Thursday, March 26, 2015

AVODAH to honor Rosenthal, Schleifstein as Partners in Justice

As the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaches, the New Orleans branch of AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps has selected two Partners in Justice honorees who have been vocal about the storm’s aftermath.

Sandy Rosenthal and Mark Schleifstein will be honored at the April 19 brunch, at Beth Israel in Metairie at 11 a.m.

Rosenthal is the founder and executive director of, which is dedicated to educating America on the facts associated with the 2005 catastrophic flooding of the New Orleans region.

The group has used a variety of media to educate the public, and has built a list of 25,000 supporters and chapters in five states. focuses on legislation to prevent another Katrinalike disaster and to assure fair treatment of the people of the Gulf Coast.

Rosenthal served as a volunteer nutrition and fitness teacher in New Orleans schools for 10 years. She is a member of multiple organizational boards, including St. Paul’s Homecoming, Restore Louisiana Now, and the Louisiana Center for Women and Government.

Schleifstein is the environmental reporter for the Times-Picayune, and his post-Katrina coverage was part of the Times-Picayune coverage that was recognized with the 2006 Pulitzer Prizes for Public Service and Breaking News Reporting and the George Polk Award for Metropolitan Reporting.

Since the storm, Schleifstein has spoken about the flood and its aftermath more than 500 times, including to more than 300 groups of volunteers who came to New Orleans to help rebuild, to colleges, Congressional staffers at the U.S. Capitol, and at speaking engagements around the world, including Stockholm, Sweden; Monterrey, Mexico; and Istanbul, Turkey.

Schleifstein was a three-time president of the Press Club of New Orleans and was honored with its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011. He is also a longtime member of the board of directors of the Society of Environmental Journalists.

Before joining the Times-Picayune, he worked for the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, and the Suffolk, Va., News-Herald.

He has also chaired the M’sadere Committee of Shir Chadash in Metairie since 2005.

The event is co-chaired by Melanie and Danny Bronfin, and Lis and Hugo Kahn.

Brunch tickets, available at, are $50, or $30 for ages 30 and under. Sponsor levels are from $90 to $5,000.

In 2008, New Orleans became the fourth host city for AVODAH. An organization that has been recognized by the Slingshot guide as a Jewish innovator, AVODAH also has operations in New York, Chicago and Washington. Each year, a new set of young Jewish adults move into the communal AVODAH house and commit to a year of working for a non-profit that promotes social justice and fights poverty.

Each participant is matched with a social service agency, where they become a full-time worker at no cost to the agency.

Last year, the agency recognized Jackie and Dan Silverman at the brunch.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Film project bringing together West Virginia and Uganda Jews for musical encounter

What do Jews from West Virginia have in common with Jews from Uganda?

In the case of “Psalms: The Making of an Album,” it is unique musical styles that are rooted in Judaism and in the music of their surroundings.

A film project will bring them together this December to make music and explore what, if anything, they have in common.

Director Jon Matthews, whose most recent work was “Surviving Cliffside” and who was co-producer of Academy Award-winning documentary “Citizen Four,” said “both of these groups play really unique music.”

He began this odyssey when television and film composer Ernest Adzentovich approached him with film footage he had taken during a visit to Uganda in early 2012 and asked him to develop something with it.

The Abayudaya is a small group of Ugandans that identify as Jewish. When Christian missionaries left Bibles in Uganda in the 1880s, this group started to follow the Torah and adopted their own form of Judaism. In 1920 a foreign Jew named Yosef visited and provided knowledge of Jewish practices and kashrut, which the community still follows.

During the days of Idi Amin’s rule, the group was persecuted and their numbers dwindled, with some practicing in secret. In 1962 an Israeli became the second Jew from the outside world to visit the community, which has undergone a revival since the 1980s.

In 2002 about 400 Abayudaya were formally converted to Judaism by the Conservative movement, but the residents of Putti, who have a strict Orthodox lifestyle, are seeking an Orthodox conversion.

Putti is located near the Kenyan border. Matthews said the travel time from the capital city, Kampala, is anywhere from four to 10 hours, depending on road conditions and how many animals are on the road.

New York saxophonist Mike Cohen visited the village in 2008 after meeting community leader Enosh Keki Mainahh in the Save Ugandan Jewry newsgroup online and they traded recordings. Mainahh, a musician, said his mother had composed songs based on the psalms but wasn’t able to record them.

With the help of backers, Cohen went to Uganda and recorded the Putti choir with a challenging one-microphone setup. “When I Wake Up, The Music Of Putti” was released the next year. Cohen called it “some of the most beautiful music I have ever recorded.”

Cohen is on the board of the Putti Village Assistance Organization, which seeks to make Putti a “fully sustainable village… economically, ecologically, educationally, and otherwise.”

A village of around 1,500, Putti has roughly 350 Abayudaya, about 600 Christians and 600 Muslims.

In 2012, Cohen returned to Uganda with Adzentovich, who mixed and mastered “When I Wake Up,” as his engineer. They spent 16 days in Uganda working on the second album, “I Love to Sing,” which includes “Ein Keloheinu,” “L’Cha Dodi,” “Shir Hamalot” and “Esa Enai.”

The footage Adzentovich brought to Matthews was from that trip.

“I’d never heard of the Abayudaya before,” Matthews said, “and the more I learned about it the more interested I became.”

Soon after that, Matthews was speaking at a conference in his home state of West Virginia, and he met Rabbi James Cohn of Temple Israel in Charleston. “I told him about the Uganda project and I didn’t know what I wanted to do with it.”

After the encounter, Matthews reflected that he’d “never heard much about Jewish West Virginians, much like you don’t hear the phrase Jewish Ugandans.” When he was growing up, he didn’t know anyone in his town who was Jewish.

