Original Article Published On The Chabad.org

Professor Stephen Shore has an important place at the tablenot only in the world of autism but at Shabbat and study tables at Chabad Houses around the world.

Shore, who is autistic himself, is clinical assistant professor at Adelphi University’s Ruth S. Ammon School of Education and a universally respected authority on the condition. For a number of years, he has been a frequent visitor of Chabad Houses from Texas to Moscow to Shanghai.

“I travel around the world and am usually in at least one country a month to talk about autism,” he tells Chabad.org. I always try to visit the local Chabad wherever I am.”

Shore does not keep his love for Chabad to himself. While in a city for a conference, he has been known to bring fellow conference attendees to Chabad as well. Shelly Christensen, a disabilities inclusion advocate, author of From Longing to Belonging—A Practical Guide to Including People with Disabilities and Mental Health Conditions in Your Faith Community and a member of the Ruderman Chabad Inclusion Initiative (RCII) core team, first met Shore at an Autism Society of America conference and they kept in touch, presenting together at conferences and often sending each other “Shabbat Shalom” text messages.

“When the Autism Society of America conference was in Milwaukee, we were excited to receive an invitation to come to Shabbos dinner from Rabbi and Rebbetzin Shmotkin of Chabad-Lubavitch of Wisconsin,” reports Christensen, who attended with her colleague and friend. “Sitting at their table, warmed by the glowing candles, we each said a blessing, enjoyed a meal that reminded me of my bubby’s Shabbos dinners, and shared our stories and how Judaism inspired our work.”

With his experience on campus as a professor and with Chabad worldwide, Shore was asked four years ago by Rabbi Yankel Lipsker of Chabad at Adelphi, right, to serve as a faculty advisor to Chabad.

Lectures and Presentations Around the World

Shore has taught and given workshops—impromptu and formal—at Chabad Houses around the world. In China, Rabbi Shalom D. Greenberg of the Shanghai Jewish Centers invited Shore to speak about autism. He has delivered more formal presentations on autism at Chabad of West Hempstead, N.Y., and at the Friendship Circle New Jersey in Livingston, N.J.

Closer to home, Shore has delivered Shabbat lectures for Chabad on Campus-Garden City at Adelphi University. With all of his experience both on campus as a professor, and with Chabad worldwide, he was asked four years ago by Rabbi Yankel Lipsker of Chabad at Adelphi to serve as faculty advisor to Chabad. He graciously accepted the offer.

In addition to Shore’s hundreds of conference presentations and articles, he has written three books: Understanding Autism for Dummies (2006), Ask and Tell: Self-Advocacy and Disclosure for People on the Autism Spectrum (2004) and Beyond the Wall: Personal Experiences with Autism and Asperger Syndrome (2003).

Shore with a mitzvah-tank outside a Russian center where he was lecturing

Shore, who holds a doctorate in education and a master’s degree in music education, has been known to play “Tumbalalaika” on random pianos he discovers in such public places as international airports. “It is one of the songs my parents played as part of the early intervention period.” Shore lost language skills before the age of 4 before starting to get them back. He was deemed “too sick” for outpatient therapy, and his parents were told to institutionalize him. Shore openly shares his personal story at conferences and at Chabad Houses around the world.

Found Chabad on the High Holidays

Shore was introduced to Chabad “about five or six years ago,” when he was commuting between his home and family in Newton, Mass., and the university. “The High Holidays were coming, and I said, ‘Let me see if I can find a shul,” he reports. Shore was warmly welcomed at Chabad of Mineola by Rabbi Anchelle Perl. “They called me for an aliyah, and I kept going.”

He returned to Chabad for Shabbat dinner. “Rabbi Perl invited me for dinner in his home. It was a pretty cool thing.” Shore learned that there were also services on Saturday morning. He was curious, attended one Shabbat and was delighted. “It was worth it. There was Kiddush after davening.” He playfully notes, “I’ll go anywhere with food.”

