Interviewing

Original Article in The Jerusalem Post:

How well do admiring Israel tennis fans know Julie Glushko on and off the court?

The night before beating Romanian Monica Niculescu in the US Open first round, the 29-year-old Israeli sat in the player garden and spoke with The Jerusalem Post about tennis and non-tennis matters as she ate her sushi dinner. Glushko next takes on No. 20 Naomi Osaka of Japan in the second round on Thursday.

JP:  What did you do on your days off after winning the qualifiers?

JG: I didn’t do too much for fun this time. I have been resting a lot. Eating – that’s fun actually – and sleeping.  Practicing as well!

JP:  Any superstitions, rituals, prayers or special food as you prepare for a match?

JG: I do not (laughing). No superstitions. I listen to music. I do stuff to relax but I try not to have superstitions because if it doesn’t happen or go the way I want to, I don’t want to be freaking out.

JP:  Favorite Israeli food?

JG: Is malawah Israeli? Jachnun and malawah!

JP:  Favorite beach in Israel?

JG: I just always go to the Hilton. Also Beit Yanai – it is a little bit north, next to Caesarea – is very nice.

JP:  Favorite city in Israel?

JG: Tel Aviv

JP:  Favorite world city?

JG: New York and Melbourne. They are very different, actually. New York is just so alive, it’s crazy, it has so much character. There are so many things going on. And you can find anything you want – except a beach!

And Melbourne – I just love Australia. I love the vibe too. It is the opposite of New York. It is more relaxing and people are more chilled out.

JP: Do you have a favorite Israeli singer or group?

JG: I like Omer Adam. I like Static and Ben El Tavori

JP:  What is your routine after a match, after everyone leaves you alone and stops taking selfies and asking for autographs?

JG: Shower, ice bath, shower again because I am cold.  I’ll take my protein shake then I’ll go eat after I shower, to give body the nutrition it needs, then go see a physiotherapist. It probably takes me between two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half hours to get out of the facility.

JP:  Are there other players you have become good friends with?

JG: Yeah, some girls I am friends with.  I think I am friendly with most of the girls, actually.  Definitely saying hello to most of the girls on the tour.     

 JP:  Do they ever ask you about Israel?   Are they curious?

JG: Some people think that what they see on TV is Israel, which it is not.  They ask me if it is safe to go over there, if it is nice.  I just wish we had some tournaments so people could see that it is actually super safe and nice to be there.

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Original Article in Chabad.org:

WEST BLOOMFIELD, Mich.—Felicia Bowers’ smile was the size of Lake Michigan when she received the latest update on the number of Facebook viewers who have watched the “Art Through Felicia’s Eyes” video. “You just broke 1 million!” exclaimed Bassie Shemtov, co-founder and director (with her husband, Rabbi Levi) of Friendship Circle. Within a few hours, the number of viewers had already jumped to 1.2 million.

The 27-year-old Detroit resident and her art have been receiving a great deal of attention, partly due to her portrait, “The Dancer”—depicting a very active dancer in a wheelchair—which sold for $14,500 as part of a recent evening event that raised more than $100,000 for the Friendship Circle.

Bowers is intelligent, articulate, persistent and has a great sense of humor. She also has cerebral palsy, is non-verbal, uses a wheelchair at all times, and communicates—and draws—with assistive technology, a Tobii Dynavox tablet with Eyegaze eye-tracking software.

The artist has many followers and admirers in the Detroit area, across the United States and online. Using her eye-tracking equipment, she recently spoke with Chabad.org at Friendship Circle’s Farber Center in West Bloomfield Township, Mich.—and shared her interest in art, how she uses her eyes to communicate and create art, her involvement with Friendship Circle, and her advice for other artists with and without disabilities.

We met in an art room, surrounded by works created by Felicia Bowers and other artists with disabilities at the Dresner Foundation’s Soul Studio. Her mother, Tina Bowers, and Friendship Circle of Michigan’s special-projects coordinator, Jamie Reedholm, joined in the conversation.

The Interview:

Q: Tell me a little bit about yourself. How old are you? Where do you live? Who are some important people in your family and circle of friends?

