‘Etrog’ by Anna Shteynshleyger

A religious woman with two wigs, a shriveled etrog in an etrog holder and an unhappy expecting couple sitting on a futon are but three of the riveting photos which greet the viewer of “City of Destiny,” an exhibit of the works of photographer Anna Shteynshleyger, a graduate of Yale University School of Art. Shteynshleyger’s photos will be on exhibit at the International Center of Photography (ICP) in Manhattan through May 6.

“City of Destiny” is the motto of suburban Des Plaines, Ill., the tight knit Orthodox religious community where Shteynshleyger lived for four years.

Shteynshleyger was born in Moscow in 1977 and moved to suburban Gaithersberg, Md. at the age of fifteen. “I didn’t speak English, I couldn’t drive — it was awful,” recalled Shteynshleyger in a phone interview from her office in Chicago, where she spoke of her first exposure to both photography and Judaism. “My father gave me a camera — it was my only way to connect with the world.”

In order to deal with what Shteynshleyger describes as “isolation and loneliness,” she discovered the nearby public library and their books on Judaism. While the Shteynshleyger family was not particularly observant, Anna enjoyed books about every aspect of Jewish life.  She recounts that she learned both the Shema prayer and the Shabbat candles blessings from books found in her local library.

Shteynshleyger’s Jewish journey continued as a student at the Maryland Institute College of Arts in Baltimore. She spent most Sabbaths with an Orthodox rabbi and his family in the Park Heights section of Baltimore. She then moved to New Haven, where she completed an MFA in 2001 at the Yale University School of Art in the department of photography. She had some involvement at the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale, though she playfully notes it was mostly around “food and holidays.”

After graduating from Yale, Shteynshleyger settled in a small Chabad community in Des Plaines. The photographs on display in “City of Destiny,” mainly of family and close friends, capture her experience in Des Plaines. One photograph, “Backyard” is taken at a distance and depicts a girl with family members, appearing small as they are surrounded by very tall trees.  “Picnic” captures pink Crocs, dirty paper plates, a beer bottle and package of cigarettes—all sitting on a child’s play table. Another, “Portrait with Mordecai,” features the artist (pregnant) and her husband.

“Anna’s work offers an almost voyeuristic inside view of her small tight-knit community of family and friends,” notes art collector Mitchell Presser of New York. “It also provides great insight into her personal struggles and development.” For example, he says, “In ‘Etrog’ we see the fruit, once used in religious ceremonies, now dried and shriveled, but still encased in a protective womb appearing as a trophy of things past. The portrait of her with Mordecai, her ex-husband, is a narrative of her life through a single moment in time, without a single word of explanation. ‘City of Destiny’ is a portal into Anna’s challenges and development.
It tells a very personal story.”

(Source: http://www.jewishledger.com)

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Original Article Published on The Jerusalem Post

Jordan Farmar is carefully moving around the court, shooting three pointers and free throws. This is despite a groin injury, which has kept him out of the New Jersey Nets lineup for four straight games. It was only a week ago that Farmar’s three-point last-minute score led the Nets to victory. Towards the end of a practice session at the New Jersey Nets training facility in East Rutherford, New Jersey, the bearded 1.88 m, 82 kg guard sat down with the Jerusalem Post to discuss basketball and life in America and Israel.

The 25-year-old Farmar grew up in Los Angeles, California. His father is African-American and Christian. His step-father, who raised him and is a huge influence on Farmar, is Israeli and Jewish. Farmar studied at UCLA and was the 26th pick in the first round of the 2006 NBA draft. He played with the Los Angeles Lakers from 2006-2010, has played with the New Jersey Nets since 2010 to the present and played for Maccabi Tel Aviv for four months, during the recent NBA strike. His teams have won the NBA championship twice and he was selected as Euroleague Player of the Week in November, 2011. Farmar wears number 2 and averages 10.6 points per game.

You are very close to Omri Casspi. Did you get to hang out with him when the Cleveland Cavaliers were in town recently? How is he doing?

I saw him last Monday night. He is in a tough spot.The NBA is a big business. He’s gotta keep working. It goes up and down if you are not a super star player. I know he had an injury recently and is trying to get back in form.

How did you guys first meet?

For a while, I was the only Jewish player in the NBA. Then he got drafted and joined me! He is the first Israeli-born player. He came to town to play us – we connected around Israel and being Jewish.

What is your best move? How would you describe your style?

Up tempo. Get people involved. Score when need to. Be able to run a team. I like to get out and run, set a screen, make a pass. I appreciate a good game of basketball and people who understand the game.

What is the main difference between basketball in the NBA/US and Israel?

There are superstar players in the US like Lebron, Kobe, Dwight, Howard. You don’t see guys like that overseas. They are incredible. In Israel, the little things are appreciated — the pass and the assist are appreciated as much as the actual stats. And it seems to be about winning – guys want to win. Here, the business of basketball can sometimes get in the way.

What was it like playing for Maccabi Tel Aviv during the strike? You were a Euroleague player of the Week in November, 2011! Was your role different on your Israel team?

