Kashering Arizona

As today’s kosher consumers in Greater Phoenix easily fill up shopping carts of various kosher goods at multiple local supermarkets and sample kosher cuisine from a choice of restaurants, it may be difficult to imagine a time when kosher food was nearly impossible to obtain.

The Arizona Jewish Historical Society’s current exhibit, “New Frontiers: Jewish Pioneers in the Arizona Territory,” provides an example of the challenges Jews faced before Arizona became a state:

“Like other Jews in the West, the Solomons chose family survival over religious tradition. Anna (Solomon, who moved to the West in 1876 with her husband and three young children) knew the danger of refusing to eat meat on the western frontier. Twenty years before her own journey west, her father, Louis Freudenthal, joined his brother in New Mexico Territory. He strictly followed Jewish dietary law and would not eat pork or poultry that was not ritually slaughtered and blessed by a rabbi. After three years of almost no protein in his diet, he was weak and sickly. He returned to Prussia, unable to succeed in the harsh landscape.”

It wasn’t until about a decade after Arizona statehood that there was any sign of improvement in the availability of kosher meat.

Arizona’s first kosher butcher was Rabbi Ydel Dow, who arrived in Tucson about 1925, according to the Jewish History Museum in Tucson. He and his wife, Bessie, ran a store and deli on South Stone Avenue there.

According to “Cholent & Chorizo,” a 1995 book by Abraham S. Chanin about pioneer Jews on the Arizona frontier, among the leaders who brought Dow to Tucson was Louis May, who owned what May referred to as a kosher restaurant in Tucson. May likely imported his meat from Los Angeles, according to the Tucson museum’s archives. Before Dow’s arrival, a non-Jewish Mexican butcher, Charlie Moreno, trained in kashrut by Chanin’s father, Isadore, devoted a portion in his store to kosher meat and kept it separate from the nonkosher meat.

In 1927, Dow moved to Phoenix and served as both a rabbi and a shochet, or ritual slaughterer, according to Chanin’s book.

Anita Gutkin of Scottsdale remembers that Dow “used to kill a chicken in our backyard and then burn the feathers. … Anyone who experienced this as a child remembers the special odor of the burnt feathers, not to mention the gyrations of the headless fowl.”

Gutkin, who grew up in an observant family, also remembers buying meat from “Katz the Butcher,” who always added halvah for her in the family’s order, she says.

Keeping kosher in a mining town

In the 1950s, Terri Swirnoff and her family lived in Ray – a small copper-mining town near Superior-Globe that is now the town of Kearny – where her father, Abe Morris, was the manager of the Kennecott Mining Company and her mother, Mildred Morris, entertained often.

“Nobody was Jewish, everything was kosher,” says Swirnoff, who now lives in Phoenix. “She’d have sit-down dinners for 50 people and it was all kosher.” Since her mother didn’t drive, someone drove her about once a month to Phoenix to purchase kosher food.

The drive from Ray to Phoenix took about an hour and a half each way, Swirnoff says. For “the first half-hour, we took Dramamine because it was this windy, unpaved road between Ray and Superior,” Swirnoff says. “We’d get carsick if we didn’t take the Dramamine.” In the early years, their car didn’t have air conditioning. During the monthly trip – which became more frequent once Swirnoff’s brother began bar mitzvah training at Beth El Congregation – her mom, after getting her hair done at a Phoenix salon, would shop at Kosher Star and take the food home on dry ice. “At home, she had a huge stand-up freezer and two refrigerators to keep all the food,” Swirnoff says.

Formal kosher supervision

Beginning in December 1959, an ad in the Phoenix Jewish News for David’s kosher market included a line stating, “We are under the supervision of the Phoenix Vaad Hakashruth.” An ad in the Aug. 26, 1960 issue went into further detail: “The Phoenix Vaad Hakashroth (sic) wishes to advise you that there are only three places of business entitled to carry kosher meat, poultry and delicatessen, and these are under the supervision of the Phoenix Vaad Hakashroth.” The stores listed were Ben’s Market, David’s market and Kosher Star and the rabbis were Rabbi Carol Klein of Beth El Congregation and Rabbi William Greenberg of Beth Hebrew Congregation. (The following month, the newspaper reported that David’s market was sold to Joseph and Lillian Hacker, who renamed the store El-Jay Kosher Meats.)

In November 1961, the owners of Kosher Star announced the opening of Dorman’s New York Kosher Restaurant, but no kosher supervision was mentioned.

It’s unclear how long this version of the Vaad existed, as Greenberg and Klein each left their congregations in 1962.

When Rabbi David Rebibo and his wife, Odette, first moved to Phoenix in 1965, they traveled frequently to Los Angeles to purchase meat and other kosher goods because there were no kosher-supervised meat markets or kosher baked goods, including bread, available in Phoenix. “My wife baked at least every other day,” Rebibo says. Soon after his arrival in Phoenix, he established the Greater Phoenix Vaad Hakashruth and brought in a shochet, Rabbi Leib Shifrin, who provided Phoenix’s kosher consumers with fresh kosher chickens. He also made an arrangement with Nosh-a-Rye, a nonkosher bakery, to kasher its facilities each week in order to bake kosher challah for Shabbat.

Rebibo says although he and the other rabbis in town, from the Reform and Conservative movements, may have disagreed on many things ideologically, “kashrut was a unifier” and they often worked together to address kosher issues. Laypeople who were very supportive in the Vaad’s early days were Joe Cohen and Jack Finkelstein, members of Beth El Congregation, and Mickey Sheinbein, who served as the agency’s president.

When storeowner Ben Meyer prepared to sell his Phoenix kosher market, Rebibo contacted Zalman Segal, a kosher butcher from Omaha, Neb., who purchased the store – at Fifth and Washington streets in downtown Phoenix – in 1967 and renamed it Segals.

“When I first came, there were just two meat markets,” Segal says. “None of the supermarkets carried much of any kosher food. … If anybody wanted any kosher food, they just about had to go to either Kosher Star or Segals.”

In 1970, Segals relocated to 16th Street and Thomas Road in Phoenix, which had five times the space of his previous location, according to a Dec. 11, 1970, Jewish News article.

By the early 1970s, some local supermarkets started carrying kosher food. “At first it was just the Passover foods,” Segal says. As the stores increased their kosher offerings, “our volume suffered quite a bit,” he says. “The more they started carrying it, the more it hurt us. People have a lot of choices today.”

In 1985, Segals opened up a second location, at Seventh Street south of Camelback Road, which was planned to be a restaurant only, Segal says. Although there were a few “kosher-style” restaurants at that time – Boman’s, Chompie’s Restaurant, Katz Delicatessen, Miracle Mile, Mel’s Deli and Purple Cow of San Carlos, based on ads published in the Jewish News in 1985 – Segal’s was the Valley’s first kosher-supervised sit-down restaurant.

“We had dreams that we were going to have a private room for parties and an outdoor garden eating area and that all fizzled out,” Segal says. “The potential party room became a warehouse and the garden became my freezer. … We thought the city was ready for a full-size (kosher) restaurant, but apparently it wasn’t.”

