Friday, May 30, 2008

Jewish Heritage Night



Anshe S'Fard president Ben Berman and daughter enjoy "Jewish Heritage Night"

The New Orleans Zephyrs had their annual Jewish Heritage Night last night and members of the Jewish Federation of New Orleans and readers of the Deep South Jewish Voice were encouraged to attend the doubleheader against the Round Rock Express. The night started off well enough with the Zephyrs ahead 2-0 in the fourth inning of the first of two seven inning games to be played, but Round Rock eventually scored 3 runs in the fifth and sixth innings to end the game with a 3-2 win. The second game was a bit of a defensive show for the Express with pitcher Chase Douglass showing his prowess on the mound with six shutout innings out of seven and a 2-1 edge over the Zephyrs. The unfortunate part of the night was the lack of support from the Jewish community. Rabbi Uri Topolosky of Congregation Beth Israel was there with his wife Dahlia as were Chabad Rabbis Mendel Rivkin and Yossi Nemes and their families, but no Reform or Conservative rabbi was there. Touro Synagogue and Conservative Congregation Shir Chadash executive directors were there, but no others. At $5 per ticket (and $3 per car for parking), the cost of the evening wasn't the main factor for keeping members of the Jewish community away. I want to thank the Zephyrs organization for holding Jewish Heritage Night and hope that next year's event will be better attended.
Sad news from Hollywood is the loss of Harvey Korman, one of the great comic actors most notably recalled from TV's "The Carol Burnett Show" and films like "Blazing Saddles" and "High Anxiety." Korman, 81, got his first break on TV as a cast member on "The Danny Kaye Show" in 1964 before joining the Burnett show three years later. He will be linked forever with his "Carol Burnett Show" co-star Tim Conway with whom he toured nationwide for several years. Married twice, Korman leaves behind his wife Deborah Fritz and four children, two from each marriage.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Coincidence or divine intervention?




In my travel to San Diego last week for the National Annual Meeting of the Boy Scouts of America a strange thing occurred, but I will get to that in just a bit. I was on board the USS Midway, the aircraft carrier built at the end of World War II that has the distinction of having the longest service of any carrier in the U.S. Navy. The Midway was commissioned in 1945 and served as a flagship during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. Previously, it also saw service in the Korean War and the VietNam War, where it registered both the first and the last U.S. air-to-air kills of that conflict. Following decommission, the Midway (CV-41) has had a final resting place in San Diego bay since 1994. It was a tremendous gamble for the city, which was forced to deal with a hefty $1.5 million cost to transport the carrier to its place of honor as a museum dedicated to the history of aircraft carriers at Broadway Pier. However, since it's installation in San Diego, the Midway Museum has drawn a steady stream of visitors and has stimulated a revitalization of the harbor area. Much of the interior and exterior has been redone with the funds that have been raised and a typical attendance of visitors extends now to over four million annually. I mention the four million visitor figure because it is a very unlikely statistical probability that I would see someone I knew on board on a specific day and a specific time and at a specific location on a vessel that spans the length of three football fields and stands 18 stories high. Nevertheless, that is exactly what happened. While visiting the Midway with my Scouting friends Cheryl Baraty and Kim Queen from Milwaukee, I noticed an older couple who were in the engine room with me. The gentleman was wearing a T-shirt, but he looked somehow familiar. His wife wore a lovely gold necklace bearing the Hebrew letters for "Chai" (or "life") twice -- something referred to as a "Double Chai." Almost immediately, I introduced myself and explained I was a visitor from New Orleans. It was then that he told me he had been in New Orleans recently, helping with the recovery effort there, especially in the Jewish community. Suddenly, it clicked. I knew him. He continued his story about how he had helped arrange for delivery of a donated Torah scroll to my own Congregation Beth Israel, the Orthodox synagogue that lost seven scrolls in the wake of floods caused by levee breaches after Hurricane Katrina. I saw his face and remembered how I had taken many pictures of his visit to New Orleans with the Torah scroll only a little over a year ago. His name is Kenneth Levin and he works as a senior social services supervisor for Orange County. Ken and his wife Nancy just happened to be down from Annaheim, at least a three hour trip by car. Again, for me to believe that this was simple coincidence might be stretching the boundaries of believability. After all, I was only due to visit San Diego for a few hours on one particular day. It is an amazing fact that I could have toured the ship later in the afternoon and missed them or I could have passed them in another room, but not been close enough to talk with them and learn of their connection to me. In fact, that we were on the same lower floor at all was amazing when one thinks about it. The only thing I could think of doing was to notify the former president of my congregation, Jackie Gothard, and to let her chat with Ken over my cellphone. It was then that I knew there must have been a reason for my being there and for Ken and Jackie to make contact once again. It would seem that Ken now has more incentive to come back to New Orleans with another group from Anaheim. After all, he now has another person to show him around and to make his stay in the Crescent City more special. This time he can also bring his charming wife Nancy bearing the "Double Chai" necklace, which means, after all, "two times life."

