May 18th, 2017

Remembering Guernica and its message for today

Guernica, A town bombed 80 years ago by Franco’s Axis allies stands as a reminder of the consequences of inaction in the face of fascist aggression


The Basque town of Guernica recently recounted the sorrow and devastation inflicted 80 years ago. On that fateful late afternoon of April 26, 1937, German and Italian aircraft, at the urging of General Franco and his right-wing Nationalists, unleashed their bombs on unsuspecting civilians.


Just nine months before, Franco had led a coup against Spain’s Republican government, dragging the country into a civil war. The Nationalists eventually triumphed and Franco ruled Spain for the next 36 years.

The Naftali Botwin Company was an all-Jewish, Polish-based unit of the International Brigade in Spain. (Photo: Ghetto Fighters’ House)

For a long time, the name Guernica stirred powerful emotions among Spaniards and Europeans who witnessed the destruction wreaked by Fascism. It was a crime against humanity that shocked the world, and was later immortalized by Picasso’s famous expressionist mural. However, the 80th anniversary received rather scant attention in the United States. In my classes, I tried to explain to my students why Guernica should remain historically relevant to citizenry across the globe.

Nobel laureate Elias Canetti’s memoir, The Play of the Eyes, is an excellent starting point for the task at hand. In a brief section titled “The Spanish Civil War,” Canetti vividly describes his conversations about this traumatizing national conflict with his friend and fellow writer Avraham Sonne, at a cafe in Vienna.

Alejandro Baer: Spain had been a testing ground for the Nazis.

Sonne regularly updated Canetti on the development of the hostilities, as he tracked every move of Western nations and their timid, suicidal policy of non-interference. “Sonne groaned to see the democratic powers reducing themselves to impotence with their nonintervention policy,” writes Canetti, “and knowingly letting the Fascists pull the wool over their eyes.” Sonne knew well that “this weakness had its source in a dread of war, which he shared with them, but it also revealed ignorance of the enemy and terrifying shortsightedness.”

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May 17th, 2017

Dan Hotels pamper Israel visitors

The Dan Hotels chain offers new bicycle and foodie packages


The Times of Israel news website recently reported that President Donald Trump will stay at Jerusalem’s “ritzy King David Hotel,” during his one-day visit to Israel next week.

All of the hotel’s 233 rooms have been reserved for president’s entourage, according to Channel 2.

“Hotels officials said that security teams insisted that the hotel be completely cleared of guests a day before his arrival and that the area would become a virtual fortress,” The Times of Israel noted, and added: “Dan Hotels, which owns the King David, has also offered to set aside all of the rooms in the nearby Dan Panorama and Dan Boutique hotels for the delegation accompanying the U.S. president.”

The president’s upcoming visit to Israel was on the minds of two recent visitors to the AJW offices. Rafi Baeri, vice president of marketing and sales for Dan Hotels Israel; and Eitan Sasson, the hotel chain’s director of marketing and sales for North America, stopped by for an update on a dozen of Israel’s most popular hotels.

Eitan Sasson (left) and Rafi Baeri (Photo: Mordecai Specktor)

(In the way of full disclosure: I have stayed at Dan Hotels in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and Eilat, and received a special journalist discount on room rates.)

Baeri said at the top that 51 percent of international tourists staying at Dan Hotels were from the United States, in the first quarter of this year. The next largest group of guests come from Europe: 10 percent from France, nine percent from the United Kingdom, and eight percent from Russia.

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May 17th, 2017

Editorial: With Trump, it’s not going to get better

If a novelist were to write a political satire about a reality TV star who runs for president and wins, and whose presidency soon goes off the rails, critics would complain that the story requires too great a suspension of disbelief on the part of readers.

However, by a fluke of the Electoral College, most Americans nervously await the next bombshell from a White House that looks increasingly inept and untrustworthy. Just since the last issue of the Jewish World was published, Trump fired FBI director James Comey (May 9); and met with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in the Oval Office (May 10), and revealed “highly classified information,” according to a Washington Post report this week.

Both of these events were followed by shifting scripts, as Trump’s spokespersons offered explanations, which were later contradicted by the president. In the case of the Comey firing, Trump contradicted the rationale offered in his own termination letter to Comey.

And in the matter of spilling the highly-classified beans to the Russians, Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, told reporters that the Washington Post story was “false”; Dina Powell, the White House national security adviser for strategy, added on Monday, “the story is false,” according to CNN. “The President only discussed the common threats that both countries faced.”

But on Tuesday, the Tweeter-in-Chief declared, in two tweets:

As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining….

 … to terrorism and airline flight safety. Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.

It likely wasn’t a great idea to entrust this nation’s secrets to Donald Trump, a person lacking discretion and critical intelligence. More worrisome is the possibility that this president, who seems continually enraged by critical press coverage (“fake news”) and perceived slights to his inflated sense of self, will find relief by triggering a massive war.

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May 17th, 2017

Paul’s Pals: Creating accommodation

Paul’s Pals and its expanded mission to enrich the lives of children with disabilities


 The world is not terribly accommodating to people with disabilities, a fact that was made abundantly clear at a previous job, when I helped edit Access Press, a local newspaper for the disabled community.

Paul Adelman

Paul Adelman (Photo: Paul’s Pals)

Adults with disabilities would write in, complaining that restaurants or bookstores or other businesses had failed to make even the minimum accommodations required by law, and were disinterested when disabled patrons complained.

It was hard for adults; how much harder for children? Floyd and Andrea Adelman had a child, Paul Adelman, who was disabled due to surgeries. The Adelmans found sympathetic organizations, including Courage Center, Miracle League and a Boy Scouts troop, that assisted with their son’s needs, and an adaptive playground, designed for disabled children.

