Posted by Rob Eshman
This is our paean to Pe’er.
Shahar Peer finished her astounding run at the Dubai Tennis Champaionships in te United Arab Emirates today, when she was beaten by Venus William in the semi-finals.
But what a run it was.
The Israeli player trounced top-seeded players, bringing her best game and complete focus, under daunting circumstances. Peer is the first Israeli woman tennis player to compete in the United Arab Emirates. She did so following last year’s drama of being banned from playing because she’s Israeli, and in the wake of the assassination of a senior Hamas leader in Dubai last month that ratcheted up tensions between Israel and the UAE.
But Peer performed with great cool and utter concentration. When she lost in the semi-finals today to Venus Williams, 6-1, 6-4, she still battled hard.
As Douglas Perry reported at oregonlive.com:
You’ve got to admire Shahar Peer’s cool. A year ago the Israel player was denied entry into Dubai’s glitzy tournament for, well, for being Jewish. (The United Arab Emirates’ official reason for refusing her a visa was “security concerns” following Israel’s incursion into Gaza.) The WTA, to its shame, let the tournament go on. Belatedly stiffening its resolve, tour officials later strong-armed the UAE into guaranteeing that it would allow Peer to play thereafter.
Little did anyone know that political tensions would be even worse at this year’s tournament. With play under way, local police announced on Monday that professional assassins last month followed Hamas militant Mahmoud al-Mabhouh into a swank Dubai hotel and killed him. Speculation, needless to say, quickly settled on Mossad as the perpetrator. If the guesswork is correct, then the Israeli security service’s planners must not be Peer fans. The assassins paraded through the hotel—which, like all hotels, is chock-a-block with security cameras—dressed like extras from “Ishtar.” One alleged killer wore a straw boater, which was last all the rage when Suzanne Lenglen and Helen Wills squared off. Others donned similar old-timey dress, as well as fake beards. (I’m being flip, of course. Unaccustomed to international skulduggery inserting itself into the tennis scene, I’m a bit out of sorts. Chances are, the assassins weren’t brazenly sticking a thumb in Dubai’s eye. Slate’s answer guy has pointed out that outlandish disguises are the best way to avoid being identified—witnesses tend to only remember the ridiculous costume.)
But in the midst of this escalating political brouhaha, we mustn’t forget the tennis. We especially must give props to Peer, who has chosen this week of all weeks to play the best tennis of her life. The 22-year-old Israeli, who has been dogged by Palestinian protesters since the start of the season, has been unbelievably sharp and focused while in the lion’s den. Ranked outside the top-20, she has beaten rising star Yanina Wickmayer, No. 1-seed Caroline Wozniacki and Australian Open semifinalist Na Li.
All of this great tennis has happened on outside courts amid heavy security. Peer, the first Israeli woman tennis player to ever compete in the UAE, has been surrounded by bodyguards all week. She hasn’t been able to see anything of Dubai but her hotel room. And even though she’s now in the semifinals, where she faces defending champion Venus Williams, Peer still won’t get to check out center court. Instead, the match will be played on a small doubles court with just one entrance. Peer, quoting Doris Day (which Straw Boater Man would no doubt appreciate), says she doesn’t care what court she’s on—she just wants to play.
“I’m the only player that hasn’t played on Centre Court,” Peer said after defeating Li. “But whatever will be, will be. I’m not controlling it. I’m doing what I’ve been told and wherever I need to play, I’ll play on.”
Peer’s victories this year were especially sweet in light of the shabby way she was treated last year by the Dubai hosts and the USTA organizers. Banned from competition at the last minute, she watched as USTA backed down from effective protest.
But a week before the first match, Dubai notified Peer that it refused
to grant her a visa. “They really stopped my momentum because now I’m
not going to play for two weeks and because they waited for the last
minute I couldn’t go to another tournament either,” Peer, who is 21,
told Sports Illustrated from Tel Aviv. “So it’s very disappointing,
and I think it’s not fair.”
Some of her fellow players stuck up for Peer, most noticeably the Williams sisters. But Peer has plenty of her own toughness, as evidenced in this 2007 profile on her in The Jewish Journal:
The best way to describe Peer’s game is tenacious, scrappy, determined. In short, she’s a fighter. Some see in her on-court demeanor the embodiment of Israel’s national persona—the tough underdog that always finds a way to beat the odds—and conclude that Peer plays as she does because she is Israeli. Peer, however, doesn’t make that connection.
“There are many Israeli tennis players who don’t play like me,” she said. “I don’t think it is because I’m Israeli or Jewish. That is just how I am. That is just how I play on the court.”
Although she makes a good point, the analogy is not likely to go away soon.
