Nadine Fahoum, a Muslim from Haifa, has become Israel’s unofficial ambassador off the court, and a phenom for Duke on it.

For Nadine Fahoum, serving as an ambassador for Israeli tennis and the State of Israel is a pleasure — though anything but straightforward. The 22-year-old Muslim Israeli-Arab from Haifa recently graduated from Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, where she majored in business administration and received a certificate in marketing and management. While there she also found the time to rank number one in tennis singles and helped the Lady Blue Devils tennis team to a national ranking of number three.

Fahoum also served as a de facto Jewish studies teacher and spiritual adviser to three American Jewish teammates. “They asked me about the Jewish holidays and when the Yom Kippur fast begins and ends,” says Fahoum, who regularly visited the Freeman Center for Jewish Life and participated in campus groups such as “Peace or Pieces?” — a forum for Jewish and Muslim students’ “controversial issues.”

‘I was the only Arab kid in school until my brother enrolled in the same school a few years later’ 

Fahoum got an early start feeling comfortable in the Jewish world. Her parents — mother Wafa Zoabi, a lawyer, and father, Anan, a bakery owner — sent Nadine and her younger brother to Haifa’s prestigious Reali Hebrew School. “I was the only Arab kid in school until my brother enrolled in the same school a few years later.”

Her brother, Fahoum Fahoum, 20, has continued to follow in his sister’s footsteps. Fahoum currently studies economics and plays tennis at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia — the university Nadine transferred from to play tennis at Duke.

“When Fahoum was a junior, I took him and three Jewish kids to play in a tennis exhibition in Boca Raton, Florida,” recounts Shaul Zohar, manager of the Israel Tennis Center in Kiryat Shmona. “We were at a Shabbat dinner and the host asked, ‘Who wants to do the blessing over the wine?’ The three all said no — and so Fahoum did the kiddush!”

Nadine and Fahoum have represented Israel in over thirty countries — starting with her first tournament in France at age 14 and including Switzerland, Portugal, Greece, and India. And they are not told what to say on behalf of the State of Israel.

“I say what I think,” says the polite, soft-spoken Nadine. “I have heard both sides my whole life. We all want the same thing — to live in peace.”

“We need to find a solution as soon as possible. It is a tough situation. We have to start where we are and look forward, not backward, and move forward from here.”

When asked what she would recommend as a solution, she pauses, carefully considering her reply. “We must learn from an early age to live together, when we are not prejudiced. That is why programs like the coexistence programs at the Israel Tennis Center are so important.”

She explains how its initiatives, such as the Twinned Peace Kindergarten, bring children and their families together in meaningful ways. “They go to each other’s houses, do homework together and travel to tournaments together.”

It has not always been easy. Many years ago, at New York’s JFK airport, security officials noted Fahoum’s name and asked to inspect her luggage. Coach Zohar intervened and said, “We are all the same — if you check her bag, you must check all bags. Check all or leave her alone!’”  She was allowed to pass without inspection. Israeli security has subsequently invited Nadine’s mother to offer workshops to security personnel on how to treat minorities.

Nadine recently began working as a development associate in New York City for the ITC. “If there were 10,000 Nadines, the [Israeli-Arab] situation would be different,” says Zohar.

The Israel Tennis Center team: Jacqueline Glodstein, Nadine Fahoum and Shaul Zohar.

“I’m sure there are — we just have to identify them and have them speak up,” adds Nadine.

“We have to encourage them to speak up,” adds Jacqueline Glodstein, vice president of global development for Israel Tennis Center.

Nadine has been living with Glodstein and her family in their Long Island home for the past six months. The family, whose members have all spent significant time in Israel, has found it very enlightening. Glodstein says, “We never had an opportunity to get to know on an intimate basis an Arab Israeli Muslim. It was an amazing opportunity for all of us. Living together, you just begin to know each other in a very special way — you create relationships and bonds.” The Fahoum parents also stayed in the Glodstein home for a e week during a recent trip to the United States.

For now, it is back to work for Nadine. While she will be focusing on her ITC responsibilities, she will still manage to find time for tennis. “I love tennis — I will always play!”


Read more

Walking out of the Bruce Springsteen concert in Philadelphia last week, I heard a yalmuke-wearing teenager exclaim, “If Bruce Springsteen was a rabbi, I’d go to his shul [synagogue]!” The 62-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee had just delivered a three-hour concert—without even an intermission—during which he crowd-surfed across the pit of the Wells Fargo Arena, danced on stage with his almost 90 year old mother during crowd-favorite “Dancing in the Dark,” and pointed heavenward for several minutes during the encore, “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out,” paying proper respect to “The Big Man,” Clarence Clemons, who died last June. Springsteen kicked off his Wrecking Ball tour on March 18th, to promote the release of his 17th album.

