Archive | February, 2020

Read this, but only if you want to be happy

Read this, but only if you want to be happy

Posted on 13 February 2020 by admin

Photo: Courtesy of Blink, Inc.
Rabbi Lazer Brody, marriage counselor.

By Susan Kandell Wilkofsky

The documentary “The Truth About Marriage” is a refreshing and often hilarious look at a problem that is not often addressed in our society.
Why are relationships — particularly marriages — so difficult to maintain? Why can’t we consult “the manual”? Probably because there isn’t one. Not even an app for it. (Hey millennials — that might be a good project for you to develop.) So, what’s an Emmy-nominated documentarian, filmmaker and editor to do? Roger Nygard set out on a quest to answer seemingly impossible questions: Why is marriage so hard? What can we do to improve relationships? He shares his expansive findings with a grateful audience.
Writer and director Roger Nygard is not a name familiar to most of my readers (yet), but I bet you’ll recognize his work. He is best known for his wildly successful documentary “Trekkies” and has directed episodes of popular television shows such as “The Office” and “The Bernie Mac Show.” You’ll often see his name on the credits of many eminently celebrated series including “Grey’s Anatomy,” “The League,” and Emmy-nominated episodes of “Who Is America?” and “VEEP” as well as “Curb Your Enthusiasm” as film editor. Quite a résumé!
After making the documentary “The Nature of Existence,” he searched for a new topic that, in Nygard’s words, “is even more inexplicable than existence itself: marriage.” He recognized that society encourages singles to become couples, but from that point, they’re on their own. Given today’s divorce rate, it’s painfully apparent that without some guidance, we’re ill equipped to deal with issues that inevitably arise. We’re not given any tools that would aid in the maintenance of a loving relationship, so often they fail. Nygard set out to solve the mystery of the happy relationship, and perhaps learn something that he could apply to his own life. Spoiler alert — Nygard is single.
He takes a comprehensive two-pronged approach; first, he exhaustively interviews dozens of experts in the field. We get practical hints and tips from renowned therapists, educators, matchmakers, relationship specialists and coaches, psychologists and marriage counselors. He even consults with his 100-year-old adorable grandmother (who makes a mean cranberry pie). Then he turns his attention to several friends/couples to discover what they’ve learned on their perilous relationship journey. As colleague Doug Williams and wife Ada state, “We call each other the ‘work in progress.’” Doug continues, “I do the work and she makes the progress!” Ada shakes her head in agreement.
It’s interesting to note that many of the experts consulted in the film are Jewish including Rabbi Lazer Brody, an Orthodox rabbi and a marriage counselor who translated “The Garden of Peace: A Marital Guide for Men.” Julie Schwartz Gottman, Ph.D. (author of “10 Lessons to Transform Your Marriage”) and John Gottman, Ph.D. (author of “Why Marriages Succeed or Fail”) also weigh in and offer concrete suggestions to the clueless.
One of the more entertaining couples interviewed are Don Blanquito (formerly Alex Cutler, a Jewish MBA from Los Angeles turned rapper) and his dazzling Brazilian wife Yasmin. Blanquito (a dead-ringer for actor Michael Rapaport) was the most single (and likely to remain that way) person Nygard knew. He learned to sing in Portuguese just to attract Brazilian women and penned songs with spirited lyrics such as, “I wanna be single forever, but I don’t want to die alone.” Seven years later, Nygard returns to Brazil and is astonished to discover that Blanquito is happily married and the proud father of a little girl. And then a little nugget of documentary gold is mined when Yasmin nonchalantly acknowledges a stunning revelation.
As a follow-up to the film, Nygard has written a companion book “The Truth About Marriage: All the Relationship Secrets Nobody Tells You.” The book is an essential primer for anyone who is thinking about getting married or would like to improve his or her current relationship. And that’s just about … everybody. You’re in luck — both film and book are being released on Valentine’s Day (apropos, no?). Perhaps this should be required reading in all high schools. Educators, if you’re paying attention you may want to add the fourth “R” to your curriculum — Relationships.
I met Roger last year when 3 Stars Jewish Cinema hosted the film at the USA Film Festival in April. He was in the middle of a worldwide tour, making the rounds of the film festival circuit with “The Truth About Marriage.” Charming and witty, he regaled the audience with tales culled from the filming process.
One of the things we discovered about him that day is that he’s single and available. So if there are any matchmakers reading this review, I can attest to the fact that he’s smart, accomplished, handsome and armed with a stack of relationship advice. Let’s assist him in meeting his bashert. He probably even knows what that means, having learned Yiddish while working with Billy Crystal. OK, so he’s not Jewish — but no one’s perfect!
The film is not playing in any local theaters, but you can see it in the comfort of your own home. The documentary will hit video on demand (VOD) Friday, Feb. 14 (iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Vudu … the usual suspects, then streaming platforms thereafter). The companion book will also be available on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble on that date.

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Kirk Douglas the mensch

Kirk Douglas the mensch

Posted on 13 February 2020 by admin

Photo: Douglas Collection
Kirk Douglas at the Western Wall in 1977.

