CUFI Holding Birmingham Night to Honor Israel

Update: The Sept. 22 Night to Honor Israel in Birmingham has been postponed; and will likely be rescheduled for February.

Christians United for Israel will hold its first Night to Honor Israel in Alabama, on Sept. 22 at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.

David Brog, executive director of CUFI, will be the featured speaker. Before joining CUFI, Brog was chief of staff to Sen. Arlen Specter, and wrote “Standing With Israel: Why Christians Support the Jewish State,” one of the first serious explorations of Christian support for Israel.

Nights to Honor Israel have been held around the country, including in Shreveport since 2006, and Jackson since 2007. Last fall’s event in Jackson drew over 2,000.

Local Jewish communities are invited and recognized at the events; in some cases local rabbis participate, while others choose not to attend.

CUFI was founded by Pastor John Hagee six years ago and already has over 772,000 members. Walter McKee, owner of McKee and Associates in Montgomery, is the Alabama director and Rev. Brandy Gibson of Word of Faith Christian Center in Birmingham heads the state’s Daughters for Zion prayer group.

Gibson and CUFI Regional Director John Sommerville were to meet with the Birmingham Jewish Federation on Sept. 6.

Doors will open to the Sept. 22 event at 6:30 p.m. and the event will start at 7 p.m. At 6 p.m., there will be a VIP reception for those who donate $100 or more, and a book signing and photo shoot with Brog for donors contributing $500 or more.

Proceeds from the Night to Honor Israel will go to the Federation and Friends of Leket, an Israel group that is the country’s largest food bank and food rescue network.

Alabama has a special history of supporting Israel. In 1943, the state legislature became the first governmental body in America to pass a resolution calling for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine.

On Aug. 24, Gibson, McKee and former Sen. Hank Erwin spoke at an Israel rally on the Capitol steps in Montgomery.

Torah "Rescuer" Arrest Reverberates in Region

At least two congregations in Louisiana have Torah scrolls that were acquired through Rabbi Menachem Youlus, who has been considered the “Indiana Jones” of Torahs, but who was arrested on Aug. 24 in New York.

Youlus, of Baltimore, ran Save A Torah, which the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York described as an operation “which purported to ‘rescue’ Torah scrolls lost or hidden during the Holocaust,” and accused him of “allegedly defrauding the charity and its donors of hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Questions about Youlus arose in a 2010 Washington Post Magazine story, which included details about him finding two Torahs in a mass grave but selling “those” two scrolls to five different congregations, and finding a Torah hidden under floorboards in a Bergen-Belsen concentration camp barracks. British troops had burned all the barracks in 1945 to prevent the spread of typhus.

Also, despite stories of personally rescuing scrolls from around the world, the U.S. Attorney’s office said he almost never traveled internationally during those years, and had purchased many of the “rescued” scrolls from other dealers.

In June 2006, Agudath Achim in Shreveport dedicated a Torah that had been used in the home of Rabbi Foster Kawaler’s great-grandfather in Krasna, Ukraine. At the time, Youlus said he came across the Sephardic-style Torah after four Israeli girls toured a monastery in Kiev in 2004. The monks showed the girls their Judaica collection, which included many Torahs. Youlus went to Ukraine and apparently negotiated to purchase three of the scrolls, including the Kawaler family Torah.

That Torah has a tag on a handle with Kawaler’s great-grandfather’s name on it.

Kawaler said he has known Youlus for almost 40 years, and “we would all be very disappointed if the rest of the story turns out to be untrue” about the Torah’s origins.

He did state that “we had the Torah checked some time ago, and the age, the “ksav” and the other unique characteristics are, indeed, as he described.”

The monastery story was also the background for a Torah dedicated at Beth Israel in Metairie on Jan. 19, 2008. Ethan Ulanow of Potomac, Md., raised $6,000 at his bar mitzvah toward the purchase of a Torah for Beth Israel to help the congregation post-Katrina. All of the congregation’s scrolls were unusable after the Lakeview facility flooded.

According to accounts from then, the scroll “was rescued from Ukraine, near Kiev, and restored by Rabbi Menachem Youlus of the Rockville-based Save a Torah, Inc. The Torah is estimated to be 200-250 years old, and was presumably hidden during the Holocaust and ended up in a monastery.”

Rabbi Uri Topolosky of Beth Israel, having just heard of the arrest, said he would “prefer not to comment at this time.”

Youlus also provided a Holocaust Torah to Brith Shalom Beth Israel Congregation in Charleston, S.C. Rabbi Ari Sytner said it was independently verified to be Polish and at least 150 years old. While “we may never know the entire history of our Holocaust Torah… it is true to our mission of restoring a genuine pre-Holocaust, Eastern European Torah.”

