All baking done in home-based kitchen in Roslyn, New York (Long Island, NY)

“Delicious custom chocolate covered treats for all occasions including chocolate covered Oreos, s’mores, graham crackers, cake pops and more. Ability to put company logo or any logo on most creations for corporate events, wedding, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs and more.”

From the Website:

“Ability, not Disability….no limits for me! Since the day I was born I have been conquering obstacles. My name is Alexa. I am a unique entrepreneur because I have Down Syndrome, which is a part of me but does not define or limit me. I have always dreamed about running my own business and now my dream is a reality. From a young age, I enjoyed baking and decorating desserts to make people happy and smile. I started Truly Scrumptious by Alexa by making delicious custom chocolate covered treats for all occasions. My family and friends loved them so much that they asked me to make them for their special events. It all started with a bowl of melted chocolate and an Oreo! Today I am making all sorts of custom designed treats like chocolate covered Oreos, s’mores, cake pops and more. I can even put your company logo on my creations for corporate events. What an incredible feeling to see the look on people’s faces when they bite into a “Truly Scrumptious” treat. “

In the Media: (podcast)

The Visit:

I have known Alexa for many years as she has been a participant in many of our Camp Ramah in New England and National Ramah programs. Currently, Alexa participates in the vocational training program at Camp Ramah in New England. Families of young adults with disabilities all give a great deal of thought to what “comes next” after graduation from high school. Her mom, Carrie notes that Alexa recently turned 21 and worried about Alexa “falling off the cliff,” a term used by many parents of young adults with disabilities to describe the predicament when there are no longer services guaranteed and provided post-graduation. Alexa therefore became founder “chief employee” of Truly Scrumptious by Alexa.

“I love baking. I used to help my mom cook and bake and liked to help. I would come home from school and bake brownies. I learned to make cupcakes and mini bundt cakes on my own, and chocolate chip cookies,” Alexa reports. Alexa adds, “I love chocolate covered Oreos. I eat them in a heartbeat!”

Alexa took her love for chocolate to a new level when she made 250 cake pops in the colors of Roslyn (the local) High School for her brother’s graduation. They were very well received and people began calling with additional baking requests.

The Chalups report that Alexa initially started baking for fun, but the business continues to grow and evolve. They have purchased a special color printer for printing logos on her baked goods, and she has the support of community habilitation workers. Mother Carrie helps (i.e. cutting complex patterns), and reports, “I am hard on her,” meaning she stresses the need for a very clean work environment and for Alexa to put her hair up in a ponytail while working. The two have hired other young adults with disabilities on occasion, though they have cut back on hiring outside help during the recent Covid pandemic.

Alexa’s parents are proud of her and note that they took Alexa’s interest and helped her develop it. “The ball was rolling so we went with it. She had momentum and we had momentum. That’s how it came about.” Mom notes, “It makes Alexa feel good.” She adds, “society labels you as disabled. Why do you need to feel disabled?”

I observed Alexa carefully and patiently taking out ingredients from the cupboard, setting up her work station, and making chocolate covered oreos. I also viewed various products about to be packaged and shipped. According to the website, approximate pricing is as follows:

  • 12 Oreos on a plate for $38
  • 12 chocolate covered s’mores on a plate for $62
  • 12 chocolate covered Graham crackers for $54 (prices do not include shipping)

Lessons Learned/Challenges/Advice:

  1. It is extremely important to have the support of the community, family and friends. This helps to promote the business.
  2. Let your child with special needs have dreams and help them to achieve them. It isn’t easy, but it can be done.
  3. Support the business, but continue to teach and let the person with special needs continue to learn all parts of the business.
  4. Try to keep your costs as low as possible, buy supplies wholesale and try not to make mistakes in production, take your time.
  5. Time management is important, as Alexa gets tired or overwhelmed when she has a lot of orders.
  6. Supporting Alexa with her company with Com Hab workers has been extremely helpful.

Mom also stresses the need to “help kids become employable.” This sometimes involves telling them “negative things and not just feel good things.” She notes the importance of sharing honest feedback. For example, she may say, “Alexa that doesn’t look good!” “We need to set the bar higher for people with disabilities so they can be more successful in the workplace!”

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Original Article Published On The JNS

Israeli-American pitcher Dean Kremer, 25, took to the mound in an Orioles-Yankees game that ended with a 7-2 win for the home team. Still, he now holds a place in the record books.

Baltimore Orioles pitcher Dean Kremer holds the distinction of being the only Israeli to pitch at “The House That Ruth Built.”

After Tuesday night’s start against the Yankees in New York City, he reported that “pitching at Yankee Stadium felt pretty good. This time, it was better because there were fans. It was definitely an experience.”

