A roaring good time
In early December, 24 Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona Lions of Judah flew to Tinseltown. In Los Angeles, the group explored the Jewish influence on the entertainment industry, while strengthening their bonds with one another.
According to Marcia Abelson, Tucson Lion and JFSA Women’s Philanthropy Campaign chair, their first stop was the beautiful home of L.A. Lion and National Women’s Philanthropy member Lynn Bider. There, they met with Pamela Gray, screenwriter of “A Walk on the Moon,” “Conviction” and “Music of the Heart.” Gray spoke of her childhood growing up in Brooklyn and spending summers in the Catskill Mountains, the setting of “A Walk on the Moon.” She also told of her long road to becoming a screenwriter as a female in a male-dominated industry. Other highlights of the travelers’ two-day mission included a VIP tour of Paramount Studios and a visit to L.A.’s first synagogue, Wilshire Boulevard Temple, aka “Temple to the Stars.”
On their last morning before heading home, the group enjoyed breakfast and conversation overlooking the beach in Santa Monica. Each participant shared her individual reason for involvement in our local Federation’s mission to help those in need and strengthen the Jewish people. These women are bound not only by their matching Lion pins but their shared commitment to our community.
Winter Birthright Israel
The Birthright Israel Foundation states that “one bus ticket can change a life and help transform the future, giving young Jewish adults a ticket to a deeper appreciation of their heritage.”
From Dec. 20-31, 31 University of Arizona students traveled on a Birthright bus along with six students from other schools, including Arizona State University, Washington and Lee University, Sarah Lawrence College, Texas Tech University and Colorado State University. Tucsonans in the group were David Artzi, Nathan Bacal, Carter Bakarich, Garrett Bakarich, Avi Landy and Ariel Schwartz. They were accompanied by UA Hillel staff members Elyse Pincus, IACT coordinator for Israel engagement (the acronym stands for Inspired, Active, Committed, and Transformed), and Or Maoz, Jewish Agency for Israel fellow.
Nathan, a Tucson High Magnet School graduate and UA junior majoring in law and minoring in history, shared some of his impressions of the journey:
“Israel is a beautiful country – its people and geography. I am currently president of the UA’s ‘J Street U’ club on campus. While overlooking the West Bank, we talked about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I liked having the opportunity to hopefully educate, but at the least inform the members of our group about the other side that is fighting for a two-state solution and make them aware that there is another side of the conflict that people may not know about. I was impressed with our tour guide who, when showing us Israel, told both sides of every argument or story. As a history student, I loved knowing that I was standing on history. Masada was awesome, standing on history, learning the story and seeing the 2,000-year old Roman wood. Learning about King Herod’s water system was fascinating because it was so complex for the time – actually, even for now. This trip was life-changing, and what I experienced, I will remember forever. I am grateful for this Birthright opportunity for myself and the half-million others before me.”
This is the tale of three sisters who are literally vaulting into 2016. Corinne, Alexis and Kiersten Belkoff, daughters of Sandy Stein Belkoff and Ken Belkoff, are local gymnasts who train under Arizona Dynamics coaches Regina Mueller-Martin and Tricia Ogle. The Belkoff girls, all Tucson natives, compete on vault, bars, beam, floor and all-around events at state, regional and national competitions. Over the years, they have encouraged and supported one another in this rigorous sport that requires 21 hours per week of year-round training. Their lives revolve around school (all are “A” students) and gymnastics with limited time for other activities or vacations.
Corinne, a 2015 Catalina Foothills High School graduate, is an Arizona State University freshman on a full gymnastics scholarship. She is competing all-around for the Division I Sun Devils. Corinne began at age 6 when she accompanied a best friend to gymnastics class. As the saying goes, the rest is history.
Alexis, a Foothills senior, competed as a level 10 gymnast at the 2015 Junior Olympics National Invitational, ending as national vault champion and 5th all-around.
When interviewed for the Falcon Voice, the CFHS student newspaper, Alexis advised other hardworking gymnasts on achieving their personal bests: “Never give up; keep working hard.” She will be attending Sacramento State University on a gymnastics scholarship in the fall.
Last year, Kiersten, an Esperero Canyon Middle School eighth grader, became the level 8 defending Arizona-state Western Region all-around gymnastics champion. This year, she is a level 9 gymnast. Onward and upward!
Time to share
The year 2016 marks 25 years of writing this column. In 1991, there was no Birthright Israel program and Tucson’s Jewish community was smaller yet no less vibrant than today. These monthly columns, usually eight or nine from September through May/early June, have been filled with items of human interest – good news, simchas, milestones, celebrations, travels, accomplishments. Fans convey that they enjoy reading segments about what others in the community are doing in their everyday lives. So, keep me posted at 319-1112. L’shalom.