Category: Latest News
Written by Marcia Montgomery, Community Editor
The hit musical “Fiddler on the Roof” will open the 10th season at the White Theatre. A partnership with The Theatre in the Park, “Shrek,” will close it. Of course there will be all sorts of variety in between, announced JCC Director of Cultural Arts Krista Blackwood.
“ ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ and ‘Shrek’ will make great bookends to our 10th season in the Lewis and Shirley White Theatre,” Blackwood said.
Each of the five self-produced shows will feature a different production team with talent including Steven Eubank, the artistic director of Egads! Theatre Company, Paul Hough, the former director of production for the American Heartland Theatre, Tim Bair, the producing artistic director of Theatre in the Park, Bill Christie, a veteran of American Heartland Theatre, Barb Nichols, who directed the White Theatre’s 2013 production of “Les Misérables” and Daniel Doss, who most recently has been the associate conductor for the international Broadway tour of “The Addams Family.”
“We’re pleased to welcome these well-respected directors and music directors to our facility, and we look forward to a vibrant community theater season under their talented leadership,” says Blackwood.
The season will open with a rousing “L’Chaim!” as Steven Eubank, with musical direction by Daniel Doss, bring “Fiddler on the Roof” to life. In January, Barb Nichols will direct the Tony award-winning Charles Busch comedy “Tale of the Allergist’s Wife.” In February, Paul Hough will bring “From Berlin to Broadway with Kurt Weill: A Musical Voyage” to Kansas City area audiences, a cabaret production for which he received the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Awards. In April, Bill Christie will take the helm of John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” and in July Tim Bair will direct “Shrek,” a co-production with Theatre in the Park.
“It is shaping up to be a 10th season to remember,” says Blackwood. “Of course, our community theater productions are only part of our season. We will announce our Visiting Artist series at a later date and we are very excited about the great collaborations we’ve cooked up. Stay tuned!”
‘Fiddler on the Roof’
Nov. 8 – 23
Book by Joseph Stein
Music by Jerry Bock
Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
Based on Sholem Aleichem’s stories by special permission of Arnold Perl
Directed by Steven Eubank
Musical Direction by Daniel Doss
“Fiddler on the Roof,” has captured the hearts of people all over the world with its humor, warmth and honesty. Based on the stories of Sholom Aleichem, “Fiddler on the Roof” features timeless songs such as “Tradition,” “Matchmaker,” “If I Were a Rich Man” and “Sunrise, Sunset.” Join in the tears of laughter, joy and sadness as Tevye, a poor milkman, tries to keep his family’s beloved traditions and faith strong in a changing world where life can be as precarious as a Fiddler on the Roof.
‘Tale of the Allergist’s Wife’
Jan. 10 – 18, 2015
By Charles Busch
Directed by Barb Nichols
Marjorie Taub, a middle-aged Upper West Side doctor’s wife, is engulfed in a life crisis of Medea-like proportions. She tries to lose herself in a world of art-galleries, foreign films and avant-garde theater, but nothing shakes her lethargy. Marjorie’s spirits suddenly soar when Lee Green, her fascinating and somewhat mysterious childhood friend, appears on her doorstep and turns her world upside down.
‘From Berlin to Broadway with Kurt Weill: A Musical Voyage’
Feb. 14-March 1, 2015
Music by Kurt Weill
Lyrics by Maxwell Andersen, Marc Blitzstein, Bertolt Brecht, Jacques Deval, Michael Feingold, Ira Gershwin, Paul Green, Langston Hughes, Alan Jay Lerner, Ogden Nash, George Tabori and Arnold Weinstein
Text and format by Gene Lerner
Musical arrangements by Newton Wayland
Originally directed by Donald Saddler
Originally produced by Gene Lerner and Hank Kaufman
This production revised by Paul Hough and Joe Van Slyke
Additional arrangements by Scott Harlan
Directed by Paul Hough
“Berlin to Broadway with Kurt Weill” is a joyous and moving celebration of Kurt Weill, a cantor’s son and one of the most extraordinary composers of the 20th century. Weill’s greatest theater songs are presented in a fluid blend of music and story, spanning 20 eventful years, from Von Hindenburg and Hitler in Germany to Roosevelt and Truman in the United States. Weill created some of the most popular and daring musical theatre pieces of his day, collaborating with a dazzling array of literary giants — Bertolt Brecht, Langston Hughes, Maxwell Andersen, Alan Jay Lerner and Ira Gershwin — blurring the boundary between “serious”and “popular” music. This revue artfully mixes cabaret and commentary to tell Weill’s story, featuring timeless hits like “Mack the Knife,” “Speak Low” and “September Song.”
Special on-stage cabaret seating
‘Of Mice and Men’
April 11-19, 2015
By John Steinbeck
Directed by Bill Christie
The Nobel Prize-winning American writer John Steinbeck brings his birthplace, California’s Salinas Valley, to memorable life in this touching and tragic play. Two friends, George and Lennie, drift from farm to farm, dreaming of owning a piece of land to call their own. When Lennie runs into trouble, George must choose between his friend or staying the course to fulfill his dreams. A story of friendship, loneliness, racism and the struggle for personal independence, “Of Mice and Men” is the tale of the poignant journey of two people striving for a better life and a little piece of the American Dream.
Also includes student matinee performances
July 11–26, 2015
Music by Jeanine Tesori
Book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire
Based on the DreamWorks Animation motion picture and book by William Steig
Directed by Tim Bair
In a faraway kingdom turned upside down, things get ugly when a swamp-dwelling ogre — not a handsome prince — shows up to rescue a feisty princess. Throw in a wise-cracking donkey, a villain with a short temper, a cookie with an attitude, and many other fairy tale misfits, and you’ve got the kind of mess that calls for a real hero. Luckily, there’s one on hand … and his name is Shrek.
Featuring a terrific score of 19 all-new songs, big laughs, great dancing and breathtaking scenery, “Shrek The Musical” is part romance, part twisted fairy tale, and complete irreverent fun for everyone!
