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What do the Sprint Center and The Kansas City Jewish Chronicle have in common? They have both used Digital Lagoon to enhance their images.

Digital Lagoon’s multi-faceted services can be used by individuals, small companies and large corporations.

Just how multi-faceted?

“Let’s talk about a new company for example. We can develop the website. We can put together videos for training, marketing and sales. We can do the interior and exterior design and all trade show displays,” explained Owner/President Jordan Gershon. It’s very common for companies to hire the Jewish-owned business for the varied services they offer. The Chronicle hired Digital Lagoon to correct some glitches on its website; its parent company, MetroMedia publishers, had magazine covers enlarged, which now hang on the office walls.

When Digital Lagoon was established in 1995, Interactive CD-Rom and video production was the company’s primary focus. Shortly after, it was contacted to assist in the development of sprint.com, which launched a new Web development division within Digital Lagoon.

“We next developed twinkies.com, amctheatres.com and garmin.com,” said Gershon, who is a member of The Temple, Congregation B’nai Jehudah.

Today, Gershon described Digital Lagoon as a “single-source provider for marketing communications.”

That includes providing cutting-edge technology in Web development, video production and large-format digital printing.

When it comes to developing websites, Gershon said Digital Lagoon can do “the creative, the programming and also take care of all the hosting and on-going maintenance.”

“We have a very powerful content management system that allows the user to be able to update and make any changes to their website,” Gershon said. “No matter how large or small the website, it’s easily developed and maintained by Digital Lagoon.”

Digital Lagoon works with a variety of companies such as retailers, restaurants and health care clients. In fact it just completed large projects for both Carondelet Health and the Blue Valley School District’s CAPS program. Customers aren’t just centered in Kansas City, Gershon said, “Digital Lagoon serves people and businesses all over the country.”

If video production is needed, Digital Lagoon offers location shooting, editing, post-production, mastering and duplication.

“We have writers, producers, script writers and editors. We can take it from an idea all the way through the completed production,,” Gershon said. Many companies are currently training their employees, Gershon said,  using Web-based training, which Digital Lagoon develops.

“You can track the user, see what they’ve looked at and incorporate testing to see if they are retaining the information. That’s a good use of combining our video and web technology,” Gershon said.

The newest facet of Digital Lagoon’s business is large-format digital printing, which was added in 2007. It’s iunique in that it can print on almost any type of material.

“Our biggest project to date is the entire Sprint Center,” he said. “When you go to the Sprint Center, we did the design, the installation and the printing for the interior and exterior signs and graphics.”

On the print side, Digital Lagoon works with consumers, retailers, designers and architects. Besides signage, businesses often need large digital printing to showcase products at trade shows. Gershon said, “Digital Lagoon not only creates and produces the materials; it can install them as well, regardless of where the installation is needed.”

“We can print on metals, acrylic, glass, vinyl, fabric, tile and others” he said. “We use UV ink so it’s impervious to any moisture or fading and allows for both interior and exterior applications.”
Digital Lagoon’s state-of-the-art facility includes a complete prepress shop, wide-format printers, a complete finishing shop and full installation and design services.

“We have the skill and the capacity to turn your job around quickly and affordably,” Gershon said. “It’s all very new technology that’s only been around three years.  I’ve always been interested in technology and media.”Gershon is involved in every aspect of the business and thoroughly enjoys it.

“I absolutely love it. I like interacting with clients to increase their sales and providing them with new creative solutions,” he said.

The company has recently jumped into the promotional business with photodarts.com.

Featured in the Wall Street Journal, Gershon pointed out that photodarts.com can customize regulation-sized dart boards by printing any image, logo or photo. Customers can see what the customized dartboard will look by clicking on the website and uploading the image. Dart boards can also be found on Digital Lagoon’s website, www.lagoon.com.

Rabbi Moti Rieber has been on a journey — a life journey — that has now taken him to Kansas City, the home town of his wife, Suzy Siegler Rieber, daughter of Merna and the late Sylvan Siegler.

His journey started in New Jew Jersey where he grew up and studied at Rutger’s University. In 1995 he moved to Israel, one of a group of young, enthusiastic Americans encouraged to make aliyah and become English teachers. He spent four years in Israel, where he met Suzy. Married in 1997 at Kansas City’s Congregation Beth Shalom, they returned to Israel where they both taught English.

Eventually he and Suzy decided that they wanted to be closer to family. So the physical journey brought them back to this country, but he also made a spiritual/emotional journey. He decided to become a rabbi. After graduating in 2004 from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote, Pa. (a 30-minute train ride from downtown Philadelphia), he became a pulpit rabbi in Illinois for three years.

But Rabbi Rieber’s journey was not over yet. While he lived in Pennsylvania he worked in Jewish communal work, and he discovered he really enjoyed it.

So another journey began. Rabbi Rieber, Suzy and their three children, moved to Wichita where he became the director of the Mid-Kansas Jewish Federation. While there he served on the board of the Kansas Interfaith Power and Light, the local branch of a national organization that encourages local congregations to ‘green’ their worship spaces and teach about the environment and stewardship of the earth from a religious prospective.

This led to his revelation that he wanted to continue working in non-profit work that relates to tikkun olum, repair of the world. Issues that interest him are environmental issues, sustainable food for local distribution, urban organizations and activism. Currently he serves on the board of the Overland Park Community Gardens.

The Rieber family journeyed one more time this summer when they moved to the Kansas City area to be closer to family and friends. Suzy was able to find a job with the Shawnee Mission School District.

Rabbi Rieber is teaching at a variety of places in the area: The TAG Program, confirmation class at Beth Torah, Adult Education at the Jewish Community Center, and substitute teaching as needed at Congregation Beth Shalom for teens.

“Rabbi Rieber is very passionate about the topics he teaches and very knowledgeable,” said Jeff Goldenberg, the director of Adult Jewish Learning at the Jewish Community Center. “He connects well with the students.

Currently Rabbi Rieber is teaching a three-part program: “How We Saw Ourselves: Art, Literature and Music in Early 20th Century Jewish Communities.” These nine sessions were divided into three individual units, Immigrant America, Yiddish World, and Pre-State Israel.” The final part, Pre-State Israel, began this week.