He started meeting Jewish musicians in West Virginia, such as Mike Pushkin, a cab driver who was elected to the House of Delegates, and multi-instrumentalist Dina Hornbaker. Listening to their Appalachian-styled Jewish music, Matthews came up with the project, which deals with identity, culture and ethnicity.

In December, they will travel with the West Virginia musicians to Uganda, uniting the different musical styles. The film will be about the making of an album from the encounter, how the two groups communicate musically.

Matthews noted that in Uganda, the language of music is different. Adzentovich couldn’t speak with the Ugandans in terms of major and minor keys, for example.

If the album and film do well, the ultimate goal is to have the Abayudaya come to West Virginia and have a reunion concert on NPR’s Mountain Stage program.

“Our real goal is exploring identity,” Matthews said. “And the more specific we get with that question, the more universal the implications will be. Exploring the question of what it means to be Jewish will get at the deeper human question of ‘what makes us who we are’ and why that is so important.”

There is a Kickstarter campaign through April 2 for the film, but there are also numerous backers from across the country. The goal is to have the film ready for submission to film festivals by September 2016.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

NOLA Federation expands definition of membership

Members of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans approved an “extremely limited” measure that expands the definition of Federation membership.

The change, approved at a March 16 meeting at the Goldring-Woldenberg Jewish Community Campus in Metairie, amends the Federation’s by-laws and charter to allow non-Jewish spouses and domestic partners of Federation members to be considered as members of the Federation if they contribute to Federation and are supportive of its mission.

The revision does not allow non-Jewish donors who do not have a Jewish spouse to become members. It also does not mean that board slots will be filled by non-Jews — while a non-Jewish spouse would now be eligible, he or she would have to go through the same vetting and nomination process as everyone else, including being voted upon at the annual meeting.

The newly-revised Article III Section 2 reads “All persons of the Jewish faith, their spouses, domestic partners (as defined in the By-Laws), former spouses or former domestic partners and who are over the age of majority, support the Mission and Purposes of the Corporation, and contribute to the Corporation’s Annual Campaign shall be Members of the Corporation from the date on which the contribution is made through the end of the fiscal year succeeding the fiscal year during which the contribution is made. Members shall be entitled to vote beginning July 1 of the year after the contribution is made.”

Before the vote, Federation President Morton Katz said it is important that the community knows that this is a very small change in the by-laws. It came about when Tulane Hillel expressed a desire to recognize a significant non-Jewish supporter with a board position. Federation guidelines require that all constituent agencies must have only Jewish board members.

The measure would allow the constituent agencies decide for themselves whether or not they want to have non-Jewish board members, “and some have decided not to,” Katz said.

As that discussion unfolded, Federation leadership considered how the recent Pew study stated that 72 percent of non-Orthodox Jews who have married since 2000 are intermarried.

For the current class of Lemann-Stern, the Federation’s young leadership development program, there were 120 applicants and 20 were chosen, mostly couples. Of those, Katz noted, three were non-Jewish spouses who “are willing to go through two years of training” and educational sessions.

“If that’s the case and we don’t include those people in our membership,” Katz said, “we’re going to lose a lot of those people down the line.”

He noted there are many communities across the country that do this, and in Richmond the Federation hasn’t had the word “Jewish” in its bylaws for 75 years.

At the Federation’s annual meeting in September, there was a passionate discussion on this topic and the wording of the change. “Any change, people are concerned,” Katz noted. The concerns brought up at the meeting were discussed by the task force, which was chaired by Alan Franco. When the final result was presented, the board overwhelmingly voted in favor on Jan. 22.

Katz isn’t surprised that this discussion originated with Hillel. “They know what the young people are doing,” and there are plenty of non-Jewish boyfriends and girlfriends active in Hillel.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Doing Passover Across The South

A Southern Jewish Passover tradition continues as Rabbi Jeremy Simons and Rabbi Matthew Dreffin embark on the fifth annual Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life “Passover Pilgrimage.”

The Passover Pilgrimage’s traveling series of seders has become a tradition for the communities along its path. In this week-long journey, which this year expands to include seven states, Rabbis Simons and Dreffin will each conduct services, lead community seders, offer educational programs and facilitate dialogue.

Each year, the events draw a diverse crowd and foster positive, shared community experiences. Passover begins the evening of April 3.
This will be Simons’ first year on the pilgrimage, visiting several communities that have taken part in previous years.

Dreffin’s journey begins at Anshe Chesed in Vicksburg on April 3, then B’nai Israel in Fayetteville, Ga., on April 4; Shalom B’Harim in Dahlonega, Ga., and Camp Coleman on April 5; Rodeph Sholom in Rome, Ga., on April 6, the Upper Cumberland Jewish Community in Crossville, Tenn., on April 7 and St. Philips Episcopal Church on April 9.

Simons will visit B’nai Israel in Natchez on March 27 and 28, followed by B’nai Israel in Panama City on April 3 and 4; Shomrei Torah in Tallahassee on April 4; Beth Shalom in Auburn on April 5; Mishkan Israel in Selma on April 6; Meir Chayim in McGehee, Ark., on April 8; and concluding at Temple Shalom, Lafayette, on April 10 and 11.

Seders for the Christian community

With so many non-Jews interested in Passover, Montgomery’s Agudath Israel-Etz Ahayem is putting on a Seder on March 15 at 1 p.m.

Many churches, figuring that the Last Supper was likely a Passover Seder, put on versions of the meal, and interfaith Seders are also popular.

In a lot of cases, “messianic” groups tour churches this time of year and put on Seders that take the traditional Passover symbols and replace their significance with Christian-based meanings, such as the paschal lamb representing Jesus.

Rabbi Scott Kramer will lead the traditional Seder with an explanation of the rituals and practices. There will be a full meal and a wide range of Passover foods sampled.

Reservations are $45 and are limited to 100 participants.


Seder under the Saturn V?

At Alabama’s largest Passover celebration this year, there will be plenty of space — but how much room remains to be seen.