Category: Latest News
Written by Marcia Montgomery, Community Editor
By Marcia Montgomery
Rachel Sweenie has traveled a great distance in her 25 years. She was born in Chicago and moved to the Kansas City area with her family when she was in first grade. After graduating from KU, she moved to Washington, D.C. Now, via the Peace Corps, she lives and works in Swaziland, Africa, where she has been since June 2013.
Sweenie says she can’t share the name of her community in Swaziland, “but I can share that it is very rural and very beautiful. I live in the mountains where the weather is generally temperate. I stay with a wonderful host family and have my own house on the homestead.”
The daughter of Congregation Beth Torah Music Director Linda Matorin Sweenie, Rachel Sweenie says life in Swaziland is quite different than the 9 to 5 job she had in D.C.
“No day is ever the same. I am very fortunate to have electricity in my house and running water on my homestead,” she says. “The biggest differences for me are hand washing clothes, not always understanding what people are saying — English is everyone’s second language here — and getting used to cultural differences like wearing skirts most of the time and not using my left hand as a sign of respect to the King.”
She and other Peace Corps volunteers spent their first eight weeks in training learning SiSwati (the native language), studying Swazi history and culture, and preparing for the types of projects they would implement in their communities.
According to research, Swaziland is critically affected by HIV and AIDS. The CIA World Factbook reported in 2012 that 25.8 percent of all adults are infected with HIV and the life expectancy in Swaziland is 50 years. An estimated 5,500 people of an approximate population of 1,185,000 dies from AIDS every year. In 2004, the Swaziland government acknowledged for the first time that it suffered an AIDS crisis, with 38.8 percent of tested pregnant women infected with HIV.
Tuberculosis is another significant problem, with a mortality rate of 18 percent. Eighty-three percent of tuberculosis patients are co-infected with HIV.
“There are indeed a number of health issues in Swaziland,” Sweenie says. “The government and many NGOs (non-government organizations) have been working hard to combat these issues. Treatment is free and widely accessible, and in the past few years there has been a big push for prevention of mother-to-child transmission.
“All pregnant women are tested when they come in to the hospital for prenatal care, and those who test positive are provided with anti-retroviral treatment (ARVs) to prevent the disease from passing to the fetus.”
HIV/AIDS education is nothing new in Swaziland, Sweenie says. “In fact, it has been drilled into the youth, both in school and through the disease’s impact on every person’s life. I think it is safe to say there is not a single person in this country who hasn’t been affected in some way.
“That said, my work is more focused on life skills and empowering people, whether that’s encouraging young girls to stand-up for themselves or teaching someone who takes ARVs how to keep healthy.”
Sweenie says she’s not exactly sure what she expected from the Peace Corps; she tries to live her life without expectations. She did think, however, that she would be more involved in HIV/AIDS education — her official job title is community health educator — but the work is varied.
“Gender-based violence and inequality are also big issues. A large part of what we do as Peace Corps volunteers is try to empower youth, particularly girls, to stand up for themselves and make good choices with regard to sexual and reproductive health.
“Right now I spend time in the schools doing life skills — activities designed to address self-esteem, decision making, goal setting, health, etc. — and library time, as well as work with an HIV support group,” she explains “A friend and I are also in the process of starting clubs and support groups to address issues of teenage and unplanned pregnancies, which are quite common in our rural community. Some days are incredibly busy, while others are not. The pace of life is much slower here — people refer to it as ‘Swazi time.’ ”
Sweenie’s degree is in human biology, with a psychology concentration. In D.C., she worked as a research assistant at Children’s National Medical Center. The research focused on the psychosocial aspects of living with and managing Type 1 diabetes in children, teens and young adults.
When she returns home to the States around August or September 2015, she says she plans to continue pursuing a career in pediatric psychology, working with youth with chronic illnesses.
For now, she is happy to be gaining experience working on health issues in a different culture.
“It is easy to get caught up in the notion that Swaziland is a poor country that has been devastated by the HIV/AIDS crisis. While this is true according to statistics, one of my goals is to get people to see past the numbers,” Sweenie says. “Swaziland is a beautiful, vibrant country, and Swazis are some of the friendliest, most kind-hearted and jovial people I have ever met.
“Yes, they have faced and continue to face a multitude of hardships that most of us will never experience in Kansas City. Despite this, I am incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to live and work in this wonderful country.”
Category: Latest News
Written by Marcia Montgomery, Community Editor
By Ellen Portnoy
Special to The Chronicle
“Prayers are about compassionate positive experience,” said Rabbi Samuel Intrator, who will be the Caviar Family Jewish Scholar in Residence at Kehilath Israel Synagogue on April 4 and 5.
“Prayer can create language of spiritual commonality,” he added. “We, as a people, need a common experience. Israel no longer is the common unifying force in Judaism, so I am now suggesting that should be prayer as unifying force.”
“We all quest for deeper meaning and greater inspiration from our prayers,” said Rabbi Jeffrey Shron of K.I. “Rabbi Intrator will not only give us the tools and the knowledge to accomplish these goals, but he will create a genuine spiritual happening at K.I.”
Rabbi Intrator will lead the Friday night service at 6:15 p.m. April 4. This service will include singing and dancing in the style of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. Rabbi Intrator was his assistant for many years and took over his synagogue in New York when Rabbi Carlebach passed away. Currently he leads a congregation in Miami Beach and heads the Kavanah Life Institute.
“I do a service the way he did a service,” Rabbi Intrator said. “But while there is a lot of singing and dancing to create a spirit, I also interject in the middle of the service a short running commentary of what the congregation is singing and dancing to. When you know what you are reciting it makes the service more meaningful.”
His sermon on Friday night will focus on “The Spiritual Power of Speech.” The Torah portion that week deals with leprosy.
“Rabbis attribute leprosy to negative speech, he said. “I want to delve into the power of positive speech. In communication with each other we should focus on the power that creates with positive speech, and think about how bad negative speech is to others.”
“Through speech God created world and through speech we can destroy the word. If speech is misused, it can destroy,” Rabbi Intrator added. “I want to show through various ways the power of speech. And remind people to be careful and mindful of that power.”
After the service, there will be a Friday night dinner that is open to the public. Reservations are required. Cost is $10 per adult, with children under 13 free with a parent. Reservations are due by March 27.
