Original Article in The Times Of Israel:

NEW YORK — Sports fanatic Jeremy Posner and his wife Rabbi Paulette Posner have one rule for their three boys when going to a baseball game: “You can’t eat your hot dogs until you finish your ice cream.”

Just because the Posners keep kosher — adhering to the Jewish dietary laws that forbid mixing meat and dairy — doesn’t stop them from being, and eating, like diehard baseball fans.

Recently, the Posners left their apartment on the Upper East Side in Manhattan to get to Citi Field early enough to watch their beloved NY Mets — currently in first place of the National League East division — take batting practice before their game with the Philadelphia Phillies. It was also before the crowds started filing in so they could grab an assortment of kosher classics, including hot dogs, knishes and pretzels, before the lines got too long.

Just a Matt Harvey arm’s throw away at the US Open underway in Flushing Meadows, Jonathan Katz, owner of the Open’s Kosher Grill behind court 17, had already sold nearly 500 hot dogs and all of his wraps to avid, yet hungry, tennis fans.

In between matches — where top Israeli player Dudi Sela crashed out in the first round — the Solomon family of Long Island waited patiently in line at Katz’s popular food stand. With them were their strictly observant cousins Yona and Uri Walfish of Queens, who were delighted they could attend a sports event and not worry about buying food.

“People from all over the world buy kosher hot dogs, people who don’t even know what kosher is want kosher,” said Katz, who manages seven workers every day of the tournament except for Friday night and Saturday.

Katz, who worked on the New York Stock Exchange before starting in the kosher food business, remembers growing up in Queens and going to games where there was no kosher food, except for ice cream. Now you can find it pretty much at any major sporting event.

Katz began serving kosher food in 2003 at New York Giants football games. He then went on to found Kosher Sports Inc., which operates concession stands in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, Miami and elsewhere. His company has even provided kosher food at the Super Bowl, the annual championship game of the National Football League.

Strawberries and parve cream

Dan Eleff, a self-described foodie and founder of dansdeals.com, recently compiled a roundup of 31 professional sports teams that have a kosher food stand, noting the recent addition of one at Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles. The Dodgers are now one of 10 baseball teams — in addition to seven football, seven basketball and seven hockey teams — that offer kosher food across the US and Canada.

But kosher food is not just restricted to North America. You can even find it across the pond in England at Wimbledon, the oldest tennis tournament in the world and one of four Grand Slam events with the US Open as well as the French Open and Australian Open.

In 2009, Rabbi Dovid Cohen of the Chabad of South London started Kosher Court, a kosher truck located outside the stadium.

“We sell several hundred hot dogs, burgers and baked potatoes over a two-week period,” said Cohen, who is particularly proud of serving a Wimbledon classic — strawberries and cream, stressing that the cream is parve and contains no dairy ingredients.

Cohen is unaware of Chabad colleagues selling kosher food at the French or Australian Opens, though he noted that the Jewish movement provided kosher food at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and at various cricket tournaments.

Seventh-inning prayers

Menachem Lubinsky, founding publisher of trade magazine Kosher Todayand creator of Kosherfest, the world’s largest kosher food trade show, observes an increase in kosher food options at sports events throughout the US. In his view, kosher food at sports events is more than a community service to observant Jews.

“It is a recognition of the fact that more and more people require kosher food,” he said.

Food stands, according to Lubinsky, also offer more than just food. The kosher vendors in some stadiums serve as a gathering point for daily prayer services during baseball’s seventh-inning stretch or between periods at NY Rangers hockey games.

“In places like NY, you may find a minyan [prayer quorum] of up to 50 or 60,” he said.

Yet the food stands face challenges, too — kosher vendors close on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays, and sporting events can be infrequent or short-lived.

“Despite the challenges of running a food stand according to halacha [Jewish law], in the end, it is worth it,” Lubinsky said.

And it certainly has been worth it for the Kosher Grill at the US Open as Katz and his staff work in the 92°F (33°C) heat grilling up hotdogs for his Jewish and non-Jewish customers alike.

“We expect to sell up to 600 a day,” he said with a smile.

Read more

Original Article in The Jewish Ledger:

For fans hoping to see Israelis in action at the U.S. Open tennis tournament this year, the key was to show up a week early. Three of the five Israelis hoping to compete in the main draw were out before the tournament even started.

Shahar Peer, Julia Glushko and Amir Weintraub competed in the US Open Qualifying Tournament, which took place at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens, N.Y. August 25-28. Players ranked from approximately 105 to 250 in the world entered a 128, player men’s and women’s draw. More than 30,000 spectators attended the free week-long event.

The 16 men and women who win three straight matches enter the main draw of the U.S. Open, which kicked off on August 31 and will run through Sept. 13. More than 700,000 tennis fans watch the top men’s and women’s players from around the world compete for a staggering $42,253,400 in prize money.

