Jewish

Original Article Published on The Chabad.ORG

Tell a friend you are going to federal prison and responses vary from surprise, to sarcastic comments, to questions about why a person would spend precious volunteer time visiting someone who had committed a crime. When I was asked to take part in a new visitation program as a reporter, my own first reaction to the assignment was one of nervousness and even embarrassment. What could I possibly have in common with these guys, even if we were both Jewish? What would we talk about? How would I explain my participation in this program to my friends and family members? Why would I go through an application and screening process just to visit people who had done something bad?

I spoke to a few friends who, much to my surprise, shared with me that each of their communities had several members who had spent time in prison. I began to think about those inmates’ families and what it must be like to have a family member in prison. I wondered what it’s like being Jewish in prison, and what the process of re-entering the Jewish community after release is like.

I’d have to venture inside a facility to find out.

A few months later, with the help and guidance of the Chabad-Lubavitch affiliated Aleph Institute—the leading Jewish organization caring for the incarcerated and their families—I found myself passing through a metal detector and having my hand stamped at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in New York, not far from City Hall. A federal facility known for its strict security, MCC is a 12-story concrete fortress in the heart of Manhattan, a place The New York Times quotes an inmate describing as “less hospitable than Guantanamo Bay”—he would know, he’d been in both. MCC is adjacent to the courthouse where I’ve gone for jury duty, but I’d never even known of its existence. Stripped of my phone, keys and wallet, and with only my reporter’s notebook and pen in hand, an officer led me through a series of claustrophobic passageways, eventually to the visitation floor.

In the small, triangular-shaped room where I was told to wait for the Jewish inmates I’d be meeting one at a time, I noticed a would-be inspirational poster on the wall. “Make it happen,” it cheerily read. “There is no challenge too great for those who have the will and heart to make it happen.”

It dawned on me that though geographically close to my own home, I was in an alternate universe.

Visitation Opens Up

The Aleph Institute was founded in 1981 by Rabbi Sholom Ber Lipskar at the express direction of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, who was an early and passionate proponent of criminal justice reform. With the goal of reaching out to Jews in limited environments, Aleph has a division dedicated to the incarcerated and a separate one working with the military. It has been a pioneer in both fields.

The guiding principle behind Aleph’s prisoner initiatives, following the Rebbe’s leadership, is that someone who has committed a criminal act is still dear to G‑d and created in His image, with religious responsibilities, the ability to improve, and human emotional needs. Above all, each person has a unique role to play in the world, and the goal must be to assist them in reintegrating into society, where they can resume their individual missions.

“When a person finds himself in a situation of ‘after the sunset,’” the Rebbe wrote in a November 1977 Chanukah letter addressed to prisoners, “when the light of day has given way to gloom and darkness—as was the case in those ancient days under the oppressive Greek rule—one must not despair, G‑d forbid, but on the contrary, it is necessary to fortify oneself with complete trust in G‑d, the Essence of Goodness, and take heart in the firm belief that the darkness is only temporary, and it will soon be superseded by a bright light, which will be seen and felt all the more strongly through the supremacy of light over darkness, and by the intensity of the contrast.”

Despair and despondency is part and parcel of prison life, a feeling of being alone in a harsh, dark world. That’s why Aleph’s motto is: “No one alone, no one forgotten.”

And by feeling “not forgotten,” the chances of making a smooth post-prison transition improves drastically. Of the nearly 2.2 million people incarcerated in the United States today, nearly 75 percent will return to prison within five years of release. As reform advocates continue to work on various programs across the system to lower the recidivism rate—including pre-sentencing diversion, drug rehabilitation and, crucially, educational efforts—one aspect that has continuously borne results are visitation programs. Prisoners who maintain connections with the world outside, members of their families and communities, have a far better chance of landing on their feet once they re-enter society.

Aleph has facilitated prison visits by Chabad rabbis and rabbinical students for decades, but as I learned from Aleph Visitation Circle coordinator Binah Banayan, the process is now opening up. In fact, the Aleph Visitation Circle recently became the first organized volunteer effort in the Jewish community to involve “regular people” outside the rabbinate in one on one prisoner visitation.

