Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post

Jonathan Erlich, Israel’s 44-years-old Davis Cup captain, is the oldest player in the US open that is full of up-and-coming youngsters.

In a US Open filled with young, up-and-coming surprise superstars, let’s not forget about the older men and women in the tournament – including Israel’s Jonathan Erlich.

Several stars of this year’s US Open were not even born 20 years ago when the Twin Towers were attacked on September 11, 2001.

The two women’s finalists – Canada’s Leylah Fernandez, 19, and Britain’s Emma Raducanu, 18 – were both teenagers. Carlos Alcaraz of Spain, who retired in the men’s quarterfinals with a leg injury, is 18.

The media couldn’t stop asking these young players about being so young.  When asked if they had less pressure because they were up-and-comers, Radacanu replied: “I think honestly being young, there is an element of you do play completely free. But I’m sure that when I’m older or have more experience, yeah, the same will happen to me. I think the tables will turn. Some younger players will come through.”

Fernandez, who had four consecutive upsets of seeded players – all in a three-setters – before losing to Radacanu in the finals, had always imagined playing Grand Slams.

“When I was younger, since I used Justine Henin as a great example, I would imagine myself playing against her. I would also imagine myself playing against Serena and Venus [Williams], and the past few years playing against Osaka in a big tournament.  When I was younger, I’ve always seen myself being in a big stadium in front of so many people and just having fun on the court.”

ANDY RAM (right) and Jonathan Erlich of Israel react as they win a point during their Davis Cup’s doubles playoff tennis match in Tel Aviv in 2010. (credit: NIR ELIAS / REUTERS)

The tennis world is likely to hear from Fernandez, Radacanu, Alcaraz and other young players for quite some time.

The youngest player in the entire US Open this year was Robin Montgomery, who just turned 17.  She competed in the women’s doubles, where she made it to the second round, and won the girls’ US Open tournament.  Montgomery is six months younger than phenom Coco Gauff, who was born in September 2004.  Gauff lost her second-round singles match but played in Sunday’s women’s doubles finals with fellow teen, 19-year-old Catherine McNally.

The duo, affectionately known as “McCoco,” took on the veteran team of Samantha Stosur, 37, and Shuai Zhang, 32, who won the 2019 Australian Open doubles crown.

Stosur, who competed in her first Grand Slam events in 2002, represents the older group of players also experiencing success at this year’s US Open.  American Rajeev Ram, 37 and partner Joe Salisbury, 29, will share the $660,000 prize for winning the men’s doubles championship.

Mandy Minella of Luxembourg, 35, lost in her first-round women’s’ doubles and first-round singles qualifiers matches. Vera Zvonareva, 37, lost in her first-round women’s’ singles match to No. 1 seed Ash Barty.

Qualifier Ivo Karlovic, 42, the second oldest player in this year’s US Open, battled through three qualifying rounds to gain a spot in the men’s singles draw. He lost to No. 5 seed Andrey Rublev in the first round.

And the oldest player in the US Open was none other than the good-natured Israeli, Jonathan Erlich, clocking a ripe 44 years of age.

Erlich, Israel’s Davis Cup captain, has had a long and distinguished tennis career, mostly with now-retired Andy Ram. Erlich has been teaming up for doubles in some recent tournaments with 24-year-old South African Lloyd Harris.

Erlich and Harris defeated Oliver Marach and Philipp Oswald in the first round, 6-2, 6-7, 6-2 before losing in the second round 7-6, 6-4 to John Peers of Australia and Filip Polasek of Poland. The youthful Harris went on to the singles quarterfinals where he lost to No. 4 Alexander Zverev.

Erlich playfully notes that he is old by tennis standards, but that playing with a player like Harris keeps him young.

“Forty-four is pretty old, but I try staying in there and playing with the young guys,” said Erlich. “I am playing with a partner who is on the rise and playing great tennis. Playing with Harris actually gives me a lot of energy and motivation to keep going.”Erlich enjoys Harris on and off the court.

“I am great friends with Lloyd and we enjoy playing together.”

Playing with Harris after so many years with fellow countryman Ram represents a second chance for Erlich.