The Scholar in Residence program continues at Shabbat morning services. Rabbi Intrator will both lead the service and speak on “Why so Few Jews in the Pews: Bringing More Meaning to Prayer.” He will also lead the Mussaf service.
“Most people don’t understand the prayers because they speak English not Hebrew,” Rabbi Intrator said. “So they cannot relate to it. We must make it so we relate to prayer. The words of prayer are ancient, mystical and poetic. So even a good translation cannot explain it well. Commentary is written to decode the prayers, which send a positive message about life, making prayer more relevant.”
There are two important issues about prayer according to Rabbi Intrator. The first is that the words of prayer speak to congregants and help them in their lives to get a more positive attitude to life, both spiritual life and meaningful life.
“People will look at pray and say that is something I should get into because it changed my spiritual life and general life.”
The second important issue is that he believes prayer brings people together.
“There is a language of spiritual community that can heal the divisiveness of the Jewish Community,” he said.
Shabbat services are open to the public and will be followed with a Kiddush luncheon.
Rabbi Intrator’s final program will be a Shabbat Mincha/Havdalah service at 6:50 p.m. He will keep us inspired and lead us in Havdalah and then an uplifting musical experience that will include storytelling and dancing.
“We are welcoming the entire community to come to create a joint experience and bonding between all congregations,” said Rabbi Intrator about the Mincha/Havdalah service. The joy of prayer and meaning of prayer will be the focus.
For more information or to make a reservation, call K.I. Synagogue at 913-642-1880.
Category: Latest News
Written by Sybil Kaplan, Contributing Writer
By Sybil Kaplan, Contributing Writer
JERUSALEM — Purim has its share of food customs as it is observed by most of the Jewish communities around the world, however, some ask, why the poppy seeds — particularly in hamantaschen?
A little research indicates Esther ate seeds which were healthy in order to maintain a kosher diet.
They are also said to have been the only food Esther ate during the three-day fast before she went to see the king.
Another interpretation indicates that poppy seeds symbolize the promise G-d made to Abraham, Genesis 22:17, “I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore…” because this is the antithesis of the annihilation planned by Haman.
Mohn, the Yiddish word for poppy seed, was combined with milk, sugar or honey and sometimes raisins and nuts and used as a filling as early as medieval times. Tasch is German for pocket so the original name was mohntaschen, pockets filled with poppy seeds. Why pockets? Haman carried the lots (purim) he cast to determine on which day the Jews would be killed in his coat pockets.
When Jews fled Germany for Eastern Europe in the Middle Ages, they took the poppy seed pastry with them and added the Yiddish prefix, “ha,” thus making it hamohntaschen.
By the way, if you plant poppy seeds, you end up with poppy flowers. The milky fluid found in the unripe seed capsules of poppy flowers, when processed, are the source of heroin, opium and morphine.
It is said that if you consume poppy seed-flavored cake or pastry or hamantaschen, you could test positive on a drug test. Many years ago, a state police crime lab in Oregon tested driving ability of subjects who had consumed 25 grams (about 1.75 tablespoons) of poppy seeds baked into a Bundt cake and found that their driving ability was not impaired, however, they did test positive for opium. Another bit of research indicated eating two poppy seed bagels could cause failure of a drug test!
Poppy seeds contain high amounts of oil and are best refrigerated when not being used. They are also an excellent source of calcium. However, a 50-gram hamantash (about 1.76 ounces ) may have 200 calories.
Category: Latest News
Written by Barbara Bayer, Editor
By Barbara Bayer, Editor
In the seven years Howard Haas has served as head of school at Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy, he has been calling the area’s only Jewish day school the jewel of the Midwest. He, along with the school’s students, teachers and parents, will get a chance to show how the school, and the Kansas City area, sparkles and shines when HBHA hosts, for the first time, the annual Moot Beit Din, sponsored by RAVSAK: The Jewish Community Day School Network. More than 80 students and their advisers will travel here for the competition that takes place March 27-30 at the Kansas City Airport Marriott.
Haas said HBHA has wanted to bring the Moot Beit Din here for several years. He’s happy the event is giving the school a chance to showcase itself and the city.
“We have a treasured Jewish community here, and I think it’s one of the best kept secrets around. We’re moving out of that mentality now because we have some programs at the school and in the city which are really unique and are getting national attention,” he said.
“My hope is that some of the young people who come here might put a thought in their head and heart that Kansas City might be a great place to spend time.”
Moot Beit Din challenges Jewish high school students to examine the ethical and moral dimensions of halachah through creative engagement with contemporary situations. Combining the best of debate with legal analysis, Moot Beit Din exposes students to the vitality of the Jewish legal system and its relevance to their own lives. Teams of students are given a contemporary dilemma and asked to write a judgment using Jewish texts. The teams then come together for a weekend Shabbaton where they meet their peers for four days of Jewish learning, community-building, prayer and fun, all within a pluralistic Jewish environment.
Lisa Inberg, RAVSAK’s student programs coordinator, said this is always an exciting week for the RAVSAK network.
“For Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy, there is value in bringing a wide network of students together for collaborative and fun learning,” Inberg said.
“The (out-of-town) students will be shown the highlights of Kansas City and be able to appreciate the uniqueness of Kansas City’s Jewish community. Furthermore, the program offers an opportunity for the various community shuls and organizations to come together to support the school and the Moot Beit Din program,” she continued.
The Moot Beit Din participants will travel to HBHA bright and early Friday morning, March 27, for a variety of activities, beginning with breakfast. While at HBHA, they will participate in the weekly all-school Taste of Shabbat, attend a learning session, “Women and Tefillin,” taught by HBHA’s Head of Jewish Studies Rabbi Avi Weinstein, and then have lunch.
“Breakfast and lunch here at HBHA is being made possible by a generous donation from Susie and Ron Goldsmith,” he added.
When they leave the school, Haas said, “They will visit the World War I Museum and the Nelson-Atkins Museum and then they will do some walking and shopping at the Plaza.” The students will return to the hotel prior to Shabbat for the remainder of the weekend.
