Marc and Sharon Schramm of Columbus, Ohio, and Melinda Hofstetter and Louis Lenoff of Fairfax, Virginia, announce the marriage of their children, Channa Schramm and Jacob Lenoff.
Channa graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in mathematical biology. She works as a software engineer in finance technology. Jacob graduated from Florida State University with a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in economics. He works as a data analyst.
The couple was married in Columbus, Ohio, on Nov. 10 and now reside in Philadelphia.
My 8-year-old daughter asked me to please answer this question for her:
What should I do at the lunch table when all my friends are talking about their Elf on the Shelf and how Santa will get mad at them if they touch it?
Huh! I thought that by third grade most kids had stopped believing in Santa. But what do I know, really, having never had Santa as part of my own life? Sounds like your classmates are still deep in Christmas magic. Since Elf on the Shelf was decidedly not a thing when I was a kid, it’s also worth mentioning that I couldn’t have predicted how that addition to the Christmas repertoire has impacted Christian kids (and their Jewish friends).
What I do know is that it’s the job of Jewish children everywhere to dramatically (and silently) roll their eyes when the topic of Santa comes up. As I wrote a couple of years ago, it’s not Jewish kids’ responsibility to keep this secret from their friends, but it sure is nice when they can. Though you know for absolute certain that Santa and elves aren’t real, your friends will not thank you for telling them the truth — and their parents will most definitely not thank me.
Fortunately, you have a lot of other people to talk to who are in on the secret: friends from Hebrew school and Makom, non-Christian classmates and so many adults and teachers who will understand your frustration. You probably even have some Christmas-celebrating classmates who don’t believe in Santa or that Elf who could be your allies for the next couple weeks.
While you should always be comfortable explaining to people that you are Jewish and don’t celebrate Christmas, when it comes to Santa, I’m proud of you for trusting your instinct not to get involved. You will have plenty of opportunities in your life to stand up for things that matter. This one, specifically, will be irrelevant soon enough. And until then, every day, after school, I promise to listen to your not-so-silent eye rolling.
One of the go-to sketch settings for the Bible Players, an educational comedy group dedicated to transmitting Jewish values and lessons to audiences of all ages, is what Aaron Friedman calls “well scenes.”
Moses and Zipporah, Rachel and Jacob, Rebecca and Eliezer — the list of biblical well encounters go on and on. They’ve got sparks of romance, sheep, camels and more.
For Friedman and his lifelong comedy partner and friend, Andrew Davies, those scenes are rife with the sort of humor that they’ve enjoyed for decades, and that now forms the basis of the Bible Players’ work.
“Necessity,” Friedman said, “is the imma of invention.”
The Bible Players are a project of Friedman, 37, and Davies, 35. They started the group in 2011 as a way to combine their great loves: Judaism and making jokes. In the beginning, they performed largely for schools and camps, flexing the improv muscles they’d developed as overworked summer camp counselors at Ramah Day Camp in Nyack, New York.
Now, the Bible Players are a miniature Jewish-comedy empire, a troupe of eight that performs and leads professional development for Jewish educators across the country. It’s been a long journey to get here.
Friedman was a student at the Forman Center, and Davies attended the Stern Center (both were then Solomon Schechter, and are now Perelman Jewish Day School); both attended Akiba Hebrew Academy (now the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy), performing in shows together as they both developed a love for comedy. Both cite watching “Seinfeld” with their families as foundational to their respective senses of humor, and both can recall specific sketches they wrote for class while at Akiba.
And who could blame them? If you’d come up with the Simchat Torah Network (“All Simchat Torah, All the Time”) like Davies did, you’d remember that, too.
“I’ve kind of always been a goofball,” Davies said.
Goofball-ness aside, both Davies and Friedman had a sense of the interplay between their mutual interests in comedy and Judaism from a young age.
Friedman discovered comedy around the same time that he learned to read Torah, and theorizes now that it was a similar sort of confidence that allows him to do both. And for Davies, his time at Akiba helped him pinpoint what it is about comedy and Judaism that draws him so strongly to both.
“I really credit the pluralistic Jewish education of Akiba in allowing me to make Judaism my own and bring my goofiness to Judaism,” he said.
