NEW HAVEN — Rabbi Wesley Kalmar recently participated in a whirlwind rabbinic mission to Israel, designed to show U.S. rabbis the status of Israeli towns in the North and South which were ravaged by rockets earlier this year.

Rabbi Kalmar, of the Westville Synagogue in New Haven, was the only rabbi from Connecticut to participate in the Oct. 22-27 United Jewish Communities-sponsored Rabbinic Cabinet Solidarity Mission, which included 22 other rabbis from across the country and from various denominations.

“I have been to Israel many times and lived in Israel for three years-I have never experienced anything like this,” reports Rabbi Kalmar, who learned of the trip via an email sent to all New Haven rabbis, of all denominations, by Sydney Perry, executive director of the Jewish Federation of New Haven.

“The mission had two goals,” says Rabbi Kalmar. “To see the results of the war in the North, and to see the continuing situation in the south in such places as Sderot and Ashkelon.”

Each day of the trip was action-packed, with the rabbis witnessing damage from Katyusha rockets, hearing briefings from military experts, and interacting with Israelis of all ages in many towns. Rabbi Kalmar felt the mission was a chance to “show support for Israel” and to “show we care.”

’Severe damage’
Rabbi Kalmar observed severe damage the Katyushas caused when they ignited forest fires, and major damage caused to the ophthalmology department of a Nahariyah hospital, but added that “most of the damage to buildings had been fixed up already.”

In Nahariya, Rabbi Kalmar and his rabbinic colleagues sat on the floor and interacted with a group of first graders in a special program who were working through symptoms of trauma suffered during the war.

“The girl I interacted with was coloring the feelings she had felt and experienced during the war,” Rabbi Kalmar said. “Her grandmother had been killed, and she recalled how her mother started crying when her father had gone out of the house-minutes before a ‘boom.’”

The child described her picture to Rabbi Kalmar -a red square in the middle with blue on the outside – saying, “I was mostly afraid and angry at Hezbollah [the red part of her picture] but also happy that the whole family was together.”

The rabbis visited Sderot, the city near Gaza which has been consistently bombed for the past six years.

“We saw piles of Kassam rockets in Sderot, and we were very aware that a missile could fall at anytime-they get three hits a day,” he said.

Rabbi Kalmar contrasted the organized relief effort and rebuilding seen in Karmiel, Nahariya and other points in the north, with the “depression” and less organized assistance effort seen in Sderot.

’A learning experience’
The mission was also a rare opportunity for rabbis from various movements to interact and get to know each other on many levels. “I was one of only two Orthodox rabbis on the group-which was a challenge, a duty, and a learning experience.” Rabbi Kalmar said he appreciated the opportunity to “learn a lot from Reform and Conservative rabbis-my age and older. It was a chance to hear what they are doing in their congregations, and how things work in their communities. We had a lot of interesting conversations. I have respect for a lot of the work they are doing.”

The rabbis ended their mission with dinner at the Anna Ticho House in Jerusalem.

“It was one of the most poignant moments of the trip,” reports Kalmar, describing the dinner with Israeli Modern Orthodox rabbis in Israel, from the Rabbenu Tzohar organization, whose presentation on various efforts at reform, such as in how marriages are performed in Israel, led to some frank discussion among the North American rabbis.

“It was a chance to really put things on the table,” he said.

The rabbis who went on the mission are now charged with informing their congregants about what is going on now in Israel. Rabbi Kalmar said he will continue to share observations from his trip in upcoming sermons and public forums.

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As I raced from my home in New Haven to the Manhattan bound Metro North train, enroute to Kosherfest 2006 at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, I realized that I first needed a few groceries.

The nearby Stop & Shop in Woodbridge has a nice selection of fresh and frozen kosher foods, so I decided to surprise my children with an Eddies New York City frozen kosher pizza. At the checkout register, the clerk scanned the pie and looked incredulously at the price. $13.49 — that is very expensive, he said.

It is kosher pizza, I explained.

Oh! he said, understanding now.

So began my long road to Kosherfest 2006.

For Menachem Lubinsky, president and CEO of Lubicom Marketing Consulting, Diversified Business Communications, and the entire Kosherfest planning team, the road to the 18th annual kosher food and foodservice trade show begins long before the Nov. 14-15 show. Kosherfest brings together thousands of people involved in every aspect of the kosher food industry. It affords attendees from all around the world an opportunity to interact, explore and sample new products, and conduct business. And it also allows attendees an opportunity to explore new products upstairs at the International Hotel/Motel and Restaurant Show, and to visit booths at both Expo Comida Latina, the Latin food show, and the All Asia Food Show – taking place simultaneously at the Javits Center.