Shore says, “I learned that if I stuck around a little longer, there was mincha after lunch. That seemed reasonable.” He has been hooked ever since, regularly attending services at the Chabad both Fridays and Saturdays when he’s on Long Island.

Shore has spent many Shabbats at Chabad in Moscow, where he was given a tour of the 11-story building by Rabbi Yaakov Klein, executive director of the International Jewish Community of Moscow.

An International Travel Companion

“When I realized that Chabad was international and is a big network, I thought, ‘Maybe I can go wherever I am,’ ” exclaims Shore, who began seeking out Chabad Houses and rabbis whenever he was in town for a conference over Shabbat. “I have probably been to more Chabads than anyone I know.”

“It is fascinating to see the variations and similarities,” the professor continues, noting that “wherever Chabad is, when you step over the threshold, you may as well be in Brooklyn.” Shore notes that some services are longer, some are shorter; there is more singing in some places and less singing in others; there are different melodies sung during the services, and the physical setup varies widely. “It can be really small, with services in the rabbi’s house, or it can seat hundreds,” yet there is something that makes them all seem as one, observes Shore.

When Shore is at a Chabad center, he is happy to give back. Once the local Chabad rabbi learns of the professor’s impressive credentials, he is often invited to give a short talk on the spot or a longer one the next day. “I tend to connect my Chabad talk to my life as an autistic person, so I focus on that, and throw in things I will be presenting at the upcoming conference.”

In his discussion, Shore often shares a moving story and video of the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—speaking on two occasions with the parents of an autistic boy who lived in an institution in England. “I like to talk about these two short video clips of the Rebbe. He seems to intuitively know and use a strength-based approach. He tells the father that the son should have a pushke [charity box] in his room and remind all visitors to put money in the pushke for tzedakah.”

Shore with Igor Shpitsberg, Director of Our Sunny World, a rehabilitation center in Moscow for children with autistic spectrum disorders.

Shore will sometimes go to great lengths to get to a Chabad House. “I was speaking at a conference and hunted down a Chabad House a few miles away,” reports Shore, who chanced upon Rabbi Yitzchok Schmukler and Chabad of the Bay Area in League City, Texas. “I had such a good time that when I was back in Texas and was 90 miles away, I rented a car so I could drive over!”

In Vancouver, Canada, Shore was pleased to find the Chabad-Lubavitch Okanagan in Kelowna, British Columbia, was within walking distance of his hotel. “I called up and came for Shabbat dinner. I got there and found the smallest Chabad I had ever seen. It was just the rabbi—Rabbi Shmuly Hecht, his family and one guest. Despite the small crowd, Shore observes, “I never saw more enthusiastic singing and dancing!” The rabbi intended to walk Shore halfway to his hotel. Before they knew it, they were at the hotel, where Shore reports there was “more dancing.”

The next day, Shore learned that the rabbi had a profound Jewish experience on his way home. Rabbi Hecht spotted a group of college students, potentially drunk, and he was a bit fearful. One person asked him, “Hey, are you Jewish?” The rabbi replied tentatively, “Yes, I am.” A Polish youth from the group explained that he, too, was Jewish, and was having a hard time fitting in. The rabbi, in his traditional Shabbat attire, replied, “Well, do you think I fit in?!” The two connected. The rabbi called Shore to tell him, “Hashem had a reason for me to walk you all the way to the hotel.”

Shore with Rabbi Berel Lazar, the chief rabbi of Russia

Shore has spent many Shabbats at the Chabad in Moscow, where he was given a tour of the impressive 11-story Chabad building by Rabbi Yaakov Klein, executive director of the International Jewish Community of Moscow. “It is the biggest Chabad I have ever seen,” reports Shore, noting their two restaurants, gyms and study halls. “It is like Chabad meets JCC!” When Klein learned of Shore’s work, he felt Chief Rabbi of Russia Berel Lazar should meet him. Shore was delighted, affirming that “they do a mean Shabbos. The dinner was amazing, and I got to do a good tefillin wrap while in Moscow.”

