A gift through the generations

Avi Dahan, left, and Nisim Dadon, two founders of the Scottsdale Sepharadic Synagogue, hold a Torah that was originally dedicated by Dahan's grandmother at a Jerusalem synagogue.

Avi Dahan, left, and Nisim Dadon, two founders of the Scottsdale Sepharadic Synagogue, hold a Torah that was originally dedicated by Dahan’s grandmother at a Jerusalem synagogue.

In a Jerusalem synagogue more than 30 years ago, a woman dedicated a Torah scroll in honor of her late husband.

Last month, this same scroll was brought to Phoenix, where it will become part of a new synagogue co-founded by the man’s grandson.

When Avi Dahan of Phoenix was helping form the Scottsdale Sepharadic Synagogue, he remembered hearing that his grandmother, Massouda Dahan, had at one time dedicated a Torah scroll to a Jerusalem synagogue. Dahan asked his sister Shoshana Benyamin, who lives in Jerusalem, to investigate.

She visited Heychal Abraham in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Bakaa, where her grandmother used to live, and Rabbi Shimon Ben-Ita directed her to a Torah with the Hebrew inscription: “Massouda Dahan, Lech Lecha;” evidence that the Torah was dedicated by her grandmother during the week of the “Lech Lecha” Torah portion.

The ark contained several Torah scrolls and this particular Torah has been used consistently throughout the years, Ben-Ita told Benyamin.

Avi Dahan translates the Hebrew inscription on the inside right side of the case: “This binder, this Sefer Torah and the pomegranates were dedicated by Lady Massouda Dahan in memory of Abraham Dahan, her husband. He passed away on the 27th of Adar II, 5679” (March 29, 1919).

Inside, on the left side of the case, is an inscription that said she dedicated the Torah “in the hand of her son Maklouf Dahan to walk it anyplace that he so desires without any delay and may he live to have a long life,” translates Dahan. It’s dated Cheshvan 5728 (1967).

Dahan explains that this means that although his grandmother dedicated the Torah at this synagogue, it was under the condition that her son could take it if he so desired. Since it was donat-ed with this condition, Benyamin was able to remove the Torah from the synagogue.

“The rabbi had to release it because (what) was written on it,” Dahan notes. “Nothing was planned. … All my sister wanted was to see the scroll.”

At the same time Benyamin made this discovery, Nisim Dadon, one of the co-founders of the Scottsdale Sepharadic Synagogue, happened to be in Israel for a family wedding. It was arrang- ed that Dadon would transport the Torah back to Arizona with him.

When the To-rah arrived on Aug. 17, it was the first time Dahan had ever seen it. “I shi-vered when I saw it,” he said.

The Torah made its Ameri-can debut dur-ing an Aug. 23 Shabbat service at the Best Western where the synagogue was meeting at the time.

Since then, it has moved to its new location at 5310 E. Shea Blvd., Suite 5. A Torah dedication ceremony to welcome the new Torah – as well as one donated by the Doledano and Amiel families of Montreal – will be held this Sunday, Sept. 14.

Avi and his wife Maggie moved from Israel to Toronto with their two sons, Elan and Drory, in 1969 and moved to Phoenix in 1977.

After the Torah arrived in Phoenix, Dahan realized that his grandmother’s gift continues into another generation: her great-grandson Elan is getting married this year in November: during the week of the Torah portion “Lech Lecha.”

This article first appeared in the Sept. 12, 2003 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

Senior center honors longtime employee

Balloons, streamers and “Happy Retirement” banners colorfully decorated the Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center Senior Center on Jan. 17, but the party’s honoree insisted she’s not really retiring

“I’m semi-retired,” clarifies Belle Soltz, the senior center’s site manager for the past 30 years.

“Thirty years ago I came to Phoenix a complete stranger looking for friends,” Soltz says. “I walked into the center and I lost my heart and soul to the center. It became my home away from home.”

So it’s no wonder that although Soltz, 85, is officially stepping out from behind her desk on Jan. 31, she will continue at the senior center as a “consultant.”

“We don’t want her staying in (her) apartment,” explains Sandy Reichsfeld, director of the senior center who has worked with Soltz for 10 years. “We want this to be her home away from home just like everybody else.”

About 90 people attended the “retirement” party, including Soltz’s daughter from California, son and daughter-in-law from Chicago, VOSJCC president Mark Shore, VOSJCC board member Andy Schwartz and four Maricopa County case managers.

“We turned away 16 people today because of the fire code, plus we don’t have the room,” Reichsfeld says.

Representatives from the Area Agency on Aging presented Soltz with a plaque proclaiming Jan. 17 as Belle Soltz Day. In 1982, Soltz was the first recipient of The Dr. R. Alice Drought Caring Spirit Award, a humanitarian award from the Area Agency on Aging.

“She’s made a lot of special friends here and everybody cares about her,” Reichsfeld says. “When somebody walks through the door here, Belle is the first smiling face that they see, and she touches the lives of every single person who walks through that door.”

Nancy Fordonski of Detroit, a Phoenix winter visitor, met Soltz 18 years ago when visiting the center for lunch with her husband Michael. She’s been in touch with Soltz ever since.

When in Phoenix, the Fordonskis visit the center nearly every day and keep in touch by phone the rest of the year. “We feel really like family,” Fordonski says. “On a day when we’re not in, I will call in the evening (to see) how it was.”