“I think it gives me a second wind and overall, I am feeling very well.  As long as my body holds on, it is good.”

Ehrlich and various doubles partners enjoyed a successful season in 2021, which included reaching the quarterfinals in Los Cabos, the semifinals in Newport, the round-of-64 at Wimbledon and the quarterfinals in Mallorca.

Erlich came to the US Open after five weeks off.

“I was a little rusty in the beginning of the first-round match.  It took me a while to get into it, but I finished strong.”Erlich looks back fondly on his 15 years spent with Ram, many of them ranked in the top 10. The pair won the 2008 Australian Open doubles title together.

“It was a different era.  Now, [my] priorities are different – family, kids…”  He feels he is in a “happy place” and “grateful to be playing Grand Slams at 44.”

He has not lost touch with his old friend, Ram, who now owns an ice cream store in Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv and is reportedly opening a second store soon in Kiryat Ono.

“I was his first client.  I had black vanilla, which is amazing, and I love going for pistachio.  Erlich playfully added: “This bastard didn’t even give me a discount!”

Perhaps Ram will treat Erlich to a free scoop after he wins his next Grand Slam title.

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Original Article Published on The JNS

Many in the field are concerned that when it comes to synagogue services and other religious requisites, the wide-ranging needs of this population may not be adequately met, particularly as the pandemic continues in many places.

With the High Holidays in full swing, rabbis and synagogue leaders are hard at work addressing the changing and evolving needs triggered by the Delta variant of the coronavirus. Some have erected outdoor tents; others are using rooftops and other off-the-beaten track spaces to allay fears of illness transmission. Those using indoor spaces have updated ventilation systems, and are requiring masking and assuring social distancing by blocking off entire rows seats to help separate worshippers. And many congregations, of course, are again relying on Zoom and other online worship options.

While these modifications and accommodations are useful, advocates for people with disabilities are concerned that the wide-ranging needs of this population, as in other years, may not be adequately met.

Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer, chief program officer of Jewish Learning Venture, reminds Jewish communal leaders that “as we return for services, whether in person or via Zoom, the essential thing for congregational leaders to remember is that whether there is a pandemic or not, people with disabilities need access to our communities. In many ways, online worship and education created greater inclusion, and so we can use this unique moment to integrate what we learned during the pandemic into the way we will enter the new year.”

The Ruderman Family Foundation, which for many years has spearheaded Jewish communal efforts towards full inclusion of people with disabilities, sent out their annual High Holiday Inclusion Resources email to all synagogues in Greater Boston. The Ruderman Synagogue Inclusion Project (RSIP) and Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP) email contain links to original and curated COVID and virtual resources developed by RSIP to help synagogues navigate these challenging times. “This year is a year of both triumph and rebuilding for many of us due to the impact of COVID-19,” notes Sharon Shapiro, trustee of the Ruderman Family Foundation. “Synagogue inclusion is still incredibly important as many of us begin to imagine what a hybrid model for the holidays looks like.”

The RFF also again shared a guide compiled last year for RSIP by Shelly Christensen, executive director of inclusion innovations and founder of Jewish Disabilities Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month (JDAIM). “These resources are still very much relevant for those of us looking forward to returning to celebrating in person and for those of us who depend on virtual resources to participate fully,” notes the Ruderman Family Foundation. They address such topics as Streaming High Holiday Services and Events and Accessible Communications on Streaming Platforms.

In addition, CJP has initiated a grant pool awarding $1,800 in funding to support individual synagogue goals in the areas of security, engagement, and delivering High Holiday and other services using hybrid/multi-access technologies and platforms. The Ruderman mailing included a list of Boston-area companies that offer Zoom captioning services for those providing virtual and hybrid services.

‘Meeting our halachic obligation’

This comes as welcome news to Matan Koch and his team at RespectAbility.

Koch, who serves as vice president for workforce, leadership and faith programs, describes his organization as a “diverse, disability-led nonprofit that works to create systemic change in how society views and values people with disabilities, and that advances policies and practices that empower people with disabilities to have a better future. Our mission is to fight stigmas and advance opportunities so people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community.”