Developing a kosherfest strategy is key. Before arriving at Kosherfest, I had in hand my list of exhibitors and their booth locations. I had also received by email the list of award winners in each category. I would make a note of these locations and be sure to sample these products.

I began my day with the 80 page 2006 Official Show Directory and Buyers Guide. I searched for Connecticut businesses (none in attendance), circled booth numbers of vendors from unusual countries and states (Chile and Australia, Iowa and Montana), and glanced at the names of seminars that I would not have time to attend, including the keynote address State of the Kosher Industry: Whats Next in Kosher Retail Marketing, and a second educational session on The Evolution of Kosher Restaurants. I also noted the locations of booths of people I had previously arranged to meet. The big companies have PR and marketing people who contact journalists prior to the show to arrange meetings. I also noted the sign just past security (where bags and people are searched) that noted that Mincha would take place every half hour.

Kosherfest organizers also called attention to Morris Katz, billed as the world’s fastest painter, who created the largest OU certified

Kosher Soynut Butter & Jelly sandwich, 18 feet long, using 32 pounds of soynut butter, 32 pounds of jelly and 70 pounds of flour.

I started by sampling trans fat-free, chemical-free, real fruit Olivier Bouvai muffins from Montreal. This company offers frozen dough that bakeries and other kosher shops can defrost and bake. An interesting, tasty, new product.

A nearby booth was offering a similar product – Ostreichers All-NaturalChocolate Chip Cookie Dough – though the latter was also Kosher for Passover – and offered 18 ready to bake cookies instead of muffins.

Other nearby neighbors included Near East and Ossies Fish, offering samples of old favorites – rice pilaf, couscous and fish. I smiled but didnt stop to sample the product at the Kosher Heaven booth, offering the only glatt kosher cured beef jerky product on the market.

I quickly walked past booths from various trucking and marketing companies, and for ZEP skin and hand cream.

The friendly, well-dressed man at Classic Raphys Kosher Food encouraged me to stop by and sample his products.

Asher Ohana, the director of marketing and sales and son of founder Raphy, proudly told me how the company has been in business for only five months and already won the Kosherfest 2006 New Product Competition in the Best New Packaging/Design category for their stuffed cabbage. I tasted their delicious cabbage and sampled the absolutely delicious Temptation Kosher Pareve Soy Ice Cream at the booth nearby. I had never found a frozen vegan, pareve product so tasty – and in some of my favorite flavors, including mint chocolate chip, coffee and chocolate chip cookie dough.

It was time for my noon appointment at the Manischewitz booth with well-known cookbook author Susie Fishbein, today demonstrating recipes from her newest cookbook, Kosher By Design Short on Time. The friendly New Jersey mother of four continues to travel the country showing ways to cook simple, aesthetically-pleasing kosher meals. Fishbein is now working on a book designed for people who have cooked and eaten too many of the recipes in her previous books, titled Kosher By Design Lightens Up, which shows readers how to take off pounds!

Fishbein was working at the Manischewitz booth, and David Rossi, the Vice President of Marketing for R.A.B. Foods, was talking to customers and journalists about some of the exciting developments in the company.

We acquired Rokeach Foods, reported Rossi, who then showed me such new products as chocolate covered Tam Tam crackers, a new line of sparkling grape juices, and the Magic Max for Kids products. Parents should be on the lookout for such Magic Max Soups as Chicken & Stars, Chicken & Noodle Os and Chicken & Alef Bet to hit the shelves soon. I cant wait to cook with their new Hebrew Alef-Bet Macaroni.

Shabtai Gourmets owner, Cindy Fern Itzkowitx, and her Cinderella-claddaughter were proudly giving out samples of their Bell Ring Cake, voted Best New Passover Product, under their Cinderella Sweets Line. Shabtai Gourmet is a Jewish holiday bakery line specializing in gourmet, kosher for Passover cakes and cookies.

The Golds booth proudly displayed old and new products. According to Marc Gold, the fifth generation company, best known for its horseradish and borsht, was established in 1932. The company has evolved over the years, now carrying such products as duck sauce, salsa, a full-line of mustards, ketchups and barbecue sauces, and Hungarian cabbage.

