In new book, victims of chlorine bomb, anti-Semitic attack, find healing and hope

During the early morning hours of Aug. 2, 2009, Myles Levine was jolted out of bed by the screams of his wife, Karen. Their front and garage doors were sealed shut. Globs of motor oil, paint, and foam peanuts were strewn along their walkway and driveway. A putrid chemical smell filled the air, emanating from a chlorine bomb that was detonated hours earlier. The improvised weapon produced a cloud that stretched almost a mile wide, forcing an evacuation of the neighborhood.

As the chaotic scene unfolded, the Levines were sure that Todd Russell Fries had attacked them again.

“It’s the same thing that was done to us in Dove Mountain,” says Myles Levine, recalling what he said to the 911 operator.

The couple, along with co-author Dan Baldwin, wrote, “The Levine Project: Fighting Back Against a Campaign of Terror,” which chronicles their years-long journey dealing with a vengeful contractor. The book was released on Aug. 27 by Trafford Publishing.

The Levines hired Fries — former owner of Burns Power Washing, a well-known Tucson business at the time — to resurface their driveway at the beginning of 2007.

On the morning of Nov. 1, 2008, the Levines discovered their home had been vandalized. Motor oil, grease, feces, dead animal carcasses, and foam packing peanuts were littered across their driveway and front lawn. Swastikas and anti-Semitic slurs were spray painted on their garage. 

Within two months of the first incident, the Levine’s moved to a gated community near the Omni National Golf Course. The Levines were attacked at their new home less than a year after the first occurrence. Those crimes would lead to the arrest and conviction of Fries, and consecutive sentences in federal and state prison.

Read the entire Arizona Jewish Post article here. Originally published on Oct. 20, 2017.


AP reporter, a THA alum, to keynote event honoring Gasches

Tucson Hebrew Academy’s annual Tikkun Olam Celebration will honor Danny and Janis Gasch for their continued service to the local and global Jewish community.

Jon Ben-Asher, head of school at THA, says it’s a great honor to recognize the Gaschs this year, because of their involvement and commitment to Tucson’s Jewish community.

“Danny and Janis Gasch exemplify the concept of tikkun olam — being a light unto the world and making it a better place,” says Ben-Asher. “In addition to the many other organizations and people they have supported throughout the years, their service to THA has included essential leadership, mentoring and advising, as well as training and providing direct services to our students for hearing evaluations.”

THA alumnus Josh Lederman, a foreign affairs and national security reporter at the Associated Press, is this year’s keynote speaker, who says it’s flattering to be acknowledged and a great honor to give back to THA.

“I think THA has recognized the way its alumni have tried to go out into the world and make a positive difference, in different ways, and that’s something that I’m proud to be able to represent,” says Lederman.

“It’s an exciting opportunity to reconnect with the issues that are on the minds of the people who formed the community that raised me,” he adds.

Read the entire Arizona Jewish Post here. Originally published on Oct. 20, 2017.

‘Stumbling stone’ gives family overdue closure

Active remembrance can provide an alternative to warfare, and taking pause to acknowledge as well as consider human tragedies may force us to search for peaceful means, says Bertie Levkowitz-Herz.   

“You only have losers with war, and killing makes no sense,” she says. “There’s got to be another way to solve differences and be a little more tolerant of people.”

Gunter Demnig, a Cologne-based artist who is not Jewish, designed the Stolpersteine, or stumbling stones, project in 1993. The brass plaques that commemorate victims of the Nazis are installed in the street, in front of the person’s last known residence or place of business.

Levkowitz-Herz attended a Stolpersteine ceremony in Holland this summer that honored her uncle, Ibertus Magnus, who was arrested by the Gestapo for “political speech” at the end of 1941. During a business trip, Magnus shared his opinion about Adolf Hitler with another train passenger, who was a Nazi sympathiser — whether he was baited into the conversation or not is unknown. He was murdered at Buchenwald concentration camp at age 24. Levkowitz-Herz was born eight weeks after his death, and was named in honor of her uncle.

Read the entire Arizona Jewish Post article here. Originally published on Oct. 6, 2017.

THA Passport2Peace teaches kids importance of giving

On Monday Sept. 18, Tucson Hebrew Academy held its annual “Passport2Peace” fundraising event, which educates students about local charitable organizations and allows them to donate funds to their favorite charities.

Students prepare care packages for hurricane victims and the Primavera Foundation, Casa Maria, Tu Nidito, and Kids of Steele at Diamond Children’s Medical Center at Tucson Hebrew Academy’s Passport2Peace event Sept. 18. (David J. Del Grande/AJP)

Informational booths are set up throughout THA’s courtyard. Professional or student liaisons explain how the charities help the community.

When the afternoon starts, students are given  tokens, pre-purchased by their families, which hold a monetary value. Kids from every grade level then visit the various kiosks, learn about the organizations, enjoy activities, and decide where they’ll show their financial support.

Tucson Hebrew Academy students learn about Sister Jose Women’s Center and participate in a budgeting activity showing the limitations of working a minimum wage job at the school’s Passport2Peace event Sept. 18.

Last year, more than $1,800 was donated by students to a dozen local non-profits including Tu Nidito, Youth on their Own, The Wounded Warriors Project, Ben’s Bells, The Trevor Project, Gabrielle’s Angels, the Hermitage Cat Shelter, and Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund. More than a dozen organizations signed up this year, including the Jewish History Museum/Holocaust History Center, the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, The Trevor Project, Ronald McDonald House Charities, and Sister Jose Women’s Center.

Students designed colorful greeting cards, which will accompany care packages, for kids at Tu Nidito and the Kids of Steele at the Diamond Children’s Medical Center. At least $10,000 has been donated to local non-profits since the event started 10 years ago.