When Paul died at the age of 12, the Adelmans founded an organization in his name with the mission of helping to fund organizations that were seeking to make themselves more accessible to disabled children.

It was part of the Jewish Community Foundation since 1994, when it was called The Paul Adelman Children with Disabilities Endowment Fund; and two years ago the organization split off to become its own 501(c)(3), renamed Paul’s Pals.

Executive Director Jennifer Lewin explains that the shift was prompted by growing goals and an expanded mission. “In the last 20-come years we have granted nearly 1.5 million dollars to 100 projects,” she says, “but previously we had one annual fundraiser, we distributed the money, and that was it.”

Instead, she explains, the organization now wants to increasingly be a resource for organizations, and is looking to seek out organizations that might benefit from their expertise and fundraising, rather than exclusively focusing on providing grants for organizations that come to them.

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May 17th, 2017

Stories of survival with Stephen Tobolowsky

My Adventures with God, by Stephen Tobolowsky, Simon & Schuster, 353 pages, $25

Reviewed by NEAL GENDLER

Asked in an interview to describe his Judaism, actor Stephen Tobolowsky replied “Judaism is not something I do. It is something I am. It isn’t an occupation. It is a definition.”

That wasn’t always so.

The first half of Tobolowsky’s My Adventures with God is mostly about his adventures not involving God. They include college, where he meets his love Beth, and their impoverished Los Angeles life as he seeks acting work.

He finally gets a morning job performing in schools.

“We did plays about how great it was to be black or be a woman,” he says. “As a white man, I was thrilled I got the job” and loved the irony. Afternoons are for marijuana and Scrabble, evenings for rehearsing with his unsuccessful band. Beth writes and works at a dog-food plant.

Beth turns out to be Beth Henley, author of the Pulitzer-winning play Crimes of the Heart. Success brings a home in the Hollywood hills, filled many evenings with drunken, naked friends.

Beth, once content to write in a breakfast nook (“smaller than an [airline] economy seat,” Tobolowsky says), gets an across-town office. Feeling “demoted from sweetie to yard boy,” he has little to do but drink, use cocaine and feel useless, although he does act in some of Beth’s plays, directs two, and writes with her. The day he ends their 16 years together, he gets his big break: an audition for Mississippi Burning. Then come offers for five films in one month.

That’s the first half of this book, which I read with “who cares” indifference plus annoyance at too-frequent chasing of laughs, sometimes with flippancy approaching trivialization of Jewish tradition.

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May 10th, 2017

Sholom is having an open house!

The community is invited to tour Knollwood Place Apartments and Roitenberg Assisted Living, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., May 15-19.

You can also make an appointment to tour: For Knollwood Apartments, call 952-939-1605; for Roitenberg Assisted Living, call 952-908-1776.

May 3rd, 2017

Sweet Land: Minnesota on the stage

Musical at Great American History Theatre evokes Fiddler on the Roof


Throughout the history of the Jewish diaspora, our people know what it is to be “the other.” Right now in our country and in many parts of Europe, “the other” is also considered to be the “enemy.”

Ann Michels and Michael Gruber in Sweet Land, the Musical. (Photo: Rick Spaulding)

It is most fitting, then, that St. Paul’s Great American History Theatre is presenting a new musical play, Sweet Land, The Musical (playing through May 28) that addresses both of these issues, but in a context that is very Minnesotan.

This play is based on Ali Selim’s 2005 film of the same name, which was adapted from Minnesota writer Will Weaver’s short story “A Gravestone Made of Wheat.” Its story is one that most Minnesotans — Jewish and non-Jewish — know in one form or another.

For playwright/director Perrin Post, it evoked stories told her by her Finnish grandparents, and inspired her to reach out to Selim and Weaver. She eventually received their permission and blessing to adapt Sweet Land into a musical stage-play.

Post’s script was eventually expanded by another local playwright, Laurie Flanigan Hegge, who artfully and soulfully wrote the show’s lyrics. The play takes on a Jewish flavor when Hegge’s lyrics are laid on top of the melodic compositions of Dina Maccabee and the arrangements of Robert Elhai.

Maccabee (no relation to the local family of that surname) is a native of the San Francisco area and received her musical training at the University of Michigan Music School and Wesleyan University.

Maccabee’s Jewish credentials are just as impressive as her academic ones: She was Bat Mitzva at Bnai Shalom in Walnut Creek and worked at Berkeley’s Lehrhaus Judaica, Camp Ramah in Ojai, and the Brandeis Bar-Din Institute in Simi Valley.

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May 3rd, 2017

A place of their own: J-HAP

J-HAP’s work with a new housing development for adults with developmental disabilities


We’re in a time of enormous progress in healthcare, which can create unexpected challenges. Speaking with American Jewish World, J-HAP founder Linda Bialik discussed a realization that she, and other parents of children with developmental disabilities, came to about a decade ago.

“This will be the first generation of adults with disabilities that will outlive their parents,” she said.

An architectural sketch of Cornerstone Creek, a new housing development for adults with developmental disabilities. (Courtesy of J-HAP)

Although in previous generations individuals with these disabilities might have had long lives, many suffered from additional health problems that severely curtailed their lifespans — as an example, people with Down’s Syndrome had an average life span of 25 years in 1983; now the average life span is 60, with many living into their 70s and beyond.

As a result, parents of people developmental disabilities must now consider how their children will continue to get the support they need if they outlive their parents.

To this end, J-HAP (Jewish Housing and Programming) recently opened a 45-unit apartment building in Golden Valley in partnership with Community Housing Development Corporation (CHDC), a nonprofit affordable housing developer.

The apartment building, named Cornerstone Creek, is designed to be an affordable and independent residence that “allows tenants to hold their own lease, control their finances, select their service provider, and maintain their own private space,” according to J-HAP’s promotional material.

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