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Magic Castle



Many decades ago I became acquainted with The Magic Castle, a private club in Los Angeles for magicians, when it was prominently featured in an episode of "Columbo." In this particular episode, the redoubtable Lt. Columbo had to figure out how the villain, played by the late Jack Cassidy, was seemingly able to be in two places at once: performing on stage in front of an audience while committing a murder in an adjacent office. What I didn't know then was that The Magic Castle is much more than a performing hall for magicians. It is the home for the Academy of Magical Arts, Inc., an exclusive group of 5,000 magicians who promotes the ancient art of magic and attempts to preserve its history. The Magic Castle is more than a clubhouse. It is a research library, an archives, a fine dining establishment, several bars and three different performing areas. Rare pictures, posters, caricatures and other memorabilia line the walls while magicians and their invited guests enjoy spectacular meals and some of the very best magic shows within four floors of the mansion. Originally built as a private residence in 1908 for Rollin Lane, a banker and real estate tycoon who owned much of present Hollywood, The Magic Castle underwent conversion into a multi-family dwelling and later served as a nursing home before being transformed into a private club for magicians in 1963. Famous performing professional magicians like Marc Wilson and amateurs like Johnny Carson were members when it began with a group of 150. Whether dropping by during the day or visiting the mansion at night, guests and members are required to wear coat and tie and proper dress. No one is admitted as a guest unless they have the name and member number of a member. Guests conducted by members are admitted like guests at a country club, while guests of members who are unaccompanied must pay an entrance fee ranging from $20 at night to $25 on weekends. Reservations are required and require a week's notice typically. Once inside, however, members and guests can witness performances by some of the very best magicians from across the globe on the three stages a main stage that seats about 80 (Palace of Mystery), a smaller hall that seats about 60 (Parlour of Prestidigitation) and a close-up magic parlor (Close-up Gallery) that fits about 20 guests. I was treated to a private tour of The Magic Castle last Friday evening by a magician friend of mine and his wife, who are frequent visitors to the house to enjoy meals by themselves or with guests. What a night! The kitchen was first class with an attentive wait staff. Entrees were well prepared and a full service bar and ample wine list were also available. The ambiance of this transformed Victorian mansion made for a truly special evening and I am eternally grateful for the privilege. If anyone wants to know how to get inside, the answer to the question is simple: magic!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Planes, Trains, Automobiles...and a Bus?

The blog has had to be on hiatus for the past six days while I sojourned in San Diego and Los Angeles. It was a real life case of "Planes, Trains and Automobiles," as the John Candy-Steve Martin movie was termed. Only in my case it was "Planes, Trains, Automobiles and a Bus." San Diego, the second largest city in California, is exquisitely beautiful. The temperate clime has a mean average of 72 degrees F per year with a mean differential of nine degrees F throughout the year. I was in San Diego for the Boy Scouts of America's National Annual Meeting. It was an opportunity to meet with friends and colleagues and to sit in on some of the meetings for the two national committees on which I serve. San Diego is a very clean city and the nearby island of Coronado is so picturesque because retail outlets like Burger King, Subway and McDonald's are deliberately required to be low key and to blend into the existing architecture and neighborhood zoning. A U.S. Navy base occupies much of the island and one can see the Navy S.E.A.L.S. units practicing being dropped from helicopters and wenched back up as well as conducting nighttime activities on the San Diego bay in full camouflage and wet suits. After the meetings in San Diego, I took the Pacific Surfliner to Los Angeles. Looking out of the window at the Pacific Ocean seems almost like being on board a cruise ship at certain points of the journey. I travelled Business Class and I would recommend it for anyone considering that form of travel between San Diego and L.A. After the train arrived in downtown L.A., I hopped a Flyways bus to Los Angeles Airport (LAX) so that I could rent a car for the remainder of the week in L.A. Coming up tomorrow will be a description of the Magic Castle, where I was fortunate to be an invited guest on Friday night. I will not speak of the Los Angeles Dodgers game on Saturday night versus the St. Louis Cardinals out of respect for the team that should have posted a win, but suffered a very embarrassing loss before a hometown crowd.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Bees' Knees