I played for four months “I played a lot ” maybe 30 games. In Israel, my team would go as far as I could take them. Here I back up Deron Williams, probably the best point guard in the world!

How were you received in Israel?

Everybody embraced me. I was very welcomed, and wanted and appreciated for having made the decision to play. I felt like I was at home it was a whole family atmosphere wherever I went.

How is your Hebrew?

It is not my strong point! I can definitely understand conversations, I can understand what is going on and I can get my get point across, but I don’t speak well.

What is your relationship with Israel?

My stepfather is from Tel Aviv and we have a lot of family in Israel in the Shabazi neighborhood of Tel Aviv. My daughter, my fiance and I spent a lot of time with family during our four months in Israel.

Tell us about the basketball camp for Israeli Jewish and Palestinian children you were involved with:

I got involved through my agent, who is Jewish. It started with the Seeds of Peace. They bring kids from different conflict areas Egypt, Jordan, all over. They all come to a summer camp in Maine. They live together, sleep together, eat together. I spent a day there during my first year. Then I worked with them in Israel in 2008. It is through the Peres Peace Center. They have eight camps all over the country. At the beginning of the program, kids argue. Then, with sport as the medium, they forget about everything they were taught (about the others). They are “just kids” they work together to accomplish a goal. And they high five each other.

Any plans to do it again?

(Smiling). I got pretty busy winning an NBA championship, free agency, having a baby….

It sounds like your Israeli step dad was a pretty important influence on you.

My dad was always around, but my step dad was with me every day. My step dad raised me. We are close. He worked six days a week. He instilled good values in me. He is the only person I know who can wake up without an alarm at the time he planned to wake up. He is disciplined and responsible. Aman! A great father figure. He was in the army in Israel.

Does your step dad get to watch you play?

He is a huge Lakers fan. He loves to watch me play. It was great to be part of that team. When he came to the States, he loved Magic (Johnson), (Nick) Van Exel, Eddie Jones, Kobe, and Shaq.

Were you connected to the LA Jewish and Israeli community?

Growing up in LA was great! I love LA! We were a Jewish household. We had visitors from Israel and family coming in and out. I went to Hebrew school, had a bar mitzvah….

What is your favorite Israeli food?


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Flat Stanley is the beloved “flat” character from the 1964 children’s book of the same title, written by Jeff Brown and illustrated by Tomi Ungerer.  Every teacher and parent of young children know the story of Stanley Lambchop, who gets “flattened” in his sleep when a big bulletin board falls on him.  He survives and discovers the advantages of being “flat.”  For one, he can visit friends by being mailed in envelopes.

On a recent trip to Florida, I saw a man on the beach, dressed in a white button down shirt and khaki pants—with a camera in one hand and Flat Stanley in the other!  He had obviously promised his young son or daughter a photograph of Stanley at the Atlantic Ocean.  And on a trip to Israel, a day care director in our tour group must have snapped 100 pictures of Stan—from Zichron Yaakov to The Sea of Galilee.

It seems other “Stanleys” have also visited the Holy Land. A tour guide in Israel writes of the day a Flat Stanley arrived in the mail from Los Angeles.  He had recently guided the family on a bat mitzvah tour.  Now, the younger sister was writing with a special request—to take Stanley with him on his tours of Israel.   “At first I did not understand what I was supposed to do with this weird thing. It could easily be thought of as a joke, but after reading the “manual” I became quite enthusiastic… We fed him traditional Israeli salad, put him in a Succah we built in Kiryat Yovel neighborhood in Jerusalem.”  Flat Stanley was even photographed with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat!

Apparently, Flat Stanley had had similar adventures all around the world.  The Flat Stanley Project encompasses more than 6000 schools registered in 88 countries.

All of the Flat Stanley hype, coupled with a TV commercial a few years back for Travelocity–with a talking gnome-gave Rachel Kirschbaum, a Jewish Day school teacher in New York City, an idea—Chayim Yerushalayim!!  According to Kirschbaum, the chair of the Tanach department at the prestigious Ramaz School in Manhattan, “Chayim Yerushalayim” has followed her from teaching positions in several New York area Jewish day schools.  “He started with SAR 2nd graders, continued with Heschel 5th graders and after a brief hiatus, took up travel again with 8th graders (or their parents) at Ramaz.”  Kirschbaum currently teaches 6,7 and 8th grades at Ramaz.

Chayim has been to Jerusalem many times. He has been to the Dead Sea and, Kirschbaum reports, “His skin should be soft and supple by now”—thanks to all of the Dead Sea mud smeared all over his body.   He has been to the Tayelet in Tel Aviv, to Caesaria, and to  Masada.  “The kids love it.  They think it is the cutest thing.  I usually do it with younger students but even the 8th  graders were ecstatic to see the pictures and so excited…it works every time!”