After high school, Friedman went off to List College (JTS/Columbia), and Davies headed to Brandeis University, where he studied English literature. Friedman studied creative writing and Jewish studies.
“Those two majors,” he said, “qualify me for … well, literally, the only job I can think of is what I’m doing right now.”
It wasn’t until after college that they really reconnected, when they had both moved to New York. Friedman was teaching, while Davies assisted the city of New York in investigating police officers, “one of the least funny jobs you can imagine,” Davies said. On the side, they wrote comedy with a group they formed called the Rapscallions.
In 2011, Davies got work acting in anti-bullying show for students. He was enthused by the idea of values-based comedy, and talked over the idea with Friedman. Out of that conversation, the Bible Players were born.
Over the next few years, Friedman and Davies wrote sketches and performed improv all over the country for Jewish groups, developing new wrinkles along the way; after they saw a demand for a show for adults, they created their Unkosher Comedy Show (rated reish, as they say) and developed programming appropriate for college students.
Synagogues began to hire them for whole weekends, and they started to think more seriously about their show’s education portion. Since then, Friedman earned a master’s degree in Jewish education from the Jewish Theological Seminary, and he and Davies lead workshops for teachers that stress how valuable improv can be.
And as these things go, complications arose. Davies moved back to Philadelphia a few years ago, while Friedman stayed in New York. They wondered if that would spell the end of the Bible Players.
Instead, the group grew. They added six new Bible Players, each trained by Friedman and Davies; some are in New York, and others are in Philadelphia.
Now, they can be two places at once. A few weekends ago, Friedman was at Tiferes B’nai Israel in Warrington with one Bible Player, while Davies led a professional development weekend for teachers in Clearwater, Florida, alongside a newer Bible Player, Alison Ormsby.
Ormsby, a University of the Arts graduate, was introduced to Davies through his wife, Molly Wernick, who was once Ormsby’s camp counselor at Camp Galil. The opportunity to mix acting with tikkun olam, she said, was one she couldn’t pass up.
“I’m really interested in acting for the sake of bettering the community,” Ormsby said.
It’s not yet clear what the future will be for the Bible Players, though Davies dreams of a West Coast-based team. In the meantime, they’ll keep goofing around for Jews across the country, and maybe teach something, too.
When Beverly Socher-Lerner founded Makom Community in 2014, she had a plan that was both simple and ambitious: to combine working parents’ needs for child care with the demand for high-quality after-school Jewish education.
Five days a week, from 3-6 p.m., the community picks up students from a variety of schools and brings them back “for a whole afternoon of really immersive, playful Jewish education.”
“The driving idea of Makom Community was to bring forward a new model for Jewish education,” Socher-Lerner said. “We’ve had the model of Hebrew school, and we’ve had the model of Jewish day school for a long time. There are things about them that are wonderful, and things about them that are challenging. The idea really was to see if we could bring forward a new model.”
OK, so what does that mean?
Socher-Lerner, who holds a master’s degree in education from the University of Pennsylvania, considers herself to be a “constructivist” educator, meaning she expects her students to take what they’re learning, apply it to their lives and make meaning of it. The way previous generations were taught in Hebrew school felt too passive.
“The Jewish education I grew up with was largely an experience of learning about Judaism and not an experience of living Judaism,” she said. “I want my learners — meaning both the children and their parents and grandparents — to really be immersed in the experiences of living a Jewish life.”
The program recently captured some positive attention.
Makom — and specifically Socher-Lerner — were honored as one of five recipients of this year’s Pomegranate Prize from the Covenant Foundation, which recognizes those educators putting forth “the most dynamic, responsive, inclusive and creative ideas in Jewish education.”
“It’s very exciting in that (the award) will let me to be part of a lot of the larger national conversations about what Jewish education might grow to be in the next 10 or 15 years,” she said.
But Socher-Lerner’s formula is not prescriptive. The idea is to revel in the spirit of the teachings.
For example, when the Hebrew month of Adar rolls around in the spring, Socher-Lerner teaches her students a passage from the Talmud that she says translates to: “From the time that the month of Adar begins, happiness increases, joy increases.” To Socher-Lerner, this doesn’t necessarily call for any particular piece of pedagogy over another — and, in fact, it may not call for any pedagogy at all.