Koch sent an email on Aug. 20 expressing concern that synagogues may not be giving proper attention this High Holiday season to the needs of people with disabilities.

“It is not without some shock that I absorb the results of a survey of close to 300 congregations by our team,” he reported. “So far, only five synagogues have said they are planning to provide captions. This is something that can be done (albeit imperfectly) on Zoom for free since they now have auto-captioning at the press of a button and Hebrew text can be dropped in. And more accurate captions with a live captioner can be done exceptionally well for under $400.”

Additionally, he said, “so far, we have only identified one synagogue that is planning to provide an ASL interpreter. How can it be that we don’t care enough about Jews who are deaf or hard of hearing to enable the captioning feature on Zoom, or to bring in an ASL interpreter when one is requested?”

Matan Koch.

Koch then shared a link to a free revised and updated High Holiday guide, “Opening All Gates: Making High Holiday Celebrations Accessible to All, In Person and Online.” It is written and compiled by Respectablity, and Rabbis Lauren Tuchman and Darby Leigh. Tuchman is blind; Leigh is deaf.

“The metaphor both of our guide’s title—and of the High Holidays themselves—is one of opening gates: gates of repentance, gates of our homes and our hearts, but also the physical and virtual gates of our services themselves,” said Koch. It reminds readers that it’s “true that the ADA exempted religious institutions, but halachah is much more demanding. As Jews, whether as a people or a local Jewish community, we have a collective obligation to make sure that other Jews can pray. In fact, there are many stories of minyans that were brought into people’s homes when the residents were too sick to go to a synagogue.”

This is not “going above and beyond,” he added, but “merely meeting our halachic obligation to ensure that all Jews have access to a Jewish life.”

Koch and RespectAbility sent a follow-up newsletter on Aug. 27.

“Last week, I started this newsletter with a deep plea for your help in increasing the number of accessible services that would be available to people who are deaf and hard of hearing during this High Holiday season. I am profoundly grateful to those who have replied: four congregations on our list are providing ASL, and five are providing captioning. You are truly congregations who have embraced the obligation of welcoming everyone, and on behalf of the Jewish community, with and without disabilities, I thank you.”

Still, he expressed some disappointment. “I’m deeply troubled that, with somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 congregations or minyans in this country, we have not been able to find even 10 providing this important access.”

The second email also included a link to “Find Accessible Streaming Services”; steps, if any, to access them; and which accommodations they provide.

One thing beneficial midway through the High Holidays is the advent over the years of pedi- and other mobile sukkahs that travel on campus and in certain cities to meet Jewish individuals where they are, along the same lines as rabbis blowing the shofar in public parks for Jewish groups, and basically, in earshot of the general public. The fact that the holiday is one celebrated outside helps a great deal in terms of COVID.

In some cases last year at the height of the pandemic, rabbis went to the homebound themselves, blowing shofar outside windows.

‘We have a mission in this world’

Tuchman, co-author of RespectAbility’s “Opening the Gates,” is thought to be the first blind woman in the world to enter the rabbinate. She is also a teacher and writer who provides consulting to individuals and organizations across the Jewish community on a variety of matters pertinent to disability access and inclusion. Tuchman is sensitive to the fact that congregational rabbis are “exhausted beyond measure” dealing with issues these past 18 months such as “pastoral emergencies.”

She offers this as a way of partially explaining why rabbis may not be as attuned to disabilities inclusion they year as they might have been during non-pandemic times. “When stress goes up, accessibility goes down,” observes Tuchman. She offers this simple truth as a way of explaining why rabbis may not be focusing as much on captioning and other accommodations this holiday season.

While Tuchman continues to reach out to rabbinical colleagues to offer assistance and encouragement in this area, she also wonders if congregants could be trained to help, as advocates and by possibly training as captioners or signers. “It is an opportunity for real out-of-the-box thinking. We have a mission in this world. Let’s do what we can to get this done in any way.”

Yuval Wagner, founder and president of Access Israel, consults with businesses and organizations in Israel and around the world on accessibility. He advises technology designers to assure that accessibility is considered from the outset. As a person who uses a wheelchair, he also focuses on how synagogues can remain sensitive to physical accessibility.

