Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post

The first annual Jerusalem Marathon later this month will provide spectacular views of 5,000+ years of history for spectators and competitors alike.

All competitors, that is, except for Richard Bernstein, a blind attorney from Detroit, Michigan.

Bernstein, 37, does not allow his lifelong lack of sight to limit his athletic endeavors.

The 42-kilometer race on March 25 will be his 14th marathon – not to mention an Iron Man in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, in 2008 and the Eilat Israman half-Iron in January.

The civil rights attorney only first got involved with sports after completing law school at Northwestern University.

“When I was growing up, expectations were much lower for people with disabilities,” he said. “The general consensus was that disabled people have no reason to compete or do physical fitness.”

Not being able to compete took a toll on Bernstein’s self-esteem.

“When you are younger, the leaders of the school – the cool kids – were the athletes,” he said.

Bernstein’s athletic pursuits are more than personal; he’s on a mission to change the public understanding of what disabled people can do.

“Playing sports gives legitimacy to blind people,” he said.

Running in Israel has added significance.

Over the course of the many trips Bernstein has taken to Israel, Israelis have always been accommodating and have gone to great lengths to help the blind athlete. Bernstein recounts buses which have strayed from their typical routes to bring him where he needs to go. People have gotten out of cars at red lights to help him cross an intersection.

He attributes the extreme kindness to the fact that “no one is afraid of being touchy-feely [in Israel]. They’d rather tackle me than tell me a car is coming,” he said.

Currently, people with disabilities are not required to serve in the Israel Defense Forces, where mandatory service for most citizens is, of course, the norm. Competing in the marathon is one way to advocate for the integration of the military, a significant part of Israeli culture.

In turn, Bernstein hopes to change societal perceptions and promote full integration of people with disabilities into Israeli society.

Aiding him in his mission is Shaked, a pilot in the Israel Air Force whose last name can not be printed for security reasons.

Shaked acts as Bernstein’s set of eyes – “the best guide I’ve ever had” – by giving him directional cues such as “hard right” and “soft left” when running.

“My skills come from seeing things from different perspectives,” Shaked said. “I close my eyes and see what might scare him.”

During the Eilat Israman triathlon, they rode a tandem bike and swam with a rope connecting them at the waist.

Shaked was the perfect partner.

Not only did he plan five steps ahead, accurately grade inclines and declines, and articulate every potential footfall, but he also shared the same ideals of raising disabilities awareness in Israel.

For years, the IAF pilot has been advocating for the inclusion of people with special needs into the army.

Shaked had one young man working for him as a graphic designer of pilots’ checklists; another worked in a unit sweeping the floor and performing odd jobs around the base.

Regardless of the job his recruits with disabilities do, Shaked hopes that his work will affect the mentality of the typical soldiers and eventually promote complete acceptance and integration of people with disabilities into Israeli culture.

Richard Bernstein has lived his own life fully integrated. He is a civil rights attorney, primarily handling cases in support of rights for the disabled, and he also is a professor at the University of Michigan, where he teaches social justice.

Practicing law is yet another opportunity to affect change.

“I believe in what I’m doing so strongly. I know that through the law, I can make a difference,” he said.

He didn’t complete law school without significant hardship, though.

Bernstein convinced Northwestern – which eventually changed its policy – that the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) was discriminatory against the visually impaired.

Without being able to see, Bernstein spent hours memorizing and internalizing material during his years in law school. He prepares similarly for trial by learning case law and all of the arguments by heart.

One of the biggest challenges Bernstein had to overcome was lowered expectations.

“There were so many people who said ‘college isn’t for you; law school isn’t for you.’ But I knew this was the kind of work I desperately wanted to do,” he said.

It took him four to five times longer to learn the material than it took his classmates.

All of the effort was for a greater purpose.

“I promised God that if He gave me the chance to graduate and pass the bar exam, I’d dedicate my life to representing people with special needs and make justice.”

That is exactly what he did. Today, he works exclusively pro bono in the public services division of his father’s law firm, choosing the cases that will have the greatest impact on people who otherwise would have no legal representation.

Participation in over 14 major races is a monumental accomplishment, but for Richard, running also provides for a spiritual relationship with God.