New Orleans Chefs Make A Splash in Israel

Take four chefs steeped in the decidedly non-kosher New Orleans cuisine, have them cook kosher in Israel in a series of events that seem like they came from the minds of Food Network reality-show producers, and what do you get?

For the chefs, a trip of a lifetime and a life-changing experience. For Israel, a culinary event that made a huge splash nationally for a week. And for New Orleans’ Partnership 2Gether community, Rosh Ha’Ayin, a civic event of unprecedented proportions.

Partnership 2Gether is the new name for Partnership 2000, a Jewish Agency program that pairs Jewish communities worldwide with Israeli communities.

Chefs John Besh of Restaurant August, Chef David Slater from Emerils, Chef Jacques Leonardi from Jacque-Imos and Chef Alon Shaya from Domenica spent a week in Israel at the end of June.

Alan Franco chaired the delegation, and Michael Weil, director of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, said “we were very lucky to get four celebrity chefs,” along with their spouses and girlfriends.

Rabbi Brad Hirschfield of the Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership also was on the trip as a scholar-in-residence.

The mission was a return trip from the visit of Israeli chefs to Birmingham and New Orleans last year. Birmingham also has an official sister-city relationship with Rosh Ha’Ayin and is celebrating the 30th anniversary of that relationship this year.

After last year’s visit, Shaya said a return trip for New Orleans chefs to Israel was discussed, and “I said count me in… this was something I’d always wanted to do.”

Shaya was born in Bat Yam, and his family moved to Philadelphia when he was four. “I never really had a chance to get to know Israel,” he said, despite going there for family visits. This was a chance to see Israel “not only as a chef but as an adult.”

For Besh, who grew up a “devout Catholic,” this was a chance to see all the places he had studied in reading scriptures. “To actually go and step foot… it’s incredible and very powerful.”

It was also a chance to see old friends he hadn’t seen in 25 years, some of whom are leading chefs in Israel.

Slater, who has been to Seder at the Franco home, said Franco brought up the idea to him and “I was all for it.”

For Leonardi, traveling to Israel really wasn’t on his to-do list, but when he was asked about the trip, he figured it would be interesting from a culinary perspective. Now, “I’d recommend visiting Israel to everyone. It’s so beautiful.”

One of the main events of the trip was a June 27 dedication ceremony for the Rosh Ha’Ayin Promenade. The chefs each had an individual station where they prepared their dishes and did demonstrations. They prepared 2,000 plates, and early on figured that about 1,000 people would show up. At the last minute, the expected crowd figure was bumped up to 2,000.

Instead, estimates of the crowd were from 7,000 to 10,000, depending on who you ask. Weil said it was the largest outdoor event ever held in Rosh Ha’Ayin, which has a population of around 40,000.

Rosh Ha’Ayin Mayor Moshe Sinai said “the visit was important and inspiring. It demonstrated the friendship between our communities and the ability of local initiatives to bring change, love and joy to our residents.”

The chefs made a range of Louisiana-inspired dishes: Slater made redfish courtboullion, Leonardi did smothered chicken, Besh made jambalaya and Shaya made quail gumbo.

Besh figured it would be a challenge to do New Orleans dishes kosher, but he wasn’t unfamiliar with the guidelines. “It’s easier to make my food when I can use all the shellfish in the world, and my bacon,” he said, but he “can make great jambalaya out of beef sausage and chicken.

“It may not be my mom’s jambalaya,” he added.

Shaya noted that the promenade dedication brought together the two communities of Rosh Ha’Ayin — the historic Yemenite community, and the relatively new community that has come in over the last 20 years as the city tripled in size. “The event… was one of the first times the two communities really came together.”

He compared it to New Orleans — “all these cultures coming together over a pot of jambalaya.”

Leonardi also felt the similarities. “In New Orleans we live for the moment because who knows when the next hurricane will be; this is what I understand from Israelis that they do because they don’t know when the next war will be, so they live for the day.”

This was the second major event for the chefs in Rosh Ha’Ayin. On June 24, they prepared a gourmet Shabbat dinner for 60, attended by the mayor and other dignitaries in the home of Eran and Michal Katzir. Slater said it was an “amazing experience.”

The Shabbat dinner started with Fried Tomatoes with Whitefish Ravigote. First course was Corn Maque Choux with Pepper Jelly BBQ Chicken, and Cane Syrup Glazed Salmon Salad. Entrees were Stewed Chicken Creole, Okra and Tomatoes, and Seabass Etoufee with Creole Boiled Potatoes. Dessert was Olive Oil Almond Cake with Dates and Figs.

The chefs had a wide range of helpers. Mothers and children helped prepare the Shabbat dinner, and Hirschfield served as sous chef in many places.

Shaya said “we felt so welcomed by the community in Rosh Ha’Ayin. The second we got there, already it felt like family.”

Besh said the people of Rosh Ha’Ayin were “some of the most personable people that I have ever met” and that he “couldn’t think of a better place for a sister city.”

