL, that this year’s attacks will be headed by an affiliate group, AnonGhost, which “frequently employs anti-Semitism as part of its cyber activity.” Besides the annual effort to hack Israeli government and institutional websites, the ADL reports that AnonGhost “appears to have already threatened individual Israelis with violence through mobile devices” and “the group claims to have obtained personal information on more than 200 Israelis. One threatening text the group claims to have sent to an Israeli included an image of an infamous ISIS fighter with the caption, ‘We are coming O Jews to kill you.’ A text sent to another Israeli man included an image of his family with the threat, ‘I’ll stick a knife in their throats.'”
“In the past three years, anti-Israel hackers participating in this campaign have targeted Israeli sites with limited success, but they are now widening their attacks to target individual Israelis with threatening anti-Semitic rhetoric,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. “Israel and Jewish communities worldwide should be on alert, as digital terrorism takes many forms and hackers are getting more sophisticated.”
AnonGhost is unambiguous in its support of Hamas and ISIS (or Islamic State), the ADL said.
“While anti-Semitic themes existed in previous #OpIsrael campaigns, it had been primarily billed as a response to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. AnonGhost’s participation and tactics thus far speak to the centrality of anti-Semitism in this year’s campaign, which serves as an extension of AnonGhost’s pro-terror activism around the world,” the ADL said in its warning.
The FBI’s threat assessment is that the AnonGhost and other hackers participating in #OpIsrael can mount low-level denial of service (DoS) attacks and deface websites. DoS attacks use a flood of log-in requests aimed at a target to overwhelm its capacity and cause the targeted sites to crash. According to the FBI, “the most likely targets for the campaign are Israel-based systems or the systems of worldwide Jewish-oriented organizations like synagogues or cultural centers.”
“Based on historical targeting preferences, the attackers will likely focus primarily on Israeli financial institutions, but may also target Israeli media outlets,” the FBI warning said.
“Given the perceived connections between the government of Israel and Israeli financial institutions, and those of the United States, #OpIsrael participants may also shift their operations to target vulnerable U.S.-based financial targets or Jewish-oriented organizations within the United States,” it also said. “Based on historical attacks, the FBI assesses that attacks which may spawn from #OpIsrael to target U.S.-based systems will likely constitute only a small percentage of overall activity.”
A video posted by Anonymous, which still appears to be involved in #OpIsrael, last week accused Israel of “crimes in the Palestinian territories” and threatened: “We will erase you from cyberspace in our electronic Holocaust. “As we did many times, we will take down your servers, government websites, Israeli military websites, and Israeli institutions.”
Split decision, my foot!
When Jewish News editorial staffers went home Tuesday evening, exit pollers were saying that Israeli elections were too close to call. We had sent out a JN Now email blast with the headline “Split decision?” because all the editorial sources pointed to a photo finish between the Benjamin Netanyahu-led Likud and the Zionist Union list led by Isaac Herzog.
So how is it possible that a few hours later Likud not only was clearly victorious but had its largest victory since 2003?
I’m angry about this because, for the most part, exit polling in U.S. elections has been accurate. When the pollsters say it’s going to be close, it pretty much is.
What we don’t know – as we give the situation a several-thousand-mile stare from here in the Valley – is why the exit polling was so far off base. Was there a late surge of voters to the polls in Israel? Did the pollsters not know which sample areas were key to reflecting the larger whole of the electorate? Or did the pollsters only look for the results they wanted to get?
The Chicago Tribune’s screaming front page headline on Nov. 3, 1948 – “Dewey defeats Truman” – is the classic example of a headline that got the story wrong. The explanations for why it happened include technical issues (the Trib had to go to press earlier than normal, before meaningful results, even from the East Coast, could be reported) and a genuine editorial antipathy to President Harry S. Truman.
Journalism has been my livelihood for nearly 40 years and I am angry that at this point – given the technological tools and polling savvy that exist – that we can’t do better than what the Trib did in 1948.