“My students know that once Adar starts, anything can happen. They might show up one day and, instead of a regular afternoon, we’re having a joke-telling contest. Or maybe there’s ice cream for no good reason other than it’s Adar.”
Things in the beginning weren’t always easy. It took time to grow enrollment, find a building, stay afloat financially and not perturb the traditionalists too much. But recognition has come.
Even so, it can be isolating when you’re one of only a few trailblazers in a field where change isn’t always popular, Socher-Lerner said.
“On the one hand, I love being an entrepreneur and, on the other hand, it can be really lonely work because you’re the one everybody looks to for ‘how do we solve this problem?’” she said. “We treat Philadelphia as our classroom and the rhythm of Jewish life here as framing and context for our lives and not something to learn about from the front of the classroom but instead something to experience.”
This recipe is an oldie but a goodie. And although it calls for a fair amount of sugar, it is a treat that doesn’t contain any white flour or dairy, so it feels a little less sinful than other seasonal sweets.
Put a couple of handfuls in a clear bag tied with a ribbon and use it as a gift in lieu of cookies, or put these out in festive dishes as a snack or dessert during a holiday gathering.
I have tried to make these without the egg white, but the spices don’t adhere as well to the nuts, so I have reverted back to this method.
You can use whatever nuts you prefer — a blend is nice, but one variety is also fine.
As for the spices, this blend delivers a complex meld of savory, salt and sweet flavors, but feel free to alter for your preference. Or ditch the entire palate and use curry powder, five spice or Mexican seasonings as you wish.
Makes 4 cups
4 cups assorted nuts: cashews, almonds, pecans, hazelnuts, walnuts, etc.
1 egg white
¾ cup sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 tablespoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon cardamom
Heat your oven to 300 degrees and line a rimmed baking tray with parchment.
In a large bowl, whisk the egg white until bubbly. Dump in the nuts and stir to coat them.
In a small bowl, mix the sugar, salt and spices. Sprinkle it over the nut mixture, and stir to distribute the spices well.
Pour the nuts onto a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes; stir the nuts and return them to the oven for another 20 minutes, or until the nuts are brown and toasty.
“The Irishman,” Martin Scorsese’s latest organized crime epic, recently became streamable on Netflix.
Even if the significant digital de-aging of the actors involved is a bit distracting, the film’s good reviews hold up thanks in large part to its legendary director and cast — Scorsese and none other than Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Al Pacino.
Making a very brief appearance in the mafia madness? Jewish mobsters.
The 3½-hour story follows Philadelphia’s Frank Sheeran (De Niro), who becomes a hitman for the Bufalino crime family, led by Russel Bufalino (Pesci), and spends time working for union leader Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino).
About 30 minutes into the film, Sheeran takes a job from mobster Whispers DiTullio (Paul Herman). Whispers instructs him to burn down the Cadillac Linen Service in Delaware, a competitor to the laundry company that Whispers owns in Atlantic City.
Whispers also tells Sheeran that Cadillac Linen is owned by “a bunch of Jews,” hands Sheeran an envelope of cash and says, “Let them collect their insurance, which I’m sure they have plenty, and leave this f—ing other place alone, the one I’m involved in.”
But Sheeran is spotted scouting out Cadillac Linen Services, and he’s called in to talk to another mobster, Angelo Bruno (Harvey Keitel). It turns out that the laundry is owned not only by the Jewish mob, but also by Bruno and his Italian gangsters. Bufalino vouches for him, saving Sheeran’s life.
To atone, Sheeran is ordered to kill Whispers. Sheeran becomes indebted to Bufalino, and the subsequent killing is Sheeran’s first murder of “The Irishman,” setting him on a path for the rest of the film.
“Whispers didn’t tell you it was Jew mob?” Bruno asks.
So who exactly is the “Jew mob” referenced here?
Let’s turn to the book on which the film was based. The real Frank Sheeran recounts in “I Heard You Paint Houses,” the source material for “The Irishman,” that two Jewish mobsters did in fact own Cadillac Linen Services: Cappy Hoffman and Woody Weisman.