Peer lost in the first round of the qualifiers to Tamira Paszek of Austria 6-2, 6-3. Amir Weintraub lost in the first round to Guilherme Cezar of Brazil 3-6, 6-4, 6-3. Julia Glushko won her first round match to American Julia Boserup 4-6, 6-3, 6-1, but lost in the second round to Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia, 2-6, 6-0, 6-4.

Dudi Sela, ranked 104th in the world, automatically received a spot in men’s singles draw. He lost a tough four-set match to Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay, ranked 40th in the world, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1. “I started off tight but then I felt very good and thought I could win,” said Sela, coming off a tournament win at a Challenger tennis tournament event in Vancouver the week before the Open. Sela plans to return to Israel then travel to Asia for several tournaments.  Despite the loss early in the tournament, he said proudly, “I love tennis and I hope to continue playing as long as I can!”

The last remaining Israeli in the Open, Jonathan “Yoni” Ehrlich, played doubles with new partner Artem Sitak of New Zealand. Erlich is perhaps best known as half of the championship team of “Andyoni.”  His partner, Andy Ram, 35, retired last year after the two won their five-set doubles match versus Argentina in the Davis Cup in Sunrise, Fla. last September. Ram is currently co-founder and CEO of Pulse Play, a company that produces smart watches for tennis and other racket sports.

Erlich and Sitak lost their first round match to the Italian doubles team of Marco Cecchinato and Andres Seppi, 6-7, 6-3, 7-6. Erlich, returning from recent knee surgery and illness, was disappointed with the loss, saying,  “I thought we would go further. We played decent but didn’t take it.”  Erlich will return home to Israel to spend time with his children, 7 and 3.

One Jewish player of note in the Open’s main draw is Diego Schwartzman, 23, of Argentina. Following a first round win, he battled Rafael Nadal, the 8th seed, for nearly three hours, eventually losing 7-6, 6-3, 7-5.  Schwartzman also lost in the second round of the men’s doubles.

Once again, the tournament offered kosher food from Kosher Grill, a food stand just off the main food court. The stand is under kosher supervision and is closed on Shabbat. The Katz operates kosher food stands at many sports stadiums and arenas and has provided kosher food at the Super Bowl.

Read more

Original Article Published On The New York Jewish Week

When the Tikvah Program for campers with disabilities was started in 1970 at Camp Ramah in New England, no one imagined a day when people with disabilities would be meaningfully included in Jewish camping. Now, 45 years later, every Ramah camp in the United States and Canada serves people with disabilities. The National Ramah Tikvah Network includes overnight camp programs, day camp programs, vocational educational programs, family camps and retreats and Israel programs. At Ramah, inclusion is natural, seamless and expected.

Tikvah began as a camping program, in one Ramah location, for campers aged 13 to 18. From the start, Tikva’s visionary founders, Herb and Barbara Greenberg, envisioned a day when the campers would grow up and desire opportunities to become productive citizens. Years before the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law, the Greenbergs taught campers pre-vocational training skills such as following directions, appropriate dress, interacting with supervisors and co-workers and performing various jobs around camp. In 1993, Tochnit Avodah, the newly expanded vocational education program, moved into a newly designed vocational training building: an apartment-like complex with a full kitchen, washer and dryer and living area. Participants ages 18-22 spent a few hours each morning at job sites throughout camp.

Twenty-five years after ADA and after many years of running vocational training programs for people with disabilities at four of our Ramah camps (California, Canada, New England and Wisconsin), we have learned a lot about the realities of job training and employment for people with disabilities. Guiding our work is the Americans with Disabilities Act, which makes it unlawful to discriminate in employment against a qualified individual with a disability, and a staggering 2014 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that only 17.1 percent of persons with a disability were employed. And this number may be high. At Camp Ramah in New England, parents worry their adult children will fall off the cliff after high school ends. In response, we have extended the graduation age for our voc ed program. We continue to partner with foundations and individuals like the Ruderman Family Foundation, the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, the Poses Family Foundation, and the Ramah Israel Bike Ride and Hiking Trip, who share our mission. We recently hired outside consultants to help identify job clusters within camp that may help our participants obtain employment in the outside world, and we have hired outside job coaches to assist. We expanded our job offerings in camp to include food services (through our dining room, bakery and Café Ramah), hospitality (through our six-room Tikvah Guest House), machsan (supply room), mercaz (mail, package and fax room) and more.

Our network of Tikvah Programs will continue to innovate in order to provide vocational training opportunities for people with disabilities. We hope and pray for the day where hiring people with disabilities will be as natural and commonplace as including campers with disabilities at Ramah camps. Click to read more about the vocational education programs at Ramah camps and about the voc ed program at Ramah New England.

Read more

The USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens, New York, home of the US Open, where more than 700,000 tennis fans will watch the top men’s and women’s players from around the world compete for a staggering $42,253,400 in prize money seems a very unlikely place for High Holiday inspiration. Yet, a non-Jewish player with a very Jewish neshama, has a lot to teach us about introspection and spiritual preparation-important lessons as the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe approach. While other players are giving post-match press conferences which focus on the match itself, Mardy Fish is speaking about the difficult road he has traveled these past three years.