Soltz says her favorite part of working at the center was “mixing with the seniors (and) seeing Sandy every day.”

Says Reichsfeld of Soltz: “She is my idol. She gave me a different perspective on seniors when I came here.”

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

Kivel couples

Family photographs line the walls of Samuel and Beatrice Green’s room where they hold hands while relaxing in their recliners. The Greens exchanged their wedding vows 63 years ago in Brooklyn, N.Y., where they raised three children and spent most of their married life; Samuel Green practiced optometry until his retirement in 1999.

Now the Greens are one of many couples who live together at Kivel Campus of Care in Phoenix.

“Recently Kivel has been experiencing a trend for couples moving into the nursing home and independent apartments,” says Hank Arens, Kivel’s director of community services. “Double occupancy rooms have been converted into homey environments for the couples to share their living quarters, much like they have at their homes.”

The Greens chose the Gimel Unit in the care center building of Kivel Nursing Home because it provided accommodations for them to live together, says Samuel Green. “We have been together our whole lives, it seems, and nothing was going to separate us.”

Alvin and Anne Plotkin, married for 65 years, also live together on Kivel’s campus. However, Alvin Plotkin lives in the independent apartments, while wife Anne lives in the care center’s Gimel unit. Each day, they eat meals together and Alvin takes Anne for walks through the building, sharing jokes or showing photographs of the couple’s earlier years. Alvin says he is grateful that he is healthy and able to take care of his wife, since she took care of him during much of their life together.

Jack and Inez Golden also both live in the care center, but in different units. The couple spent the majority of more than 60 years of married life in New York City. Now Inez lives in the Aleph Unit, a specialized unit for memory-impaired and Alzheimer’s residents.

“When I visit her, she doesn’t recognize me anymore,” Jack says. “But love conquers all. It is very important that we are together, that is all that matters.”

Arens can think of several couples that come to live at Kivel. “Their lives were rich simply because they were together,” he says. “We are delighted to be able to provide a caring, homelike environment for couples who wish to share their golden years together.”

Currently, there are nine couples who live together in the independent apartments; two couples that share a room in the care center; and four couples where one spouse lives in the apartments, the other in the care center.

This article first appeared in the Oct. 11, 2002 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

A tale of two worlds: Ernest Michel

Some people collect sports memorabilia; others collect art. Ernest Michel collects history.

Michel’s collection – ranging from personal Holocaust artifacts to an autographed photo of Yitzhak Rabin, Bill Clinton and Yasser Arafat – is on display through April 28 in “Birth of Two Democracies,” the current exhibit at the Sylvia Plotkin Judaica Museum.

The exhibition contains artifacts from two exhibits: “The Promise: The Ernest W. Michel Historical Judaica Collection,” featuring documents and photographs from Germany and Israel; and “Parallel Visions,” on loan from the Kaller’s American Gallery, featuring documents dating to the American Revolution.

Curator and Holocaust survivor Michel says he collected his first item after working as a German News Agency correspondent during the Nuremberg War Crimes trial.

During the trial, Nazi leader Hermann Goering’s attorney arranged an interview between his client and Michel. After Michel entered Goering’s cell, Goering stood to shake Michel’s hand. Michel reached out his hand then quickly retracted it and asked the attendant to let him out.

“I thought to myself – what the hell am I doing here?” Michel says. “I never said one word to him,” he remembers. “He stood there with his hand out, with his mouth open. I’ll never forget how he looked.”

The next day, Goering’s attorney brought him Goering’s autograph. After that, Michel collected autographs of 12 of the 22 defendants in the Nuremberg trial – the start of his collection. Although the autographs are not included in the exhibit, a picture of Goering in his cell is, along with one of Michel’s articles about the trial, with his byline: “Special correspondent Ernest W. Michel, former Auschwitz inmate #104994.”

“I insisted that my articles show the fact that I was an Auschwitz survivor,” Michel says.

German-born Michel was sent to his first concentration camp at age 16 in 1939. After almost six years in Auschwitz, Birkenau, Buna-Monowitz, Buchenwald and Berga, among others, he escaped from a death march before the end of World War II and arrived in the United States as a displaced person in 1946, with the aid of funds from United Jewish Appeal.

Items in the exhibit echo aspects of his life, including the belt he wore while in Auschwitz -the only item he was allowed to keep from the camp – and photographs and autographs of Israeli and American leaders he met during more than 50 years working with the UJA.

“This has been a lifelong hobby,” Michel says. “More than a hobby – an obsession.”

The exhibit started as a personal collection, but then friends suggested he make it public so he displayed it in the UJA ballroom in New York for two years. “I never thought it would go beyond that,” he says. Then, in 2000, a guest from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., asked to exhibit it in Florida. Since then, it has been to Boca Raton, Fla., Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Rockland County, N.Y. After its run in Phoenix, the exhibit is scheduled to go to Denver and Los Angeles.

Some of the items are from his life, such as photographs from the1981 World Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, an event he organized which drew 6,000 survivors and their families from 23 countries and four continents to Israel. Other pieces he purchased, such as a letter by Theodore Herzl from 1890 and a reproduction of the Israel Declaration of Independence.