In 94% of all cases where one NBA team in the playoffs jumps out to a 2-0 start, the series ends with that team winning. The New Orleans Hornets joined that slender six percent minority last night when they dropped the seventh and final game of their series with the defending world champion San Antonio Spurs 92-81. It doesn't make any difference that they were in the game, getting as close at three points before the Spurs put the game out of reach. It is just another example of the futility of putting one's hopes on a New Orleans team only to see them dashed on the rocks of chance and circumstance. If I were a betting man, I would have lost it all after having seen how confidently the Hornets took the first two games away from the Spurs. But then the games shifted to San Antonio. It was there that significant blowout wins were won against the Hornets and the momentum seemed to swing towards the Spurs. The Hornets had a chance to put the series out of reach in Game Five and to win the series outright in Game Six, but they allowed San Antonio the opportunity to rebound with consecutive wins both home and away. The doldrums have set in here much as they did Sunday when Cleveland's Cavaliers and King James were put away by Boston. New Orleans has turned around what had begun as a so-so season into one of the best in the league. Attendance has risen sharply and all of the excitement they generated this season will spill over into next year's. But again we sit wondering what went wrong. And again we hear that time honored phrase "Wait 'till next year!"

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Two new musical comedies take town by storm

While much of the hoopla in New Orleans has been on a certain NBA franchise, two other items of side interest have hit the local boards and are both worthy of mention. The first is Ricky Graham's new show "The Renew Review" starring Graham and co-writer Sean Patterson with support from distaff members Yvette Hargis and Mandy Zirchenback. With typical Ricky Graham comedic touches, this show lambasts the ongoing recovery effort in New Orleans with updated new songs and skits. The two act presentation running at Le Chat Noir on weekends has been selling briskly and shows are nearly all sold out. Nevertheless, for those who can get tickets, I would strongly suggest you get to Le Chat Noir and catch a very funny production by a proven winning team. The other show that just opened that is also worthy of catching is Rivertown Repertory's production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "By Jeeves," a British farce musical that is a romp with director-actor Gary Rucker in the lead role and Vatican Lokey playing the title figure. Both Rucker and Lokey lead a sterling cast of very funny players who don't miss a trick in making the audiences laugh from opening line to final chord.
Goodbye to Rivertown's Cathy Primeaux as she leaves the Kenner theatre after 15 years as stage mother to all and box office manager. Primeaux takes up work again in the medical field, but we know her heart will always be in the theatre...not the operating theatre! Best of luck to her!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Toll Rises

As per my previous blog, the reports are now flooding the networks with the horrors of what life is like in China and Myanmar following the catastrophic earthquake and cyclones there. I don't want to watch these depressing accounts, but I am compelled to do so. With loss of life on such a grand scale, the numbers are startling. I cannot fathom the loss of 900 young students in one building like occurred in one Chinese city or the loss of entire towns washed away in the wake of the cyclone. It is staggering to think of the hardships imposed on rescue workers and probably true that more people are dying today of disease and neglect than were killed in the initial stages of these tragedies. It is my nature to fix things. It is what I do. When I see a computer not performing correctly or a network down, I right it. When spy ware or viruses threaten an end user, I install the means to thwart these attacks and to keep everything on track. Yet, when I see destruction on such a grand scale, I am cognizant of how ineffective and puny I am in the face of it. I have led a blessed life and I praise God for sparing me from the indignities and vicissitudes of life that my Asian brothers and sisters are enduring. Everything happens for a reason. I do believe that. I hope we generous Americans can once again rally assistance to those who are crying, screaming, and dying for it now. Time is of the essence.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

"Oh, the humanity..."