After running the two locations for nearly three years, Segals downsized the restaurant and moved the butcher shop and the kosher market to the Seventh Street location, where it is now. Segal sold his store and restaurant in 2006.

Other kosher Vaad milestones included the first kosher-supervised bakery, Karsh’s Bakery – “It was the first time it was possible to have challah, bread, cakes (and) any kind of bakery products,” Rebibo says – and the kosher supervision of Kivel Campus of Care, the Valley’s senior-living facility. Rebibo largely credits the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix, with leadership by Belle Latchman and Vasha Todd, for the “kosherization of Kivel.”

Beginning in 1974, Valley resorts started showing an interest in having kosher facilities and requested Vaad kosher supervision for events, beginning with Camelback Inn, Mountain Shadows and the Arizona Biltmore, Rebibo says.

In a 2003 oral history with Rabbi Moshe Tutnauer, who was the spiritual leader at the Conservative Beth El Congregation from 1962-1972 (and later as interim rabbi from 2002-2003), Tutnauer said that “one of the battles that Rabbi Hillel Friedman (of Har Zion Congregation, the only other Conservative synagogue at the time) engaged in was to make federation affairs kosher” in the 1960s. The federation eventually adopted the policy to make communal affairs kosher later that decade because it was becoming a national policy of the federation movement, Tutnauer said in the interview.

One of the first kosher events hosted at a local resort by a Jewish organization was the Kivel Campus of Care’s Kivel Ball in the early 1970s, according to Rebibo.

The Vaad also began to receive requests to supervise companies that manufacture or process products in Arizona and in 1999, Vaad debuted a Passover program at the Biltmore. Now each Passover, nearly 3,000 people visit Valley resorts for a kosher-for-Passover experience.

Phoenix has also become a “destination for conventions,” Rebibo says. Because many large resorts offer kosher facilities, national and international organizations, such as AIPAC, Hadassah and Jewish National Fund, have held events in the Valley.

In addition to an increase in people keeping kosher, another major shift in the local kosher landscape was an influx of Bukharian families who moved to Phoenix over the past decade, Rebibo says. Because many of the families keep kosher, the demand for kosher food increased and several restaurants and markets have opened as a result.

The kosher industry has increased dramatically in the past century and that change is reflected in the Southwest. Long gone are the days when one had to leave town to purchase a kosher chicken. Consumers can now enjoy a wide range of kosher offerings in the “Wild West” – from standard deli fare and pizza to Chinese food, Mexican food and sushi.

This article appeared in the Dec. 9, 2011 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

The day the Earth shook

Phoenix natives returning to the Valley after a long absence are often shocked by the city’s development over the past decade, with neighborhoods and businesses standing on what they remember as open desert land.

Now imagine the opposite – land plush with vegetation dominating your childhood neighborhood; memories of a thriving, prosperous Jewish community coming to terms with the sight of the open space where buildings you frequented once stood.

One Scottsdale man recently experienced this after returning to his hometown in southern Morocco 50 years after the area was destroyed by an earthquake measuring 6.7 on the Richter scale, killing about 15,000 people. This was the same magnitude as the 1994 earthquake in Northridge, Calif., which killed 60 people, injured 7,000, left 20,000 homeless and damaged more than 40,000 buildings, according to the United States Geological Survey.

Jacky Sebag-The day the Earth shook

Jacky Sebag visits the grave of his uncle. Photo courtesy of Jacky Sebag

Last year, Jacky Sebag, a member of Ahavas Torah in Scottsdale, received an e-mail from a cousin about “Hagadat Agadir,” a book written about his hometown, Agadir. The book, released last year, gave an account of the city’s history and testimonies from survivors of the Feb. 29, 1960 earthquake that killed the majority of the city’s Jewish community in the residential area of Talborj, which was the epicenter of the earthquake. Ninety-five percent of the total population of Talborj died, says Sebag, who lost 19 family members; he was among the 5 percent who survived.

Sebag contacted the book’s author, Dr. Orna Baziz, a senior literature lecturer at David Yellin College of Education in Jerusalem and a survivor of the earthquake.

After he e-mailed Baziz to introduce himself, she called “me within a few minutes,” he says. After she shared with him her childhood name, he realized that they had attended school together. She told him that she had written about his parents in her book because they were among the pioneers of the city’s Jewish community. “It was very exciting,” Sebag says.

During their conversation, Sebag asked Baziz if she had heard anything about a 7-year-old girl who had been found alive in the rubble of a building after the earthquake. “Are you talking about Lydia?” Baziz asked. Lydia Waknin, whose parents died in the earthquake, was Sebag’s cousin, whom he had lost touch with as a child. Baziz put Sebag in touch with Waknin, who is now the principal of a Jewish school in Paris; Sebag, with his wife, Chana, traveled to Paris three months later to be reunited with his cousin.

After Baziz told Sebag that she was planning to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the earthquake on the Hebrew date of Rosh Chodesh Adar – which fell on Feb. 15 of this year – with a visit to Agadir, Sebag and his wife decided to join her, as did Waknin.

After the earthquake, Sebag and his family had moved to the Moroccan seaport of Casablanca. His father, who lost all his brothers and nephews in the earthquake, decided that if he had to start a new life from scratch, “he would rather start his life in Israel.” So the family made aliyah a few months after the earthquake and Sebag lived there for 20 years, serving in the Israeli army in both the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War, before moving to Phoenix in 1979. His visit to Morocco in February was the first time he had returned to his native country.

During his visit to Agadir, Sebag attended a Torah dedication ceremony at a local resort; the resort’s owner donated the Torah in memory of the more than 40 students of the local yeshiva, Ohaleh Yossef Itshak, who died in the earthquake. “It was very moving,” he says.

The commemoration also included a memorial service at the cemetery for all of the yeshiva students and all the Jewish people who died in the earthquake, Sebag says. Baziz also “reunited many of the families who also are survivors … and introduced them to the current local Jewish community.”

“We had an excellent Jewish community in Agadir,” Sebag told Jewish News. About 1,800 of the city’s 2,300 Jews died in the earthquake, and the community never recovered; the “very small Jewish community is left with one synagogue,” and another synagogue is occasionally open and is part of the resort, Sebag says.

About 200 people from around the world attended the commemoration (thousands attended a memorial organized by the government two weeks later on Feb. 29). “Each one would tell me about my parents,” Sebag says. “It was very emotional to hear.” Participants asked each other about their families and they talked about who they lost in the earthquake.

Sebag recalls his memory of the earthquake, which took place at 11:45 p.m. His family had moved into a new home after 20 years in their previous neighborhood, and his uncle, Maurice Abenhaim, was in town to attend the dedication of the new house. His mother was trying to persuade her brother to stay at their house during his visit, but he preferred to stay at a hotel. A small earthquake earlier that day made him nervous since their house was close to the shore. He ended up returning to the hotel just one hour before the earthquake; the hotel was totally destroyed.

Although the resort area is known for its sunny skies, on the 50th anniversary of the earthquake, it rained as Sebag stood at the graves of his family members who died that day.

