Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Secret Jewish History of the Indy 500

Relationship over-achievers will do anything for a few crumbs of warmth or even an illusion of a relationship. The illusion feels safer than loneliness. In my experience, if you have to work so hard to make a relationship "work", then something is terribly wrong. Good relationships do not require so much work. Emotionally healthy people do their utmost to be considerate and not hurt others.

Yes, family is important. But not at all costs. If you have abusive family members, know that you can create a "spiritual family" by finding other givers who can be trusted not to hurt you. If you are in a relationship with a person who hurts you frequently and who feels no shame about their actions, you need to maintain your distance.

Tolerating abuse teaches people to tolerate abuse.
Now this is general advice. Sometimes one has to put up with abuse, becasue the other person is too wounded to fix themselves so you have to help
Love Yehuda Lave

The Secret Jewish History of the Indianapolis 500

When I was a child, my family went on camping trips up and down the East Coast most summers. One year we went up to New Brunswick in Canada, to the Bay of Fundy, where we met another family who had kids our age, and we sort of teamed up for the week. They were from far western Canada and talked funny. When the other dad asked where we were from and we told him Islip, New York, he shocked us by saying: "Oh, I know Islip. There's a speedway there."

Little did we know that our obscure outpost on Long Island's South Shore was in fact world-famous, owing to the Islip Speedway's frequent appearances on ABC-TV's "Wide World of Sports." The speedway's unusual figure 8 track and its innovative Demolition Derby — which simply did away with the racing part of racing and instead flaunted the crashing part, apparently a huge part of racing's appeal, a kind of return-of-the-repressed Roman spectacle for 20th-century America — garnered the attention of fans of stock car racing and the merely curious all around the world. (The rules of the Demolition Derby demanded that every car hit another at least every 60 seconds or else face disqualification. The driver of the last car moving was the champion. I actually went to a few of these exhibitions, to which I attribute my latter-day fear and loathing of driving.)

As it turns out, Larry Mendelsohn, the father of a classmate of mine from Islip High School, invented the demolition derby. A former race car driver himself, and a nice Jewish guy from Long Island, Mendelsohn had a knack for promotion. His invention of the Demolition Derby World Championship and the Figure 8 World Championship brought our little town into living rooms and TV dens all over the world every Sunday. (It also made for a somewhat noisy town: We lived several miles from the track but could still hear the roar of the engines every Sunday.) The track also hosted legitimate — if that's the correct word — NASCAR races from the mid-1960s to the early '70s; Richard Petty won the final race there in 1971.

Armed with this knowledge, it didn't surprise me to learn that the most famous of stock car races, the Indy 500, boasts its own tribal links.

The Indianapolis 500 is held every year over Memorial Day weekend. This year, the 102nd running of the race took place Sunday, May 27. The event, one of the top three motorsport races in the world — the others being the Monaco Grand Prix and the 24 Hours of Le Mans — annually attracts more than a quarter-million spectators to Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (It's located in Speedway, Indiana — what a coincidence!) The challenge for Indy 500 drivers is to steer their cars counterclockwise around a 2.5-mile oval circuit 200 times, for a total distance of 500 miles. Just thinking about that makes me dizzy. I'm not even going to tell you how fast they drive, because it makes my head explode. Suffice it to say that it's about four times as fast as the average speed limit on a normal highway.

Even if you're not a fan, you probably couldn't have avoided at some point hearing the names of Indy 500 champions such as A.J. Foyt and Al Unser. But what about Mauri Rose, Eddie Sachs, Peter Revson and Alon Day?

Mauri Rose was a successful race car driver in the 1940s. He won the Indy 500 in 1941, then won back-to-back races in 1947 and 1948. But while he was victorious, he was not a fan favorite. According to Ross R. Olney, author of "This Is Indy!" flyers featuring the words "Jew or Not Jew" printed underneath Rose's picture were passed around the grandstands whenever he raced.

A decade and a-half later, when Peter Revson raced at Indianapolis, flyers reappeared in the grandstands. These, according to Olney, excused the driver as only a "half Jew" — although it's not quite clear if his mother, child actress Julie Phelps, was Jewish. Revson, himself a scion of the Revson family that founded Revlon cosmetics, was killed in a test session for a race in South Africa in 1974.

The Idianapolis Speedway itself was co-developed by a man named Carl Fisher. While Fisher wasn't Jewish, he did go on to develop a swampy stretch of bug-infested land between the city of Miami and the ocean as a vacation retreat he dubbed Miami Beach. Fisher used his power and influence to fight for jobs and housing for African Americans in Indianapolis and then again in Miami Beach, to fight restrictions against Jews for membership in Miami Beach golf and country clubs, and to support Jewish candidates for the Miami Beach City Council. He lost friends over his support of Mitchell Wolfson, Miami Beach's first Jewish mayor.