Each year Pastor Robert Somerville organizes “Christ Our Passover” in Huntsville, an interdenominational Hebraic roots event to promote awareness of Jewish festivals and practices that underlie Christian teachings. The Seder attracts over 1,000 each year.

This year the event will be at the Space and Rocket Center’s Davidson Center, underneath the Saturn V Apollo moon rocket that is suspended from the ceiling. It will be on March 31 at 6 p.m., and those attending the event are welcome to tour the Space and Rocket Center from 4 to 6 p.m.

Somerville, who heads Awareness Ministries, is also active in Christian Advocates for Israel. Tickets for the Seder are $25, and this year’s community project offering recipient will be Space Camp’s scholarship fund for disadvantaged children.

Seders in the Region


The Seder at Auburn's Beth Shalom will start at 6 p.m. on April 5, with a social gathering beginning at 5:30 p.m.

Birmingham’s Bais Ariel Chabad Center will have a Seder on April 3 at 7:30 p.m., following the 6:45 p.m. service. Reservations are $36 for adults, $18 for children. Chabad’s kitchen is also doing Passover catering, with orders due by March 22. Available items are sweet brisket, chicken, potato kugel, vegetable kugel, squash kugel, sweet potato kugel and tsimmes.

Temple Emanu-El Sisterhood in Birmingham will hold its annual Women’s Seder on March 22.

The interfaith event generally sells out, as over 200 women celebrate the holiday, learn more about the role of women in Jewish history and enjoy a traditional Seder led by Cantor Jessica Roskin and Rabbi Laila Haas. The Seder is open to the community and begins at 5 p.m. Reservations are $25, or $36 for sponsorship.

Emanu-El’s congregational Seder will be on April 3 at 6 p.m., led by Cantor Jessica Roskin. Reservations are $25 for adults, $10 ages 12 and under. Participants are asked to bring a bottle of wine or grape juice. Childcare will be provided for ages 15 months to 5 years during part of the Seder.

Emanu-El will also have a Candy Seder on April 12 at 9:30 a.m.

Dothan’s Temple Emanu-El will have a Seder on April 3 at 6 p.m. Reservations are $28 for adults, $14 for children, and are due by March 27.

Etz Chayim in Huntsville is having a Seder with a Shabbat service starting at 6 p.m. on April 3. Seder reservations are $36 for adults, $15 for teens, $10 for ages 7 to 12, and free for 6 and under. Reservations were due on March 1.

Ahavas Chesed in Mobile will have a Seder on April 3 at 6:30 p.m., following the 6 p.m. minyan. Reservations are $35 for members, $40 for non-members, $10 for ages 10 to 13 and free for 9 and under.

Springhill Avenue Temple in Mobile will have a traditional Seder on April 3, serving brisket, cheesecake and traditional Passover dishes. Shabbat services will be at 5:30 p.m. followed by the Seder at 6 p.m. Reservations are $35 for members, $40 for non-members and $20 for children under 13. Reservation deadline is March 25.

Agudath Israel-Etz Ahayem in Montgomery is planning a community Seder on April 4 at 7 p.m.

Temple Beth Or in Montgomery will have a Seder on April 3, using the “Open Door” Haggadah published by the Reform movement. There will be a brief service at 5:15 p.m., with the Seder starting at 6 p.m. Reservations are $25 for adults, $10 for ages 6 to 12 and free for children 5 and under. Deadline is March 27.

Tuscaloosa’s Temple Emanu-El is planning a community Seder on April 3 at 6 p.m.

Florida Panhandle

Chabad of the Emerald Coast will host a Seder on April 3 at 7:30 p.m. Reservations are $36 per adult, $20 per child, though nobody will be turned away from a lack of funds. Reservation deadline is March 19.

Fort Walton Beach’s Temple Beth Shalom is holding a community Seder at the Eglin Air Force Base Bayview Club on April 4 at 6 p.m. Reservations are open to members through March 14, after which it is open to non-members on a space available basis. Reservations are $38 for adults, $12.50 for children ages 3 to 10, with a family maximum of $90 for two adults and $55 for single-parent families. Non-member reservations are $48 for adults and $16 for ages 3 to 10. Special confidential cost arrangements can be made as needed. All reservations for those without military ID must include the names, dates of birth and social security numbers. All attending who are age 16 and over must also have a valid picture ID, such as a driver license, school ID or other state or federal ID. All reservations are due by March 30.

B’nai Israel in Panama City will have a Seder on April 3 with Rabbi Jeremy Simon from the Institute of Southern Jewish Life. Reservations are $40 for adults, $20 for children under Bar/Bat Mitzvah for members, $55 for adults and $27.50 for children who are not members. Reservations must be received by March 30 and are limited to 110 participants.

Pensacola’s Temple Beth-El will have a Seder at the Pensacola Yacht Club on April 3 at 6 p.m. The menu includes gefilte fish, matzah ball soup, a choice of roasted chicken or crustless mini-quiche, sweet potatoes and vegetables, and strawberry mousse. Reservations are $28 for members, $18 for military or college students, $15 for ages 5 to 12 and free for 4 and under. Non-member reservations are $35 if space is available. Reservations are required by March 30.


Beth Shalom Baton Rouge will have a second night Seder on April 4 at 7 p.m. Reservations for member adults are $30, $20 for Hillel and other students ages 13 and over, $10 for ages 6 to 12, and free for 5 and under. Reservations are requested by March 23.

B’nai Israel in Baton Rouge will have a second night Seder on April 4 at 5:30 p.m. Reservations are due by March 25 and are $35 for members and guests of members, $45 for non-members and $15 for those under 16. Because of renovations at B’nai Israel, the Seder will be at St. Joseph’s Academy.

Temple Shalom in Lafayette will have a congregational Seder on April 3.