After giving up a leadoff single to DJ LeMahieu, Kremer—the 25-year-old Israeli-American starting pitcher for Baltimore Orioles—was just as quickly knocked off the mound by an Aaron Judge line drive, which Yankees’ radio announcer John Sterling described as a “bullet up the middle” that “drilled him.” Announcer Suzyn Waldman observed that Kremer was “wincing.”

While Orioles manager Brandon Hyde and the team trainer were assessing Kremer’s ability to continue, Waldman shared the young player’s biography, which includes having two Israeli parents who served in the Israel Defense Forces, his spending summers in Israel and his having a history of pitching for Israel’s National Team. Waldman noted Kremer’s impressive record against the Yankees last year when he was called up by the Orioles at the end of the season.

“He had two terrific games against the Yankees,” said Hyde. In those two appearances, Kremer pitched 11 innings, gave up two runs and had 14 strikeouts.

Kremer’s impressive first season earned him a spot in this year’s starting rotation for the Orioles. He struck out seven batters in six innings pitched in his Major League debut last season at Camden Yards in Baltimore. He had 22 strikeouts in 18 innings, while also giving up 12 walks.

Dean Kremer speaking to the media after his start at Yankee Stadium. Source: Screenshot.

After Tuesday night’s scare, which Kremer reported “luckily got me in the meat and not in a bad spot,” he got back on his feet. “It got tight at first, then loosened. I just kept going.”

He struck out the next three batters and threw a total of 80 pitches before leaving with the Orioles trailing 1-0 in the fourth inning. Kremer gave up four walks, five hits and five strikeouts. The Yankees held on to win 7-2 behind starter Gerrit Cole’s 13 strikeouts in seven scoreless innings.

‘Being the first to do something is an incredible honor’

Born and raised in Stockton, Calif., Kremer pitched for the Team USA baseball team in the 2013 Maccabiah Games in Israel, winning a gold medal. In 2014 and 2015, he pitched for Israel in the qualifying rounds for the European Baseball Championship. Also in 2015, he became the first Israeli drafted by a Major League Baseball team; he was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 38th round but chose not to sign.

He was drafted again by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 14th round of the 2016 MLB draft. He pitched in September 2016 in the qualifier for Israel at the 2017 World Baseball Classic. The Dodgers traded him to the Orioles in 2018, where he led all Minor League pitchers in strikeouts.

Oon the mound for the Baltimore Orioles. Credit: Courtesy of Baltimore Orioles.

Cody Decker, who played for the San Diego Padres and various other Major League teams (mostly with Minor League affiliates) as well as for Team Israel, and is known for bringing the team’s mascot, “The Mensch on the Bench,” from the United States to Asia for the World Baseball Classic, is proud of his Team Israel teammate. “Dean is a great kid with a live arm and bright future—and when he grows it out, he has GREAT hair!”

Kremer is proud of his Team Israel experience and of being the first Israeli citizen in the MLB. “It means everything to me,” he said. “Just being the first to do something is an incredible honor.”

He noted that he values his time with Team Israel. “Being around those guys—the guys on the team were much older or a few years older—with Big League experience helped me get to where I am now. It was a pretty unbelievable experience.”

Peter Kurz, Israel Association of Baseball (IAB) President and general manager of Team Israel, loved having Kremer on the team and is “very excited to have Dean open up the season against the Yankees.”

Kurz, whose Team Israel is preparing for this July’s Tokyo Olympics (rescheduled from 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic) added that “Dean is on Team Israel’s extended roster, but as a 26-man roster MLB player, he will not be eligible to play for us in the Olympics. We want to wish him the best of luck in the upcoming season and his career.”

Hyde said he is proud of his starter and sees great potential in the young player. “He pitched well and battled through. He threw a lot of pitches and ran out of gas in the fourth inning.”

Still, he said he is pleased that Kremer has four pitches, and admires his “starter mentality and toughness” and feels he “will continue to improve.”

Announcer Sterling pointed out that Kremer’s Yankee Stadium pitching debut took place on the same day in Yankees history when Jewish baseball player Ron Blomberg became the first designated hitter for MLB. On April 6, 1973, at Boston’s Fenway Park, Blomberg was walked by Red Sox pitcher Luis Tiant with the bases loaded in the first inning. The bat he used now stands on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Baltimore Orioles Israeli-American pitcher Dean Kremer. Credit: Johnny Douglas/Baltimore Orioles.
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Tuesday night, I celebrated a first, just as Deni Avdija was marking two firsts.  I attended my first in person sports event in over a year.  Deni, the Washington Wizards rookies from Israel, made his Madison Square Garden debut.  He scored 14 points before fouling out in a pretty big Wizards loss.  (As I started writing this blog, the Wizards were ahead of the Knicks in their Thursday rematch at MSG—for 3 periods. Sadly, they lost 106-102).