“We need to offer more of the secular Jewish learning information: art, literature, music,” Goldenberg said. “Rabbi Rieber is teaching not your every day topics.”

As he makes his place in the Kansas City community, Rabbi Rieber has joined both BIAV and Beth Shalom. He is hoping to find a full-time position that fulfills his desires to repair the world. But he also hopes to continue teaching both adults and teens.

“What I’m really looking for is sustaining parnassah in Kansas City,” he said. “Some combination of non-profit work (Jewish or secular), teaching, B’nai Mitzvah tutoring and freelancing as a rabbi that would lead me to be able to stay here and support my family.”

And, he and Suzy hope, their journeys end here in Kansas City.

People are often criticized and looked on with disdain for being fat. “A Matter of Size” puts a comedic spin on being overweight. This endearing romantic comedy is the closing night film of the 13th annual Kansas City Jewish Film Festival. Its exclusive showing will be at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, March 13, at the White Theatre.

Herzl (Itzik Cohen), age 35, suffers from low self-esteem mainly attributable to his obese girth. He feels like he has an incurable disease every time he steps on a scale. His earliest childhood memories are of being called “fatso” or “Mount Herzl.”

He lives with his seamstress mother, Mona (Levana Finkelstein), in the central Israel city of Ramla (ironically, a sister city of Kansas City). His latest efforts to drop kilos have been deemed a waste of time by weight loss counselor Geula (Evelin Hagoel).

Herzl gets a new job washing dishes at a Japanese restaurant. He sees on television Sumo wrestling for the first time. This revelation opens his eyes to the possibility of an athletic endeavor where his hefty bulk is advantageous. He decides to start a Sumo wrestling club.

Herzl persuades his three friends, Aharon (Divir Benedek), Gidi (Alon Dahan) and Sammy (Shmulik Cohen), to quit the dieting program and join him as part of Ramla’s Sumo wrestling team. They convince Kitano (Togo Igawa), the owner of the restaurant and a former Sumo referee in Japan, to serve as their coach. They clean up an old warehouse that becomes their training facility. Their goal is to wrestle in a locally-held competition with the winner representing Israel in a Japanese tournament.

Herzl becomes attracted to Zehava (Irit Kaplan), a pretty zaftig girl. He invites her over for Shabbat dinner. Mona tells Herzl she wants thin grandchildren and thinks Zehava is too fat. Zehava overhears these cruel remarks. Herzl tries to smooth things over with Zehava. A humorous scene takes place at Zehava’s abode concerning whether to leave the lights on or off during sex.

Zehava has a black belt in judo and Herzl invites her to train alongside the men. Kitano hurts Zehava’s feelings when he tells her that women are not allowed to participate in Sumo. When Zehava walks off crying, Herzl follows after her and tells her he is quitting Sumo. This turns out to be a lie.

Besides the budding relationship between Herzl and Zehava, every character has their own side story that becomes a subplot. One of the priceless scenes that will have you in stitches is when these four men walk through the city wearing only the traditional bright red mawashi that look like loincloth diapers. The last reel involves a series of competitive matches where the objective is to push an opponent out of the “dohyo” (the ring) to win. The movie ends on a cute upbeat note with Herzl in the hallway outside of Zehava’s apartment.

The delightful screenplay triggers an inspirational spark of self-acceptance, especially for fat people who can come out of their closets with pride. The acting is very natural and convincing. The movie debuted at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival. It has played at more than 50 Jewish film festivals around the world.

“A Matter of Size” received 13 Ophir nominations (the equivalent of our Academy Awards), which was the most of any Israeli film in 2009. It won awards for best costume design, best actress (Kaplan) and best supporting actress (Finkelstein). The superior quality of the film is reflected in the other nominated categories for best film (lost to “Ajami”), best director, best actor (Itzik Cohen), best supporting actor (Benedek), best screenplay, best editing, best cinematography, best sound, best music and best art direction.

Harvey and Bob Weinstein were so impressed with this cinematic gem that they have bought the rights for an American remake. This feel-good romantic comedy, in the same vein as “The Full Monty,” is not afraid of featuring big-bellied men. It has a running time of 90 minutes and contains sexually suggestive material. The dialogue is in Hebrew and Japanese with English subtitles. It gets my vote as the second best film of this year’s festival and a rating of good (3 stars out of 4).

Jewish Film Festival premiers Saturday night

Below is a full list of the seven films scheduled to be shown at the 2011 Jewish Film Festival March 5 through March 13 at the Lewis and Shirley White Theatre at the Jewish Community Campus.

Tickets and Festival Passes may be purchased online at kcjff.org, by calling (913) 327-805, or in person at the White Theatre.

Saturday, March 5, 7:30 p.m. plus Opening Night Dessert Reception, Spanish with English subtitles
Additional Pre-Film Reception for Festival-Pass Holders Only
In the wake of the 1994 bombing of the Buenos Aires Jewish Community Center, a young Jewish woman with Down syndrome searches the city for her mother, receiving help and companionship in unexpected quarters through the simple force of her ingenuous personality and open heart.

‘The Yankles’
Sunday, March 6, 1 p.m., English
In this fun-for-the-family feature, a washed-up major leaguer gets a second chance — as coach of a yeshiva baseball team. After a rough start, he finds a home with “The Yankles,” and with his help, the team strives for success on the field, while their coach works to rebuild his reputation and his relationships with those whom he wronged in the past.

‘The Little Traitor’
Sunday, March 6, 6:30 p.m., English
Family Night: Appropriate for ages 7 and up, with free babysitting available for younger children. Reservations required.
Starring Alfred Molina and featuring Theodore Bikel, this is a tale of the unlikely bond between a kindly British soldier and a spirited Jewish boy set against the backdrop of the birth of the state of Israel — based on the acclaimed Amos Oz novel, “Panther in the Basement.”