He saw similarities with New Orleans in an emphasis of arts and music. “They’re doing the same thing we’re trying to do here” in promoting cultural heritage.

While the chefs worked, other mission participants did volunteer work, Weil said. In Rosh Ha’Ayin, they visited the Aviv Center, where they made crafts with Ethiopian youth, planted trees in a garden and dedicated a bench.

Gilad Dolev, owner of Dolev Culinary Strategy and a Rosh Ha’Ayin resident “did a very good job getting it organized and set up for us,” Shaya said. “We were able to enjoy our time there. The days we cooked, we worked hard, but the organizers did it so we weren’t in the kitchen the entire time we were there.”

A highlight of the trip was visiting an Israeli military installation on the Golan. About a dozen residents of Rosh Ha’Ayin took off work to travel with them, Weil said. “We went up as 30 people but came back as one family.”

At the artillery base, the chefs prepared a five-course meal for 400 soldiers in the Flying Tiger Brigade, cooking with the army chefs. They all slept in army barracks and were awakened at 4 a.m. for an artillery exercise, after going to bed at 2 a.m. The chefs, who were also all in military uniform, had breakfast in the field, prepared by a Druze soldier’s mother.

Weil noted that Besh, a veteran of Operation Desert Storm with the U.S. Marines, and Leonardi, a Coast Guard veteran, were in their elements there. “They switched from being chefs to being soldiers.”

Besh said the soldiers “are truly protecting their families. Americans have no idea what it’s all about” because the U.S. sends troops across the world, while Israeli soldiers are protecting their own back yards. Besh was among those who liberated the Kuwait airport from Iraq in 1991.

One soldier who was not able to attend the dinner was the one who planned the whole event. His wife was nine months pregnant, Weil said, and he had told her that she could have the baby anytime but that one night. Sure enough, as the delegation arrived, he greeted them and said he had to leave, she had gone into labor. They had a girl.

The chefs began preparations at 3 p.m. for the 8 p.m. dinner, which included couvillon, jambalaya, eggplant and almond cakes. Sfinge, a Moroccan doughnut, was compared to beignets. One soldier quoted in a Ha’Aretz article said the dishes “seemed special, but there were familiar flavors.”

The chefs visited the Tadmor Chef School, where they had a lecture on Israeli food and kashrut, and then ran two workshops on Creole and Cajun cuisine.

They visited the farmer’s market in Tel Aviv, prominent “cutting-edge” restaurants in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and two wineries.

They also visited with Shai Zelter, who Weil said is known as a “hermit figure who lives in a cave outside Jerusalem” and makes cheese in the caves. “He took us inside the cave, which he never really does.”

The chefs all remarked about Israel’s fresh produce, sustainable farming methods and clean flavors. Besh also was a fan of the vast Israeli breakfast.

Israeli Cuisine

Where is Israeli cuisine on the world stage? Recently, it was announced that an Israeli chef would be on an “Iron Chef America” episode to be taped this summer, and another would be on “Chopped.”

Shaya said there is an identity crisis in Israel when it comes to food, and a lot of people don’t think there is a distinct Israeli cuisine. “Falafel is from Morocco, Hummus from Lebanon, Kibbe from Persia,” he said. “When I think of going to Israel, I think of hummus, shwarma, lamb, pita. Whether it came from another country originally doesn’t mean anything.”

He encouraged Israeli chefs to embrace their fundamentals “and grow it.”

Besh said Israel is a “misunderstood” country that for a long time had to concentrate on food security, developing agricultural infrastructure rather than establishing a cuisine.

Now, Israel is starting to develop its own cuisine, which “is just as much a melting pot as America is,” he said, with a Turkish base, with Eastern Europe, Yemenite and African influences added on.

“The way we cook (in New Orleans) is a celebration of all of our cultures,” Slater said, and he saw the same in Israel.

Bringing Home

The chefs and the Federation have been discussing programs for the coming year that will involve the chefs, including demonstrations and tastings for the Jewish Newcomers, Young Adult and Leadership groups, and for the Federation’s Annual Campaign event.

Shaya said he was impressed by the roasted vegetables in Israel, how they are roasted on the grill for hours. At Domenica, there’s a wood-burning pizza oven, and he has been putting eggplant inside among the ambers. “After 25 minutes, the outside is charred, but the inside is so flavorful and creamy, with the natural flavor shining through.”

Slater also plans to do a culinary homage to the experience in Israel.

But it wasn’t just food knowledge that the chefs brought back — in two cases, they brought back the word “yes.”

During the trip, Slater proposed to his girlfriend, New Orleans artist Barbie L’Hoste, on top of Masada. Shaya stayed in Israel after the trip, and proposed to his girlfriend one night in Jaffa.