Felicia: I am 27 years old. I live with my mom, dad and my dog, Max. He is a Shiatzu. He comes here sometimes and sits on my lap!

Q: How and when did you hear about Friendship Circle? What are some of the things you do here?

Felicia: I was watching the news and saw Lillia.

Jamie Reedholm: From the beginning of Friendship Circle, we had a young woman named Lillia who, like Felicia, was in a wheelchair. They had a lot in common, but we learned that afterwards. We were able to get Lillia her own apartment. And with the generosity of the people in our community, it was fully accessible and totally hers. The news came and did a story about it. That’s how Felicia and her family learned about Friendship Circle. Sadly, Lillia passed away.

QCan you explain how you are communicating with me right now?

Felicia: I use my eyes to say what I want. There is a camera in the bottom of my device. It tracks my eyes, and when I look at a particular square, selects it. It is a type of Dynavox, a Tobii Dynavox.

Tina Bowers: It can strain your eyes. She is very strong. She had help programming each page—each square has a sentence underneath—she knows what is under each square. She knows where everything is, where she needs to go. She does a lot of spelling. She goes to the dictionary. She looks for a word.

Felicia: My boyfriend, John Wirth, programmed my Tobii.

Felicia Bowers using her Tobii Dynavox tablet with Eyegaze eye tracking software, as her mother, Tina Bowers, looks on.

Felicia Bowers using her Tobii Dynavox tablet with Eyegaze eye tracking software, as her mother, Tina Bowers, looks on.

Q: What are some of the things you do when you come to Friendship Circle?

Felicia: I went shopping and bowling and swimming. I met new friends.

Jamie: The first program she was involved in when she came to Friendship Circle is called “Teen Trips.” Every Sunday, we take teens and young adults on trips.

QWhen did you start with the art part of the program?

Felicia: 2016

QHow did you discover that you were interested in art?

Felicia: I have always enjoyed art. I remember the first time I created art in middle school. It was the first time I felt free from cerebral palsy and in control of my body.

QWhat did you do? What was the project when you had the moment when you felt so free?

Tina prompts Felicia: Do you remember what you were drawing? Were you painting? Painting with your foot? You were painting with your foot. You had different colors, with a paintbrush taped to your foot. She colored with her hands, but we had to tape crayons on to her hands and we had to mount the paper a certain way to the table for her to color. When she was about 2 or 3 years old, she was walking in the baby walker. I had taped crayons onto her hands, and she walked over to the wall and I had told her not to color on the wall, and she colored on the walls!

“The Dancer”

“The Dancer”

QSo she was very typical … big surprise … a defiant 2-year-old …

Tina: Her dad saw it and said, “No!” so we got a piece of plywood and leaned it against the kitchen cabinet and stuck paper on it, and she used to draw while walking over there. It is funny—while in baby-walker upright, she would always go backwards because she didn’t have good support of her body. I was talking to my mom one day and saying, “I wish she could walk forward.” Next minute—she came out from the kitchen, into the living room, walking forward. She leaned against the tray and was walking forward. That is how she was coloring—she would support herself on the tray of the baby-walker, and she would go over and color on the board—that’s why her dad set it up there so she could get to the paper, leaning against it and just color.

Q: (For Tina): You saw she had this interest from an early age, that there was this interest in art, something inside … ?

Tina: Yes. She was drawing lines, always telling me what colors she wanted. She was doing color selections. That’s when she was a baby. I didn’t know it was going to go anywhere because we didn’t know how much her body could do. As she got older, it seems she went from elementary to junior high, and when she got the communication box, she was using a switch. We didn’t have the Eyegaze at that time. But she still had a unit where if she wanted something, she would go to each block, and when she wanted that square, she clicked the clicker—with your foot, right?

A self-portrait by Bowers with her boyfriend, John Wirth

A self-portrait by Bowers with her boyfriend, John Wirth

QI get the feeling the artist was always inside and with each technology (brush on foot, crayons on finger, etc.) it became …

Tina: She is still growing, and doing more and more and more. And now look what she is doing with lines, with her eyes.

QWhat is your favorite form of art? Is it line drawings, painting, ceramics …

Tina to Felicia: Is it the line drawing? You should put that (the response) in there (in the Dynavox).