Temple Sinai in Lake Charles will have a congregational Seder on April 4 at 6 p.m. at the new Reeves Uptown Catering.

B’nai Israel in Monroe will have a Seder at the Bayou DeSiard Country Club. More details will be announced.

The Northshore Jewish Congregation will have its Second Night Seder on April 4 at 6 p.m. Participants in the potluck dinner are asked to sign up and state what non-dairy Passover-sensitive dish they will bring. Reservations are $18 per adult and $9 for those ages 12 and under. Roberta Torman will lead the Seder.

Anshe Sfard in New Orleans will have a community Seder on April 3. Reservations are $25 and sponsors are invited to help defray costs for younger members of the community and those who would have trouble with the cost.

Beth Israel in Metairie will have a community Seder on April 4 after the 7 p.m. service. Reservations are requested by March 27, and are $26 for adults and $15 for children who are members; non-members are $36 for adults and $20 for children.

Shir Chadash in Metairie is not holding its annual second night Musical Seder because of Shabbat. There will be a communal Seder for the first night, April 3, at the home of Rabbi Ethan Linden, starting at 7:30 p.m. Reservations are $30 for adults and $20 for children, and space is limited. The Shir Chadash office will also be a clearinghouse for those who have extra space at their Seder, or who need a Seder to attend.

Deborah Mintz will lead a Kos Miriam Seder for Women and Girls at Shir Chadash on March 29 from 5 to 7 p.m. Sponsored by the Sisterhood, the event is $10 per person, including a light dinner.

Shir Chadash will also have a catered Passover dinner on April 10. Services will be at 6:45 p.m., followed by dinner at 7:30 p.m. Adults are $15, ages 6 to 13 are $10 and ages 5 and under are free. Reservations are due by the morning of April 1.

Gates of Prayer in Metairie will have a “Very Sweet Second Night” Seder on April 4 at 6 p.m. Reservations are $25 for adults, $10 for children ages 4 to 12, and no charge for ages 3 and under. Reservations are due by March 25.

Chabad in Metairie will have a Seder on April 3 at 7:15 p.m., led by Rabbi Yossie Nemes. Reservations are $33 for adults, $22 for children ages 4 to 15. After March 23, it goes up $10 per person. Sponsorships are also welcomed.

Touro Synagogue in New Orleans will have a first night congregational Seder on April 3 at 6:30 p.m., following an abbreviated Shabbat service at 6 p.m.

Touro Synagogue will have a “Seaside Second Night Seder” on April 4 in Biloxi. After the congregation hosts a typical first night Seder at Touro on April 3, the second Seder will be at the South Beach Biloxi Hotel and Suites. Rabbi Alexis Berk and Cantor David Mintz will lead the Seder on the hotel terrace overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. Studio, one- and two-bedroom suites will be available, with group room rates available through March 9. More information is available from Touro.

Temple Sinai in New Orleans will have a second night Seder on April 4 at 6 p.m., following a 5:30 p.m. service. Reservations are $30 for adults, $10 for ages 12 and under. Non-member reservations are $35 for adults, $12 for children. College student reservations are $5. Reservations are required by March 27.

B’nai Zion in Shreveport will have a Seder on April 3 at 6:30 p.m., conducted by Rabbi Jana De Benedetti. Reservations are $45 for members, $18 for ages 5 to 12 and $20 for students 13 and above. Non-members are $50 for adults and $20 for non-member students ages 5 and up. All children under 5 are free. Reservations are due by March 20. If space is available after March 20, there is a higher cost for reservations.


B’nai Israel in Columbus will have a community Seder on April 3 at 6:30 p.m. Reservations are $36 for adults, and donations are encouraged to subsidize Mississippi State students, who are invited to attend at no cost but are encouraged to contribute $10 if they can. Deadline is March 27.

The Hillel at Mississippi State will have a student-run Passover Seder at the Canterbury Episcopal lodge on April 8. The event will include Hillel students, Episcopal students and the campus chapter of Christians United for Israel.

Beth Israel in Jackson will have a second night Seder on April 4. Reservations are $15 in advance, $20 at the door, and children ages 5 to 10 are $10. A vegetarian option is available.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Alon Shaya leading four-chef culinary tour of Israel

Alon Shaya's new Israeli restaurant, Shaya, opened in New Orleans last month.

Four chefs, including Alon Shaya of New Orleans and John Currence of Oxford, Miss., will lead a “once in a lifetime” culinary tour of Israel this summer.

Also on the tour are Michael Solomonov of Philadelphia and Ashley Christensen of Raleigh, N.C.

Shaya notes that this is an opportunity to travel through Israel with James Beard Award winning chefs — “not me, them.” Shaya has been nominated for Best Chef South for the last three years and been a finalist for the last two. He is a semi-finalist this year, but finalists have not been announced yet.

Shaya opened his self-named Israeli restaurant, Shaya, in New Orleans last month after being executive chef at Domenica and Pizza Domenica. In 2012 he was named Chef of the Year by New Orleans magazine.

Shaya and Solomonov are long-time friends who have collaborated before. In 2013, they teamed up for an Israeli-themed wine dinner at the New Orleans Food and Wine Experience and led a seminar on Israeli street food. That fall, they led a culinary trip to Israel.

Aside from being born in Israel, both chefs share Bulgarian ancestry.

In 2011, Shaya was part of a Partnership2Gether trip, coordinated by the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, that sent four New Orleans chefs to the community’s Israeli sister city, Rosh Ha’Ayin. Inspired by the trip, Shaya started adding Israeli flavors to his menus at Domenica and the trip pushed him toward his dream of opening an Israeli restaurant.

Born near Tel Aviv, Solomonov grew up in Pittsburgh. As a young adult he returned to Israel and worked at a bakery, making traditional items.

In 2003 his brother was killed while in the Israeli military. After that, Solomonov embarked on an exploration of Israeli food and culture while working in Philadelphia.