Through his career with the UJA, which culminated in his position as the CEO of UJA-Federation, Michel says he met all the leaders of Israel since the state’s inception. “Because of my role, I knew all of these people,” he says. “I was the only one who always came with my photos and papers and (asked them to) sign it.”

Michel says one of the most interesting things that happened during his career was negotiating with the Mormon Church in 1995 to withdraw from church records almost 400,000 names of Jewish Holocaust victims the church posthumously baptized.

Afterwards, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) offered to introduce a resolution in Congress, “concerning the fact that Jews were killed and people who denied the Holocaust are absolutely wrong,” Michel says. Congress presented Michel a copy of the resolution with the autographs of each of the sponsors of the resolution, passed unanimously in the House and Senate.

“It’s a very meaningful thing that I was glad I was able to participate in,” he says.

His autobiography, “Promises to Keep,” published in 1993, covers his life story beginning with Kristallnacht in 1938 Germany.

The second part of the exhibit, “Parallel Visions,” includes a reproduction of the U.S. Declaration of Independence and letters from George Washington and Ben Franklin.

A third segment of the collection is from Annelese Winterberg Nossbaum of Pennsylvania – the mother of Tempe resident Ivette Maoz. Nossbaum is a survivor of the Theresienstadt camp. Her collection includes a pair of Shabbat candlesticks that a German woman hid and later returned, money from the camp and a passport.

One item in Michel’s exhibit is the only photograph he has of his parents, Otto and Frieda, with his sister, Lotte. His sister survived the war and lives in Israel.

On one wall is a note from Michel, written in 1995, which describes a conversation he had with his sister in 1955, when they met in Israel for the first time after the war: “If only our parents could have known that we survived. … If they only could have died with that knowledge.”

Between Michel and his sister, they have 54 descendants. “Despite what happened between the two of us, we created new Jewish life,” he says.

Michel says he realizes that he was a part of Jewish history and wanted to preserve as much as possible for future generations.

“Many people only know about this period as history,” he writes of his collection. “I lived it.”

This article first appeared in the March 29, 2002 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

HIAS assists resettlement in Phoenix

While growing up in the town of Kishenev, Moldova, in the former Soviet Union, Jewish practices were a mystery to Lana Akhenblit.

Her grandmother and father would explain Jewish holidays to her and tell her “this is what our Jewish people in Israel are doing for this holiday.”

Her grandmother was “a Jewish Orthodox” who spoke Yiddish and kept kosher (Akhenblit’s mother would slaughter the chickens herself). Her mother would make latkes during Hanukkah and the family bought matzo on the black market for Passover, yet otherwise, they were forbidden to observe the holidays.

“For me it was always a question – why? Why can’t we do it?” Akhenblit says.

Although she has no recollection of anyone being openly arrested for practicing Judaism, anti-Semitism was still prevalent and the older generation passed on their fear from arrests they had seen.

As she got older, she realized that the same children who refused to play with her as a child because she was Jewish would become the adults who might someday refuse to hire her because she was Jewish.

She wanted more for her children.

At age 25, Akhenblit, her then-husband Yusef, their 8-year-old daughter and Akhenblit’s parents and brother, through the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), traveled through Vienna, Italy and New York; they finally made their home in Phoenix in 1989.

She and her family are some of the more than 4.5 million people who have been assisted by HIAS in its 120 years; they were the first to resettle in Phoenix.

HIAS first became involved in the Valley through the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix and Jewish Family and Children’s Service but now works exclusively with the federation.

“Our role is now very limited because of the lower numbers that are coming here,” explains Fred Zeidman, assistant executive director of the federation.

Zeidman estimates that three HIAS-sponsored Russian families have resettled to Phoenix in the past two years. The federation also works with HIAS in the resettlement of Iranian members of the Baha’i faith.

The federation provides services such as helping the immigrants find housing, providing translation services, helping register for medical assistance and social security, putting immigrants in contact with job placement organizations,

HIAS celebrates 120 years

counseling and English-as-a-second-language classes, Zeidman says.

Adrien Herzberg (Shalowitz) worked at JFCS from 1980-1998 (she was CEO from 1987-1998) and worked with volunteers, synagogues and organizations to resettle the 300-400 people who immigrated to Phoenix from Russia.

The thing she remembers most was “how hard it was for the volunteers – for everybody – because we were bringing these people into a totally foreign land.” Many of the immigrants came from rural areas in Russia and weren’t familiar with things such as coffeemakers, thermostats or toilets.

“Hundreds and hundreds of people were involved” in the resettlement process, Herzberg says. Synagogues and organizations adopted families, doctors offered medical assistance and volunteers furnished apartments and stocked refrigerators – “the community really got together and they did this,” Herzberg says.

There were downsides to resettling in Phoenix – a poor job market, no public transportation and hot weather, she notes.

Seema Liston, JFCS job developer at the time, said the women often worked in the nursing fields or as manicurists and men often obtained jobs in maintenance or manufacturing.

JFCS taught the new arrivals English, helped them find jobs and get driver’s licenses, and tried to set the new families up with mentor families.

For the past two years, Akhenblit has acted as a case manager with the federation to assist new immigrants.

The process is a little different now, she notes, because now they have anchor families – relatives – that help them, whereas when she arrived, she knew nobody.