“Nora’s Will’
Monday, March 7, 7:30 p.m., Spanish with English subtitles
In this dark comedy, a woman orchestrates her own suicide right before Passover in a manipulative flourish geared to annoy her ex-husband — but an unforeseen twist leads him to re-examine the relationship and rediscover their undying love for each other.

‘The Klezmatics: On Holy Ground’
Saturday, March 12, 9:30 p.m., English, Yiddish with English subtitles
From the Lower East Side to Krakow, Poland, this quick-paced portrait captures the energy, infectious concert performances, and on-camera candor of the band that has been redefining Jewish music for more than 20 years.
Festival Pass holders and ticket-holders for this film will receive $5 off any ticket for the thought-provoking performance by spoken-word artist Vanessa Hidary, “The Hebrew Mamita” (7:30 p.m. in the White Theatre). Complimentary fresh-brewed Roasterie Coffee will be available between shows.

‘Against the Tide’
Sunday, March 13, 1 p.m. plus discussion following, English
A compelling examination of American inaction during the Holocaust, through never-before-seen footage and interviews with activists who tried to mobilize the U.S. government — and the American Jewish establishment.
Discussion following the film with historian Frank Adler.

‘A Matter of Size’
Sunday, March 13, 7:30 p.m., Hebrew with English subtitles
A coming-out story of a different kind: Fed up with the “dictatorship of thinness” of their weight-loss workshop, four friends from the Israeli city of Ramla — Kansas City’s Sister City — ditch their diets and find new fulfillment in the world of sumo wrestling. Pound for pound, a pleasure.

Danny Mayer has a two-part strategy that has helped him achieve his goals time and again. Part one of the strategy is networking. Part two is having an impact wherever he gets involved.
Networking was the reason Danny got involved in the Business and Professionals Series, the Jewish Federation’s initiative to connect Jewish professionals ages 21 to 45 to each other and the Kansas City business community. Having an impact is why he agreed to serve as this year’s chair of the series.

Networking has always come naturally to Mayer, who was president of his fraternity at the University of Michigan. It was also an important goal after leaving his management consulting job with Ernst & Young in Chicago to attend business school at Columbia University in New York City.

“I realized,” he said, “that if I could get into a good school with people smarter than me, I could learn from them and have contacts all over the world.”

It was through his Columbia network that he met Tina Maddigan, the original Sophie from “Mamma Mia” on Broadway, whom he married in 2005.

“A buddy from business school invited me to a party at a bar. She was there, we had a great conversation and a month later, I went to the show and there she was singing in front of a sold-out crowd of 1,500 people. I went backstage to say hello and we started dating.”

NYC to KC Networking

After grad school, Mayer joined Bloomberg and later Reuters, where he helped build and expand their electronic trading systems. In 2008, he joined a small tech company, where he was instrumental in launching a global product to create more transparency between institutions and their clients.

But he and Maddigan, whose son Riley was an infant, faced a decision.

“We lived in a one-bedroom shoebox in the middle of Manhattan,” he said. “If we got a two-bedroom in the city, I would have to make a lot more money. Or, we could move out to the suburbs like a lot of my colleagues, with a two-hour commute to work and no relationship with my family — which isn’t the point of having a family.

“The financial markets were blowing up when I told my boss I was moving to Kansas City and didn’t have a job. He looked at me like I had a third eye. My office was across the street from Lehman Brothers. Still, Tina and I felt there would never be a better time to make the switch. So I began networking like crazy.”

Mayer’s approach to networking in Kansas City focused less on landing a job than meeting influential leaders, finding out what makes the city tick and exploring how to get involved. In March 2009, he joined Cornerstone Financial Group as chief marketing officer and head of practice development.

Connecting business and professionals

Through the networking process, Mayer met Neal Schwartz, a vice president at Cerner who was also the chair of the Federation’s Business and Professionals Series. Schwartz invited him to a B&P program and to join the planning committee. The following year, Mayer spearheaded a “Meet the Mayors” program attended by more than 100 people at Sullivan’s Steak House in Leawood. This year, as chair of the series, he’s building on that momentum. In January, more than 100 people gathered at the offices of Lathrop & Gage to hear three area advertising executives discuss the industry and its future in Kansas City.

Mayer is looking forward to the same turnout at the next B&P event on March 22, “Attaining Your Aspirations” at Sunlight Day Spas in Overland Park. The group will learn from three exceptional Kansas City leaders and entrepreneurs who transformed their personal life experiences into meaningful and successful careers. Panelists include former Chiefs linebacker and Founder of ADA Charities, Anthony Davis; Mary Lucas, founder and president of MBL Consulting and author of “Lunchmeat & Life Lessons: Sharing a Butcher’s Wisdom,” and Connie Zack, co-owner and chief sales officer of Sunlighten, owner of Sunlight Day Spas.

Mayer offers several explanations for the series’ appeal. Last year’s high-touch guerilla marketing campaign reached out to a broad cross-section of Jewish young professionals. But also, he says, “People like the idea that they can come to these programs and meet movers and shakers, pick their brains about what’s happening in the community and perhaps grab a nugget of wisdom.”

Mayer isn’t sure how he might be involved with the Federation down the road.

“For now,” he says, “I just enjoy the focus on business and want to make B&P the best it can be.”

Beyond that, he’s enjoying the simple pleasures that enticed him and Maddigan to move here: an affordable home near good schools, a 10-minute commute to work, time to spend with his kids, including 3-month-old daughter Sadie, a vibrant business community — and plenty of people who share his zeal for networking, leadership and making a difference.

Danny Mayer

• Born in Kansas City, 1975
• Shawnee Mission East, 1993
• University of Michigan, Bachelor’s of Business Administration, 1997
• Columbia University, Master of Business Administration, Finance & General Management, 2002
• Chief Marketing Officer & Head of Practice Development, Cornerstone Financial Group
• Lives in Overland Park
• Married to Tina Maddigan
• Children: Riley 3, Sadie 3 months
• Recent Reading: “The Dip,” by Seth Godin
• Favorite Movie: “Princess Bride”
• Favorite Restaurant: Mr. Bigg’s in New York City
• Favorite Jewish Food: Matzah balls
• Trips to Israel: None
• Pets: Brie, the cat, and BD, a black lab retriever

There is really no issue that can’t be more fully explored through film: love, loss, family, war, peace, politics, religion, assimilation, suicide — even sumo wrestling. The Kansas City Jewish Film Festival, taking place March 5 through March 13, will provide a varied offering of “great films with a Jewish twist,” exploring themes of interest that will appeal to audiences of all types. Presented by the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City, the line-up includes contemporary comedy, drama, indie films, documentaries, and family selections — each a recent winner or audience favorite at festivals internationally.