But Weisman may actually have been named Max “Willie” Weisberg. In the self-published book “Izzy: A Life Inside the Old Philadelphia Jew Mob,” a Jewish mobster’s nephew writes that Cadillac Linen is really run by a man named Willie Weisberg.
Samuel “Cappy” Hoffman, meanwhile, was called “the vice king” of Atlantic City. He died in 1970 at the age of 65. Between 1923 and 1962, he was arrested 23 times.
Weisberg was the “chief lieutenant” for a prominent mob boss named Harry Stromberg, known as Nig Rosen, based out of Philadelphia.
According to a 1950 congressional investigation into organized crime in interstate commerce, Hoffman and Weisberg were Stromberg’s first and second in command. It makes sense that they would control a corrupt laundry that serviced Atlantic City — Rosen’s influence extended to South Jersey, as well as to Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
Whether this incident happened as “The Irishman” recounts — an attempted burning of a laundry, followed by a murder — we’ll probably never know. What we do know: Jewish mobsters certainly existed. Jewish-American organized crime reached its heights during the 1920s and ’30s and largely declined after World War II.
And while “The Irishman” does not get into it because many were in power before the film was set, New York was also home to many famous Jewish mobsters. Here are some highlights:
*J. Edgar Hoover called Louis “Lepke” Buchalter the “most dangerous criminal in the United States.” In 1932, Lepke helped organize the group known as “Murder, Inc.,” bringing together a wide-ranging group of Jewish and Italian crime bosses. He was sentenced to death — the only mob boss to receive the death penalty — and executed in 1944.
*Arnold “The Brain” Rothstein was best known for fixing the 1919 baseball World Series and being depicted in “The Great Gatsby” as Meyer Wolfsheim. Rothstein put together the largest gambling empire in the U.S. during the 1920s, realizing business opportunities during Prohibition. He was murdered in 1928 at age 46.
* Meyer Lansky (born Meier Suchowlański in Poland) ran a wide gambling network and helped develop the National Crime Syndicate. He tried to retire in Israel in 1970, but his citizenship application was rejected because he was a “danger to public safety.” He died of natural causes in 1983. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency in its obituary called Lansky “an acknowledged financial wizard and one-time reputed czar of organized crime in the U.S. and many points overseas.”
But the question of whether he’ll find a permanent home remains.
Szekely’s new living arrangements come courtesy of an Exponent reader moved by his story who decided to offer what she could.
“I’ve always believed that, given a different set of circumstances, any one of us could be homeless,” Malvern-based real estate agent Nancy Dougherty told The Washington Post, which recently ran its own profile of Szekely.
That belief led Dougherty to extend herself: She opened her house to Szekely.
It’s the first time the self-taught photographer, who still believes his photography is the key to his ultimate financial security, has slept in a proper bed in more than seven years.
Part of it has been surreal: “There I was, actually lying in a bed like a real human being,” he told the Post.
To Szekely, Dougherty’s generosity feels like a gift he doesn’t know how he’ll repay, but the arrangement has been mutually beneficial.
While Szekely doesn’t have chores, per se, Dougherty said, “He’s been extremely considerate and respectful and tries to be so helpful, always walking the dog.”
Dougherty, 59, lost her husband two years ago and has been living with just her dog in their four-bedroom home ever since. So for her, it’s nice having a person to talk to again.
“He’s quite a talker, definitely not a wallflower,” Dougherty said. “He’s got a lot to say. He’s very interesting and intelligent and knowledgeable on so many subjects. He’s a really good man.”
If the arrangement seems too good to be true, in a way, it is.
“Unfortunately, this isn’t a permanent solution for him,” said Julie Savitch, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s incoming chair of women’s philanthropy, who is also trying to help Szekely resolve his situation.
Dougherty confirmed that she has an interested buyer for her house and has identified a new home. She’s planning a vacation in early January and feels that it would be most appropriate for Szekely to have made new arrangements by then, although she hasn’t broached the subject with him.
“He always says he doesn’t want to pry,” Savitch said about his reticence asking questions. “I told him, ‘Andras, that’s not prying, you need to know.’ But that’s Andras.”
Savitch has called places throughout the area trying to secure Szekely housing once this dream arrangement ends. So far, she’s found Szekely unable to take the next step. She gives him numbers to call and, when she checks back in, he often hasn’t called them.
