Original Article Published on The Jerusalem Post

Ari Zivitovsky is a little like Indiana Jones. But the scientist rabbi is not in search of The Ark of the Covenant; instead, he travels the world looking for kosher animals. Zivitovsky and his partner, Rabbi Ari Greenspan, have come head to head with some incredible and exotic creatures, some of which you may have never even heard of.

Zivitovsky has a PhD in biomedical engineering and is a senior lecturer in brain science at Bar Ilan University. Greenspan is a practicing dentist in Jerusalem.

Zivitovsky and Greenspan met as children in New York and have been going on Jewish adventures together ever since. When they were studying together as teenagers, a slaughterer came to their yeshiva to demonstrate kaparot. The two teenagers were interested in seeing what the insides of a bird looked like. The shochet saw their interest and encouraged them to become shochtim. So they did.

The two newly certified shochtim found themselves asking lots of kosher questions. So they traveled the world in search of answers.

The two men have traveled to four continents on their kosher animal quest. They have been to Turkey in search of the Talmudic Shiboota fish, they have been to Cyprus in search of grasshoppers, and most recently, researched giraffes here in Israel. When a giraffe died in a zoo in Ramat Gan, Zivitovsky was given permission to dissect the dead giraffe to further his knowledge of kashrut. Yes, a giraffe is kosher. It chews its cud, has cloven hooves and it only eats plants. These traits make it a kosher animal. So then, one might ask why we can’t buy giraffes at our local meat market. Zivitovsky explains that they are not endangered, they have no natural enemies, and no one hunts them, so in many ways they are an ideal animal to eat. However, the problem is that giraffes are so strong they could kill an adult lion with one kick. You would need to restrain it in order to kill it in the kosher way. Could you imagine having to restrain a giraffe and then climbing three meters in order to slaughter it? The conclusion therefore is that it is not practical to kill giraffes for food.

What do Zivitovsky and Greenspan do with all of their kosher knowledge? Since 2002, they have been hosting a series of very unique dinner parties, where they introduce weird kosher foods to the diner participants. At the first dinner the menu included pigeon, sparrow, water buffalo, fallow deer and red deer, muscovy duck, partridge and pheasant. “Nearly one hundred people filled the restaurant to hear over two hours of lectures and eat a thirteen course meal,” says Zivitovsky. “Had I been cooking, I would have just cooked all thirteen types of birds in one big pot. But we found a master chef, Moshe Basson, who prepared each one differently.”

And for dessert? Grasshoppers! I was shocked that ten to fifteen percent of the participants actually tried them, said Zivitovsky.

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Freelance writer Howard Blasreports on the Pilot Pen Tennis Tournie in New Haven – from a Jewish perspective. The tournament was still in full swing as the Ledger went to press.

Ezra Academy makes a night of it
Ezra Academy of Woodbridge joined thousands of fans at the Pilot Pen Tennis tournament that kicked off at the Connecticut Tennis Center at Yale on August 23 and will run through August 29. According to Head of School, Rabbi Amanda Brodie, “This year at Ezra, we are highlighting health and fitness for life. Ezra parents, Jody Ellant and Howard Reiter, responded to an offer for $1 Pilot Pen tickets and purchased 180 for the evening session on Monday, August 24, which they made available to the Ezra community.” Ellant notes, “We, as a family, have attended the Pilot Pen tournament since its inception. The Pilot Pen tournament is a fabulous opportunity to see world class athletes perform right here in our community. It is a wonderful way to begin the school year.”

Israelis in the Pilot Pen Draw…almost
Ezra also came out to celebrate an historic year for Israel’s tennis professionals. Israel’s Dudi Sela, currently ranked 34th in the world, was invited to play in the Pilot Pen but pulled out after dropping out of last week’s Western and Southern Financial Group tournament in Cincinnati, Oh. The 24-year old Sela, who played in last year’s Pilot Pen, aggravated a groin injury and dropped out in the second set of his first round match. He hopes to recover in time for the upcoming U.S. Open in New York. 

Shahar Peer, ranked 58th in the world, and recovering from a stress fracture earlier in the summer, came to New Haven after reaching the third round of the Rogers Cup in Toronto. Peer was not given an automatic invitation to the tournament; such invitations were only issued to the top 44 ranked females. The 22-year old Peer played late in the afternoon of August 21 versus Italy’s Tathiana Garbin in the first round of the qualifiers. She was down 7-5, 2-2 in Friday’s qualifying match before a rainstorm suspended the match. Several hours later, and after eight ball kids used high powered blowers to dry the court, Garbin and Peer resumed their match in an empty stadium. Garbin defeated Peer 7-5, 6-4. Peer left New Haven early Monday morning for New York where she will prepare for the U.S. Open.