In the past few years, Israeli race car driver Alon Day has been tearing up the NASCAR field — the first Israeli to compete in the league. Last fall he became the first Israeli driver, and probably the first Jewish driver, to win the NASCAR European championship. Last year he told Autoweek magazine that his "ultimate goal" is to race in the Indy 500.

Now that's a race I just might watch.

By Seth Rogovoy for the Forward

uth Bader Ginsburg Documentary has Become an Unlikely Box-Office Hit

A scene of Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the documentary, RBG. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

They arrived wearing robes—their daughters and granddaughters in tow—to watch the making of feminist-icon Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. From El Paso to Oklahoma City, Charlottesville to Nashville, audiences are turning up to see the new CNN documentary RBG on the big screen. Since its limited release on May 4, the film has grossed over $4 million on 375 screens. By Friday it will hit $4.5 million. (Only the 25 top-grossing docs of all time have crossed into double-digit numbers, with most staying under $1 million.)

"We are the documentary of the year," said Neal Block, president of distribution for Magnolia Pictures, the indie outfit that acquired the film, with partner Participant Media, at the Sundance Film Festival. "I think the film is an incredibly profound statement about hope in America and people are responding to that."

In a summer dominated by superhero movies, with little options available for the discerning moviegoer, RBG, from directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West, is providing a welcome respite. The film, produced by CNN, provides an intimate look into Ginsburg's personal and professional life, from her decades-long work on gender equality to her 56-year love affair with her husband, Martin Ginsburg. (He passed away in 2010.) The film also delves into her cultural import, from her hip, "Notorious R.B.G." moniker to Kate McKinnon's irreverent portrayal of her on Saturday Night Live, (which Ginsburg later impersonated). And then there is the priceless footage of her lifting weights at the gym and planking like a woman 30 years her junior.

"This documentary gives audiences amazing access to the 85-year-old justice, which is a very unusual thing," said Diane Weyermann, president of documentary films and television at Participant Media. "There is an intimacy here. You are just so close to the justice. The storytelling is resonating with people."

At the O Cinema in Miami Beach, the theater organized a post-film discussion session with women leaders in the community. The Austin Film Society organized its own photo-op station in the lobby for audiences to pose in RBG garb, while the Belcourt Theatre in Nashville hosted "every high-profile feminist in town" on opening night and has since held receptions for different groups, from high-school film clubs to political organizations seeking to elect progressive women to office.

RBG opened in 34 theaters in 10 cities and grossed well over $500,000—with an unbelievable per-screen average of $17,000. Magnolia, which initially planned to expand to 125 theaters on Mother's Day, instead added 145 theaters and grossed over $1 million that weekend. Its third week of release brought in an additional $1.2 million on 375 screens. The doc will be in 400 theaters this Memorial Day weekend. Magnolia just might get to its highest numbers ever with this film, thanks to the enthusiasm of women, both older and younger, who are showing up in droves. (Magnolia Pictures's top-grossing film is last year's documentary, I Am Not Your Negro, which earned over $7 million in total box office and was nominated for an Academy Award.)

"The film's performance has encouraged exhibitors who wouldn't normally play a doc to take a chance," said Block, adding that the film should perform well during the next two weekends until the new Mr. Rogers documentary Won't You Be My Neighbor opens, posing new competition. "I think our core run of 75-100 theaters will be able to hold on through the end of July and into August."

The RBG movement will not end when the days shorten. While Justice Ginsburg, herself, keeps making news with her fiery dissents from the bench—on Monday she took the uncommon step of reading aloud her dissent on a controversial ruling that favors employers over employees in arbitration proceedings—another group of filmmakers under the Participant Media banner are tackling the icon's roots in a feature film starring Felicity Jones and Armie Hammer as Ruth and Marty Ginsburg. From director Mimi Leder (The Leftovers), On the Basis of Sex tackles the early days of Ginsburg's career, from her admittance to Harvard Law School as one of nine women enrollees, to the first case challenging gender-equality statutes. The film opens November 9 and Participant, Jeff Skoll's production company that eyes projects with social messages, plans to use the momentum they've created with RBG to help lure audiences into On the Basis of Sex.

"When we do campaigns, we love to have them live beyond one particular film," said Weyermann. "It was a great opportunity to start our campaign [on gender-equality issues] with the documentary and follow it into the narrative film this fall."