“This collection of films reflects the Jewish Film Festival’s revitalized mission,” says Victor Wishna, KCJFF producer. “We want to offer our diverse community a chance to engage Jewish values through films that examine issues of identity, culture and history. Whether it’s a documentary on American policy during World War II, or a crowd-pleasing Israeli comedy about amateur sumo wrestlers, there will be something here to entertain virtually everyone.”

The 2011 edition marks the return of the festival to a full week of seven films, all to be screened at the Jewish Community Center’s 500-seat White Theatre. Movie fans may purchase a Festival Pass — which includes early seating at every film and a special pass-holders-only pre-film reception on opening night.

An award-winning film from Argentina opens the KCJFF at 7:30 on Saturday, March 5. “Anita” claimed the Audience Favorite prize at festivals as diverse as the Pittsburgh Jewish Israeli Film Festival and the Los Angeles International Latino Film Festival, and relates the touching and ultimately uplifting story of a young Jewish woman with Down syndrome who tries to find her way home through Buenos Aires in the wake of the 1994 AMIA Jewish Community Center bombing.

The week that follows will bring a selection of wonderful family-friendly films — “The Yankles” and “The Little Traitor” (both Sunday, March 6) — as well as “Nora’s Will,” a darkly comic tale of a Mexico City family set on the eve of Passover (Monday, March 7). The powerful new documentary “Against the Tide” offers a never-before-seen look at the response to the Holocaust, or lack thereof, by the U.S. government and the American Jewish establishment (Sunday, March 13).

Another highlight takes place Saturday, March 12, when a screening of “The Klezmatics: On Holy Ground,” a funny and poignant portrait of the popular style-blending musicians, follows the live CenterSeason performance by New York spoken-word artist Vanessa Hidary, “The Hebrew Mamita.” Patrons are invited to make an entire evening of it and enjoy fresh-brewed coffee between shows, compliments of The Roasterie.

The Festival will conclude Sunday, March 13, with a rather big evening: “A Matter of Size,” which opened the Jerusalem Film Festival and was recently optioned for an American remake, tells the story of four Israeli friends who embrace their own largeness as founders of the country’s first sumo wrestling club.

The Kansas City Jewish Film Festival is produced in partnership with the Harry Portman Charitable Trust, the Louis and Frances Swinken Supporting Fund of the Jewish Community Foundation, the Norman and Jean Burstein Glazer Memorial Fund, the Louis and Dorothy Davidow Cultural Arts Fund, and the Helen and Sam Kaplan Fund of Country Club Bank.
Tickets and Festival Passes may be purchased now online at kcjff.org, by calling (913) 327-8054, or in person at the White Theatre.


Three films scheduled March 5 & 6

Saturday, March 5, 7:30 p.m. plus Opening Night Dessert Reception, Spanish with English subtitles
Additional Pre-Film Reception for Festival-Pass Holders Only
In the wake of the 1994 bombing of the Buenos Aires Jewish Community Center, a young Jewish woman with Down syndrome searches the city for her mother, receiving help and companionship in unexpected quarters through the simple force of her ingenuous personality and open heart.

‘The Yankles’
Sunday, March 6, 1 p.m., English
In this fun-for-the-family feature, a washed-up major leaguer gets a second chance — as coach of a yeshiva baseball team. After a rough start, he finds a home with “The Yankles,” and with his help, the team strives for success on the field, while their coach works to rebuild his reputation and his relationships with those whom he wronged in the past.

‘The Little Traitor’
Sunday, March 6, 6:30 p.m., English
Family Night: Appropriate for ages 7 and up, with free babysitting available for younger children. Reservations required.
Starring Alfred Molina and featuring Theodore Bikel, this is a tale of the unlikely bond between a kindly British soldier and a spirited Jewish boy set against the backdrop of the birth of the state of Israel — based on the acclaimed Amos Oz novel, “Panther in the Basement.”

Words of wisdom: It’s nice to be nice.

Samantha Levine, The Chronicle’s February Salute to Youth honoree, may or may not have heard that saying. However one thing is for sure, she lives it.

“Samantha Levine is nice,” said a girl in B’not Lev, Samantha’s BBG chapter, during a recent conversation about local Jewish teens.

And vice versa.

“In fact, she’s not friends with anyone who isn’t nice.”

Samantha, the 18-year-old daughter of Julie and Terry Levine, is currently Kansas City BBYO’s council president. As such, she leads about 200 area teens in programming, leadership training, social action and community service opportunities. She was nominated for the honor by BBYO Director Debi Tozer.

“Many people would describe Samantha as a charismatic, focused and exceptional young lady. Samantha is responsible, organized, smart and compassionate,” Tozer said. “She is respected by her peers and the adults she works alongside. She is an amazing role model and of great benefit to BBYO as well as the community.”

Samantha said her mother suggested she consider joining BBYO when she was 14, but she came to love it on her own.

“I just love the people,” she said.

She’s been active in the teen organization both locally and nationally. She’s held several leadership positions in her chapter, including serving as president. She’s been to regional convention and attended a national Kallah in Pennsylvania where she met Jewish teens from all over the United States. Most recently she attended BBYO International Convention in Los Angeles.

She said the experience has taught her a lot.

“I think I’ve learned to be confident and how to be serious and also how to have fun at the same time,” the high school senior said.

As a leader Tozer described Samantha as an all-star. The same could be said about her achievements in her chosen sport, Tae Kwon Do, where she’s earned a black belt. In fact of all the honors and awards she’s earned over the years, Samantha said her proudest accomplishment is earning her black belt.