This article first appeared in the Aug. 13, 2010 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

Phoenix a ‘Jewish destination for Pesach’

Like the Israelites who journeyed through the desert and whose story is retold each year during the seder, nearly 3,000 people made their own journey to the desert this year to commemorate this occasion.

However, this time it was a little different.

Instead of tents, today’s “wanderers” celebrated in luxury at four Valley resorts: The Arizona Biltmore, JW Marriott Desert Ridge, the Millennium Resort Scottsdale McCormick Ranch and the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess.

They dined on modern-day manna in the form of bagels (made from potato starch), made-to-order omelets, Belgian waffles, chocolate soufflÇs, pancakes, pizzas, pastries and sushi (made with quinoa instead of rice).

This influx to the Greater Phoenix area indicates “Phoenix has become a Jewish destination for Pesach,” said Rabbi David Rebibo, head of the Greater Phoenix Vaad Hakashruth, the Valley’s kosher-certifying agency.

About 300 people attended the Vaad’s first Passover program about 13 years ago, Rebibo said, and since then it has grown significantly. Past programs were held in Valley resorts, but after the program outgrew those facilities, the Vaad moved to the Biltmore. This year’s ninth annual V.I.P. Passover program at the Biltmore had nearly 1,200 people. The Vaad also supervised the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, which was hosted by Presidential Kosher Holidays and had about 700 guests.

The JW Marriott Desert Ridge program hosted by Lasko Tours had 750 guests, according to a company representative; this is the fourth year it was held in Phoenix and was supervised by the Orthodox Rabbinical Board (ORB) of Florida.

New this year was the Paradise Kosher Tours program at the Millennium Resort Scottsdale McCormick Ranch, which had 460 guests, according to a spokesman, and was supervised by the Organized Kashrus Laboratories (OK).

The Biltmore guests came from all over the country, as well as from Mexico and Canada, according to Sheila Stein, V.I.P. Passover administrative director and part owner.

Starting prices for the week at these resorts range from $3,199 to nearly $4,000. Most guests stay for the whole holiday, but partial stays are also available.

Right now there are no shared programs among the four resorts but future plans include a joint event for singles, Rebibo said.

Pesach preparations

According to Rebibo, planning for the Passover program usually begins in January, with meetings with Biltmore staff. Then “activity picks up tremendously two weeks before Pesach, full-blast.” The kashering process includes taking the ovens completely apart for cleaning, which is done by the Biltmore’s engineering staff.

Danziger Kosher Catering of Chicago (the same company that ran the first cafe at the Ina Levine Jewish Community Campus in Scottsdale from July 2003 to September 2004) caters the Biltmore program, and employees come early to take additional ovens, as well as utensils and other kitchen equipment, out of their Phoenix storage space and start prepping the food.

During the week before Passover, the Vaad also kashered Ganache This!, a Tempe bakery owned by Judy Palmer, a former executive pastry chef at the Biltmore. The bakery supplied pastries and other desserts to the resort.

With the exception of those baked goods and produce, most of the food comes from New York and Israel, Rebibo said. Three huge refrigerator trucks filled with food – from meat and dairy products to processed foods and soda – transported this year’s stock to the Biltmore.

Rabbi Michael Dubitsky of the Vaad served as the head mashgiach (kosher supervisor) at the Biltmore, overseeing eight mashgichim who came from out of state.

The Vaad used two of the Biltmore’s kitchens – one meat and one dairy – and the mashgichim rotated shifts from approximately 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., to cover all the times that food was being prepared. “We’re in the kitchen until all the dishes are done being washed,” Dubitsky said.

“We’re basically in charge of making sure that everything is kosher in the hotel,” and that all the food is prepared properly.

And there was plenty of food. Breakfast alone offered omelet, pancake, matzah brei and Belgian waffle stations, fresh fruit, a variety of cheeses and lox, bagels and cream cheese, and pastries.

In addition to the elaborate meals, most served buffet-style with the exception of Shabbat and Yom Tov meals, there was also a tearoom, which was open most of the day. The tearoom, with an “Alice in Wonderland” theme, colorfully presented chocolates, slushies, fresh coffee, freshly glazed nuts, pastries, candy, candy and more candy. Sushi chefs prepared their creations at a sushi bar in the corner.

The grill on the lawn, open for lunch and dinner, served hamburgers and hot dogs – on buns made from potato starch – and french fries.

For those guests heading out on day trips, a room offered the fixings so they could prepare their own to-go boxes.

Resort, sweet resort

Although some people may feel that Passover belongs in the home and not at a resort, Rebibo stresses that the staff at both the Biltmore and the Princess try to create a family atmosphere.

For example, for the seder nights, the large ballroom is divided to create 75-80 rooms so each family can have its own seder, Rebibo noted. Many multigenerational families attend the program, including Rebibo’s, with family members traveling from different locales to be together.

“It’s very family-friendly,” Rebibo said, and the programming demonstrates that. Programs are available for children from toddlers to teens. Daytime camp activities for the younger crowd include pony rides, a petting zoo and day trips to the Stuffington Bear Factory and Makutu’s Island (day trips cost extra), while older children go bowling and rock-climbing.

During chol ha’moed (the intermediary days), guests can also choose from a number of day trips, at an extra cost, to local museums and even a day trip to Sedona or the Grand Canyon.

Adults have a wide range of other programming, too. Featured speakers at the Biltmore included Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center; Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the center; Richard Joel, president of Yeshiva University; Sir Martin Gilbert, a historian who is Winston Churchill’s official biographer; and Marvin Silbermintz, a “Tonight Show” writer and comedian from Los Angeles.

This was Silbermintz’s third stay at the Biltmore for Passover. During chol ha’moed, he flew to Cancun to perform at another Passover resort there. He’s spent time at numerous Passover programs since 1991, including those in Los Angeles, Hawaii, San Diego, Calif., Palm Springs, Calif., and Park City, Utah. “This program is really the best,” he said of the Biltmore, commenting on the extensive food options and the “incredible service.” He especially enjoys the coffee choices – he conducted a taste test between the resort’s cappuccino and latte one morning during breakfast – and the “beef on a stick” served daily on the grill set up on the resort’s main lawn.

He was at the Biltmore with his wife, who taught Israeli dancing and CPR during the week, and his three sons, two who worked as mashgichim and one as a camp counselor.

Another guest was Steven Spielberg, who attended the program with his family.

Jonathan Rimberg, a musician from New Jersey, provided music for the program with members of his band, Naf Shenu. He attended the program with his wife and four children and called it “over the top.”

“Beautiful weather, beautiful resort, amazing food.”

Why Phoenix?
Why has Phoenix become such a popular destination?

Many who come to the Biltmore used to go to Miami, Rebibo said, and they’ve told him that they wanted to try something new. The first-class resorts and the weather don’t hurt, either, as well as the tourist offerings.

One problem that occurred this year with the influx of visitors happened at the airport, according to Rebibo. The Vaad received several calls from people whose flights were rerouted or bumped. “They had a lot of problems getting in and out of town,” he said.

At least the modern-day Israelites didn’t have to wait 40 years to get to their destination.

This article first appeared in the May 2, 2008 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

Lag b’Omer, Bukharian-style

Dancers in national Bukharian dress perform at a Lag b'Omer celebration on May 26, 2005.