Tina: It refreshes her memory for what she wants to say … when she hasn’t talked all day, she is trying to figure out what to say …

It has always been inside of her. It’s just now she is trying to get it all out and it is really very frustrating for her to get her thoughts on the screen, to type all the sentences out. It has been very frustrating all these years. She has been trying to tell us so much all these years.

Now that she has started Soul Center, she has gotten stronger and is learning a lot more—not just drawing, but talking.

Jamie: The social aspect.

Tina: She needed all this. She had some at school, but it is stronger here. And since she has been with John, she has gotten stronger. It is amazing.

Works on display at the Dresner Soul Studio, a unique vocational training program, studio and gallery where artists with disablilites work daily from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Their work is then sold in the gallery.

Works on display at the Dresner Soul Studio, a unique vocational training program, studio and gallery where artists with disablilites work daily from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Their work is then sold in the gallery.

QWhat are some of the themes in your art and why? Things or ideas which keep coming up? That you like to draw?

Felicia: My favorite art piece is to make art which reminds me of the people I love.

QCan you give me an example? Something you draw that reminds you of people you love?

Felicia: (Staring at the wall across from her, at her self-portrait of her and John) (Everyone laughs)

QWhere did you get the idea of the dancer? Do you like to dance?

Felicia: I was little and used to go to Eagle’s Club.

Tina: They used to have a dance; you could take your family and dance. My sister would push her around in her wheelchair and dance with her, twirl her around. That’s what brought that out. That’s what she’s feeling when she sees a dancer. The painting is an actual dancer in a wheelchair dance company in L.A.

Rabbi Levi Shemtov, co-founder and co-director with his wife, Bassie, of Friendship Circle

Rabbi Levi Shemtov, co-founder and co-director with his wife, Bassie, of Friendship Circle

QWhat are you working on now?

Felicia: I am drawing Ellen!

Tina: Television host Ellen DeGeneres.

Q: I know you guys aren’t Jewish. What is it like to be included in a Jewish program?

Felicia: We appreciate being in the program.

Tina: She really appreciates everything they are doing. She is growing so much more with her communication box, learning more, talking more and getting more words out there. This has opened doors even more.

QWhat is your advice/message for other artists—with and without disabilities?

Felicia: Never give up!

QWhat do you think our society has to keep doing to be more welcoming and inclusive and better for people with disabilities?

Felicia: Be caring and understanding.

Q: Last question. Can you describe the night when your “Dancer” portrait was sold? What was that like? How did you feel?

Felicia: Wow.

Bassie Shemtov, co-founder and co-director (with her husband, Rabbi Levi Shemtov) of Friendship Circle

Bassie Shemtov, co-founder and co-director (with her husband, Rabbi Levi Shemtov) of Friendship Circle

Artists and Teachers Express Hope for the Future

While Felicia and her art continue to receive worldwide attention and praise, she is one of a number of talented artists and teachers at the Dresner Soul Studio, a unique vocational training program, studio and gallery where artists work daily from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Their work is then sold in the gallery.

On the day of my visit, Rollie King of Minneapolis was walking around the gallery. “I really love art, and I’m beyond amazed. This stuff is really great!” She pointed out some of her favorite pieces. “This clock is outstanding!” She is particularly proud of her nephew, Kevin Shink, an artist in his mid-50’s, and pointed out his large three-dimensional creation depicting the city of Detroit.

While Bassie Shemtov is proud of all of the artists, there is particular pride in Felicia Bowers. “Felicia will be able to make a real living, especially as her story is getting out there and as she creates more work, which is something that nobody thought was possible.”

Shemtov says that much of the studio’s success can be attributed to the dedication and creativity of Anthony Marcellini, programs and exhibitions manager at the Soul Studio. “Anthony is so talented. He had no experience working with people with special needs before joining us here,” says Shemtov. “Yet he has a knack of understanding people and truly respects and loves the artists.”