She took up the sport about five years ago.

“Tae Kwon Do gives you a lot of confidence and gets you into shape,” she said.

The confidence she’s gained from Tae Kwon Do has given her the courage to seek out those BBYO leadership positions and excel at Blue Valley North High School, where she’s a member of National Honors Society, National Art Honor Society and sings in the choir.

When she goes away to college next year, she expects she’ll probably keep up her Tae Kwon Do by joining a club on campus. She thinks she’s narrowed her college choices to either the University of Kansas or Indiana.

“Right now I’m leaning more toward Kansas,” she said. “It’s closer to home and I know that they have a good art program. I figure it will be a lot easier to handle being away from home because it’s only a 45-minute drive from here.”

Being close to home could give Samantha more opportunities to eat her favorite Jewish food, her grandmother’s (Fran Small, who she calls Mimi) matzah ball soup.

“My grandma knows how to make it delicious for every Passover seder,” Samantha enthusiastically reports.

The Levines belong to The Temple, Congregation B’nai Jehudah. As Samantha sorts out which college she wants to attend, she said another thing in KU’s favor is the success of KU Hillel. That’s because staying involved in Jewish life is important to her.

“There’s a big Jewish population there so I think it could be a good choice. But Indiana could be good, too,” she said.

“Since I’ve had such a great experience being involved in Jewish life in high school I really want to continue that on through college,” said Samantha.

One of her fondest memories in her young life so far is of a National Conference of Synagogue Youth trip to Israel she took in the summer of 2009. She especially enjoyed the opportunity she had to experience Shabbat while in Tzfat.

“I remember we sat outside during the service on top of a hill when the gorgeous sun was setting. Tzfat is such a mystical, historical city and to spend it with about 50 other Jewish teens was truly special. It was the most spiritual Shabbat that I have ever experienced,” said Samantha, who also participates in JSU (Jewish Student Union), which meets weekly at BVN.

While she plans to make her final decision about college soon, she is enjoying her final year in high school. One of her favorite subjects is art and she recently took a class where she could concentrate on building her portfolio for college.

“It was really cool because I got to explore painting and drawing and all different kinds of things. I’ve also done ceramics and photography but I think my favorite thing is painting.”

“It’s cooler than drawing and it has permanence to it and it’s therapeutic,” she said.

A career in art could be in her future and her resume will show that she’s already been recognized for her artistic talents. She used those talents to show her support for her mother, who is also the person she most admires.

“She has been a warrior through battling her breast cancer, and I have always admired her strength and courage,” Samantha said.

Last year a team representing Julie Levine participated in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure to raise funds for breast cancer research. To show unity, the team decided they would wear matching t-shirts and Samantha was recruited to design it.

“Mine won the award for the most creative,” she said.

Ever watched “19 Kids and Counting” or “Kate Plus 8” and wonder just how these families deal with so many kids? As the mother of three biological children, one adopted child and an assortment of foster children, Rose Marchick will be happy to tell you if you can get her to sit down long enough to tell her story.

Marchick and her husband, Clint Pitts, are foster parents. As such, the Duggers or Kate Gosselin may actually have it easier than the Marchicks because these reality show families know how big their families are. The size of the Marchick family can change at any minute because it specializes in emergency foster placements.

Emergency placements are “kids who are removed from their home in an emergency situation and are in a foster home for three to five days during an investigation. The Marchicks also take in regular placements, who are children who will be in a foster home for at least a couple of months.

Since the Marchicks became foster parents six years ago, they have taken care of more than 50 children ranging in age from 1 day to 3 years. But it’s been a slow week for the Marchicks, with “only seven children” living in their home on Monday. That included their three biological children ages 7, 8 and 15; their 10-year-old special-needs daughter who was adopted when she was 3; and “only three foster placements.” They’ve had as many as 11 children in the home at one time.

“It’s been a really quiet two weeks around here, so I’ve been organizing drawers and kind of pacing,” Marchick said.

Repairing the world

Marchick’s Judaism has drawn her to the life of a foster parent because “kids need homes and you do what you need to do.”

“I adamantly believe that our purpose in life is to do everything we can do in our situation for the world,” she said.

Someday Marchick would like to go to another part of the world and work in an orphanage. But she knows while she has young children her place is where they can be kept safe and well cared for. So she chooses to make sure that other kids are safe and loved as well.

“If it means I get up at 2 in the morning and don’t get back to sleep, but a kid goes to a home and has someone tuck him in after being pulled away from his parents, that’s OK. If it’s my convenience or their safety and security there’s no issue,” she continued.

She is a true believer in tikkun olam, repairing the world.

“I really believe the foundation of Judaism is doing active deeds,” she said. “I tell my kids every day that the most important thing is making a difference by doing something. Every kid that comes here has been warm, safe and loved while they are here.”

A devoted caregiver

Marchick is so committed to being an emergency foster parent that she literally sleeps with her cell phone in her hand. She said it’s not unusual for it to ring in the middle of the night, either.

“I keep it on vibrate so it doesn’t wake up my kids, because a lot of times I have a kid sleeping in my room. But I want to hear it in case there is an emergency,” Marchick said. “It’s in my hand or on me physically at all times. I could go two weeks without an emergency kid and then get a call for a sibling group of four.”

One of the reasons Marchick is so popular with the foster agency is that she is always willing to keep families together.

“We refuse to split siblings. With all the upheaval in their lives, they need each other,” explained Marchick, who first became certified as a foster parent while living in Indiana. When they moved here a year and a half ago, they had to be re-certified by the state of Kansas.

“There are case workers in and out of here all the time. Our life is just an open book,” she said.
They live in a five-bedroom home that is filled with “lots of bunk beds,” to accommodate the ever-changing size of the family. There are rules about who can share rooms, often determined by the children’s ages and gender.

Finances are tight and Marchick said she will always do without something for herself if it means getting something one of the kids needs. She said foster children often arrive in the middle of the night with no belongings except the pajamas they are wearing. “They often don’t even have shoes on,” she said.