Many members of the Kansas City Jewish community are helping to make this event run smoothly. At HBHA, Michal Cahlon, the middle and upper school Jewish studies chair, is the team’s adviser. Jewish studies teach Zohar Flacks is coordinating the event for the school along with a committee of parent volunteers. Caterer Kim Matsil will handle the preparation of the kosher food, which will be Vaad supervised, for the event. The food will be prepared off site and transported to the hotel.
“We couldn’t do this without all our wonderful volunteers,” Haas said.
“They are a tremendous help,” added Flacks. “They will be there during the entire event. We are very fortunate to have them.”
Cahlon, who has attended several competitions with HBHA students, noted that on Shabbat participants will participate in either a traditional or an egalitarian minyan. After lunch students will attend their choice of Torah-learning sessions.
“The students will also have time to hang out and get to know other young people from the school throughout the United States and Canada,” said Cahlon. “There are usually four to a room and they will room with students from other schools since the rooms are by gender.”
Following Havdalah, Cahlon said the students will disperse so they can do some last-minute preparations for their Sunday-morning oral presentations.
The Moot Din
This year’s Moot Beit Din focuses on animal welfare, ethical farming and its economic impact through a halachic lens. Teams from 20 different school will compete in one of three divisions in the competition. The HBHA team consists of Ariel Brudoley (9), Lainie Kaseff (10), Jacob Katz (10), Lindsey Paul (10), Hannah Pinson (10), Ezra Smith (11) and Leah Sosland (9). Only four students — Jacob, Hannah, Lindsey and Ezra — can actually represent HBHA during the competition’s oral presentation. Cahlon said the non-presenting team members have been an integral part of the preparation process all the way through, “and the hope is that they will continue with Moot Beit Din and possibly be our presenting team in a future year.”
HBHA is participating in the sourcebook only division, where students are allowed to use just this one source. Two other divisions are offered, one where students can use the sourcebook as well as do additional research. Those participating in the third division do all the research and are not provided with a sourcebook.
“This is a really exciting way for students to see how the halachah can be used to explain and guide modern questions and problems,” Cahlon explained.
Each division is judged by a panel of three judges. The nine community leaders serving as judges are: Michael Abrams; Brauna Doidge; Rabbi David Glickman; Rabbi Mark H. Levin; Ayala Zoltan Rockoff, Ph.D.; Rabbi Daniel Rockoff; Rabbi Elchanan Schulgasser; Rabbi Berel Sosover; and Rabbi Scott White. Their bios can all be found on the RAVSAK website, www.ravsak.org.
“We have a set of really quality judges lined up,” Cahlon said.
The first stage of the competition calls for the students to create a 10-page legal brief, which is submitted anonymously to the judges ahead of the actual Moot Beit Din event. The judges score the brief, worth 50 percent of the final score, and return it to the teams.
The oral presentation takes place at the Moot Beit Din event. Each team gets approximately 20 minutes to present their case, 10 minutes for the brief itself with the rest of the time devoted to questions from the judges.
“It’s possible for a team to do a spectacular presentation, but if their initial brief wasn’t strong, they may not win. Or a team could have an excellent brief, but their oral presentation was not strong, yet they might still place based on the strength of that brief because that gave them a boost over other teams,” Cahlon explained.
“There is always an element of mystery when you are sitting there on the final day waiting for the judges to announce their decisions because you saw 50 percent of what generated the decision. The judges are the only ones who actually see the whole picture,” she continued.
Jacob, who competed last year with three other freshmen — Lindsey, Hannah and Jed Shaffer — really enjoys taking part in Moot Beit Din.
“Last year we came in second and that’s the best the school has ever done in the Moot Beit Din. We were an all freshmen team and we are very proud of ourselves,” Jacob said.
Lindsey said it’s cool to get to meet kids from the other Jewish schools.
“We don’t have many other opportunities to do that. It’s also fun to solve a case our own way,” Lindsey said.
Hannah said the competition helps them learn to use sources and interpret them in a way similar to an American law case.
“It’s interesting to see how they are connected,” Hannah said. “The work experience is really valuable. We learn to manage our time and work as a team and meet deadlines.”
Adviser Cahlon is excited for the event.
“For me, Moot Beit Din is a culmination and a celebration: a culmination of my students’ hard work in wrestling with the Jewish sources and applying them to the contemporary issues of the case, and a celebration of the joy of Torah study, multiplied when shared with their peers from across North America.”
The event is open to the public and HBHA organizers hope many members of the Kansas City Jewish community attend the competition, to be held from 9 a.m. to noon, to show their support. The competition is also being streamed live on the RAVSAK website Sunday morning.
Category: Latest News
Written by Marcia Montgomery, Community Editor
The Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City, alongside Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), is mobilizing to help the estimated 350,000 Jewish residents of Ukraine through the Ukraine Assistance Fund. The Jewish community has not escaped the escalating turmoil, leaving many in need.
JFNA partner agencies have activated emergency response systems on the ground in Ukraine to ensure Jewish residents remain safe and continue to receive basic needs. Federation partner American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee has activated its emergency response network to ensure continued home deliveries of food, medicine, heating and cooking fuel, and sustaining life-saving care at home for the elderly. It has increased security at Jewish communal institutions and Hesed social welfare centers, and has activated special emergency plans for Crimea’s estimated 17,000 Jews.
“We’re doing everything that we can to provide the basic necessities to sustain life for the most vulnerable in the Jewish population — the elderly, children and impoverished,” said Patricia Werthan Uhlmann, Jewish Federation board chair and JDC board member.
“Of great concern are 72,640 pensioners who receive supplemental assistance from JDC,” said Uhlmann. “They live on about $100 a month government pension. What happens to them if the government defaults?”
Other partner agencies — Jewish Agency for Israel and World ORT are bolstering security at Ukraine’s many Jewish institutions, including synagogues, yeshivas, community centers and Jewish day schools. These security measures are especially important in light of the death of a Jewish day school student’s father during clashes in Kiev, and the recent firebombing of Giymat Rosa Synagogue in Zaporizhia, located 250 miles southeast of Kiev.
“We want to ensure the Jewish community in Kiev remains safe, gets their basic needs met, and equally important, that they know we are here to support them right now,” said Todd Stettner, Jewish Federation’s president and CEO.