When her family first arrived in Phoenix, the federation moved them into a furnished apartment, complete with a fully stocked refrigerator. At the time, the program paid $1,200 per month for the family’s first four months in the country.

A few weeks after the move, Akhenblit discovered she was pregnant.

The family’s first year in the United States was documented in a series of articles in The Arizona Republic – the family’s arrival, their first Hanukkah, first Passover seder, etc. Readers responded – somebody organized a baby shower for her, another drove her to doctor’s appointments.

Akhenblit was a registered nurse in Russia but had difficulty with obtaining a nursing license in Arizona due to language limitations. However, she completed some college courses and, in 1995, started “Care of Love,” a private group home for the elderly.

When she first moved to Arizona, Akhenblit remembers feeling like she was on vacation. “You have blue sky and sun and I thought I was in some paradise,” she says. “In February, people were swimming in the pool.”

Akhenblit lives in Phoenix, with daughter Geley, 20, a student at Arizona State University and an intern at the school’s Hillel Student Center, and son Paul, 11. Her parents still live in Phoenix and her brother lives in San Jose, Calif.

She says she has always been appreciative of what HIAS and the Phoenix Jewish community have done for her and her family. The move “was not easy,” she says, but “I can say that I’m proud of everything that happened.”

This article first appeared in the Sept. 7, 2001 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

CPA moonlights as a sports photographer

Whether it’s investigating the financial records of a company or sitting in the Arizona Diamondbacks’ dugout, Joel Zolondek likes to be where the action is.

Certified public accountant Zolondek is the founder and managing partner of Zolondek, Strassels, Greene & Freed, P.C., as well as a free-lance photographer for sports publications.

Despite the stigma branding accountants as being only laws-and-numbers-oriented, he says “that’s not the way successful accountants have ever operated. They’ve always had to have some vision and a lot of creativity and a lot of resiliency.”

His photographs have appeared in Harnett’s Sports Arizona, Swimmers World, Scottsdale Life and Jewish News, among others. He has been a contributing photographer for the Arizona Diamondbacks Magazine since September 1998.

Zolondek is a second-generation moonlighter – his father was also a certified public accountant and a photographer – and he wanted to be a CPA since he was 10.

“I really admired (my father’s) enthusiasm for the profession and the larger vision about what the profession was about enabled me to set goals,” he says. “Photography was just for fun.”

As a teenager, he took up photography and made home movies in high school and college. “My knowledge has been basically through experience and through a lot of reading,” he says.

One of the exciting elements of being a sports photographer is feeling like he’s part of the action, he adds. “It’s about feeling closer to the athletes, to events, and feeling as though you weren’t just a spectator, but somebody who was an intrinsic part of the event and was able to, in some way, put on paper something that’s tangible evidence that this was truly a special occurrence.”

He sums up his passion for sports photography as “feeling the privilege of witnessing the event and the need to capture it.”

His 1996 photo of Olympic swimmer Janet Evans appeared on Harnett’s Sports Arizona magazine’s table of contents page, which won the 1996 National Gold Medal Ozzie Award.

In addition to photographing sports teams, Zolondek snaps photographs on vacations to foreign countries, which he and his wife, Marilyn, try to take at least once a year. In taking pictures of the scenery and the people, he tries to understand the culture of each country. “My wife and I really enjoy traveling, getting a sense of history, (and seeing) some beautiful sites around the world,” he says.

Past trips have included Denmark, France, Israel, Italy, Norway, Spain and Sweden. This year the couple will visit Greece and Turkey.

On a weeklong vacation, he uses an average of 50-100 rolls of film. “You have to be prepared to waste a lot of film, to throw a lot of prints away,” he says.

He often waits, camera in hand, for just the right image.

“You have to wait for the right scene to evolve,” he explains. “It does take time.” In one instance, he waited in front of a Spanish fruit market for half an hour to capture the desired scene of an elderly woman buying fruit.

He uses his photographs mainly for personal enjoyment and often enlarges and frames them, then gives them to friends as gifts.

“I get a lot of enjoyment from sharing the images with people,” he says. He adds that he feels fortunate enough to be in the right place and maybe see something that somebody hasn’t seen before.

This photograph-sharing concept extends to those he takes of athletes.

If he has a photo that memorializes an event he thinks an athlete would cherish, he makes an enlargement of the photo and gives it as a gift.

“I found out that many of the athletes have very few images of themselves,” he notes. Although the athletes are in the public eye, many times only the principal players are the ones whose photographs are published. He tries to give photographs to those athletes who may not make it to the printed page.

“They might not have that remembrance so that their children can see that they really were on that same field with the legend,” he explains.

His other work includes portraits of public figures including Robert Redford, Al Gore, Bill Clinton, Dan Quayle and Alice Cooper.

Earlier this year, Zolondek joined landscape photographer David Muench and other photographers on a trip to Monument Valley, located on the border of Arizona and Utah, which was documented by KAET-TV.

The trip opened Zolondek’s eyes to other types of photography.

“Everyone there brought tripods; everybody was setting up to take long exposures with very slow shutter speeds,” he says. “My style has always been sports – a catch in mid-air, players sliding or jumping and catching them in mid-air with the ball in their hand going over the rim.”