“The visitation program was started with the idea in mind that there are a lot of inmates that do not get any visits from their friends or family,” explains Rabbi Dovid Raigorodsky, also an Aleph Visitation Circle coordinator. “This can leave them feeling very lonely, almost like they don’t matter.”

Aleph contacted the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to begin the work of setting up a one-on-one volunteer visitation program, and BOP eventually granted permission. Since September of 2018 the program has enlisted 65 active volunteers who have visited 20 different federal institutions nationwide, making over 250 visits to date. Another 30 volunteers are currently pending approval by the BOP.

The process of becoming a volunteer is fairly straight-forward. When I decided to make the plunge, I completed the online application form, provided references, and a few weeks later was accepted and offered several possible visitation dates at MCC.

I carefully read the rules about the prison dress code required for visitors and policies on what they may take inside into the prison (essentially nothing). Several days before my first visit, I was given the names and inmate numbers of two Jewish prisoners and told to report at MCC.

I found the entrance and approached the check- in window—not entirely confident the clerk would find the folder with the letter authorizing my visit. To my surprise, they had the information, and I headed in.

In the Tank

Like the rest of the building, and despite the inspirational posters, the visitation floor is not very welcoming. Several of the rooms were occupied by attorneys meeting with their clients, clad in their drab, brown prison garb. The vending machine, I noticed, was broken.

My meetings would last an hour each, and as I waited for the guards to return with the first inmate I’d spend time with, I wondered what we’d discuss.

The first prisoner, “S,” was a man approximately 55 years old. He immediately put me at ease. We spoke about our lives and learned that we had children studying in the same university, lived in a similar neighborhood and were deeply connected to Jewish practice.

Though I didn’t ask, he proceeded to tell me about his financial crimes. “Everybody has problems and makes mistakes,” he told me. He’d already served 15 years in prison.

S spoke fondly and with great appreciation of the rabbis who visit regularly. “You meet these people, and you are magnetized to them. Getting visits means you are alive. Visitations are called ‘not forgetting;’ in here, you are forgotten to the world.”

He seemed to know all of the Jewish inmates, including two women who work in the commissary. He described the experience of being a Jew in prison. “It is difficult. We are a minority in the U.S., and especially here!”

S expressed great appreciation for the visitation program. “Aleph is important because when you are in here, you live in a different world than outside; you are not in touch with society. Aleph helps you know what is going on outside; we live vicariously through others.” S feels that the visits by Aleph will greatly help him make the adjustment to the outside world easier after all his years behind bars. “Aleph gives services for people to re-enter society, funds for relocating and to get on our way.”

Minutes after S left our meeting to return to his job, “V,” a muscular man in his mid-30s, entered the small room. He, too, is committed to Jewish practice and belief, and is upset at what he describes as the lack of services Jewish prisoners receive. “There are no religious services for Jews; we get juice on Friday nights for Shabbat—no challah. This year, we did start getting matzah for Passover.”

V proudly says that he puts on his tallit and tefillin each day, and prayers three times a day.

V has struggled with addiction for many years, and acknowledges his past errors. ”Everybody makes mistakes in life,” he says, noting that “addiction is a sickness.” At the same time, he points out, ”everybody deserves a second chance … we are not bad people.”

V, too, feels a kinship with other Jewish prisoners. Although it will be years before he is released, V remains positive. “I know G‑d is with me. I have faith. I keep going.”

A Fulfilling Experience

Though my first prison visit went smoothly, on the second attempt I learned it’s not always that easy. For some reason the clerk at MCC couldn’t find my authorization and I was sent away without seeing the inmates I was scheduled to visit. Even more frustrating, I had no way of communicating with the inmates to explain to them what happened.

I had never met or spoken with others who have decided to spend time visiting prisoners, and I wondered if their experience was similar to mine. What did they do or speak about on their visits?