Paintings on display at the Dresner Soul Studio

Paintings on display at the Dresner Soul Studio

Marcellini notes the unique opportunities at Soul Studio, “For me, what has been most revealing about working with someone like Felicia is discovering her potential. Because cerebral palsy limits normal methods of communication, many people would write her off as non-verbal and perhaps even low functioning. But actually, she is very smart and has enormous verbal and creative potential. She simply needs the right tools to work around her specific situation. She needs challenges and encouragement to create, newer, different and better work along the way. This is actually the same with every artist in our program, though each person’s specific needs and drives are different.”

Marcellini has been instrumental in helping Felicia continue to find ways to be her best as an artist. Felicia has evolved from painting with her feet and using crayons attached to her fingers, to carefully sketching with her Dynavox. Marcellini explains the technical aspects of Felicia’s drawings.

“Felicia draws using a Tobii Dynavox tablet with Eyegaze eye tracking software. Because of Felicia’s cerebral palsy she is unable to use her arms and legs to the precision she would like to make art. So she has learned how use eye tracking software, to move a cursor across the computer screen and make lines. Every time she turns her eye towards the screen it is like she is clicking the button on the mouse, or like putting pencil to paper, and when she moves her eye away it unclicks, like lifting the pencil off the paper. This, as you might imagine, takes tremendous precision and concentration to operate. Felicia has been using this software and similar software for quite some time, and is able to do this simply because she is very precise, hardworking and talented at it. We are now trying to get her to loosen up and be a little freer with it, to explore new and freer ways of expressing herself. We are also trying to bring in some of the methods she used in the past, like painting with her foot or head, to add some expression to the drawings.”

Marcellini loves his work at the Soul Studio. “What is so exciting about this place is that it is an art studio first, where participants come to the studio curious, enthusiastic and driven. They are met by an equally curious, enthusiastic and driven staff of practicing artists and designers, whose sole aim is to propel their creative ideas into new spheres by providing tools to sidestep or surmount their disabilities. It is a place of constant surprises that has totally shifted my perspective, on education, service and ability. Here art serves as a primary form of communication when common forms are less accessible.”

Artist Kevin Shink with his large three-dimensional creation depicting the city of Detroit

Artist Kevin Shink with his large three-dimensional creation depicting the city of Detroit

Nicole Kahan began volunteering at the Friendship Circle when she was in seventh grade and continued to work here through high school. She sees tremendous benefit in Friendship Circle for both participants and for the community. “It benefits the overall community because it normalizes people with disabilities and shows the community that we can all be friends. It benefits its volunteers because it allows people to interact with others they wouldn’t normally interact with. It also helps you gain a lot of leadership experience as well as normalizing these interactions. It creates opportunities for teens.”

Kahan is one of the many admiring members of the Detroit community who appear in the viral “Felicia’s Eyes” video. “When I first saw Felicia’s artwork, I truly was speechless. She had the ability to create something so incredible in such a different way.”

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Social Justice may be understood through the many lenses found in Jewish texts, but perhaps none as foundational as “love thy neighbor as thyself” (Leviticus 19:18). In an interview conducted by Covenant Award Recipient and Director of National Ramah Tikvah Network Howard Blas, Shutaf Inclusion Programs Founder and Executive Director Beth Steinberg explores how, from a Jewish perspective, “disabilities is a Jewish peoplehood issue.”

Q: Tell us about Shutaf

Shutaf was born out of parental need. Miriam Avraham (my co-founder) and I are both parents of children with disabilities who are now teenagers. We were tired of people saying, “No, there isn’t a program for your kid and no, we don’t want your kid.”

When we started, Shutaf was a summer program; we quickly realized how great camp was and that there was a significant need in Israel for programs for people with disabilities.

Since Shutaf was born in 2007, we’ve grown tremendously. Shutaf Inclusion Programs in Jerusalem now offers year-round activities for children, teens and young people, with and without disabilities. Our programs include day camps during the Passover and August vacations; afterschool youth groups; a Young Leadership Program for teens and young adults; Inclusion-Accelerator Workshops and parent gatherings.

Shutaf is a place of complete acceptance and inclusion for all kids of all abilities; religious and secular, rich and poor, from all cultural backgrounds.

Q: How can we understand inclusion as a social justice issue?

Including people into the larger Jewish community is a critical social justice issue. In fact, the word “inclusion” itself implies ex-clusion, and therefore warrants a social justice approach. Allowing every member of the community–especially those with disabilities–a way in means equal opportunities for all. That’s a good thing to work towards. That’s a good thing to believe in.