To make a donation online, go to www.jewishkansascity.org/ukrainecrisis2014. You may also donate via phone by contacting Derek Gale, financial resources development director at 913-327-8123, or donate via mail by sending a check to Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City, 5801 W. 115 Street, Suite 201, Overland Park, KS 66211, Attn: Ukraine Assistance Fund.
Category: Latest News
Written by Marcia Montgomery, Community Editor
Beth Kaplan Liss has been selected as the 2014-2015 co-chair designate/2015-16 co-chair of Jewish Federations of North America’s (JFNA) National Young Leadership (NYL). Liss will begin her two-year term in June, alongside co-chair Josh Green, of Sarasota-Manatee, Fla. Together, they will represent Jewish Federation young leadership across North America, which includes 154 Jewish Federations in the United States and Canada.
“We couldn’t be happier to see Beth taking on a role of this magnitude within Jewish Federation,” said Todd Stettner, president and CEO of Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City. “It’s a very competitive selection process, and a well-deserved honor for Beth.”
“Beth is a role model both for Cabinet and Kansas City and no one has done more to earn this opportunity. The outpouring of support she continues to receive since this announcement demonstrates that many will be closely following her continued leadership rise, now moving onto the national stage,” said Robb Lippitt, current co-chair of JFNA’s National Young Leadership, a member of the JFNA Development Cabinet and a member of JFNA’s Marketing Committee.
“I’m thrilled to have this opportunity,” said Liss. “I am deeply passionate about the cause and — thanks to those who have come before me, and those who will come after me — I feel well prepared for l’dor va’dor, to continue building our future.”
The selection process is a rigorous one, and, according to National Young Leadership, it “signifies the continuity of excellence in leadership and the awesome responsibilities that go with it.”
NYL is a local, national and international network of socially conscious Jews in their 20s, 30s and early 40s. Young leadership programs offer a wide variety of opportunities for next gen to find meaningful ways to get involved in Jewish Federation, from helping local people in the Jewish community to ensuring the safety of Jews overseas, from advocating for social services to strengthening Jewish life in Israel.
During their first year, the chairs designate focus on the NYL Cabinet campaign and participate alongside the chairs to gain experience in the leadership team. In their second year, they help shape the vision of National Young Leadership and help execute its mission, working closely with the NYL department to achieve their goals.
As co-chair, Liss will play a very active role among young leadership, working with next gen leaders from across North America. She will also represent NYL on JFNA’s executive committee, board of trustees, and Philanthropic Resources Development Cabinet.
“It’s a great honor and privilege to be selected for this position, and I am confident Beth’s success in this role will be given back 100-fold to Kansas City. Our mission is to sustain and enhance Jewish life at home and around the world, and Beth continues to exemplify that mission,” said Patricia Werthan Uhlmann, board chair, Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City.
“Kansas City has continued to play a national leadership role in the Jewish Federation system, as well as internationally, and we are fortunate to have someone of Beth’s caliber representing us nationally. Beth is a wonderful example of the kind of leadership that Kansas City is producing,” continued Uhlmann.
Sarah Beren, executive board member, Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City, and current NYL Cabinet member agrees with Uhlmann, “Beth’s appointment is great for Jewish Federation young leadership. As a leader of leaders, Beth will bring her connections, passion, knowledge — and now a bright spotlight — to Kansas City.”
And Liss plans to do just that.
“Kansas City has so much to bring to the national table. I am looking forward to sharing the perspective of a mid-sized Jewish community with the entire Jewish Federation network. We can all learn from each other.”
As to what lies in her future?
“Beth will go far in her work to sustain and enhance Jewish life. Her passion for Jewish community and the energy with which she has embraced the work of Jewish Federation make her unstoppable,” said Stettner.
“Beth brings unrivaled passion and experience for the mission of engaging young Jews in the Jewish community and federation system. Beth’s genuine warmth and sweetness combine with strategic and tactical acumen to make her a tremendous leader who consistently achieves positive results in whatever she takes on,” said Lippitt.
Category: Latest News
Written by Barbara Bayer, Editor
A dream will come true for Andy Gruenebaum at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 12. That’s when the 30-year-old professional soccer player will officially take the field for the first time as a member of Sporting Kansas City. The team will face Mexican club Cruz Azul.
Gruenebaum is excited to be playing here in Kansas City on a regular basis, not just as a visiting player.
“Being able to play in front of family and friends — people that I grew up with playing soccer as a kid — and just coming all this way full circle and playing in that stadium in front of that crowd is all just special. (We are looking forward) to be able to live like normal people in the city that we were going to eventually end up in. It is something that we’ve dreamed of,” said Gruenbaum last week during training camp. His wife, Lacey, is also from this area.
For the past eight seasons the Overland Park native has played for the Columbus Crew. The Crew traded Gruenebaum to Sporting KC following the 2012 season in exchange for a second-round pick in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft. He joins Benny Feilhaber as the second Jewish player on the team. The team officially opens the season Saturday night, March 8, at Seattle.
The home game March 12 is part of a competition called the CONCACAF Champions League, which is a tournament featuring the top teams from North America, Central America and the Caribbean. The MLS Cup champion’s official opener is actually at 7:30 p.m. March 15 against FC Dallas.
Grunebaum, the son of Congregation Ohev Sholom members Kris and Mike Gruenebaum, is fighting for the team’s top goalkeeper spot along with Eric Kronberg and Jon Kempin, another home-grown player. The regular goalkeeper spot became open after the retirement of Sporting KC’s MVP Jimmy Nielsen.
At the time of the trade, Sporting KC Manager Peter Vermes spoke very highly of Gruenebaum.
“Andy is a very capable goalkeeper, someone who has been successful in Major League Soccer and has had a lot of games in the league,” said Vermes. “He is a great addition to our team and a complement to our goalkeepers. We needed someone with a lot of experience because we’re in multiple major competitions in 2014.”
A 2001 graduate of Blue Valley North High School, the 31-year-old, 6-foot-1-inch, 175-pound Gruenebaum will wear No. 30 for Sporting KC. He was drafted by the Columbus Crew right after graduating from the University of Kentucky. He said the Crew and Sporting KC are the only two pro teams he ever wanted to play with.
