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.”
Category: Latest News
Written by Marcia Montgomery, Community Editor
By Carol Katzman
Special to The Chronicle
It’s no coincidence that Purim Gala honors those who epitomize a devotion to the Jewish community and Israel, as shown by Mordechai in the Scroll of Esther — which says that he “...sought the good of his people and was concerned for the welfare of all …” After all, it was Mordechai and Esther who thwarted the threat to the very existence of the Jews in ancient Persia.
Today, those threats are in the form of Iran’s nuclear ambitions and its eerily similar pronouncements to wipe Israel off the map. Add that to the instability surrounding Israel — civil war in Syria, 500,000-plus Syrian refugees undermining Jordan, missiles from Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the continuing clash between Egypt’s army and Muslim Brotherhood.
So who better to highlight the importance of support for the state of Israel than Bonnie and Matthew Siegel at the Sunday, March 9, Purim Gala. It’s that “Mordechai moment” that drives them.
Since arriving here in 1986, the Siegels have immersed themselves in Jewish life. Though Matthew has been an AIPAC supporter since the 1990s, their role became focused in 2008 when their daughter left for college. They reached out to friend and KC AIPAC founder Larry Nussbaum for information about AIPAC on college campuses.
“Not only do our kids need information to defend Israel against delegitimization,” Bonnie explained, “but adults need that as well. AIPAC is one of the only organizations focused on Americans understanding that an anti-Israel campaign is also anti-Jewish.”
Bonnie chaired the first several AIPAC Israel Forums, which have become annual events drawing close to 500 each year. The forum’s goal is to educate members of the community — Jews and non-Jews, Democrats, Republicans and Independents — about the value of Israel as America’s staunchest ally and to strengthen that relationship by lobbying members of Congress during AIPAC’s annual Policy Conference.
“The Siegels and AIPAC ask you to support Israel, realizing these are perilous times for the only democracy in the Middle East,” said longtime advocate Kathi Rosenberg, who serves on the AIPAC National Council with Bonnie. “Now, more than ever, Israel needs our understanding, our help and our support.”
Rosenberg added, “Regardless of where your politics lie or which organizations you support, we know that the more we educate people about Israel, its democratic institutions and its valuable contributions to the world, the more secure Israel will be.”
“When the Siegels joined the KC Chapter of AIPAC, I thought we were doing well, especially for a community this size, and that we had reached out to everyone who could help,” said Jeff Horen, another longtime activist. “But Bonnie and Matt saw more potential. They underscored advantages we had, such as an unusually large proximity to very friendly members of Congress. They dramatized how much more we could do to help Israel at this critical time.”
Rob and Miriam Glueck have been AIPAC activists for more than a decade. “About five years ago, the Siegels invited us to dinner and wanted to know why we commit to AIPAC,” Miriam explained. “While many organizations contribute significantly to the Jewish people, when it comes to Israel’s safety and security, we believe no organization is more vital and more effective than AIPAC. And the Siegel’s passionate and effective leadership has dramatically contributed to AIPAC’s growth here.”
Brad Fahlgren, AIPAC Midwest area director, added, “K.C. is one of AIPAC’s strongest cities, pound for pound.” Not only does this community consistently send 80-plus people to the annual AIPAC Policy Conference (starting Sunday in Washington, D.C.) but it also has set the bar in fundraising for the bi-partisan, pro-Israel organization in similar size cities.
Horen added, “A lot of this has happened because Bonnie and Matt think big. They are willing to reach out to anyone. They relentlessly push for more, and make me feel truly valued and appreciated. As a result, Kansas City’s Jewish community is helping to protect the modern state of Israel. I cannot think of a better way to change history!”
And to recognize the Siegels for their Mordechai moment.