While the other photographers were leisurely photographing the landscape, Zolondek walked around with his hand-held camera taking pictures of the film crew and of Muench.

Afterward, KAET requested the use of Zolondek’s photographs to document the trip on the station’s Web site.

He said he learned a great deal from that trip, which introduced him to a new style of art. He says he has incorporated some of it into his sports photography.

Sports have always been an important part of Zolondek’s life.

Growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y., he played single-wall handball, basketball, baseball and football on concrete fields.

He followed the Dodgers, the Yankees, the Knicks and the Giants. “In New York, that was a major part of growing up,” he says, recalling discussions, arguments and the memorization of facts and statistics.

“I had all the advantages of living in a major city and everything it had to offer, including some great sports teams of the ’50s and ’60s,” he recalls.

He met Marilyn while he was a student at City College of New York, they married in 1969 and moved to Arizona in 1971. They have two children, Sharon and Jeff, both in their mid-20s.

Zolondek has been a member of Beth El Congregation in Phoenix since 1980, and was on the boards of Jewish Family Children’s Service and the Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center. He has also helped raise funds for the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix.

In 1974 he founded his Phoenix accounting firm, and since then it has grown to seven partners and a staff of 50.

He says he would never think about leaving accounting for full-time photography.

“I think that business is so exciting. You have the opportunity to help people, to learn more about what’s happening in their lives, with the IRS and with banks and with unpredictable economic events,” he says. “I get a tremendous thrill doing that.”

He says the hours he puts into both careers don’t disrupt his personal life, but rather enhance it.

“I burn the candle at both ends and try to make every day an important day,” he says. “I think it’s important to cherish the moment and not feel that I’ve missed anything. So it’s ‘work hard and play hard’ and it all integrates.”

This article first appeared in the June 15, 2001 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

Siblings connect: A story of two adoptees

In November, after watching a television movie about a woman returning to her heritage after being adopted at birth, Mara Addison of Scottsdale was determined to find her birth mother.

She went online to see if she had received any response to her previous postings on adoption Web sites. There were none.

A year earlier, in Santa Fe, N.M., another woman, Donna Benjamin, had posted information on a Web site started by an adoptee of the Louise Wise Services agency in New York – the adoption agency where she had been adopted as a baby. She checked the site regularly at first, then forgot about it after not receiving any response.

As Addison scrolled through listings of other adoptees on this same Web site a year later, she read Benjamin’s posting, which included information similar to hers.

Addison and Benjamin e-mailed each other back and forth, comparing notes.

“Between the information we shared in e-mail, it sounded like we were a match,” says Benjamin. “Plus, it felt like I was talking to myself – it was very unusual.”

The women each called the adoption agency, which confirmed they were sisters.

“You wake up, you have your cup of coffee, you get on the Internet and find out you have a sister you never knew existed,” Benjamin says.

Addison flew to Santa Fe to meet her sister that week.

“Donna’s skin, her body type, her mannerisms, her expressions are so similar to mine that it’s eerie,” Addison, 44, says. “It’s surreal.”

Soon after, Benjamin, 42, spent Hanukkah and New Year’s with her newfound sister, brother-in-law, niece and nephews. Rabbi Maynard Bell at Temple Solel in Paradise Valley gave the sisters a special blessing during a Shabbat service.

The sisters discovered they were raised 20-30 minutes apart from each other in Queens, N.Y., and believe they both attended the same Elton John concert at Central Park in the early 70s.

Addison moved to Arizona from New Jersey in 1991; Benjamin moved to New Mexico in 1994.

“There a lot of similarities,” Benjamin says. “We were together for a week – there were times we spoke at the same time, said the same thing. Looking at her is like looking in the mirror.”

It was the first time either of them had ever met a blood relative.

“I feel no resentment about being adopted; I had a good life,” Addison says. “But I always had this burning question: Are there other people on this planet that look like me?” She says it’s not so much that she wanted to find her birth mother, but that she wanted to meet someone that looked like her – “to feel that connection,” she explains.

Benjamin says she also feels no resentment; her search always had been to discover her ancestry and genealogy, rather than to find her birth mother.

In January, Addison hired Kin Solving Investigations in North Carolina to find her birth mother.

Less than 48 hours later, she heard back – her birth mother died in 1995, and she and Benjamin have another sister and a brother, both of whom were raised with their birth mother in New Jersey. Addison had moved to New Jersey when she was 15 and unknowingly lived two towns from her birth family until she moved to Arizona in 1991.

Addison and Benjamin are flying to New Jersey later this month to meet with their brother, Ken Kollinsworth, and sister, Sharon Robertson. All four siblings have different fathers, and the two in New Jersey “did not have an easy childhood,” Addison says.

Learning more about her birth mother, Addison says, led her and Benjamin to each “call our adoptive family and tell them how much we love them and to thank them for the wonderful life they gave us.”

Their birth mother had also been born to Jewish parents and adopted by Jewish parents. Before seeing a picture of her birth mother, Addison “thought it was going to be a big emotional event because you wait for it all your life, but it wasn’t. … It was closure for me.”

During the years Addison and Benjamin were adopted, the Louise Wise Services agency dealt with only Jewish children and parents; therefore, the sisters were both raised by Jewish parents.

Before 2000, adoption agencies in New York were prohibited from confirming or denying sibling relationships, Addison says. But the state law changed that year, which allowed Addison and Benjamin to confirm their relationship.