The company is levying its relationships with the A.C.L.U., law firms across the country, and other progressive organizations and corporations to get audiences excited about this RBG moment, especially some of those super-fans who are depicted in the film, and those hoping to use the message of the doc to motivate those fighting for social justice. In the end, though, it's the petite, soft-spoken powerhouse who is the ultimate lure.

"This is an example of a film coming out at exactly the right moment," said Weyermann. "The cultural zeitgeist is embracing this film, this message, and this individual. We saw it before with An Inconvenient Truth and we are seeing it again with this. She is a true superhero and people are celebrating that."

By Nicole Sperling for Vanity Fair

What Can We Learn From Wendy's Shabbat?

"Wendy's Shabbat," directed by Rachel Myers, screened at the Tribeca Film Festival. Photo Credit: Wendy's Shabbat/3 Penny Design.

" Wendy's Shabbat" is a short film about a group of retired senior citizens who celebrate Shabbat together weekly at Wendy's in Palm Desert, California. I recently saw it at the Tribeca Film Festival. Here are my main takeaways of what we can learn from our elders about shaping Jewish community for all.

1. Peer Leadership is essential

In the film, Sharon Goodman, 79 had the idea to go to Wendy's on a Friday evening when she had nothing to do. Lou Silberman, 91, took charge and calls Wendy's each week to make the sure the tables are set up. Rabbi Isaiah Zeldin, 97, led the prayers over the candles, challah, and grape juice (Wendy's does not allow wine). Roberta Mahler, 88, sought to connect with others after the loss of her husband and attends these weekly dinners. These seniors tried to solve their own problems and in doing so, created community for others in similar situations. Mike Uram describes this type of leadership it in his book "Next Generation Judaism," as a key engagement tool. As a Hillel professional, he employed students as interns to connect with their peers. Shabbat and Wendy's have been around for quite some time (Shabbat a little longer) but it was not until Ms. Goodman put the two together to solve her own problem was she able to build community amongst her peers. In your community, who will be your Ms. Goodman or your Mr. Silberman or your Rabbi Zeldin?

2. People are looking for a sense of belonging

Maybe what made summer camp so great wasn't the immersive informal Jewish education programming, but rather cabin time. Cabin time was a chance to connect and share with the rest of my bunkmates. The seniors in the film are not seeking the most impressive cantor, rabbi or religious service – they are seeking each other. In the film, Ms. Mahler explained, "Living by yourself and having a group like going to Wendy's gives you a feeling of belonging." What if we view Judaism as a way to connect people to build community? In Dr. Ron Wolfson's book "Relational Judaism," he argues how important relationships are to transform the Jewish community. The seniors keep coming back to Wendy's for each other (and maybe the french fries) since it's their version of cabin time.

3. Support for all generations

As a Jewish millenial, I see a lot of initiatives to engage my demographic. Free trips, free dinners, free books, free, free, free. I wish funders would stop being so afraid about Jewish continuity and shift focus from next generation engagement to supporting all generations. How can community leaders best support all humans at any stage who want to take part in Jewish life and community? For $4 a week, Rabbi Zeldin gets a hamburger, fries, a drink, chicken nuggets and his quirky "congregation." What the seniors at their DIY Jewish "Wendy's Shabbat" describe is the same thing that I, as a millenial, also want from my Judaism. "I kept expecting the seniors to talk about religion, but they kept focusing instead on community and connection, which was really moving and uplifting." Director Rachel Myers told The New York Times. There is a fear the "next generation" are not joining legacy institutions and Judaism is going to "die out." Maybe Judaism will just look a little different and more like Wendy's in Palm Desert and that's okay.

By Amy Schilit Benarroch

6 Surprising Lessons I Learned Working at the Holocaust Museum

The Holocaust Memorial Museum is located on the National Mall in Washington DC.

I started an awesome new job at the beginning of this year: I'm a social media producer for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in D.C.

I know, it doesn't necessarily sound awesome in the typical sense. Usually, when I tell people where I work, they respond with something less like "Cool!" and more like, "Oh wow, I went there in eighth grade and it was really sad." And, yes — of course — it's sad. I work with stories from the Holocaust all day, every day. But that's also why I love my job so much. Each morning, I come into work and learn something new that either shakes me up or makes me believe in humanity again. Shall I give some examples? It's time for a listicle.

1. Interacting with Holocaust survivors is unreal.

There are about 70 Holocaust survivors who volunteer their time at the museum — whether it's staffing the Donor Desk in the Hall of Witness or telling their personal stories in our First Person series.