On the court, Shahar is a study in self-motivation. There are frequent “come ons,” audible slaps to the thigh and spirited fist pumps. But her most distinctive mannerism is a move she does between each point. She turns her back to her opponent and closes her eyes for a few moments as if in meditation. When asked to explain, she says simply, “that’s between my psychology and me.” No matter the score, her attitude, body language, indeed her presence, state unequivocally, “I am not going away.”
To read the complete profile click here.
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February 18, 2010 | 2:33 pm
Posted by Melanie Reynard
February 2010 - Los Angeles International Airport. 89-year old Gary Matzdorff wears his sailor’s cap this Friday morning, as he stands in the sun, looking excitedly across the Arrivals terminal, and waits for his elementary school classmate, Leo Gerechter.
“By some accident I found his name in a German magazine, Aktuell. So I wrote to him,” Gary explains.
Both Gary and Leo were born Jewish in Berlin in 1921. Gary was born in a large apartment on Motzstrasse in the district of Berlin called Schoeneberg. The name of his elementary school, where he was a classmate of Leo Gerechter, was called the Hohenstaufenstrasse School. Gary was apprenticed to be a leather worker in Berlin, but when Hitler came to power, his life took a dramatic shift.
Story continues after the jump…
“My parents and I, we immigrated to Shanghai in 1939, and left everything behind,” Gary says.
He has been back to Berlin for a visit, but it seemed unlikely he would ever reconnect with someone he knew during that time.
“And just recently he told me he was going to be in Los Angeles, for a bar-mitzvah,” says Gary, “so I said, ‘I’m going to meet you at the airport.’ That’s why I’m here now waiting for him to arrive.”
When I ask Gary why he is so excited to meet Leo again, Gary says energetically, “Well, it’s been 80 years,” but then his runny eyes reveal the true reason he is excited. His voice cracks as he continues, “I don’t have too many friends from that time.”
It does not matter to Gary that he barely spoke to what he remembers as the “scrawny” little Leo back in the 1920s - what matters is that Leo was there with him, and they can reminisce together.
“I already spotted him,” says Nancy, Gary’s wife, as they scurry toward the baggage claim.
Gary points both his arms at Leo as he approaches and the baggage claim sirens buzz. Leo has macular degeneration, and looks in Gary’s direction, and then Gary envelops Leo in his arms.
“You’re still a little guy,” Gary jokes.
“You’ve grown a lot,” Leo smiles.
They immediately pull out the old class photo. Gary points to a stern, 9-year old Leo in a dark suit in the second row, and then to himself - a 9-year old smirking in his sailor suit as he stands toward the back of the classroom.
The two men stand at the baggage claim long past the time the baggage has been collected. They compare notes about their old neighborhoods in Berlin, and then their stories of how they each escaped.
“My family was all killed - every one,” says Leo.
“They all stayed? You went by yourself?” Gary asks.
“Well, they couldn’t get out,” Leo shrugs.
They talk about where life had taken them after Berlin. Gary lived in Shanghai until Mao took over in 1948, and then worked in the leather industry in Minneapolis, Ohio, and eventually Los Angeles. Leo, on the other hand, came directly to the United States alone, worked his way up in the garment industry, and is now living in Boston.
But later when they sit down to lunch by the airport, I have to ask why they really cared to connect after their lives had gone down such divergent paths.
“Leo, why did you want to meet Gary?” I ask.
“Well, when you’re a certain age, you like to think back and see what happened to people. What happened to us, how did we go, where did we go, when did we go, what did we do…”
And although their paths diverged and they lived in different countries, it seems that these two classmates may be able to relate to each other’s stories after all.
Gary in Shanghai…
“I went downtown, and I got a job… as a private secretary… and one day my boss was sitting across the desk from me. The telephone rang and I picked up the phone and answered in Chinese, ‘Wei wei wei, nung sani-ka.’ The next morning…he fired me. And I was very disappointed. The only reason I could imagine: he didn’t want me to learn to speak Chinese so I wouldn’t know his business -”
“Which was very nefarious -” Nancy, Gary’s wife interjects.
“And it turned out,” Gary nods, “A few weeks later the police came to my house and asked me if I knew anything about Mr. Cranks’ business.”
Leo in New York…
Leo was working as a salesman in the garment industry.
“One day the boss said, ‘Would you do me a favor and drive to Pennsylvania - Strasburg, Pennsylvania, there’s a factory there…’”
When Leo got to the factory in Pennsylvania, the manager there asked him to lunch.
“When we sit down in his office, he takes off his coat, and there was a gun [under his coat].”
Leo didn’t say anything at the lunch, but later he asked one of the shipping clerks, “To make dresses you need guns?”
The shipping clerk replied, “Don’t you know who you’re working for? Haven’t you ever heard of ‘Murder Incorporated’?”
So began a reunion of these two 89-year-old men, who both escaped Berlin and shared stories of where there lives had gone on since.