When the giant rigid airship Hindenburg exploded in flame over Lakehurst, New Jersey in 1937, a radio reporter, Herb Morrison, was on hand recording the scene. His overexpressive reporting was captured on a wire recorder and later presented as an on-the-spot report. The reporter's relaxed, rapid paced delivery was soon pierced by deep sighs and exclamations like "Oh, the humanity!" At one point he apologized as he turned off the recorded to catch his breath. From this ignoble beginning came the journalistic tradition of broadcasting events as they happened. In a way that report and the thousands of others that followed over radio and TV in more recent decades were the precursors of today's modern CNN and Fox News Reports, where seasoned correspondents relate the breaking news of the day. The only difference is that today we are accustomed to seeing our news delivered live as it happens. We've watched two Gulf Wars waged over cable TV and even witnessed reporters delivering their dispatches from the battlefronts via cellphones. Here in Louisiana and New Orleans the nation witnessed the horrors of people plucked by helicopter from rooftops as reporters commented on the action. And there were also those reports which showed those unable to save themselves from rising waters, their bodies found in attics or floating in receding wakes. It all happened live on TV and we witnessed the tragedy firsthand. When America was attacked by Islamic fanatics who chose to crash airplanes into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, we watched it happen live. Yet for all the modern technological wonders that exist in broadcasting, there are limitations. Last week an estimated 13,000 to 24,000 victims were claimed as a result of a cyclone in Myanmar, the country formerly known as Burma. Their military junta refused the entry of Western broadcasters into what remains of their devastated country for political reasons of expediency. Yesterday in another land halfway across the globe, another catastrophic event claimed at least ten times as many victims as Hurricane Katrina and the breach of federal levees did. This was a level 7.9 earthquake that hit the heavily populated Sishuan province of China, a leader of the modern world community. But like the Myanmar cyclone, there were no pictures or videos to be viewed by the Western world. Hundreds of cellphone towers are down and reporters are finding it extremely difficult to file reports from the scene. With estimates of deaths in China running at least to 15,000 and many more thousands of injured still being accounted, these two tragedies will loom large for months to come, even up to the time when China wants to show off its best face for the upcoming Summer Olympiad in Beijing. What we don't see, we can't envision. Without broadcasts from the scene, we don't fathom the scale of these tragedies. I read the words in newspapers and I see abreviated reports on TV that attempt to approximate what huge losses of life and culture are being experienced. But without live from the scene reports, we are at best under-informed and at worst misinformed. I feel like that intrepid reporter shouting into a microphone: "Oh, this is terrible. This is one of the worst disasters in the world!" But no one can hear. No one can see. We are truly deaf and blind in an Information Age without information. The existence of a global neighborhood is hugely dependent on technology and the ability of world leaders to let the rest of us in. In Myanmar and China, Westerners are not largely welcomed, despite the fact they face critical shortages of medicine and supplies to sustain life in these hard-hit areas. It is up to us to ramp up support for these people, who despite their governments, need our help. I urge everyone to be responsible and socially active to help them now. As a former recipient of aid following Hurricane Katrina, I know just how much it will be appreciated by those unable to ask for assistance.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The IT Pro 2008 Conference

The last three days have been a bit of a blur. Much of the daytime has been spent watching experts make other experts more informed and better equipped to work in the IT field as Small and Medium Business (SMB) consultants. SMB consultants have been gathering here in New Orleans under the heading of the IT Pro 2008 Conference invented and piloted by IT guru Jeff Middleton. Middleton's SBSmigration.com website (http://www.sbsmigration.com) has all of the information about this year's conference, so I won't bore you with all of the details. However, it has been an eye-opening experience. One of the biggest topics is on "managed services," an all-encompassing opportunity for IT professionals to offer their abilities to monitor businesses and do preventive maintenance through a full spectrum of services and products. Small IT firms and sole proprietors have different concepts about how many managed services they should offer or even if they should offer any. The most productive IT consultants have been raising the ante in terms of minimal requirements for SMB clients. It is not unusual for them to turn down business from small offices with only five or fewer clients in a peer-to-peer system. Some of them will require at least one server or a minimum of 10 clients. Whatever criteria they use -- whether it's retainers or service contracts -- these IT firms are exploring new ways to increase their profitability and extend their productivity all the while while learning the best practices in an industry that is constantly reinventing itself with new products from Microsoft and other industry giants. These are some of the best and brightest minds in IT who are down in New Orleans to enjoy themselves, but to roll up their sleeves and learn what others are doing in other parts of the country and the world to hold onto their present clients, gain more clients, and to become more productive and profitable in the computer consulting field. In the end building customer trust is of paramount concern to all of them, but how to do that is the big question. Does learning a new skill set like that required for deployment of Windows SBS Server 2008 (due out in release in the fall) guarantee that these IT firms will be a leg up on their competition? Is virtualization, which allows for legacy applications to work on new operating system platforms, the future of the industry for SMB consulting? Where are the tools and technologies that exist today that will help IT professionals make their businesses stronger and increase trust among their clients? While many of these questions have been answered throughout the conference, there are nearly as many questions that continue to be raised on other items of interest. It is a process and IT professionals are continually asking themselves are they where they should be every few years as technology changes explode exponentially. So in a nutshell, the future is here and success is looming if only these IT professionals can take advantage of what is available. For three days we have all been in learning mode. The good news is that we have all benefited from this conference and I plan to be back here again next year.

