Original Article in Chabad.org:

The sensory-friendly Sukkot celebration enabled Friendship Circle participants and members of the larger community to come together for the Sukkot event.

Silverstein Kramer relates that she helped start the Chicago Friendship Circle, then called Friendship Circle, as soon as she returned to Milwaukee eight years ago, and “we haven’t stopped since.” She is impressed at how well the Steins listen to parental concerns and input. She is especially pleased that the adult division is “quite active.”

And she loved this year’s sensory-friendly sukkah event. “It was so different from anything we’ve had before. It was amazing, fun, joyous, all-inclusive—with older and younger participants and caregivers and parents.” She described a disco ball hung at eye level, the many different colors and the headphones. “It makes a lot of sense. Some people can’t handle a lot of noise, big crowds and strangers. It was a fantastic idea. I am all for doing it again!”

The Steins were pleased as well. “It was incredible to see people with all abilities coming together and feeling like they had a place … Everybody felt included and had a great time.” Given the number of special days on the Jewish calendar, the Steins and the headphone company are likely to find ways to continue their wonderful partnership.

Sukkah guests could enjoy the party from outside on the street or inside the Lubavitch House.

Sukkah guests could enjoy the party from outside on the street or inside the Lubavitch House.

“When I called the headphone company, they said they never thought of the special-education aspect. I think it is a game-changer for them; they may have found a new market.” Stein rented 40 sets of headphones that light up in a range of colors.

“When I called the headphone company, they said they never thought of the special-education aspect. I think it is a game-changer for them; they may have found a new market.” Stein rented 40 sets of headphones that light up in a range of colors.

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Original Article in The JNS:

Ronald S. Lauder’s distinguished career includes many diverse roles, including business leader, philanthropist, art collector and U.S. Ambassador to Austria. He currently serves as president of the World Jewish Congress. By his own admission, sports fan or supporter is nowhere on the list.

“In my entire life, I have never said these four words: wide world of sports!” he quips. That may change very soon. Lauder is thinking a lot about soccer these days. He has been meeting with Roman Abramovich, owner of Chelsea FC (Football Club), the top English soccer team. He even attended a Chelsea game, noting, “They yell a lot!”

But Lauder’s interest in soccer may have more to do with his interest in combatting anti-Semitism than with the sport itself.

At an exclusive VIP cocktail reception on Sept. 17 at Lauder’s New York City home—attendees included diplomats from more than 40 countries, as well as representatives of the World Jewish Congress and its CEO, Robert Singer; senior Chelsea FC officials; members of the media; and other distinguished guests—Lauder unveiled an innovative idea to use worldwide interest in soccer to combat anti-Semitism.

As he observes, “We have seen anti-Semitism on the right and left, on college campuses, in Europe and in the Middle East, and even in soccer stadiums. Soccer stadiums are no place for Nazi salutes or slurs against Muslim or black players!”

According to the World Jewish Congress, soccer, especially in Europe, has been plagued by instances of anti-Semitism and racism for years. Fans have led anti-Semitic chants, including making hissing noises to evoke the Nazi gas chambers, and targeted African and black players with monkey sounds, among other offensive actions. Ultra-nationalists and neo-Nazis have also played roles in supporter groups for various teams. Lauder says “sports are supposed to be for fun, excellence and competition.”

‘It needs to be pushed out’

The WJC and Chelsea FC therefore announced an ambitious new initiative, “Red Card for Hate,” which aims to promote a global dialogue to combat all forms of hatred in sports. The initiative will include three projects: “Pitch for Hope,” a video project and an international forum—all geared towards encouraging supporters, government officials and the public to treat hate phenomena more seriously and to engage in discourse for effective action.

“Pitch for Hope” invites young adults in the United States, the United Kingdom and Israel to submit proposals for projects that “harness the spirit of comradery in sports to build bridges between people of all backgrounds, faiths and walks of life.” Finalist will be invited to present their proposals at Chelsea FC’s Stamford Bridge Stadium in London; the winners from each country will receive a $10,000 grant to develop and implement their pilot project.

As part of stage two, the WJC and Chelsea FC will produce a series of videos to raise awareness about the effects of anti-Semitism and discrimination. They will address such issues as mutual respect between fans and players and fans of differing backgrounds, and will be rolled out over the course of the 2018-19 football (soccer) season.