Israel doubles specialists, Andy Ram and Jonathan Erlich, familiar faces in New Haven after appearing in several recent Pilot Pens, did not play this year.

This has been a year of successes and stressful moments for Israeli tennis. In July, Israel stunned the tennis world when it clinched a berth in the semifinal of the 2009 Davis Cup. A capacity crowd of 11,000 fans witnessed the doubles team of Andy Ram and Jonathan Erlich, as they defeated Russians Marat Safin and Igor Kunitsyn, 6-3, 6-4, 6-7(3), 4-6, 6-4. One day earlier, Harel Levy, ranked 210 in the world, defeated Igor Andreev in the opening match of the Davis Cup and 33rd ranked Dudi Sela defeated Russian Mikhail Youzhny.

Four months earlier, the Israeli tennis team competed against host Sweden in Malmo, Sweden. Due to concerns that violent protests would erupt over Israel’s actions in Gaza, the indoor arena was left empty. In that tournament, Dudi Sela defeated former Australian Open Champion,Thomas Johansson, 3-6, 6-1, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2, and Harel Levy outlasted Swede, Andreas Vinciguerra, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 3-6, 8-6, in a three and a half hour match.

In February, Shahar Peer made headlines when the United Arab Emirates denied her a visa, making it impossible for her to play in the Dubai championship. In response, the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour levied an unprecedented series of fines, penalties and warnings against the tournament. Peer received $44,245, an average of the prize-money she received for singles and doubles at events last year; the tournament was fined a record $300,000 for a breach of tour rules and the event will have to post a $2 million financial performance guarantee by July 1 for a number of conditions it must meet to stage the event in 2010, including the guarantee of a wild card for Peer if her ranking is not high enough for a place in the main draw.

The response from the women’s game marks a watershed. Larry Scott, the tour’s chief executive officer, said: “These actions send a clear message that we will not tolerate discrimination and we will not allow this situation to happen again.”

The United Arab Emirates then gave “special permission” for Andy Ram, then the number 11 ranked doubles player in the world, to be granted a visa so that he could play in an event in Dubai the following week.

Young Jewish players in the Pilot Pen qualifiers
Three of the 32 players in the female qualifying singles tournament are Jewish. In addition to Shahar Peer, Rachel Kahan and Gail Brodsky vied for spots in the main draw. Kahan, a home-schooled high school senior from Unionville, received a wild card into the qualifying tournament of the Pilot Pen after winning the Prequalifier-Yale Summer Championships. After losing the first four games to Romanian Monica Niculescu, Kahan, dressed in black shorts, shirt and cap, battled back to lose the first set 6-4. Niculescu ultimately won 6-4, 6-0.

Gail Brodsky, 18, who was born in the Ukraine and moved with her parents to Brooklyn, N.Y. 12 years ago, fought hard in her qualifying match, but lost to Italy’s Roberta Vinci, 6-0, 6-1. The home-schooled Brodsky has been training at the Weil Tennis Academy in California. She tells the Ledger that this is her first time in New Haven, and that she will soon move to Melbourne, Fla. Brodsky notes that the Jewish players are “friendly with each other.”

Jesse Levine, who lost in last year’s fourth round to Pilot Pen finalist, Mardy Fish, lost in the first round of qualifier singles and therefore is not in the main draw. Scott Lipsky made it to the main draw for men’s doubles with partner, Robert Kendrick.

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New play addresses demonization of Israel among intellectual elite

NEW HAVEN — Professor Doron Ben-Atar’s play, “Peace Warriors,” which he co-wrote with Debbie Pollak, will be performed at the Capital Fringe Festival in Washington, D.C. in July and at the New York International Fringe Festival in August. The play was a semi-finalist in this year’s O’Neill theater competition.

A resident of New Haven, where he is active in the Jewish community, Ben-Atar is the chair of the history department at Fordham University, as well as a member of the university’s Middle East studies and women’s studies programs. He is also a fellow of the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism at Yale University and was a fellow at the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library.

Ben-Atar’s first play, “Behave Yourself Quietly,” is based on his mother’s experience at Auschwitz. He and his mother, Roma Nutkiewicz Ben-Atar, had previously collaborated on a book, “What Time and Sadness Spared: Mother and Son Confront the Holocaust” (University of Virginia Press, 2006).

Ben-Atar is the author of numerous books and articles on American history, the modern Middle East and psychohistory’ including “Trade Secrets: Intellectual Piracy and the Origins of American Industrial Power.” A frequent commentator on the modern Middle East on many radio and television programs, he has written about current international affairs in “The Chronicle of Higher Education,” the “Jerusalem Report” and “The Globalist.” 