Watch the video:
February 14, 2010 | 10:27 am
Posted by Susan Freudenheim
It was already close to midnight Saturday night when I pushed myself to go downstairs—with the draw that Dov Rosenblatt, singer, songwriter of the band Blue Fringe, which I love, was going to be playing with whoever dropped by. I got there and the musicians were playing the most beautiful jazzy jam, to an audience of one. Two when I came in. Dov was joined by a Milken High School student of enormous talent named Asher Levy, on keyboards and guitar alternately, and by Lior Kaminetsky, a well-traveled trained classical musician who plays the jazz violin with the most soulful improvisations imaginable. There were others, too, but honestly, and with humble apologies, it was late and I didn’t have a notebook to write their names down. A small crowd wandered in and stayed, as I did, because it was so beautiful. The music varied, from song to improvisational jazz, and one mom, who was an incredible singer (don’t know her name either) joined to sing a song she’d written with her two-year-old son, so it goes at Limmud—it was great.
At one point Matt Barr, a rapper from Jerusalem joined the band, and I am not equipped to describe the magic that followed, that would take someone more musical and knowledgeable about rap than me, but I would just say Watch for this Guy.
Informal and often a bit jumbled, the session was far more musically professional and funny and emotional than I’d expected. Partly due, in fact, to Dov Rosenblatt’s generous spirit and soulful hosting of all concerned. He has been a favorite of mine for years, for his music and mix of spirituality and pop.
There is a very new Jewish music happening, and I felt that I was witnessing it. Live from Limmud.
Update: I’ve learned that the mom’s name is Linda Korn…Glad to give her the recognition!
February 13, 2010 | 8:08 pm
Posted by Susan Freudenheim
As Havdallah winds down and a few minutes lapse before dinner, the LimmudLA conference contains the same energy as previous years, but with perhaps more diversity within the ranks and more intensity in the classrooms.
Two years ago, when I was last here for the first LimmudLA, my first experience of the weekend-long Jewish learning experience, I found myself running from Torah study to marketing study group to comedy hours. And at that time, the largest number of participants in the all-volunteer experience were modern Orthodox; this time that group remains well represented, but there are more Conservative, Reform, secular and alternative types. More talk of Tikkun Olam (healing the world and social justice), of equality for women (a session on the Agunah, for example) and much talk of Israel, but from new angles.
I have been to four different sessions on Israel, Zionism, Plurality, and all boiled down to one theme – if Israel doesn’t confront the religious unrest among Jews, to create a more pluralistic approach to Judaism, the country could become deeply compromised economically as well as ethically. The religious Right has a stronghold on the politics of the state that seems disproportionate with their numbers. I am sorting through the words I heard all day, Shabbat, when I couldn’t take notes, but tried hard to remember.
I will write more about this, but I’m left with the question of why there’s so much talk of this domestic issue now, when I haven’t heard it so much before.
And the answer I got from Dr. Ariel Picard, director of the Center for Education at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem was quite encouraging: Israel is maturing, and it’s time to look inward. The issue of safety and strength may not be settled, but in many quarters, Israelis are feeling more secure.
The issue of respect for religious differences may be the great civil rights fight of Israel’s future. And we’re hearing a lot about that here at LimmudLA. In Costa Mesa.
February 5, 2010 | 5:54 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Los Angeles Councilwoman Jan Perry walked into my office at 5 pm yesterday and declared she’s running for Mayor of the City of Los Angeles.
I asked her if that was for print.
She nodded. “It’s out there,” she said. “People know. I just haven’t made my announcement on the steps of City Hall.”
There is time for that. The next mayoral race is in 2013; candidates don’t need to file until Jan. 11.
What Perry knows she does need is to become far more widely recognized.
She serves the Ninth District, covering downtown Los Angeles and south Los Angeles. Elected to office in 2001, her highest profile moment came this year when she served as Acting Mayor during the Michael Jackson memorial at Staples Center. Mayor Villaraigosa was out of town at the time. She also received national attention for a drive to limit fast food outlets in her largely minority district as a way to curb childhood obesity.
I asked Perry what she wants to do for Los Angeles.
“Focus on the economy, find new sources of revenue, create jobs,” was her quick reply.
In her district, she campaigned on a platform of “money, funding, community.” Perry handed me a blue folder with a couple of Xeroxed sheets listing her accomplishments. Among them: two wetland parks in highly urbanized South LA, a new $15 million multi-use City Hall there, a giant Fresh ‘n Easy grocery store, the LA Live complex of housing and retail across from the Staples Center.
So why did Perry come to see me?
For one, she’s Jewish. Perry, who is also African-American, converted to Judaism more than 20 years ago under the teaching of Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller at UCLA Hillel. According to a 2001 profile of her in The Jewish Journal:
“Judaism’s emphasis on the here and now, she says, was a major attractant.
