Written by Barbara Bayer, Editor
Thursday, June 13 2013 11:00
A local Jewish student was denied entry into the United Kingdom late last month. After being detained for more than nine hours, he was put back on a plane to the United States by customs officials. During that time he was never told why he was being denied entry. He was told his photo and fingerprints have now been placed in a database that will make it difficult for him to obtain entry into the U.K. or any other E.U. country.
The U.K. man who had offered Louis “Chip” Cantor summer work experience and is not Jewish, Kevin Shilling, said the U.K. Border Agency agent he spoke to in his attempt to get Cantor admitted into the country made more than one anti-Semitic comment to him during the telephone conversation they had.
Chip Cantor told his story to two local television stations last week. On Tuesday, June 4, the 23-year-old student told KMBC he was traveling to the U.K. to visit and gain summer work experience and to participate in a fundraiser for a child who has cancer. He left Kansas City on Wednesday, May 29, on an early-morning flight and waited in line to go through customs after landing in the country after 10 p.m. London time. When he got to the front of the line, a female customs agent began looking at his passport and treated him courteously. The routine exercise ended when she noticed the two pages in his passport with Israeli visas.
“I spent my freshman year studying abroad in Israel,” he said.
Cantor is no longer speaking publicly about the incident.
“I am feeling ‘publicized out’ at the moment,” he commented via email.
In the same email, Chip wrote that he never really wanted to tell his story publicly.
“My only real goal with this fiasco is to get my fingerprints and picture removed from their database and the blacked out stamp in my passport removed as well,” he said.
Cantor said he understands people with Israel visas are frequently denied entry into countries all over the world.
“Usually with very little explanation as to why they are being denied entry. It is sad, but it is the reality we are living in. This will, of course, never change my love for Israel, it will only make it grow stronger,” he said.
The Cantor family has contacted the office of Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts for assistance in getting Chip Cantor’s name cleared.
The customs nightmare
Chip’s father Chuck Cantor said his son told him the female customs agent — who for some reason was not dressed in a customs uniform — was very pleasant toward him until she saw the Israel stamps in his passport. Then she simply walked away with his passport without speaking a word to him. Chip told his father he estimates she was gone 45 minutes to an hour. He never saw her again.
“He has a lot of Israel stamps,” Chuck said. Chip has been to Israel several times including two programs sponsored by Young Judaea — the six-week Machon program and a gap-year program. Chip Cantor graduated from Shawnee Mission East High School in 2009 and will be a senior in the fall at Florida Gulf Coast University.
Finally, according to Chuck, a different, uniformed customs agent came to see him. Chip was told they were taking his bags and detaining him for questioning. He was not told why.
Once in the interview room Chip told his father that he was told if he changed any of his answers to any questions, he was going to go to prison.
“He said, ‘Why would I change my answers? I told you the truth,’ ” Chuck said.
Chip wasn’t allowed to be in sight of his luggage and eventually was put into what he described to his father as a detention cell.
“At some point a woman who was wearing a burka came to the cell to photograph him,” Chuck said. At that point he was fingerprinted as well.
As she’s doing this, she said to him, “We’re putting your name and fingerprints and photos into a database. From now on it is going to be very difficult for you to ever travel in the United Kingdom or anywhere in the E.U. It will be up to each individual country to decide if they want to admit you,” Chuck said his son was told.
Chuck said Chip kept telling the customs agents he had not committed any crimes or done anything wrong. Eventually another agent came to tell Chip he was being deported. Now several hours after he was detained, Chip was given the opportunity to call his father.
Chuck said he advised his son to ask to speak to someone from the American consulate or the U.S. embassy. Those requests were denied.
At this point, Chuck asked to speak directly to the customs agent and was connected with Philip G. Yeomans.
“I was trying to get my son into that country. I was very calm. I called him sir, I was very respectful,” said Chuck, who continued to explain that he was sure his son had the appropriate paperwork to enter the country.
After Chuck spoke to Yeomans, he contacted Shilling in the U.K. for assistance. It was about 3 a.m. U.K. time. Shilling called Yeomans.
Shilling noted the conversation didn’t accomplish anything. Several times, however, Yeomans made anti-Semitic comments to Shilling. At one point, when Shilling was explaining the reason Chip was in the country, the customs agent told Shilling that Chip should have lied to the customs agent, adding, “A Jewish kid would find that easy,” Shilling reported.
Yeomans the custom agent also told Shilling any additional attempts to aid Cantor would be useless and “the little Jew will be on his way back to his rich daddy,” in a matter of hours.
Chuck Cantor said during the time Chip was in detention, he was given only a half of a sandwich and very little water. When Chip asked for more food and water over several hours, he was alternately denied, told to “stop pestering” them, and told he could have water “only if you say please.”
In the morning, Chip was escorted to the plane by another customs agent for a flight back to the United States. At this time Chip asked the agent for his passport and was refused.