Avrumi Frankel of Lakewood, N.J., has been visiting prisoners at nearby FCI (Federal Correctional Institution) Fort Dix for about a year. After seeing an ad looking for people to read the Megillah on Purim, Frankel eventually connected with the Aleph Visitation Circle and completed all the paperwork. He has made 15 prison visits since. As opposed to the MCC, where I had been, Frankel says the visiting room at FCI Fort Dix is one big room where he can meet with many inmates at once, a reflection of the various rules and regulations that govern each facility differently.

“It is a very fulfilling experience,” Frankel says. “You feel that they are desperate for visitors, and that they really appreciate it. They feel good that people are thinking about them.” Frankel points out that even people not on his list come over to him during the visiting time.

Frankel has developed an ongoing, evolving relationship with the Jewish prisoners, and he makes a point to say that he never judges them—that job has already been done by someone else.

“I don’t think they are bad people,” says Frankel. “I think they are good people who have made bad choices.”

Another volunteer I got the chance to speak with was Rabbi Zalman Gansburg. Gansburg is co-director, together with his wife, Chani, of Chabad of Palmetto Bay and Deering Bay in Florida, but as opposed to going in as a rabbi, Gansburg chose to visit prison through the Aleph Visitation Circle the same way that all non-rabbinic visitors do.

“There is a special spiritual fulfillment visiting someone in prison; the impact you have on his life is amazing,” Gansburg explains. As a Chabad emissary Gansburg is no stranger to assisting people from all walks of life, and yet he feels there is something special about the simple act of visiting the incarcerated.

“You see the impact right away,” he says. “How can you not when the inmate tells you you’re the first visitor they have had in over a year?”

The experience has shaped the way Gansburg views and relates to all people. “It’s humbling. It brings you down to reality.”

Gansburg’s visits have also developed over time, and what started as friendly talk about life experiences and the like now involve a formal learning component. One of the men he visits got himself a Tanya, the foundational text of Chabad Chassidic philosophy, and each of them study the same section of the Tanya. Since Gansburg isn’t allowed to bring in books, now when he visits they’re able to discuss their studies and trade perspectives on the Torah they’ve both learned.

Gansburg hopes his own experience will encourage others to volunteer with the Aleph Visitation Circle. “When you go into a prison and interact with someone behind bars, and talk to him and try to understand him, you expand your views on life and you are able to understand people more and life more. It makes you a better father, husband, son, brother, and above all, a better person.”

Judging by my own experience 1,200 miles north, I couldn’t agree more.

As the program expands, volunteers are needed in every city and state—especially Brooklyn, Miami, Los Angeles, and Chicago. To date, over one hundred and four prisoners have received visitors thanks to the program. The goal, Aleph says, “is to reach every Jewish prisoner and remind them that even in prison they are never alone or forgotten.”

To volunteer for the Aleph Visiting Circle, visit their website or contact Sara Schmukler at sara@aleph-institute.org, 310-598-2142 ext. 231.

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Original Article in Jerusalem Post

The Jewish and engaging Kaufman is perhaps its most colorful member. Her family and personal stories weave deep connections to Jewish causes while offering a window into American history.

NEW YORK – The packed crowd at the Mercury Lounge on Manhattan’s Lower East Side last week was witnessing a rare feat – the New York debut of a band that formed in 1967.

Ace of Cups, the all-female San Francisco rock band from the heady Summer of Love, who shared stages with the Grateful Dead, The Band, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jefferson Airplane and opened for Jimi Hendrix at a free concert in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, might have been one of the only hippie bands of the era who didn’t nab a recording contract and become stars.

However, a half-century later, with it members now grandmas and hovering around the 70-year-old mark, the band with four of the original five Aces – Denise Kaufman (vocals, bass, harmonica), Mary Gannon (vocals, ukulele, bass), Mary Ellen Simpson (vocals, lead guitar), and Diane Vitalich (vocals, drums) – were rocking the crowd and enjoying the accolades.

