November 19th, 2015

Bringing Lego Judaica to life

Yitzy Kasowitz, of St. Paul, is the founder of JBrick, which creates custom Jewish-themed Lego sets

By ERIN ELLIOTT BRYAN / Community News Editor

When Yitzy Kasowitz first met his wife, Channie, she asked him what his dream job would be. A Lego master builder, he told her.

Now, more than 10 years later, Kasowitz says, “Be careful what you wish for.”

By day, Kasowitz is an expert builder at Brickmania, a Minneapolis-based company that creates custom military Lego sets and accessories. By night and weekends (and whenever he can find the time), Kasowitz is the designer at JBrick, the company he founded that creates and builds custom Jewish-themed Lego sets. (Channie, who has a degree in finance, is the business manager.)

“When I was a kid, I wanted to buy a Jewish Lego set and it wasn’t available,” Kasowitz told the AJW during a recent interview at his home in St. Paul. “Now we like to create smiles around the world.”

This popular three-in-one menora set includes 96 genuine Lego elements and color instructions for three models: two menoras and one dreidel.

This popular three-in-one menora set includes 96 genuine Lego elements and color instructions for three models: two menoras and one dreidel.

Kasowitz explained that Lego does not create anything military or religious, which provides opportunities for companies like Brickmania and JBrick. The pieces used in these custom sets are Lego and come from a variety of resellers around the world, or from the Lego Store at Mall of America. Kasowitz uses only new pieces; nothing comes from a garage sale.

(Lego does not sell wholesale, and does not authorize or endorse Kasowitz’s products.)

“It is Lego,” Kasowitz said. “It’s not just Lego compatible.”

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November 19th, 2015

In Paris, a Shabbat marred by terror

For a Paris congregation, terror had, once again, turned singing into mourning, but it could not overcome the essential power of sacred community


PARIS (JTA) — My son and I met in Paris on Friday morning, walked the charming streets of the City of Light, visited the Picasso and Pompidou museums, then went to synagogue at the MJLF (Mouvement Juif Libéral de France), one of the most vibrant Reform synagogues in Paris.

First Person

Rabbi Delphine Horvilleur, a respected French journalist and graduate of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York, who had been my student about a decade ago, presided over a full house of committed French Jews who sang with spirit and prayed with intensity. We enjoyed the familiar liturgy set to unfamiliar tunes, the two young people getting ready for their B’nai Mitzva in the morning, the aufruf for a young soon-to-be-married couple and the very warm welcome of the entire congregation.

Aside from the heavily armed soldiers out front, a staple in European synagogues for a long time already, and the mental workout of comprehending a sermon given in French, it felt very much like home.

Parisians outside the Bataclan concert hall after the terrorist attacks last Friday night. (Photo: Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images)

Parisians outside the Bataclan concert hall after the terrorist attacks last Friday night. (Photo: Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images)

From there we went to Rabbi Horvilleur’s apartment in the Marais, the historic Jewish district, for Shabbat dinner with her beautiful family and some friends. We made blessings, ate delicious food, sang songs, chatted about the Jewish community, her professors and colleagues, and caught up in the manner one does with cherished friends one does not see often. As usual, our phones were left untended out of respect for the peace of the Sabbath.

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November 19th, 2015

Mount Zion to host chef Tina Wasserman

Mount Zion Temple will host a chef-in-residence weekend with bestselling cookbook author Tina Wasserman on Friday, Nov. 20 and Saturday, Nov. 21 at the synagogue, 1300 Summit Ave., St. Paul. The events are titled “Beyond Brisket and Bagels: What Really Makes Food Jewish?”

Wasserman is a respected and well-known cooking instructor whose hands-on approach to all facets of food — that also happens to be kosher — and its preparation have appealed equally to her non-Jewish and Jewish students for 40 years.

Tina Wasserman

Tina Wasserman

On Friday, during 7:30 p.m. Shabbat services, Wasserman will speak on “Beyond Brisket and Bagels: 1492 and its Impact on World Cuisine.” After services, the oneg will includes desserts from her talk.

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November 19th, 2015

Only memories remain of Poland’s Jews

Free walking tours and beautiful museums tell the story of the Jewish communities in Warsaw and Krakow before and during World War II


Poland was high on my bucket list. So it was time to check it out, thanks to amazingly affordable prices, welcoming locals, and a lively, can-do spirit fueling cities on the rise — add in the many moving sites of Jewish heritage and we were on our way.

We began our trip in Warsaw, the capital, where Old Town presents charming façades of a bygone era, but they’re false. Thanks to local spirit, Old Town has been rebuilt exactly as it stood before — well, before the worst of times.