“The guy walks him onto the plane and in front of everyone, like a prisoner, he says here is this man’s passport. Do not give him his passport until you land in the United States,” Chuck said he was told. The American Airlines purser told Chip that, in 17 years flying internationally, he had never seen anything like it.
Less than 36 hours after leaving Kansas City, Chip was back in town.
Shilling, Chip’s would-be employer in the U.K., is helping the Cantors try to clear the young man’s name there. When contacted by The Chronicle Shilling said, “I’m really so sorry for Chip and the way he was treated. I want to reassure all your readers that if they plan a visit to the U.K., once they get past the U.K. Border Agency they will find friendly, welcoming people, without prejudice.”
Written by Kris Baker, Contributing Writer
Thursday, June 13 2013 11:00
Many teens begin their summer vacation by hanging out at the pool or seeing a movie. But not Lissa Leibson. She will be traveling to Washington, D.C., next week to receive a special award from the United States Congress.
Lissa, who will be a senior at The Barstow school when school begins in August, decided to take part in the Congressional Award Program, a program open to American students ages 14 to 23, because she likes to be challenged.
“I wanted to stretch myself by setting a long term goal, working toward it, and then achieve it. I’d also been doing a lot of community service before starting the award program, but after signing up for the award, I finally had a goal in mind for my community service.”
Lissa has earned a gold award and will travel to Washington, D.C., with her mother Andrea Poisner-Corchine and her grandfather, Eugene Leibson, to receive it. The ceremony will be held Wednesday, June 19, at the Cannon House Building on Capitol Hill. The ceremonies are divided by state, and each will include a color guard presentation, invocation, speakers, and a brief introduction of each medalist as they receive their medals. Congressmen from each state present the medals to their state’s award recipients.
Participants can earn recognition in the Bronze, Silver and Gold categories. The average number of Bronze Medals awarded per year is roughly 2,500, Silver Medals average 1,200 and Gold Medals average 250 to 275. For the local area, Kansas has eight gold medalists, six silver medalists and eight bronze medalists.
The Congressional Award Program consists of four parts: Volunteer Public Service, Personal Development, Physical Fitness, and Expedition/Exploration. Participants are required to set goals in each of the four areas.
Lissa believes she had a truly rewarding experience in each area.
Lissa’s goal in the Volunteer Public Service category was to improve the lives of children in the Kansas City area. In order to complete this goal, she volunteered with Cancer Action, with gym classes in Barstow’s lower school, The Ronald McDonald House, Operation Breakthrough and Summer at Barstow.
“Volunteering at Summer at Barstow Camp was where I first discovered my passion for working with younger kids,” Lissa said. “Being an only child and not knowing any kids in my old neighborhood, I have grown up mostly around adults. So, working with kids was out of my comfort zone. However, I learned to love working with younger kids and I have subsequently volunteered there each summer. I helped out in a variety of classes including sports, art and math programs. While volunteering, I also learned a lot from the campers, such as how to play the Pokémon card game and the alluring qualities of Silly Bandz.”
For Personal Development, she chose playing the piano and gardening with her parternal grandfather, Eugene Leibson.
“When I was in lower school, my grandpa and I started having a garden,” Lissa said. “However, I only helped out when it was time to pick our crops. As I got older, I wanted to have the satisfaction of knowing that I could grow my own food. I began researching the best kinds of crops to grow, planted, weeded and watered throughout the summer. The most rewarding part was after so many hours of watering and weeding, I finally got to eat the food that I grew.”
In the area of physical fitness, Lissa set her goal to learn to play tennis. She accomplished this goal with two different activities, practicing and conditioning. A secondary goal was to be selected her school’s junior varsity tennis team as a junior.
“To achieve this goal, I began taking tennis lessons during the off-season and even did a bit of conditioning to stay in shape,” Lissa said. “Unfortunately, toward the beginning of the season during my sophomore year, I pulled a muscle in my hip and was out for most of the season. However, I continued to take year-round lessons off-season. During the tennis season of my junior year, I played in the top four positions at each match. I also participated in the Sixth Annual JV Northtown Invitational in 2012 and our team placed first. I plan to make the Varsity team my senior year.”
For her exploration trip, Lissa decided to go to Israel with NCSY’s TJJ program.
“One of my favorite experiences was when we went to volunteer at an organization called Chazon Yish’aya,” she said. “This organization helps feed homeless people in Israel and also helps them find work. The day we were volunteering we were with another group of regular volunteers. I helped by washing and cutting onions to be put in the soup and by carrying watermelons to the room where other people cut them. The regular volunteers could barely speak English, and most of the teens on my trip could barely speak Hebrew. However, it was amazing how even though both groups of volunteers came from different cultures and spoke different languages, we could still come together and work toward the same goal: providing a positive impact on the local community.”