There may have been some technical issues at play – Israel is 10 hours ahead of us, for instance, and that may have affected what results journalists were able to report by U.S. deadlines. If that were one of the possibilities, then it should have been reported, in a disclaimer saying something like, “We don’t have enough information to say whether the race is really close or just close in the places where we’ve done exit polling so far.” Responsible reporting would provide those disclaimers, and it would have been the responsibility of the reporters to ask how confident the pollsters were in the results they provided.
But the total turnaround of the outcome from, at best, a narrow victory to a crushing defeat of the opposition calls into question all the reporting and polling. It suggests either that pollsters employed a flawed methodology or that their conclusions were based on bias toward one or the other of the parties in the race.
I’m a consumer of the news just like you and I felt betrayed and angry that the initial reports turned out to be so far off the mark. That’s because I believe that the object of this job is not to go in with a preconceived conclusion and twist facts to fit, but to let the facts lead where they may. Such inaccuracy, regardless of what caused it, creates the perception that journalism is untrustworthy.
Trust is the only currency that journalism has, but it’s built on accuracy and factual reporting. There was no excuse for the reporting on the Israeli elections to be so far off the mark. It was a breach of trust.
As a former NFL coach and Class of 2001 Hall of Famer, Marv Levy has one of the greatest streaks of all time, taking the Buffalo Bills to the Super Bowl four years in a row. At 89, he works as a motivational speaker, and says he’s honored to be the keynote speaker at the Martin Luther King Jr. Dinner Celebration this coming Wednesday (more details below).
Levy was a college football coach through the civil rights era, before becoming an NFL coach in 1969.
“Even back then, I admired Martin Luther King Jr. so much for what he represented, the lack of, certainly, prejudice, but (also) his style, his manner, his eloquence, how he told the members of the black community (how) he felt they should conduct themselves in order to get the rights they deserve,” Levy says in a phone interview last week from his home in Chicago. “So I’m honored that they asked me now to come in because, I’ll tell you, the three greatest speeches I heard of all time were the Gettysburg Address, Winston Churchill’s ‘Finest Hour’ and Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream.’ I was an English and a history major, so I was very interested in great speeches and things of that nature.”
Of his own life, he says, “I never really experienced what I felt was a lot of prejudice,” even though he was growing up at a time when the stereotype was that Jews weren’t good at sports. He played three varsity sports in college: football, basketball and track. Accepted into Harvard Law, Levy decided to become a football coach instead.
As coach of the Buffalo Bills, he says that he and the Bills’ then-general manager, Bill Polian, “agreed we’d only bring aboard guys of great character on our team and, boy, did that resonate through so many different things” – including race relations on the team during his tenure (1986-1997).
“I don’t know what percentage (of players on the team) might have been white or might have been black, to tell you the truth, but there were great relations on our team, and acceptance,” he says. “I’ll tell you, we had a guy, a center on our team named Kent Hall, who was a great player and everything. The kid came from rural Mississippi – man, I could hardly understand him, he talked with such a down South, redneck accent. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anyone who was better for race relationships than this guy.”
As for bringing the Bills to the Super Bowl four years in a row and never winning one of them?
“Sure, we would love to have won them, but I can’t walk around and stay bitter,” he says. “If you honor the game, and play right, and give it your best, and honor your opponent, regardless of the score, you never lose.”
That sounds like a very good philosophy.
What: Scottsdale’s 21st annual Martin Luther King Jr. Living the Dream celebration, including honors for the Silverman family, owners of Chaparral Suites, who have been named 2015 Diversity Champions by Community Celebrating Diversity, a nonprofit group. Frances Ann Burruel, a retired educator who has dedicated her life to addressing civil rights issues, will also be honored at the event.
When: Wednesday, Jan. 14; 5:30 p.m., registration begins; 6 p.m., dinner and program
Where: Chaparral Suites, 5011 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale
Tickets: $60, visit scottsdaleMLK.com or call 480-312-3030
Although Paula Segal Shulak moved permanently to Arizona in 2006, she left an indelible mark on the Southeast Valley’s theater community and on Jewish communities there and in Prescott, before her death on Dec. 22, 2014, at age 78.