Their debut album released late last year, and featuring contemporaries like Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady (Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna), David Freiberg (Quicksilver Messenger Service), Barry Melton (Country Joe & The Fish), Pete Sears (Jefferson Starship, Moonalice), David Grisman, Steve Kimock (Zero, RatDog), Bob Weir (Grateful Dead), Taj Mahal and Buffy Sainte-Marie, has won them the full-fledged recognition that evaded them the first time around, as well as a sense of vindication and jubilation.

The Jewish and engaging Kaufman is perhaps its most colorful member. Her family and personal stories weave deep connections to Jewish causes while offering a window into American history – from the Stock Market Crash of 1929, to the early and late 60’s Bay Area scene.  

Raised in northern California, Kaufman played piano, guitar and wrote songs from an early age. At her high-school graduation in Palo Alto, Jerry Garcia, the famed lead singer and guitarist of the Grateful Dead, played at the after party. She traveled on Ken Kesey’s bus as part of the Merry Pranksters (when LSD was available in vats of Kool-Aid), and was chronicled as Mary Microgram in Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

Kaufman attended Lowell All-City School in San Francisco for the first two years of high school, joining her first picket line in San Francisco at age 14. She then transferred to the Castilleja School in Palo Alto, “the same school Grace Slick had previously attended.”

The legends of the up-and-coming 60’s music scene were very accessible. When Kaufman graduated high school in 1964, she arranged to rent Bimbo’s 365 Club in North Beach, San Francisco. “I had to find a band, and hired my favorite local band, The Zodiacs, which included Pigpen [Ron McKernan] and Jerry [Garcia]!”

After taking summer school classes at Stanford, Kaufman started her studies at UC Berkley, intending to study political science and theater. 

“It was always my vision. Kennedy had been shot. I was in Youth for Kennedy. I studied Latin American studies and Shakespeare.”

Berkeley was emerging as a center of activism and protests. 

“Outside of Sprout Hall, every political perspective was represented by the card tables full of brochures and people on soapboxes. There was a sense of ‘We can do this! We can change the world. We have to!’ I was in heaven there!”  

Kaufman vividly recalls that, within a few weeks of arriving at Berkeley, the campus police removed all the tables and told the organizations that they could no longer operate in any way on the campus. 

“This started the Free Speech Movement,” she continued. “From the first day, I was one of the students ready to fight this battle. Within two months, 700 of us got arrested and our free speech rights were eventually upheld.”

As the counterculture unfolded with its twin flags of music and drugs, Kaufman indulged in both. She describes her involvement with LSD as having “a deeply life-altering effect – there were no words to talk about it.” Even though it wasn’t yet illegal, she recalled that she met resistance at home. “My parents were terrified,” she said, adding that she was one of the youngest involved in Kesey’s escapades, along with the Dead’s Weir and Mountain Girl, Kesey’s girlfriend who would go on to become Jerry Garcia’s wife.

Kaufman always felt she was embodying the Jewish values and that they were always a part of the Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco 1960’s scene. “It was all so intertwined.”  

She notes the involvement of so many of her peers in various civil rights, social justice and spirituality causes and movements.

After meeting the other women in Haight-Ashbury in early 1967, Kaufman and Ace of Cups became integral components of the live music scene in the Bay Area. She was romantically linked to both Paul Simon and to Rolling Stone-founder Jann Wenner.

However, at the same time as compatriots like Grace Slick and Janis Joplin were catching national attention fronting male-dominated bands and receiving record contracts, Ace of Cups were facing challenges. 

“The record label guys that were coming up from LA didn’t know what to do with us. I don’t think we fit in with what they wanted,” said Kaufman. 

They stuck it out without a recording contract for another few years, but by 1972, the band was finished and music made way for motherhood, family responsibilities, “day jobs,” and for Kaufman, life in such exotic places as Kauai, Hawaii.

But nearly 35 years after performing with Jimi Hendrix, the band had an important break – in 2003, it released “It’s Bad for You But Buy It!,” a well-received CD of 1960s “rehearsals, demos, TV soundstage recordings, and in-concert tapes.” 

In 2008, a DVD of their performances from the 1968 television program West Pole was released. 