“Synagogues need to know how to design seating and furniture, prayer tables and the ark so that they are adjustable and fully accessible for the use of people with disabilities. Synagogues must offer large-print prayer books and Bibles, and assistive technologies that are helpful for people with hearing disabilities.”

It’s a matter, he conceded, that is a work in progress.

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Original Article Published On The JNS

When Diego Schwartzman outlasted Kevin Anderson in Wednesday night’s rain-drenched match—requiring relocation from Louis Armstrong to Arthur Ashe Stadium mid-game—he became the identified Jewish player who is guaranteed to go deepest in this year’s US Open singles draw. The prestigious Grand Slam tennis event is taking place from Aug. 24 to Sept. 12 in New York.

The proudly Jewish Argentinian started his match against the 2017 US Open runner-up at 7:30 p.m. at Louis Armstrong—a stadium with a retractable roof, but with ventilation openings that allowed rain on to the courts—but then was put on hold at 5-5 in the first set. The court was dried and play resumed, even though large puddles continued to form. The match was relocated to Ashe with the 11th-seeded Schwartzman completed his 7-6 (4), 6-3, 6-4 win at 1:30 a.m.

Two days earlier, on the sunny first day of the tournament, Schwartzman (#14 in the world) defeated hard-hitting Ričardas Berankis in straight sets 75-63-63. Following the match, Schwarzman put on a mask and patiently signed tennis balls, iPhone cases and even baseballs for dozens of fans—several wearing yarmulkes and many unfurling Argentine flags and chanting “Diego” repeatedly.

Schwartzman, known as “El Peque” for his short stature, is proud of his Jewish heritage. He grew up playing tennis at Club Náutico Hacoaj, the Jewish club in Buenos Aires, and he has spoken about his Polish maternal great-grandfather who crammed with others into a cattle car en route to a concentration camp during the World War II. The coupling broke apart, leaving his car behind at a station as others went to their deaths. He jumped off the train and fled, eventually traveling by ship with his family to Argentina.

Schwartzman reached the US Open quarterfinals in 2017 and 2019. He is now on to the third round, where he will face Alex Molčan of Slovakia.

Denis Shapovalov, #10 in the world and the tournament’s #7 seed, doesn’t openly identify as Jewish, though he was born in Tel Aviv to a Ukrainian Jewish mother and a Russian Orthodox Christian father. The 22-year-old Canadian easily defeated Roberta Carballés Baena 7-6 (9-7), 6-3, 6-0 in a little more than two hours in their second-round match on Thursday night.

Elina Svitolina, May 9, 2019. Credit: si.robi via Wikimedia Commons.

There were four Jewish women in the main draw: Jamie Loeb (#194), from Ossining, N.Y.; Madison Brengle (#77); Camila Giorgi; and unconfirmed Jewish player Elina Svitolina. Loeb, who won three matches in the qualifying tournament to gain a spot in the main draw, lost her first-round match. Brengle, a 31-year-old from Dover, Del., lost her first-round singles and doubles matches. This was her ninth appearance in the US Open.

Camila Giorgi (#36) of Italy lost her first-round match to #12 seed Simona Halep (# 13) of Romania 6-4, 7-6 (3). Giorgi, who has had seven top 20 wins this season and won the National Bank Open this summer, recently confirmed to a reporter that she is proudly Jewish, that her parents are Argentines who immigrated to Italy, and that Anne Frank is her favorite book. “The book moved me because I am Jewish, but also because she was such a good person who saw the good in people,” she said.

World #5 Elina Svitolina has unconfirmed Jewish family history. She has won her first two matches in straight sets and will face Russian Daria Kasatkina in the third round.

Doubling down on Israeli players

Others Jewish players in the main draw include 44-year-old doubles specialist Jonathan Erlich. He and South African Lloyd Harris faced Austrians Oliver Marach and Philipp Oswald on Friday in their first-round match. They advanced to the second round after winning 62, 67 (73), 62  in an hour and 46 minutes. Israeli Dudi Sela, currently #322, was scheduled to compete in the qualifying tournament but reportedly tested positive for COVID-19 before it began.