That and a “broad-minded, inclusive approach to community, and to celebrating the differences among us.”
Perry said she attends synagogue occasionally downtown at the loft shul of Chabad Rabbi Moshe Greenwald. She documented her journey and political insights in a speech she gave last month at Sinai Temple, which was reprinted in part in The Jewish Journal:
I was deeply honored by the Anti-Defamation League earlier this year as a recipient of the ‘Deborah Award.’ Many people were surprised when I accepted the award that I declared as an African American, and as a Jewish woman the award meant a great deal to me.
Deborah was known for her great courage and functioned in many leadership roles: Military, Prophetess and Judge – women of the Torah offer us lessons in leadership courage, and the wise use of power. As an elected official, I make important decisions and take actions that require fortitude of mind, strong convictions, and the courage that accompanies the development of public policy.
Strong leadership requires consistency, and a commitment to bringing understanding, compassion to decision-making, and faith in ones own ability. The Legislative process is detailed, and takes time. Reasoning ability, communication, willingness to debate and defend ideas, and the tenacity needed to win is effortful and at times very hard.
In part, the faith I have in myself comes from my deep belief in my family. The stern lessons they taught me are derived from their life experience and their first-hand accounts of some very harsh realities including fighting hard to find success in a divided country. It comes from the lessons about how determined efforts may not always win out, but that a determined effort grounded in faith, hard work, and belief in our ability to make things work better is worth the effort.
She will undoubtedly turn to the Jewish community for votes and financial support. She said she is looking to raise $1 million early on, then a total of $2.5 million to compete in a primary that will likely include Councilman Eric Garcetti (note: Jewish too) and deep-pocketed developer Rick Caruso. The race could end up costing $5 million or more. Pocket change for Caruso, and doable for Garcetti, with a long list of Hollywood, Westside and Green movement contacts. But for Perry— I guess it is a smart thing to announce, early and often.
February 5, 2010 | 4:29 pm
Posted by Jay Firestone
Poor NBC. They just can’t seem to get anything right these days. As if the NBC execs don’t have their hands full with late-night tv squabble, they now have to deal with this mouth-watering disaster.
But seriously, what the hell were they thinking?
In honor of Black History Month, the NBC cafeteria served fried chicken, collard greens, and jalapeno cornbread today for lunch. The picture below was snapped by Questlove, the drummer for the Roots—Jimmy Fallon’s house band. He was also the musician that pointed out via Twitter that Conan spent half a million dollars on a walk-out song for Tom Hanks during his last episode.
Since this story has been circulating, NBC has removed the controversial sign from the cafeteria.
Read the full story at HuffingtonPost.com.
February 3, 2010 | 2:09 pm
Posted by Susan Freudenheim
One block of a Beverly Hills street will officially honor Theodore Herzl, the man who first envisioned the State of Israel and the founder of modern Zionism. A plaque will be installed later this year, around the time of Herzl’s 150th birthday, according to a spokeswoman for the Israel Consulate in Los Angeles.
The decision to honor Herzl on the block of 300 Clark Drive, in front of Temple Emanuel, was made at 2:30 a.m. on Feb. 3 at a Beverly Hills City Council meeting, at the end of a seven hour meeting on other city matters. It was proposed by Vice Mayor Jimmy Delshad, and endorsed by the Consul General of Israel Jacob Dayan.
“It’s truly an honor that the city of Beverly Hills would acknowledge a visionary whose dream of the Jewish statehood came to fruition. Israel is blooming today because of the dream of Theodor Herzl,” Consul General Dayan said in a written statement issued by the consulate. “It gives me tremendous pride to see a piece of Israel’s heritage and culture amidst this beautiful city.” Beverly Hills is the sister city of Herzliya, Israel – which is named after Theodore Herzl.
As for the street address for the synagogue, according to Marina Rozhansky, director of media and communications for the consulate, the issue is being pursued with the post office.
February 2, 2010 | 5:50 pm
Posted by Julie Gruenbaum Fax
A Los Angeles program to help families find the right Jewish preschool, camp or school was named in the decade’s top ten list of developments in Jewish education. Jewish Educational Services of North America (JESNA) said that the Jewish Education Concierge Program of the Builders of Jewish Education (BJE) of Los Angeles is a concrete mechanism that understands this new age of consumer-centric education.
“This is the age of choice in Jewish education: individuals and families choosing among multiple options to find the most meaningful and appropriate educational experiences,” the list read.
The Concierge program, launched in 2006, helps parents make choices through a comprehensive resource guide on JkidLA and through personal consulting services with two staff people familiar with both formal and informal educational institutions – from mommy and me to high school youth groups. All the services are free.
JESNA’s list also included programs like Birthright Israel, which gives a free trip to Israel to Jews between the ages of 18 and 26; online Jewish learning; service learning and the revitalization of Jewish camps.
Read the whole list here.