If Marchick doesn’t have something in storage to fit the child/ren, she will make a trip to an all-night WalMart to get whatever is needed.

In fact Pitts, who works 80-hours plus a week as a restaurant manager, said “there’s never a dull moment” around their home.

As Kate Gosselin has been quoted saying, “It’s a crazy life, but it’s our life,” Marchick can say the very same thing. On an average week she washes about 40 loads of laundry. She holds a doctorate in psychology and even finds time to teach two days a week at a community college.

She grocery shops twice a week and said “you can imagine what that bill is like.” But that doesn’t keep her from letting the kids invite their friends to stay for dinner, where she feeds an average of 10 to 12 people on any given night.

“We always invite more for Shabbat,” said Marchick, who said as strict vegetarians it’s very easy to keep kosher.

Although most of the foster children are not Jewish, Marchick said it doesn’t seem to be an issue for any of them. The two youngest Marchick children attend the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy while the other children attend a variety of schools.

Next to the dinner table is a color-coded chore chart to help keep the family organized. Each child has a color that matches, among other things, his or her towel, cup and toothbrush.
Marchick doesn’t want to be considered a saint by any stretch of the imagination.

“I’m tired, but that’s life. Anything we’re doing, we’re just doing. It’s not difficult compared to others. It’s not a death march and it’s not living in Darfur with bullets flying over your head. So what do any of us have to complain about?”

Marchick believes her children have all grown from being foster siblings.

“They would give anything to anybody who needed something,” she said.

In the short space of two years, Rabbi Adam Stein got married, accepted a position here as assistant rabbi of Congregation Beth Shalom, and will shortly be relocating to Australia.

When his position was eliminated at Beth Shalom, Rabbi Stein opened his portfolio and secured a new position at a synagogue in Melbourne. It’s home to about 40 percent of Australia’s Jews and has a Jewish population of more than 60,000. He’ll be the only rabbi and one of only two staff members at Kehilat Nitzan, a Masorti synagogue (the equivalent of Conservative here in the United States). The congregation was founded about 12 years ago and has approximately 250 families.

“I’ll be completing my contract at Beth Shalom this summer,” he told the Chronicle, “and Tamar and I will leave sometime after that.”

Tamar’s family is in Chicago; Rabbi Stein’s in Washington, D.C., and California. But with a flight of 16 hours at a cost of more than $3,000 and a cost of living that’s more like Los Angeles than Overland Park, Rabbi Stein doesn’t expect his job in Australia to be “a forever position.” He’s accepted a two-year contract and looks forward to “a great adventure.”

Who passed a rule that only hippies and cramming collegians could set up camp at joints that focus their efforts on coffee and other libations? It’s an absurd notion. We yearn for such joints long after we start having kids. Responsibility. Jobs. We may not have as much time to enjoy them, but we still relish low key places where we can sit down with a good cup of coffee. A drink. And maybe even some decent food. Though clearly Take Five Coffee + Bar (5336 W. 151st Street) in Leawood won’t toss out the hippies or the cramming collegians, it seems more concerned with filling the void for the rest of us.

On one visit, we approached Take Five as a family affair. We picked a comfortable booth near the entrance, and sat down to take in the mood of the place — evidently geared to fostering a feeling of community and a vague sense of escape from the chaos of the day. Food is ordered at the counter, and brought out to the tables when it is ready. The kids’ meals came out first. Exhibiting wisdom sometimes sorely lacking in much more sophisticated spots, our server said, “I thought you would probably want the kids’ food out quick.” A small, but gallant gesture.

A conspicuous absence of televisions spoke volumes. Might some folks come here in search of good conversation? Peace and quiet? Some of the walls are papered with burlap sacks that held (or appear to have held) coffee beans. There are yellow/gold light fixtures, above, and stone tile floors, below. Black and white pictures of jazz musicians and singers are on the walls. Soft jazz music plays in the background. A stone fireplace rests at one end of the place.

Take Five’s “Lunch/Dinner” menu is small, by conventional restaurant standards — though probably of reasonable size for a coffee and liquor “joint.” It offers three appetizers, two salads (with chicken and salmon as add-ons), and five Panini sandwiches. We tried the Spinach Artichoke Dip ($4.95, $7.95) — a decent, creamy version of the ubiquitous appetizer dip, with mostly spinach, and two big pieces of artichoke heart plopped down in the dip’s center. We dunked nice, warm pita bread in the dip, though tri-colored chips are also offered as a dunking option.

All five sandwiches are served as “crisp” ciabatta Panini. The word Panini emanates from the Italian word Panino, which refers to sandwiches, in a more general sense. In this country, though, Panini are more commonly considered to be pressed and toasted sandwiches — often grilled. I tried the rather interesting Pacific (Panini) ($7.95), with grilled salmon, tomatoes, spinach, artichoke and cream cheese. This was solid ciabatta bread, though it was not nearly as “crisp” as anticipated — and certainly not pressed and grilled to the extent we are accustomed with Panini. The salmon is a surprisingly respectable version, however, for this casual, coffee shop venue, and the flavors of the “Pacific” blend well together. Sandwiches are offered with a choice of chips, cottage cheese or “twice baked” potato salad (the latter of which is pre-made off the premises, with bacon already mixed in).

My wife sampled the Spinach Salad ($5.95), served with chopped egg, plum tomatoes and parmesan cheese, and she added chicken ($2). The salad was only moderate in size — maybe to be expected, given the price — and the chicken was a bit dry and lacking much flavor. She requested it with ranch dressing. Most disappointing was that — as the server behind the counter confirmed — none of the three offered salad dressings (raspberry vinaigrette, ranch, honey mustard) were made in-house. Having a limited menu yields additional responsibility in regard to the quality of the offerings. Making one (or more) of the salad dressings in-house would be a sure way for Take Five to bring its culinary stature to the next level.

During another visit — on an unseasonably warm Sunday in February — we sampled the breakfast offerings. Three different house-made quiches were on hand ($4.25). We tried one with a satisfying blend of red pepper, parmesan, pesto and chicken. We were served a rather hefty slice, with a buttery, flaky crust, that had a lingering pesto flavor in each bite. The Turkey Sausage Panini ($2.95) came sandwiched with hardboiled eggs and a gooey portion of provolone cheese to complement the sausage. It was a good sandwich and a good value — albeit nothing extraordinary.