An even bigger break came on May 14, 2011 when the band reformed and performed at Wavy Gravy’s 75th birthday party and a SEVA Foundation benefit. George Baer Wallace, founder of High Moon Records – in attendance at the Mercury Lounge show – was moved by their performance and offered them a recording contract.

Once again in the limelight, their schedule has been demanding and fun-filled. Before their Mercury Lounge show, the band members appeared onstage with Sirius FM radio host Gary Lambert, who playfully suggested they receive a Grammy Award for best new artist.

The evening kicked off with a video showing the band’s storied history, and continued with an animated Q and A discussion with music editors and writers from Rolling Stone, Relix and other publications. The band played a full electric set and Patti Smith Band guitarist and rock historian Lenny Kaye joined the band for “The Well.”

The next day, they went to Philadelphia for NPR’s World Cafe, and were out late Wednesday attending a Wailers concert at Brooklyn Bowl. Later in the week, they participated in a Friday Night Jam with Rabbi Daniel Brenner and Relix’s Mike Greenhaus at New York’s Rockwood Music Hall.  

The band proudly reports that they have so much additional material that they’ll release their follow up album next year, featuring contributions from Jackson Browne, Wavy Gravy and others. 

The Grateful Dead may have written the line, but it most accurately applies to Ace of Cups – “What a long, strange trip it’s been.”

A JEWISH JOURNEY

Denise Kaufman’s parents were “deeply involved” in Jewish causes. “People always came to our home for dinner – from Brandeis, Hadassah, Federation – causes related to Israel.”

She has photos of her parents with both Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan from fund-raising trips they took to America, and she traveled to Israel – once with her parents, and once with a boyfriend in 1980. Her parents even owned an apartment in Netanya.

“They always gave it to their friends to stay in order to have a more local experience of Israel,” she says.

Kaufman mostly raised her now-adult daughter, Tora, on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, where she cofounded a school (The Island School), arranged Seders (“We had 120 for a seder in 1983!”), served on the board of the Jewish Federation of Hawaii, and hosted Entebbe mission physician Ilan Kutz.

Kaufman speaks fondly of the Friedmans, Israeli friends she met on Kauai in 1980. “Their daughter and her family now have an organic a farm next to ours.”

In 1980, Kaufman and her boyfriend spent a few months in Israel, which she recalls affectionately. They played Hawaiian music (on the dulcimer and guitar), and appeared on the Israeli TV program, Kitoret, with Yaron London. They played at Jerusalem’s Tzavta Theater, surfed in Yamit (“We bought a little car”), surfed and camped in Dahab, in the Sinai.

“One of the most amazing musical experiences of my life happened under the stars in Dahab. We started playing music in the desert night – there were no lights and we couldn’t see anyone, but people in the dunes around us began to join us in song. We sang with an unknown choir almost till dawn.”

Kaufman continues to be actively involved in Jewish life. She speaks fondly of Rabbi Mordecai Finley, her rabbi at Ohr HaTorah in Los Angeles, where she currently spends most of her time. She plays bass there every Shabbat and holiday when she is in town. Kaufman notes that this was also Leonard Cohen’s shul.

In Los Angeles, when she’s not rocking with the Ace of Cups, Kaufman is a private yoga teacher and has worked with Madonna, Quincy Jones, Jane Fonda, and former basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.


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Original Article Published on The New York Jewish Week

The “Pushing the Boundaries: Disabilities, Inclusion and Jewish Community” conference, April 15-17th in Toronto, truly pushed the boundaries.   A severe ice storm and brief power outage may have been minor inconveniences, but they were not going to stop a diverse group of 175 people from such places as Winnipeg, Calgary, Vancouver, Montreal, Minneapolis, New York and various cities and towns in Israel, from attending the first conference of its kind in Canada. The conference has been in the planning stages for three years!

The extraordinary people attending and presenting, the wide range of relevant and timely content, the excitement and enthusiasm in the main conference room, and the always supportive and nurturing feel helped make this conference very special. Attendees included people with disabilities, family members, advocates, community members, foundation representatives, professionals from schools, camps, agencies and a wide range of Jewish organizations–even a Canadian member of Parliament.