While his travels have slowed down due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, he is eager to get back on the road to share his experience with and knowledge of autism with the world—and, he says, to “nourish his neshamah [soul] with Chabad in places near and far.

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I have fond memories of attending Baltimore Orioles, Colts, Bullets and Clippers games during my childhood.  We even had season tickets for a few years for the Baltimore Blast indoor soccer team.  Of these five professional sports teams, the Baltimore Orioles are the only one still around. I still keep up with the Orioles a bit and on occasion, wear an Oriole’s hat—even on the streets of New York.  It makes it easier since they haven’t been real American league East competitors for years.

I followed the Colts and even attended a Colts vs Oakland Raiders playoff game when I was a kid.  I remember wearing my Johnny Unitas then Bert Jones football jerseys on game days for years.  When I was in St. Louis for college, the team was “kidnapped” in the middle of the night to Indianapolis.  I couldn’t bring myself to become an Indianapolis Colts fan.  Good thing I never took to the Cardinals—they suffered a similar fate—relocating to Arizona.

The Baltimore Clippers and the Baltimore Bullets are similarly no more.  The Clippers of the AHL—The American Hockey League—played at the Baltimore Civic Center from 1962 to 1976. I attended a few of their hockey games as well. When they left, I sort of followed the Washington Capitals. The Caps played their home games at the Capital Centre, in Landover, Maryland from 1974 to 1997.  By the time they moved to the Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C, I was long gone.

The Bullets bring back good memories—I attended a few games with my late grandfather, Arthur.  Then, the Bullets too “relocated.”  In 1973, they moved to Landover, Maryland, played a season as the “Capital Bullets,” and in 1974 became the Washington Bullets.  I stopped actively following the team, but not the  fascinating and emotional story of their name change, which took place in 1995, the year Jewish owner Abe Pollin decided to change the name to the Washington Wizards.  I thought of this story about 7 years ago, when crossing the border in Eilat, Israel in to Jordan, and again a few days ago when Deni Avdija, an Israeli 19-year-old, was drafted #9 by the…Washington Wizards.

Pollin and the late Israeli Prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin were dear friends. As Pollin recounts in this fascinating New York Times story, he received a call in 1968 from the Israeli Embassy in Washington. “They heard I had a tennis court.  They asked if I would like to play with the new ambassador, Yitzhak Rabin. Oh, boy. We became friends. His wife. My wife. Our children. Last summer I took my whole family to Israel to see him.”  This explains the photo I saw of Rabin on the wall at the Wadi Araba Crossing or Yitzhak Rabin Crossing, the border crossing between Aqaba, Jordan and Eilat, Israel.  There is an amazing photos of Rabin—in his tennis clothes!

When the Israeli Prime Minster was assassinated in November, 1995, his dear friend, Abe Pollin-who had been toying with changing the name of his basketball team from Bullets for months—decided to move up the date of the announcement of a name change.  He made the decision while flying back from Rabin’s funeral.  His dear friend had just been killed by bullets.  “Bullets connote killing, violence, death,” Pollin said. “Our slogan used to be, ‘Faster than a speeding bullet.’ That is no longer appropriate.”

Since then, the Washington Bullets have been the Washington Wizards.  I suspect that Yitzhak Rabin z’l would be smiling to learn that now, a young Israeli who promises to be a great role model and emissary of Israel, will play for the team that the late Mr. Pollin, who died in 2009 at age 86, owned for 46 years! Pollin was the owner of a number of professional sports teams including the Washington Capitals, the Washington Mystics (WNBA), and the Wizards.

We welcome Deni Avdija to Washington. I was lucky enough to cover the NBA draft for the Jewish News Syndicate.   Seeing Avdija smiling and wearing his Washington Wizards hat, got me very excited. I think I am returning to my roots, sort of!