Jewish Travel

The entire city was savagely flattened by the Nazis in reprisal for the courageous but doomed Warsaw Uprising of 1944 (separate from the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943). Today the heroic event is relived in the Warsaw Uprising Museum, with its reenactment of that amazing 63-day struggle, by Jews and gentiles alike, and life under the Nazi regime.

The new Galicia Jewish museum in Krakow, Poland. (Photo: Carla Waldemar)

The new Galicia Jewish Museum in Krakow, Poland. (Photo: Carla Waldemar)

Jewish buildings were methodically destroyed and lives cruelly ended, but neither has been forgotten. Memorials arise where once brave events occurred, and our mission as visitors was to pay homage. We joined a free walking tour of Jewish Warsaw, which was once second only to New York in Jewish residents — 400,000 before the mass murders; 3,500 today.

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November 19th, 2015

Discovering Nasielsk

Three Minutes in Poland: Discovering a Lost World in a 1938 Family Film, by Glenn Kurtz, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 419 pages, $16

Reviewed by NEAL GENDLER

“Three minutes of film impose a harsh limit on the visible traces of Jewish Nasielsk,” the Polish town of his grandfather’s birth, says author Glenn Kurtz.

That’s all Kurtz had, but he certainly made the most of it, using those minutes, plus copious research and a series of lucky coincidences, to build a picture of a community extinguished by Germany on Dec. 3, 1939. The film was shot by his grandfather David, visiting from the United States, on Thursday, Aug. 4, 1938.

“Through the brutal twists of history, my grandfather’s travel souvenir became the only surviving film of this Polish town” northwest of Warsaw. Its Jews numbered 3,000 before the war, a scattered 80 after. Fewer still lived there in 2009, when Kurtz began a four-year, five-nation quest to learn the identities, lives and fates of those shown.


In Three Minutes in Poland, out this week in economical paperback with a new afterword, Kurtz tells how he found the film in a closet of his parents’ Florida home in 2009, while coincidentally working on a novel about Jewish brothers who escape 1938 Vienna. The novel was framed by a woman plucking a reel of old documentary film from a flea market’s trash.

“She becomes increasingly obsessed with the people in the film,” Kurtz says. “Who are they? What became of them?”

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November 12th, 2015

Kids, enter our Hanuka Cover Contest!

Attention, artistic youth: the American Jewish World’s 24th annual Hanuka Cover Contest is in full swing.

The winning artwork depicting the symbols and meaning of Hanuka will grace the front cover of the Jewish World’s Dec. 4 Hanuka special edition, and the winner will have her or his picture in the newspaper!

In addition, there will be fabulous prizes for the winner and runners-up.

All of the details can be found on a flyer: HERE.

The submission deadline for artwork is 5 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 25. This contest is open to all students attending 1st through 8th grades.

Entries should be designed in a VERTICAL format.

Please send entries to: AJW Cover Art, 4820 Minnetonka Blvd., Suite 104, Minneapolis, MN 55416.

Artwork will not be returned and will become the property of the American Jewish World.


2014 Hanuka Cover Contest winning artwork by Yonah Davis.


November 4th, 2015

Those madcap Marx Brothers onstage

The Cocoanuts, the Marx Brothers’ first film, originated on the Broadway stage, and now returns to the Guthrie stage


The critics surveyed on Rotten Tomatoes, the popular movie Web site, give The Cocoanuts, the Marx Brothers’ 1929 film, a solid 95 percent rating on the Tomatometer.

“Fun puts melody in the shade,” wrote Mordaunt Hall, in his New York Times review of the first film from “that incongruous quartet” — Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Zeppo. Hall’s review noted that “talking pictures are still in their puppyhood,” and the critic focused on the “registering of the voices” and innovative camera work in The Cocoanuts.

The film follows on the 1925 Broadway musical, for which the Marx Brothers cannily recruited some of the leading talents of the day. Notably, George S. Kaufman wrote the book for The Cocoanuts, and the legendary Irving Berlin composed songs for the musical. After the Broadway run ended, the comedy brothers took the show on the road — and went back to Berlin, who reportedly wrote another 30 songs for the show.

The Marx Brothers — Harpo, Chico and Groucho — as portrayed in The Cocoanuts, opening Nov. 14 at the Guthrie Theater. (Photo: Jenny Graham)

The Marx Brothers — Harpo, Chico and Groucho — as portrayed in The Cocoanuts, opening Nov. 14 at the Guthrie Theater. (Photo: Jenny Graham)

The Guthrie Theater production of The Cocoanuts follows a 2014 run at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

“This is only the second production of this adaptation by Mark Bedard,” director David Ivers explains, during a phone interview with the Jewish World. “It’s the same creative team that helped develop it, but it’s largely a new cast and a new production [at the Guthrie].”

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