Honestly, any opportunity I get to interact with the survivors is a highlight of my day — they're each incredible. I got to meet a new volunteer on her first day with us, and after I explained what I did for the museum and that I was new too, she looked at me and said, "I'm going to tell you something I don't normally talk about."

She described fleeing Nazi Germany on the last day that Jews were allowed to have passports. Her family had managed to get visas for the Dominican Republic, but it was still difficult for them to leave—a Nazi official watched them pack their bags to make sure they didn't bring anything of value with them, and then they were searched again as their train crossed the border with France. Still, her older brother somehow managed to smuggle her father's ring, a treasured family heirloom, past all the checkpoints. Her father was furious when he found out: if he'd been discovered, the entire family would have been severely punished. But, miraculously, the ring remained a secret until they were all safely out of Germany. It was clearly a very scary moment for her to recall, but I was so grateful that she shared it with me.

A few weeks later at my new employee orientation, a woman who survived Auschwitz as a teenager told me, "I'm so happy that good people like you care about what happened to me," and I'm pretty sure that was the moment I peaked as a human being.

2. All kinds of people visit the museum — and that's a good thing.

I'll never forget this: It was a few weeks before I started work, and I stopped by the museum to have my ID badge made. I walked out of the building in the best mood, thinking about how amazing my new job was going to be and all the important things I'd do, only to bump into a pack of young men on their way into the museum. One of them was wearing a shirt with Jimmy Kimmel's face on it, surrounded by the words, "SCHUMER'S B***H."

I was furious. How could someone walk into the Holocaust Museum with that shirt on? I called my boyfriend to vent while I walked home, and he reminded me, "Well, don't you think that's exactly the kind of person who needs to see the Holocaust Museum?" It shut me up pretty quick.

In the five months I've been at the museum, I can't tell you how many times I've heard the reminder, "We're a public institution." Regardless of their views, anyone can come here. And I think everyone should come here.

3. There are always new and infuriating things to learn about Nazis.

For example, did you know that Joseph Goebbels, the propaganda minister who helped convince an entire country that disabled people were "life unworthy of life," had a clubfoot and walked with a limp? The hypocrisy knew no bounds. Sometimes I have to get up from my desk and walk around because I get so steamed reading about these people. I've always known that Nazis are very bad, obviously, but every little detail I pick up puts their atrocities in sharper perspective.

4. We aren't just a history museum.

I didn't know this until I started working here, but preserving history is only part of the museum's mission to be a "living memorial" to the Holocaust. The Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide studies and identifies areas where crimes against humanity and acts of genocide could occur. Some of the work CPG is doing right now includes the Rohingya people in Myanmar and the tense political situation in Mali. After all, there's no point in learning our history if we don't apply it to what's currently happening right now.

5. Self-care is not optional.

Working at the Holocaust Museum can get heavy. I spend a lot of my time digging through the archives, and there have been moments when I've stumbled across something that ruined my entire day.

More than any job I've ever had, I have to pay attention to how I'm feeling and take breaks when I need them. If I read something really upsetting or accidentally watch some footage I didn't want to see, I make sure to go outside and get some sunshine on my face to clear my head. I also eliminated my history channel binges at home.

And, since I have an anxiety disorder, I make extra-double-sure to take my medication every day.

6. And finally: Hitler had both testicles, and he also wasn't ~secretly Jewish~.

There are a lot of popular rumors about Hitler having a "shocking secret" that fueled his aggression, and I've heard all of them. I'm afraid he was just an anti-Semite in high-waisted pants.

By Abbey Hartley for Alma

Israeli flag cookie mosaic breaks Guinness World Record

Zvi Herman    
Tuesday, 05 June 1:46 PM
The Jewish community of Atlanta, Georgia, has broken the Guinness World Record for the largest cookie mosaic, by building an enormous Israeli flag. 
Congregation Beth Jacob - in the presence of Michael Empric, a judge from Guinness World Records - used about 117,000 blue-and-white cookies on Sunday to assemble an Israeli flag that was more than 3,200 square feet in size. 
Full Story (Jerusalem Post)

Tens of thousands in New York cheer Israel's anniversary with signs, song and wonder (Pics)

Zev Stub    
Monday, 04 June 11:10 PM

Beautifully crafted and decorated signs were in full display on June 3 at "Celebrate Israel" parade, many of them paying homage to this year's theme of "70 and Sababa!" Others held by the tens of thousands of people from the New York and elsewhere focused on Israel's unity, strength and freedom. One sign read "Israel @70: Still Putting Its Stamp on the Future," while another said "70 Years a Free People in Our Own Land." Some marchers held signs that said "70" or "SABABA" in big, bright letters, while others held posters that depicted Israel's innovations, such as the navigation app Waze. Another group of marchers held a banner that featured pictures of Israel's popular sites, such as the Western Wall, Dead Sea and the open-air Middle Eastern marketplaces known as "shuks."