Because she feels that “when you’re given gifts in life, you’ve got to give back,” Addison has founded The Sibling Connection, to inform adoptees and the public of the laws concerning sibling identification.

This article first appeared in the March 2, 2001 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix. 

Sustaining tradition: Bukharian Jewish community dedicates center

It’s easy to miss the small white house with blue trim nestled next to a plant nursery on Glendale Avenue between Seventh and 12th streets in Phoenix.

But for the 600-700 Bukharian Jews living in the Valley, the building symbolizes a way to preserve their national traditions and religious rituals, says Tamara Babekov, a founder of the Bukharian Jewish Community of Phoenix.

On Sept. 24, the group celebrated the opening of its new center at 1002 W. Glendale Ave., the culmination of a joint effort. From electrical wiring and painting to carpet installation, members donated their time and professional services.

“Every single nail is donated,” says Mikhail Samandarov, whose family moved to Phoenix nine years ago – one of the first three families to move to Phoenix from Bukhara. Some 250-300 Bukharian Jewish families now live in the Valley.

Bukharian Jews come from Central Asia, near Afghanistan, in and around the nation of Bukhara. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, many immigrated to the United States, Canada and Israel.

The sense of community was evident in preparations before the dedication ceremony as men and women set up tables and chairs outside, chopped cucumbers and tomatoes and stirred giant pots of rice pilaf, a traditional dish made from rice, vegetables, beef and spices.

Community members donated all food and drinks.

The inauguration included attaching a mezuza to the doorpost; speeches in Russian by board members; and a ceremony dedicating a Torah from Russia, a gift from Boris Kandov, president of the Congress of Bukharian Jews of the U.S.A. and Canada.

At the ceremony, Kandov presented traditional robes to Boris Uvaydov, the president of the Phoenix Bukharian Jewish Community, and Boris Gilkarov of the Los Angeles Bukharian Jewish Community, who attended the celebration.

An earlier Bukharian synagogue in Phoenix, Congregation Ahavat Torah, was organized by Boruchay and Raya Davrayev in 1998. They ran services in their home until moving to New York earlier this year.

In the interim between locations, the Chabad-Lubavitch Center in Phoenix provided the community with a place to hold services, and the community is “very grateful” for Rabbi Zalman Levertov for his help with its development, says Samandarov.

Rabbi Nissan Rubinov of Los Angeles led the group’s recent High Holiday services in its new building. Religious leader Yakov Abramov leads Friday night and Saturday morning services and morning and evening minyans during the week.

The community center, founded by Babekov, Gregory Shamsiev, Nancy Ishakov and Uzik Babadzanov, will assist newly arrived immigrants, educate children in customs and traditions, assist the aged and senior retired community, publish a community newspaper and create an ensemble of folk song and dance, Babekov says.

“Our wish is to develop as a Bukharian nation within American Jewry,” Babekov says. “All of the members of the community are working; the youth attend schools, yeshivas and colleges. Our community is doing its best in searching the means for the development of our nation, but it is not enough. That is why we would be very much obliged and thankful to those people who would give us help and advice in the creation of our cultural center.”

The Glendale Avenue site accommodates three buildings – a sanctuary, a house next door now being rented out, and a one-room apartment in the rear.

This article first appeared in the Oct. 20, 2002 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

A place to belong: Friendship and faith for seniors

Bill Peerce stood on the bimah in Beth El Congregation in Phoenix during the celebration of the 70th anniversary of his bar mitzvah last July.

He confessed to his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, who sat in the first two rows, that he had been living a double life. He asked them to stand up, turn around and face the members of the congregation.

“Meet my other family,” he said.

This feeling of community draws many adults 75 and older to participate in synagogue life.

Although many adults maintain membership in the same congregation for nearly a lifetime, others join following retirement or a move to be closer to family members.

For some, synagogue services and activities reactivate childhood memories.

Being active in synagogue life offers some seniors “a feeling of spiritual fulfillment, an identification to their heritage,” friendship and a sense of satisfaction of being part of a community, says Rabbi Arthur Abrams of Temple Beth Shalom and Jewish Community Center of the Northwest Valley in Sun City.

Family and tradition

What draws seniors to a particular synagogue?

“A lot of times relatives of family members who (belong to a synagogue) move here to retire and they join because their kids are here,” says Joni Cohen, program and membership director at Beth El Congregation.

They often are “looking for something they had back home, wherever that ‘back home’ may be,” says Rabbi Alan Bright of Beth Emeth Congregation of the Northwest Valley.

Many Beth Emeth members moved here from the East Coast.

“They’re used to traditional services; they’re looking for the old traditional style that takes them back to their childhood,” Bright says. “Even if they weren’t necessarily observant, they may have traditional vibes in them from when they grew up and that’s what they’re looking for.”

Lee Shalek, head of the Friendship Club at Temple Beth Sholom in Chandler, says she joined the synagogue almost 30 years ago mainly because “it’s small, which is what I grew up with” and she wanted a Conservative congregation because she grew up in a Conservative home.

She adds that she also joined because it was close to her home and her daughter is a member.

Terry Taubman, executive director at Temple Beth Israel in Scottsdale, says what draws seniors to temple life is “a need for community, a link to Jewish community (and) a link to Jewish family.