Slater said the proposal “was an incredible moment. She said yes, which was even more incredible.”

At one of the restaurants later in the trip, the other participants surprised the couple with a toast, then lifted them up on chairs and danced. “I’m a pretty big guy, it’s amazing they got me up,” Slater said.

The trip “elevated P2K to a higher level — we made an event that had an enormous impact,” Weil said.

Articles appeared in numerous Israeli media outlets, and Israel Food Tours followed the group and live-blogged the entire week.

Weil said the chef trips were “a wonderful way of making friends — not really influencing people, but influencing their stomachs.”

The four chefs all said they were still on a high from the trip weeks later, and were all much closer with each other — as well as with Israel.

Besh said Israel “is too important a place not to support.”

Anyone who sees four boys running around New Orleans looking like an Israeli soccer team, that’s Besh’s kids. The oldest, who is 15, is “dead-set” on going to Israel next year.

Slater said “I could have stayed in Israel for another month. It was that amazing.”

Leonardi was especially taken by “The love of life, how they are so beautiful.” He wondered, “why don’t people go there every day?”

Huntsville's Fishman Wins "Asian Nobel"

On June 7, Jerry Fishman of Huntsville was named co-winner of the Shaw Prize in Astronomy. The $1 million prize, considered “Asia’s Nobel Prize,” will be shared with astronomer Enrico Costa for their work in gamma ray bursts.

The three Shaw prizes — Life Sciences and Medicine, and Mathematical Sciences are the two other categories — are named for Hong Kong media mogul Sir Run Run Shaw, and have been presented annually since 2004. The awards will be presented on Sept. 28 at the Hong Kong Exhibition and Convention Center.

Fishman told the Huntsville Times that he was “completely shocked” by the award and was unaware that he was even nominated.

Fishman, a NASA astrophysicist since 1974 at the Marshall Space Flight Center, was the principal investigator for the Burst and Transient Source Experiment, or BATSE, an extremely sensitive gamma-ray burst detector which flew on NASA’s Compton Gamma Ray Observatory from 1991 to 2000. He currently is a co-investigator on the Gamma-ray Burst Monitor, a key instrument aboard the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, which was launched in 2008 and is still in operation. Its primary objective is also the study of gamma ray bursts that appear randomly in the sky at a rate of about 300 each year.

“BATSE and other instruments helped lay the groundwork for many of the discoveries related to gamma-ray bursts that have been made since,” Fishman said. “It is a great honor to see that work — achieved through the efforts of so many people — recognized in this manner.”

“I am thrilled at the news of Dr. Fishman’s award,” said Dr. Daniel Schumacher, manager of the Marshall Center’s Science and Mission Systems Office. “The science we do at Marshall has a huge impact on our understanding of the universe in which we live, and Jerry Fishman is a crucial part of that success.”

Dr. James Spann, who manages the Science and Exploration Research Office at Marshall, agreed. “Many students and researchers who have worked under Jerry’s guidance and leadership are now leaders themselves, here at NASA and across the planet,” he said. “It is a privilege to work with him and to call him a colleague and a friend.”

Gamma ray bursts are titanic detonations more than a million times as powerful as a supernova, heralding the death of massive stars, billions of light years from the solar system. Researchers have determined that they likely signal the birth of new black holes.

SEC Football Goes for Six

By Lee J. Green

A high five goes out to SEC football for winning an unprecedented five straight national championships.

But SEC Commissioner Mike Slive didn’t focus on pats on the back for the conference at SEC Media Days in Birmingham. Instead, he spoke of an agenda of change for student-athletes in intercollegiate athletics nationally.

“This agenda is not a panacea, nor is it intended to offer a solution to every problem. It does, however, identify several key issues we believe need attention,” said Slive, including strengthening academic requirements for incoming freshman and transfers; modernizing recruiting rules; supporting the NCAA’s efforts to improve the enforcement process and redefining the benefits available to student-athletes.

During the off-season, Slive said he has enjoyed attending several events in the Birmingham area Jewish community. He and his daughter, Anna, both serve on the Temple Emanu-El Board of Directors.

“My work takes me outside of Birmingham a great deal so I enjoy the time I can spend with my family and in the Jewish community here,” said Slive, who has been commissioner of the SEC (based in Birmingham) for nine years. “The Jewish community here gives us a strong connection and identity.”

Of course, Slive did say he is very proud of the on-field accomplishments of his member institutions. The Auburn Tigers won their second national championship in 2010, their first since 1957, by defeating the Oregon Ducks in the BCS Championship game this past January.

The year prior, in-state rival Alabama Crimson Tide claimed the title, preceded by Florida, LSU and Florida. On another field, South Carolina claimed back-to-back baseball College World Series championships. “Our conference has accomplished a great deal in the athletic and academic worlds. We’re certainly proud of that.”