“He’s overwhelmed,” Savitch said. “There have been offers that have come in from other places, but Andras is choosy.”
Of course, an old line about beggars and choosers comes to mind, but Szekely is not a beggar.
“That’s just the thing,” Savitch echoed. “My hope is that now that he has a positive reference (from Dougherty) and everyone can see how well that arrangement has gone, someone else in a similar situation might offer a similar arrangement.”
Szekely confirmed that while he’s grateful for everything Dougherty has done, dealing with what will come next has been overwhelming. He’s found it difficult to discern, among the staggering amount of advice he’s received, the best option.
“To tell the truth, there’s too much going on,” he said. “Everyone is trying to tell me what to do, but I don’t want handouts. I want to build a business where I can succeed instead of getting government help and all these things. People try to be helpful, but they tell me to go backwards; I want to go forward.”
Szekely remains steadfast in his goal to get his photographic greeting cards into a big box retailer. He believes it’d be a win-win: Szekely would be paid well for his art; the retailer would reap the benefits of a public relations boon.
Is he ready to start thinking about a backup plan? Don’t count on it.
“I’m hoping to make connections with someone who can get me into a major store,” Szekely reiterated. “In today’s world, people see someone in this situation, they assume all I’m about is ‘gimme, gimme, gimme.’ But I’m an artist. I have something to give. I mean to achieve, not to receive a handout.”
“Handle With Care,” the second salon of Theatre Ariel’s 2019-2020 season, was the first play that Jason Odell Williams and his wife Charlotte Cohn wrote together.
In it, an Israeli woman named Ayelet and her grandmother travel to the U.S., but on Christmas Eve in Virginia, Ayelet’s grandmother dies. The delivery guy loses the coffin and, as Ayelet speaks little English, he brings his Jewish friend Josh to help translate, but Josh doesn’t actually speak Hebrew.
Theatre Ariel does “salon-style” theater, or readings in private homes, of plays with Jewish content and themes.
The readings of “Handle With Care” will take place on Dec. 7 at 8 p.m. in Bala Cynwyd, on Dec. 8 at 7 p.m. in Wynnewood, on Dec. 14 at 8 p.m. in Bryn Mawr and on Dec. 15 at 2 p.m. in Gladwyne. There will also be a reading for Tribe 12 in West Philadelphia on Dec. 12 at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are available on theatreariel.org, or tribe12.org for the Tribe 12 performance.
The idea for “Handle With Care” came about several years ago, when playwright Williams asked Cohn — who has a background in acting, producing and directing — what character she would play if she had her choice.
“And I said, ‘I’d like to be a person who cannot speak or is misunderstood and has problems communicating,’” said Cohn, who grew up in Israel and moved to the United States after her time in the Israel Defense Forces. “Right? That’s kind of what I said.”
“Your idea was that you would not have a lot of lines or a lot of words,” Williams added as Cohn laughed. “Charlotte is a gifted actress, but she’s also maybe one of the better actresses just sort of physically and (with) facial expressions.”
Williams figured the role of an Israeli character would be interesting for her to play, as the part could showcase her Hebrew as well. Cohn wound up writing the Hebrew dialogue for the play, which is in both English and Hebrew.
“The entirety of my acting career has been in English in America, and so I’ve never had to memorize Hebrew, and it was amazing how easy that was,” said Cohn, who said she hasn’t performed as Ayelet since 2014. “I mean, also I wrote it, but … the Hebrew was really easy, and to this day, I can sort of launch into it.”
In Theatre Ariel’s performances, the part of Ayelet will be played by Marissa Barnathan. She is joined by Luke Bradt, who plays Terrence the delivery guy; Ross Beschler, who plays Josh; and Susan Moses, who plays Ayelet’s grandmother Edna.
Because of the Hebrew in the play, Theatre Ariel decided to partner with the Israeli American Council to promote the readings to the local Israeli community. One member of the Israeli community is even serving as a Hebrew coach for the play, said Deborah Baer Mozes, the Theatre Ariel artistic director.
People who don’t understand Hebrew will have no trouble understanding the play, but those who do understand Hebrew may laugh first, she said.