“Because of our 80-year history, many families are more than three-generation” members.

Continuity is also important to members of Beth Emeth.

“Many of our people are the original founders and the builders of the current building,” Bright says of the 36-year old congregation.

Sometimes the answer is location.

Peerce, 83, a retired commercial artist, joined Beth El Congregation five years ago because his late wife, Peggy, wanted to live closer to the city.

Abrams says many of his congre-gants moved to the Sun City area because of affordable housing and the way of life.

Social interaction

Adults 75 and older look toward the synagogue to build friendships.

Although they have friends out-side the synagogue, Efrem Melnick of Temple Chai in Phoenix says that most of the friends he and he his wife, Jetta, have are through his synagogue “because that’s where our interests are.”

What draws him to Temple Chai is the feeling of “Jewish community, services and the congregation in general.” He tries to attend services regularly and has participated in adult education programs.

Seniors are “looking also for a social and spiritual activity like chavurahs (friendship groups),” Bright says.

Some social groups are open to the community, while others are limited to synagogue members.

Beth El Super Seniors is open to all seniors over 65. The group, organized by Irving and Frances Horn through Beth El Congregation, holds a luncheon with entertainment once a month.

Emanuel Seniors, for members in their late 60s and above, is run through Temple Emanuel of Tempe. It meets twice monthly, once for a program such as a lunch excursion or guest speaker, and once for a lunch-and-learn session with Rabbi Andrew Straus.

Temple Beth Israel’s Free Spirit Club, open to congregation members, offers trips, parties, theater outings and other events.

Temple Chai’s Dor L’Dor group, for members 62 and older, presents guest speakers, game and card socials and evening affairs.

Synagogues also offer several other ways for seniors to get involved, from sisterhoods and men’s clubs to attending classes.


Educational programming tends to be directed toward people of all ages.

“We try to balance the year with things that will attract different ages,” says Cohen of Beth El.

Taubman says that many seniors attend classes because “they have the time and the interest.”

Classes throughout the Valley range from Torah study and Hebrew to current events.

Temple Beth Shalom, where few members are younger than 60, “has programming just like every other congregation,” Abrams says. He says the synagogue is the “most energetic congregation I have been associated with in my 40 years as a rabbi. We have committees on committees, and we have people here all day because they are retired.”

He also notes that his congregation probably has more participation than those with a wider age range “because our members have more time, they’re more mature and they’re more interested in Jewish life at this age.”

Cohen says that members 75 and older seem to enjoy “more programming in the daytime because they’re not comfortable with driving at night.

“They’re hesitant to go out in the evening unless there is prearranged transportation,” she says.

In some areas, such as Sun City, transportation is arranged for those who can’t drive to classes and services. Many of the 30 or so retirement homes offer transportation to and from the synagogue.

At Beth El Congregation, Linda Barzilai coordinates carpools for Saturday morning services. Synagogue members pick up seniors at their homes and drop them off afterward.

In other areas, such as in the East Valley, congregants’ homes are so spread out distance-wise that it’s difficult to arrange transportation, says Evan Du Bro, administrator of Temple Emanuel.


Although Leah Rosenbluth, 87, would like to attend more classes, the distance between her home and Temple Beth Israel often dissuades her.

However, she does tries to attend Shabbat services as often as she can.

“When we sing and chant together in the synagogue, I have a wonderful sense of belonging,” she says.

She says attending services also brings a positive dimension to her life.

“Most of the prayers and poems that make up the service are expressions of gratitude to God for our lives and what we have in our lives. … Without perhaps our even realizing this, this gratitude opens the floodgates to a sense of well-being.”

At Beth Emeth, members participate in the services by reading English passages Bright assigns beforehand.

At Temple Beth Shalom, Abrams tries to keep the services upbeat with music and singing and says he likes “people to feel that this is a family congregation and each person is very important.”

Rabbi Zalman Levertov of the Bais Menachem Chabad Lubavitch in Phoenix says that for seniors, “coming to shul is like (visiting) extended family, especially if the person is alone.” On Friday evenings, congregation members invite widows and widowers, or seniors whose spouses are sick or in nursing homes, for Shabbat dinner “so they’re not by themselves.”

“When they have a community where they can go to and meet people and socialize, they look forward to it,” he says.


When members can’t make it to synagogue events, synagogues let them know that they aren’t forgotten.

For instance, as part of the social action committee, the Temple Emanuel Mispocha Family visits the ill and brings food to them during Hanukkah and other holidays, says Du Bro. This year, children from Eman-uel’s religious school made Rosh Hashana cards for seniors at Kivel Campus of Care.

Temple Chai’s Bikur Cholim (visiting the sick) program also provides a network between its members, and volunteers call, send cards or visit the ill or homebound.

“It’s not just taking care of the ill. … We also try to support the caregivers,” says Barzilai.

Temple Beth Shalom has a Caring Committee of some 40 members assigned to call and visit people who need assistance. “It’s a very important part of our outreach program,” Abrams says.

For seniors who have experienced loss, the Shalom Center for Education, Healing and Growth at Temple Chai provides support groups.

Volunteer work

Peerce is one of a number of volunteers involved in pioneering an intergenerational group at the Beth El Center for Early Childhood Education.