In the third stage of the initiative, WJC and Chelsea will host a forum bringing together national football associations, football clubs, players, government officials and others to share best practices, to create a forum for discussion and collaboration, and to create a network of people and organizations to enhance the fight against anti-Semitism in sports.

Lauder notes the potential for success given the number of people who watch sports. “Sports events are seen by billions, not millions.”

He adds, “Our goal is to wipe out anti-Semitism in sports. It doesn’t go away by itself. It needs to be pushed out. To see the Nazi salute … it shouldn’t happen!”

‘Take it to the next level’

The kick-off event in Lauder’s home included short remarks by Singer and such guests as Eugene Tenenbaum, director of the Chelsea Football Club; Consul General of France in New York Anne-Claire Legendre; Gary Bettman, commissioner of the National Hockey League; and Lee Igel, clinical associate professor in the New York University Tisch Institute for Global Sport.

Tenenbaum described an increase of anti-Semitic events in England from 100 a year before Brexit, to about 100 a month at present. He and his colleagues have carefully considered ways to address it. “When we saw the anti-Semitic chants of fans, we decided not to kick them out, but to educate them, and to show what it is that happens when we say it and mean it.”

He says the partnership with the WJC “let’s us take it to the next level.”

They have already organized meetings of Chelsea FC players with Holocaust survivors, and have brought 150 fans and players to the March of the Living in Poland.

Legendre called the work of the WJC and Chelsea FC “relevant and inspiring,” and noted that “France is not immune to anti-Semitism.” She added that “we will fight it to our utmost.”

Bettman spoke of the importance of sports for setting a tone and feels that sports “can be an incredible vehicle.”

He shared that in the NHL, “we don’t tolerate acts of hatred in our buildings or at our games. We host 1,300 events a year and want to make sure fans know the expectations and feel welcomed.” He drew a with Judaism to sports, playfully noting that “people come together, have ceremonial garb, a ceremonial chant and a common focus that is an emotional connection.”

Igel offered a powerful story about a 1938 soccer match between Germany and Austria right before the Anschluss (the annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany on 12 March 1938). He then spoke about the anti-Semitism and hatred that still exist in the world.

“That is why this work is so important; it is not just another nice program full of good intentions.” Igel referred to the three phases of the “Red Card for Hate” initiative, mentioning that it will include the convening of an international summit in Paris in 2019 to battle discrimination, racism and anti-Semitism in sports.

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Original Article in JNS:

Let’s face it: Sitting through services can feel long, arduous and not so interactive for worshippers. Congregants tend to talk with seatmates and neighbors to help pass the time.

But not at Rabbi Yehoshua Soudakoff’s High Holiday services. There, you could hear a pin drop. Worshippers had all eyes focused on the prayer leader for hours on end, enjoying it so much that they wound up spending the entire holiday sleeping in the shared apartment/synagogue space of the newly married Chabad rabbinical couple in Israel.Subscribe to The JNS Daily Syndicate by email and never miss our top stories

Rabbi Yehoshua, 27, and his wife, Cheftziba, both deaf from birth, recently hosted Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services in their Rishon Letzion apartment for members of the deaf community. “Twenty came and slept in our home. We had services and meals together. It was really wonderful,” Soudakoff tells the JNS in a phone call from Israel with the assistance of an interpreter. When asked how it was advertised in Israel, Soudakoff quickly (and playfully), replies: “Word of hand!”

“The deaf community in Israel is very close and connected,” relates the executive director of the Jewish Deaf Foundation (JDF) and director of Chabad of the Deaf Community, based in Kfar Chabad, “and Israel is a small country. Word spreads like wildfire.”

The rabbi’s main goal is to create an accessible prayer experience where “people don’t feel deaf, where they feel like regular people.” He notes that in typical services, members of the deaf community are constantly wondering, “What is going on? What’s happening?”

Soudakoff’s services resemble a more conventional, cantor-led service in many ways. But perhaps out of necessity, it’s also more interactive.