First Person

By Harriet P. Gross
I’m not a Facebook person, but sometimes something — some urge brought on by seeing a familiar name — makes me want to take a look. And a few days ago, the message was from my friend and fellow scribbler, Mike Precker. He had entered into some sort of online conversation about the much beloved but recently departed Kirk Douglas; a woman had posted how much she LOVED (caps were hers!) him as Mickey Marcus in “Cast a Giant Shadow,” and Precker, who knows parts of Kirk’s history I’d never heard of, told me he had chimed in with the date of the film: “That was 1966,” he said. And then he told me this:
“Somewhere in the family archive is a photo of Kirk Douglas, shooting the first-ever Hollywood film in Israel, in 1952.” Mike then went on about his own experience, adding a bit of sorrow at the end about his connection through his wife Ruthie, a native Israeli:
“Ruthie’s late father, Shlomo, was a tour guide at the time, who took Kirk Douglas around the country,” Mike said. Then came his sadness about the lost opportunity of a lifetime: “Douglas returned in 1982 to shoot a Holocaust reunion romance, and I’m still kicking myself that I didn’t try to pull some strings to get the two of them back together again.” After that, a brief pause until Mike ended with “RIP, Kirk and Shlomo both.”
I too am able to recount a very personal recollection of my own very different experience with Kirk Douglas — one that had joy rather than sorrow attached. It happened at the start of the Six-Day War in 1967, the fight that meant everything to Israel — its very right to exist, and to claim its rights to Jerusalem and the holy places there. American Jews everywhere were gathering together to raise funds for the cause, and where I lived then was no exception: My town was Park Forest, Illinois — the the most southern of the many southern Chicago suburbs. We Jews in all of them had planned to rally together one evening at Temple Anshe Sholom in Olympia Fields, our area’s largest Jewish house of worship, the only place that could accommodate the anticipated crowd. Its auditorium was at that very time being filled with folding chairs for the occasion.
It was the day of the rally, and guess who was in town: Kirk Douglas himself! Actually, he was at the movie theater in Park Forest, the south suburbs’ largest — which was only a very short two blocks from my newspaper office of the time. He was there to publicize the opening of his new release — I think it was “The Way West,” but I never really knew, because I was not a dedicated film-watcher. What mattered to me then was that the star who had played Israel Colonel Mickey Marcus on the big screen was actually standing there in person, on a red carpet, greeting with smiles and handshakes a long line of his adoring fans at the entrance, and I was thinking about the rally…
My work at that time was largely enterprise reporting — I dug up my own ideas and turned them into feature stories. And now, suddenly, that big but often elusive lightbulb lit up right over my head, giving me a very big idea: What might be my feature of a lifetime was right in town, and If I could carry it off, I could turn my idea into a very big story!
Since the theater was so close to my office, I just walked right over and took my place at end of the long line and patiently waited my turn like everyone else. And although I was planning to do something out of the ordinary, even for me, I wasn’t nervous at all, because I was on a mission! When I finally reached the head of the line, I shook hands with Douglas and said only this: “Do you have some time for Israel?” His short, immediate reply was “When?” “Tonight,” I said. His two “handlers,” standing protectively by him, shook their heads: “No!” But the star shook his head “Yes,” back at them. He knew about all the fundraiser rallies going on across the country, and simply asked me, “Where and when?” So I told him, giving his little entourage the easy instructions for reaching Anshe Sholom. “Go around the back,” I said. “There’s a door that will be open to take you right onto the stage.” Then I returned to my office and called the temple, telling the rabbi’s secretary to make sure the back door would be opened for the rally, that the stage curtains would be closed, and that someone would be there to open them when a “very special guest” had arrived and was in place.
I didn’t tell anyone else anything — not even my husband! I was afraid that something would happen … that his “handlers” had called the shots after all … that the curtains would remain closed because the incredible surprise guest I had promised would not arrive. But he did — right on schedule!
And so it happened that Kirk Douglas made an impromptu appearance for a fundraiser attended by virtually every Jew who lived in any of the many suburbs south of the big city. And once all the attendees at that full house got their breath back, and the star had spoken, answered questions and announced his own support of Israel, more purses and wallets were emptied of more money than our little corner of the Jewish universe had ever put together in all our many earlier rallies to help the beleaguered country that we all loved from afar.
Everyone everywhere knew Kirk Douglas then as the great film star he was. But I, and all those who were there with me that night, have always remembered him as a mensch who put Israel first. We in Chicago’s south suburbs got to know him that night for what he really was: the man who continued to cast a giant shadow — a most benevolent one — over Judaism. And in the years after, we continued to cheer as we had that night, as he continued to support Israel, and as he publicly reconnected with his faith, had a bar mitzvah at 83 and was dedicated to Judaism for the rest of his long life.
So now that I’ve learned more from Mike, I will echo his words myself: “RIP, Shlomo and Kirk both!”

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Beloved rebbetzin, Annette Wolk, 67, passes away

Beloved rebbetzin, Annette Wolk, 67, passes away

Posted on 13 February 2020 by admin

Photo: Akiba Yavneh Academy
Annette Wolk, of blessed memory, loved working with students. She’s shown here with Maggie Morenoff.

