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Realtor Danielle Margolis goes for a walk in the desert… and raises $38,000 for Winnipeg women’s shelter

 

Danielle Margolis in the Sahara in Morocco

By MYRON LOVE

Realtor Danielle Margolis recently went for a trek in the desert to raise money for an initiative she strongly believes in. The desert was the Sahara and Margolis one of 120 Royal LePage realtors from across the country – divided into four groups – who took part in the “Sahara Desert Challenge”, on behalf of the Royal LePage Shelter Foundation – in support of women’s and children’s shelters across Canada.

 

 

 

The “Sahara Desert Challenge” was the third such Royal LePage initiative, which consists of hikes every two years in an exotic locale.  The first one centred around Machu Pichu in Peru. The second was in Iceland.

It was almost a year since Margolis first spoke with the Jewish Post & News about her plan to participate in the 110-km fundraising trek through eastern Morocco, a project she said in which she was participating to raise awareness and to help provide a safer place for women and children to live.   

Danielle married into a philanthropic family and is honored to carry on her mother in-law, Rae Margolis’ memory by giving back, she explained. 

As Danielle points out, community and philanthropy were very important to Rae and the fundraising walk across the Sahara is one of the ways in which Danielle (who is married to Rae’s son, Jon) will be paying tribute to Rae’s memory.

(Rae Margolis is also survived by Gary, her husband of 47 years, and her daughter, Tara, and husband, Aaron Calvo.)

Danielle added that, in a conversation with his mother, Jon told her about Danielle’s plan to hike in the Sahara.  “Rae was proud and excited that I would be doing something like this,” Danielle said.  “She was pleased that I would be carrying on her good work for the benefit if people we don’t know.”

Danielle and Jon Margolis are both realtors long associated with Royal LePage Dynamic Real Estate. (They work out of the Corydon office.)   “I was interested in participating for the first Royal LePage Shelter Foundation fundraising initiative,” Danielle said at the time of the previous interview, “ but I was pregnant with our daughter and couldn’t go,” Danielle explains. (She and Jon also have a six-year-old son.)  “This time it felt like the right time and place,” she says.

“I had always wanted to see Morocco and the Sahara Desert.”

Margolis– who has always been physically active –began training in the spring, often with her Mom and a sister participant Nicole Hacault from Winnipeg.  Her regimen consisted of cycling three times a week, light weight training and regular hikes.

She also made sure to buy a good pair of hiking boots.

The group arrived on November 17 in the Moroccan city of Marrakech where the hikers had the opportunity to visit the Medina, the old Jewish quarter and continued onto Ouarzazate, an area popular with film production. “The people were very friendly and welcoming,” she says, “and the guides were great.”

The entourage began their trek at a place called Achbarou  – “the door of the desert” – about an eight-hour drive east of Marrakech. The group covered anywhere from 16 to 35 km a day.

“Big 4 by4’s carried our supplies and infrastructure from camp to camp,” Danielle explains.  “We also had a camel walking with us in case someone ran out of water or had to be evacuated. There were many who suffered from horrible blisters, lost toenails and other ailments. I counted myself lucky in that I came through unscathed.”

Margolis says that she was surprised at how varied the terrain was.   “We would be walking for hours on ground that was completely flat with nothing to see for miles around.  Other days, the ground would be rocky with some vegetation.  We walked over some huge dunes and many smaller ones.  The sand changed from grey to red to mixed with volcanic stone.  One time, we walked along an old, chocolate-shaving like sea bed. “

She notes that the group did see some nomads and Berbers near the end of their hike – but no sign of animal life except for some burrows in the ground.

The journey ended at Anoun El Fraolia.  She reports that her favourite memories were sleeping outside under a starry sky unencumbered by the many lights of civilization, the spectacular sunsets and Jebel Lamrakeb, a approximately 65 storey high sand dune about 13 km from the Algerian border.

“We could see the border from the top of the dune,” she says. It was absolutely breathtaking.