He worked for Chef Marc Vetri, then became executive chef of Steve Cook’s Marigold Kitchen. The duo opened a Mexican place, Xochitl, followed by Israeli-style Zahav in 2008.

For his work at Zahav, Solomonov won the James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Mid-Atlantic region in 2011.

They have also opened Percy Street Barbecue, two Federal Donuts and most recently, Israeli-themed Dizengoff and Abe Fisher.

As part of his 2013 trip, Solomonov cooked a tribute dinner for his brother’s unit for the 10th yahrzeit.

Solomonov is also hosting a two-hour documentary, “The Search for Israeli Cuisine,” that is slated for broadcast on PBS. A Kickstarter campaign is currently underway to help complete the project, which “will feature Jews, Arabs, Palestinians, Christians, and Druze — kosher and non-kosher, secular and religious.”

Christensen opened Poole’s Diner in Raleigh in 2007, and in 2011 turned a former Piggly Wiggly building into three restaurants — Chicken + Honey, Chuck’s and Fox Liquor Bar. In 2013 she opened Joule Coffee.

In 2014 she was recognized as Best Chef Southeast by the James Beard Foundation.

A New Orleans native, Currence worked in North Carolina before returning to New Orleans to open Gautreau’s with a friend. He then went to the Brennan group to help open Bacco, and in 1992 moved to Oxford and opened City Grocery. He has since opened many additional restaurants, including Snackbar and Big Bad Breakfast.

In 2009, Currence won the James Beard Best Chef South award.

In January 2013, Currence welcomed Atlanta chef Eli Kirshtein for “Big Bad Pop-Ups” with an Israeli street food theme. The four-week pop-up presentations were done while City Grocery was being renovated.

Christensen, Currence and Solomonov will be in New Orleans this month for the John Besh Foundation’s Fete des Chefs fundraiser, a night of 10 chef’s table dinners at homes around the city on March 21, followed by an after-party at Borgne.

Currence and chef Tiffany Derry will be at Billy Reid, Solomonov is cooking at the home of Diane and Alan Franco, and Christensen is cooking at the home of Becky and Richard Currence.

The Israel tour will be from June 25 to July 6, and includes meals at some of Israel’s top restaurants and markets.

The trip includes a visit to Makura Farm nature preserve in an ancient volcano between millennia-old olive orchards. Wineries, gourmet cheese producers and outdoor markets are also on the schedule.

“We will wolf down amazing hummus in Jaffa and eat sardines that are less than an hour from the sea in Akko,” Solomonov said. “We will eat foie gras cooked over charcoal on skewers and Jerusalem mixed grill at 2 in the morning.”

Shaya said the group will taste the best hummus in the world, “world class wines in the same fields they are grown in, meet an artisan goat cheese producer in the Judean Hills and hike up waterfalls in an oasis by the Dead Sea.”

The chefs will prepare the final dinner on the trip at Arcadia Restaurant in Jerusalem.

Gil Travel is coordinating the trip.

“You will not come back hungry,” Shaya said.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Bronston’s new book gives walking suggestions in the New Orleans area

Though one may be a native New Orleanian, there is still a lot to learn about the city’s rich history and present.

Barri Bronston’s book, “Walking New Orleans: 30 Tours Exploring Historic Neighborhoods, Waterfront Districts, Culinary and Music Corridors, and Recreational Wonderlands,” came out on March 10, with 30 self-guided tours for tourists and long-time residents.

Bronston spent most of her career as a staff writer at The Times-Picayune, where she covered parenting, education and other topics. She is currently assistant director of public relations at Tulane University.

The tours include maps, parking and public transit information, route summaries, points of interest and a quick-reference guide. The walks are grouped by theme, from culinary to spooky to family-friendly.

“Writing this book gave me an opportunity to explore neighborhoods and streets that I really knew little about — Treme, for example, Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard, Bywater, Algiers Point,” she said. “I think locals tend to take New Orleans for granted, whereas visitors and newcomers tend to really get out there and soak in everything that New Orleans has to offer.”

Among the things she learned while working on the book is the rich musical history of Algiers Point, how Henry’s Bar on Magazine Street was a favorite stop for Lee Harvey Oswald, and that St. Augustine’s Catholic Church is the oldest African-American Catholic parish in the country.

The tours range from St. Charles Avenue to Magazine Street to the Bywater and Faubourg Marigny. Each tour includes everything from historic sites to where to eat, drink, dance and play.

While there aren’t any specifically Jewish tours, several Jewish sites are included. The St. Charles Avenue tour includes the Jewish Community Center and Touro Synagogue, but does not extend as far as Temple Sinai.

She added, “The University neighborhood tour includes Hillel and Hillel’s Kitchen, a kosher restaurant that few people are aware is open to the public. The Riverfront tour includes the Holocaust Memorial. The Oretha Castle Haley tour points out that the street, formerly known as Dryades Street, was once a thriving neighborhood for Jewish-owned businesses.”

While it is coincidental that the book is coming out just before the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, “working on this book showed me how far New Orleans has come since that horrific day,” especially in areas like Lakeview and Mid-City. “That’s not to say the city has fully recovered. The Lower Ninth Ward still has a long way to go, for example, but even that area has its bright spots, among them Brad Pitt’s ‘Make It Right’ neighborhood, which features safe, sustainable homes for people who lost everything in the storm.”

“Walking New Orleans” is published by Birmingham’s Wilderness Press.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Purim in the Selma Jail: Jewish Activists in 1965

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (second from right), marched in Selma with Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph Bunche, Rep. John Lewis, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and Rev. C.T. Vivian.

Editor's Note: This is part of our ongoing series, Not Just Black and White: Civil Rights and the Jewish Community. There is a companion piece here, a timeline of events leading up to the 1965 Selma to Montgomery march.

According to some estimates, nearly half of the white activists who came to the South during the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s were Jewish.