By Sharon Wisch-Ray
Annette Wolk, treasured wife, mother, grandmother, sister, educator and founding rebbetzin of Congregation Shaare Tefilla in Dallas, passed away unexpectedly, Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020. She was 67.
Born May 15, 1952, to Esther and Sidney Becker in Washington, D.C., she was the middle of three children. The family moved to Silver Spring, Maryland, when she was about 8.
Mrs. Wolk graduated from Stern College of Yeshiva University with a B.A. in French. She and her husband Rabbi Howard Wolk met in June 1970 in the Pioneer Hotel in the Catskills, New York, while attending an NCSY national convention. They were married Aug. 24, 1975. She was the mother to six children — five sons and a daughter — and grandmother to 19 grandchildren.
It wasn’t until Shabbat came to a close Feb. 1 that Mrs. Wolk’s husband and five of her six children learned of her death. Son Gavi lives in Dallas, but her husband, Rabbi Wolk, was spending Shabbat in New York with his sons in advance of a mission to Israel Feb. 2. The Shaare Tefilla community quickly mobilized to help the Wolk family, who were spread out along the East Coast, get back to Dallas to make shiva plans.
When they boarded the plane Sunday morning, funeral plans were still to be determined.
“When the family got on the plane at 6 a.m. in Newark Sunday, I didn’t think we’d be able to pull everything together and have the funeral that day,” said Rabbi Wolk.
“It’s in Annette’s merit that everything worked out for Sunday, which was the most respectful day to have the funeral.”
Shaare Tefilla Rabbi Ariel Rackovsky explained that the funeral, which was attended by hundreds of people, was pulled together in about four hours.
“Only Annette Wolk could get 800 people to come to shul on time and sit still for over an hour and a half,” he said.
At the funeral held at Shaare Tefilla, Mrs. Wolk was eulogized by her husband, six children, grandson, brother Joel Becker, Chabad of Dallas Rabbi Mendel Dubrawsky and Rackovsky.
Rabbi Howard Wolk explained his wife of 44½ years relished all of her roles: rebbetzin, teacher, friend and mother and safta (grandmother). She taught at Akiba Academy, Yavneh Academy, Levine Academy and Tiferet Israel. She spent 25 years teaching at Akiba Academy, the last 12 in the third grade. She was looking forward to teaching her twin granddaughters, Ruby and Sydney, when they reached the third grade at Akiba. She taught people of all ages how to swim, and Israeli dancing to ladies. She was a founder of the community’s chevra kadisha (burial society).
Speaking from the Shaare Tefilla bimah at the first levayah (funeral) in the synagogue’s new building, Rabbi Wolk said, “Annette, this is your structure. Your Mishkan. You were indeed a brick builder at Shaare Tefilla, at Akiba and at Yavneh. You built our community and you built our home. Our children, baruch Hashem, turned out the way they did because of you, because of your love.”
Present, connected, positive and humble
Each of Mrs. Wolk’s children and her grandson commented that their mother was very present for them, whether cheering them on in sports, helping them with their academics or just being there.
“One of the deepest things I ever picked up from safta was how to talk,” said her grandson Koby, Eli’s son. “When safta said something she really meant it. When safta told us that she loved us, she really did love us. She loved all of her children. She loved all of her grandchildren.”
Youngest son Shimi said, “When she looked at her grandchildren, when she looked in their eyes, you knew she was looking at you with straight attention. It didn’t matter if there was screaming in the background, she was zoned in.”
Gavi added, “She had an amazing way to create a special connection with her kids or grandkids or the hundreds and hundreds of students, friends. It was really humbling.”
Fellow teacher and rabbi, son Akiva, said that his mom wasn’t someone that told people how to do something, she was one that took them by the hand and showed them.
“She didn’t just say lech, go, but rather she said bo, come with me and I will show you the way.”
Son Yonatan said his mom provided “constant love, constant individual attention, constant laughter, wisdom and comfort, all with a vibrancy of life.”
Daughter Michal said her mom was expert at zeroing in on who needed attention, whether in her family or in the community.
“She knew who needed help and encouragement and how to help them even if they didn’t know.”
She added, “She was present to give everyone their time, attention and love. My brothers and I always felt that and her grandchildren for sure knew that.”
Son Eli shared an anecdote of his mother’s pride in watching three Akiba graduates lead services at a recent Shabbat at Shaare Tefilla. Eli, the Wolks’ oldest son, was in town with his family visiting his parents. His brother Gavi, who lives in Dallas, serves as the shul’s gabbai and had asked him to lead the Musaf service. A third Akiba graduate, Eli Rosenberg, was holding the Torah.
After services, his mother shared with him that she spoke at the women’s Tehillim group. Something that she hadn’t planned to do that day, but she had something to share.
“There are times we look around and find problems. In the community we focus on all the things that are broken and need to be fixed. But Mom said there are many times like today when we should focus on the good and recognize what we’ve accomplished as a community.”
Boundless energy and enthusiasm
Mrs. Wolk power-walking at Akiba Academy was legendary. “If you arrived at school early enough you could join her as she led students around on her power walk around campus,” said Akiva.
Whether at her own children’s games or those of Akiba or Yavneh, Mrs. Wolk was the loudest cheerleader in the gym or on the field.
“She had a good eye for sports too, always screaming and yelling for her kids to take a shot or to wait for a good pitch,” said daughter Michal. “She was our team’s biggest fan and the opponents’ loudest enemy.”
Malkie Rosenberg summed up Mrs. Wolk’s energy in this Facebook post:
“Mrs. Wolk was everywhere simultaneously. She was at school teaching, giving bat mitzvah lessons, tutoring children in Hebrew, being a bubby to many (her biggest joy), rooting on the Mets, being an ear and shoulder to many and above all, doing it all while she danced.”
The teacher and mentor
Mrs. Wolk was the kind of teacher that inspired other teachers and brought out the best in her students.
“We had former students of hers that flew in just for a few hours to visit the family,” said Rabbi Wolk.
Rabbi Dubrawsky said that Mrs. Wolk brought Judaism to the students and their families. “Rebbetzin Wolk was the gateway for many many people into their yiddishkeit and their Judaism… When they walked into the school and they saw her with her smile, with her energy, they remembered why they got involved with yiddishkeit with words she taught them.” His children and grandchildren were among those who benefited from her wisdom.
Akiba Yavneh teacher Jennifer Squires worked with Mrs. Wolk for almost 13 years.
“I would never have imagined Akiba wouldn’t have Mrs. Wolk. She exuded energy and joy in everything she took on. I will never forget watching her dance and sing with the students. I would regularly tell her that she was my hero and that I wanted to be her some day. She was an exemplary teacher who was respected by all, co-workers, students and teachers. Her absence has left a hole that will be very hard to fill. I wish I would have seen the bigger picture of who Annette was as a person, while she was alive. She was everyone’s hero and role model. She will be dearly missed!”
Miriam Tannenbaum, who now lives in Israel and worked with her for many years at Akiba, explained the overwhelming sadness she felt when she learned that Mrs. Wolk had passed away. However, the example she set helped her get through her day. Tannenbaum wrote on Facebook:
“Yesterday, I awoke to many texts at 5 a.m.
“No words. I stared at the screen — both in Hebrew and in English, re-reading to see if I misread.
“A sense of shock envelops. And then it began to hit. Such deep sadness overwhelms.
“And I had to go to work. I had to go teach and I did. I worked throughout the day. Teaching classes, working one-on-one with students, worrying about others – all the while with a gulp in the back of my throat. I kept thinking this is what we do. This is what we have to do. This is what Annette z”l would do. Annette was always the teacher.”
Rabbi Yaakov Green, Akiba Yavneh headmaster, said that although he is new to the school this year, Mrs. Wolk’s influence at Akiba was clear from his first days.
“Immediately upon arrival to Dallas, and to Akiba Yavneh, Mrs. Wolk’s z”l presence was palpable. Her personality and her dedication to her work filled any room she was in, and really filled our entire campus. Every teacher, and honestly every administrator, leaned on her for support, guidance and wisdom. However what was most striking was Mrs. Wolk’s sincerity. She was just real. She was up front with her passion for Torah education, for her school, her shul, and most obviously for her family — which she extended to include every student she ever had.”
Shaare Tefilla Rabbi Ariel Rackovsky eulogized Mrs. Wolk at the funeral and spoke with the TJP this week.
He said that her influence on him, and his wife, could not be overstated both as a mentor and a friend.
“In reflecting on her loss, I realize that for me and my wife — and for so many others — she was a dear friend, but she was also a mentor. Raising a large, observant family, particularly a rabbinic family, is not easy and she succeeded spectacularly. I will miss the opportunity to access her wisdom constantly. And the warmth and passion she showed for bringing Jewish people closer to Jewish observance, Jewish learning and Jewish life in general.”
In addition to her husband, Rabbi Howard Wolk, Mrs. Wolk is survived by her six children and 19 grandchildren: Eli and Amy Wolk and their children Avi, Dani and Koby of Bergenfield, New Jersey; Rabbi Eric and Michal Olshan and their children Tzirel Yaffa, Yaacov, Avigayil, Rivka, Shua and Modo; Yonatan and Lani Wolk and their children Jordan, Rafi and Shoshi of Hillside, New York; Rabbi Akiva and Dr. Rachel Wolk and children Miri, Atara, Eliana and Esti of Boca Raton, Florida; Gavi and Talia Wolk and children Ruby, Sydney and Sammy; and Shimi Wolk of New York, New York. She is also survived by her brother and sister-in-law Joel and Tenise Becker and her sister and brother-in-law Ed and Linda Zuerndorfer, all of Silver Spring, Maryland, and many cherished friends.
Following the funeral service, students and teachers lined the Schultz Rosenberg campus of Akiba Yavneh Academy, as the funeral procession passed through en route to the Zion Section of Hillcrest Memorial Park, where Mrs. Wolk was laid to rest.
Memorial donations in Mrs. Wolk’s memory can be made to Rabbi Ariel Rackovsky’s discretionary fund at Congregation Shaare Tefilla, 972-661-0127 or

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The Oslo blood libel is over

The Oslo blood libel is over

Posted on 11 February 2020 by Sharon Wisch-Ray

By Caroline Glick


From 1994 through 1996, as a captain in the Israel Defense Forces, I served as a member of Israel’s negotiating team with the PLO. Those years were the heyday of the so-called peace process. As the coordinator of negotiations on civil affairs for the Coordinator of Government Activities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, I participated in all of the negotiating sessions with the Palestinians that led to a half a dozen or so agreements, including the Interim or Oslo B agreement of Sept. 28, 1995, which transferred civil and military authorities in Judea and Samaria to the PLO.

Throughout the period of my work, I never found any reason to believe the peace process I was a part of would lead to peace. The same Palestinian leaders who joked with us in fancy meeting rooms in Cairo and Taba breached every commitment they made to Israel the minute the sessions ended.

View of Givat Tkuma, near the settlement of Yitzhar in the West Bank, on January 27, 2020. Photo by Sraya Diamant/Flash90

Beginning with the PLO’s failure to amend its covenant that called for Israel’s destruction in nearly every paragraph; through their refusal to abide by the limits they had accepted on the number of weapons and security forces they were permitted to field in the areas under their security control; their continuous breaches of zoning and building laws and regulations; to their constant Nazi-like anti-Semitic propaganda and incitement and solicitation of terrorism against Israel—it was self-evident they were negotiating in bad faith. They didn’t want peace with Israel. They were using the peace process to literally take Israel apart piece by piece.