Empire Kosher Poultry had several huge booths, proudly displaying their new and old products, which include deli meats, frozen foods, appetizers and hours doeuvres, etc. Elie Rosenfeld of Joseph Jacobs Advertising, proudly showed me the new hologram packaging soon to hit the stores, which, in light of the recent Monsey kosher poultry scandal, will guarantee kashrut of poultry.

While it is always a pleasure to see the older companies that anchor the kosher food industry in attendance alive and well, it is a treat to see new companies bringing products to market. Healthy products sampled included Sadaf (humus mix, couscous and stuffed vine leaves), Bruno (pareve and vegetarian products – I loved the lasagna Florentine), and various veggie burgers in the Dr. Praegers Sensible Foods line.

Jill Ginsberg, the founder and president of Thou Shalt Snack, which started in May 2005, was giving out samples of her Latke Crisps – original and sour cram and onion flavor – which she called, The Worlds First Latke Snack. They are all natural, low in fat, and have zero trans fat.

Najlas Inc. of Lousville, Kentucky, the winner in the Best New Snack Food category, was giving out samples of their Gone Nuts! product.

What sets it apart is the flavor, said Charles Asward, the marketing director. Other Najlas products include such cookies as classic chocolate chunk and oatmeal dried cherry white chocolate chunk.

Stephanie Schandler, president of Lettuce In Love, was at her booth with her mother and husband, proudly showing off her healthy line of ranch, skinny Italian, sweet balsamic and thousand island dressings. The individually packaged dressing cups with their beautiful packaging can be found at Whole Foods and Fairways stores and, according to Schandler, are Dressings so good youll want to drink them!

My Family Farm was back showing their crackers and cookies which use all organic products.

My wife started this company after she noticed the junk food kids were eating in schools, reported Tom Bennett, who also serves as the companys chief financial officer. Kosher certification was just one more sign of quality.

I was pleased to see a number of kosher cheese companies, from Royal George Cheese from Britain (with Cheddar, Double Gloucester and Red Leicester), to Oneg Kosher Gourmet from Shiller Park, Ill., (with Mozzarella, Cheddar, Muenster, Gouda and oven smoked Mozzarella, Cheddar and Gouda), to Joseph Farms of California. Dick Witter, the director of sales for Joseph Farms, noted that they carry more than 40 kosher items, and what makes their company unique is that they do not use artificial hormones. That is unusual for an operation our size, reported Witter, who is proud of the fact that the company, owned by Joseph Gallo of the famous Gallo wine family, is also kosher. We want the public to know how important quality is to us – we dont use artificial hormones, and we also became kosher – it tells our customers that we have outside supervision.

As my time at Kosherfest drew to a close, I reflected on companies doing new things to old products. What can you do to gefilte fish? The A & B Company, using the motto The Way Grandma Made It, is still making gefilte fish, but is now selling Salmon Franks. Their motto says, If you love salmon, you’ll love these franks. Better than hot dogs..and better for you. Im curious to see the market for this product.

And I am confident that Joshua Auerbach and David Raphael, president and CEO respectively, of The Black and White Cookie Company, have the right idea with their extensive line of black and white cookies. We took an 80 year old recipe, we use all natural products, and no coloring, and we make it all from scratch, reported Auerbach. The two young men are happy to tell you of the recent shipment of black and red cookies – to the Miami Heat!

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MILFORD — Manny Strumpf is the man responsible for the first wedding and the first murder at the Statue of Liberty. But he is neither a rabbi nor a criminal.

Milford resident and long-time Jewish Ledger columnist, Strumpf knows a thing or two about Lady Liberty — he served for 22 years as the public affairs officer for the National Parks Service in New York City and had an office at the Statue of Liberty.

Strumpf once went to great lengths to help a Chicago couple plan a wedding at the Statue of Liberty-helping to arrange everything from the marriage license, to a minister, to media coverage. Now in his new book, “Murder at the Statue of Liberty” (2006, Publish America), Strumpf writes about a fictional murder at the national monument.

The idea for the book evolved from Strumpf’s real life work at the Statue. He recalls one incident when a man hid in the torch and tried to parachute from the Statue-but his parachute got stuck and he was left dangling.

“I thought, ‘What would have happened if this person hiding in the torch was a murderer?’ That afternoon on the train home from Grand Central Station, I jotted down some notes.”

Every afternoon from then on, he jotted down more notes for what would eventually become his book.
Besides his own experience at the Statue of Liberty, he received input for the book from the members of the United States Park Police New York Field Office.

