The Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post

Jewish filmmaker Amir Bar-Lev’s epic documentary is required viewing for Dead Heads

In 1978, Deadheads secretly prayed that the Grateful Dead would cross the border from Egypt into Israel and perform in the Sinai Desert after their three-day gig at the Great Pyramid of Giza. Their wish for a miracle never panned out and the Dead never played a concert in Israel – though Jewish Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart performed in Jerusalem in 2013.

Thanks to director Amir Bar-Lev and his new film Long Strange Trip: The Untold Story of the Grateful Dead, Deadheads worldwide and those who have long been curious about Dead shows and Grateful Dead culture can now experience this world – if they are willing to devote four hours to this important new film, presented in six acts.

The film covers a lot of ground and features interviews with the Core Four (Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart – who are all credited as executive producers); Dennis McNally, the band’s publicist and biographer; daughter Trixie Garcia; Donna Jean Godchaux (band member from 1972 to 1979); Sam Cutler, the tour manager from 1970 to 1974; girlfriend and later wife Barbara Meier; and such celebrity Deadheads as Senator Al Franken.

Viewers are treated to rare clips and archival images of Jerry Garcia’s teenage years, the band forming and living together in the Haight Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco, meetings with members of the Rolling Stones, performances in the US and around the world (including the famous Europe ’72 Tour) and even underwater video of Jerry scuba diving in Hawaii.

There are many sweet, poignant and historically significant moments throughout the film, including black and white footage of Garcia patiently teaching Lesh and Weir the harmony to the song “Candyman.”  The audience learns all about the Dead’s famous sound system, known as the Wall of Sound, meets Deadheads outside concert venues on Shakedown Street, experiences the rampant LSD culture of band members and fans, and watches Jerry battle lapse into a diabetic coma, battle drug addiction and ultimately die of a heart attack at age 53 in 1995.

A particularly interesting theme of the movie was Garcia’s fascination with the 1948 film Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Garcia notes that the movie both delighted and terrified him; he first saw it as a child at age 5, just after his father died.

The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and has been screened this past week at select cities across the United States. The film arrives to Amazon Prime Video on June 2.  Footage of camels, Jerry Garcia and band, and Deadheads at the pyramids can be seen approximately 2-1/2 hours into the film.

Bar-Lev, son of Israeli parents, got into the Grateful Dead growing up in the 1980s in Northern California. He playfully notes that it took 14 years to create the film. “Getting the Core Four on board was a process of do, die, do again, die again – for eleven years! I always wanted to make the film. It was pure persistence.” He continues, “We set out to make a 90 minute film – but at two hours, we were only at 1974, so we went back to our financiers!”

Bar-Lev’s other films include The Tillman Story about the NFL star-turned-US Army ranger Pat Tillman, My Kid Could Paint That, and Happy Valley, a film about the Penn State Jerry Sandusky scandal.

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Welcome to Tikvah Connects, a new publication of the National Ramah Commission, connecting you several times a year with news about members of the Tikvah community and exciting Tikvah events.

Nearly every Rosh Hashanah and Passover since 1984, I have received beautiful handwritten cards from Matthew, a former Tikvah camper. Several Friday afternoons and erev chags a year, I receive lovely phone calls from Jeremy, another former camper from Camp Ramah in New England. Matthew, Jeremy, and hundreds of other former Tikvah campers from across the United States and Canada have grown in so many ways since their camp years.

Members of the larger Tikvah community are quite diverse. They work part time, full time, and volunteer. They live in apartments, group residences, and houses. They participate in various social and recreational activities. Yet, they all have one thing in common: They cherish precious memories of summers in various Tikvah programs. They feel deeply connected to Tikvah and Ramah, and many are looking for ways to stay connected.

Tikvah is truly special! There has been so much growth in the world of inclusive camping since Herb and Barbara Greenberg started the first Tikvah program (with 8 campers!) in Glen Spey, NY, in 1970. The Tikvah program soon moved to Ramah New England. Now, all of our Ramah camps include campers with disabilities. Each time I travel to Israel, I am fortunate to visit with the Greenbergs in their home in Ra’anana. They are delighted when I share stories of Tikvah’s ongoing development. So much has happened in 47 years!