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Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post

NEW YORK – Mayim Bialik could hardly contain her excitement about appearing on a recent episode of Tablet Magazine’s Unorthodox podcast.While waiting to be released from the Zoom waiting room to appear on episode No. 246, “Nobel Effort,” the Jewishly observant Big Bang Theory actress, who holds a PhD in neuroscience, sent a frantic message to show co-host Mark Oppenheimer, begging to join him and co-hosts Stephanie Butnick and Liel Leibovitz for the discussion on their shared hobby of Googling Nobel Prize winners to see if they are Jewish.

Oppenheimer pitched the idea of a Jewish podcast to Tablet Magazine five years ago when he began noticing that “podcast listening was exploding.” The Unorthodox podcast, which reminds its prospective 5,280 Facebook group members that it is “not a group for the Netflix show and book of the same name,” recently aired episode 250. Unorthodox boasts a loyal and diverse fan base of more than 20,000, known as the #JCrew.

In a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post, Oppenheimer reports, “We know from Facebook and listener surveys that we attract Jews from all ranges of observance, lots of non-Jews and a large number studying for conversion.” He adds, “There is no typical listener. They are young and old, Conservative, Reform and Modern Orthodox, and there are some haredi [ultra-Orthodox] listeners. A haredi listener may learn about secular TV and a secular listener may learn about Shmini Atzeret.”

Episodes follow a similar format including playful banter among the co-hosts, news from the Jewish world, appearances by the Gentile and Jew of the Week and fan letters.Oppenheimer is a writer with a PhD in religious studies from Yale and the director of the Yale Journalism Initiative.

Butnick serves as deputy editor of Tablet, and Israeli-born Leibovitz, who frequently mentions growing up in Israel and his army service, is a journalist, media critic and video-games expert.

In the current episode, the Gentile of the Week is celebrity chef Tom Colicchio, head judge on Bravo’s Top Chef and founder of Crafted Hospitality. He discusses whitefish, the story of proposing to his Jewish wife over pastrami at Manhattan’s 2nd Ave Deli, and raising Jewish children.

Oppenheimer notes that the “Most-Coveted Gentile” on the show was English actor John Cleese, of Monty Python fame. “He was witty, famous and very non-Jewish!”

The Jewish guest in episode #250 is Temple University Prof. Lila Corwin Berman, discussing her new book, The American Jewish Philanthropic Complex: The History of a Multibillion-Dollar Institution. Other famous Jewish guests include comedian Judy Gold, NPR’s Peter Sagal, writer Abigail Pogrebin and former Israeli ambassador to the US and former member of the Knesset Michael Oren.

Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who died last week at 72, appeared on the show twice, including this past September, when he discussed his most recent book, Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times.

Special episodes each year include the Apology episode each fall, to coincide with the High Holy Days, and the Conversion episode each Shavuot. Stephanie Butnick reports, “My favorite episodes are probably the ones that send me to fun and unexpected places, like the Joyva factory in Brooklyn, or to Petaluma, California, to tell the fascinating history of its Jewish chicken farming community, or to Food Network host Molly Yeh’s farm on the Minnesota-North Dakota border, where we made sprinkle challa. ”Oppenheimer feels what makes the podcast unique is that it is “not preachy and not doing kiruv [outreach].”

He adds, “We are having an authentic discussion that matters to Jews culturally and politically, and listeners can eavesdrop on frank talk among Jews.”

Butnick notes, “The best part of Unorthodox for me is showcasing the diversity of the Jewish experience, and the many different ways of being Jewish. We hear from listeners who don’t live near a Jewish community, or have no interest in going to synagogue, but they find a deep Jewish connection each Thursday when they play the podcast. That is incredibly meaningful for me as a host.” LAUREN GROBOIS, 24, of Manhattan’s Upper West Side, reports that Unorthodox is “the only podcast where I find myself being intellectually challenged, tearing up and laughing hysterically within one episode. I am proud to be a member of the #JCrew.”

Erika Dreifus, a New York-based writer and self-described “super-fan,” reports, “I was a little late to embrace podcasts. I suppose you could say that Unorthodox was my gateway podcast. As a regular Tablet reader, I took note of its development. I began listening, and I was instantly drawn in. The hosts – who even when they disagreed with each other were never disagreeable – seemed to become my friends.