As she was able to relate a personal experience in every category, Lissa earned the highest honor, the Congressional Gold Award.
Getting involved is nothing new for Lissa. As a member of Congregation Beth Shalom and part of the Confirmation Class of 2012, she has taken part in several local Jewish group activities.
She is in BBG’s Saadia chapter as well as a part of Kansas City’s NCSY youth group. She enjoys NCSY for the social aspects and the sense of Jewish heritage it brings to her life.
“I love NCSY because I used to go to HBHA when I was in lower school, and since leaving I’d felt as though I was losing my connection to Judaism,” she said. “But NCSY has helped me connect with Judaism again. I love hanging out with and learning from other kids who are so passionate about Judaism.”
Lissa said she would not have been able to complete all the requirements and be recognized as a congressional gold medalist without the support of her family — her mom and step-dad (Andrea Poisner-Corchine and Robert Corchine), her dad and step-mom (David Leibson and Barbara Kovacs), her maternal grandparents (Lorraine Chadwick and Rita and Larry Poisner) and her paternal grandfather (Eugene Leibson).
Written by Barbara Bayer, Editor
Thursday, June 13 2013 11:00
Before 9/11, Sheila Sonnenschein lived comfortably among mostly Jewish people. A meeting with a Muslim woman following that tragic event not quite 12 years ago grew into a strong friendship and eventually opened a variety of new doors for Sonnenschein. One has been the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council, an organization she has been leading since the beginning of this year.
Sonnenschein is officially GKCIC’s convener and will serve in that position until the last day of 2014. She explained that as its convener, she acts as a facilitator who tries to bring people together in some kind of consensus.
“But in essence, it is like being president,” Sonnenschein said.
GKCIC bills itself as “Building the most welcoming community for all people.” Its website says the organization is “growing a sustainable, pervasive culture of knowledge, respect, appreciation and trust amongst people of all faiths and religious traditions in the greater Kansas City community.”
Sonnenschein said GKCIC tries to educate people around the Kansas City community about different religions. It does so through a variety of programs “where everyone is invited to come and learn.”
“Educating people about different faiths and cultures helps break down stereotypes. It also prevents stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination,” Sonnenschein said.
GKCIC programs include its annual Tables of Faiths luncheon, Food and Thought Dinners, two book clubs, a monthly discussion group called Vital Conversations, a speakers bureau and its upcoming Midsummer’s Light (for more information, see box). Details regarding GKCIC programs are on its website, kcinterfaith.org.
GKCIC was established in 1989 as the Kansas City Interfaith Council (KCIFC) by the Rev. Vern Barnet. The council became its own non-profit organization in 2005. The following 15 faiths are officially a part of the organization: American Indian Spirituality, Baha’i Faith, Buddhism, Christian-Protestant, Christian-Orthodox, Christian-Roman Catholicism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Paganism, Sikhism, Sufism, Unitarian Universalism, Vedanta and Zoroastrianism.
Sonnenschein, a member of Congregation Beth Shalom, is the first Jewish person to be the group’s convener. Other Jewish people who serve as an adviser or director include Gayle Krigel and Susan Choucroun.
Advisers or directors either officially represent one of the 15 religions or are members at large. In 2005, Sonnenschein’s friend Mahnaz Shabbir, who was an at-large member, invited Sonnenschein to serve GKCIC as her alternate.
“At-large members are people who are a friend to interfaith and they don’t necessarily represent a religion. So even though Mahnaz is Muslim, she asked me to be her alternate because she and I have a lot of the same kind of thinking toward being open to others and working with people of different faiths,” Sonnenschein explained.
Sonnenschein immediately enjoyed her association with GKCIC.
“It just spoke to me. I really enjoyed meeting all these new people of all these different backgrounds and it really inspired me to understand others. I grew up in a Conservative Jewish home. I went to the Hebrew Academy through seventh grade. I was very involved in my Jewish heritage. I really didn’t have that many non-Jewish friends. That has now changed,” said Sonnenschein.
She eventually became active in the organization, serving as an at-large member, co-convener and planning programs such as the Tables of Faith luncheon and the predecessor of Midsummer’s Light, Winter’s Light. She said the upcoming Midsummer’s Light will feature stories, music and dance of different faiths and cultures, including the Tikvah Dancers.
“This is a way to educate people about different faiths and cultures that they may not have heard about or know much about,” she said.
Getting together with members of the GKCIC is always a learning experience, Sonnenschein said, even at business meetings. Those are held at 6 p.m. on the second Monday of the month at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church and are open to the public.
“For example as we talked about Midsummer’s Light we learned that the dancers needed to be dressed modestly,” Sonnenschein said, noting that some types of costumes are offensive to some religious groups.
Over the years Sonnenschein said members of GKCIC have learned to better understand what is acceptable, and sometimes not acceptable, to members of certain religions and have tried hard to balance those things. One of those is when to schedule programs.