Israel’s leaders shrugged it off. Instead of protesting and cutting off contact until Yasser Arafat and his henchmen ended their perfidious behavior, Israel’s leaders ignored what was happening before their faces. And in a way, they had no other option.

When Israel embarked on the Oslo peace process it accepted Oslo’s foundational assumption that Israel is to blame for the Palestinian war against it. From the first Oslo agreement, signed on the White House lawn on Sept. 13, 1993, through all its derivative deals, Israel was required to carry out “confidence-building measures,” to prove its good faith and peaceful intentions to Arafat and his deputies.

Time after time, Israel was required to release terrorists from prison as a precondition for negotiations with the PLO. The goal of those negotiations in turn was to force Israel to release more terrorists from prison, and give more land, more money, more international legitimacy and still more terrorists to the PLO.

Last Tuesday, this state of affairs ended.

Last Sunday morning, just before he flew to Washington, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman briefed me on the details of President Donald Trump’s peace plan at his home in Herzliya.

Friedman told me that Trump was going to announce that the United States will support an Israeli decision to apply its laws to the Jordan Valley and the Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria.

 I asked what the boundaries of the settlements would be.

He said that they have a map but it isn’t precise, so it can be flexibly interpreted. It was developed in consultation with Israeli government experts, he added.

Suspicious, I went granular. Khan al-Ahmar is an illegal, strategically located Bedouin encampment built on the access road to Kfar Adumim, a community north of Jerusalem. Israel’s Supreme Court ordered its removal, but bowing to pressure from Germany and allegedly, the International Criminal Court, the government has failed to execute the court order.

I asked if Khan al-Ahmar is part of Kfar Adumim on the American map. Friedman answered in the affirmative.

What about the area called E1, which connects the city of Ma’aleh Adumim to Jerusalem?

Yes, it’s inside the map, he said.

How about the illegal building right outside the northern entrance to my community, Efrat, south of Jerusalem in Gush Etzion. The massive illegal building there threatens to turn Efrat’s highway access road into a gauntlet. Is that area going to be under Israeli jurisdiction?

He nodded.

How about the isolated communities—Yitzhar, Itamar, Har Bracha? Are they Israel?

Yes, yes, yes, he said. Our map foresees Israel extending sovereignty to about half of Area C, he explained.

What about the other half? Without control of the surrounding areas, the communities in Judea and Samaria will be under constant threat. Their development will be stifled by limitations on the development of critical infrastructure.

For now, Friedman replied, everything in the rest of Area C will be governed as it has been up until now. Israel will have overriding civilian powers and sole security authority. In fact, in our plan, he explained, Israel will have permanent overriding security authority over all of Judea and Samaria, even after a peace agreement is concluded.

Friedman then turned to the nature of the agreement the Trump administration seeks to conclude.

The Palestinians have four years, he explained, to agree to the president’s plan. To reach a deal they have to agree to recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. They have to accept Israeli control over the airspace and the electromagnetic spectrum. They have agree to a demilitarized state and accept that there will be no Palestinian immigration to Israel from abroad. They have to agree to Israeli sovereignty over the border with Jordan. They have to disarm Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza and demilitarize Gaza.

If they do that, we will recognize them as a state and they will receive the rest of Area C.

What if they don’t agree to those terms? I asked.

If they don’t agree, he replied, then at the end of four years, Israel will no longer be bound by the terms of the deal and will be free to apply its law to all areas it requires.

You’re telling me that in four years we’ll be able to apply Israeli law in the rest of the territory? I asked, almost afraid to hear the answer.

Yes, that’s right.

My heart started thumping like a rabbit tail.

You mean the Palestinians lose if they don’t agree to peace? Does President Trump support this? I asked in stunned disbelief.

Yes, of course, he supports this. It’s his plan, after all, Friedman said, smiling and a bit surprised at my reaction.


Unannounced, tears began flowing out of my eyes.

Are those tears of happiness or sadness, Friedman asked, concerned.

For several moments, I couldn’t speak. Finally, I said, I feel like I need to take off my shoes. I’m witnessing a miracle.

Shortly thereafter, after thanking him and wishing him well (and washing my face), I left his home, got in my car and drove to the Kotel.

As I listened to his briefing, there in his study, I didn’t feel like I was alone. There with me were 50 generations of Jews in every corner of the globe mouthing the Psalmist’s verses, “And the nations of the world will say, God has greatly blessed them; God has greatly blessed us, we were like dreamers.”

And closely, more immediately, as I sat there listening, I felt 27 years of worry and frustration washing away. The 27-year Oslo nightmare was over. The blood libel that blamed Israel for the Palestinians’ war against it was rejected by the greatest nation in the world, finally.

When you read the Trump plan closely, you realize it is a mirror image of Oslo. Rather than Israel being required to prove its good will, the Palestinians are required to prove their commitment to peace.

Consider the issue of releasing Palestinian terrorists.

Like the Oslo deal and its derivatives, the Trump deal includes a section on releasing terrorists. But whereas under Oslo rules, Israel was supposed to release terrorists as a confidence building measure to facilitate the opening of negotiations, under the Trump deal the order is reversed.

 Israel is expected to release terrorists only after the Palestinians have returned all of the Israeli prisoners and MIAs and only after a peace deal has been signed.

Whereas Israel was required under Oslo to release murderers, the Trump deal states explicitly that Israel will not release murderers or accessories to murder.

One of the PLO’s more appalling demands was that Israel release Arab Israeli citizens convicted on terrorism charges. The subversive demand implied PLO jurisdiction over Arab Israelis. Israel strenuously objected, but all previous U.S. administrations supported the PLO demand.

The Trump deal states explicitly that Israeli citizens will not be released in any future release of terrorists.

There are many problematic aspects to the Trump plan. For instance, it calls for Israel to transfer sovereign territory along the Gaza border to Palestinian control in the framework of the peace deal.

More immediately, the deal requires Israel to suspend building activities in the parts of Area C earmarked for the Palestinians in a future deal, for the next four years. This requirement will pose a major burden to the Israeli communities adjacent to these areas. To develop, these communities require surrounding infrastructure—roads, sewage and other systems—to develop with them.

On the other hand, the Trump plan places no restriction on construction inside of the Israeli communities. Residents of Shiloh and Ariel will have the same property rights as residents of Tel Aviv and Beit She’an.

This then brings us to Israel and the leaders who accepted the Oslo rules for the past 27 years. The Trump plan is a test for Israel. Have we become addicted to the blood libel?

Will Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu keep his word and present a decision to apply Israeli law in the Jordan Valley and the Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria at the next government meeting, or will he lose his nerve and hide behind “technical” issues?

Will Benny Gantz and his Blue and White Party agree to abandon the Oslo blood libel most of its members embrace, and accept that Israel is capable of asserting its sovereign rights to these areas? Or will they hide behind the legal fraternity baying for Netanyahu’s head and preserve the anti-Semitic Oslo paradigm for their friends in the Democratic Party?

And will the legal fraternity, led by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, act in accordance with the law, which empowers the government to determine national policies even before elections? Or will it continue to make up laws to block government action and so render the March 2 poll a referendum between democracy and Zionism and the legal fraternity and post-Zionism?