Dancers in national Bukharian dress perform at a Lag b’Omer celebration on May 26, 2005.

Inside a restaurant in a Phoenix strip mall, Russian music blared from speakers as women in colorful, sparkly costumes performed national Bukharian dances.

About 200 people sat around long tables heaped with platters of traditional Bukharian food: bowls of beets, rice noodles, green olives, eggplant, mushrooms, peppers and shredded pickled carrots; meat and potatoes wrapped in dough, described as a Bukharian pierogi; and a large round cracker called noni toki.

Rabbi Amnon Zadikov, head of the recently established Bukharian Congress of Phoenix, welcomed guests to the synagogue’s Lag b’Omer celebration, then said the Hamotzi prayer over bread and walked up and down the aisles of tables distributing pieces of challah and greeting guests.

Open bottles of vodka, cognac and other liquor prompted several “l’chaims” throughout the evening as speeches in Russian congratulated the hostess’s father on his birthday, and her daughters and their classmates on their graduation. The hostess, Ora Biniaminov, coordinated the family’s milestone events with a big Lag b’Omer bash for the local Bukharian community on May 26 at Jan’s European Restaurant. The food was catered by Samarkand, a kosher restaurant named after an old city in Uzbekistan at 19th and Northern avenues supervised by Zadikov.

Bukhara is a city in Uzbekistan, a former Soviet republic in central Asia.

In the past few years, the Bukharian – or Bucharian – community has grown significantly in Phoenix, making it the largest Bukharian community in the United States outside of New York.

The first locally established Bukharian synagogue was organized in 1998; worshippers met in the founders’ home. Since then, the community has gone through many transitions. From 2000-2004, the Buchori Jewish Community had a facility at Glendale Avenue and 10th Street in Phoenix. Rabbi Zalman Levertov, Rabbi Laibel Blotner and Rabbi Dan Hayman, all of Chabad of Arizona, have worked with the community through the years.

Last year, with assistance from the Phoenix Community Kollel, a group from the Buchori community merged with Shaarei Tzion Ohel Bracha, an international network of schools based in Israel.

In February, the Shaarei Tzion Ohel Bracha Phoenix Bucharian Community, led by Rabbi Baruch Cohen, dedicated two new Torahs and moved into a new synagogue at 6516 N. Seventh St. in Phoenix. Two additional rabbis lead services in their homes. The group runs Sunday school classes at the Phoenix Hebrew Academy and plans to establish a nearly five-acre development at Seventh Avenue and Bell Road in Phoenix, to build homes, a shul, a mikvah and a preschool, says Rabbi Zvi Holland, director of the Phoenix Community Kollel, who has worked closely with the community.

Meanwhile, Levertov, who has been working with the community for the past 10 years, also helped the group find a rabbi. He requested assistance from Levi Leviev, a wealthy Israeli businessman who heads the Bukharian Jewish Congress and supports many Bukharian communities throughout North America.

Through the congress, Rabbi Amnon Zadikov moved to Phoenix about four months ago to head the Bukharian Congress of Phoenix. Since then, he and his wife Mazal have established a Sunday school, classes for young couples, a social group for seniors, after-school programming for children and a Rosh Chodesh class for women. The synagogue is located at 1425 E. Charleston – off 14th Street near Bell Road in Phoenix, although the congregation is quickly outgrowing the facility and is looking for something larger, Levertov says.

Levertov estimates that there are more than 500 Bukharian families in the Greater Phoenix area, with an average of five to six people per family. The main draw for them, Levertov says, is the similarity of Phoenix’s climate to that of Bukhara. About 80 percent of local Bukharian children attend the Phoenix Hebrew Academy, says Nisan Amnon, Zadikov’s son.

The Bukharian-born Zadikov moved to Israel at age 17 and earned a degree in psychology from Tel Aviv University. He moved to New York a little more than a year ago and has been in Phoenix for about four months. He uses his background in counseling to assist families in the Bukharian community, such as advising young couples how to have a peaceful home.

The Bukharian community has a different mentality from Eastern-European Russians, Amnon says. Since Jews from Bukhara weren’t persecuted for observing Judaism, they were able to practice Judaism freely and therefore lived more traditional lives, he says.

Traditions of the Bukharian community are indeed different from other Russian communities, says Lana Binyaminov, a member of the synagogue. She was born in the Ukraine and moved with her family to Uzbekistan, where in college she met her future husband, Dmitriy Binyaminov, who grew up in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Both sets of parents were initially opposed to the marriage because Lana’s family is Ashkenazic and Dmitriy’s is Sephardic, Lana says.

One difference is language – although they speak Russian in their home, Lana was raised with Yiddish in her home, and her husband speaks Farsi. Other differences include food, holiday observances and other customs. “They have Sephardic customs,” Levertov explains, while Eastern-European Jews follow Ashkenazic customs.

Holland is impressed by the growth of the Bukharian community in the five years he’s lived in the Valley. “It’s really an unbelievable community,” he says. “It’s a really exciting group of people. It’s just amazing what they’ve accomplished in such a short period of time. It’s a real testament to the undying spirit of the Jewish people.”

This article first appeared in the June 10, 2005 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

Six million paper clips

It’s no surprise that Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., both have Holocaust memorials.

But most people wouldn’t expect to find one in rural Whitwell, Tenn., a predominately Christian, two-traffic-light town with a population of 1,600 and no Jews.

Yet, a German railcar sits in the yard of Whitwell Middle School, housing The Children’s Holocaust Memorial.

The story behind this memorial involves teachers who wanted to teach their students about diversity and intolerance; teenagers who were shocked by the atrocities of the Holocaust and sympathized with its victims; and a lot of paper clips.

Six million paper clips

“Paper Clips,” a documentary about this memorial, premieres in Scottsdale on Friday, Feb. 11, at Harkins Camelview 5 Theatres. After the film, Valley resident and Holocaust survivor Helen Handler will comment on the film and talk about her experiences during World War II.

The story begins in 1998, when David Smith, assistant principal of Whitwell Middle School, attended a teacher’s conference in nearby Chattanooga, and was inspired to start a program to teach students about the Holocaust.

He brought up the idea to principal Linda Hooper, who then implemented an after-school Holocaust education class for eighth-graders. Language arts teacher Sandra Roberts was chosen to teach the class; 16 students enrolled.

“Our goal was to teach children what happens when intolerance reigns and when prejudice goes unchecked,” Roberts says in the film.

The students read books, saw photographs and watched films about the Holocaust.

To visualize what “six million” looked like, a student suggested collecting six million of one object to help grasp the concept. After conducting research on the Internet, one student discovered that during the Holocaust, after the Nazis invaded Norway and began prosecuting Jews, non-Jewish Norwegians protested Nazis’ forcing Jews to wear yellow stars on their clothing by wearing paper clips on their lapels.

Thus, the beginning of the Paper Clip Project.

Within a few weeks, the students collected more than 1,000 paper clips from relatives and neighbors.