I was privileged to work with her on two major theatrical productions: a couple of Purim spiels at Temple Emanuel of Tempe. OK, maybe they weren’t so major, but she approached the job of putting on those little productions with the same vitality and dedication that she brought to bear on much more serious work. She directed the premiere of the late Irv Fellner’s “The Eighth Stage” at Emanuel in 2007. That work focused on a man reflecting on life and attempting to reconcile with his estranged daughter as he approached his 70th birthday, a far cry from the broad parody of the Purim productions.
More recently, she played a key role in the development of “Say Yes to Life,” a play about two Holocaust survivors who search for meaning and a new life in the United States. Shulak brought together the playwright, Virginia Fleishans, with survivor Kurt Bronner, and Fleishans wrote the play loosely based on Bronner’s story. Shulak directed the first staged reading of the play at the first official social event of Generations After, a group for children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, last January, and subsequent performances at the Prescott Library and Temple B’rith Shalom last April in Prescott.
She also directed plays locally for community theater groups such as Mesa Encore Theatre and Temple Little Theatre.
She and her husband, Carl (who acted in many of her productions), discovered the Valley in retirement, becoming snowbirds in 2003 and moving here for good in 2006, when she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. She wanted to live near the Mayo Clinic, which treated her for the deadly disease. They were active members of Temple Emanuel for years and moved to Dewey, up near Prescott, permanently in 2013.
As Rabbi Susan Schanerman said in a eulogy she delivered at a memorial service on Friday: “Paula was an actor, a director, a mentor. No stage was too large or too small for her theatrical interests. … On top of her directing and acting, Paula served on temple boards, and on theater boards. She taught religious school, she reviewed local plays, she just had so much energy and drive.”
For some of us, she embodied the answer to the question, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” Someone with her energy, of course. She will be missed. May her memory be a blessing.
Consider the Arizona Coyotes and gefilte fish, could there be two more incongruous images? One is a wild animal that can inflict pain and the other a Jewish culinary tradition that satisfies Passover appetites.
Well, they’re teaming up, sort of, for Hockey Schtick night, the Coyotes’ annual outreach to the Jewish community. It’s taking place this Thursday, Dec. 11, at the newly renamed Gila River Arena in Glendale. The highlight, of course, is the game between the ‘Yotes and the Nashville Predators, which starts at 7 p.m. The game will be preceded indoors by the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” by Cantor Melissa Berman of Congregation Or Tzion.
But for Yehudie and the Gefilte Fish, the highlight of their musical career might well be their appearance outside the arena playing Jewish music for passers-by and avid Coyotes fans before the game.
“We’re thrilled,” says Michael Alexander, the band’s “de facto leader.” “We got connected up to Hockey Schtick Night through our member Jason Kaller who does some business together with Dan Berman (who helped set up the special discount tickets for the Hockey Schtick game, see details below). We’re thrilled that Dan reached out to us and asked if we could participate.”
The band’s Thursday gig will run from about 5:30 p.m. to 6:50 or so, Alexander says, to give people time to get into the arena for the game.
So we had to ask first thing, we know there’s Yehuda brand gefilte fish, but isn’t the band name a reference to a once-hotter-than-a-comet rock band known as Hootie and the Blowfish?
“Yes,” says “de facto leader” Michael Alexander, chuckling. “There are people that don’t get that reference. We thought it was catchy, so I hope it is catchy and not confusing. We thought about spelling it Yehootie, but it didn’t quite make it, and the Yehudie business card is printed now.”
The group started when Alexander and two other congregants at Temple Kol Ami starting playing with the congregational rock band that plays monthly at Cafe Kol Ami events. The group’s current lineup started in 2013 and played its first gig at the Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center’s open house that August.