Despite winning the BCS Championship, most prognosticators pick Auburn to finish in the lower half of the SEC West due to losing 18 starters, including Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Cam Newton and All-American defensive lineman Nick Fairley.

Here are some capsules for the 2011 SEC football season listed in SJL’s predicted order of finish:

SEC West

1 – Alabama Crimson Tide
: Many predict the Tide to contend for the title in 2011, thanks to 10 starters returning to a defense that is being heralded by some as the strongest in the nation. Alabama also returns Heisman Trophy-candidate running back Trent Richardson.

Alabama led Auburn 24-0 before losing the 2010 Iron Bowl. In late April, Tuscaloosa was devastated by a tornado. The players and Head Coach Nick Saban were very involved in the recovery efforts, raising money and helping rebuild. Finding motivation won’t be a problem for the 2011 team, Saban said.

“We want to play a role in lifting the spirits of so many whose lives were impacted by this tragedy in our community and statewide,” said Saban, adding that his team is not fazed by the high pre-season praise and predictions. “We’re not focused on what the prognosticators say about us. We want to grow and mature as a unit. We have a talented team that needs to prove itself on the field.”

Freshman Phillip Sims and Sophomore A.J. McCarron will compete for the starting job vacated by Greg McElroy. All-America candidates Mark Barron (senior safety) and Dont’a Hightower (junior linebacker) will lead the Tide’s defense.

2 – LSU Tigers
: The Bayou Bengals will challenge the Tide for the SEC West title, especially if senior quarterback Jordan Jefferson continues his maturation process (the two teams battle in Tuscaloosa Nov. 5).

Jefferson knows he will have a capable connection in junior wide receiver Rueben Randle. LSU returns eight starters on offense and seven on defense from a team that won eleven games in 2010.

If senior linebacker Ryan Baker and junior cornerback Morris Claiborne can bolster Head Coach Les Miles’ already-staunch defense, the Tigers could contend too for the conference as well as national crowns.

3 – Arkansas Razorbacks
: The Hogs had their ups and downs in 2010, going 10-3 but losing in a couple of big games that could have allowed them to challenge on a national level.

Head Coach Bobby Petrino lost star quarterback Ryan Mallett to the NFL, but junior quarterback Tyler Wilson filled in admirably a couple of times when Mallett was hurt. Arkansas boasts plenty of weapons on offense including all-SEC junior running back Knile Davis along with a tandem of top wide receivers – Greg Childs and Joe Adams.

4 – Auburn Tigers: Auburn capped its dream undefeated season with a 22-19 win over Oregon in the BCS Championship. But now Head Coach Gene Chizik, who earned the title in just his second year on The Plains, must find players to fill some pretty big shoes.

“This has been an incredible journey for myself and everyone in the Auburn family. There were many people before the season that didn’t think we’d have a chance to win the national championship and I am so proud of what we all accomplished together,” said Chizik.

“But the minute our plane hit the ground January 11, we had moved on. We have been focused and locked in solely on the 2011 football season; being the best team that we can possibly be, not just being content winning it last season.”

Auburn brings back talented sophomore running back Michael Dyer and senior offensive lineman Brandon Mosely on offense. Senior defensive back Neiko Thorpe and junior defensive back T’sharvin Bell will anchor the defensive secondary for the Tigers.

5 – Mississippi State: The Bulldogs finished in the top 20 last season and return 15 starters. The team would probably contend for a conference or division title if it wasn’t in the loaded SEC West.

But that’s not to say the 2011 version couldn’t improve on its 9-4 2010 campaign, capped off by a Gator Bowl win over Michigan.

Head Coach Dan Mullen said senior quarterback Chris Relf has aptly taken the leadership reins and has looked strong in practice. The Bulldogs also boast one of the conference’s best running backs in senior Vick Ballard.

6 – Ole Miss Rebels: The only SEC West team not to appear in the final Top 25 or notch a winning record, even an improvement this year might not be enough to lift Ole Miss out of the cellar in the division.

The good news is that the Rebels return nine starters on offense, including senior running back Brandon Bolden and senior offensive tackle Bradley Sowell. Head Coach Houston Nutt hopes for strong contributions on special teams, especially junior punter Tyler Campbell.

SEC East

1 – South Carolina Gamecocks: South Carolina played in the SEC Championship Game for the first time in history last season and its nine wins — one of the best seasons ever for South Carolina — vaulted the Gamecocks to the top of the SEC East.

But Head Coach Steve Spurrier said he expects the 2011 team to be better, putting a thorn on the 2010 rose by mentioning that South Carolina got blown out by Auburn in the SEC Championship then lost to Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

There are some concerns with senior quarterback Stephen Garcia’s off-field suspensions and lack of team leadership. Spurrier said sophomore Connor Shaw will be given a chance to win the position. But South Carolina is loaded on offense, including two of the nation’s likely top performers for 2011 in sophomore running back Marcus Lattimore and junior wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey. And the Gamecocks will get strong performances on defense from junior cornerback Stephen Gilmore along with junior defensive end Devin Taylor.