The fact that an entire season of basketball is taking place, in arenas across the country–a year into the Covid 19 pandemic—is nothing short of incredible. Last year, the NBA pulled it off by having everyone in a bubble.  No fans and few members of the media witnessed it in person.

This season, I have been lucky enough to have Washington Wizards media credentials, have been attending Zoom media sessions, and have written many articles for JNS and the Jerusalem Post about the 20 year old Israeli taken by the Wizards #9 in the recent NBA draft   I was eager to see Deni play in person.  When I saw that the Wizards would be in New York for a Sunday game against the Nets in Brooklyn and Tuesday/Thursday games against the Knicks, I applied for media credentials.  I fished my wish! I was granted credentials for Tuesday.

Here is where I tip my hat first to the NBA and then to the Knicks and Madison Square Garden.  The NBA takes great precautions to keep players, coaches and fans safe.  Players including Deni have been on Covid protocol at various points over the summer.  Some even missed the NBA All-Star game for the same reason. Once credentials were granted, I was told I would need to arrive no later than 3:45 pm for a 7:30 game.  Each staff member at MSG and all media are required to undergo onsite health screening and Covid testing. 

The process was organized and calm, and all employees of MSG remained similarly calm and in good spirits.  Everyone logged in to the system, was swabbed and waited for (hopefully) negative test results. I was told that there is an extra NBA stringency for media and I was escorted to a special seat (seat #1) in the balcony of the Theater at MSG. I was told it would take “about 45 minutes.”  I was told not to leave my seat under any circumstances.  I spoke from afar with a fellow journalist I knew from other sports events.  I had a 45-minute tutoring lesson about Passover with a student.  Two hours later, I was told I was negative.  After 15 more minutes, I was given a wristband and escorted with two other journalists to our seats on The Bridge at MSG.

Walking along The Bridge is a walk down MSG memory lane—one passes retired Knicks and Rangers jerseys, championship banners and special tributes to long concert runs (Phish, Billy Joel, etc.).  We were shown the bathrooms, the table with hot dogs, pretzels and water, and our very socially distanced work stations.  We were not to leave our area.  In past years, media was allowed to enter the locker room at appointed times to interview players (I once brought humus to Omri Casspi!), attend the coach press conference in the hallway, watch practice from the court, and we were free to wander the stadium to interview fans.  Not this year.

The Garden is at 10% capacity, which means no more than 2,000 fans. It was a ghost town, but a happy ghost town with fans cheering, a DJ for Noche Latina de los Knicks, and Knicks City Dancers—on the screen, prerecorded. I would have ordinarily gone down to speak with the two waving the Israeli flags to see why they are Deni and Wizards super-fans.  Not tonight.

Tonight was a night to feel lucky to see Deni in person.  It was a night to watch Deni high fiving such NBA stars as Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal and to remember that this 20-year-old Israeli is in the same league as these legends.  It was a night to think about just how far this young Israeli is from home—and to see just how adaptable and resilient he has been, traversing his new country, in the middle of a pandemic.  It was a night to hope that one day soon, I will get to meet and interview Deni.

Then, by dumb luck, I DID get to see Deni!  Two minutes after Deni spoke to the media via Zoom, I was leaving the Garden and spotted 20 religious boys chanting his name.  Then…Deni appeared!  He was behind a barricade, escorted to the team bus.  He was not permitted to sign autographs (though one shouted, “sign my tissue, Deni!”), but he smiled and waved to his admiring fans.

It is clear that Deni is here to stay. He is a young up and coming mensch who will one post-Covid day sign lots of autographs and schmooze with admiring fans—young and adult, Israeli and American, Jewish and non-Jewish, for years to come. Happy Passover, Deni! 

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Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post

Israeli rookie scores 14 points in first performance at iconic New York arena, but fouls out

NEW YORK – It has been a season of many firsts for Washington Wizards Israeli rookie Deni Avdija.

The highlights have included playing against NBA legend LeBron James and playing side-by-side with teammates Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal, and on Tuesday night Avdija experienced another new experience – his first trip to Manhattan’s legendary Madison Square Garden arena, sort of. It was technically his second time in the famous New York sports and concert venue, which first opened its doors in 1879, but his first official NBA contest there.

In anticipation of the Wizards’ current road trip to the Big Apple, which included a 113-106 loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday, and features games versus the Knicks Tuesday and Thursday, Avdija playfully said: “I watched a game at Madison Square Garden when I was in eighth grade, when I was with Maccabi [Tel Aviv] on a trip to the United States. We were in New York and at the Garden, but I wasn’t playing at the Garden. I never played on the floor. So it is going to be like a closed circle, you can say. It is cool and exciting. Every new gym that I see, I adore. It’s nice. It is a dream come true!