Next, they wrote politicians, actors and athletes, many of whom sent letters and paper clips. Students received letters and paper clips from actor Henry Winkler, whose parents were Holocaust survivors; President George W. Bush; former presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush; actor Tom Hanks; director Steven Spielberg and several others.

A Web site brought in hundreds of letters and paper clips, but by the end of the year, the students had collected only 160,000 paper clips.

In fall 1999, journalists Dagmar and Peter Schroeder saw the Web site the same day a friend of theirs – Lena Gitter, a Holocaust survivor in her 90s who lives in Washington, D.C. – did. Following Gittler’s “order” to do something about the paper clip project, the Schroeders contacted Whitwell Middle School and wrote articles and columns for a group of German and Austrian newspapers that employed the Schroeders as White House correspondents. The articles included requests that German and Austrian readers send in paper clips to the students, with explanations why they were sending them.

“Being Germans ourselves, and gentiles, we felt a moral obligation to ‘spread the word’; that ‘little’ acts of intolerance in the end can lead to murder and mass murder,” the Schroeders wrote in an e-mail to Jewish News, after being asked why they became involved in the project. “We realize that we are part of the last generation that can talk to survivors and give their memories a voice before these voices are silenced forever.”

In the first three weeks after the articles were published, the students received 2,000 letters from people ages 6-98, and more than 46,000 paper clips, according to the Schroeders’ book about the project, “Six Million Paper Clips: The Making of a Children’s Holocaust Memorial” (Kar-Ben Publishing, $7.95 paperback).

In 2000, the Schroeders published “Das Büroklammer-Projekt” (“The Paper Clip Project”) in German. Washington Post Editor Dita Smith read the book and visited Whitwell in 2001.

The project gained national attention after an article appeared in the Washington Post in April 2001. After the article and a broadcast on NBC “Nightly News” with Tom Brokaw, and other newscasts, the number of paper clips collected increased from 150,000 to 24 million in six weeks.

Eventually, the post office requested that the school pick up their own mail because the letter carrier couldn’t deliver all the letters and packages.

Parents and other members of the community helped the students count the paper clips. Many of these paper clips were attached to letters telling stories of family members or friends who had died in the Holocaust. According to the film, the school received 25,000 pieces of mail, which each went through a similar process: Letters were sorted by state or country and addresses were hand-recorded. “Every piece of paper, regardless of size, is kept and put in a plastic sleeve, averaging filling up a three-inch binder every two days,” Roberts says in the film.

The Washington Post article caught the attention of Ari Pinchot, development director for The Johnson Group, based in McLean, Va. He showed it to director Joe Fab, and Fab approached Hooper, the school’s principal, with the idea of filming a documentary about the project.

At first, Hooper was resistant because she didn’t want to disrupt the children. But Fab convinced her that the project “was bigger than what could be covered in one article in the paper or two minutes on the news.”

“We felt that doing a film would be able to capture the real depth of this and put it out there both as an example and to pay the proper respect to what the project was,” Fab told Jewish News.

Hooper eventually agreed, but Fab says her agreement had a warning attached: “If I let you make this film, and if you make my children look like a bunch of rednecks, I will eat your heart for breakfast.”

“Once Linda agreed, the school and the town followed,” Fab says.

In May 2001, The Johnson Group filmed a visit by Holocaust survivors to a Whitwell church and the school. The award-winning documentary, which has been shown at film festivals nationally and will be widely released by Miramax this month, was filmed May 2001-January 2003.

At Whitwell, containers of all sizes filled with millions of paper clips took up space in closets and classrooms. One evening over dinner, Roberts, Hooper, Smith and the Schroeders discussed creating a memorial with the paper clips. The conversation led to the decision to obtain a German railcar to house the paper clips.

The Schroeders traveled to Germany and visited several rail yards to find one. After an intensive search, the couple found Car Number 011-003, a railcar built in 1917 that had been abandoned in 1945 in the Polish town of Sobibor, not far from a Nazi extermination camp. The director of the German Railroad Museum agreed to sell the Schroeders the car for what the museum paid.

The Schroeders raised enough money to purchase the railcar and convinced the German Rail Company to move the railcar for free. The train started its 300-mile long journey through Germany, then traveled 4,000-miles on the Norwegian ship, Blue Sky, to the port of Baltimore.

Co-director Elliot Berlin first saw the railcar at 3:15 a.m., when he walked alone on the Blue Sky before filming. It “was kind of spooky,” he says.

The railcar arrived on Sept. 9, 2001. Two days later, on Sept. 11, it was attached to a big diesel locomotive and left for Tennessee.

The significance of that date was not lost on the town of Whitwell, as they mourned with the rest of the country.

The American rail company CSX transported the railcar for free from Baltimore to Chattanooga, as well as donated the ties, the pouring of the concrete and the tracks – which were made in Tennessee during World War II, Berlin says. “The project had the ability to inspire people in interesting ways.”

In Whitwell, more than 400 students greeted the railcar. Community volunteers built a ramp, planted a garden and helped move the 11 million paper clips to the railcar – 11 million paper clips were placed in the railcar behind glass partitions to represent the six million Jews plus the five million other victims of the Holocaust.

The memorial was dedicated on Nov. 9, 2001, with nearly 2,000 attendees – more than the town’s population. Whitwell representatives spoke, the orchestra from the University of Chattanooga performed, the school choir sang and children from an Atlanta Jewish day school recited the Kaddish.

Since the dedication, schools around the country take field trips to the memorial and contact Whitwell Middle School to find out how to start their own Holocaust project.

In all, the students collected more than 30 million paper clips – those that weren’t used in the memorial are sent to other schools that want to start their own Holocaust project, Fab says. For instance, the students will send a school a “shtetl box,” which contains a small town’s history with the number of paper clips that represent the numbers killed in that town. “Instead of looking at the whole of the Holocaust, you’re looking at one community,” Fab says.

Fab calls “Paper Clips” the most important project he’s ever worked on.

“It was an incredibly rich experience for me and much greater than any other project that I’ve ever been on,” he says. “You can’t go to Whitwell and interact with those children or the other people in the town and not be deeply affected.

“They are doing what I think we all want education to do.”

Besides learning about the Holocaust, the students study other historical and contemporary examples of genocide and learn about other examples of intolerance and hatred.

“Their teachers are bringing them up with a great level of responsibility and helping them grow as citizens of the planet,” Fab says. “They live a set of values that they are being taught by their parents and by the school.”

He lists two main reasons why he feels this film is important. “It matters to me on the level of people being open to each other regardless of their background and orientation in life. The second area is what it says about what’s possible in education.”

The Schroeders describe two aspects of the project that made the most impact on them: “First, the simplicity of the project in demonstrating the enormity of the mass murder by collecting one paper clip for every victim so that the students could visually grasp what ‘millions of victims’ actually mean.”

Secondly, the “innocence” of the students, ages 13-15, who lived in a place with no diversity who never met a Jew or a German. “Their dedication, and that of their teachers, demonstrated to us that everyone can start ‘something small’ that can evolve in ‘something very big’ that can make a difference.”

This article first appeared on jewishaz.com.

Menorah of memory: Holocaust survivor expresses himself with clay

Kiwa Dajches started making ceramic menorahs after taking a ceramics class at the Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center.