One of the core values of the THA is teaching the importance of the Jewish concept of tikkun olam or healing the world, says Head of School Jon Ben-Asher. Through service learning activities, “Passport2Peace” and other strategies, students not only learn that they have a moral imperative to make this world a better place, but actively participate in doing so, he says.

Originally published on Sept. 22, 2017.

UA telehealth pioneer sees program thriving

When it comes to healthcare in rural areas, the overarching question is how to level the playing field between geographically isolated healthcare facilities and their urban counterparts, says Ronald S. Weinstein, director of the Arizona Telemedicine Program at the University of Arizona.

That’s exactly why the Arizona Telemedicine Program was launched, he says.

Telemedicine is the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients by means of telecommunications technology. When the telemedicine industry began, the majority of the companies were university-based, but the trend has since shifted into the private-sector, he says. 

“And I think that where you’re going to see acceleration, or we are seeing acceleration, are the large integrated healthcare systems, which have lots of rural sites and lots of technology,” says Weinstein. “They’re trying to level the quality throughout their entire systems.”

The Arizona Telemedicine Program, a branch of the UA’s Health Sciences Department, was co-founded in 1996 by Weinstein and Robert Burns, a member of the Arizona Corporation Commission. The program is designed to provide telemedicine services, distance learning, training in informatics (the science of processing data), and telemedicine technology assessment capabilities to communities throughout the state.

The array of specialties in telemedicine can be broken down into three major application categories, Weinstein explains: gap services, where, for instance, a rural hospital will have remote access to a specialist who may not work in-house; urgent services, which can save lives remotely when time is of the essence; and mandated services, such as entitlement health services that are required by law for prisons and jails.

Read the entire Arizona Jewish Post article here. Originally published on Sept. 22, 2017.

Tikkun olam: To repair the world — Arizona Jewish Post’s High Holiday section 2017

No matter where she’s lived, Gail Birin says being tapped into the Jewish community has always been an essential part of her life.

“I feel I’m just continuing my life’s work, the work I grew up with and the culture I grew up with,” says Birin. “The ones who are very involved are making a commitment to the community.”

“And if we didn’t do this, what would the future be for the younger generation,” she asks, rhetorically.   

Birin was born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa, which she describes as “a cultural center for Judaism.” She moved to the United States with her husband, Gerald, more than 31 years ago and they always had their eyes on Arizona, Birin explains. The couple relocated to Tucson about 14 years ago.

She’s a registered nurse by profession, who got her penchant for community service as a volunteer at her daughter’s elementary school in Bedford, New Hampshire.

Read the entire Arizona Jewish Post article here. Originally published on Sept. 8, 2017.

UA professor’s new classical album views human experience via a Jewish lens

Tucson composer Daniel Asia’s latest CD attempts to contextualize the human experience via a Jewish sacred text, plus the poems of a New York Jewish poet and an Israeli Jewish poet. “To Open in Praise” contains 12 tracks in three sections, written over a 25-year period.

Asia’s work gets richer with every listen, says Sid Lissner, a founding member of Avitecture, an audiovisual engineering company based in the Washington, D.C. area, who retired to Tucson almost three years ago. Lissner befriended Asia when he relocated and is honored to be a project benefactor. Not only is Asia a well respected modern American composer, there are very few people creating pieces via a Jewish lens, says Lissner.

Lissner describes Asia as a “thinker and an artist” of noteworthy stature.

“He’s a respected professor and he’s notable for writing Jewish music in a classical mode,” says Lissner. “There aren’t too many people doing this, and Dan does it so well — it’s art.”

Read the entire Arizona Jewish Post article here. Originally published on Sept. 8, 2017.

15 people just welcomed Trump to N.J. with these signs

President Donald Trump arrived in New Jersey on Friday to spend 17 days at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster for a summer working vacation.

We went to Montclair, Middletown and Asbury Park and asked people what message they would send if they saw the president in the Garden State.

And this being New Jersey, we found no shortage of people willing to take the challenge: If you could show a sign to Trump, what would it say?

Read the entire article here. Originally published on Aug. 8, 2017.

Photography by Aristide Economopoulos for NJ Advance Media.

Sussex County Fair peddles old fashioned family fun

Ewes bellowed at each other, the ferris wheel lifted its passengers to the clouds and the smell of freshly popped kettle corn hung in the air. Just a regular day at the New Jersey State Fair Sussex County Farm & Horse Show.

The 81st annual event kicked off on Friday at the Sussex County Fairgrounds, and will run through Sunday, Aug. 13.

The old fashioned, family friendly state fair offers attractions and novelties including racing pigs, a petting zoo and a Queen of the Fair Pageant. The event also has monster truck rides, demolition derbies, motocross and BMX shows.

Anthony Bernabe, of Franklin, said this was the first time he’s been to the fair, although he’s been to the State Fair Meadowlands, the annual event is simply too crowded, Bernabe said. Besides his young daughter, Gaia, can’t get enough of the petting zoo, he said with a smile.

Read the entire article here. Originally published on Aug. 5, 2017.

Special needs registry helps bring missing teen home safe

A 16-year-old boy with special needs was safely returned home thanks to a pilot program designed to assist first responders.

A good Samaritan alerted the Manasquan Police Department on July 23 an unaccompanied teenager was seen walking along the street, said Manasquan Police Chief Michael Bauer.

Something “seemed off” about the general demeanor of the boy, which prompted the passerby to call police, Bauer said.

Although police don’t know how long the teen went missing, Manasquan Police were able to return him home within minutes of responding to the 911 call, Bauer said.

The teen was listed on the Monmouth County Special Needs Registry, a voluntary program for families and individuals living with disabilities ranging from autism to veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. The pilot program was launched in March 2016.

Read the entire article here. Originally published on Aug. 8, 2017.