The young fan was suggesting that Springsteen knows how to connect with people and inspire them with his message. Charismatic and caring, he even knows his fair share of Bible.

I overheard another, less-observant, friend confided that he was planning on spending the eve of Friday April 6thseder night—with Bruce, the E Street Band, and 20,000 close friends at Manhattan’s famous Madison Square Garden!

Many Jews are connected to Bruce. Fans have long speculated on the extent of the Boss’s connection to all things Jewish. Here is a partial list of obvious (though admittedly “long shot”) connections to Judaism, the Jewish People and Israel.

1. His Name

Many have (incorrectly) speculated that the Boss’ last name gives him away as Jewish. Adam Sandler set the record straight in his “Chanukah Song Part II”:

So many Jews are in the show biz/ Bruce Springsteen isn’t Jewish/But my mother thinks he is.

2. Jews in the Band

The Mighty Max Weinberg (drummer), spoke at the American Museum of Jewish History in Philadelphia the night before two gigs at Wells-Fargo. Weinberg played his first bar mitzvah at age 7, attended synagogue at Temple Sharey Tefilo in East Orange, and in a recent email interview with the JTA, reported that drumming “was my way of living a life of tikkun olam.” Weinberg also said, “I was greatly influenced by the poetic approach to leadership by the late Rabbi Avraham Soltes, who made the stories and scripture come alive through music and his charismatic teachings.”

Max’s son, Jacob, briefly toured with the E Street Band when Max was tied up with his commitment to the Conan O’Brien TV show, and Springsteen’s longtime manager and producer, Jon Landau, is Jewish. Pianist Roy Bittan is Jewish. And Suki Lahav, an Israeli post-army violinist from Kibbutz Ayelet HaShahar, toured and recorded briefly with Springsteen in the 70’s before returning to Israel. Her then-husband, Louis Lahav, was a recording engineer for Bruce.

3. Biblical References

A former student of the St. Rose of Lima Catholic school in Freehold Borough in New Jersey, Springsteen knows his bible. Aside from the occasional Jesus reference, lyrics contain gems such as these three:

“Rocky Ground”

Forty days and nights of rain have washed this land…
Flood waters rising and we’re Canaan bound

“Red Headed Woman”

Well, push comes to shove
Man, and shove comes to push
And I was Moses standing ‘fore the burning bush

“Adam Raised a Cain”

In the Bible Cain slew Abel
And East of Eden he was cast,
You’re born into this life paying,
for the sins of somebody else’s past,

4. Jewish References

Springsteen’s hometown of Long Branch, long associated with the seaside town of Asbury Park, is a stone’s throw from Deal, New Jersey—home to nearly 5,000 Syrian Jews who vacation in there each summer. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but as one blogger noted, a line in “Fourth of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” might have been inspired by the Syrian Jewish Beach Club Casino in Deal:

And the boys from the casino dance with their shirts open like Latin lovery on the shore/Chasin’ all them silly New York virgins by the score

5. “Shtick” in Concerts

Generally reserved for klezmer bands, “Hava Nagila” is not the first song you’d expect “The Boss” to play. Columnist Jeffrey Goldberg reports that Rahm Emanuel, President’s Obama’s former White House Chief of Staff, prompted Springsteen to play 45 seconds of the Jewish melody at a Washington, DC area show in May, 2009. Emmanuel spotted a sign made by a hardcore fan, requesting the famous—albeit unlikely—song:

“My daughter (a Jewish day school student) didn’t want to go because of homework, so I figured she needed a Jewish excuse to go to the concert. I made the ‘Hava Nagila’ sign—I’m in the mortgage credit market, so there’s not a hell of a lot for me to do these days—and we brought it to the concert,” he said. “I made it like the Torah, two sticks on each side.”

And, in his Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band: Live in New York City record, while getting the crowd pumped up, Bruce references…a bar mitzvah! He says, “ I’m gonna throw a rock and roll exorcism…a rock and roll baptism and a rock and roll bar mitzvah!”

6. Israel

First the bad news—he ain’t coming to Tel Aviv.  But, back in November, there were articles in several Israeli publications speculating that he might finally perform in the Promised Land. Unlike Elvis Costello and Pete Seeger, Bruce has not criticized Israel or called for its boycott or divestment. When Bruce completes the US leg of his tour in May, he will then traverse Europe before wrapping up in Helsinki, Finland on July 31st—he just doesn’t have enough time to hit the Holy Land. The closest the Boss gets to the Middle East is Lisbon (June 3rd), Milan (June 7th), Florence (June 10th), Trieste (June 11th) and Madrid (June 17th).