Under Oslo, Israel had no interest in taking the initiative. Every “step forward” was a set-up. Last week, Trump ended the 27-year nightmare. Oslo is the past. Sovereignty is now. We were like dreamers.

The time has now come to give thanks for the miracle and get on with building our land.

Caroline Glick is an award-winning columnist and author of “The Israeli Solution: A One-State Plan for Peace in the Middle East.

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

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This Jewish data whiz predicts the Oscar winners with math

This Jewish data whiz predicts the Oscar winners with math

Posted on 09 February 2020 by Sharon Wisch-Ray

By Gabe Friedman

Spoiler alert! See Ben Zauzmer’s Oscar predictions at the bottom of this article.

Ben Zauzmer works during the day as a baseball analyst for the Los Angeles Dodgers. (Courtesy of Zauzmer)

(JTA) — In 2012, the first year that Ben Zauzmer made Oscar predictions based on mathematical modeling, he received an email from a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the body that chooses the winners.
Zauzmer was wrong to predict that the silent French film “The Artist” would win best picture, the member said — he and some of his friends in the Academy had heard that “Hugo,” Martin Scorsese’s steampunk adventure flick, had a better chance.
Zauzmer “politely thanked him for his comments,” and was proven right — “The Artist” took home five Oscars that year, including best picture.
Since 2011, his freshman year at Harvard, Zauzmer has put his data skills to work predicting which films have the best chances of winning just about all of the Academy Award categories. Think of him as the Nate Silver of Oscars night.
Zauzmer, 26, works during the day as a baseball analyst for the Los Angeles Dodgers, using math to identify strong players that the team could potentially acquire.
In his Hollywood predictions, he continues a long trend of Jews who have been successful at forecasting — see Silver, Nate Cohn and Harry Enten in the political realm. He’s also far from the first Jewish baseball analyst — the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations, Andrew Friedman, and the new “chief baseball officer” for the Boston Red Sox, Chaim Bloom, are two other prominent examples known for heavily using analytics to make baseball decisions. (Gabe Kapler, the manager of the San Francisco Giants and a former player, is also known as an analytics guru.)
Zauzmer, who hails from a suburb of Philadelphia and says his Reform synagogue was his family’s “home away from home,” doesn’t see Jews’ love for statistics as too coincidental.
“One thing I love about the Reform Judaism that I grew up with, and of Judaism in general, is that we’re always taught to ask why … to try to understand things for ourselves,” he said. “And that same spirit with which we approach religion is also I think a very useful one to approach statistics with: to not just accept anything, but to actually dive into the data and prove it or disprove it for yourself.”
As Zauzmer explains it, his dataset includes anything about movies that he can put a concrete number on. The best predictors usually turn out to be previous award shows — if a director wins the Director’s Guild award earlier in the season, for instance, he or she has a good chance of winning the Oscar for best director — but it also includes critic ratings or “scores” on aggregation sites like Rotten Tomatoes.
The success of his formulas — in 2018, he correctly predicted 20 out of the 21 categories that he put into his models — has earned him an annual column in The Hollywood Reporter, in addition to other freelance pieces for the likes of The New York Times and elsewhere. He documented his approach in a 2019 book, “Oscarmetics: The Math Behind the Biggest Night in Hollywood.”
Of course, each year brings surprises, and Zauzmer’s predictions are never perfect — they just represent the nominees with the best statistical chances of winning. There is always room for surprise.
For example, even Zauzmer was surprised when “Moonlight” won best picture over “La La Land” in 2017, and not because of the infamous envelope mix-up. “La La Land” had dominated awards season before then and was therefore a heavy favorite in Zauzmer’s model.
“It’s why my math doesn’t present 100% or 0% for any nominee,” he said. “Probability is only probability, and not a guarantee.”
Here are Zauzmer’s predictions for this year:
Best Picture – “1917”
Best Director – Sam Mendes, for “1917”
Best Actor – Joaquin Phoenix, for “Joker”
Best Actress – Renee Zellweger, for “Judy”
Best Supporting Actor – Brad Pitt, for “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
Best Supporting Actress – Laura Dern, for “Marriage Story”
Best Original Screenplay – Bong Joon Ho and Han Jin-won, for “Parasite”
Best Adapted Screenplay – Taika Waititi, for “Jojo Rabbit”
Best Animated Feature – “Toy Story 4”
Best Documentary Feature – “American Factory”
Best International Feature – “Parasite”
Best Production Design – “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
Best Cinematography – “1917”
Best Original Score – “Joker”
Best Original Song – “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again,” from “Rocket Man”
Best Film Editing – “Ford v Ferrari”
Best Visual Effects – “Avengers: Endgame”
Best Costume Design – “Little Women”
Best Makeup and Hairstyling – “Bombshell”
Best Sound Editing – “Ford v Ferrari”
Best Sound Mixing – “Ford v Ferrari”

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Kirk Douglas, iconic movie star who reconnected to Judaism later in life, dies at 103

Kirk Douglas, iconic movie star who reconnected to Judaism later in life, dies at 103

Posted on 06 February 2020 by Sharon Wisch-Ray

Kirk Douglas poses in 1950. (PhotoQuest/Getty Images)