“The other directors have learned over the years that the Jewish community would prefer not to have programs on the Jewish Sabbath. So we try not to schedule things from Friday night to Saturday night if at all possible. That is one thing people of other religions have learned about Judaism,” she said.
“Until there was a Jewish presence on the council the directors didn’t really understand that and now they do, and it’s wonderful,” she added.
But, holding programs on Sundays isn’t ideal for some other religions, she pointed out.
“Programs held on a Sunday might preclude people who are Christian who go to church on a Sunday afternoon from attending. We are trying to balance it out,” Sonnenschein said.
Other than its advisers and members at large, GKCIC doesn’t have any official membership roster, although it has 2,300 people on its mailing list. But that’s about to change, Sonnenschein said, as the organization is preparing to launch a membership program where they can have official members.
In the meantime, one thing she wants people to be sure to understand about GKCIC is that members don’t try to convert one another to their particular religions and the group isn’t about interfaith marriage.
“In this context when we say interfaith, to me it means multi-faith in a sense of getting to know others because they are our neighbors. In the Interfaith Council there is no attempt at converting people to another religion. In actuality we are there to appreciate and respect other’s religions and just learn.
“What I have found, and what many others have found, is that when we learn about other religions we actually become more committed and more understanding of our own religion,” she said.
The Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council presents Midsummer’s Light: an afternoon of interfaith music, dance and storytelling, from 2 to 4:30 p.m. Sunday, June 23, at the Kansas City Library, Plaza Branch. A reception follows the program, which is free and open to the public.
Syed Shabbir, 41 Action News reporter, will again emcee. In addition, he and his uncle, Shadman Shabbir, will perform traditional Middle Eastern music on the harmonium and violin.
The program also features crystal singing bowls and Sanskrit chants by Jeri Birdsall, Chinese Lion dancers and drummers, Gospel songs by Bryan Austin, Tikvah Israeli Dancers, “A Story of ‘Abdu’l-Baha,” by dramatist Joyce Stohr, a scene from the play “Harriet Tubman” by Shirley Johnson, a tribute to Swami Vivekananda by Hindu youth, and African drumming by Bird Fleming and youth members of the Traditional Music Society.
The event is co-sponsored by the Kansas City Public Library and Cultural Crossroads.
Last Updated on Wednesday, June 12 2013 11:02
Thursday, June 13 2013 11:00
If you ask Patricia Werthan Uhlmann why she chose to take on the responsibility of leading the Jewish Federation as the incoming board of directors’ chair, it quickly becomes clear that it is about linking her own history as a Jewish woman to the future of Jewish life.
“I’m honored to take on this tremendous responsibility. I’m paying it forward — for the future of my family, and of this community. I want to see the Federation engage and grow and strengthen,” said Uhlmann.
Uhlmann is well qualified to take on the role with her long history of serving the Jewish community. She is currently wrapping up her position as chair of the Jewish Federation’s Allocations Committee. Previous Federation roles include Campaign co-chair and Women’s Division (now Women’s Philanthropy) president. Uhlmann also currently serves on the executive committee of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), where she is vice chair of the 100th Anniversary JDC “Shabbat Around the World.” She has also been chair of JDC’s Europe Committee, as well as chair of JDC’s International Development Program.
“For many years, Tricia has been a great friend to the Jewish Federation and the Jewish community. She truly embodies our mission — to sustain and enhance Jewish life at home and around the world — dedicating her time to garner resources and improve the lives of those in Kansas City and around the world through her JDC work,” said Miriam Scharf, who will complete her term as Jewish Federation board chair in September.
Said Todd Stettner, executive vice president and CEO of Jewish Federation, “From the moment I met Tricia over a decade ago, I was impressed with her warmth, energy and passion. These qualities have enabled Tricia to make a positive impact. Because of her local, national and international relationships she has developed, I think Tricia is perfectly positioned to lead the Jewish Federation, bringing innovative ideas from around the globe to our own community. I look forward to working with her.”
As for what to expect when Uhlmann takes the helm:
“I feel it’s important to turn to our younger leaders, engaging them to help reinvigorate and re-imagine the future of Kansas City’s Jewish community. It’s their time to develop innovative and creative ideas to imagine, plan, and invest in our future, but it’s up to all of us — whatever our age — to continue to work together to achieve this goal,” said Uhlmann.
“There are so many exciting opportunities available, and I want everyone to know that their gift — of time, talent or treasure — truly means something. It is so much more meaningful to give when you are part of something and enjoy seeing the benefits of the work you do and the things you care about. My family taught me by example: It’s better, and more fun, to give with warm hands.”
Uhlmann will officially become board chair on Sept. 10, at the Jewish Federation’s Annual Meeting. More information about the event will be available soon at jewishkansascity.org.