“I love kids. They’re all precious,” Peerce says. The program also gives him a chance to spend time with his grandchildren, who attend the school.

The volunteers work with preschoolers in the classroom, playing games and reading books.

“(The volunteers) have what we as teachers and parents often don’t, which is time,” says Carol Bell, preschool director.

“The children want to be listened to and heard, and the same is true for the older generation. Sometimes (seniors) have the time and skills and love but nobody to give it to.”

“We embrace them and they embrace us,” Bell says.

Another intergenerational program is “Pieces of our Past,” a program headed by Linda Feldman of the Bureau of Jewish Education in conjunction with the religious schools at Beth El, Beth Israel, Beth Shalom, Chai, Emanuel, Har Zion Congregation and Temple Solel.

Seniors in the program meet with fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders to discuss their past.

The four-week program gives them “an opportunity for them to interact together and for the seniors to share their Jewish history with the students. We want to determine what events in the seniors’ lives helped to develop the Jewish identity that they have today.”

“Seniors share their experiences with students and develop a relationship with them,” Feldman says.

“The elderly tend to volunteer a tremendous amount,” says Bright. “The synagogue could not survive on a daily basis without our beloved volunteers.”

At Beth Emeth, volunteers help run the synagogue’s office, publish the bulletin and work at the synagogue’s fledgling Hebrew school.

Volunteering is becoming “part of the community,” Bright says. “It comes as part and parcel of them being uplifted spiritually and socially.”

Seniors spread their work throughout the community through synagogue-sponsored programs. One example is Melnick, 77, who is active in a literacy program for elementary-age children through Temple Chai. Every week, he visits Phoenix public elementary schools to help students learn to read.

Efram and Jetta Melnick have also attended a Bikur Cholim training program at Temple Chai, and will donate their time to visit sick members of the congregation in hospitals and in their homes.

From volunteering and learning, to building friendships and continuing traditions, seniors 75 and older want from their synagogue what people in all age groups want – a place to belong.

This article first appeared in the Oct. 20, 2000 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

Family-owned delicatessen keeps packing in customers

Businessmen generate deals while indulging in delicatessen delights. Parents tote their small children in after the main lunch rush. Regular customers saunter in, knowing what they’re going to order long before they reach the counter.

This is the rhythm of a day at the Miracle Mile Delicatessen in the Camelback Colonnade, the newest of four locations of the restaurant, started in 1952 by the late Jack Grodzinsky.

Grodzinsky’s daughter, Jill Garcia, and her husband, George, own this Miracle Mile Delicatessen, which opened in February, as well two others at Chris-Town Mall and Arrowhead Towne Center.

Jill’s sister and brother-in-law, Ellen and Craig Dean, own a fourth Miracle Mile at Park Central Mall. Jill’s earliest memory of working in her father’s restaurant is standing on milk crates filling creamers when she was 5 or 6 years old. By the time she was 10, she was helping her father with catering.

Grodzinsky had opened the first Miracle Mile on 16th Street and McDowell Road; which closed in 1964. Meanwhile, in 1958, he opened the Park Central Mall store, followed by the Chris-Town store in 1960.

The Garcias opened at Arrowhead in 1998.

One recollection that sticks out in Jill Garcia’s mind from her father’s store at Chris-Town Mall is the holiday seasons, when the number of party tray orders increased. She remembers her parents’ friends coming to help prepare party trays after the store closed for the day.

“We would use all the tables in the restaurant to make trays because we had no space to make them (in the back),” Jill says. “Now we have a full catering crew” and a separate room to assemble party trays, she says.

George was a dishwasher at the Chris-Town location when he was 15 and met Jill, then 12. They worked together for years and, in their mid-20s, started dating. They married a year later.

Jill works at the Camelback Colonnade store and George is at Chris-Town. Managers handle their Arrowhead store.

“This is the first time since we’ve been married – in 19 years – that we’ve been at separate stores,” Jill says. “This is a whole adjustment for us in that respect as well because we’ve always, always worked together.

“So we call each other 10 or 20 times a day. … We’re really used to being together all the time,” she says.

Their 17-year-old son, Josh, a Central High School senior, works in the restaurant during busy seasons and when he has extra time.

Customers at the Garcias’ three stores consume some 10,000 pounds of pastrami per month, George says. The Colonnade store serves more than 1,000 customers each day, while each the two other stores averages 400-600 customers a day.

The Colonnade store, which is nearly 7,000 square feet and seats 226 customers, has three sections. On one side of the store is a counter for take-out orders. In the middle is the main, cafeteria-style line with selections of hot and cold sandwiches, soups, salads, side dishes and desserts.

An additional line on the far side of the store, which offers the same selections as the main line, opens for the lunch crowd.

Jill’s cousin Suzie Goldstein and her husband, Marvin, also help with the deli. “Without their involvement in the business, we probably would not have expanded,” Jill says. “There’s no way the two of us could have taken on this much.”

Although the couple have considered opening additional stores, they have no plans to create a franchise. “It has always been in the family, it will always stay in the family,” George says.

“Very few family businesses survive over the years,” George says. “What my father-in-law, Jack, started many, many years ago still works in this day and age. His foresight in seeing this was tremendous.”

This article first appeared in the Jewish News of Greater Phoenix