“We have a hard-of-hearing person who davens [leads prayers] at the amud [prayer platform], and he signs parts of the tefillah [prayers] so that the rest of the group can follow along,” describes Soudakoff. “Another person stands directly across and tells the congregation when to answer, and indicating the page number on the machzor [prayer book], as well as signing part of the davening [when the chazzan isn’t signing]. So it was more of an interactive experience, with the chazzan, the gabbai and the congregation all davening together, and knowing where everyone else is holding. Which is the whole point of the experience—so that a deaf person doesn’t feel like he or she is catching up or totally lost in prayer.”

He further describes some of the inner workings of the service. “There is singing in the sense that there is a sound, but also signing out the words of the tefillah. For example, we would all read ‘Avinu Malkeinu’ together, or ‘Unetaneh Tokef.’ ”

During Sukkot, he will be driving a mobile sukkah from Metula, in the northernmost town in Israel, all the way down to Eilat at Israel’s southern tip, meeting with deaf people along the way to shake the lulav and the etrog.

Singing through signing, following the cantor

Moishy Wertheimer, a board member of the Jewish Deaf Foundation who met Soudakoff many years ago when they were roommates in yeshivah, served as cantor for the High Holidays. “The crowd sings through signing, following the chazzan, with assistance of Rabbi Soudakoff,” he clarifies. “There is also shofar-blowing.”

Those who have cochlear implants can hear it; others can feel the vibrations, and some put their hand right on the shofar.

Wertheimer shares some of the challenges of leading services for a community that doesn’t sing. “To be a chazzan leading a deaf crowd is a challenge because they cannot hear me, but Rabbi Soudakoff interprets the prayers into Israeli sign language,” he says, acknowledging that it was definitely different than usual. “Rabbi Soudakoff is a real shliach tzibbur[‘public messenger,’ Wertheimer’s translation]. I learned no matter if they don’t need my voice to lead the prayer, they still they need to ‘feel’ the voice of a chazzan.”

Wertheimer says he’s proud of what the Soudakoffs have accomplished so far. “For many deaf people, our shul is very accessible for them; they can participate without any [communication] barrier.”

Soudakoff would next like to build a synagogue and community center. “We have a lot of dreams. With a physical space, we can do more activities and hold more services.” He already has an impressive record of determination and success in the world of Jewish learning, education, outreach and camping.

Working towards greater inclusion and awareness

Soudakoff was born deaf to two deaf parents. His two brothers and his sister are also deaf. He had a very rich Jewish experience growing up in Los Angeles. “My mother started an organization in Los Angeles for the Jewish deaf. It was in our living room. I always saw events there. I grew up with that exposure.”

Soudakoff then attended Yeshiva Nefesh Dovid, a Jewish deaf high school in Toronto. “There are not many deaf people who have the same opportunities that I had growing up,” he acknowledges.

After three years of studying Jewish texts, he graduated and returned to Los Angeles—thirsty to continue pursuing Jewish learning and his involvement in the Jewish community. Soudakoff quickly learned that the Jewish world offers very few resources for the Jewish deaf, including access to the Jewish community and functions. “I wanted to change that” he says.

So he began blogging and making online videos about Jewish holidays and ideas. “My sister would make videos of herself making latkes or matzah-ball soup, and I would sign and later add captions.” (See “Jewish Deaf Multi Media” on YouTube).

Soudakoff then started summer camps for Jewish children who are deaf. The camp met in the Poconos of Pennsylvania for one summer, then in California the next summer. This past summer, the two-week camp took place in Italy; it was a travel camp with one week in Tuscany, and the second week visiting the north and Rome.

Jeremy J. Fingerman, CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp, says “we admire Rabbi Soudakoff’s dedicated efforts. His inspired work reminds us of the importance of making Jewish camp—and indeed, our entire Jewish community—accessible for everyone.”

Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation that works to promote and support inclusion worldwide, is similarly impressed with Soudakoff and his work. “How great that we are living in a time when people are proud of who they are and teaching us that people of all abilities have the right to be equal members of our society,” he states.

Wertheimer, the prayer leader, is pleased with what the Soudakoffs and the deaf community have accomplished so far.

“We are working together to bring accessibility for the deaf community into the Jewish world,” he says, pointing out that a great deal of work still lies ahead. “They have a big responsibility for making sure that any deaf Jew has access to Jewish life. I think there has been a lack of Judaism in the Jewish deaf communities because there no awareness and sensitivity for deaf people in Judaism world.”