Jonathan Ehrlich, May 28, 2016, Credit: si.robi via Wikimedia Commons.

Fans keeping score of the numbers—or rather, the percent—of Jews in the men’s and women’s singles draws and in the men’s doubles draw may be pleasantly surprised.

According to most estimates, Jews make up .2 percent of the world’s population. To put it more specifically, there are 14.7 Jews in a world populated by 7.89 billion people. The percentage of Jews in men’s and women’s singles draws (if you consider Shapovalov as well as Svitolina) and men’s doubles draw are way ahead of percentages of Jews in the world.

Jewish players make up two of 128 or 1.56 percent of the men’s draw, 3.12 percent of the women’s draw (four of out of 128) and 1.56 percent of the men’s doubles draw (one team member out of 64 teams).

And while Israel’s one representative in the tournament seems low, especially when compared to such countries as Australia (26 players) and Argentina (20), they only lag slightly behind Finland (3) and Ecuador (2). They are right at home with North African and Mideast neighbors Tunisia (1) and Egypt (1).

Fans of Israel tennis remember not so many years ago when they could regularly see Israelis Shahar Peer, Julia Glushko, David (“Dudi”) Sela and Andy Ram in action at the US Open.

While few such pros or juniors remain in action this year, Hans Felius, the director of Tennis and Social Impact Programs at the ITEC (Israel Tennis Educational Centers), and the professional staff of Israel’s David Squad are systematically training Israeli children with great potential to one day play in the US Open and other major junior and adult tournaments around the world. When their efforts come to fruition, it will surely help the Jewish and Israeli tournament numbers and percentages.

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Original Article Published on The JNS

Relix magazine and the Brooklyn Bowl are well-known to music lovers worldwide. This year, they will become even better known as they host “High Holidays –A Suite of Spiritually Driven Holiday Services,” an innovative musical worship experience for both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Relix Magazine, the print and online publication, was launched in 1974 to focus on the live music scene. The Brooklyn Bowl is a music venue, bowling alley and restaurant in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., with branches in both Nashville and Las Vegas. Both are owned by music-world mover, shaker and mensch Peter Shapiro.

These musical Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur evening and daytime services are celebrating their 10th consecutive year. Services on both days of Rosh Hashanah will take place in person at the Brooklyn Bowl for a limited number of worshippers.

Erev Rosh Hashanah will be livestreamed Sept. 6 at 7:30 p.m. EST on fans.live with Rosh Hashanah morning livestreamed Sept. 7 at 10 a.m. Kol Nidre will be livestreamed on Sept 15. at 7 p.m. from the Relix Studio. Yom Kippur morning will be livestreamed on Sept. 16 at 10 a.m.

The High Holiday services, often to referred to as “Bowl Hashanah,” are hosted by Friday Night Jams/Because Jewish and will be led by Rabbi Daniel Brenner; Jeremiah Lockwood (musical coordinator); vocalist and bass player Yula Beeri; and trumpeter and Antibalas charter member Jordan McLean.

Services include a variety of musical guests from the Jewish and secular world who will appear both live and through pre-recorded performances. The “who’s who” of musicians include Armo, Eric Slick (Dr. Dog), Ross James (Terrapin Family Band), Alex Bleeker (Real Estate), Stuart Bogie (Antibalas/Arcade Fire), Eric Krasno, Dan Lebowitz (ALO), Lenny Kaye (Patti Smith Group), Dave Harrington (Darkside), Adam Roberts, Spencer Zahn, Anthony Russell, Brian Chase (Yeah Yeahs) and more.

Rosh Hashanah morning services will include traditional prayers, Torah reading and a shofar service, as well as guided meditation by Yael Shy, CEO of Mindfulness Consulting.

The marquee for the “High Holidays–A Suite of Spiritually Driven Holiday Services” at the Brooklyn Bowl. Credit: Courtesy.