“The conversation was always lively; the guests (both Jewish and non-Jewish), intriguing. I became something of a super-fan, attending virtually every live show they produced in New York, and joining their Facebook group. These days I don’t always get to listen to the weekly episode the very first thing each Thursday morning, but I never let the episodes accrue.

I’m always caught up!” The three hosts, who recently wrote The Newish Jewish Encyclopedia: From Abraham to Zabar’s and Everything in Between, have taken their show “on the road” to many American cities.

Oppenheimer observes, “I terribly miss not being able to go to these cities due to COVID. We love meeting hundreds of listeners, being in the community and having listeners come up and hug us!” He reports that they wrote the book because “people were treating us as their rabbis and professors with their questions about Yiddishkeit [Judaism].

They didn’t know who to ask or were afraid to ask. There are lots of books about Jewish practices, but not also about black-and-white cookies and Barbra Streisand. We wanted it to reflect the eternal questions about what we are – a people, a nation, a religion, an ethnicity – all of the above.”

While the majority of Unorthodox listeners come from the United States, Oppenheimer feels listeners in Israel would also enjoy and learn from the podcast. “It is the best weekly window into what American Jews find interesting. It is funny.

One of the things we do is NOT take ourselves too seriously! We are not self-righteous and not overly serious. It is an enjoyable space. It is a place to turn when people are fed up with old Jewish institutions.”

Butnick is pleased with the show reaching the milestone 250th episode. “I can’t quite believe we’ve hit 250 episodes. It’s been five wonderful, surprising, edifying years doing this podcast, and I couldn’t be more grateful for our top-notch guests, our energetic community of listeners, and – I’ll admit it – my two co-hosts.

“According to Leibowitz, the experience of being part of Unorthodox has opened his mind to the Jewish world beyond Israel.

“Before embarking on this podcast, I too, like so many Israelis, often believed that Jewish life was at its most vibrant and meaningful when experienced anywhere between Eilat and Misgav Am, and forms of Jewish expression that weren’t directly related to observing the mitzvot and engaging in study were wallpaper at best and, at worst, a distraction,” he said.

“Hearing from our tens of thousands of listeners, however, I discovered tens of thousands of ways to be Jewish, all wildly passionate, deeply meaningful and blissfully unorthodox. And I realized that for all our griping about dwindling synagogue attendance, say, or intermarriage, the actual, real-life Jews out there aren’t experiencing their identity as the staging ground for crisis; they’re seeing it as an opportunity to explore the most moving, intimate, and transformational ideas and emotions, and they gravitate to the podcast because it feels like a space that’s both open and curious.

“It’s our profound privilege to be a part of so many people’s Jewish journeys, and to change the national Jewish conversation from one predicated on anxiety and dread to one focused on tremendous pride and joy.”

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Original Article Published On The Jewish News syndicate

The 6-foot-9, 220-pounder becomes the third Israeli, after Omri Casspi and Gal Mekel, to play in the NBA.

Israeli basketball fans had to stay up very late or rise very early to witness the Washington Wizards taking 19-year-old Deni Avdija No. 9 overall in the NBA Draft 2020.

Just after NBA Commissioner Adam Silver called his name at 9:02 Eastern Time from ESPN’s studios in Bristol, Conn., ESPN commentators highlighted the Maccabi Tel Aviv standout’s basketball IQ and his versatility, calling him “the steal of the draft.”

They noted his “tremendous versatility in the open court” and said he was “a fiery competitor.”

“It means a lot to me,” said Avdija when asked what it means to be the highest-drafted Israeli in history. “Israel is a small country and to represent Israel is amazing. I am super excited to get my game to the next level and to see what happens.”

The 6-foot-9, 220-pounder becomes the third Israeli to play in the NBA after Omri Casspi and Gal Mekel. “Omri has been in touch with me. We talked a lot about his route here, what I can do as a rookie, travel and more.”

