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Music has helped so many of us get through these tough few months.  For example, tomorrow is day 70 for Red Sox organist, Josh Kantor, who goes on Facebook Live for “7th Inning Stretch at 3 pm seven days a week for a half hour (or more!) each day ( https://www.facebook.com/7thinningstretch2020/) to play famous tunes on his organ and to raise money for local food banks (http://feedingamerica.org/find-your-local-foodbank).  He and his wife, Reverenced Producer Mary, are determined to keep this going every day until the baseball season resumes.

Singer Ben Folds, stuck in Sydney, Australia during the pandemic, sits at an organ and plays songs and tells stories on “Saturday Apartment Requests with Ben Folds.” Here is a link to #6: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ULe4yus47c0

Saturday nights are also reserved for Dead and Co’s “One More Saturday Night,” each Saturday night at 8 pm (here is a link to an awesome show from Citified in NY, 6/23/19): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ktDsE09W2Rk)

There is no shortage of great music.  I look forward to my daily email from Relix Magazine reminding me of the day’s shows:   Weir and Wolf Brothers Wednesdays (with conflicts with Dave Matthews Band each Wednesday), Phish’s Dinner and a Movie each Tuesday, and more.  Today’s email from Relix simply said, “June 2, 2020:  #TheShowMustBePaused.”

According to a letter posted on https://www.theshowmustbepaused.com/, two Atlantic Records music executives, Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang, are spearheading an initiative known as “Blackout Tuesday” in reaction to what they describe as “the long-standing racism and inequality that exists from the boardroom to the boulevard.”

The Show Must Be Paused is a play on the well-known phrase which encourages perseverance, “The Show Must Go On.”  Let’s pray it is not “The Day The Music Died,” a reference to the infamous day, February 3, 1959, when musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and “The Big Bopper” J. P. Richardson, and well as pilot Roger Peterson were killed in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa. 

Music has the ability to unite and heal—looking forward to the return of music tomorrow.

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I used to check the ESPN App several times a day—just to get an overview of what is happening in the baseball, football, hockey, and basketball worlds.   For tennis, I regularly checked both the APT/WTA Live App, and Resultina, to find out pro scores in real time.  Resultina even allows tracking of a particular player, from top ten to known to all but diehards.  All of that checking has changed in the past few months—due to Covid-19 and the suspension of nearly all sporting events.  There is simply very little of importance happening in the sports world these days.

Yesterday, Sunday, a day which would have been packed in pre-Covid-19 days with major sports plus golf, featured the following ESPN stories:

“MLB is staring down a disaster that could last beyond 2020”

“Bundesliga players support Floyd following goals”

“Spurs’ Walker helps city clean up after protests”

The other stories listed in the ESPN were more of the same. The only actual sports “score” was of the NASCAR Supermarket Heroes 500 from Bristol (TN) Motor Speedway (in progress, with Elliot ahead of Blaney). The ATP/WTA app didn’t list a single match happening any time soon.  Resultina mentioned a match from last Monday May 25, the CTS President’s Trophy Prague, Czech Republic, where Kvitova d. Muchova, 6-3, 6-3.  My own tennis partner swears he still watches tennis regularly on the Tennis Channel, with umpires wearing masks and players literally getting their own balls! 

In short, very little positive to report in the sports world.

For that reason, I was delighted to receive the recent (May 28th) ITF (International Tennis Federation) Newsletter, featuring interviews with “stars from across the world of wheelchair tennis.”  This month’s UNIQLO interview looks at the positive impact that the BNP Paribas World Team Cup has had on the sport of wheelchair tennis.

I was lucky enough to discover wheelchair tennis at the 2011 US Open—where I discovered that one of the top players at the time was Israel’s Noam Gershony (here is my Jerusalem Post article:  https://howardblas.com/2011/09/05/gershony-rolls-closer-to-paralympics-with-us-open-win/).  I have been following the sport ever since.  Here is another article I wrote in 2013: https://howardblas.com/2013/09/17/take-a-seat-courtside-at-the-u-s-open-wheelchair-tennis-competition/

Wheelchair tennis players are extraordinary athletes and competitors.  Rules for the sport are essentially the same as for more traditional singles or doubles. Perhaps the main difference other than the use of specialized chairs is the permissibility of two bounces—though many players chase down the ball on once bounce. Another big difference between wheelchair tennis and any other sport is that the sport boasts the longest winning streak in by far—held by Esther Vergeer—she ended her illustrious career in 2013 with a winning streak of 470 matches! 

Check out the sport when it is back in action.  One day soon, we will get to see singles and doubles, and also team tennis.   Since it started back in 1985, the World Team Cup has given wheelchair tennis players an opportunity to show off national pride by representing their countries. 






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Last May, as part of the amazing Access Israel conference, I got to “test” just how accessible the Old City of Jerusalem really is.  Many conference attendees got off tour buses with lifts and traveled through the gates of the Old City, to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and on to the Western Wall.  What an emotional moment seeing friends in wheelchairs wheeling themselves to Judaism’s most holy place!   We were using the new Accessible JLM app.  https://apps.apple.com/il/app/accessible-roads-jerusalem/id1434672106

I knew the app and various informative articles (i.e. https://www.israel21c.org/jerusalems-old-city-now-accessible-to-people-with-disabilities/) said that Jerusalem was accessible. It wasn’t until I spent the day walking around the Old City with my new German journalist friend, Werner, wearing gloves and operating his wheelchair, that I learned that it is indeed accessible. 