Mardy Fish, 33, is an unlikely Elul inspiration though he happens to be married to Stacey Gardner, a Jewish lawyer, model and former host of Deal or No Deal. The two were married in 2008 under a chuppah with close friend, tennis player, James Blake serving as groomsman

Fish is best known for a successful tennis career where he won six tournaments on the main ATP Tour, he reached the finals in the 2004 Olympics, and was in the quarterfinals in the 2007 Australian Open, the 2008 US Open, and the 2011 Wimbledon Championships. In April 2011, Fish overtook fellow American and close friend, Andy Roddick to become the American No. 1 in the ATP rankings. Fish earned more than $7.3 million in prize money as a professional tennis player, and he reached a career high of 7th in the world.

Then, in 2012, everything began to change. Fish began to experience some health problems which impacted his tennis career. At first, Fish reported fatigue as the reason for not playing during the European clay court season. He also withdrew from the 2012 French Open. During the year, he was treated for sever cardiac arrhythmia and had cardiac catheter ablation to correct cardiac arrhythmia. Fish used a heart monitor regularly and experienced sleep difficulties.

Ranked 23rd for the US Open, Fish withdrew in the 4th round before his match with Roger Federer. As Fish and his wife were about to leave the gate to return to Los Angeles, his wife saw how Fish had panicked and his heart was racing. Gardner insisted they got off the plane, and they chartered a private jet five days later. Fish was afraid to leave the house for three months.

Fish continued to experience crippling anxiety and panic attack for thirty minutes each day. He was eventually diagnosed with anxiety disorder and panic attacks.

Fish hasn’t played much tennis since 2012. In 2013, he competed in 9 matches, took up golf, and spent a lot of time with his young son, Beckett. Fish recently decided to return to Queens to play in one last US Open; he will retire when he is no longer in the tournament.

In preparation for his retirement, Fish has played in some recent tournaments. He lost in the first round of a tournament this summer in Atlanta to Israeli Dudi Sela, and lost in the second round in Cincinnati to Andy Murray. He has also had some success in doubles this summer.

But most importantly, Fish has come a long way in these three years and is an inspiration to all who hear his story. Fish has become a spokesperson for anxiety and panic disorder and for mental illness. And Fish is an inspiration to sportswriters.

After US Open matches, players are required to speak to members of the media, if requested. Some players, especially in the early rounds, don’t attract much attention. And questions tend to focus on the match just played, on the upcoming opponent, etc. The Fish post-match conference was attended by 40 or 50 reporters and photographers. The transcript of the Mardy Fish press conference filled four typed pages, with most questions focusing on his anxiety disorder. The transcript could not adequately capture Fish’s calm, thoughtful demeanor.

Fish entered the interview room, freshly showered after his first round US Open match (Monday) on the Grandstand court. He had just defeated 102nd ranked Marco Cecchniato of Italy 6-7, 6-3, 6-1, 6-3. The crowd was clearly behind Fish “We love you Mardy Fish!” “All these years, we’ll appreciate you!”

One reporter asked what exactly anxiety disorder is. “Well, anxiety disorder is when your mind takes over and usually goes into the future and sort of predicts what you think is going to happen, and usually it’s bad stuff.”  Another reporter asked about other athletes with anxiety issues. Fish noted that several tennis players — men and women — have approached him confidentially, to speak about anxiety. He noted that he sought out roles models in the sports world with the same issue who had “beaten it” or who had success with it and were able to come back again.” But he wasn’t able to find those people.”

So HE has become that person. “It helps me personally to be open and talk about it.” When asked what he would want his legacy to be as a player and as a role model, he said, “I just hope to help people — it helps me to talk about it. Maybe it helps other people to talk about it.”

Fish’s introspection and honesty struck me as very appropriate and inspiring for the pre-Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur season. During Elul, the month before Rosh HaShanah, we examine how we have behaved during the past year, and we think about how we can improve our behavior in the coming year. We consider atonement, ask forgiveness, reconcile, and to seek closeness with God. Fish has clearly accepted who he is and he has made an action plan to heal — both himself, and the world. He helps others by speaking openly about mental illness, and he has been working with Athlete Ally, an organization which combats homophobia in sports.

As I watched Fish playing on the same courts where his difficulties started three short years ago, I thought of the Rambam, Moses Maimonides, in Hilchot Teshuva, Laws of Repentance. What is complete teshuva? When a person has the opportunity to commit the same sin and he possesses the ability to do it, but he separates and does not do it because of teshuva — and not out of fear or lack of strength. Fish did nothing wrong. He does not need to “do teshuva.” But I think he is taking Rambam’s advice — he is going back to the place where his troubles started, and he is gaining mastery. “I desperately wanted to come back and change that narrative,” Fish told reporters. “I feel really good.”

May we all work to achieve a level of honesty and comfort with ourselves and our lives and to write new narratives. And may we all get home safely (and in time) from the men’s finals on Erev Rosh Hashana. Shana Tova

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

Read more