The America China Public Affairs Institute had a float that boosted Israel's friendship with China by featuring an enlarged photograph of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and China's President Xi Jinping. Another banner held by marchers read "70 years of turning desert land into green land," and one group towards the end of the parade held signs with the pictures of Lt. Hadar Goldin and Sgt. Oron Shaul—two Israel Defense Force soldiers killed in action by Hamas during Israel's "Operation Protective Edge" in 2014. Written on the same signs was a popular Jewish phrase that translates to: "All of Israel is responsible for one another."

The five-hour procession, which went up Manhattan's Fifth Avenue from 57th Street to 74th Street, included a number of special guests, including Dr. Ruth Westheimer, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Israeli Minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James (who is running for attorney general), Israeli chef Eyal Shani and Israeli Consul General Dani Dayan. Earlier in the day, Israeli Consul General of New York Dayan, said that outside of Jerusalem, New York is "the capital of the world."

New York Govenor Andrew Cuomo, who is running for reelection, served as the parade's honorary grand marshal.

"Too often today diversity is seen as a weakness, but we know it's our strength. NY wouldn't be NY without the Jewish community," Cuomo said in tweet.

American Friends of Magen David Adom, one of the sponsors of the parade, noted that the organization works alongside the Israel Defense Forces, saving lives 24 hours a day. The parade is important, an MDA spokesperson told JNS, because it helps New Yorkers feel connected to that same mission, "even when we're thousands of miles away."

Jewish rapper Kosher Dillz and singer  Lipa Schmeltzer were among the event's performers. Many of the groups that marched in the parade played popular Israeli songs, including the now ever-present "Toy," the song performed by Israeli Netta Barzilai that won this year's Eurovision.


Security was tightened at this year's event, with double metal barricades placed on each block down the path of the parade—something not done in previous years. The New York City Police Department said that more than 1,000 officers, bomb-sniffing dogs, sharpshooters on rooftops and radiation-detection devices were used to secure the area surrounding the event, according to the Associated Press. Sanitation trucks filled with sand-blocked streets were stationed to prevent vehicle attacks. NYPD Chief of Patrol Rodney Harrison noted that precautions were taken in response to threats of terrorism in Israel, the Middle East, Europe and around the world.

Anti-Israel protesters at the parade were confined to a small area on Fifth Avenue, south of Central Park. At the end of the parade, they were escorted by police officers to a nearby parking garage, where many of them had left their vehicles, to avoid any violence that may have ensued with Israel supporters. No incidents were reported.

'A country to go to'

Rachel, 75, a native New Yorker who lives a few blocks away from the site of the parade, said she has been attending the parade every year, and it always makes her emotional. She told JNS: "I started to cry just now [watching the parade]. Every year, I get so enamored. What we go through in life, and yet we survive. My dad was a Holocaust survivor. You realize the chutzpah and courage we have to survive anything that we're going through."

"We have survived all these attacks that we've had," she added. "Hashem is taking care of us. We are his people. His chosen people."

Lior Arussy, also a New Yorker, said he is proud of Israel's innovation and how the country is making a change in the world. He told JNS, "I think Israel has made a lot of impact on the world, and the fact that such a small tiny place can do that, it's cool. … It's all about the lax way in which Israel just makes it happen, even though it's not disciplined and rigid. I think the country has shown a lot of flexibility in order to survive both the threats and the opportunities."

Menachem Jacob, a father of two, said he believes Israel's greatest accomplishment in the last 70 years is bringing democracy to the Middle East. He added that Israel provides safety net for those seeking refuge. He explained, "My parents are Holocaust survivors. So just to feel safe that my kids and their kids can grow up knowing that they have a country they can go to if they get in the same kind of trouble my parents got into … that's my favorite part about Israel."

Although the parade ended at 4 p.m., additional celebrations were held in Central Park, with festivities continuing in the evening in Times Square with music by Israeli singer Shiri Maimon and DJ Omri Anghel. There was also a display of Israeli innovation and a recap of the country's first 70 years across the screens of Times Square. Dayan addressed the hundreds of people who gathered there, talking about the significance of taking over the Manhattan hotspot and covering it "in blue and white" to celebrate Israel's 70 years of independence.

And Danon said on Sunday: "It's gratifying to see the support that Israel receives in New York, throughout the United States and from all over the world." (JNS)

See you tomorrow
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