Training for a 42-kilometer race without the ability to see takes a tremendous amount of mental discipline and involves working through pain, hardship and difficulty.

“For me to work through that struggle, I was able to have a genuine connection with a higher being,” he said.

Shaked also feels that his work is a reflection of his Judaism.

“We are making a Kiddush Hashem [sanctification of God’s name] by changing lives,” he said.

Bernstein has spent his entire life trying to open eyes and pave new trails, and he sees this latest endeavor as another landmark event on his bigpicture journey.

“God will give you what you need when you need it most,” he said.

“The Jerusalem marathon is going to be just another struggle I will overcome.”

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Original Article Published on The BabagaNewz

Is Israel behind the worm that is wreaking havoc on Iran’s nuclear program?

It is 2:00am and the room is dark, lit only by the screen of his laptop. While the rest of the city sleeps, he is wide awake, programming. It’s a test of skill, a quest for power. He wants to see if he can do it, if he has what it takes to penetrate a secure network and spread a computer virus throughout the world.

Or maybe he is a she. The sun shines brightly in the afternoon sky as she works to create a worm that will wreak havoc in Iran’s nuclear power plants. For her, it’s all in a days work. She was trained by an Israeli intelligence unit for just such a mission. Many lives millions of Israeli lives depend on her unit’s success.

Or maybe the hacker is someone else entirely.

SPREADING STUXNET

Worms and viruses are forms of malware, or malicious software. They are designed to access a computer system without permission in order to harm the data or performance of the computer whether it belongs to an individual, a company, or a country. Worms use computer networks to send copies to other computers on the network. They are the ones who raid your e-mail address book and send messages to all your friends.

The creator of a worm known as Stuxnet whether similar to one of these fictional sketches or not is responsible for much destruction. The worm, first detected in 2009, has spread through computers in Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Russia, and Iran. Sixty percent of the computers world-wide infected by Stuxnet were in Iran, including a command module at an Iranian nuclear facility. The fact that so many Iranian computers were infected suggests that Iran is the real target of the malicious virus. It’s pretty clear based on the infection behavior that installations in Iran are being targeted, explained Kevin Hogan, Senior Director of Security Response at Symantec.

But who is doing the targeting? Where did the worm come from and why does it target Iran? Only the real programmer knows for sure who produced this nearly untraceable, imperceptible worm. But, at the moment, many fingers are pointed at Israel.

WHY SUSPECT ISRAEL?

The Stuxnet worm is slowing down Iran’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons by sabotaging its computers. The United States and Israel are top Stuxnet suspects because both countries openly admit that they want to undermine Iran’s uranium enrichment plant. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of Iran, has repeatedly said that the Jewish state will die, and many perceive his speeches as calls to destroy Israel. Israel wants to prevent Iran from having the weapons to do just that.

In addition, Israel has emerged as a top suspect because of a possible link to the Purim story. One of the files in the Stuxnet code is called Myrtus, which some security experts believe is an allusion to Esther, the well-known queen of King Achashverosh. In Megillat Esther we learn that Esther had two meaningful names: And [Mordechai] had reared Hadassah, she is Esther¦ (Esther 2:7). The name Esther means hidden. The name Hadassah, on the other hand, comes from the Hebrew word hadas, or myrtleone of the plants also used in the four species of Sukkot since her complexion was olive green like myrtle leaves. In addition, the Purim story took place in Iran.

Although Myrtus, as used in the Stuxnet worm, might simply refer to the myrtle, a plant important to many cultures in the region, some are fairly convinced of the Esther/Hadassah/Myrtle/Myrtus connection and its implication of an Israeli link. Yossi Melman, a reporter for Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, told the New York Times that he suspects Israel was involved. Others, including Shai Blitzblau, an Israeli information security expert, doubt that Israel had a hand in spreading the worm. Blitzblau computer warfare company studied the worm extensively and he is convinced that Israel had nothing to do with Stuxnet. For now, at least, this case remains unsolved.