By Tom Tugend

LOS ANGELES (JTA) – Kirk Douglas, the legendary actor who portrayed legions of tough guys and embraced his Jewish heritage later in life, died at his home in Beverly Hills on Wednesday. He was 103.
Over a career that spanned 87 films — including 73 big screen features and 14 on television — the blond, blue-eyed Douglas, dimpled chin thrust forward, was often cast as the toughest guy around, vanquishing hordes of Romans, Vikings and assorted bad guys.
Thrice nominated for an Academy Award and a recipient of an Oscar for lifetime achievement and a Presidential Medal of Freedom, Douglas evolved from an egocentric and promiscuous young man into a multi-talented actor, director, author, philanthropist and student of Torah who left a deep imprint on both Hollywood and the Jewish people.
Douglas also was the author of 11 books, ranging from personal memoirs and a Holocaust-themed novel for young readers to a collection of poetry dedicated to his wife.
“Most stars of his stature are shaped out of mythic clay,” the director Steven Spielberg said in presenting Douglas with the lifetime achievement Oscar in 1996. “Kirk Douglas never chose that. He doesn’t have a single character that makes him unique. Instead he has a singular honesty, a drive to be inimitable.”
Douglas was born Issur Danielovitch in 1916 in the upstate New York town of Amsterdam, the son of an illiterate Russian-Jewish immigrant who supported his six daughters and one son as a rag picker and junk man.
A chance to escape came shortly after his bar mitzvah, when the Sons of Israel Synagogue offered to underwrite his rabbinical studies. Douglas firmly declined, declaring that he would become an actor. He held fast to that ambition while attending Saint Lawrence University on a wrestling scholarship and during World War II service in the U.S. Navy.
His first movie role came in 1946, when he played Barbara Stanwyck’s husband in “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers.” Douglas received favorable reviews, but his career wouldn’t really take off until three years (and six films) later, when he portrayed Midge Kelly, a ferocious and amoral boxer in “Champion.” The performance earned him an Academy Award nomination for best actor.
During the 1950s and ’60s, Douglas ranked consistently as one of Hollywood’s top male stars for his single-minded focus on his craft, while also squeezing in Broadway and television appearances. He was also known for egocentricity in a town with no shortage of oversize egos and for bedding an endless string of women, from movie queens to casual pickups.
In the 1950s, he starred in 23 movies. He earned best actor Oscar nominations for “The Bad and the Beautiful” and “Lust for Life.” And in 1953, he starred as a Holocaust survivor in “The Juggler,” the first Hollywood feature to be filmed in Israel.
He opened the decade of the 1960s with “Spartacus,” perhaps his most enduring movie, in which he played the leader of a slave rebellion in ancient Rome. The film won four Oscars, though none for Douglas.
But Douglas did distinguish himself for insisting that writer Dalton Trumbo, who had been blacklisted as a communist for a decade but continued to write under a pseudonym, be credited onscreen despite dire warnings that such a provocation would end his own Hollywood career. Douglas was honored for that stance in 2011 by the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.
With increasing fame and fortune, Douglas showed little interest in Jewish practice, though there were exceptions.
“I always fasted on Yom Kippur,” he told a reporter. “I still worked on the movie set, but I fasted. And let me tell you, it’s not easy making love to Lana Turner on an empty stomach.”
In his later years, Douglas would come to embrace his Jewishness, a shift he dates to a near-fatal collision in 1991 between his helicopter and a stunt plane in which two younger men died. The crash compressed his spine by three inches. While lying in a hospital bed with excruciating back pain, he started pondering the meaning of his life.
“I came to believe that I was spared because I had never come to grips with what it means to be Jewish,” he said.
Douglas embarked on an intensive regime of Torah study with a number of young rabbis and celebrated a second bar mitzvah at age 83, telling the Hollywood luminaries crammed into the 200-seat chapel at Sinai Temple for the occasion: “Today, I am a man.”
Neither of his two wives — the late actress Diana Dill and Anne Buydens, whom he married in 1954 — were Jewish, and none of his children were raised in the faith. But his oldest son, the actor-director Michael Douglas, has reconnected with Judaism and won the 2015 Genesis Prize, a $1 million award recognizing Jews of great accomplishment who exhibit Jewish values.
In 2014, at Douglas’ 50th wedding anniversary, Buydens startled the guests by announcing that she had converted to Judaism.
“Kirk has been married to two shiksas and it’s about time he married a nice Jewish girl,” she proclaimed.
In 1996, Douglas suffered a stroke that left him speechless. He fell into a deep depression that nearly led him to take his own life.
A few months later, he made his first public appearance to accept the lifetime achievement award.
“Whether he’s dealing with a character on screen or with the all-too-real effect of a recent stroke, courage remains Kirk Douglas’ personal and professional hallmark,” Spielberg said in presenting the award.
Through rigorous speech therapy, Douglas taught himself to speak again – slowly, with a slight slur. He later published a book about the experience titled “My Stroke of Luck.”
Among his other books are “Let’s Face It,” which proclaimed that romance begins at 80; “I Am Spartacus!,” focusing on making the film and breaking the blacklist; and “Climbing the Mountain,” which traced his search for spirituality and Jewish identity.
In 2014, at 98, he published his first book of poetry, “Life Could Be Verse,” in which he expressed his enduring love for his wife as well as his heartbreak at the death of his youngest son, Eric, who died of a self-induced drug overdose.
Along with his wife, Douglas has given over $100 million to charitable causes in the United States and Israel. The couple have established nearly 400 playgrounds in poorer sections of Los Angeles and Jerusalem, an Alzheimer’s hospital unit, and a theater facing the Western Wall featuring films on the history of Judaism and Jerusalem.
In 1981, Douglas received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian award, from President Jimmy Carter.
Along with his wife and son Michael, Douglas is survived by sons Peter and Joel Douglas, seven grandchildren – Cameron, Dylan, Carys Zeta, Kelsey, Jason, Tyler and Ryan – and a sister, Ida Sahr of Schenectady, New York.

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‘Hans & Sophie’: from Nazi support to resistance

‘Hans & Sophie’: from Nazi support to resistance

Posted on 05 February 2020 by admin

Photo: Courtesy Illana Stein
rom left to right, the “Hans and Sophie” creative team: lead playwright, Deborah Yarchun; playwright/actor, Sean Hudock; playwright/actor, Rebekah Brockman; and playwright/director, Illana Stein.

The play’s world premiere takes place at Amphibian Stage

By Amy Wolff Sorter
“At the Heart of the White Rose: Letters and Diaries of Hans and Sophie Scholl” was first published in 1987. Based on letters and diaries between a brother and sister who are considered an important part of resistance against the Nazis, the book allows the two protagonists, Hans Scholl and his younger sister, Sophie, tell their stories through the writings.
The White Rose movement, which had a strategy of passive resistance through the printing and distribution of six leaflets throughout German cities, is a compelling piece of history. It demonstrates that not all Germans were pro-Nazi and that younger Germans, in particular, were willing to stand up and voice defiance. What hasn’t been focused on, quite so much, is the emotional and spiritual journey of Hans and Sophie Scholl from staunch Nazi supporters, to disillusionment and horror of where Germany was headed, to their ultimate execution on Feb. 22, 1943.
The world premiere play, “Hans & Sophie,” tells that story. Created by Sean Hudock, Illana Stein and Deborah Yarchun, the play opens on Friday, Feb. 7, 2020, and runs through March 1 at Amphibian Stage Productions in Fort Worth. Stein, who hails from Fort Worth, is also directing the play, while Hudock portrays Hans in the two-person cast. “There have been other plays about Sophie,” Stein said. “But I don’t know of any that take the story from their childhood to their execution. I was invested in understanding what turns someone who was a member of the Hitler Youth brigade into someone who defies it.”
Getting the story from book to stage began with Hudock, who thought the story could be converted into a meaningful play, and enlisted his good friend, Stein, into the effort. However, as neither had ever written a play before — “(Sean) is an actor-producer and I’m a dramaturg-director,” said Stein — they enlisted the assistance of Austin native Yarchun, an experienced, award-winning New York playwright. All three lived in New York and, according to Stein, the collaboration was “both exciting and challenging, especially as we came from different disciplines.”
“Hans & Sophie” became a three-year journey, undergoing many read-throughs and revisions, workshops and public readings. During the process, playwright/actor Rebekah Brockman joined the collaboration; she portrays Sophie in the show. The progression also required an understanding of Hans’ and Sophie’s characters and motivations, as well as research into the Hitler Youth movement and its philosophy. Stein, at one point, who had directed “A Lost Leonardo” at Amphibian Stage, reached out to Kathleen Culebro, the theater’s Founding Artistic Director, to tell her about “Hans and Sophie.” Culebro invited the writers to workshop the play, and obtain audience feedback in Fort Worth. “The audiences that came out, and stayed were engaged and wanted to be part of the process,” Stein commented. Because of the positive response, Amphibian Stage placed “Hans & Sophie” on its schedule for 2020.
During the play’s run, special events will take place. Following the 2 p.m. show on Sunday, Feb. 16, the Jewish Federation of Fort Worth & Tarrant County will sponsor a “talk-back” with the playwrights and actors. Hans and Sophie Scholl were executed on Feb. 22, 1943; the Feb. 22 performance will commemorate the event. The next day, Sunday, Feb. 23, Charlotte Decoster, director of education with the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights museum, will be the featured speaker following the matinee performance. The White Rose Foundation’s exhibit “White Rose: The Student Resistance Against Hitler, Munich, 1942-1943” will be in the lobby throughout the production. And, the book on which the play was based will also be available for sale.
For Stein, the process has done more than hone her playwriting skills. “It’s interesting to see a story of everyday by-standers, those who stood up against tyranny,” she observed. “That’s why this play is so incredibly hopeful.”
Additionally, that the idea of courage is something Stein hopes the audience takes away from the play. “Even though Sophie and Hans were executed, their resistance lived on,” she said, pointing out that the final leaflet, smuggled out of Germany, was copied and distributed to the advancing Allies, who dropped them all over Germany from aircraft. “Knowing that this message reached millions is extremely hopeful,” Stein said.
Finally, Stein said she enjoyed the writing experience, but is eager to return to New York and direct other plays. And, once “Hans & Sophie” finishes its run at Amphibian, she hopes the play will be produced elsewhere. “This is an important story to tell,” she said. “The goal is to reach as many people about this as possible.”