The conference, scheduled to begin on Sunday evening April 15th was delayed in starting due to extremely icy and snowy road conditions. Starting the conference Monday morning allowed for more attendees and presenters to arrive—and for the all-star tech staff to make provisions for presenters stuck in Washington, New York and beyond to join and present by video conferencing. All sessions were consolidated in to two action packed days—everyone left exhausted and happy, armed with notes, handouts and inspiring quotes to guide them in their ongoing work.

Connie Putterman, a parent, advocate and chairperson of Itanu, UJA Federation’s Inclusion Committee, introduced Monday morning’s keynote speaker, renowned disability rights activist Diane Richler, and participated on Tuesday’s advocacy panel. Attendees will always remember Putterman’s brilliant insight: “Advocacy is telling your story in a way that other people can hear you!”

Diane Richler, Joseph P. Kennedy Jr Foundation International Fellow, past chair of International Disability Alliance, a leader in the negotiation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and a member of the the Ruderman Family Foundation advisory board, delivered a talk, “Inclusion Without Limits: What Has to Change.” Richler was impressed with the Canadian Jewish community which she observed, “has made much progress in the last few years in promoting inclusion…With creative energy, we can leapfrog over the traditional ways of supporting people with disabilities and make the Canadian Jewish community a model for others.”

All conference attendees learned from panels on such topics as housing, employment, innovations from Israel (including Alut, Krembo Wings, and Israel Unlimited/JDC) and from case to cause—the power of advocacy. They also attended specialized breakout sessions, taking place throughout the very impressive campus of the Lipa Green Centre for Jewish Community Services at the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto. Topics included recreation, aging education, person-centered models, education case studies, dating and relationships, camping and creating inclusive shul communities.

Keynote speaker, Ari Ne’eman spoke on “Disability Inclusion: Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Going,” comedian and inclusion and inclusion advocate, Pamela Schuller entertained Monday evening with her routine, “What Makes Me Tic,” and Tuesday speaker, Maayan Ziv, wowed the audience in a session on innovation and inclusion. Maayan Ziv, a photographer & entrepreneur who also has muscular dystrophy, shared how she has continued to turn obstacles into opportunities. “I have accomplished what I have WITH my disability, not DESPITE it.” She has developed her Access Now app; she and her team are working to document what is accessible in the world. Two of Ziv’s insightful, inspiring quotes will surely travel home with the conference participants. “Accessibility is a mindset that can lead to inclusion;” “People are not disabled- environments are disabling.”

Attendees enjoyed the opportunity to meet colleagues and to share resources. Many extended their already long Monday day session in to night by visiting a program entitled DANI (Developing and Nurturing Independence) for a tour and dinner.

As the conference drew to a close Tuesday after lunch, and participants continued to comment on the unusual weather (it was snowing again!), many exchanged business cards, hugged new friends, and affirmed commitments to ongoing collaboration as we all continue to push boundaries even further!

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Original Article Published at The Jerusalem Post

With the location of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, Queens, it is only natural that there are also many Jewish stories at the tournament.

The final Grand Slam of 2016 is filled with all kinds of big and small stories – from Serena Williams’s quest for her 23rd title, and Djokovic’s for his 13th, to John Isner’s long, heartfelt embrace of 18-year-old Frances Tiafoe following their tough five setter on opening day. A personal favorite moment was watching Gael Monfils chase down a lob – and crashing into and breaking the on court scoreboard on court 17.

With the location of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, Queens, it is only natural that there are also many Jewish stories at the tournament, from players to food to minyan requests.

Israeli Players

Admittedly, there were not many Israelis in the main draw of the US Open singles tournament. One to be exact. And No. 80 in the world, Dudi Sela lost a tough five setter in the first round. But Julia Glushko and Amir Weintraub battled hard through the qualifiers, each winning first-round matches.