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Original Article in The Jerusalem Post:

To the astute observer, there are probably more references to the late, great Arthur Ashe throughout the grounds of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, home of the US Open, than to Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic combined. A walk through the grounds of the US Open pays tribute to Ashe in many ways.

There is a plaque honoring Ashe near the South Gate at the Court of Champions, Arthur Ashe Commemorative Gardens, the 24,000-seat Ashe Stadium, a display of mounted photographs of Ashe by Time and Life photographer John Zimmerman, and the seven-minute ’68 Ashe VR (virtual reality) Experience.

The 2018 US Open celebrates Ashe the man, on the 50th anniversary of his US Open victory in 1968.

Arthur Ashe was the first black player selected to the United States Davis Cup team, and he was the only African-American man to win three Grand Slam events – Wimbledon, the US Open and the Australian Open. But Ashe was so much more than an accomplished tennis player. He was a humanitarian who spoke out against injustice and preached tolerance and understanding, a spokesman for such public health concerns as HIV/ AIDS and heart disease, an advocate of sports programs for the underserved, a life-long learner, an US Army lieutenant, and, by some accounts, a philosemite who was profoundly influenced by many Jews.

Raymond Arsenault, the author of a new authoritative, comprehensive 767-page biography, Arthur Ashe: A Life recently spoke with the Magazine about the influence of Jewish people and history on Ashe. Ashe’s father, a jack of all trades, worked “as a chauffeur, butler and handyman for Charles Gregory, one of Richmond’s most prominent Jewish merchants.” One day, while dropping off Mr. Gregory’s laundry, he struck up a conversation with Mattie Cordell Cunningham.

Several months later, they were married, and soon after, became parents to Arthur, and five years later, to his brother, Johnnie.

Ashe was born in 1943 and grew up in Richmond, Virginia, in the segregated South. When he was six, his mother died and Ashe and Johnnie were raised by their father, who worked as a handyman and caretaker for Richmond’s recreation department. The Ashes lived in the caretaker’s cottage in the grounds of 18-acre Blacks-only Brookfield Park, which had baseball fields, basketball courts, a pool and four tennis courts. Ashe began playing tennis at age seven and showed promise.

Ron Charity, a tennis coach and at the time the best black tennis player in Richmond, began working with Ashe and entering him in local tournaments. Ashe won the National Junior Indoor tennis title – the first for an African-American. He began attending UCLA in 1963 on a tennis scholarship. He was also a member of ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps), which offered tuition assistance in exchange for active military service upon graduation. He joined the US Army in 1966 and became a second lieutenant and eventually a first lieutenant, prior to his discharge in 1969.

A recent USA Today article by sportswriter Sandra Harwitt, who is also author of The Greatest Jewish Tennis Players of All Times, notes that Arthur’s brother, Johnnie, volunteered for a second tour of duty in Vietnam, knowing that two brothers couldn’t see active duty in a war zone at the same time, thereby keeping Arthur on the tennis court. This allowed Ashe to play in and ultimately win the 1968 US Open. Since Ashe was still an amateur at the time and because of his status as an active Army lieutenant, he was unable to accept the $14,000 prize money. The money ended up going to runner-up Tom Okker of the Netherlands, but, as Arsenault notes, an anonymous donor offered Ashe 100 shares of General Motors stock, which he was ultimately allowed to accept.

AT THE ’68 Ashe Virtual Reality exhibit at this year’s US Open, Ashe speaks about the year 1968, and mentions the deaths of both Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy as well as the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, where two US athletes bowed their heads and raised fists as a salute to the Black Power movement during the playing of the “Star Spangled Banner” (both were subsequently thrown off the Olympic team). These events served as an important impetus for his commitment to and involvement in larger issues of the day.

Mary, a US Open volunteer at the virtual reality exhibit, notes that she “tries hard not to influence people’s experience” as people watch the presentation, but reports that several African-American visitors have shared stories of personal connection with Ashe.

“One playfully shared a story of how Ashe flirted with her when he was 14 and she was 16. Another reported that her cousin is married to Ashe’s brother.”