“I’ve been kind of spoiled to now be able to play for both,” he said.
In eight seasons with the Crew he made 82 appearances in MLS competition (including playoffs) with 277 saves, 18 shutouts and a 1.27 goals against average. He led MLS with 124 saves in 2012 and was a finalist for MLS Goalkeeper of the Year after being named the Crew’s MVP and Defender of the Year. Last season, he conceded the second fewest goals (28) among goalkeepers with a minimum of 15 games played.
Learning he probably didn’t have a future with the Crew at the end of last season led to a lot of sleepless nights for Gruenebaum during the offseason.
“I was worrying about where I was going to play the next year,” he said. “In the end landing here was a dream come true and really better than any vacation I could have taken.”
When Gruenebaum was younger, the local team was first known as the Wiz and then the Wizards. As the Wizards, the team won its first MLS championship in 2000, the same year Gruenebaum was named the NSCAA Kansas Player of the year as a senior at Blue Valley North and earned a spot on the Midwest Region team.
“We had season tickets for the first few years when they were the Wiz and then the Wizards and we went to all the games,” he said.
He knows the organization has rebranded in recent years, changing owners, its name and its home field among other things.
“They are headed in the right direction and are really the flagship for other MLS teams looking to rebrand and give new life to the city and the game. I think it’s special to come play for this organization,” he said.
Gruenebaum has been a goalkeeper for most of his career.
“There were times coming up when I played a little bit of everything but I liked that position the best. You get to dive around and wear cool jerseys. It’s a little bit different,” he said. “You’ve got to be a little off to play goalie.”
Now in his ninth season as a pro, he’s not sure how long he’ll continue playing.
“That’s a good question,” he laughed. “As long as my body will hold up. As a goalkeeper you can play for a long, long time so I’m hoping that’s going to be the case. I’m taking it year by year and just surviving. I’m hoping to play a few more years for sure.”
What advice would he give other young players wanting to play pro soccer?
“I would say do a lot of yoga,” he said, laughing once again. “If I would have done that my body would feel a lot better than it does right now.”
Seriously, he said he would tell these young players to simply have fun.
“It’s still a game. I know it’s competitive and the nature of soccer growing up is different and changing and evolving rapidly, some in a good way and some in a bad way. But I would say at the end of the day to remember it’s a game and it’s supposed to be fun and this is something that you are supposed to truly enjoy. If you are getting pressured and getting burned out, then you’re going to lose that joy and passion. It takes a support system to get there, too. You just can’t take life too seriously.”
Yes, fans, Gruenebaum still enjoys the game.
“It can be a grind and it can be a lot of things. But the biggest thing is to just remember at the end of the day when times are going tough that it is a game. This is something that you’re supposed to love doing and it’s not supposed to be considered work.”
He’s genuinely happy to be back in the Kansas City area.
“I’m really hoping to get involved with the community and just get to know people. I’m very easy going and relaxed and I love to meet new people. So I’m excited to get involved with the fan base and really just meet some great people.”
Twitter fans can follow him @gbaum30. Ticket information is available by calling 888-4KC-GOAL or
Category: Latest News
Written by Kelli White, Contributing Writer
The arts have always been important to Vida Bikales, president of the board for The Barn Players Community Theater. Her parents ensured she grew up in a house full of music, theater and visual arts. In fact, they instilled a house rule that Vida and her siblings each had to start piano in the first grade and choose a second instrument by fourth grade. Vida’s brother, Eric Bikales, “was the one who hated to practice the most, and he’s the one who became a professional musician!”
Vida, who retired from a career in pharmaceutical sales, chose to keep the arts in her life through serving as president of the board for Camelot Academy, a fine arts camp for kids started by her parents, and by volunteering at The Barn Players for the last eight years. Her brother Eric has had a long, successful career as a composer and performer, and he will perform at The Barn Players Theater on March 12 in honor of Vida’s 60th birthday.
Vida and her boyfriend, Kerry Kirk, are each celebrating 60 years young this year and wanted to have a party that gave back to a cause so important — community theater.
“Community theater is such an amazing outlet not only for talented people who have other careers, but is also a proving ground for people who do want to make performing arts their profession,” Vida said.
Thanks to The Barn Players, many actors get the experience and exposure to pursue their dreams, and for some, that journey takes them all the way to New York City. The Barn has produced Broadway performers and film actors, including Oscar-nominated actor Chris Cooper.
“We take our mission very seriously, which is to nurture artists (musicians and actors) while they practice their craft. We are proud to be a platform for an actor’s professional career if that’s what they choose,” Vida said.
The Barn also offers theater classes for kids and hosts an original play festival each year that invites local playwrights to submit 10-minute plays and six are chosen to be produced.
“It is so gratifying to nurture both writers and performers. That’s really another thing that separates The Barn from other community theaters,” Vida said.
“Community theater is also a training ground for audiences,” Vida explains. “When people watch the performances, they get hooked and seek other outlets for the arts. It encourages audiences to have a lifelong commitment to the performing arts.”
“The Barn wants to be the home base for local actors. We want them to feel comfortable honing their craft and gaining experience. We cater to ages 8-88. It is truly a reflection of community,” Vida said.
Vida’s passion for the arts shows in her volunteer work and in her birthday party fundraiser on March 12. Her brother Eric has played at The Barn once before, but this time it’s for two good causes: The Barn Players Community Theater and his sister’s birthday. And the audience is in for a real treat.
Eric currently resides in Nashville where he plays in a couple of bands and teaches music theory and music arranging online for the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. Before that, Eric lived and worked in Los Angeles for 30 years where he composed music for television shows like “Boston Public,” “Ally McBeal,” “Scrubs” and “Party of Five,” among others.
“It was an honor working with so many world-class musicians. And hearing the music I wrote in the background of shows that end up on reruns then eventually in foreign countries is good for the longevity of my work,” Eric said.
He is back in Kansas with his former band Sanctuary for their induction into the Kansas Musicians Hall of Fame. And while he’s here, he is donating his talents for a show at The Barn where he will play two sets, all original works on the piano.