Kiwa Dajches started making ceramic menorahs after taking a ceramics class at the Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center.

Since he took his first ceramics class last year at the Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center, Kiwa Dajches has wedged, molded and glazed many pieces of clay into Chanukah menorahs.

“I get so much enjoyment making them,” he says. So far, he’s made 14.

Dajches, a Holocaust survivor from Vilna, Poland, says he views the menorah as his connection to Judaism. “I’m a Holocaust survivor and Jewishness means a lot to me – I suffered enough for it. Somehow I seem to connect menorahs to Jewishness and I enjoy making them.”

Dajches says his favorite is a Holocaust menorah on display at the Sylvia Plotkin Judaica Museum at Temple Beth Israel. It depicts a shtetl destroyed by the Nazis, he says, and features a cemetery with many tombstones and gallows. “From the middle of the cemetery, a hand comes up into the air holding a menorah,” he says. He’s working on a larger version now.

Another Holocaust-theme menorah is “My Family Lost,” which is two scrolls wrapped in a tallit with “Shalom” painted on in Hebrew letters.

Both scrolls have names of his family members and text at the bottom reads: “They are part of the six million who perished in the Holocaust.”

“(Making menorahs) is my way of expressing myself,” Dajches says.

Other menorahs he’s made include “My Allegiance,” which features an Arizona state flag and American and Israeli flags; “Three Faiths,” with the Western Wall, a church and a mosque; “Chanukah in the South Pacific,” with hula dancers; an Arizona ranch house; and one with a New York theme complete with the Statue of Liberty and taxicabs.

Although the menorahs are not for sale – “I don’t sell my children” – two menorahs have been purchased with $100 donations to the library fund at Har Zion Congregation, where his wife is a librarian.

Dajches came to America in 1949. “It was starting a new life,” he says. He lived in Connecticut and then moved to Arizona 18 years ago.

Dajches and his wife Beverly celebrated their 50th anniversary in June and have four children: Marcia Dajches of St. Louis, Deborah Landon of Phoenix, Arlene Petranovich of Winslow and Mark Dajches of Tucson; and five grandchildren.

Many of his menorahs feature a dove, a symbol of peace. “Almost every menorah I make has a dove in it,” he says. “Because peace is something that we’re striving for.”

This article first appeared in the Dec. 3, 2004 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

Never too late to learn

Al Plotkin views his days-old great-granddaughter via e-mail on a new computer system at Kivel Campus of Care.

Al Plotkin views his days-old great-granddaughter via e-mail on a new computer system at Kivel Campus of Care.

Maddie Groshon took flying lessons during World War II and hadn’t flown again until a few weeks ago.

Agustin Rosas drove 18-wheeler trucks as a young man and just recently, at age 80, got back behind the wheel.

A 97-year-old woman, who never used a computer before, sent e-mail for the first time.

All of this is happening at Kivel Campus of Care in Phoenix, Arizona’s first nursing home to use It’s Never 2 Late, a computer system linking seniors to technology.

The adaptive computer lab allows older adults, regardless of physical or cognitive disabilities, to use technology in a variety of ways.

Although some of the residents used a computer before arriving at Kivel, for most it was a first.

Groshon found her first computer experience a little intimidating but “thrilling at the same time.”

“I had the feeling that I was back in a little Cessna,” she says about using the program’s flight simulator. “It was a really good feeling.”

She’s impressed with the variety of programs the computer offers, including flying a plane, driving a car, riding a bike, and games. It “gives you something to do, it stimulates your mind,” she says.

“Maddie had tears in her eyes” when using the flight simulator, says Crystal Corriere, director of Kivel’s therapeutic recreation department. Flying and driving are things these seniors “thought they’d never be able to experience, in any way, again,” she says. “And now they’re able to get that back.”

Rosas, who returned behind the wheel via a truck-driving simulator, says he’s heard a great deal about the Internet and calls himself “absolutely illiterate about computers.” He’s excited to enter the “whole new world of possibilities.”

It’s Never 2 Late is currently in 60 nursing homes in Colorado, where it was founded six years ago by brothers Jack and the late Tom York. It’s also in Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, New York and Wisconsin, says Jack York. Kivel is the first nursing home in Phoenix to try this system.

When Kivel CEO Ira Shulman saw a presentation about a year ago, he knew he wanted it for Kivel. “It was clearly designed for our population and it would give them access to a world they’ve never seen,” he says. “I could just see their interest.”

He recommended the program to the Kivel Auxiliary, which raised money for the computer lab at last year’s annual luncheon.

“To watch someone who’s never used a computer enter the computer world is an amazing sight,” Shulman says.

Kivel introduced the first computer in August to the independent apartment residents. A kickoff in the Pavilion nursing home was Sept. 12 and a third kickoff, in the care center, was on Oct. 10.

Michael Lev, who started work as an It’s Never 2 Late independent contractor in June, trains Kivel staff and residents on the program. Initially, he thought residents would be afraid to try it, but he was quickly proven wrong. “They just dive in 100 percent,” he says. “They’re really open to learning.”

He says many seniors are a little apprehensive at first, worried that they’ll press the wrong button. But once they try it, they’re excited that “the world is opening up to them,” he says. He’s proud of the seniors he works with – “it takes a lot of guts to do what they’re doing.”

The computer system is not limited to seniors; it’s also being used toward rehabilitation, Love says. For instance, the system has aspects that work toward hand-eye coordination after a person is recuperating from a stroke. “The potential for the system is incredible,” he says. “We can gear the program toward each individual.”

The system offers an opportunity for each Kivel resident to be involved, Corriere says.

One program similar to a colorful, musical slide show provides sensory stimulation for patients with dementia, to help keep them alert and more involved in the environment.

The system also offers group programs – “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune” games are projected onto a large screen for group participation.

Others use e-mail to communicate with family and friends. Al Plotkin, who lives in Kivel’s independent apartments, was able to view and print a photograph of his days-old great-granddaughter born in Chatsworth, Calif.

Doris Stein, another Kivel resident, enjoys playing games on the computer, such as the “gambling” programs – as she defines “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune” games. She looks forward to receiving and sending e-mail to her daughter in Israel, who now calls her three times a week. “That gets to be expensive,” Stein says. She also plans to e-mail her son in California and several friends in Chicago.

The program also allows full Internet access that seniors use to research medications and medical conditions, find old classmates and military buddies and take advantage of everything else the Internet offers. “The residents have really embraced it,” Love says. “I want to Google” is a popular request.

The biggest obstacle Corriere found was residents thinking it would be too difficult.

But once they tried it, they got over their fear and enjoyed it, she says.

In the works is an e-mail pen-pal buddy program with local schools and a second pen-pal program with an out-of-state nursing home, Corriere says. “Right now children visit Kivel for activities and we want to keep that contact,” she says.

“It’s a great way for residents to really feel part of the community and connected.”

This article first appeared in the Nov. 12, 2004 issue of  Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

Impressionable memories: Artist makes masks of Holocaust survivors

Holocaust survivor Allen Kredo, who was forced to live in the Lodz Ghetto in Poland during the war, sits with a finished life mask of himself by artist Robert Sutz.