Sela, who doesn’t play doubles very often, won a doubles tournament earlier this year and is entered in the doubles draw with Frenchman Stephane Robert. And, as expected, beloved Yoni Erlich is playing doubles – this time teaming up with Santiago Gonzalez of Mexico. Yshai Oliel, a top Israeli junior, will enter the qualifying tournament as he battles for a spot in the main draw of the junior event.

Jewish Players

We have come to expect a large number of Jewish Nobel Prize winners, far out of proportion to our numbers. But what about in the tennis world? There are a surprising number of Jewish players in the draw.

Many – like Americans Noah Rubin and Jamie Loeb (who happened to be mixed doubles partners) and Diego Schwartzman – are vocally proud of their Judaism. A few days ago, Rubin tweeted, “Later in the week, a spectacle will take place as the fighting Maccabees @jloeb308 and I play mixed double @usopen.

Who’s ready?” Schwartzman lost his first round match to fellow countryman and Rio Olympics sensation, Juan Martin del Potro.

There have been unconfirmed reports that a number of other players have Jewish roots, including Camila Giorgi, Elina Svitolina and Timea Bacsinszky. Even it has been reported on several occasions that Rafael Nadal of Mallorca descends from Conversos.

Israeli Matches

A US Open match featuring an Israeli player can best be described as an El Al flight-like experience.

People wander, talk loud, socialize, look for friend, make connections and use Protexia (connections).

During the Sela first-round match, I learned that the woman next to me was a party planner in the US and Israel. And by the start of the second set, I knew which Jewish day school her kids attend.

Half the fans seemed to sport credentials indicating they are a “player guest” of one of the Israeli players.

And people felt comfortable shouting unsolicited advice to Sela, referred to as “Dudi, Melech Yisrael!” (Dudi, King of Israel!).

When my seatmate spotted a man covered with an Israeli flag, she commented that her flag had been confiscated last year. And she asked the guard, “if the player was from Italy, would you have taken his flag?!” There is a wonderful sense of camaraderie and I suspect pro-Israel fans outnumbered pro-Uruguay fans (for player Pablo Cuevas) 10-to-1!

Kosher – and Kosher Style, Too

What is any sporting event without food – and without extraordinarily long lines? New York Brat Factory (certified Glatt Kosher) serves up wraps (tuna, turkey and chicken Caesar) as well as two types of Italian sausages with peppers and onions, overstuffed pastrami sandwiches, knishes, hot pretzels and of course, hot dogs (and pastrami dogs). The stand is closed on Shabbat, and the lines can be long.

This year, SoomSoom, a kosher store in various parts of New York City, has a kosher style booth at the US Open. The booth, outside of Court 17 (and next to Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream) serves up humus, falafel and more. The sign notes “Kosher Style” and workers explain that some food comes from their kosher stores and others are made on site, and that the stand is open on Shabbat.

Ballboys With Yarmulkes

At least one ballboy was spotted on the grandstand court of an important first-round match wearing a yarmulkes.

And the mother of an Orthodox Jewish day school student reports that her son, also a ballboy at the tournament, wears the Polo Ralph Lauren-issued hat to cover his head.

Minyan Requests and More

Friends, colleagues and others who know I am covering the tournament turned to me on Twitter and Facebook and more with their Jewish questions. “What are the chances of “chapping” (catching) a minyan at the US Open; I am a mourner and need one?” I directed him to the Sela match and the kosher food line.

VERY likely!

The New Retractable Dome

Spoiler alert, this is not really a Jewish story at the US Open, but long days and nights at Arthur Ashe Stadium, under the bright sun and inevitable rain, got me thinking – if the US Open can find a way to keep players in action and fans dry during the rain, why can’t our rabbis help us find a way to better enjoy the often rainy Sukkot holiday.

In much of the US, cold, rainy weather often makes for a somewhat unpleasant sukkot. Get to work, rabbis – and speak with the brains behind the amazing retractable dome.

And while you are at it, see if you can find Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur cantors with voices as great as the ones we heard on opening night at the US Open – Phil Collins and Leslie Odom of Hamilton fame.




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