2 – Florida Gators
: After winning two national championships in his tenure at Florida, Urban Meyer stepped down and Will Muschamp – who returns to the SEC after previous assistant coaching stops in Auburn and LSU – steps in.

So too does experienced NFL and college football coach Charlie Weis, who will install a new offense in Gainesville that will lend itself better to the strengths of senior quarterback John Brantley.

Brantley hopes to have help moving the chains on offense from senior running back/receiver Chris Rainey and senior Jeff Demps. Jonathan Bostic, a junior linebacker, will anchor the defense.

The Gators, who finished a disappointing 8-5 in 2010, should rebound in 2011. Expect Florida and Georgia to contend with South Carolina for the SEC East crown.

3 – Georgia Bulldogs: The Bulldogs will be tested early playing national power Boise State in its first game and their rival Gamecocks in the second game.

But regardless, Georgia will be vastly improved from its 6-7 2010 campaign. Sophomore quarterback Aaron Murray appears poised for a breakout year after a strong 2010.

The ‘Dogs kicking game will have plenty of bite with All-SEC punter Drew Butler and kicker Blair Walsh, both seniors.

4 – Tennessee Volunteers: The Vols will likely improve upon their 6-7 season last year, Derek Dooley’s first as head coach up at Rocky Top. Two or three more wins are realistic.

Tennessee returns seven starters on offense and hope sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray continues to improve. Dooley also has offensive firepower in sophomore wide receiver Justin Hunter and senior running back Tauren Poole.

5 – Kentucky Wildcats: Kentucky also finished 6-7 in its first-year coach’s (former Wildcats wide receiver and assistant coach Joker Phillips) inaugural season at the helm.

Phillips brings back 15 starters including nine on defense (senior linebackers Danny Trevathan and Winston Guy will be players to watch). The offensive line will be strong, but Kentucky needs some skill position players to step up if they are to contend.

6 – Vanderbilt Commodores
: New Vandy Head Coach James Franklin will have quite a challenge in this first year of head coaching. Vandy finished 2-10 in 2010.

However, Franklin will have the benefit of bringing back all eleven starters on the ‘Dores offense along with eight on defense. That defense will be anchored by senior linebacker Chris Marve, a two-time All-SEC performer and senior defensive back Casey Hayward.

Fielkow resigns from New Orleans City Council

Arnie Fielkow, who in 12 years in New Orleans became a fixture in the Jewish and general communities, submitted his resignation from the New Orleans City Council today to take a position as the chief executive officer of the National Basketball Retired Players Association.

In a statement, Fielkow explained that “I have dearly missed the sports field, an industry in which I have spent over 20 years.”

The NBRPA, the official association of the NBA, ABA and Harlem Globetrotters, is comprised of all former players from these organizations. This association was founded in 1992 by basketball legends Oscar Robertson, Dave Bing, Dave DeBusschere, Dave Cowens and Archie Clark, and works in direct partnership with both the NBA and National Basketball Players Association.

Fielkow arrived in New Orleans to become executive vice president of the New Orleans Saints, and in his six years there “we enjoyed some incredible moments both on and off the field.” After Hurricane Katrina, he was fired when he refused to resign and sign a confidentiality agreement after vehemently disagreeing with the idea of the Saints moving to San Antonio.

After that, “New Orleanians picked me up, put me on their shoulders and provided me with a most incredible professional opportunity to help build back our beloved city by electing me councilman at-large. Not a small feat for a first time politician, and a Yankee at that!”

Though originally from Appleton, Wisc., his mother grew up in Montgomery, Ala.

Fielkow has held positions at Touro Synagogue, the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, the Jewish Community Center, Hillel, and USA Sports for Israel/Maccabi USA, which organizes the Maccabi Games.

Fielkow was a participant in the 1997 World Maccabi Games, as part of the U.S. basketball team that won the silver medal. He spearheaded fundraising for the U.S. Maccabi games to be held in New Orleans in 2006, but the recovery from Hurricane Katrina caused the games to be moved to another city.

He was also an executive committee member of the Super Bowl XXXVI Host Committee.

In both 2007 and 2008 citizens named Fielkow "Best New Orleans City Councilmember" according to Gambit Weekly. Fielkow also was identified as one of New Orleans Magazine's 2006 "People to Watch" and "Favorite Local Politician" in 2008. In 2009, Councilman Fielkow was branded "New Orleanian of the Year" and "Second Most-Admired (Male) New Orleanian" by the readers of New Orleans Magazine.