Imagine my excitement when we attended a “speed dating” event, hosted by Google Israel, leading up to the conference.  The evening was a chance for each participant to quickly sample accessible apps and technologies.   Three conference participants were commissioners on disabilities from major cities—New York, Chicago and New York—two were full time wheelchair users.   It would only be a matter of time—we all hoped—when the world—beyond the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem—would become more accessible.

Fast forward one year.  On May 21st, Global Accessibility Awareness Day, Google announced that Google Maps will now show places that are wheelchair accessible, and users will be able to find such places effortlessly without taking any extra steps. All they have to do is turn on the “Accessible Places” feature in their settings. (see coverage:  https://assistivetechnologyblog.com/2020/05/google-maps-will-now-show-wheelchair-accessible-places.htmlhttps://www.searchenginejournal.com/new-google-maps-feature-highlights-wheelchair-accessible-places/370054/#close).  

Thank you, Google.  The world has been needing this map for a long time.  Now, people in wheelchairs, strollers, motorized scooters—and the rest of the world—will get around just a bit easier!





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I have so many wonderful Jay Rudermanisms in my head. Among my favorites, which I have put in my own words and regularly take to heart:

“We are all only temporarily nondisabled”

“If you go around a table at an event and speak honestly, we realize we all have close connections to disabilities—through family, friends, etc.”

“Inclusion is a Jewish continuity (and human rights) issue—if a person with a disability does not feel welcomed in a synagogue, you lose not only that person, but his or her entire family.”

I am so appreciative to Jay Ruderman for his wisdom and leadership in the area of disabilities inclusion.  Jay is President of the Ruderman Family Foundation, which focuses on the inclusion of people with disabilities worldwide (as well as educating Israeli leaders on the American Jewish community).  Jay and the Foundation have been working hard recently on the issue of authentic representation in Hollywood—where people who actually HAVE disabilities portray people on shows with disabilities. [https://rudermanfoundation.org/white_papers/the-ruderman-white-paper-on-authentic-representation-in-tv/].  Jay is also the host of the podcast, “All Inclusive with Jay Ruderman,” now in its 3rd season.

The current podcast features Jay’s interview with Cheryl Hines, wife of the one-and-only Larry David on “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”  [The podcast is available on many platforms with a written transcript here:

https://rudermanfoundation.org/podcast/season-3-episode-3-emmy-nominated-actress-cheryl-hines-from-curb-your-enthusiasm-talks-acting-inclusion-and-poker/

Jay notes that he met Cheryl, as well as Larry David and “Curb” cast member, Ted Danson at a pre-pandemic event in Beverly Hills honoring screenwriters and directors, Peter and Bobby Farrelly, for their work for inclusion of people with disabilities in their films.  Hines has particular sensitivity to issues of disabilities and inclusion, and to the principle of authentic representation—she has a nephew with cerebral palsy. 

Hines reports, “I have a nephew who has cerebral palsy and he’s been in a wheelchair his whole life and his speech is not great, but I can understand every word. So I think there’s an interesting thing that goes on with people, especially that involves speech, some sort of disability that might impact your speech, the people around them can hear every word and understand it perfectly. And then somebody new comes in and it sounds like, ‘Oh, I can’t possibly hear what this person’s saying’…I think it’s very important for the industry to hire people with disabilities because it’s an authentic way to really see who other people are. So someone with a disability like cerebral palsy, if you hire somebody who has cerebral palsy like RJ Mitte in Breaking Bad. Here you have a great actor who’s playing somebody who has cerebral palsy who has cerebral palsy. So it’s a very authentic look at it and it’s not somebody’s interpretation of it, it’s just an actor playing a role.” 

There have been strides in the industry.  Hines notes, “I think they (ABC and “Dancing with the Stars”) have done a very good job introducing the masses to someone who only has one leg, who’s an amazing dancer, somebody who can’t hear, who’s an amazing dancer. And it’s been fun to watch how much people around the world, around the country connect with that person. Most people haven’t had the opportunity to watch somebody who only has one leg, dance or who’s deaf, dance…So I think it’s a good indicator to the industry that people connect with this and people want to understand it, want to see it, want to explore it. Clearly if so many actors have been winning awards for their portrayal of someone with a disability, there’s an audience out there who wants to see the story of this person with a disability. So what better way to do it than somebody with that disability. I think you’re right, I think we’re ready for it. We want to see it.”

Hines playfully suggests that she continues to grow accustomed to working with differences—through her work with Larry David himself! “Larry is, as you can imagine, a very smart person. And he’s so great because he knows what’s funny about himself. He knows that because he hates social rules, he knows that that’s funny to other people, although in real life he hates social rules. So it’s pretty great that he can harness it basically and do it on the show. In real life, he wouldn’t actually cross some of the lines he crosses on Curb, but he also says, that’s why he does it, that’s why he does the show. So he can because that’s how he would like to act.”  Jay then recounts a funny interaction with David, “I remember when I went to shake his hand, he’s like, ‘I haven’t shaken a hand in six weeks and I’m not going to start right now.’   Hines replies, “Yeah. But that’s what I like about him. He’ll be very honest with you. “Do you want to have lunch?” “No.” “Oh, okay. Well then I will talk to you later.” “Yeah. Or not.”

Jay and Cheryl remind us that we all know—and should continue to get to know and learn from people with disabilities.   Appreciating everyone’s differences and gifts and including everyone will make the world a better, kinder place. 


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