We need to X-out the word inclusion and come up with a better word. (The URJ (Union for Reform Judaism) is using a new term; “audacious hospitality.”) I recently taught at a synagogue in Philadelphia and people said, “Let’s just call it “welcoming!”

In the end, all words have limits and the issue is big—so many people are still marginalized. The bottom line: these are Jews who shouldn’t be left out of the conversation.

Q: What would an ideal inclusive world look like?

Inclusion is where everyone finds their place. It is a world where fewer limits are placed on people with disabilities. It is less about trying to include those with differences into our pre-existing settings (meaning, those settings that were built for people without disabilities).

In an ideal world, we would eliminate terms like “high functioning” and “low functioning” since they create divisions. It is not for any of us to say what a person is allowed to do and not allowed to do!

Q: What other programs in Israel are doing important social justice and inclusion work?

There are so many people in Israel doing great work in this arena. Here are just a few programs to check out:

  • Shai Asher (Milton’s Gift) is a non-profit career-training program for people with special needs, run by Menachem Stoplner, a social worker who lives on Kibbutz Shluchot.
  • Revital Lan Cohen is an elected government official (member of the Meretz party) and the parent of child with autism spectrum disorder. She has built a very impressive parent coalition which you can read about on her Facebook page.
  • HaBayit Shel Ronit runs a social program for adults with disabilities.
  • Bizchut is the Israel Human Rights Center for People with Disabilities.
  • Kaleidoscope promotes understanding between all populations by fostering the development of the social skills such as self-awareness and collaboration that form the foundation for respect for diversity and appreciation of multiculturalism. As a research-based educational approach, Kaleidoscope begins its process with skill-building workshops that emphasize reflection for educators, students and parents within Israel’s Jewish and Arab sectors.

Find out more about important organizations working toward inclusion, by visiting this site: http://www.friendshipcircle.org/blog/2015/12/22/12-special-needs-organizations-in-israel/

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Original Article in The Times Of Israel:

NEW YORK – By age four, Jason Fuchs was a TV addict. But unlike most kids, he didn’t want to just sit in front of the boob tube, he wanted to be on it.

“My parents would call out to me while I was watching, and I didn’t respond to anything. I remember pointing to the TV and saying, “I want to be in the box–the thing I was staring at,” Fuchs told The Times of Israel last week.

Back then he was too shy to talk with his father’s agent friend; he’d been taught not to speak with strangers. But a follow-up meeting three years later put Fuchs ‘in the box’ – and on the big screen.

Over the past 20 years, the former child actor has appeared in plays (“Abe Lincoln in Illinois”; “A Christmas Carol”), TV shows (“Law and Order: Criminal Intent”; “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit”; “All My Children”; “The Sopranos”) and movies (“Flipper”; “The Hebrew Hammer”; “Mafia!”). The Columbia University graduate has also written scripts, including “Ice Age 4” and “Rags.”

And it his screenwriter chops that has Fuchs, now 29, poised to become a hero for other little television-obsessed boys, with the October 8 debut of his family blockbuster, “Pan.”

Growing up, what were some of your childhood interests outside of TV, movies and acting?

My parents insisted I attend a regular school [as opposed to a performing arts school] until high school. And I never got too successful! It is harder when you are Macaulay Culkin – always working on a regular basis.

My two great loves are basketball and foreign affairs. I have always been a diehard New York Knicks basketball fan. I remember watching the Gulf War on CNN. I knew who Dick Cheney was even when I was a little kid and I had a Gulf War trading card collection.

When 9/11 took place, my father worked across the street from the Twin Towers. He saw them fall and came to get me at school that day, covered in soot. I sort of dove in to learn about the Middle East after 9/11. I wanted to understand everything.

Has this interest in the Middle East continued?

When I was 17 years old, I had an internship at GIS-Global Information System, an independent government intelligence service which gives second opinions to governments. During freshman year of college, I was their UN correspondent.