Holocaust survivor Allen Kredo, who was forced to live in the Lodz Ghetto in Poland during the war, sits with a finished life mask of himself by artist Robert Sutz. Photo courtesy of Robert Sutz

Through voices and faces of Holocaust survivors, Scottsdale artist Robert Sutz is devoted to keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive.

He’s interviewed several survivors through Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation. Videotapes of his interviews with nearly a dozen survivors from Chicago are archived at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

And in the kitchen of a Scottsdale house transformed into a studio, Sutz makes life masks of Holocaust survivors. So far he’s made impressions of 10 survivors, mainly from the Chicago area.

“My goal is to continue to do them, as many as I can,” he says. “I would like to continue doing them before more of them are lost.”

Before making each mask, Sutz learns about the survivor’s life experiences and hopes to someday exhibit the masks with written or audiotaped versions of the respective survivor’s story.

His most recent life mask was of Alexander Bialywlos White of Scottsdale, who was 16 in 1939 when Germany invaded Poland.

White recently recounted his Holocaust experience in his book, “Be a Mensch: A Legacy of the Holocaust.” “Be a mensch” were White’s father’s last words to him as his father was forced on a train to Auschwitz.

As Sutz prepares the plaster cast for White’s mask, White sits in a barber-style chair set up in the kitchen. After applying a light coat of mineral oil to White’s face and hair to prevent sticking, Sutz applies plaster bandages to White’s chest. Next he applies more bandages upward toward the neck, chin and mouth – leaving openings around the nose and eyes. The whole process takes about an hour.

When the plaster dries, Sutz carefully removes the plaster mold from White’s face. “I’ve got a real good impression of you,” he tells him.

Next he will close the openings in the eyes, mouth and nose and lubricate the inside with “green soap,” a release agent, then pour plaster in it.

Once the plaster is poured in, the plaster bandages are torn off and he’ll mount the mask on a Styrofoam backing and paint it with oil paint.

In one bedroom of the house, walls are lined with shelves holding several of the life masks Sutz has made over the years. Besides a number of other people, he’s done several of his six children at different ages and has even done self-portrait life masks. “So I know what it feels like,” he says. One of the masks is of former senator Barry Goldwater, who sat for the casting in his own home in 1995.

Lately he has also been sketching many Holocaust scenes that he plans to use for the basis of larger paintings.

“My father’s whole family was lost in Auschwitz so I’m almost obsessed with doing these Holocaust sketches,” he says.

Sutz plans to exhibit his sketches and life masks at the Cultural Exchange Gallery in Scottsdale later this year, although a date has not yet been determined.

Sutz’s resume includes two years of service as an artist/photographer in the military, free-lance work in advertising and editorial illustration and 22 years as an art director at a Chicago advertising agency. In 1981, he opened his own portrait and fine art studio in Evanston, Ill. He and his wife Lea moved to Scottsdale from Glenview, Ill., in 1997. He will be installed as commander of Jewish War Veterans, Post 210, on April 18.

This article first appeared in the April 16, 2004 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

Special delivery: Senior program delivers companionship with food

Ethel Williams depends on the convenience of home-delivered meals from the Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center Senior Center because she lives alone and has a difficult time traveling to the grocery store.

Ethel Williams depends on the convenience of home-delivered meals from the Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center Senior Center because she lives alone and has a difficult time traveling to the grocery store.

Lots of people are happy to see Arnold Pachecl.

Each weekday, he travels about 40 miles to deliver hot meals to 75-80 homebound seniors, usually the only hot meal they eat that day.

But it’s more than the spinach quiche or meat loaf he delivers – for some, he often provides their only human contact.

For the past 15 years, Pachecl has been a driver for the JCC Senior Center Home-Delivered Meals Program, which provides nutritional supplementation, and human interaction, for individuals who are shut-ins and homebound due to illness, limited mobility or other physical challenges.

A few years ago, one of Pachecl’s homebound clients didn’t answer the door to receive her Monday morning delivery. Since it was before he carried a cell phone, Pachecl used her neighbor’s phone to call 911. Paramedics had to break the window to get inside and found her on the floor – where she had spent the entire weekend after a fall.

This is the most extreme case he can recall. However, sometimes his clients “are here one day and the next they’re with the Lord.”

On Mondays, his delivery includes five half-pints of milk for each client, and on Fridays, two frozen meals for the weekend.

For most, the hot meal is their only one for the day and many stretch it into two.

“This is just perfect,” says Ethel Williams about the meals she receives. “I just eat a bowl of cereal in the morning and I expand (the home-delivered meal) so I can get two meals out of it.”

“If there’s a soup or salad, I use it for lunch and the rest of the meal for night,” explains Rose Skicewicz. “I only need to make a little bit of breakfast.”

Dorothy Thrasher says the program “means so much” to her. “Because of the arthritis, I’m unable to cook and another thing is I’m sun-sensitive and I break out when I get out in the sunlight to go shopping so I’m pretty much homebound.”

Pachecl’s day at the senior center starts at 6 a.m. and ends at 4:30 p.m.; after he finishes his deliveries, he cleans the facility. He then goes to his next two jobs, cleaning a preschool and then a doctor’s office.

On weekends he and his wife often go grocery shopping for the seniors and do various maintenance jobs for them – on a volunteer basis.

“I get so attached to them,” he says. “They’re like my own family.”

At each stop along the route, he visits with the seniors, spending a few minutes with them and observing their condition. Since many of his clients have difficulty walking, he often hands them their morning newspaper along with their meal. Each day, he writes up a client progress report and reports any concerns to the JCC senior center director, Sandy Reichsfeld.

One morning he called in sick and it “took five people to deliver the food” in his absence, Reichsfeld says. He ended up coming in later that day to finish the job.

Pachecl also keeps a box of dog biscuits – which he supplies – behind his seat in the delivery van for his clients’ dogs.

“He’s the best person in the world, he does everything,” says client Beverly Budoff. “He doesn’t just deliver food, he even takes out the trash if you need it. He’s a good man, he’s a good helper – and a good friend.”

Another client, Kenneth Zimner, says he appreciates the program because it’s difficult for him to cook. “I get tired of eating frozen dinners and to get a hot meal once a day is wonderful,” he says. “I like to see this guy once a day,” he says, pointing to Pachecl. “It breaks the monotony.”

Lillian Mayer calls the program “a blessing.”

“And Arnold, God love him, he is fabulous,” she says. “When I’d have to go to the doctor, he’d make sure Edith, my neighbor, would bring my lunch home to me.”

The senior center, part of the Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center, receives funds from the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix, the Valley of The Sun United Way and the Area Agency on Aging and provides the only kosher home delivery program in Arizona.

Although the kosher supervision by the Greater Phoenix Vaad Hakashruth adds an additional financial strain because kosher meat and bread costs more and cannot be donated from food banks, both VOSJCC President Mark Shore and federation Executive Director Adam Schwartz express a commitment to keeping the program kosher.

Although the majority of participants do not observe kashrut, the program’s kosher status is crucial for some.