Friday, May 9, 2008

SBS Migration.com

I am spending today and the entire weekend at the IT Pro 2008 conference being held ironically in my hometown of New Orleans. Jeff Middleton, a guru of Small Business Server, has held this conference once before last year and it proved to be so well received that he organized a second one over the course of three days. For IT professionals who have never been to New Orleans, it's a great way to learn about best practices and to experience demonstrations of new products intended to work closely with Windows Server 2008 and the upcoming release of Windows Small Business Server 2008 expected in the fall. This is the real deal and is not a Microsoft rollout of prepared propaganda that glosses over problems inherent with operating systems. It is a conference of people who work in the field on a daily basis and who are working with clients as business solution providers. If it works, they know about it. If it doesn't, they let everyone know too. Frankly, I love the amount of IT expertise being expressed in this conference by the speakers and the attendees. More on this conference later. Right now, we have to conduct a parade to Bourbon Street!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Remembering the fallen and the rise of Israel

Last night's community-wide celebration at Conservative Congregation Shir Chadash was an emotional program for several reasons. The evening began before sunset as the fallen members of the Israel Defense Force and others who fought for the independence of the State of Israel were commemorated in a series of prayers led by several rabbis representing the entire spectrum of Jewish religious thought. Prominent were host Rabbi Ted Lichtenfeld and Rabbi Andrew Busch of Touro Synagogue, both of whom arrived just prior to Hurricane Katrina and both of whom have announced plans to relocate to other communities before the third anniversary of the storm. Rabbi Robert Loewy of Gates of Prayer and Rabbi Uri Topolosky of Congregation Beth Israel rounded out the local contingent of rabbis. Gates of Prayer Cantorial Soloist Victoria May and Cantor Joel Colman of Temple Sinai led the audience in several Hebrew prayers and songs with accompaniment on May's guitar. Guest Rabbi Uri Barnea, a native of Israel and a musical conductor and composer now the spiritual leader of Temple B'nai Israel in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, gave a talk on the history of Israeli music with demonstrations on violin and recorder. He also provided taped highlights of several well-known Israeli performers. The event coincided with the start of Yom Ha'Azmut, Israel Independence Day, as observed on the Hebrew calendar. The date on the English calendar is May 14, which was the date when Israel declared its independence in 1948, three score years ago.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

A Split Decision

Well, it appears that the closely fought contest in Indiana went to Clinton and the race in North Carolina went (as expected) to Obama. Between the two, North Carolina was the slightly bigger prize. But how different are we today than we were yesterday? In short there are fewer committed delegates than there are uncommitted superdelegates. So, the Democratic nomination is looking more and more like a series of backroom deals between politicians than an elective process that emanates from the people. Frankly, I'm not sure that the people are served by a system that elevates one group of delegates over another. Yet, there was a dichotomy expressed in Clinton's speech late Tuesday night that many of the political observers couldn't help but notice. On the one hand, she said she was committed to continuing the battle in the remaining contests, but she also stated publicly that no matter who was the Democratic nominee, she would support him. That sounds like she may have begun to see the obvious. If the pundits are correct, she has loaned herself over six million dollars to continue the financing of the the campaign over the course of the last month. She may be running out of patience and money. Hey, I can think of plenty of things worse than having to be the first woman to accept the vice-presidency. Maybe she is keeping her options open, spinning her campaign a bit more acceptably toward the Obama camp. We'll see.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Sisters and Brothers