But I can’t hold it against him—The Boss is clearly a fan of the Jews! His lyrics, show antics, and band that nearly comprises a minyan point to his connection to Judaism. He  might not be Jewish, but I’m convinced: I want Bruce to be my Rabbi.

Read more

Original Article Published On The Washington Jewish Week

When photographer, Anna Shteynshleyger, was a little girl growing up in Moscow in the late 1970s and early 80s, she never imagined the life that would await her in a quiet suburb of Washington, D.C. Looking back, Shteynshleyger playfully and painfully recalls her arrival to Gaithersburg in February, 1992. “It was horrible. It was a nightmare, awful, lifeless, like hell!”

At age 15, Shteynshleyger found herself in Seneca Valley High School in Germantown, unable to speak English and unable to drive. Her father had arrived in the States seven years earlier and was commuting between New York City and Arlington. He helped organize the relocation of Anna and her mother. These trying years marked an important turning point in Shteynshleyger’s personal, professional and Jewish life.

As Shteynshleyger recalls, her father was “very wise – he went to a second-hand shop and bought me a used camera, a Pentax K1000, for $100. I immediately signed up for a photography class with a teacher named Jay Corder. It was my only way to connect with the world.” Shteynshleyger continues, “I remember selling my first print to my ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) teacher Mrs. Hildebrandt for $5! And I had a small exhibition at the JCC on Montrose Road.” Shteynshleyger’s camera and the local branch of the Gaithersburg Library helped Anna overcome what she describes as “isolation, loneliness and disconnection.”

“In the library, I chanced on books about Judaism. My first observance of Jewish tradition was through these books. I learned the Sh’ma and candle blessings from books!” Her journey into the arts and Judaism continued when Shteynshleyger attended the Maryland Institute College of Arts in Baltimore. She wondered, “How do I get a hold of Jews in this town?” Her prayers were answered when she met the Katz family – Rabbi Joseph Katz and his wife, Masha. She spent each Shabbat in their home in Baltimore.

Shteynshleyger then enrolled in the master of fine arts program in the photography department at the Yale University School of Art. After completing her MFA in 2001, she and her then husband moved to Des Plaines, Ill., to what she described as a small, suburban Chabad community. Anna spent four years living in this tight-knit religious community. During that time, she photographed family, friends and herself.

Her photographs from the Des Plaines years are currently featured as part of Perspectives, 2012, at the International Center for Photography (ICP) in Manhattan. Her exhibition, entitled City of Destiny, is named after the motto of Des Plaines.

The other two artists chosen for the ICP exhibit are Chien-Chi Chang and Greg Girard. Chang’s photos depict Chinese immigrants in America and feature photos of those living in the States and those still living in China; Girard looks at the lives of American service personnel and their families on bases in the Far East. According to curator Christopher Phillips, “in different ways, each poses the questions of what is home, where is home, and what happens when members of a tight-knit cultural community are transported to unfamiliar locales?”

Phillips is clearly taken by Shteynshleyger’s work and her personal story. When he first met the artist, she simply presented her photos and remained silent. “After a long silence, she said, ‘What do you think?’ “ Phillips explains Shteynshleyger’s belief that “the artwork should be strong and compelling enough that the artist doesn’t need to tell what it is.” By the third meeting, notes Phillips, “Anna began telling me about her life!” Phillips describes a “deep tension – artistic and spiritual longing – that attracted me to her. It is a central tension that drives her work.”

One photo in the ICP exhibit, Covered, 2008, is from the collection of New York City residents Mitchell and Lauren Presser. The viewer sees a person’s back. The person in the photo has short brown hair and what looks like a beard. Upon closer examination, it is a woman – wearing two wigs. “Anna’s work offers an almost voyeuristic inside view of her small tight-knit community of family and friends. It also provides great insight into her personal struggles and development. … Without a single word, Anna captures an inner struggle with both religion and art,” notes Mitchell Presser.

Another photo featured in City of Destiny, “Portrait With Mordecai,” depicts an unhappy-looking couple. We later find out that the pregnant woman in the photo is the artist herself. Presser offers, “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.” Shteynshleyger’s work has been getting a great deal of attention these past few years. A solo exhibition of her work was held at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago in 2004, and in 2010, her work was displayed at the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago.

Shteynshleyger is currently a divorced mother of two. She lives in Chicago and is an assistant professor in the photography department of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is currently working on photographs that explore the ideas of violence.

And how does Washington, D.C., look to the artist now? Shteynshleyger has brought her children back to the D.C. area. “My parents still live in Vienna, and we visit every summer. They have come to see the usual tourist sites. They don’t seem to suffer from my burdens of memory.”

For Anna, however, “Going back through D.C. reminds me of how desolate and isolated one can feel in the world.” City of Destiny will be on display at the ICP in Manhattan through May 6.

Read more

‘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.”


Read more