”Washington coach Scott Brooks was hopeful that the 20-year-old would have more luck at the Garden this week than he has had in the past 23 games. He has been in a three-point slump, shooting only 23 percent from deep, and hasn’t been seeing much playing time in recent games. Brooks likes Avdija and understands his frustration, and offers constant support and guidance.“

The hardest thing for a young player in this league to understand is that you will go through some tough times, but you’ve got to stay confident as best you can and when you do, you will get out on the other side and be a much better player,” noted Brooks. “He hasn’t shot the ball well in the last 23 games. He knows that, we all know that. I still want him to shoot open shots. He doesn’t have to force anything. I told him, I met with him yesterday, I told him run, use your speed, use your ability to get up the court, and try to get yourself an easy one and make a couple of layups and transition, maybe you get yourself fouled and get to the free-throw line, and all of the sudden, the basket doesn’t seem as small as it does when you don’t make any.”

The Knicks entered Tuesday’s contest with a 21-22 record; the Wizards were 15-26. Avdija saw action for the first time with 4:44 remaining in the first quarter with the Wizards leading 22-21. He remained on court for the remainder of the quarter, pulling down one rebound, and missing his only shot. He committed two fouls in the remainder of the quarter and a third foul in the early minutes of the second quarter. He was benched for the remainder of the half to stay out of foul trouble. The Wizards trailed 69-49 at halftime.

Avdija returned to action in the third quarter, scoring five points (one three-pointer), securing a second rebound and committing his fourth personal foul. The Knicks led by as much as 31 points in the quarter.

Avdija had a strong fourth period, scoring eight points (including two free-throws), while committing his fifth personal foul. Avdija’s physical style makes him no stranger to fouling; he averages 4.2 fouls per 36 minutes of play.

“I like being physical on defense. That was my kind of name [while playing for Maccabi Tel Aviv],” Avdija has said. “Since I got here, I’m getting a lot of calls because of that. I’m not going to say I’m less physical, I’m going to be smarter with my physicality.”Avdija ended his Garden debut with another first. He committed his sixth personal foul and fouled out for the first time. The Knicks held on to win 131-113 in front of a small but spirited home-town crowd.

Avdija finished with 14 points and four rebounds in just under 22 minutes of action before fouling out, recording a -5 plus/minus while on the floor.

“I played hard,” said Avdija of his performance. “I tried my best even though I fouled out. We will prepare the best we can and come back different for our next game against the Knicks. Losing three games [in New York] is not acceptable.

“I believe we are getting there. The season is not over yet. Everyone hates losing; hopefully we will lose as little as possible.

”The Garden, with a usual capacity of 20,789, is only operating at 10% capacity due to COVID-19 restrictions. According to the MSG website, new guidelines make it easier for fans to attend as they can now enter with proof of a negative antibody test or full coronavirus vaccination. Members of the media were required to arrive four hours prior to 7:30 p.m. tip off for a health screening and COVID test (I was required to sit in a designated seat for two hours until my results came back negative). Journalists were escorted to media seating and not permitted to leave their designated area during the game. All media sessions pre- and post-game were on Zoom.

From the media section on “the bridge,” located near large banners of retired Knicks and Rangers players, championship pennants, and special banners marking such milestones as “Phish The Bakers Dozen” (12 consecutive nights at the Garden, Summer 2017) and “Billy Joel 119” – most lifetime performances by any artist, reporters look down on thousands of empty seats and scattered fans. Among the small crowd was a mini section of Israeli flag-waving Avdija fans.

Israeli-American Matan Karudo, a 21-year-old Wizards super-fan, was seeing Deni play in person for the second night in three days.

“On Sunday at Barclays Center, I managed to get the closest seats I could to the Wizards!” In contrast to the relatively small Israeli presence at Madison Square Garden, Karudo noted, “There was a massive Israeli and Jewish presence in the section and arena. There were lots of Hebrew speakers I spoke to! We were all excited to see him play! I brought my flag and waved it the whole time.”Karudo was determined to get Avdija’s autograph, but was too far away. Instead, Karudo said, “he tossed me his wristband! That was really exciting! I hope to frame it with my anticipated signed jersey that I’m trying to get this week.

”At the Garden, Karudo sat close to the court with his Israeli-born uncle, Kobi Avgi, who exclaimed, “I want our Israelis to succeed in the NBA. I am a lifelong Knicks fan, but today I am cheering for the Wizards!

”On this night, cheers were not enough.

Coach Brooks was not impressed with his team’s performance.

“They outplayed us from the start. If you don’t compete with some physicality, it will be a long night. We didn’t play well – starters or the bench. It needs to be better going into the next game.

”The Wizards and Avdija have one more chance to beat the Knicks at MSG this week. Tip-off is 7:30 p.m. ET Thursday.

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