Linda Kaufman says her father Alfred Meyers, an original charter member of Jewish War Veterans, Post 194, keeps strictly kosher but is physically and financially unable to visit a kosher butcher. “To run out and go shopping and then the preparation – he’d rather just not eat,” she says.

Meyer, 89, has arthritis and Kaufman says he doesn’t have the energy or physical stamina to prepare his own meals. “He would rather get sweet rolls, and he’ll live on a sweet roll and some instant coffee with water,” she says. “If it weren’t for the meals, he wouldn’t be around.”

The home delivery program is open to seniors regardless of religion or ethnicity, but 75 percent of the participants are Jewish, says Reichsfeld. All participants are pre-screened by Maricopa County Long-Term Care, and the organization determines if the individual meets the required criteria.

Participants must be over age 60 – unless they have a physical disability – and meet financial guidelines. The average age of individuals receiving home-delivered meals is 87, but the senior center’s youngest client is 26, and others are in their late 90s.

The suggested donation per meal is $3, but people rarely pay, Reichsfeld says. Private Pay clients, such as those who are temporarily homebound due to surgery, pay $8 per meal. There are usually eight-10 of these, but the number fluctuates, she notes.

The food is transported in coolers in the back of a van leased for $1 a year from the Area Agency on Aging. The JCC pays for gas, maintenance and licensing, says agency representative Todd Gray.

Meals cater to an individual’s dietary needs – some are designed for diabetics, others have no starch. Pachecl logs food temperatures for each route, following Board of Health regulations.

Chef Robert Eagle, with help from assistant cook Sandy Bice, arrives at the senior center around 4 a.m. each weekday to start cooking. Meals, made from scratch, range from salmon and hamburgers to grilled chicken sandwiches and spaghetti with meatballs.

Eagle cooks all morning until noon, when lunch is served to the 45-60 seniors who partake in the program’s congregate meal program each weekday at the center, 1805 E. Montebello Ave., Phoenix. After Eagle and Bice serve lunch, they clean up and use remaining food to prepare frozen meals, which are later delivered to home-delivery clients for the weekend.

Eagle prepares special meals for holidays: This week he prepared a Thanksgiving meal for Wednesday’s delivery and is planning an Italian-style buffet for the center’s New Year’s celebration.

The Area Agency on Aging defines the home delivery area: Virginia Avenue on the south, Northern Avenue on the north, 12th Street on the east and 23rd Avenue on the west.

Last year, the JCC Senior Center delivered 16,000 home-delivered meals, an increase of 40 percent from 2000.

This year, due to a combination of United Way and federation funding cuts and an increase in food prices, the senior center is feeling a strain. “It’s getting harder and harder to run a good program the way it should be run,” Reichsfeld says.

“We feel very rewarded inside for being able to serve these people,” she says. “Hopefully when we reach the appropriate age, this kind of program will be here for us.”

This article first appeared in the Nov. 28, 2003 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

Kreplach and wontons: Asian-American havurah

A few of the children of the Asian-American Havurah celebrate Sukkot. Photo by Alicia Messing

A few of the children of the Asian-American Havurah celebrate Sukkot. Photo by Alicia Messing

Sukkot and Autumn Moon. Hebrew and Chinese. Kreplach and wontons.

American Jewish parents who adopt children from Asian countries often strive to teach their children pride in both Jewish and Asian heritages – one of Alicia Messing’s goals when she founded the Asian-American Havurah, which first met in May.

Twenty adults and children joined the group’s first social event – a Sukkot party – on Oct. 12.

Messing and her husband Henry adopted their daughter Julie Mei from China in August 2002. Although she’s on the board of Family with Children from China and has formed playgroups with other transracial families, Messing wanted to meet Jewish families similar to her own.

“We know that (our daughter is) going to struggle with being Asian and Jewish,” Messing says. “There’s not a lot of people out there like that.”

Although she notes that while the children are young, the group may be more beneficial for the parents, she hopes it ultimately will provide lifelong connections for their children, “because they’re going to be a minority within a minority.”

However, it’s not strictly an adoption group, Messing notes. She also welcomes Asian adults who are part of the Jewish community. “They’re going to be educating us on some of the comments that they heard growing up and how they wish their parents had dealt with it or how they did deal with it. I hope we can benefit from each other.”

Through the Hadassah, Mishpacha Group, Messing, a member of Temple Chai, met fellow member Helen Press, a first-generation Chinese-American who converted to Judaism in 2001. She and her husband Keith have a 1-year-old daughter, Sydney.

“It’s very rare to see another Chinese-Jewish person,” Press says. “Since I converted, I’m a minority in the Jewish culture and religion.” She hopes to help incorporate elements of Chinese culture into the havurah (friendship group).

Press speaks to her daughter in Cantonese, as well as in English, and wants to teach her daughter as much as possible about the Chinese culture, from history and art to music and holidays.

Press notes the similarities between Jewish and Chinese cultures. “They have similar values and there are so many symbolic meanings to different things,” she says.

Both cultures follow the lunar calendar, celebrate holidays unique to their culture and share values of hard work and education, she says.

She looks forward to her daughter developing friendships with other Asian Jewish children in the havurah.

Randi Sweet, a Temple Solel member, adopted her daughter, Rebecca Powers, from Korea about 13 years ago. Powers, now 14, graduated from the Pardes Jewish Day School last year.

When Powers was younger, the family attended Korean Culture Camp, a family overnight camp focusing on providing role models for the children and teaching them information about Korea. Sweet still corresponds with other parents who adopted Korean children.

Powers also used to attend weekly Korean language classes and participate in Korean Culture Day. She doesn’t do much now because she’s a teen busy with other things, her mom says, but the foundation was laid.

To provide Chinese cultural experiences for their daughter, the Messings attend festivals at the Chinese Cultural Center, such as Chinese New Year and Autumn Moon celebrations.

Sweet says that one of the biggest challenges her daughter had, which she feels is common to most biracial families, is that “the world expects them to be whatever they look like.” For example, even though people know Powers was adopted at 5 months old, she often gets asked if she speaks Korean.

“There’s a lot to be learned about what to do to help these children who the world sees differently than they may be and prepare them for the fact that they’re going to get some of these silly questions,” Sweet says.

However, Sweet says that she found the Jewish community “quite tolerant and quite accepting.”

Future plans for the Asian-American Havurah include a November havdalah service and a Hanukkah party. Messing envisions it as a social group for families that will include social action programs.

Fast facts

  • The Chinese adoption process, from selecting an agency to arriving home with the child, usually takes about 12-18 months.
  • The cost, including the trip to China and fees, ranges between $15,000-$20,000.
  • In general, most children are between 6-20 months old when the adoption process is complete.
  • Ninety-five percent of the children are girls.
  • About one-third of all the children adopted from China are adopted by single parents.
  • To adopt a healthy child, Chinese law requires that the parents be over the age of 30. The parents also need to have sufficient income to support the child and to be in reasonably good health.
  • All dossiers, the collection of documents that the adoption agency sends to China, must be sent by adoption agencies that are registered with the China Center of Adoption Affairs.
    Source: Families with Children from China, www.fwcc.org.

This article first appeared in the Oct. 24, 2003 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.