Shapiro proudly notes that “Bowl Hashanah has become a meaningful tradition for Brooklyn Bowl. To have a holiday that means so much, marking the beginning of the New Year, is a life highlight for me personally. I look forward to continuing this tradition forever.”

‘They tell the stories of our people’

Relix editor-in-chief Mike Greenhaus feels that the Brooklyn Bowl, which has historically hosted Bowl Hashanah in person in non-COVID times, is ideal for the High Holidays experience. “We have said for years that Brooklyn Bowl is our sanctuary, clubhouse, church and synagogue, so it only makes sense that it has grown into the spiritual home for our musically inclined Rosh Hashanah services over the years. Especially at a time when so many of us have been apart from our friends and family due to the pandemic, we hope that our suite of traditional but-open-minded and inclusive services will allow us to connect with each other as we ‘begin again’ at the start of this new year.”

While many online and in-person (indoor and outdoor) options exist for worshippers worldwide this High Holiday season, Greenhaus senses that Bowl Hashanah fills a unique place in the Jewish world. He hopes “the services will help make those watching from home or in-person feel a deep connection between their Jewish spiritual world and the live-music community that originally brought so many of us together.”

The service facilitators offer important contributions to the worship experience. Jeremiah Lockwood—the frontman of Sway Machinery, who has also toured extensively with Balkan Beat Box—returns to New York after being absent for a few years while completing his Ph.D. at Stanford University. Lockwood is the son of composer Larry Lockwood and the grandson of the legendary Cantor Jacob Konigsberg. His dissertation, “Golden Ages: Chassidic cantorial revivalists in the digital age,” focused on young cantors in the Chassidic community.

Jeremiah Lockwood. Credit: BecauseJewish.com.

While Bowl Hashanah has a very modern flavor, Lockwood, perhaps unsurprisingly, very much values the cantorial tradition and nusach (liturgy/tunes). “I look to the old-school cantors as great. They speak the music to tell the stories of our people. And they bring the people with them. This is rare in the contemporary world.”

He acknowledges that people “want to have an activating, enjoyable experience.” He and his partners intend to help them on that journey.

Lockwood is looking forward to working more directly with Yula Beeri and appreciates that she “stepped in,” learning the service in his absence. “We are working on vocal arrangements, and what she is bringing will add a great deal,” he says.

And Beeri is similarly honored to work with Lockwood. “Jordan called three years ago from the West Coast to see if I would come on board and sing a few songs. I said, ‘Of course. When I found out the scope, I was amazed, frightened and intrigued!”

The secular-born Israeli lives in Brooklyn and is the founder of the music and arts collective Yula & The Extended Family (YXFM). She often performs with her husband, drummer Isaac Gardner. Beeri points out that the service fills an important need in the community: “These experiences fill a gap for people like me! People with a secular background who are searching for Jewish identify while also being an artist and musician.”

‘Channeling the crowd experience’

Rabbi Daniel Brenner is excited about the upcoming services but acknowledges that he is still thinking back to last Rosh Hashanah when it was unclear if the service would happen due to the pandemic. “For me, on an emotional level, having a group of musicians on stage making music was like coming out of hibernation and interacting with the world for the first time.”

Blowing the shofar. Credit: BecauseJewish.com.

He was delighted to learn that 20,000 people were watching online.

Brenner captures what is so special about the Bowl Hashanah High Holiday experience. As he explains, “it is putting the experience of live music first and designing a High Holidays celebration around an experience of live music for people for whom live music is their thing.”

And he understands what fans of the jam band scene are looking for, saying “these are people not afraid of a song lasting longer than 10 minutes.” Participants often bring both their young children and their older parents, who also find the experience enjoyable.

And Brenner is there to serve as everyone’s guide. “My role,” he says, “is to be channeling the crowd experience rather than being the rabbi MC.”

He adds, “I have to be immersing myself in the music for it to be authentic. I have to throw myself into it.”

Brenner will also offer short kavannot—prayer explanations and spiritual guidance—as well as parables that he will prepare.

Brenner strives to offer an inclusive, welcoming user experience. “It is similar to a live show—you can sit, stand, wiggle, dance—and you won’t be judged because you can do your own thing and be free of inhibition.”

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