THE JEWISH VIEW

In the Purim story, Haman plotted to annihilate the Jews. Instead of accepting their fate, however, the Jews staged a successful pre-emptive strike against Haman, his ten sons, and the people in Achashverosh kingdom who were out to kill. This was clearly an act of self-defense against a rodef (an attacker who presents a clear and direct threat to human life).

Judaism permits people to defend themselves against an unjust pursuer of human life a rodef and even kill the rodef to save a human life when no other way to save innocent people is presented (Shemot 22:1 and Sanhedrin 72a). Although Jewish law does not allow the destruction of someone else’s property for no reason (including someone else’s computer system), such destruction would be permitted to save the life of a human being.

If Iran is in fact developing nuclear weapons in order to wipe out Israel, then the State of Israel has the right to protect its citizens from nuclear annihilation, if need be, by killing the people who are constructing these weapons of mass destruction, and certainly by inflicting damage to property of those who are seeking to kill its citizens. Indeed, Jewish law maintains as do most legal systems that while one cannot kill innocent people to save the life of other innocent people, one may damage the property of innocent people to save human lives. Even if innocent computers were destroyed by the Stuxnet virus, that would be permitted to save the lives of innocent people.

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SECAUCUS, N.J. – In his keynote presentation entitled, “State of the Kosher Industry: The Transition of Kosher Foods to a New Level,” Menachem Lubinsky, President and CEO of LUBICOM Marketing Consulting, pointed out just how far the kosher food industry has come. “In the early years, there were nine booths with potato kugel. Then there were 10 or 12 booths displaying sponge cake. Now, there are gourmet and health products–change has come to the kosher food industry in a dramatic way !”

Lubinsky was referring to the rows and rows of booths at Kosherfest, the trade show for the kosher food industry, which took place Oct. 26 and 27 at the Meadlowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus, N.J. Kosherfest is the yearly gathering of everyone who’s anyone in the kosher food industry-manufacturers, distributors, certifying agencies, cookbook authors, magazines, camps, restaurants, caterers and more.

Lubinsky further notes that today’s kosher consumer is much younger, more health conscious, and has learned to navigate the retail map, shopping in a variety of stores –from supermarkets, to smaller independent kosher markets, to stories like Costco.

A walk through the aisles at the two-day show gave a glimpse of the 125,000 kosher products now available in U.S. supermarkets, produced in the plants of 10,650 kosher producing companies–all contributing to a market with a dollar value of $12,500,000,000.

Old favorites displaying products include Manischewitz, Streit, Tulkoff, Barton’s Chocolates, Gold’s and Osem. But even these companies came with new products and new packaging.

There were corporate “tie ins,” too. Cookbook author, Susie Fishbein, was promoting her new book, “Kosher by Design: Teens and 20-Somethings,” in front of the Kolatin kosher gelatin booth, and Jamie Geller, author of “Quick and Kosher Recipes from the Bride Who Knew Nothing” and the new “Quick and Kosher: Meals in Minutes,” was distributing recipe cards at the Kosher.com booth. There are many new, tasty products to look for on super market and specialty store shelves. Chocolate raspberry macaroons by Lily Bloom’s Kitchen, were voted both best new dessert/candy and Best In Show-First Runner Up.

Elite Natural 100% Organic Juices, with a plant in Ankara, Turkey, offers an assortment of juices, including pear, quince, honeydew melon and pomegranate. President, Ali Suman and Vice President Mark Rollino were happy to answer all of my questions, including number of watermelons it takes for one bottle of their watermelon juice (it takes 8). The juice was voted Kosherfest’s Best New Beverage; and, in case you wanted to know, it takes 20 or 23 pomegranates to fill a bottle of the company’s pomegranate juice and in development is a juice made of persimmons.

Kind Healthy Snacks offered samples of its six new all natural gluten free flavors (my favorites: apple cinnamon and pecan, and pomegranate blueberry pistachio + antioxidants). Big Apple Pretzels passed out soft pretzels. Freund’s Fish Market had sushi for the taking. Steve Katz, owner of Katz’s Bakery in Southfield, Mich. was handing out very tasty seven layer cake samples.