For the demonstrations and marches in Selma in 1965, a large Jewish contingent made its presence known, in the streets and in the jails.

For Rabbi Joseph Gumbiner, it was an uneasy homecoming. He had been rabbi of Mishkan Israel in Selma for eight years in the 1930s, and traveled to Selma on March 17 with four other rabbis from northern California — Saul Berman of Berkeley, Gerald Raiskin of Burlingame, Herbert Teitelbaum of Redwood City and Joseph Weinberg of San Francisco.

Upon arrival in Montgomery, they were driven to Brown Chapel AME Church in Selma by an uncle of Jimmy Lee Jackson, who gave them more details about his nephew’s death. At the church they were cautioned not to leave except in large groups.

Gumbiner wrote that one of Martin Luther King’s assistants announced a protest in Smitherman’s neighborhood, and asked for “the man who was rabbi of Selma some years ago” to co-lead the group.

Baker stopped the procession and said they were under arrest. After Selma’s relatively moderate director of public safety, Wilson Baker, argued with King’s assistant, Gumbiner said they were there for peaceful protest, and as former Selma rabbi he was “not exactly an outsider.”

Baker replied, “I know who you are and I’m ashamed of you. You ought to have better judgment.”

On the bus heading to the jail, Berman related, he told one of the troopers that he sensed the trooper really did not want to be doing this. The response was a swing of a nightstick, just missing Berman’s eye and putting a dent in the back of the seat.

At the jail, Baker offered to release the visitors on their own recognizance, but noting that would not have been offered to them if they were black, they decided to stay as an elevation of their protest.

As the sun set, Purim began. Berman had been doing the Fast of Esther that day, but Baker, in an attempt to get the visitors to leave, said the group had arrived at the jail too late for the 4 p.m. dinner. Berman broke the fast with items from the vending machines.

They explained Purim to the other prisoners, who then wanted to participate in a service. Berman had brought a megillah in his suitcase, but it was at the home where he had been assigned to stay. They managed to get a message to the church, and the megillah was brought to the jail, along with some kosher salami he had brought to Selma. Berman chanted the megillah as Weinberg translated, and they spoke of “redemption which ensued because a few persons had the moral courage to speak up.”

A group, led by an Episcopal priest from Massachusetts, wrote a statement of common concern that they decided to entitle “The Purim of Selma, 5725.”

Berman wrote that he later learned that at Jackson’s funeral at Browns Chapel the minister quoted the Book of Esther, “calling upon those with governmental connections to use their influence to save the blacks, as Mordecai had called upon Esther to do on behalf of the Jewish people of Persia.”

Two Mishkan Israel congregants visited the rabbis in jail. One, a past congregational president, spoke of how the civil rights boycotts had been hurting his business, while the other was one of his former religious school students. They questioned Gumbiner’s presence among the activists, and said the rabbis were hurting the community.

Berman said they “described how the presence of Northern Jewish agitators, particularly rabbis, was promoting hatred of local Jews and making their economic and social lives very difficult to sustain.”

A long discussion ensued. Gumbiner wrote, “They were polite, but remained unconvinced of the propriety of an attack on segregation… surely they had never before been exposed to so many respectable looking white clergymen and laymen united in defending the dignity and sanctity of the human person without respect to race.”

Gumbiner asked, for reasons of professional courtesy, about the current rabbi in Selma, to which he was told that the rabbi teaches at the girls’ academy in Marion. Gumbiner realized that was a subtle way of telling him that any contact with the activists could cause the rabbi to lose his job at the school.

The next morning, almost everyone was released and returned to the church, then divided up among host families in the black community. Gumbiner noted that it was odd not being able to walk freely in the streets where he had been decades earlier. If you sense someone following you, he noted, “you pray that the face you see behind you will turn out to be a Negro face.”

On March 19, a Friday, they had a larger protest in a white neighborhood, and once again were arrested. Though Baker said to leave and there would be no meals and no police protection that night in the makeshift detention facility, they stayed. The rabbis held a Shabbat evening service that concluded with Adon Olam sung to the tune of “We Shall Overcome.” Other clergy then led Christian hymns and freedom songs.

They were released the next morning and the police offered to bus them back to Brown Chapel. Berman would not ride because of Shabbat, and the rest of the group immediately decided to walk with him. “To the dismay of the police, over 300 people walked back from the prison to the safety of the black neighborhood, accompanied by a phalanx of empty buses and police cars.”

That evening, the newly-released group held a Havdalah service at Brown Chapel, fashioning a Havdalah candle from two birthday candles and a spice box from a tin of cloves. It was the last mass meeting before the start of the March to Montgomery, and Gumbiner was asked to be one of the speakers.

The march began on March 21, with thousands departing from Brown Chapel and heading in groups of eight to the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Gumbiner saw a couple members of the Selma Jewish community on the sidewalk watching the procession. The rabbis waved them over to join the march, but they “smiled grimly and held their ground.”

Heschel’s “legs were praying”

Perhaps the best-known Jewish participant in the march was Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of the leading Jewish theologians of the 20th century. His daughter, Susannah Heschel, said her father and King struck up a friendship when Rabbi Heschel gave a lecture in Chicago on religion and race in 1963, “in which he spoke with tremendous passion of the evils of racism.”

Her father grew up in a Chassidic family in Warsaw, and she said their friendship “is such a remarkable story” because of their vastly different backgrounds, but despite that they immediately became close friends.“My father did not have any black colleagues, he taught at a Jewish seminary,” she said.

Rabbi Heschel brought King to a number of Jewish groups to speak, the Jewish Theological Seminary gave King an honorary degree, and they later demonstrated together against U.S. actions in Vietnam.

A few days before visiting Selma, Heschel led a group of 800 protestors to FBI headquarters in New York to protest the “Bloody Sunday” events. Rabbi Heschel was the only one allowed inside the building, where he spoke to the regional FBI director.