Next time you are in Israel, keep your eyes open for Flat Stanley or Chayim Yerushalayim. Both are great travelers and can be useful in teaching all ages about Israel! [full disclosure: Chayim recently accompanied me and I group I led on a trip to Israel!  See photo below]

(Source: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com)

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Omri Casspi on meeting up with Gilad Shalit, what it’s like to wear number 36, and life as the only Israeli playing in the NBA

NEW YORK — Basketball player Omri Casspi achieved overnight rock star status in 2009 when he was drafted 23rd overall in the first round by the NBA’s Sacramento Kings. Casspi signed a three-year contract worth $3.5 million and became the first Israeli to play in the NBA.

Casspi averaged 10.8 and 8.6 points per game in his two seasons with the Kings, and in 2010, he was selected to play in both the NBA All-Star Weekend Rookie Challenge and NBA All-Star Weekend H–O–R–S–E Competition. On June 30, 2011, Casspi and a 2012 first round draft pick were traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers for forward/center J.J. Hickson.

Throughout Casspi’s NBA career, he has taken very seriously what he perceives as his role as ambassador of Israel and the Jewish People. Many United States communities have organized “Jewish Heritages Days” at their NBA stadiums, and Casspi has patiently posed for pictures and signed hundreds of autographs.

‘I feel happy being Israeli and Jewish every time I step on the court’

“I feel great pride being Jewish and Israeli, and a lot of responsibility. I feel happy being Israeli and Jewish every time I step on the court,” Casspi told The Times of Israel Wednesday.

Casspi was born into a sporting family. Father Shimon is an accomplished tennis player, mother Eliana was a competitive basketball player and sister Aviv played basketball for Elitzur Holon. Brother Eitan often travels in the States with Omri.

As a child in Israel, Omri Casspi played basketball for several local teams and at age 13, moved to the Maccabi Tel Aviv youth team. By age 17, Casspi turned pro and played for Maccabi Tel Aviv. He was drafted by the Kings at age 21, after he had completed his mandatory three-year service with the IDF.

Casspi signed with Maccabi Tel Aviv during the 2011 NBA lockout and intended to join the team if the lockout was not resolved.

The 161-day lockout, which began on July 1, 2011, ended on December 8, 2011, and a shortened season began on December 25th. Casspi is averaging 22.8 minutes per game with the Cleveland Cavaliers with 3.4 rebounds and 7.7 points.

Casspi spoke with The Times of Israel in the visitors’ locker room at Manhattan’s Madison Square Garden prior to Wednesday night’s heartbreaking 120-103 loss to the New York Knicks; the Cavaliers led at the half 61 to 49.

Omri Casspi taking a shot at Wednesday’s game.

There is a picture of you and Gilad Shalit which appeared all over the Internet and Facebook yesterday. What is the story behind the picture and meeting?

Gilad Shalit came to Orlando for the NBA All Star Weekend last weekend. He wanted to keep it off the media. Nobody really knew he was there. He wanted to have quality time with his family and a few really good friends. We had dinner. It was very emotional for me.

How did he seem?

He seems fine. First of all, he is a big fan of basketball. I was honored to be around him and have dinner with him and talk.

How did you choose number 36?

[Smiling] Double Chai! I wore 18 in Sacramento. I come to Cleveland and Anthony Parker wore that number. I was going to either cut it in half and take 9 or double it — double chai — so I took 36.

Were you disappointed that you didn’t get to play for Macabi Tel Aviv, or were you happy to just get on with the season after the lockout? Were you in Israel during the lockout? Are you in touch with NBA player Jordan Farmar (who also played for Maccabi Tel Aviv)?

I was in States working out. I never got a chance to go to Israel. I was happy and disappointed — both! I kind of wanted to play for Macabi Tel Aviv a little bit and see my family. I am happy I am playing basketball for Cleveland.

I am very friendly with Jordan. We are great friends. He is a great guy. He did a lot of great things for Maccabi Tel Aviv this year. [Farmar actually played for Maccabi during the lockout — he returned to the New Jersey Nets after the lockout ended]

What has the adjustment been like — to a new team and to a new Jewish community?

Because of the lockout, we had no training camp and no summer activities with my new team — we didn’t have time to bond with the guys. We are going to get close this summer.

The Jewish community — wherever we go, West or East — there are a lot of people with flags. They come to support me, invite me for chagim…

Has the Jewish community’s excitement for you died down over time?

I get a warm reception. It has always been great.

Is there a communication gap between the Jewish communities of the US and Israel?

In Israel, we are not seen as a Jewish community. We are a country. It is a little different. Here, in the United States, people really get together. I think the two do understand each other — absolutely. In Israel, we support the Jewish people of the US, and the Jewish people in the US have a lot of influence — political, etc. I have been here 2 or 3 years now — I don’t think we [Israel] would have a country without the people of the United States.

Any ideas what you will do after basketball?

[Laughing.] No, I am still thinking about my basketball career. Not yet!

Jeremy Lin? [The Knicks’ Chinese American Harvard grad sensation]

I played against him before — when he was with Golden State. It is a really nice story. What a big step forward he made. Really nice story.

How do you relate to the Jeremy Lin story?

Everybody can relate in a way. When I first got here, many believed I could not play in the NBA. Then, I got better. When you see a guy like Jeremy Lin, it is inspirational.

(Source: http://www.timesofisrael.com

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