The emotional Avdija thanked his friends and family for their support. “I truly love them. I love the support and will make you proud. I will work 100 percent!”

ESPN commentators playfully noted that Avdija, who addressed the media in fluent English, “gets by in two-and-a-half languages.” They noted that he learned English by “watching TV and playing ‘Call of Duty,’ ” the video game. “He is quite fluent in basketball, thanks to his Dad.”

His Muslim father, Zufer Avdija, was born in Yugoslavia and played for Yugoslavia’s national basketball team. The dual Serbian-Israeli citizen and sports coach also played for several Israeli professional basketball teams. “He played a big part in my journey,” said his son. “It was great to have another competitive sportsperson in the house. He taught me how to act on the court, small tricks, how to be a professional and how to have a good work ethic.”

His Jewish mother, Sharon Artzi, was a competitive track-and-field athlete. Avdija grew up in Beit Zera, a kibbutz in northern Israel, and currently lives in Herzliya. Soon, he’ll move to Washington, D.C.

“My American agent is from D.C., and he has said great things!” reported Avdija during the post-draft Zoom media conference, attended by more than 150 journalists from around the world. “Washington, D.C. is the capital—I heard it is a great place.”

Not only are the Wizards “a great organization,” he will play with such famed players as point guard John Wall.

Avdija doesn’t expect to have a difficult time making the transition from playing in Israel to playing in the NBA. “I am easy to adjust. I think it won’t be hard to adjust to the NBA style. I will be asking questions to get better every day and have the best environment around me to help me make sure I fit in and get better in the NBA.”

He will likely play small forward for the Wizards.

Avdija averaged 12.9 points per game, 6.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists on 52.6 percent shooting from the field and 35.3 percent from 3-point range in the Israeli league last season for Maccabi Tel Aviv. His stats were slightly less impressive in the more competitive Euroleague.

Yam Madar, a 6’3” point guard and fellow Israeli, is likely to be taken later in the NBA draft. Madar, who played for Hapoel Tel Aviv, is a skilled playmaker and strong shooter.

Israeli NBA prospect Deni Avdija shoots a free throw for Israel at the Albert Schweitzer Tournament in April 2018. Credit: Sven Mandel via Wikimedia Commons.

‘Show his stuff on the highest stage’

Israelis haven’t been this pumped about the NBA since fellow Maccabi Tel Aviv player Casspi was drafted  No. 23 by the Sacramento Kings in the 2009 draft. He played for several teams during his 10-year NBA career.

Aliza Haas, who lives in Jerusalem, is the mother of two boys who grew up playing in the Hapoel Youth League. “People here are so excited and proud that there are two outstanding Israeli players in the 2020 NBA draft. Sports has always been a place where people can bring hope and show that anything is possible if a person works hard enough and believes in themselves. I can’t wait to see Avdija or Madar wearing an NBA team jersey!”

David Wiseman, originally from Australia and who now lives in Israel, maintains the Facebook Group “Follow Team Israel.” While he didn’t stay up to watch the draft, he and his group have been following Avdija for a long time. “ ‘Follow Team Israel’ has been sharing his exploits for a while and can’t wait for the rest of the world to get to know him. As much as a champion he is on the court, he is off it as well. Given his obvious talent from a very young age, people have been waiting for this day for a long time. We are excited to see Deni show his stuff on the highest stage and also to see where he will end up.”

Yariv Amiram, 26, grew up playing at Maccabi Tel Aviv youth club and has been playing basketball professionally for the past nine years. He currently plays for Hapoel Hevel Modi’in. Amiram feels that Avdija’s basketball IQ is high and thinks he will “automatically become someone who will represent Israel.”

He adds, “I’m sure he will do it great!”

Amiram said he is delighted that Avdija will help “make kids believe more that they can make it so high and go far. And in the future, it will open more doors for everyone.”

The sports news brought a dose of optimism to the two countries amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. And when travel finally resumes, Israelis will no doubt be off to Washington, D.C., to see their young up-and-coming superstar in action.

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