The current lineup and their affiliations are: Alexander on keyboards and vocals, Jason Kaller on drums and David Manley on guitar and vocals, all from Kol Ami; Josh Ornstein on bass and Keyle Kosowsky on vocals (the band’s first female member recently joined), both from Temple Solel; and David “DR” Rosenfeld on lead guitar, from Congregation Or Tzion. So this is like a major tour to schlep from the Northeast Valley to the wilds of Glendale.
“The material that we play is really from decidedly Jewish songwriters, contemporary Jewish songwriters and recording artists, Rick Recht, Josh Nelson, Todd Herzog, Rabbi Joe Black,” Alexander says. “I’ve had my non-Jewish friends say, ‘Jewish rock? I don’t get it.’ I say, ‘Well, do you know what Christian rock is?'” That helps them sort-of get it, Alexander says.
“Easily half of our songs are sung in Hebrew,” he adds. “It’s a rock band format, though. It’s not klezmer, it’s not chamber music, it’s decidedly rock – Jewish rock.”
Their Shabbat appearances at Temple Kol Ami are all about Shabbat liturgies and melodies, Alexander says. “We were doing that for about a year, and we were like, ‘Let’s take it to the next level and see what we can do with this thing.'”
They do it for the love of Jewish music and the camaraderie of playing with people of a common background, he adds. “A lot of our gigs are done as a service. We provide that as members of the community.” (In fact, after the Hockey Schtick gig, Yehudie and the Gefilte Fish’s next appearance is to head a Thursday, Dec. 18, jam session as part of the Hanukkah in the Hallway activities being held by the Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center, Dec. 17-24.)
–Details: Discounted tickets from the game are $21 for the upper level ends, Row H and higher; $36 for the upper level center straights; and $44 for the lower level ends, Row T and higher. To access the discounts, visit arizonacoyotes.com/hockeyschtick and use the code: schtick – or contact Dan Berman at 602-680-5550, ext. 1 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
I was bowled over this morning to hear a Channel 12 announcer say that high school football games in the Valley had been played last night rather than tonight out of respect for Yom Kippur. Normally, all high school games are played on Friday nights.
Looking at the schedule of the Arizona Interscholastic Association, that appeared to be true, so I called the AIA for confirmation. The way it works, said Brian Bolitho, the AIA’s director of business media, is that when it sets athletic schedules (not just for football, but for all high school sports), it blacks out certain holidays, including the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving, Good Friday through Easter AND Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. When it comes to football, if those Jewish holidays fall on a Friday, AIA does indeed schedule the games for those weeks on a Thursday, Bolitho confirmed. “The schools have the option of rescheduling,” he said, but most of them follow the AIA’s lead.
This is well worth of note, a sign – during a time when concerns about anti-Semitism are high – that at least some of our neighbors want the norm to be respectful and accepting of us.
I can’t speak for our community, but I would certainly hope that some of the leadership of the Jewish community here would step up and thank the schools that were respectful of the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, allowing Jewish players and fans alike to attend this week’s games without having to make a choice. Perhaps someday all games would be played on Thursdays to avoid the avoid the conflict with Shabbat, but I think we should honor a step in the right direction.
Ultimately, with forethought, it’s easy to schedule games on a different day, but we can’t change the date of Yom Kippur.
– Salvatore Caputo
We received the following letter from Rabbi Bill Berk, rabbi emeritus of Temple Chai, and thought readers of our blog would be interested:
Rabbi Chernow asked me to share with you what we have been going through here in Israel. Unfortunately, I have to report to you that we’re in a war. I’m startled by my use of the “w” word but that’s what we’ve got here. Three times here in Jerusalem, we have had to run for shelter as the sirens have gone off telling us that a rocket or rockets are coming our way. It’s an unbelievable feeling. You see in your head pictures of London during World War II, and people scampering for shelter and then you realize that you are in that picture. One of my stepdaughters lives in the south. She’s got two little kids and one on the way. She and her husband often have to wake the kids in the middle of the night and carry them down four flights of stairs to the safe room. I have another stepdaughter who is in college in the south. She got a letter from her college saying, “Closed till further notice.” Imagine if kids at San Diego State or the University of Arizona got such a letter. Of course, what we have been going through is nothing compared to what the families with soldiers in Gaza are experiencing.