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Faith Inclusion Network of Dallas–JFS FINDing action

Faith Inclusion Network of Dallas–JFS FINDing action

Posted on 05 February 2020 by admin

Photo: Courtesy Jewish Family Service Dallas
In 2014, Vanderbilt University Professor of Special Education Dr. Erik Carter spoke at the Jewish Family Service Faith Inclusion Network of Dallas event. On Feb. 25 the symposium returns, hosted at Temple Emanu-El, with a day of making things happen for parents, educators, community leaders and clergypersons from throughout our community. “The only label should be ‘child of God,’” said Rev. Bill Gaventa, one of this year’s keynote speakers. “Each of us is meaningful and talented.”

By Deb Silverthorn
The Faith Inclusion Network of Dallas (FIND) Symposium is a day of action for parents, educators and faith leaders. Programming begins with registration and refreshments at 9 a.m., and the first keynote at 9:40 a.m., on Tuesday, Feb. 25, at Temple Emanu-El, 8500 Hillcrest Road.
“We are moving beyond the concept of inclusion to the goal of integration. It’s time for everyone to feel as if they truly belong with their congregational family,” said JFS Director of Special Needs Partnership and Programs Lorraine Friedman. “The Faith Inclusion Network of Dallas event is a day of action — a day to get things done.
“Regardless of the faith we follow, we’re all called in our traditions to be inclusive. We are created b’tzelem Elohim, in God’s image,” said Friedman. “From this day there will be action, people in our communities will be affected and together we’ll be whole, complete and more meaningful. We’ll bring that to the families living with special needs and each of them will bring that to us. Opening the dialogue to create true communities of belonging is what the day is all about.”
Rev. Bill Gaventa, founding director of the Collaborative on Faith and Disability and the Institute on Theology and Disability, will be one of the symposium’s keynote speakers. “There are all kinds of people in God’s creation and we need to learn to bring everyone together, to appreciate the gifts and talents of all,” said Rev. Gaventa. “The only label should be ‘child of God.’ Each of us is meaningful.”
He added, “We need to relearn what it means to take care of each other. Beyond inclusion, it is more important that people feel like they belong, that they are connected — that is priceless.” said Rev. Gaventa. “It is the gifts and strengths of every human that we must focus on and we will all be the better for it.”
At 10:45 a.m., and again at 1:15 p.m., one-hour breakout sessions will have parents, educators and faith leaders hearing from community experts, together sharing their experiences, strengths and hopes.
From noon to 1 p.m., during a one-hour lunch catered by The Market (under Dallas Kosher supervision), guests will hear from Vance Gilmore, director of Belong disABILITY, and Rev. Ramsey Patton, Associate Minister of Care and Engagement Ministries — both of Highland Park United Methodist Church.
Joining Friedman on the FIND advisory council are JFS’ Marketing Manager Jamie Denison; Rev. Tom Hudspeth (Lovers Lane United Methodist Church); Liz Irvin (Highland Park United Methodist Church); Dr. Hind Jarrah (Texas Muslim Women’s Association); Eileen Kreisler (founder of the Lomdim special education project at Temple Emanu-El); Nagla Moussa (National Autism Association of North Texas); Rev. Witek Nowosiad (Children’s Hospital Plano and Beyond Karate); Rabbi Amy Ross (Temple Emanu-El); Alison Schuback, a community member living with special needs, and her father Mike, as well as Melissa Waldon (Catholic Diocese of Dallas).
“We have a responsibility to broaden the scope of how we bring people into our communities, how we serve them and how we make space for them to share their abilities with us,” said Rabbi Ross, Temple Emanu-El’s director of Learning and Innovation, who oversees Youth Learning + Engagement. “We are greater when we come together — clergy, educators, community leaders and families from throughout our city’s faith communities. The lives of those living with special needs and their family members will be enriched, as will all of ours.”
Beginning at 2:30, the group will share in table talks, led by the advisory council, with closing remarks and a goal of boots on the ground immediately bringing action in each sector of the community.
“The Faith Inclusion Network of Dallas symposium is a wonderful opportunity to convene change-makers to improve inclusive practices for those with special needs and their families in places of worship,” said JFS’ CEO Cathy Barker. “We hope to see a great representation of the Jewish community, of all communities. At JFS, we value collaboration and innovation and we think this opportunity will further Dallas’ inclusive movement.”
For more details, or to register for the Feb. 25 FIND symposium (RSVPs requested by Feb. 10), visit

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‘The Band’s Visit’: Music and life fill Winspear stage

‘The Band’s Visit’: Music and life fill Winspear stage

Posted on 05 February 2020 by admin

Photo: Matthew Murphy
The company of “The Band’s Visit” North American Tour makes a stop in Dallas at the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Winspear Theater through Feb. 23.