A record number of countries were represented — from Poland to Ecuador, Argentina, Canada, Lithuania, Switzerland, Belgium, England, Spain, Australia, China and of course, Israel. Osem chefs prepared Israeli whole wheat and tri-color cous cous. Vegetali vegetarian hot dogs in a blanket was voted Best New Fine Food from Israel (and they had many other wonderful vegetarian products–including Moroccan cigars). Neviot is hoping to soon bring their bottled water and flavored water to the American market; the Etz Hazait Collection of oils of Haifa, marketed as “The recipe for good health,” is also “not here yet but looking to be here,” according to Shirley Rocheli, company spokesperson.

Other items of interest include Sue Fishkoff’s new book “Kosher Nation: Why More and More of America’s Food Answers to a Higher Authority;” a new bi-monthly kosher food magazine, entitled “Kosher Inspired;” “New York Kosher News,” a free publication of Kashrus Magazine focusing on New York and New Jersey area kashrut news.

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Aaron Rudolph’s drive to work from his home in West Hartford to the Walgreen’s Distribution Center in Windsor is usually uneventful. Having special needs and landing a meaningful job often poses more of a challenge.

Rudolph is one of the lucky ones. A story in the Hartford Courant five years ago about a yet-to-be-built Walgreens facility, a meeting with a job counselor at the Bureau of Rehab Services in Hartford, and a drop of good fortune were all part of the young man’s journey toward meaningful employment.

After graduating from high school, Rudolph began a one-year food service training program at Manchester Community College. He was then connected to a job counselor, which led to some work in food services. A job counselor was impressed with his work and suggested that Rudolph might be a good candidate for the Walgreen’s program. Following an interview to assess his job and social skills, and a nine-week, eight-hour a day unpaid training program in different areas of potential employment, followed by nine-week training stints, Rudolph was ultimately hired by Walgreens.

The 24-year old West Hartford resident, who loves the Beatles, Beach Boys and You Tube, has been to Israel four times, and regularly attends The Emanuel Synagogue, recently celebrated his nine-month anniversary as a Walgreens’ employee. While initially hired to work in the AKL division (where he essentially moved quickly up and down the aisles filling orders), he was soon switched to “detrash,” where he rapidly opens boxes and transfers items to plastic bins and places them on a conveyer belt.

Rudolph works 40 hours per week, and has full benefits – like sick time, medical, dental, a 401K and stock options, and soon he will be eligible for two weeks paid vacation.

“When you think of people with cognitive disabilities, they are usually involved in menial jobs or they work in workshops-they often bag groceries or work a few hours a week. And you always worry about how secure the job is-especially during an economic downturn. At Walgreen’s, Aaron has the potential to be there a long time,” reports the young man’s mother, Alison Rudolph, who explains that her son has mild to high functioning autism.

Her son, she says, couldn’t be more proud of his work noting that he “always speaks up and enunciates” when asked about his work” and “never complains when he is asked to do mandatory overtime.”

Rudoph is, perhaps, a bit more candid in describing his work. “It is nice, but it has its tough moments!” he says. “Sometimes the boxes I open are pretty hard. When I open the plastic wrapping, sometimes it goes all over the floor-especially with the huge fan going!”

But he does enjoy the camaraderie of his fellow workers. “I get along with them, I have lunch with them, and we sometimes talk about our weekends,” he says. “I feel great working full time and I feel good about the job!”

“Aaron is a great employee,” Joe Wendover, Walgreens’ outreach manager at the Windsor Distribution Center, told the Ledger. “Hiring Aaron helps to show other employers that it is a good thing and the right thing to do.”

Walgreens invites other companies to tour their distribution center to see that it is truly possible to train and hire people with disabilities. “It is unfortunate that some employers can’t see past a disability,” says Wendover, who will participate in a panel on vocational training and employment at Advance: The Ruderman Jewish Special Needs Funders Conference to be held in New York City on Oct. 20 to discuss funding for special needs programs in the Jewish community (see story).

Alison Rudoph and her husband, Jeff, are impressed with Walgreens’ commitment to hiring people with disabilities.

“In the warehouse, there are people with many kinds of disabilities. I have seen people in wheelchairs, people who are hearing impaired, and many others. As long as you can do the job, you will be employed there. They feel very fortunate that Aaron is part of the Walgreens family. “

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