Fielkow's recognitions for civic and community contributions include the Anti-Defamation League's A.I. Botnick Torch of Liberty Award in 2007, the prestigious 2004 TOP Award ("Ten Outstanding Persons") and the 2003 Sanchez to Sanchez to Smith Award issued by Family Service of Greater New Orleans and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

His resignation is effective Oct. 1, and an interim council member will likely be named prior to a special election.

Fielkow said “while I sincerely wish the timing for this new position had been different, regrettably I had no control over when it presented itself. I have given as much as I humanly could to the city of New Orleans over the past 12 years, and I very much hope that New Orleanians will understand and wish me well as I pursue a professional dream.”

ISJL to be featured on History Channel

Wednesday at 8 p.m. (Central), the Jackson-based Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life will be featured on "You Don't Know Dixie," which will premiere on the History Channel.

"You Don't Know Dixie" shows the "hidden and surprising truths about how the South shaped America." The show is a travelogue of the South with some of today's best known Southerners including: Trace Adkins, Al Bell, Bobby Bowden, James Carville, Jeff Foxworthy, Ty Pennington, Ricky Skaggs, Herschel Walker, and Michael Waltrip.

Rabbi Marshal Klaven, director of rabbinic services at ISJL, will also be featured. Klaven travels the region to congregations that are too small to have their own rabbis. This episode features him on a visit to Temple Sinai in Lake Charles, La.

The is a not-for-profit, non-denominational Jewish organization, which provides educational and rabbinic services to Southern Jewish communities, documents and preserves the rich history of the Southern Jewish Experience, and promotes a Jewish cultural presence and community engagement throughout a 13-state region.

Matisyahu making Southern swing

By Lee J. Green

Orthodox Jewish musician Matisyahu, who blends reggae, rap, hip-hop and funk sounds with Jewish themes, prayers and life lessons, will return to the region for appearances in several venues this month.

He will be at the Varsity Theatre in Baton Rouge on Aug. 17 for an 8:30 p.m. show. On Aug. 21, he will be at the House of Blues in New Orleans at 8 p.m., then after a south Florida swing he performs at Soul Kitchen in Mobile on Aug. 27 at 10 p.m., and at the Alys Stephens Center in Birmingham on Aug. 28 at 7 p.m.

In his somewhat-biographical Top 40 hit song “King Without a Crown,” the artist born Matthew Miller tells his story and his desire to communicate his religious devotion to Judaism.

“I am inspired by my religion and I want to inspire others. I continue to learn more about myself and what Judaism means to me,” said the artist, who regularly tweets messages of Jewish faith and devotion on his website He also offers daily meditations and Kabbalah lessons learned from his psychotherapist friend in Jerusalem, Ephraim Rosenstein.

“I am happy with the way those of all beliefs have responded to my music. Monotheism comes from Judaism and it’s a universal world religion. There isn’t a contradiction between the ideals and the music,” said Matisyahu.

Miller grew up as a Reconstructionist Jew in White Plains. He got interested in music and was heavily influenced by rock/reggae/jam bands such as Phish.

While in high school in the fall of 1995, he took part in a two-month-long program that offered students first-hand exploration of Jewish heritage at the Alexander Muss High School in Hod Hasharon, Israel. His experiences there had a profound effect on him, eventually bringing him to Orthodox Judaism in 2001, and later to Hasidism.

Miller changed his name to Matisyahu, a variant on the name Matthew, meaning “gift of God,” and began playing with the Jewish band Pey Dalid. In 2004, he signed with JDub Records, a not-for-profit record label that promotes Jewish musicians, which announced last month that it is going out of business.

The following year he released his live album — “Live at Stubb’s” — and followed it up with the studio album “Youth” in 2006.

“Youth” earned a Grammy nomination in 2006 and shot to the top of the Billboard reggae albums chart, achieving gold record status. “King Without a Crown” made the Modern Rock Top 10 that year and cracked the Top 40 charts.

Matisyahu has since performed numerous live shows and he has been featured in a couple of documentaries. His new album, “Live at Stubb’s II,” a CD/DVD package, goes back to the renowned Austin, Texas, venue that helped to launch his career.

“Being an artist is about being sensitive to how the world resonates inside you and then being able to express it. This process is an ever-changing one,” he said. “I feel like the more I grow, learn and become more balanced as a person, the better a musician I become. It’s about locating emotions within yourself; continuing to find new ways to connect to your audiences with your feelings and messages.”

Matisyahu never performs or works on the Sabbath, and keeps kosher as well as being a vegetarian. He and his wife, Tahlia, have three sons. The family will accompany him on a portion of the current tour.

“It’s best when we can share as much of our time, selves and faith with our family. That’s very important to me and it helps me to find that balance,” he said.

In Birmingham, there is a 20 percent discount on tickets for those who identify as part of the Birmingham Jewish Federation or a local synagogue. The concert is also being used as an opportunity to grow the ranks of the Alys Stephens Center Junior Patrons. New standard-level patrons can attend the pre-show sound check, and contributor-level patrons can also attend a post-show VIP meet and greet. Space is limited.