By Shari Goldstein Stern
On the heels of the 2018 Tony Awards, Jewish community member Marilyn Schwartz traveled to see her adult daughter, Emily, in New York. They saw the “Best Musical” on Broadway, “The Band’s Visit” (TBV). Schwartz had this to say about the Tony winner: “The show is more about life and relationships between people than it is huge production numbers with flashy costumes. I like shows like this. There was some light humor, but it was also very touching when it explored individual lives and relationships.”
Schwartz continued, “Every character seemed to take away some benefit from a chance meeting that only happened because of a simple mistake. Emily and I were both smiling at the end.” She added that an Orthodox couple sitting next to them were also smiling. Schwartz, who is a volunteer at The Legacy Willow Bend and Hunger Busters, added, “To sum up my thoughts about the show: It is understated, humorous and touching. I recommend it.”
The compelling musical is onstage at AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Winspear Opera House through Feb. 23 in collaboration with Dallas Summer Musicals. Broadway’s TBV production, based on the 2007 film by the same name, earned 10 Tony Awards including Best Musical. Other Tonys the musical garnered in 2018 included Sound, Lighting, Original Score, Lyrics, Book, Orchestration, Direction, Scenic design and Leading actress. The show also earned awards from the Drama League, and New York Drama Critics’ Circle, the Outer Critics Circle, the Lucille Lortel and the Obies.
The show also earned a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Sound Design and won the Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album. The score is exquisite and many songs can be heard in advance of the performance at
The musical tells the simple story of human connection and commonality between cultures. It is set in Israel in 1996 in the fictional Negev town of Bet Hatikva. Because of a mix-up, the Egyptian band ends up “lost” and way off the beaten path. Because there’s not another bus until the next morning, musicians and locals get to talking at a small café.
Sasson Gabay, the actor who brilliantly led the cast of the 2007 film as Lt.-Col. Tawfig Sacharya, reprises the poignant role in this national touring company. Gabay also brought the Lieutenant-Colonel to life in the Broadway production. In the film, Gabay, who is originally from an Iraqi Jewish family in Baghdad, portrays Sacharya as a polite, gentle, and pensive man with a curiosity in his face about everything that’s new around him. He wants to know about the people he meets but is too shy to probe. He is a strict disciplinarian of the band. Relationships between the musicians, and with their new acquaintances are at the root of the story, along with their shared passion for music.
Dallasite Debbie Schweig and her family also saw “The Band’s Visit” in 2018 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on Broadway. She said, “We saw the original cast and they were terrific. The music is Middle Eastern and uses some rare musical instruments. The band plays their music on the stage itself.”
Schweig continued, “The music is simplistic without any large musical or choreographed moments. I particularly enjoyed the songs ‘Welcome to Nowhere,’ ‘Haled’s Song about Love,’ and ‘Omar Sharif’ that were sung in the production we saw by those in the original cast album.”
Gabay has dozens of film and television appearances to his credit in addition to dramatic and musical theater, both Israeli and internationally. Among his credits are “Catch-22,” “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” and “Rain Man.” He played the grouchy Hook in the 1989 musical, “Captain Hook.”
Gabay treasures the experience he has enjoyed on his journey from the film, to Broadway and now the tour. “In 2010 this show changed my career and my life,” he said.
When the actor first went into audition for the film role, he read some of the script and told the casting director, “I know this man. You’re wasting your time to audition me.”
Then in 2010, the film’s producer asked him, “Do you want to join me for this adventure?”
In 2018, Gabay joined the Broadway cast and then this national tour.
In the story, the characters share some of their innermost feelings with each other. “People sometimes share more with a stranger than they do with those around them,” the actor said.
According to Gabay, “The stories we tell as actors are always relevant. But right now, this story is more relevant than usual. We learn to overcome boundaries, welcome our differences, and learn about each other’s nationalities.” He continued, “In the show, each character shares something from their heart with another, and learns something from the heart of another,” Gabay added. “I have shared intimate things with people I don’t know that well.
Although he has sung many times in Israeli performances, he considers himself “an actor who can sing.” He also describes “The Band’s Visit” as a play with songs.
The actor is traveling with his wife and his son, Adam, who is also in the show playing “Papi.” The couple have five children and five grandchildren. He says he’s thrilled to be with his family on this adventure. The tour was in Houston before making its Dallas production.
When asked about touring in a show with his son, Adam, Gabay was happy to talk about how proud he is. “Adam was about 4 in kindergarten. He was participating in a Hanukkah celebration. “I watched him and knew in five minutes he was meant for the stage,” the proud father said.

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Levine Academy will mark 40 years at March gala

Levine Academy will mark 40 years at March gala

Posted on 05 February 2020 by admin

Photo: Courtesy Pailet Family
“The vision and sheer will of its founders, my grandparents included, is to be celebrated, respected and never forgotten,” Kevin Pailet said of Levine Academy, his grandparents Ervin and Frances Donsky among its founders. Kevin and his wife Mahra, shown here with children (front row, left and right) Lyle Ethan and Miller and (top, right) Bella, will be honored at the school’s Masquerade Anniversary Gala celebrating the school’s 40 years.

By Deb Silverthorn
The Ann and Nate Levine Academy (formerly known as Solomon Schechter Academy) will celebrate 40 years with a Masquerade Anniversary Gala honoring Kevin and Mahra Pailet. Cocktails will be served beginning at 5:30 p.m. Sunday, March 8, at Congregation Shearith Israel. Dinner catered by Spice of Life, silent and live auctions and entertainment will follow.
“It’s an honor to be a part of the vision and the mission that our founders realized and all who have been connected to help Levine Academy continue to reach new heights,” said Levine Academy Head of School Tom Elieff. “We’re proud of our school, which started out small and has grown into a robust academic institution serving infants through eighth grade.”
An online auction will open with gift cards, entertainment, jewelry, sports memorabilia, trips and more. Raffle tickets are on sale now, with two prize winners receiving diamond jewelry donated by Shira Diamond owners, and Levine Academy parents, Adva and Kfir Rahamim. Tickets are $20 each and winners do not need to be present.
The Pailets, members of congregations Anshai Torah and Shearith Israel, are being honored by Levine for their commitment. It’s something that comes to the couple inherently and through the family tree — Kevin’s grandparents, Ervin and Frances Donsky, of blessed memory, were among the school’s founding families.
“Having watched the school evolve since its founding is nothing short of amazing. The vision and sheer will of its founders — my grandparents included — is to be celebrated, respected and never forgotten,” said Kevin Pailet, the son of Harrell and Marilyn and brother of David (Sarah), Eric and Jeffrey (Summer). “The true partnership of educators and parents is an essential part of what makes Levine a second home to its students and the collaborative efforts of Jewish and secular studies creates a learning environment in which our kids learn rigorously and thrive wholly.”
For both Kevin and Mahra, parents of Levine graduate Bella, and current students Lyle Ethan and Miller, there was never a question about their decision to send their children to the school or for them, as parents, to become active players in the place that nurtures their children.
“Unlike the families that had to take a leap of faith when the school was young and without a proven track record,” said Kevin Pailet, “we have the benefit of walking into an established community of families where trust, strength and excellence have already been cemented.”
In the spirit of carrying on
traditions from generation to generation, both Kevin and Mahra set the bar high through their commitment to serving their community through many organizations including the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center, American Jewish Congress, Congregation Shearith Israel and Jewish Family Service. Kevin is presently treasurer at the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas and member of AIPAC’s national board. Mahra serves on the board of Momentum and is a past-president of Levine Academy’s Parents Association and past Gala and Annual Fund co-chair.
“There’s a warmth, vibrancy and excitement from the minute you walk into the building that gives you the feeling that something great is always happening,” said Mahra Pailet, the daughter of Lyle (of blessed memory) and Sheri and sister of Brad. “Our children are happy, they are learning, joyful, responsible and community-minded and they are stimulated intellectually and culturally each day.”
The evening will honor the school’s focus on leadership and Jewish values, complemented by its strategic emphasis on STEM education, a strong humanities program, professional development and instructional excellence.
“Levine is a place of legacy. Many of our alumni are now our parents and also community leaders who have such meaningful memories of this school that they now send their children, confident they will gain just as much from their experience,” said Elieff.
Community leader Nate Levine, for whom the school is named along with his wife Ann, is happy the school continues its strong commitment to Jewish and secular education and innovation.
“Creating Jewish leaders for tomorrow’s world is what it’s all about. We are proud the school is poised to move forward from strength to strength.”
Tribute journal ads are due by Feb. 7 to For more information, reservations (by Feb. 18), or to participate in the online auction, visit or call 972-248-3032.

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