Our Tikvah programs offer camping, vocational training, employment opportunities, family camps, Israel trips and more!

Our National Ramah Tikvah Network, founded in 2011, connects Ramah staff, families, and alumni from across camps and from across the decades. Our alumni staff, campers, and families live in many parts of the US, Canada, Israel, and even other countries around the world. We have had successful local reunions in such places as Washington, DC, Chicago, Los Angeles, and at Camp Ramah in Ojai, California. Some of our camps hold weekly or regular video chats with such names as “Shabbos Is Calling” and “Shavua Tov.”

We are particularly excited to share our inaugural issue of Tikvah Connects at this time. Just this week, Tikvah staff members for summer 2017 met for training at the National Ramah Spring Leadership Training Conference (“Winer”) at Ramah New England. And earlier this month, 101 representatives of our Ramah camps participated in our 4th Ramah Israel Bike Ride and Hiking Trip and have thus far raised almost $470,000 to support our Ramah Tikvah programs.Three of our Tikvah Directors (Ralph Schwartz, Wisconsin; Orlee Krass, Poconos; and Howard Blas, Northern California/NRC) were riders! There’s still time to support this important cause.

Enjoy this inaugural issue of Tikvah Connects. In each issue, we will share news of staff, alumni, and programs. Feel free to send ideas, feedback, and updates to me at or (413) 374-7210.

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The Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post

Jews seem to be fascinated by the topic of Jews in sports – regardless of the sport, team, country or time period in history

If you present a program entitled, “Jews in Sports: Beyond Sandy Koufax,” they will come.

When the event is free, in New York City and features legendary baseball player Art Shamsky of the 1969 Miracle Mets World Series Championship team, the people will definitely come out in great numbers. Jews seem to be fascinated by the topic of Jews in sports – regardless of the sport, team, country or time period in history.

The evening program last week at the Temple Emanu-El Streicker Center on Manhattan’s Upper East Side also included such sports personalities as Bruce Beck, lead sports anchor at WNBC-TV in New York, host of NBC’s Sports Final and sideline reporter for New York Giants preseason football, Gerald Eskenazi, former New York Times sportswriter of 44 years and author of sixteen books, and Dr. Jane Katz, member of the 1964 United States Olympics Synchronized Swimming Team in Tokyo, Japan.

The event set out to address the question, “Why does the myth of the Jewish athlete still fascinate us?” and noted in the program’s description, “From the Book of Judge’s Samson to the NBA’s Omri Casspi, Semitic strongmen have always had an air of the improbable about them.”

Moderator Eskenazi, referenced the famous decision of Brooklyn Dodger pitcher Koufax to sit out Game 1 of the October 7, 1965 World Series versus the Minnesota Twins when it fell on Yom Kippur.

Eskenazi raised the question, “Would not pitching on Yom Kippur matter in 2017?” He noted that Jews are now quite active and prominent across the professional sports world.

“Ten-and-a-half out of 32 owners in the NFL are Jewish! (Why the half? The New York Giants are owned by the Tisches and the Maras). Eskenazi also pointed out that two out of four commissioners in professional sports – the NBA and NHL (plus Major League Soccer) – are Jewish.

The panelists spent 90 minutes sharing anecdotes, not-so-well known addenda to well-known stories and sports trivia. They brought smiles, chills and even tears to the eyes of members of the packed auditorium, whose insightful questions reflected an incredible collective knowledge of Jewish sports.

The audience learned that Katz, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York, in the Department of Physical Education and Athletics, was born on the Lower East Side, teaches fitness and swimming to New York City police officers and fire fighters, hung out with legendary swimmer, Johnny Weissmuller, and has been a competitor or official at every Maccabiah Game since 1957.

A serious distance swimmer, she joked about what she calls “the Jewish triathlon – the steam, shower and sauna!” Beck reminded the audience that Sandy Koufax’s last name at birth was Braun until he took on Koufax, his stepfather’s name – and that Don Drysdale started in his place in the 1965 World Series when he didn’t pitch on Yom Kippur.