On March 19, just before Shabbat, Rabbi Heschel received a telegram from King asking him to come to Selma.

Susannah Heschel said “We knew about Bloody Sunday” and other recent events, such as the 16th Street Church bombing in Birmingham and the killing of three civil rights workers in Mississippi, and they were naturally fearful.

“It was a Saturday night, my father left, we went downstairs after we made Havdalah,” she said. “I remember quite vividly how he kissed me goodbye and got into a taxi to go to the airport. I remembered thinking, I don’t know if I will ever see him… many people felt that way” when they left for Selma.

But her father gave her “the feeling that this was the most important thing a human being could do at this moment.”
She called it “a religious moment, a moral moment, when America stood up and said this was immoral.”

The interfaith inclusiveness of the Selma march, Susannah Heschel said, is an important element that was not in the recent film “Selma,” which did not portray her father at all.

The film includes scenes in the home of Sullivan Jackson, a prominent black dentist in Selma. “Everybody goes there and they are eating” in the film.

Susannah Heschel has been to Selma twice in recent years and has visited the Jackson home, which is being turned into a museum. “What Mrs. Jackson thought was so extraordinary was that in her home, in her living room-dining room area, there was my father, Dr. King, a Greek Orthodox priest, people all gathered, each one in their corner, praying morning prayers. She thought that was extraordinary… it would have been great to show it in the movie.”

During the march, there was a system for identifying clergy — the Roman collar was used for all Christian clergy, and the yarmulke signified rabbis. That, Gumbiner said, was a “complete failure.” Some of the rabbis had brought a bunch of extras, and when Jewish marchers saw the rabbis, they started wearing yarmulkes as well.

Then non-Jews started asking for them as well, leading to emergency shipments of yarmulkes inscribed with “Freedom Caps,” reminiscent of when 19 Conservative rabbis visited Birmingham in May 1963 and the yarmulkes became popular with black demonstrators.

Berman said it showed “the extreme penetration of the Jewish community” in the movement.

Rabbi Marc Saperstein, was a third-year student at Harvard in 1965. The United Ministry Office asked him to represent Harvard Hillel in Montgomery, so he went for the final day of the march.

Brant Coopersmith, Washington director of the American Jewish Committee, was sent with instructions to lend his expertise to the marchers. Benjamin Epstein, national director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, led a contingent from ADL.

Though many rabbis came to Selma, they were not universally applauded back home. Al Vorspan, who directed the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center, had to visit many congregations that were threatening to fire their rabbis because of their civil rights activism.

Some large Reform congregations temporarily withdrew from the movement because of its outspoken stance on behalf of civil rights, including New York’s Temple Emanuel.

There were also early signs of the fracturing of the black-Jewish alliance in Selma.

The second time the clergy was arrested in Selma, Berman noted, some of the black participants became angry at the presence of the white clergy. In a 2011 JTA interview, Berman noted that “it was a precursor of much more intense feelings of that sort that emerged in the late ‘60s as black leaders began to resent white leaders who felt the civil rights movement was ‘theirs.’ I didn’t recognize the significance of that scene until much later.”

Nevertheless, King maintained close ties with the Jewish community, speaking out on behalf of Israel and addressing the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly on March 25, 1968, less than two weeks before he would be assassinated in Memphis.

At the end of the march, Rabbi Heschel and Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath accompanied King. Eisendrath, who carried a Torah, was president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations from 1943 to 1972, and he gave the invocation at the Montgomery rally on March 25.

When Heschel returned home, he gave his famous summation of what had happened during his visit to Alabama. “For many of us the march from Selma to Montgomery was about protest and prayer. Legs are not lips and walking is not kneeling. And yet our legs uttered songs. Even without words, our march was worship. I felt my legs were praying.”

Not Just Black and White: A Timeline of Selma to Montgomery, 1965

Editor's Note: This is the latest in a series of pieces examining the Jewish community's involvement in the civil rights battles of the 1960s. A companion piece, about Jewish activists who came to Selma in 1965, is here. In April we will have a piece on what was happening in the Jewish community of Selma in 1965.

The civil rights battle in Selma is seen as the battle for voting rights and the right to demonstrate.

In 1964, Selma businesses generally refused to comply with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It was in January 1965, six months later, that the city’s restaurants relented and started serving black customers.

Earlier in 1964, Selma had elected Joe Smitherman as mayor, who was seen as a relative moderate, and Smitherman had appointed Wilson Baker, a moderate, as director of public safety.

In Dallas County, a voter registration drive had started in 1963, but by the end of 1964 there were only 335 registered black voters in the county — 2 percent of those eligible, compared to 64 percent of eligible white voters who were registered.

On Jan. 2, 1965, the Dallas County Voter’s League, which had become part of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, held a direct action campaign. The campaign was to defy an injunction from the previous summer that was still in place which barred blacks from having three or more people at a meeting to discuss civil rights or voter registration.

County Sheriff Jim Clark, a noted segregationist, was scheduled to be at the Orange Bowl that day, and Baker favored the non-confrontational approach used in Albany, Ga., in 1962. When over 700 flooded Brown Chapel AME Church, Baker’s force did not enforce the injunction.

The next day that the voter registration office at the courthouse would be open was Jan. 18, so “Freedom Day” was planned. Rev. Martin Luther King and John Lewis led 300 from the church in a march to the courthouse, but Baker stopped them as they did not have a parade permit. He would, however, let them proceed in smaller groups.

As the courthouse was county property, Clark had jurisdiction, and he barred the main entrance, herding the demonstrators to an alley where they waited all day, mostly in vain, to apply to vote.

Meanwhile, “compliance teams” tested area businesses to see if they were indeed serving all, black and white, and all were.
Though the voting office was closed the next day, many returned and insisted on using the front door, leading Clark to start mass arrests.