Our favorite breakfast option — that would have frankly been tremendous any time of day — was the house-made Cinnamon Roll ($1.99). It was a large, moist, icing-covered rendition with loads of cinnamon. The muffins and scones are also generally baked in-house. Offered pastries are best paired (of course) with a range of coffee offerings roasted for Take Five by Zoka Coffee Roasters, in Seattle. Zoka was founded by University of Washington alumnus Jeff Babcock, in 1996. Zoka’s café in Washington is rooted in a concept that Take Five emulates: a café in which patrons are invited to eat and drink (coffee or harder stuff) for an extended period of time in a relaxed environment.

While Take Five might never draw the most sophisticated culinary crowd, that does not appear to be the intention. Rather, it seems driven to pull in folks looking to unwind with a drink — coffee, or otherwise — who may want to grab a quick bite while they are at it. Birkenstocks and laptops are optional.

Food: 2½
Service: 2½
Atmosphere: 3
Out of Four Stars

“I think these are very, very unprecedented times” for Israel.

The current situation in the Middle East is certainly an issue for supporters of the Jewish state. Rabbi Daniel Gordis will discuss that, and how he believes members of the Jewish community can help insure Israel’s survival, at the third annual Kansas City Israel Action Forum sponsored by American Israel Public Affairs Committee. (See below for details)

“I think people are worried about whether the Egyptian peace treaty is going to hold and what is going to happen with Jordan. We have a new administration in Washington, but there is definitely some tension. This is a very, very interesting time and I think this is a critical moment in Israel’s history. It’s a time for people to think about what is at stake and what they know and don’t know. I think the lecture, in some small way at least, will be a useful introduction to that,” Rabbi Gordis said.

Rabbi Gordis is the author of “Saving Israel: How the Jewish People Can Win a War That May Never End,” (Wiley, 2009). The book was awarded the 2009 National Jewish Book Award. This is the second consecutive year he has been the forum’s featured speaker.

Dr. Daniel Gordis is senior vice president of the Shalem Center, where he is also a senior fellow. He is a regular columnist for the Jerusalem Post and a frequent contributor to the New York Times. He received his B.A. from Columbia College (Magna Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa), a master’s degree and rabbinic ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and his Ph.D. from the University of Southern California. He and his wife, Elisheva, live in Jerusalem and have three children and a recently acquired son-in-law.

While the current Middle East tensions seem to be at the top of most people’s minds, Rabbi Gordis believes the delegitimization of Israel seems to be the No. 1 threat the Jewish state is facing.

“Iran is as important as what is happening in Egypt and Tunisia and Algeria and everywhere else, but none of those things are actually going to topple the Jewish state,” he said.
“Ironically the thing that is the least violent is actually the most dangerous. The idea of delegitimizing the state and convincing the international community that Israel is a rogue state or that the creation of Israel was a mistake actually has the capacity to do a tremendous amount of damage to Israel’s international standing and could, ultimately, lead to Israel’s non-existence.”

At the forum, Rabbi Gordis said he will explain exactly how that can happen. He believes regardless of a Jew’s political or religious stripes, “all of us need to be in this together,” to keep Israel strong.

“Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, unaffiliated, left-wing, right-wing, Republican, Democrat, Israeli, American … it makes no difference. We as Jews should try to combat the deligitimization of Israel.”

In an issue such as this, Rabbi Gordis said the battle is won not with planes or bombs, but with words and ideas.

“As Jews, we need to prepare ourselves to have that conversation successfully. I think most Americans don’t really know how to defend Israel. There is simply too much that they aren’t familiar with,” he said.

Being well read about the issues, Rabbi Gordis believes, is the best way for people to educate themselves about what to say when others say things about Israel — some true and not true — such as settlements are the impediment to peace or that the Flotilla was illegal. He updates his personal website, www.danielgordis.org, on a regular basis with articles that he feels are truthful about Israel. He also maintains an e-mail list where subscribers can read his own dispatches on a regular basis. Those interested can register for the free e-mails on the website.

He also believes that Jews, even though it’s expensive, should all travel to Israel.

“One of the great things about Birthright Israel is that it has taken a younger generation of kids who really didn’t know a lot about Israel and made them much more conversive about the issues. And we’ve got to get people of other generations also to get over here.”

In addition, Rabbi Gordis believes people should support Israel politically.

“They’ve got to express their views to local papers, they’ve got to express their views to news media, to their local and national representative and so forth,” he said.

KC Israel Action Forum

Rabbi Daniel Gordis will be the featured speaker at the Kansas City Israel Action Forum, set for 1:30 to 5 p.m. Sunday, March 5, at Kehilath Israel Synagogue. Light refreshments will be served (dietary laws observed).There is an $18 couvert per person, $5 for students.
Register online at www.aipac.org/kcforum2011 or contact Tali Jubelirer at (313) 253-8984.
Event co-chairs are John Isenberg and Bonnie Siegel. Larry Nussbaum is the AIPAC council chair.

Cynthia Levin is in her 32nd season with the Unicorn Theatre. As producing artistic director, she has served as a director, actor, designer or producer for more than 200 productions. Yet when “Two Jews Walk Into a War …” opens Saturday, March 5 (previews are March 2, 3 and 4), it will be the first time she has actually directed a play that is so Jewish. (See below for complete schedule.)

Levin said the play was inspired by a true story and is about two Jews named Ishaq and Zeblyan.

“There were a couple of plays written in the last five years based on them. This one is fictionalized. It is an incredibly interesting story since there were thousands of Jews that lived in Afghanistan until the Taliban came in and wrecked all the synagogues and beat people up because they didn’t want any Jews. But these two guys stayed,” Levin explained.