 The trip to Morocco concluded on November 30 with a farewell supper at a restaurant, called Dar-Cherifa, in a 16th century building in Marrakech.

Danielle reports that that she raised over $38,000 – the largest amount among all the participants.  She is donating the bulk of the money to Bravestone Centre Inc. – in Winnipeg – a secondary shelter where abused women can stay for up to a year.  A portion of the funds raised will also support domestic violence prevention programs across Canada, including those focused on youth, to help break the cycle of family violence.  

She says that she appreciates the strong support of her husband, Jon, and the lead role her father-on-law, Gary, played in her fundraising efforts. He took on the role of campaign manager.

“The hardest thing for me was leaving my children for two weeks,” she notes. “I had never been away from them for that long.

“But I also want to set an example for them – even though they are still young – of giving back to the community through donations of time and energy as well as money.

“I believe that an experience like this has made me a better parent and most importantly, a better person.”

 

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Features

Famous Jewish Horse Jockeys Throughout History

Photo by Milena de Narvaez Ayllon:

When you think of horse racing, what comes to mind? The thunderous applause of the crowd, the heart-pounding thrill of the race, or perhaps the elegant hats and mint juleps of the Kentucky Derby?

Still, if I tell you to picture famous Jewish horse jockeys, does your mind draw a blank? Maybe there are some names among the contenders in the 2024 Kentucky Derby betting?

Well, prepare to be enlightened, entertained, and possibly a bit surprised as we dive into the fascinating world of Jewish horse jockeys throughout history.

Jewish Participation in Horse Racing

Contrary to what stereotypes might suggest – no, not all Jewish professionals are doctors, lawyers, or tech moguls – a number of Jewish athletes have made significant marks in the world of horse racing.

This might come as a shock to some, given the historical and cultural barriers that have often sidelined Jewish participation in various sports. But just like breaking into Hollywood or winning Nobel Prizes, Jewish jockeys have defied odds, gravity, and sometimes, even logic.

The Jewish influence in horse racing is actually quite big. If we look back on some of the most successful horse racing stories, we can see traces of Jewish people involved in the process. Just take American Pharoah for example. The horse that won the Triple Crown (first time since 1978) and the Breeders Cup in the same year.

The owner of American Pharoah was Ahmed Zayat; an Orthodox Jew from Egypt has become one of the most powerful figures in horse racing.

The Beginnings of Jewish Presence in Horse Racing

Let us start with the early days by going back to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when horse racing was one of the only activities with considerable popularity.

Jewish jockeys, like as Tod Sloan, began to emerge from the crowd. Sloan was more than simply a jockey; he was a celebrity, renowned for his “monkey crouch” riding style, which transformed horse racing. But why is Sloan not a household name like other sports legends?

Perhaps it is due to the specialized character of horse racing or to the overshadowing of successes in other industries. Whatever the cause, Sloan and his contemporaries paved the way for what was to follow.

Jewish Influence on the Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby is one of the biggest sporting events in the world that dates back 150 years.

Most visitors are astonished to learn that the Jewish community has had a substantial impact on the event’s history and culture.

From horse owners to riders to industry executives, Jews have left their imprint on horse racing.

One of the most well-known is the Wertheimer family, who owned the famous horse Exterminator, who won the race in 1918. The Wertheimers were well-known for their successful thoroughbred breeding and racing enterprise, which they had run for many years.

But we also have the Phipps family and the Zayat family, who also left a big mark on the Kentucky Derby.

Most Popular Jewish Jockeys Over the Years

But Jewish people are not only owners of horses. In fact, we can see many Jewish jockeys that actually made a rather successful horse racing career.

William Harmatz

William Harmatz (February 9, 1931–January 27, 2011) was an American Thoroughbred horse racing jockey who won the 1959 Preakness Stakes riding Royal Orbit.

Harmatz, a Jewish jockey, received the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award in 1960 for demonstrating high standards of personal and professional behavior on and off the racecourse. He was elected into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1999.