On Jan. 22, almost every black teacher in Selma marched to the courthouse, daring Clark to arrest them — figuring he would not risk having all of the students unsupervised and flooding the streets the next week.

With daily demonstrations all week, only 40 had been able to fill out voter applications and none had passed scrutiny.

On Feb. 1, King and Abernathy engineered a way to be arrested by Baker for marching without a permit, being placed in the relatively friendlier city jail. There, King wrote “Letter from a Selma Jail.” He was released on Feb. 5.

As daily demonstrations continued in Selma, a similar effort was made in Montgomery — but only 100 showed up, and they were quickly allowed into the courthouse and given voter applications without incident.

On Feb. 10, a group of students demonstrated in Selma. Clark and his deputies started marching them toward the jail but then forced them to run, beating them with clubs and cattle prods. That re-energized the movement, swelling crowds the next day.

Baker granted a parade permit to the demonstrators, so 1,500 marched to the courthouse on Feb. 15 to try and register.

In Perry County, SCLC project director James Orange was arrested on Feb. 18. That evening, 400 marchers in Marion protested the arrest, but a mob that included Clark and his team attacked the group, injuring an NBC reporter. Rev. James Dobynes was beaten, and died a year later from those injuries.

Some marchers tried to take refuge in black-owned Mack’s CafĂ©, where troopers shot Jimmie Lee Jackson, a 26-year-old veteran who had tried to register five times.

Until his death on Feb. 26, daily vigils for Jackson were held in Selma, with the backdrop of Malcolm X’s assassination on Feb. 21 in Harlem. There was a call for a complete boycott of white-owned stores in Selma.

On March 1, James Bevel proposed a march from Selma to Montgomery to protest Jackson’s death and call for voting rights. King endorsed the march, but the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee felt it was a grandstanding move that wouldn’t benefit the blacks of Selma.

Wallace then issued a declaration that the march, planned for March 7, “cannot and will not be tolerated” and ordered state troopers to do whatever they needed to prevent it.

The SCLC leaders asked for medical volunteers from the Medical Committee for Human Rights, just in case, and figuring they would not be allowed to march to Montgomery, planned to kneel and pray when ordered to turn around, filling the jails and pressuring the government.

A group of about 70 Concerned White Citizens of Alabama went to Selma on March 6 to demonstrate in favor of black voting rights. Baker managed to extricate them from furious segregationists and lead them away.

After morning services at Brown Chapel on March 7, about 600 marchers lined up behind SCLC’s Hosea Williams and SNCC President John Lewis to head to the Edmund Pettus Bridge over the Alabama River, for the trek along U.S. 80 to Montgomery.

Baker was so concerned about what Clark’s men and the state troopers might do that he urged Smitherman to let him arrest the demonstrators before they left the city limits at the bridge, but Smitherman refused. Baker submitted his resignation.

On the county side of the bridge the demonstrators were ordered to turn around, so they knelt as planned. The troopers surged forward, swinging their clubs and firing tear gas and a free-for-all ensued as the troopers chased the demonstrators back through downtown Selma. Roughly 100 of the 600 marchers were injured, and it took Baker’s men half an hour to restore order on the streets of Selma. The events of “Bloody Sunday” were immediately broadcast worldwide. On ABC, footage from Selma interrupted the airing of “Judgment at Nuremburg.”

In response, King went to Selma to start a March 9 march and issued a national call for people to join. But a hearing was planned in Federal court on whether Alabama could legally prevent the demonstration, and an injunction barring a march was issued until a ruling could be made. President Lyndon Johnson also asked King to cancel the march, with Attorney General Nicholas Katzenback calling King every hour.

Rabbi Richard Hirsch of Washington joined 40 area clergy, and Rabbi Israel Dresner, a Freedom Rides veteran who had also been jailed in Albany, headed to Selma.

Rather than disappoint the 2,000 who assembled, King led them to the bridge and went to the point where the March 7 attack took place. About 500 troopers were waiting on the other side. In what became known as “Turn-around Tuesday” King then led everyone back to the church so as not to be drawn into a trap of violating the injunction.

That night, three white ministers who came to the demonstration were attacked by whites who saw them dining at a black restaurant. One of them, Rev. James Reeb of Boston, was severely injured and died two days later in Birmingham.

As daily vigils and demonstrations continued, on March 15 Johnson went on national television to present a draft of the Voting Rights Act.

On March 17, Judge Frank Johnson authorized the Selma to Montgomery march and ordered the state to protect the marchers. An unlimited number of marchers was permitted, until a section of Lowndes County where the road narrowed to two lanes with no shoulders. For that stretch, no more than 300 marchers were permitted. At the Montgomery County, where the road widened, there once again was no limit on the marchers.

When the march took place on March 21, there were 8,000 demonstrators, protected by 2,000 troops. The Alabama National Guard was placed under Federal control. With an Army escort they made their way seven miles to the first campsite, with thousands heading back to Selma because of the restriction in Lowndes County. They would be shuttled back on March 24 when the march crossed into Montgomery County.

The night of March 24, Harry Belafonte organized a major “Stars for Freedom” concert for the marchers.

After covering 54 miles, the march arrived in Montgomery on March 25 where King addressed a crowd of 25,000 on the capitol steps.
That night, a white woman from Detroit who had participated in the march, Viola Liuzzo, was killed by Klansmen after a chase along U.S. 80 between Selma and Montgomery as she was driving demonstrators back to Selma.

On April 18, a Federal court ruled Clark was guilty of interfering with the rights of blacks and prohibited restrictions on voting registration and use of public accommodations. Clark’s “posse” was also found to be illegal, and the judges ordered him to disband it. Another ruling struck down laws against civil rights demonstrations.

The Voting Rights Act was signed into law on Aug. 6, 1965. In 1966, Baker ran against Clark for county sheriff, and won.