We are at war with an enemy who has embraced an ideology that is very comfortable with death. This is important to keep in mind when you see the heartbreaking pictures from Gaza. Hamas (we know this word from our Bible, Genesis 6:11, where we find the word means “violence” or “lawlessness”) has built a whole program around death:
1. At the beginning of this war, I was trying to keep track of how many rockets aimed at Israel’s cities Hamas had fired, but I finally gave up. It is somewhere over 2,000 rockets. I have a new app on my phone that lets me know when a rocket has been fired and where it’s headed. Let’s be clear about what this means — Hamas is targeting folks like you and me. It is AIMING AT US. If not for American and Israeli scientific skill (the Iron Dome). we would have hundreds or thousands killed and cities in shambles.
2. Hamas uses civilians and does not protect civilians. I noticed that today’s New York Times asks if this is really true. Yes, it is really true. When our army has to fire at a house where rockets have been launched from we begin by sending text messages to the people in the building. Then, we phone them. Then, we drop fliers. We ask them to leave because we don’t want them to get hurt. We have documented occasions when Hamas has asked the people not to move. They have even irritated some European governments who don’t appreciate that behavior. This is using civilians. They have children involved in the fighting and wearing suicide belts. They admit that death doesn’t bother them and that Israel’s great weakness is a reverence for life.
3. I’m sure you’ve heard by now about the tunnels we have found. There are two major reasons for these tunnels: murder and kidnapping. Thank goodness we found these tunnels. We knew about them, but did not realize the extent and how far they went into Israeli territory. We found one that ends just yards away from a kibbutz dining hall. The tunnels have one additional purpose — to hide Hamas military and political leadership. Whereas they could have built shelters for civilians (not to mention schools and hospitals and hot houses and factories), they chose instead to build military command centers. And don’t forget — we left Gaza. We don’t “rule” or “occupy” them. These tunnels are about killing and kidnapping Jews who live across the border in a country called Israel.
4. Hamas has done a good job with propaganda. They even convinced UNRWA, the U.N. agency, to hide rockets for them! I do hope this has made the front page of the New York Times. This is not exactly Eleanor Roosevelt’s vision or America’s vision of what the U.N. should be about. When they were caught, UNRWA gave the rockets back to Hamas! I think the U.N. needs to do a little teshuvah this High Holiday season. While we are at it — the American government could do a little teshuvah. I think this would have been a good time for a strong pro-Israel stance. It appears to me that, in their frustration with Netanyahu, the State Department is being a bit too supportive of some of Hamas’ claims and issues. I have my own issues regarding how Netanyahu handled the negotiations with the Palestinians, but that has nothing to do with what we face today. They are shooting at us! We have to stop the rockets and stop the tunnels. Left and right, religious and secular — we are united on this.
This is a tough time. People are subdued. Ask someone “ma shlom cha?” (how are you?) and you’ll get a sigh and a “beseder” (OK). People are honking horns less. People aren’t going out much. Many have postponed vacations. We’re staying close to the radio and TV. But I want you to know that we’re going to be fine. We’re a big mishpocha (family). Part of what drew me to Israel was this amazing sense of mishpachtiut (family connectedness). That’s part of why it hurts so much right now. We’ve lost a lot of boys and everyone feels it. Today, Batya and I went to a shiva call for a soldier who came from L.A. — he’s what we call a chayil boded (lone soldier, with no family here). 30,000 people came to his funeral! So there’s pain when you are connected. But there is so much strength. It’s a spiritual achievement to extend your love and caring further and further out. I hope you will be proud of your family here in Israel. I hope you will speak up proudly for Israel. Don’t let Hamas win the propaganda war. Speak up on behalf of life.
God willing, I’ll be in Phoenix and speak at Temple Chai on Aug. 22. I’ll talk on Israel that night.
Best from Jerusalem,
Rabbi Bill Berk
Rabbi Emeritus, Temple Chai