Isaac Murphy

Here we have one of the most successful Jockeys, at least when it comes to win rate.

Isaac Murphy won with more than a third of his rides each year. According to his own assessment, Murphy won 44% of his races. Only 34.5% can be validated in era-specific chart books, although it’s possible that some of his races were not included. Murphy set a level that no other jockey has surpassed.

He won three Kentucky Derbys, five Latonia Derbys, and four of the first five runnings of the American Derby, which was formerly the richest 3-year-old event in America.

Murphy was recognized not just for his horseback riding abilities, but also for his honesty and commitment. He once refused to allow champion Falsetto to lose the 1879 Kenner Stakes, despite bribes from gamblers.

Walter Blum

Speaking of successful jockeys, we cannot miss Walter Blum, a Hall of Famer who had an incredible career in horse racing spanning across almost two decades. When he retired in 1975, only four jockeys actually managed to have more wins than Blum.

Despite being blind in his right eye since the age of two, when he fell from a toy horse, in 1953 he began a career as a jockey, riding his first winner on July 29 at Saratoga Race Course. Blum spent the majority of his 22-year career riding on East Coast tracks from New England to Florida, and he is one of only four riders to have won six races on a single program at Monmouth Park.

However, in the 1960s, he rode seasonally at California races, winning the 1966 Santa Anita Derby, and he also dominated Chicago’s summer racing circuit, particularly at Arlington Park.

Honorable Mentions

We’ve covered some of the most successful Jewish jockeys, but they are not the only ones in the sport. Over the year’s we’ve seen many other Jewish jockeys that might not have the same success, but definitely left a mark on the sport.

Sol Levitch competed in the Kentucky Derby six times between 1929 and 1940, placing in the top three twice. David Erb rode in the Kentucky Derby three times in the 1920s, with his best finish of third place in 1927. Herb Fisher rode in the Kentucky Derby twice during the 1940s, finishing seventh in 1941 and ninth in 1947.

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Features

The real story behind Sammy Davis Jr.’s conversion to Judaism

Sammy Davis Jr. (1972 photo - source: Wikipedia)

Jewish comedians made racist jokes about him. Some Black audiences booed him. But his faith was genuine

By Beth Harpaz February 23, 2023

(This story was originally published in the Forward. Click here to get the Forward’s free email newsletters delivered to your inbox.)

Sammy Davis Jr. was a short and skinny Black man with one eye. His wife was white, his mother was Puerto Rican and he was a convert to Judaism. In the crass and racist world of mid-20th century comedy, he was a walking punchline, even in his own routines.

“When I move into a neighborhood, I wipe it out,” was his standard self-deprecating gag. The line received knowing laughs in the 1950s and ’60s when many towns forbade property sales to Blacks and Jews, and whites often fled when Black families moved into their neighborhoods.

Jokes by his fellow entertainers were crude. In a live skit at the Sands in Las Vegas in 1963, Dean Martin physically lifted Davis up (he weighed a mere 120 pounds) and said, “I’d like to thank the NAACP for this wonderful trophy.” At a Friars Club roast, comedian Pat Buttram said that if Davis showed up in Buttram’s home state of Alabama, folks “wouldn’t know what to burn on the lawn.” 

Jewish comedians got their licks in, too. Milton Berle cross-dressed as Davis’ white wife, May Britt, and sang, to the tune of “My Yiddishe Mama,” “My Yiddish Mau-Mau,” a reference to an anti-British rebellion in Kenya. 

At another roast, Joey Bishop said he’d “never been so embarrassed” in his life as when he met Davis in synagogue. When the rabbi came in, Bishop said, “Sammy jumped up and hollered, ‘Here come the judge!’”

This cringeworthy line was delivered by Davis himself in a show at the Copa: “I don’t know whether to be shiftless and lazy, or smart and stingy.”