“I am a composer. I primarily write for other projects, other artists,” Eric said. “This is the first time I will perform my own music. It’s fun for me. The thing I enjoy most is sitting at the piano, which is where I started. I’ve come full circle.”
Eric has performed live with artists like Dolly Parton, Stevie Wonder and Bette Midler and has produced Grammy-nominated songs for Phil Vassar and Gloria Loring. Eric will be selling his new CD, “Follow Your Heart” at the party and says he is getting radio play and good response from it. You can learn more at ericbikales.com.
The party starts at 7 p.m. and music will begin at 7:30 p.m. Tickets for the event are $10 and can be ordered on The Barn Players’ website or at the door.
“It will be a nice evening of cake, wine and music. You don’t even have to bring a present!” Vida said.
The event is open to the public and all proceeds will go to The Barn Players Theater. The theater is located at 6219 Martway Street in Mission. For more information call 913-432-9100 or visit thebarnplayers.org.
Category: Latest News
Written by Kenneth Bandler, Special to The Chronicle
BRUSSELS — A recent festive gathering in the capital of Belgium, saluting the vital importance of the relationship between Europe and the United States, highlighted the unique role of one Jewish organization, AJC, in deepening those ties. The occasion was the 10th anniversary celebration of the AJC Transatlantic Institute (TAI).
“We are here tonight to celebrate our shared values,” TAI Director Daniel Schwammenthal told the audience of more than 250. Dozens of European Parliament members, ambassadors to the EU and Belgium, Jewish leaders from across Europe, and civil society partners, as well as AJC leaders from across the United States, participated in the gala, which took place in the same hotel ballroom where AJC, the global Jewish advocacy organization headquartered in New York, launched its Brussels operation in 2004.
“Brussels is the political nerve center of Europe,” said Harvey Kaplan, a long-time leader in the Kansas City Jewish community, who traveled to Brussels for the celebration and related meetings with European policymakers. “Understanding what takes place here, what the European Union does, is enormously important for us because it touches directly on the challenges that confront Jews, indeed democratic countries, worldwide.” Kaplan is a member of the board of directors and former chair of the JCRB/AJC.
Before the gala, the large AJC delegation spent two and a half days in intensive meetings with European parliamentarians, Jewish leaders and policy analysts, discussing the Iranian nuclear threat, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the impact of Muslim immigrants on Europe, and anti-Semitism.
Ambassador Pierre Vimont, executive secretary general of the European External Action Service (EEAS), briefed the AJC group on current EU foreign policy priorities. The EEAS supports EU Foreign Affairs Chief Catherine Ashton in conducting the common foreign and security policy of the 28-member state regional bloc. In that capacity Ashton has been the lead interlocutor on behalf of the P5+1 in talks with Iran on its nuclear program.
The AJC group also visited the European Parliament to discuss EU-Israel Relations. “It was gratifying to hear directly from a Dutch member of the European Parliament, Bastiaan Belder, who chairs the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Israel,” said Kaplan.
But rising anti-Semitism across Europe, revealed in a penetrating EU survey last year, was a disturbing theme percolating throughout the mission. “Our conversations with the leadership of the Brussels-based European Union of Jewish Students, who shared the challenges confronting Jewish students on campuses across Europe, were eye-opening and worrisome,” said Kaplan.
So is the potential outcome of the European Parliament elections, slated for May. A significant percentage of the parliament’s 766 members could be representatives of fascist, neo-Nazi parties. That would pose a challenge to the values of European democratic societies for the next five years.
Launching TAI in 2004 fulfilled a vision of AJC Executive Director David Harris, who has led the expansion of the organization’s global reach over the past 24 years. TAI was made possible by the visionary support of Rhoda Baruch and her late husband, Jordan. Establishing a permanent presence in Brussels was a prescient move, indicative of AJC’s global mission. EU membership has grown from 15 states to 28 over the past decade, an expansion that AJC has supported.
During its first 10 years, TAI has informed a broad range of European leaders in Brussels on a number of pressing issues of concern to the transatlantic community, including Iran’s nuclear program, the Israeli-Arab peace process, terrorism, human rights, energy security, integration of immigrants, and, not least, anti-Semitism in Europe.
“Hate crimes are a growing problem in Europe,” Cecilia Malmström, European commissioner for Home Affairs, said in her keynote address to the TAI gala. “It is time for the EU and its Member States to act firmly against it.”
The EU has reported a rise in hate crimes against gays, Muslims, and Jews. “Anti-Semitic hate crime was experienced by one in every four Jews in Europe,” according to a recent EU survey, Malmström said. “Young Jews are afraid to go to school, even in my own country of Sweden.”
All EU Member States are “obliged to ensure that hate crimes are investigated and the perpetrators prosecuted,” she added.
Other speakers at the gala included Belgian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Didier Reynders; Francois-Xavier de Donnea, chair of the Belgian Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee; Israeli Ambassador to the EU David Walzer; and U.S. Acting Chief of Mission to the EU Robert Wood.
“Transatlantic cooperation today is vibrant, and the AJC Transatlantic Institute is making an important contribution to the strengthening of this relationship,” said Donnea.
Category: Latest News
Written by Marcia Montgomery, Community Editor
By Barbara Bayer, Editor
It takes a lot of courage — some would even say chutzpah — to quit a job and go off to rabbinical school at age 49. Yet that’s exactly what Celeste Aronoff is doing.
Aronoff, whose last day as director of communications and administration for Jewish Family Services is March 14, has sold her house and is tying up her life here so that she can begin classes soon at the Academy for Jewish Religion in Los Angeles. AJRCA is a trans-denominational, pluralist institution dedicated to the training of rabbis, cantors and chaplains. Its mission is to develop religious leaders steeped in Torah wisdom and tradition, and capable of transforming Jewish communities into places where all Jews can grow toward wholeness and well-being. Rabbi Doug Alpert was ordained by the New York City branch of AJR in May 2012.
“The Academy for Jewish Religion is very much designed for people who are already established in their careers and their families, so the average age of the student population is between the ages of 35 and 65,” explained Aronoff in an interview last week. “That’s part of what makes that an appropriate seminary for me.”