“Drysdale gave up seven runs in under three innings. When manager Walter Alston took him out, Drysdale said ‘You know, skip, I bet you wish I was Jewish too!’” Beck spoke personally of his mother’s arriving in the United States from Poland in 1937 – and becoming the first woman mayor of Livingston, New Jersey.

And he referenced the time when three of eight US Open men’s tennis quarterfinalists were Jewish (1951 US Nationals: Vic Seixas, Herbie Flam and Dick Savitt, who won the Australia Open and Wimbledon earlier that year).

Beck also shared a very moving story of how singing the first three lines of his bar mitzva haftarah convinced Israeli security guards at the 2004 Athens Olympics that he was “legit,” and he became the only broadcaster to land an interview with windsurfer Gal Fridman, Israel’s first Olympic gold medalist.

Shamsky, who grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, attended Hebrew school (“I snuck out many times to play baseball!”), celebrated his bar mitzvah and attended the same high school as Jewish major league pitcher Ken Holtzman.

“I had always thought of myself as a baseball player who happened to be Jewish,” noted Shamsky. “All that changed in 1969.”

Shamsky approached manager Gil Hodges during a tough pennant race and explained that September 21 was Yom Kippur.

Hodges said, “do what you think is best.”

Shamsky did not play.

He shared a less well known addendum to the story: “The next day, I was back in Pittsburgh at the old Forbes Field – no one said anything to me. There was a sign on my locker – “why don’t you stay out the rest of the season!” Shamsky knew they were joking.

While he did recall “some catcalls one summer in Macon, Georgia, while playing on a team with Pete Rose, I had no problems because of my Jewish faith.”

In reflecting on his decision to sit out the Yom Kippur double- header and considering Koufax’s similar decision four years earlier, Shamsky said “Koufax was an icon – but they could just switch pitchers and he could pitch another night. For me, it was a double-header against the Pittsburgh Pirates!”

Shamsky still gets comments about that famous decision. “I get letters to this day, people who weren’t even born then telling me they were proud!” He playfully notes that the story has gotten embellished over the years. For example, one person wrote, “I remember about that week you took off…”

Shamsky, who also managed in Israel in 2007 and is proud of Israel’s recent success in the World Baseball Classic, has been living in New York for more than 45 years and still sports his 1969 World Series ring – and regularly gets comments about the 1969 Mets team.

“I played baseball for 13 years – no one ever asks me about the other 12!” And, he notes proudly, “I get the Jewish thing all the time – it gives me a chance to talk about my past, to reminisce.”

The evening concluded with questions from the audience about Israel’s success in the World Baseball Classic, the Jewishness of pro wrestler Bill Goldberg, the names of the two Mets pitchers who defeated the Pirates in the Yom Kippur double header in 1969 (Jerry Koosman and Don Cardwell) and questions about who the panelists see as current Jewish sports ambassadors.

All fans left pleased, including some with a personally inscribed and signed $30 copy of Shamsky’s book, “The Magnificent Seasons: How the Jets, Mets and Knicks Made Sports History and Uplifted and City and the Country.”

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Original Article Published On The Chabad.ORG

NEW ORLEANS—Ask Malkie Rivkin and the volunteers who are preparing hundreds of mishloach manot food baskets at the Btesh Family Chabad House in New Orleans three days before Purim what makes the holiday unique in New Orleans, and they almost don’t understand the question.

“It’s like any other Chabad House around the world!” exclaims Rivkin, co-director of programs for Chabad-Lubavitch of Louisiana with her husband, Rabbi Mendel Rivkin. “I’m sure people right now are doing the same thing we are,” she tells

One thing that makes Purim special in New Orleans is that “people here are good at getting dressed up in costumes,” says Rabbi Mendel Rivkin. “New Orleans is a costume town. People don’t shy away from them.”

Volunteer Jill Halpern, looks up for a moment from rolling hundreds of little paper scrolls with the mitzvahs of Purimwritten on them, and agrees: “The Rivkins always have the best costumes,” chimes in Halpern. “When the theme was France, the whole family came dressed up as French’s mustard.”