“I developed a great respect and admiration during that time for the men and women who are devoting their careers to protecting and preserving our natural and historic resources, including the Statue of Liberty,” he said. “I’m proud to have worked closely with them during my career. Although I was an eyewitness to many activities on Liberty Island, fortunately, there never was a homicide.”

A six-year process
Strumpf, who was trained as a journalist at New York University, worked as a sports editor for a newspaper in Mount Vernon, N.Y., and served for 14 years as a reporter for the New Haven Register, before becoming PR officer for the National Parks Service.

Besides the Statue of Liberty, he also handled public relations for landmarks like Theodore Roosevelt’s birthplace, Grant’s Tomb, Federal Hall, Castle Clinton and Alexander Hamilton’s Home.

Over the years, Strumpf’s job at the Statue of Liberty has led him to meet many famous people, including President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca, and country singer Dolly Parton. He once gave a private tour to actress Mary Tyler Moore and her father.

Strumpf used much of his own knowledge about the famous New York City monument in writing his murder mystery.

In “Murder at the Statue of Liberty,” main characters William Johnson, deputy chief ranger at the Statue of Liberty, and ranger Jennifer Marcus find a dead body one morning inside the monument. They soon become prime suspects when U.S. Park Police Lt. Mike Finnegan and Vince Torre of the NYPD begin to investigate the shocking murder.

After completing one draft of the novel, Strumpf put it away for eight months. When he looked at it again, he felt it needed revision. He met book editor Stuart Meyer at a conference at Manhattan’s World Trade Center, who agreed to offer feedback. Strumpf ended up rewriting the book twice and changed the outcome several times. In all, it took him six years to finish the project.

Strumpf said that he has received many letters and emails of support for his book – and he has also received his first royalty check.

“I’ve received letters from London, Toronto, Los Angeles, North and South Carolina and I have been featured in the newsletter of the International Statue of Liberty Club,” reports Strumpf.

Strumpf, and his wife, Phyllis — the parents of two grown children and grandparents of three – are members of Congregation Or Shalom in Orange, where he is chairperson of the communications committee and was the recent recipient of the synagogue’s Shomerei Or Award.

Strumpf and his wife will soon head to their winter home in Florida where he will spend his time following sports, reading, golfing, and working on his next novel, which takes place at another interesting New York landmark — Theodore Roosevelt’s birthplace.

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NEW HAVEN — When a New Haven doctor received an email with a plea for help from an Israeli doctor, he knew it was time to mobilize-especially since the lives of Israeli soldiers were at stake.

Just before the start of Shabbat in mid-August, Dr. Arthur Levy, a New Haven oncologist and chairperson of the Westville Synagogues social action committee, received an email informing him that Israeli reservists fighting in Lebanon did not have adequate body armor to protect them.

There was no time to get lots of details, reports Levy. I made an announcement at the end of services, and received an astounding response. More than 50 people raised their hands to make pledges to purchase vests-not bad for a Shabbat during the summer when many people were away on vacation.

More than 60 vests have been purchased thus far by the Westville Synagogue.

The idea for the Kevlar vests came about when Dr. Eli Reshef, an Oklahoma City fertility specialist and husband of Edie Rodman, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Oklahoma City, spoke with his reservist nephew, Peleg Reshef. Peleg had been deployed to Lebanon, and Eli contacted him by cell phone. What can I do for you? asked Eli. Peleg immediately informed his Uncle Eli that his unit of 80 men, a reservist combat engineering regiment known as the Orev Company, did not have adequate protective vests and body armor. Vests had apparently been issued to active duty soldiers, but vests for reservists were either nonexistent, tattered or not updated. Eli, worried about Peleg and his other two nephews who were all serving in Lebanon at the same time, asked, How much will it cost and how many do you need?

Within hours, after making a few phone calls and sending emails, Eli Reshef, a former member of the Israel Defense Force who saw combat on Mount Hermon, the scene of some of the most intense fighting during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, had commitments for 80 of the vests at $110 per vest. Thus, Operation Body Armor was born.

Edi Rodman proudly notes, We have raised more than $60,000 so far and have provided vests for four or five units so far. And every penny goes directly for the body armor-none of the donated money is spent on administrative costs, postage, etc. Reshef also hoped to purchase the vests in Israel as a way of supporting the Israeli economy. He purchased all of the vests from Kibbutz Sasa.

Rodman said that on Channel 2 TV in Israel, they interviewed soldiers on their way out of Lebanon, and they repeated over and over again how appreciative they were.

CAP: PELEG NEWSPAPER: An article in an Israeli newspaper about the Kevlar vests purchased for Israeli soldiers.

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