In some universities across the country, students of Aronoff’s age are considered non-traditional. Aronoff isn’t fond of labels — for instance she considers herself a Jew, not a Reform, Conservative or Orthodox Jew — so calling her non-traditional could aptly describe this choice as well as the way she has lived her life up until now. She said much to her mother’s discomfort, she has never approached her life in a traditional way.
Since Aronoff doesn’t want to be pigeonholed into one type of Jewish religion, her options for rabbinical school were clear. Besides liking the weather in Los Angeles, she chose the California branch of AJR because she wants to be “in a place where there are a lot of opportunities to explore the possibilities in what contemporary Jewish life can be.”
“I think I was looking for a place where there are others who want to create something new and that is useful for other people,” she said.
Aronoff believes Judaism is an incredible ancient wisdom tradition and she wants to explore that as fully as she can at AJR, without the parameters or limitations of denominational philosophy and theology.
“I don’t want denomination defining how I explore and understand and access everything Judaism has to offer. So an opportunity to go to a school where I’m taught by people who are Orthodox and are observant or really liberal in their understanding of Judaism … people coming from all different perspectives … is really, really important to me.”
As a student and a teacher of Raja yoga (meditation generally based on directing one’s life force to bring the mind and emotions so into balance that the attention may be easily focused on the object of meditation), Aronoff, a graduate of Boston University and Shawnee Mission East High school, said she is as interested in exploring the mystical as she is the liturgical.
“I really want to get a firm footing in a real cross section of ways into Judaism. And I don’t think I’m so unique in that. I think we learn a particular way or we are familiar with a particular way. I just think Judaism is so rich, there’s been a thousand differences in Jewish practice and observances throughout that time and all of them fall apart and are reconstructed in different ways. I just don’t want those differences to be the limitations I go to school with.”
The Road to Rabbinical School
While just recently deciding to explore the rabbinate, Aronoff began “a really intentional spiritual practice” during her sophomore year in college. She said it has guided the trajectory of everything in her life since.
“This seems like the next natural step,” she said.
Although she has been spiritual all her life, it wasn’t until recently that she really began understanding that she could be spiritual and Jewish. In fact before she moved back to the metro area after being away for 25 years, she ran — and lived at — a meditation center in downtown Chicago.
“It just became more and more clear to me that the place I felt most at home was in the Jewish community. So I started thinking about that seriously in 2005 and I moved back to Kansas in 2007. I started working in the Jewish community and exploring Judaism. I took the full Melton class, I was in the Helzberg Leadership program and I’ve been exploring this more and more deeply, doing tons of reading, talking to people, getting advice …,” she said.
One of the people she sought counsel from is Rabbi Jonathan Rudnick, a childhood friend who happens to also be the Jewish Community Chaplain.
“He is this incredibly glorious, spiritual, Jewishly engaged person,” she said about Rabbi Rudnick.
After discussing her spiritual inclination and how she wanted to be of service with Rabbi Rudnick, she said he told her he thought rabbinical school was the place for her.
Aronoff said she was unsure, because she knew becoming a congregational leader was not what she had in mind.
“What I want is the community and the connection and the education and that’s what he wanted, and got, from rabbinical school,” said Aronoff about her conversation with Rabbi Rudnick that took place about two years ago. “It really got me thinking.”
So she conducted research and spoke with others, including Rabbi Alpert, who was about her age when he went to rabbinical school, and Rabbi Alexandria Shuval-Weiner.
“Those three people in particular helped me formulate what moving forward, in terms of pursing a rabbinical education might look like, and I got really serious about this just a little less than a year ago,” Aronoff said.
Rabbinical School and Beyond
Aronoff is entering a five-year program and will be in classes only three days a week. So there’s a good possibility that she’ll work, at least a little, while in school, and hopes to look for a job once she gets settled in LA.
“I’d love to continue working in the Jewish community,” she said.
She wants to continue her work in spiritual education with her rabbinical degree, and she’s excited to travel down the path to what that will mean.
“Honestly I don’t know what the five- or the 10-year plan is. As far as I’m concerned this is a ‘calling’ and God has a hand in all of this and I think my job is to listen to that call and move forward according to it. And everything that needs to fall into place will. I would be a lot more concerned about that being a good plan, except that’s how all of my life has unfolded and it’s worked pretty well so far. I’ve just learned to trust that,” she said while sitting among boxes ready to be moved out of her JFS office.
“I am so excited to help people understand that they don’t have to leave Judaism to have a rich and relevant spiritual life and practice,” she continued.
“I think my own experience really speaks to that because that’s exactly what I did, which is exactly why I want to help people understand that it exists within this context. The answers I didn’t necessarily get myself are available. Maybe they aren’t always so obvious but they are available and they are available Jewishly,” she said.
She admits that separating herself from family and community to find connection with God and to find a way into spiritual experience was a very artificial way of doing things.
“I don’t think that’s a necessity. I think of Judaism essentially as a spiritual tradition. What made Abraham who he was? What made Moses who he was? It was that they had a unique relationship with God. That relationship with God then formed how they related to the rest of humanity. It changed them fundamentally and I think that’s one of the things Judaism gives us is that way into a relationship that is potentially transformative and powerful and at their best, tradition and community are the vessels that give us a structure that allows us a way in, not keep us from finding a way in.”
She said what really interests her about Judaism is the conversation about God.
“To me the foundation of Judaism from the very beginning is that there is God and there is humanity and there is an opportunity for a special relationship between God and us,” Aronoff said.
She believes Judaism talks about what the nature of that relationship is and can be, but that conversation isn’t always front and center in our religious lives. However, she believes it is the heart of spiritual experience.
“So many Jews think of spiritual experience as separate from their Jewish religious lives. … They try all different kinds of things because they are not finding that spiritual heart within the context of their religion. It exists within Judaism, it’s just not so easy to access these days. I don’t know if that’s a contemporary American Jewish thing, but that’s the place that really interests me and that’s how I want to continue working with people,” Aronoff said.
No matter what, Aronoff wants to continue serving people.
“If I can translate what I’ve learned in a way that’s useful for somebody else so that they don’t necessarily have to spend so much time searching, but just see some of the beauty and the richness in the world they are already living in, I would love to do that.”