Yesterday might have been the most perfect day for Jazz Fest that I've experienced since my halcyon days as a footloose and fancy-free bachelor. True, there was quite a bit of residual mud left over from several days of downpours and sloshing by festival goers, but the music and spirit of revelry carried the day. Despite cloudless skies, the sun was moderate and, with a generous application of sunscreen quite manageable. Copious amounts of water enabled me to keep hydrated throughout the day and I found the humidity levels much more tolerable due to the cold front that moved through on Saturday. The day began for me at Economy Hall, where I had a third row seat for the Pfister Sisters. The Pfister Sisters have been together since the 1980s as a tribute vocal group to the Boswell Sisters, the original jazz vocal group of three real New Orleanian siblings who took the nation by storm in the Roaring Twenties. The Pfister Sisters, Holly Bentsen, Yvette Voelker, and Debbie Davis, have recaptured the intricate jazz harmonies of the Boswells (Martha, Vet and Connee) to perfection, lovingly mixing them with their own original compositions like "Laissez Faire" and "Down at the Jazz Fest." If any group could ever represent the sweetness and slightly naughty nature of New Orleans's fairer sex, it would, no doubt, be the Pfister Sisters. Debbie Davis, who took over the important midrange vocals from her early predecessor Suzy Malone, added ukulele to the program and asked her husband, sousaphonist Matt Perrine, to accompany the group on stage. Oddly, two other musicians with the same first names, guitarist Matt Johnson and violinist Matt Rhody, were also heard and seen onstage to enhance the heavenly vocals of the Pfister Sisters. Amasa Miller, a gifted pianist, who is also known as Charmaine Neville’s musical director, led the entire musical ensemble. Following the show I made sure to get to the front of the line to have them sign their new CD, "Puttin' It On," titled after an original Boswell Sisters classic. When in town for the French Quarter Festival a few weeks back, well-known cabaret singer and songwriter Amanda McBroom noted at her last show at Le Chat Noir that she was incredibly impressed with the Pfister Sisters. That was a great tribute from a great source and I so informed the Pfister Sisters, who were cooling down from a hot performance. Following a bit of Festival food, I headed over the to the Professor Longhair Acura Stage, where I encamped for the remainder of the day. Up first was Carlos Santana, who brought back many of his classic early hits like "Jingo," "Black Magic Woman," "Oye, Como Va," and "Soul Sacrifice" along with new hits like "Maria, Maria" and "Smooth." The very sultry and sexy guitar stylings of Santana were a perfect intro to the deans of New Orleans music, the Neville Brothers, who appeared for the first time at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival since Hurricane Katrina. The set was mostly old time favorites like "Yellow Moon," "Brother John/Iko Iko," "Meet de Boys on the Battlefront," and "Fire on the Bayou." By far and away the most anticipated part of the Nevilles act was the angelic voice of Aaron Neville, who dedicated several of his selections like "Tell It Like It Is" and closer "Amazing Grace" to his late wife Joel. Aaron has recently relocated back to New Orleans, after living in Tennessee for most of the last three years. Towards the end of their set, the Nevilles invited Carlos Santana to sit in with them for a song to the delight of the audience who could see the stage directly or those watching on two huge video screens on either side of the stage. Sometime as the sun set on the massive crowd assembled in the infield of the historic Fair Grounds, I knew I had finally arrived back in the city of my birth. The Nevilles were on the Jazz Fest stage closing things out. The crowd was swaying back and forth to the music. Everyone was happy and God was in his place in the universe.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Meet the Biggest Loser