Ishaq and Zeblyan are the last two surviving Jews in a dilapidated old synagogue in Kabul during the Taliban regime’s final days. The only thing that binds them together is that they hate each other’s guts. The play, written by Jewish playwright Seth Rozin, premiered in Florida and then in New Jersey. Partial support for this production is being provided by the Herb and Bonnie Buchbinder Donor Advisory Fund of the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Kansas City.

“Seth has created a comedy about these two men because they hated each other. They never got along. Both of their families came from the camps. They talked each other into moving to Afghanistan instead of America or Israel, so they blame each other for their plight,” Levin said.
Levin said that the play opens when the learned man, the scholar who was there to keep the peace and keep the religion alive, passes away.

“These two men are left with each other. How are they going to work together to keep this synagogue and try to keep a Jewish presence there when they don’t even want to talk to each other?” said Levin, who is the 2006 recipient of the Pinnacle Award for Excellence in the Arts from the Johnson County Library Foundation and the 2007 recipient of the Human Rights Campaign Equality Award. This season she will also direct “Distracted” at the Unicorn.

“It’s very funny. It’s got incredible humor but it’s also got incredible poignancy attached because they begin to talk to each other about religion, philosophy and spirituality,” she said. “The discussions are funny but at the same time they get you thinking. It’s really a thought-provoking and highly entertaining play.”

Levin and playwright Rozin have been colleagues for about a dozen years but have never worked together on a play. (The play’s scenic designer Evan Hill is Jewish also.) Levin and Rozin are founding members of The National New Play Network (NNPN), which is the country’s alliance of non-profit professional theaters that are similar in size and programing to the Unicorn. The organization champions the development, production and continued life of new plays.

Though the play has been done before, the director said they have made a lot of revisions on the version that will be performed at the Unicorn. Levin, who grew up as a Conservative Jew, has enjoyed working on the play and said it is something she can relate to.

“How many plays are about a Jewish story that isn’t about the Holocaust? I look for these plays in contemporary literature all the time,” she said.

She said she knows a lot of the stories that come to light in this particular play.

“The play talks about the Torah and certain biblical passages and keeping kosher and all the things that they struggled to do. These are a lot of things that I relate to in my background,” she said.

It’s been “extremely fun” for Levin to have the opportunity to each those involved with the production about Judaism.

“It will also be fun to bring this to the audience,” she said. “How many people really know very much about the Jewish religion beyond bagels and lox and that some guys wear yarmulkes on their heads? They know very little here in the Midwest, unless they live in certain neighborhoods and have certain friends. So I am excited about educating our audience a little bit about the culture.”

She thinks the Jewish audience will definitely enjoy the play.

“It’s extremely personal on a lot of levels for me and I think that Jews are going to love it. They are going to get some jokes that no one else is going to get. Then our gentile audience is going to love it because our actors are learning something every day,” Levin said.

Ticket information

“Two Jews Walk into a War” will be performed on the Unicorn’s Jerome Stage located at 3828 Main Street, Kansas City, MO 64111. Previews are March 2, 3 and 4. The play runs March 5-20. Performances Tuesday through Thursday are at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m. Talk back performances, where patrons are encouraged to stay after the show and discuss the play with the actors and director, are scheduled for March 8, 13 and 15. To purchase tickets, call (816) 531-7529, ext. 10, online at www.UnicornTheatre.org or in person at the box office.

This charming coming-of-age tale is set in 1947 Jerusalem just months before Israel becomes a state. The screenplay, written and directed by Lynn Roth, is based on the novel “Panther in the Basement” by world-renowned author Amos Oz. The film screens at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, March 6, at the White Theatre as part of the 13th annual Kansas City Jewish Film Festival.

Proffy Liebowitz (Ido Port), a militant, precocious and sensitive 11-year-old Sabra, wants nothing more than for the occupying British to leave the Promised Land. Proffy (short for professor) and his two friends form a secret club and spend their summer holiday plotting ways to terrorize the unwanted British troops.

The British have imposed a nightly curfew to curb the violence instigated by the Irgun and Haganah resistance movements. One night Sergeant Dunlop (Alfred Molina from “An Education”), a kind-hearted British officer longing for home and the girlfriend he left behind, picks up Proffy for breaking the curfew law. Rather than arresting him, he takes Proffy home with a stern warning. He knows full well that disciplinary measures will be taken by the boy’s parents.

Proffy decides it might lead to gaining information on the British plans by meeting regularly with Dunlop. An unlikely friendship develops between these two foes. Proffy teaches Dunlop several Hebrew words and even gives him the Book of Samuel that he studied in his fifth-grade class. They have a winning chemistry and spend time discussing a wide range of topics as well as playing chess and snooker pool.

Proffy likes to spy on the British from his rooftop with binoculars. His attention is diverted when he watches Yardena (Anat Klausner), the beautiful young woman across the street, undress in an open bedroom window. Proffy becomes obsessed with various attributes of a woman’s anatomy.

The plot thickens when Proffy’s two pals get suspicious of their friend’s allegiance. They see Proffy go into the British headquarters and saluting Dunlop. Proffy is accused of betraying the Jewish people with traitorous acts. He is brought to “trial” before his Holocaust-surviving parents and a contingent of neighbors. The interrogator is played by the famous Theodore Bikel.

When the summer ends, Proffy returns to school. His sixth-grade class welcomes Rachel (Dafna Melzer), a new student from Cyprus. Proffy’s parents have to go to Tel Aviv for a Holocaust memorial service and Proffy has the good fortune of having Yardena serve as his baby sitter.

A concluding segment hits a high point by featuring the UN resolution of Nov. 29, 1947, broadcast live over the radio. The movie then fast forwards 30 years with an ending that will surely bring tears to your eyes.

Besides a wonderful story and great acting, the movie is a visual treat with the breathtaking panoramic views of Jerusalem. Other strengths include the Middle Eastern musical score and the costume designs.

This movie has played at more than 30 Jewish film festivals around the world. It provides a historical background to make it educational and informative. The dialogue is partially in Hebrew with English subtitles. It is not rated, but suitable for the whole family with a perfectly-paced running time of 89 minutes. It gets my vote as the best film of the 2011 festival and a rating of very good (3 1/2 stars out of 4).

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