Raised in Israel, where he played basketball for Maccabi Tel Aviv, Ben-Atar came to the U.S. to study and play basketball at Brandeis University. He has coached soccer and basketball at Ezra Academy in Woodbridge, and chaired Talmud Torah Meyuchad of the New Haven Department of Jewish Education. He serves on the Anti-DefamationLeague’s civil rights committee and is a founding member of the board of the new Jewish High School of Connecticut.

The Ledger spoke with Ben-Atar as he was preparing to leave for the nation’s capital for the premiere of “Peace Warriors.”

Q: What is “Peace Warriors” about?

A: “Peace Warriors” is a dramatic exploration of the fashion of taking anti-Israel positions among the American intellectual elite. A visit from an old family friend sparks rivalries and hidden affairs, as four academics and one teenage girl flaunt their peace activism. Family conflicts spin out of control, while the characters argue war and peace in the Middle East, and in the bedroom.

Q: You are an Israeli American and a professor of American history. What inspired you to write this play? 

A: I wrote “Peace Warriors” because we are living through a worrisome dramatic rise in global antisemitism. Leading the charge is the intellectual elite who are demonizing Israel and de-legitimizing its existence. College classes on the history and politics of the Middle East teach students that Israel is the new Nazi state, and that terrorism against Jewish targets in Israel and around the globe is a justifiable anti-colonial act of resistance. Jewish students and professors who dare to question these positions face an intimidating and corrosive hostile atmosphere. Israeli academics are subject to boycotts and harassment. And the movement to divest university endowments from companies that do business with Israel is rapidly gaining strength.

The actual event which inspired the play sounds made up, but it is sadly true. My family and I live in New Haven and are active members of the Jewish community. We got a call a few years ago from our friend, the Yale Hillel director, telling us that a troupe of co-existence actresses were coming to perform at Yale; he asked us if they could stay at our place. The group was supposed to consist of an Israeli Jew and a Palestinian – co-existence activists – a driver, and a tech person. We found out that the Palestinian wasn’t really a Palestinian but an Israeli Arab who lived inside of Israel, and the Arab refused to stay at our house because she hated the Israeli activist and could not bear to be in the same house with her!

Various organizations and individuals invest a great deal of money and energy in co-existence. But all too often taking part in these projects involve Jewish self-abnegation. My camp, the peace camp in Israel, has been devastated electorally in recent contests because its activities are characterized by denial of Israel’s claim — we lost our credibility with our own public because we seem to see only the other side. I haven’t altered my convictions. I hate the occupation and believe it has had a brutalizing effect on Arabs and Jews. I never supported the settlement policy, but the conversation about this subject is reduced to a vile shrill. Settlers are the most demonized group in the world. Not to acknowledge their humanity and the life they live — that they live under constant threat — is not fair. Many in the peace camp don’t actually know a single settler. They know more Palestinians. But they imagine settlers as beastly violent fascist fanatics.

Q: Why do you write plays?

A: I am a historian by trade. Playwriting allows me to take part in age-oldJewish conversations. In drama I explore the three major Jewish questions of our time: the memory and persecution of the Holocaust, the place of Israel in contemporary Jewish life, and Jewish continuity. My first play, “Behave Yourself Quietly” considers the meaning of the memory of the Holocaust. “Peace Warriors” explores how Zionism and Israel have become such demonized entities. My next play is set at an old age home and looks at the question of “who are the real children?”

Q: The press materials for the play report, “All the inflammatory statements about Israel that are uttered in the play are actual quotes of statements uttered by the leading anti-Israel crusaders of our time. However, some anti-Israel statements by prominent intellectuals were so harsh that readers said they would not be believable on stage.” Can you explain? 

A: It is true. Some of the real quotes that have been said were deemed so offensive by earlier readers of the script that they urged me to tone them down because they would not be believable on stage! My play examines the celebrated anti-Zionist Jew – those who claim to be better than the rest of us because they make a career out of uttering hateful, demonizing remarks against Israel. I’ll give you an example. In the original script, I copied a real petition and wrote, “The students… oppose the existence of the apartheid colonial settler state of Israel, as it is based on the racist ideology of Zionism and is an expression of colonialism and imperialism. We unconditionally support Palestinians’ human right to resist occupation and oppression by any means necessary in all the territory of historic Palestine.” The revised text now reads, “We… oppose the apartheid policies of the rogue state of Israel and reject the racist ideology of Zionism that led to the dispossession of millions. We sympathize with the plight of the Palestinians. . .”