My sister told me she already knew I was the biggest loser and that I didn't need a contest to prove it. Hmmm...one would think that she was a bit jealous, especially since she had to use WeightWatchers to achieve her goals. (Not that there's anything wrong with WeightWatchers, mind you.) But I will not let her bring me down on a day in which I am victorious and basking in the inner glow of my accomplishment. I have yet to talk to my trainer, Ben Schoenfeld, but goodness, gracious how wonderful it is to have set a goal and reached it. He is exactly what I wanted: a tough, hardened drill sergeant who forced me to do exercises I would never have dreamed of doing. He is keen on working on improving the core muscles so a lot of times in the circuit room I was balancing on some mechanism while using free weights. He is amazing and I look forward to moving forward with him as my journey towards fitness continues.
Kudos to Debbie Pesses of the Jewish Community Center for last night's excellent Yom HaShoah program featuring Dr. Mark Wygoda, a McNeese University professor and head of the department of zoology, who spoke on his father Hermann Wygoda. For those not familiar with the elder Wygoda's fight against the Nazis during World War II, I would recommend picking up a copy of "In the Shadow of the Swastika," his memoirs, which the younger Wygoda helped publish. In short, Hermann Wygoda resisted the Nazis by refusing to wear a Jewish yellow star. He spoke perfect German, which got him through many a close call and helped save his life on many an occasion. Eventually, he moved to the heart of the Nazi war machine in Berlin from his native Poland before taking off for Italy to join the partisans fighting against the German forces in Savona. Known as "Enrico," Wygoda ended the war as a division commander. Most of those he saved in Savona had no idea he was Jewish, much less that he wasn't German. A special tribute was given to Immaculate Conception School, whose middle school studies the Holocaust. Representatives of the school as well as many of the students who attend came to the somber ceremonies and witnessed how the survivors took them to heart. It was an incredible night of remembrance and a special time for those who were not born during the era, but who knew many of the victims and their relatives.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Do these blogs make me look fat?



Wow! For those who don't believe what the power of a picture can be, check out the before and after pictures taken a few months apart. (Obviously, I must like that tie a lot because it's featured in both shots.) According to the fitness director at the JCC who sponsored "The Biggest Loser" contest, I was in the lead as of yesterday afternoon. I knew I had lost nearly 18 pounds in the six weeks and one day I participated in the contest, but much more impressive than that was the total of 14.5 INCHES that I lost from shoulders, waist, legs, and arms. The point is that anyone can do this if only they put their minds to it. If I am announced as the winner, I will get ten additional sessions with my trainer, Ben Schoenfeld, who has been a major reason for my achieving the impressive results above. I'll let you know.
Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice spoke Tuesday at the American Jewish Committee's 102nd National Annual meeting. For those of you who missed it, the Secretary talked at length about the commitment of the Bush administration to the State of Israel. She proudly mentioned the historic connection between the U.S. and Israel and emphasized that only 11 minutes elapsed between the time of the announcement of the formation of the modern State of Israel by David Ben-Gurion and official U.S. recognition. Rice reiterated that the U.S. policy has and will continue to be to ensure the survival of the Jewish State by defending it whenever its security is threatened. She stressed the need to isolate Hamas and other terrorist interests in the Middle East who continue to work against the Road Map to peace there. The Secretary of State made it clear that the Bush administration will continue to bring Israelis and Palestinians to the peace table, despite the hard choices being faced by all. She took time to note the close friendship she and former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon shared and stated that his successor Ehud Olmert is as strong leader for his people. Rice's most pointed comments concerned Iran and its continuing to train and support Islamic extremists who are bent on the destruction of Israel. In a question and answer period that followed the talk, Rice was asked to comment on former President Jimmy Carter's recent meeting with Hamas. She took the opportunity to again state that Carter was advised not to meet with Hamas, because they would use that meeting to forward their agenda. She commented that she didn't see any point to meeting with people who are bent on the destruction of peace there.
Yom HaShoah commemorations began earlier today in Israel due to the advent of Shabbat on Friday. The local JCC has a program that will begin tonight just before sundown featuring survivors, their children and grandchildren. This holiday also known as Holocaust Memorial day remembers the victims of the violence and prejudice of the Holocaust and allows survivors to recall those family members they lost. Among the six million souls lost, over one million were innocent children slain during the time of the Nazi madness. In Israel a two-minute period of silence was observed and flags have been flying at half-staff all day. Next week the Israelis will commemorate Yom HaZikaron, Israel Memorial Day, and Yom HaAtzma'ut, Israel Independence Day, which kicks off the "Israel at 60" celebrations. President Bush and Secretary of State Rice are both expected to attend the festivities along with a host of other dignitaries and celebrities.