GIS is run by a brilliant Australian Gregory Copley and Israeli Yossef Bodansky, author of “Bin Laden, The Man Who Declared War on America,” which is ironically the first book I read after 9/11. Bodansky is a rock star to me – he is brilliant and kind. I still have an obsession with current affairs and the Middle East and keep up as closely as I did when I worked there.

Did this interest in Middle East Studies continue at Columbia University?

I took some Middle East courses. I studied with Rashid Khalidi [the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University]. He is a nice guy, but he didn’t like me. We did not share all the same perspectives. It is not so much a Professor Khalidi issue as a Columbia issue – there is some intolerance for a diversity of opinions and they don’t foster an atmosphere of healthy dissent.

What does Israel mean to you?

I have never been to Israel. It is very important to me, I feel a very strong connection and affinity, and I NEED very much to go at some point – sooner than later. I went to Hebrew school, and had a strong sense of yiddishkeit and appreciation for Jewish history.

I am the grandson of two Holocaust survivors (my grandfather is still alive). I am also cognizant of the threats the Jews have faced historically and am aware of how significant it is to have a national homeland like Israel whose founding ethos is “Never Again.”

So knowing that your grandparents were in the Holocaust and didn’t have an Israel to run to, it is a very powerful thing to know that such a place exists.

I also feel a strong connection with it as a lover of democracy. I like living in a democracy, I vote, I do jury duty, I think it is a good way to govern. Jewishness aside, I also feel a kinship to Israel in the same way I feel a kinship to democracies all around the world.

You sound pretty ‘connected’ Jewishly. Do you have a favorite holiday or story?

The holiday that on an emotional level I registered with has always been Passover. For me, the story of Passover is the best story in the Old Testament. It is kind of the template for every movie that I enjoy. The savior motif, the idea that there is someone destined for something special, to lead his people – that is Moses, that is the Exodus story.

You see echoes of that in Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter and in this version of the Peter Pan story. Peter is, in this telling of the story, the Chosen One. He is a messiah-like figure who is fated to do something extraordinary. He rises up from essentially, bondage – he is an orphan in a horrible orphanage – he nuns mistreat him and the other boys – and he rises up to be The Pan, the savior of Neverland.

And that’s not an original idea at all. It is a very traditional idea, one that resonates for me in some of the stories that mean the most to me, and hopefully resonates for so many people.

How did the Pan story make it to to the big screen?

When I was 9 years old, I got stuck on a Peter Pan ride with my dad, and was stuck for 20 minutes in a pirate ship. I was always a curious kid with an insane number of questions for my dad: Why is Peter Pan, Peter Pan? Why can he fly? Why do he and Hook hate each other so much? What is Neverland? Why is he there?

By the way, that’s not an un-Talmudic way to approach things for a nine year old.

What kept me motivated is when no one bought the script. I didn’t write it on spec. I was too passionate. I thought I’d pitch it and maybe someone would bite but no one did. Finally, I met with Warner Brother’s exec Sarah Schechter and she told me to do it. It is a fairy tale story within itself!

What was it like working with Hugh Jackman?

Hugh Jackman is amazing. With a movie star of that kind of measure, you don’t know what to expect. Hugh is the most normal, kind, decent human being you’d ever hope to work with. When your most famous actor is as big of a mensch as Hugh Jackman is, everyone has to be a mensch. It sets the tone for the entire crew.

What does it mean to you personally to have Pan coming out in Israel?

I love the fact it is opening in Israel. It is very meaningful that something that meant so much to me, the story I told my agent, my parents and my girlfriend – is out there for people in Israel who have no clue who I am to go and see.

You’re rumored to be writing the “Wonder Woman” script starring Gal Gadot.

Anything related to DC Comics is like working with the CIA – there is a code of silence. I have read what you have online about what my involvement with that project might be. I can only speak as a fan – I always loved comics as a kid. I am as hardcore a DC Comic fan as there is. But in terms of my involvement, I cannot comment. I think Warner Brothers has set the film “Wonder Woman” to come out in June 2017.

What do you have in the pipeline? What are you currently working on?

I recently wrote a movie script for “Break My Heart One Thousand Times,” a supernatural thriller where ghosts are part of everyday life and a TV pilot for TNT, “Black Box,” a conspiracy thrillerish TV show.

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