Jackson's Beth Israel Holding 150th Anniversary

Beth Israel in Jackson, one of Mississippi’s oldest synagogues, is preparing for its 150th anniversary celebration weekend, Sept. 16 to 18. Over 1000 invitations have gone out to current and former congregants, and supporters.

The weekend will feature a “welcome home” congregational dinner, gala event coordinated with a Joshua Nelson concert, a morning at the Henry S. Jacobs Camp, and a golf tournament.

The Celebration 150 weekend kicks off on Sept. 16 with a Shabbat service at 6:15 p.m., featuring Union of Reform Judaism Senior Vice President Rabbi Dan Freelander. Past rabbis, congregants and families will be welcomed back to Jackson during the service.

Afterward, there will be a Shabbat dinner, with a suggested donation of $15. Reservations are required, preferably by Sept. 1.

On Sept. 17, there will be a 10:15 a.m. Shabbat service at the Jacobs Camp, followed by lunch and free time to visit with friends.

“Homecoming Ballyhoo” will feature a gala dinner at the Mississippi Museum of Art at 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 17. At 8 p.m., Joshua Nelson, “the Prince of Kosher Gospel,” will perform at the Jackson Convention Center, joined by the Mississippi Mass Choir and the Beth Israel Shirim Choir.

Nelson’s musical style marries Jewish religious lyrics with the soulful sounds and African stylings of American churches. He began fusing the styles upon returning to the United States after two years living in Israel.

The gala dinner and concert are $125 per person, or tickets for just the concert are $30, available from the Jackson Coliseum box office or Ticketmaster.

The golf tournament will be Sept. 18 with registration at 8 a.m. and a shofar start at 9 a.m. A four-person team is $300, or $75 for individuals. The four-person scramble tournament will benefit the congregation’s community and interfaith programs. Lunch and awards follow at 1:30 p.m.

A memory book is also being published and is expected to be ready by the end of the year. Books are $25 and can be reserved from the Beth Israel office.

More information about the weekend is available from the Beth Israel office or on the congregation’s website.

Opinion: Alice Walker and the Flotilla

By Larry Brook, editor/publisher

In high school, one of the books we were assigned to read was “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker. Because of the book, she is a celebrated figure in this nation; around here she is also known for her time living in Mississippi with a Jewish husband, reportedly the first legal interracial couple in the state. But reverence for her should be called into question, based on her recent actions and words.

As an author, she should well be aware of the power of words; as a writer of historical fiction, she also should be well aware of symbolism. She recently made a very public stand about participating in this year’s flotilla to Gaza, with reasoning so twisted it would make a pretzel manufacturer blush.

The Gaza flotilla, which thankfully fell apart, claims to be a humanitarian effort to help Gaza residents who are presumably suffering from Israel’s blockade. Ships were to set sail from Greece and other Mediterranean nations in an effort to break the blockade physically, or to provoke Israel into a reaction that would cause worldwide condemnation and force an end to the blockade.

After Hamas, a terrorist organization that has launched thousands of rockets into Southern Israel, took over, Israel imposed a blockade against materials that could be used in a military fashion. Food and medicine is being allowed through; things such as concrete are a different story (though Israel recently approved a great deal of construction for Gaza). Flotilla organizers were told that any humanitarian cargo could come through proper channels and be routed directly to Gaza; the offer was refused.

Of course, “The Audacity of Hope,” the ship Walker was set to board, was simply bringing letters of solidarity to the residents of Gaza, hardly humanitarian aid.

Recently, Somalia was named as the biggest humanitarian crisis on the planet; don’t hold your breath waiting for the flotilla “humanitarians” to rub together two brain cells on dealing with that problem.

In “Why I’m Sailing to Gaza,” Walker made numerous odious and disingenuous comparisons to the Jim Crow era in the South. That comparison would be more accurate only if blacks were bombing white churches and buses, or randomly killing whites, instead of the other way around.

She also speaks of her participation as a reverential tribute to all the Jews who came to the aid of blacks in the Civil Rights struggle, most notably Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, who were killed in Neshoba County, Miss. Because of the debt she feels to those Jews, she is riding on a flotilla to support those who seek the mass murder of Jews. If that is her idea of gratitude, what must her idea of revenge be?

Not only that, but she recently was quoted as saying that “Israel is the greatest terrorist in that part of the world,” and that “in general, the United States and Israel are great terrorist organizations themselves.”

Clearly, Walker’s status as a literary icon of civil rights and tolerance must be called into question, not to mention the direction of her moral compass.

Instead of being a celebrated figure, there is another term that more accurately describes her. It’s a term made popular by Stalin — useful idiot.


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