“I had a lot more serious plays on the shortlist, but I just feel right now that there’s so much tension in the universe that I found myself being drawn to the works — that have meat to them, because it’s important that everything we do, I feel, needs to be a jumping off point to a really good conversation … but I was also feeling a need to find work that grappled with important issues with a lot of humor,” she said. “I feel like we’re in somewhat humorless times.”
She learned of the play from Ralph Meranto, the associate director of CenterStage Theatre at the Louis S. Wolk Jewish Community Center of Greater Rochester in New York.
“I wanted something uplifting for the Chanukah/Christmas time period, for the holiday time period, the December slot,” Mozes said. “I read a couple of plays, and I kept coming back to ‘Handle With Care.’ I just found it to be a heartwarming and delightful piece of theater, but also I really liked the fact that it was a bilingual play.”
Theatre Ariel has done Israeli plays in English before, but this is the first time the theater has done a play in both English and Hebrew, she said.
In another uncommon move for Theatre Ariel, “Handle With Care” is a romantic comedy.
“This play is about, in some ways, the beshert in our lives, the meant-to-be, that’s found in moments we’re not expecting,” Mozes said. “If anything, I’m hoping it will allow audiences to enjoy the unexpected and expect the unexpected.”
Nathalie Glazier wasn’t surprised when she heard the news. Rather, she felt satisfaction and validation upon winning Best New Product in the Giftware, Novelty & Non-Food category at Kosherfest a couple weeks ago.
Her winning Hebrew lettering stamps are comprised of arrangeable plastic tiles that allow bakers to imprint custom phrases on dough and fondant.
“And I know it sounds arrogant, but it’s well deserved,” Glazier said of the win. “We invented something that just didn’t exist.”
Glazier, 51, lives in Newtown and is a member of Lubavitch of Bucks County. For the past decade, she has sold custom kosher cakes and desserts under the name Au Bon Cake. A few years ago, she branched out into selling homemade Jewish-themed cookie cutters after noticing a lack of them on the market.
“You can find at Bed Bath & Beyond one set of three cutters for Chanukah and that’s it. That’s all there is,” Glazier said. “I can buy Christmas and Valentine’s and Easter things all day long anywhere. There’s like a million sellers of them. Try to buy something Jewish — forget it. It doesn’t exist. So this is why I decided to do this.”
Glazier uses a 3-D printer to turn eco-resin into a variety of cutters shaped like menorahs, dreidels, challah, kippahs and so on. She sells more than 70 products in her Etsy shop, including the Hebrew lettering stamps that took that prize at Kosherfest in Secaucus, New Jersey. It’s the largest and most attended show of its kind in the world, according to Yeshiva World News, and is estimated to have drawn more than 6,000 visitors from 21 countries.
Glazier was one of more than 400 exhibitors at the show held Nov. 12-13 at the Meadowlands Convention Center.
Outside of the show, most of Glazier’s customers, like Rachel Lebovits of Highland Park, New Jersey, discover her products through social media.
Lebovits runs her own custom desserts business, Sprinkled Pink NJ, and uses Glazier’s customizable letters in her baking. Lebovits said she previously relied on chocolate molds and paper templates to get the look she wanted.
“Because it’s such a small niche market, companies don’t focus on it,” Lebovits said. “There’s really not a lot of nice Jewish fonts, even if you go to an Israeli website. There’s very little out there in general.”
Glazier came of age in Casablanca, Morocco. At 19, she moved to France and met her husband, a United States citizen who happened to be on vacation.
“Most people bring back a little Eiffel Tower keychain,” Glazier said. “He had to bring back a wife.”
Glazier got into baking years ago as a hobby. It was a way to spend her newly found free time as her three kids grew older. Another hobby was ceramics.
Eventually, she found a way to merge the two with the discovery of fondant, “which is basically like Play-Doh, but delicious.” From there, she began creating artistic cakes, cupcakes, cookies, Moroccan pastries and French macarons. Friends took notice and her operation grew into a full-blown business.
Glazier takes great satisfaction in the fact that the opportunity for artistic expression results in something others can enjoy.
“What I enjoy most is to make people happy,” Glazier said. “I just love the look on their faces when they come pick up their cake, and they see these custom cakes with the thing they wanted, and they’re just so happy. I just love that.”