The scrolls that Halperin are rolling will accompany each food gift bag and box. She and other volunteers will help deliver more than 275 packages all over New Orleans.

“The mishloach manot program is a win for Chabad, a win for the person who receives it and a win for the person who does the mitzvah of giving,” says Malkie Rivkin. “And people who get one this year are more likely to give to others next year.”

Halpern, whose father settled in New Orleans from the Brighton Beach neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., in the 1950s, proudly says: “I love Chabad. Wherever they need me, I am here.”

Rabbi Yochanan Rivkin, director of the Rohr Chabad Jewish Student Center at Tulane University, is looking forward to the Megillah reading and sharing the other mitzvahs of Purim with his students. He points out that some fraternity and sorority members are in the habit of baking hamantaschen as well.

One place where the Jewish community comes together on Purim is at the yearly themed party. “Chabad Uptown and Metairie join together,” notes Malkie Rivkin. This year, it’s one big city to another: “Purim in the Big Apple.” Past themes included “Purim in Outer Space” and “Purim in France.”

Katrina ‘Part of Our Consciousness’

When Hurricane Katrina raked through New Orleans in August 2005, Chabad helped the community cope by adding a little comic relief to the Jewish community the following Purim.

“Everyone remembers the images of people being rescued from the rooftops of their homes,” says the rabbi. “We actually chose a hurricane theme—‘Purim on the Blue Roof’—a little satire for the times. Katrina is part of our consciousness, but it is not something to be brought up every year. We may be recovered, but there are still pockets in the city not rebuilt.”

Guests hear the Megillah and enjoy the festivities at a past Purim party sponsored by Chabad-Lubavitch of Louisiana.
Guests hear the Megillah and enjoy the festivities at a past Purim party sponsored by Chabad-Lubavitch of Louisiana.

Malkie Rivkin notes that the party themes are well-chosen to make the holiday entertaining and inclusive for everyone. “One nice thing about Purim is that even the adults get involved; it’s not just for kids.”

One unique aspect of the Purim party is the entertainment, which is provided by a special member of the Jewish community. New Orleans is home to Ochsner Medical Center, a world-renown facility for liver transplants. The piano player for the Purim celebration is in town from Israel as he awaits a transplant. “Many Israelis come to our community for months at a time as they await liver transplants,” she explains. “We have a strong relationship with the Israeli families. There are four Israeli families here now; one just received a transplant.”

Rabbi Zelig Rivkin, head Chabad-Lubavitch emissary of Louisiana, could be seen this week “making the rounds” as volunteers assembled the mishloach manot. He was a little reluctant to comment much since he feels that the other emissaries, many of them his own family members, are now doing the day-to-day work of serving the needs of Jewish residents throughout the state. He and his wife, Bluma, were sent there on shlichus in November 1975 by the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory.

Rivkin and Chabad of New Orleans have especially strong connections this time of the year. “We opened this Chabad House on Purim of 1976. We made some renovations to the building and were ready to open for the holiday. We started with college students—and have been making Purim here every year since!”

Chabad in New Orleans has also expanded ever since.

A section of the French Quarter. Rabbi Zelig and Bluma Rivkin opened a Chabad House in the city in 1976, just in time for Purim. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
A section of the French Quarter. Rabbi Zelig and Bluma Rivkin opened a Chabad House in the city in 1976, just in time for Purim. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The Rohr Chabad Jewish Student Center next door, directed by Rabbi Leibel and Mushka Lipskier, serves students from Tulane University, Loyola University and the University of New Orleans. Rabbi Yochanan and Sarah Rivkin oversee a special division for graduate students. Rabbi Mendel and Malkie Rivkin direct programs for Chabad-Lubavitch of Louisiana. There are also Chabad centers in the nearby suburb of Metairie and in Baton Rouge, and Chabad Lubavitch of Southern Mississippi in Biloxi falls under their auspices.

As for community member Jill Halpern, she just loves Purim in the Big Easy: “Here, Jews are such a minority. Purim gives the Jewish community a chance to be together. You are with Jews en masse. I can’t tell you how much it makes me kvell!

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