Another visitor, Tracy Nabaldian of Weston, Connecticut, found the show to be “really cool,” but wishes it was longer.

“It did a neat job in seven minutes of covering his rise and how he found his voice.” She is pleased that a longer documentary about Ashe will premier in 2019.

Ashe’s tennis accomplishments include winning the Davis Cup for the US in 1968 and 1969 and winning the Wimbledon singles title in 1975. Off the court, Ashe got married to artist and photographer Jeanne Moutoussamy in 1977. Ashe began experiencing health problems in 1971 when he suffered a heart attack in July while holding a tennis clinic in New York. In 1979, he underwent a quadruple bypass operation, and in 1983 underwent a second heart surgery.

In 1988, when Ashe was experiencing paralysis in his right arm, it was discovered that he had taxoplasmosis, commonly found in people infected with HIV. It is believed he contracted the virus from blood transfusions from his second heart surgery. Ashe served as national campaign chairman for the American Heart Association and was a member of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Advisory Council.

Ashe was an active civil rights supporter. He was a member of a delegation of 31 African-Americans who visited South Africa. In 1985, he was arrested outside the South African Embassy in Washington during an anti-apartheid rally. He was arrested again in 1992 outside the White House for protesting a crackdown on Haitian refugees. Ashe died in 1993 from AIDS-related pneumonia at the age of 49.

Ashe was a prolific writer, penning books about tennis, basketball and other sports, and several memoirs.

In his 1993 New York Times best-selling book, Days of Grace, he writes about his experience with Jewish people and the Jewish community. He was bothered at the time by the decline in relations between Jews and Blacks in Brooklyn.

“Few aspects of race relations in America have disturbed me as much as the enmity in certain quarters between Blacks and Jews. The entire climate of Black-Jewish relations has become stormy,” Ashe said.

This was in contrast to the very positive experience he had growing up around Jews in Richmond, Virginia.

“I have no reason to feel anything but affection and respect for Jews as a people in the United States. A long time ago I came to the personal realization that all of the people who have helped me become a success in life, a disproportionately large percentage of them have been Jews. And as far as I know, I never sought them out to ask their help. They took the initiative, and continue to do so. Whether or not they are assuaging guilty feelings is, to me, irrelevant.”

Ashe notes, “When I was growing up in Richmond, Jews occupied a prominent and favored place in my life, and in my father’s life. Before and after he found his main job with the Department of Recreation of the City of Richmond, my father worked for a number of wealthy Richmond Jews.” He goes on to list the various Jews who owned department stores and other stores and were “fair and honorable.”

Ashe also observed that “even great wealth did not save the Jews of Richmond from [being subjected to bigotry.” He “became aware of Jews in a more complex way on the tennis team at UCLA,” and writes about how Jews see themselves in American culture. He concludes, “When black demagogues make scapegoats of Jews, we must resist it for what it is; further evidence of the self-hatred and the intellectual and spiritual confusion that racism breeds.”

Arsenault recalls coming across Ashe’s thoughts about the Jews in the research for his book, playfully noting, “I mentioned it, but don’t know if it made it to the cutting room floor!” He notes that more than 200 pages were cut out of the book.

“I was talking about his early encounters with whites. There was one store in Jackson Ward (a section of Richmond, Virginia) and he knows the owner, who was Jewish. His father knew the Schillers, who were Jewish, and the owners of the big department stores, who were Jewish. I think later his sensibility was very philosemitic. He would make references to the Holocaust.

He just had a great sympathy, I think for some of the commonalities of African-Americans and Jews in terms of being outsiders and having to deal with stereotypes, so he often went out of his way to mention the same positive things about Jews and I think it was just obvious and striking to me that he did have that sensibility.”

Arsenault is fairly certain Ashe never went to Israel.

“The closest was Egypt. That’s when he realized in 1980 that he had to retire. He was in Cairo and went out for a run near the big pyramids and all of the sudden you could see he had horrible angina.

He and [wife] Jeanne had a friend, Doug Stein, who was a Long Island doctor who was with them on the trip, basically told him you have to go home and get this taken care of. He did not go straight back though – they went to Amsterdam, and the art museums, then they went back, and they said you are not playing serious tennis again… so in April of 1980, he announced his retirement. I don’t think he ever went to Israel.”

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