Q: How did you go about getting your play produced?

A: The process of getting a play to the stage is as follows. You send it around to different places that you find in the Dramatists’ Sourcebook. Most places get hundreds of scripts and they really don’t have the time or resources to give the scripts a fair look. It is very rare for a theater company to take a risk and produce a new play by someone who is not well-established. I was fortunate. I sent “Peace Warriors” to Blue Line Arts, Inc., a group run by three brilliant men, that does festivals, like the well-known Edinburgh Festival, and they liked it and decided to stage it in American festivals this summer.

Q: Your first play incorporated laughter into a story about genocide. Does “Peace Warriors” involve similar in-your-face humor?

A: Absolutely. I am an iconoclast and the play is a comedy. I think laughter allows us to deal with complex issues in greater depth. That is what I tried to do in “Behave Yourself Quietly,” and this is what I hope to achieve with “Peace Warriors.”

Howard Blas is a freelance writer from New Haven.

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NEW HAVEN — Dr. Ruth Westheimer shared her experience as part of the Holocaust’s Kindertransport at “Orphans of the Holocaust,” the opening event of the Yom Hashoah-HolocaustRemembrance Day commemoration at Yale University’s Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life. Westheimer is co-teaching a course on “The Family and the Jewish Tradition” at Yale this semester with the university’s Jewish chaplain, Rabbi James Ponet.

Dr. Ruth Westheimer was born in 1928 in Frankfurt, an only child in a lower middle class Orthodox family. When her father was taken by the Nazis, her mother and grandmother thought it would be safest for her to be evacuated from Germany.

“They closed the Samson Raphael Hirsch Orthodox school, and I was told I had to join a group of children going to Switzerland or my father couldn’t return.” Wertheimer boarded the kindertransport to Heiden, Switzerland on Jan. 5, 1939. She waved to her mother for what would be the last time.

In Switzerland, Westheimer, then only ten years old, lived in a children’s home overlooking Lake Constance. “We could see Germany,” she recalls. She was enrolled in vocational training, where she learned to care for Swiss children (bathing them, doing their laundry and cleaning their toilets). Westheimer wasn’t permitted to attend school, though she had dreamed of studying medicine. She communicated with her parents and hoped she would see them again. The letters stopped suddenly in September of 1941; she later learned that her parents had been taken to the Lodz Ghetto, where her father was a cemetery gardener, and most likely killed in Auschwitz.

At the conclusion of the war, Westheimer was 17 years old. She decided to go to Palestine, where she lived on a kibbutz picking olives and tomatoes. She also served in the Haganah, a precursor to the Israel Defense Forces, where she became a sharpshooter. She was badly injured on her twentieth birthday, while doing guard duty; an Arab shell exploded at her feet. Luckily, she recovered and was able to walk.

Westheimer moved to France in 1950. Eventually, she resettled in New York, and received a doctorate in education from Teachers College of Columbia University. Affectionately known as “Dr. Ruth,” Westheimer is best known for her radio program, “Sexually Speaking,” which began in Sept. 1980. Westheimer spoke movingly of her parents and grandparents and of the importance of early childhood socialization. She spoke of how the orphans “created a community to have a family again,” and of how “many boys and girls went in to the helping professions.”

Sharing the stage with Westheimer at the Holocaust commemoration was a local Kindertransport survivor, Irm (Irmgard) Wessel. A social worker, Wessel is a long-time resident of New Haven and a member of Congregation B’nai Jacob in Woodbridge. During the war, she was sent to England from her home in Kassel, Germany. Unlike Westheimer, Wessel was eventually reunited with her parents in America.

Describing her family as “German first and Jewish second,” Wessel said her businessman father, the vice president of a steel factory, held positions of importance in the synagogue and in the Jewish community. His position of importance, and his role as a mediator between the Jews and the Nazis would prove useful in getting Irm on the Kindertransport to England.

The audience listened intently as Wessel shared the details of her story, including the actual date of Krystallnacht. While most histories report Krystallnacht to have taken place in Germany on Nov. 9 and 10, Wessel notes, “The Nazis practiced in Kassel on Nov. 7, 1938.”

Kessel also spoke about being forced to add the name “Sarah” to her name (all girls were forced to add “Sarah” and males, “Israel”), seeing her father cry for the first time, the train ride to England, and life in her English foster home.

Upon arriving in New York at age 14, Kessel was forced to throw her stamp collection overboard as she was told she could not enter the U.S. with “anything of value.” Following her reunification with her parents and resettling in Iowa and later Illinois (partially assisted by the American Friends/Quakers), Wessel eventually settled in Connecticut where she is a member of the therapeutic community, and an activist.

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