Some of these jokes implied that it was preposterous for a Black man to convert to Judaism. But for Sammy Davis Jr., being Jewish “was the most logical thing in the world,” historian Rebecca L. Davis told me. “Over and over again, he made this analogy between being Jewish and African American. He was very admiring of the Jewish millennia-long struggle against oppressors and overcoming all kinds of obstacles.” He saw himself as “an outsider and very marginalized, and he could see in the Jewish experience a similarity that really drew him in emotionally.” 

Davis, a history professor at the University of Delaware (and no relation to Sammy), has done extensive research on the entertainer’s conversion, his career and how he was perceived. Her article, “‘These Are a Swinging Bunch of People’: Sammy Davis, Jr., Religious Conversion, and the Color of Jewish Ethnicity,” appeared in the American Jewish History journal in 2016, and she included a chapter about him in her 2021 book, Public Confessions: The Religious Conversions That Changed American Politics. Her take is that Davis was not only one of the most successful entertainers of the 20th century despite the many racist barriers in his way, but that his Jewish faith was utterly genuine.

The fateful accident

Davis lost his eye when he crashed his car driving home to California from Las Vegas in November 1954. One of several stories about what sparked Davis’ path to conversion originates with the aftermath of the accident. He wrote in his 1965 autobiography, Yes I Can, that his friends Tony Curtis, who was Jewish, and Janet Leigh, who was not, arrived at the hospital and Leigh gave him a religious medal with St. Christopher on one side and a Star of David on the other. “Hold tight and pray and everything will be all right,” Leigh told him.

Davis later told Alex Haley in a Playboy interview that he gripped the object so tightly that the Star of David left a scar on his hand, “like a stigmata.” He took it as a sign that he should convert. 

Davis also felt that he owed his career to a Jewish man, Eddie Cantor, who ironically had been one of vaudeville’s best-known blackface performers; Cantor’s act earned him a spot with the Ziegfeld Follies. Decades later, Cantor gave Davis his first big break, a solo televised appearance on the Colgate Comedy Hour in 1952, and became a father figure to him. “He saw Cantor’s Jewishness as part of what made Cantor a good person,” said Rebecca Davis. 

In another version of how his car accident led to his conversion, Sammy Davis said that a mezuzah Cantor gave him had mistakenly been left behind in a hotel room the day of the crash. That story transformed the mezuzah “into a talisman,” Rebecca Davis observed, another signpost on the road to his conversion. 

Identifying as a Jew

In his memoir, Sammy Davis recalled Rabbi Max Nussbaum, of Temple Israel in Hollywood, telling him, “We cherish converts, but we neither seek nor rush them.” But he began to publicly identify as Jewish before formally converting. In 1959 he refused to film scenes for the movie Porgy and Bess on Yom Kippur, while Ebony ran a photo of him holding Everyman’s Talmud.

He also repeatedly compared the oppression of Jews to that of African Americans. In his 1989 book, Why Me?, he wrote that he was “attracted by the affinity between the Jew and the Negro. The Jews had been oppressed for three thousand years instead of three hundred but the rest was very much the same.” When he visited the Wailing Wall in 1969, he said Israel was his “religious home.”

The reception from Black audiences

American Jews by and large loved him, and his reception in the Jewish press, including the Forward, was also positive, Rebecca Davis said. But it was more complicated for Black media. On the one hand, she said, he was “this exemplar of Black success, very wealthy, very famous, very successful” in an era of rampant racism.

On the other hand, there was “confusion and anger” about why — as a prominent Black activist who joined marches, raised money and was the United Negro College Fund’s largest donor — Sammy Davis so often connected the civil rights cause to Judaism. While there were a “disproportionate number of Jews who were passionate about civil rights and were willing to put their personal safety on the line to stand up for civil rights,” at the same time, Jews were part of a “broader American culture that saw African Americans as inferiors. That was the prevailing cultural norm among white people in the 1950s,” Rebecca Davis said. Other critics felt that he had converted to ingratiate himself with whites as a way to get ahead.

And when he “let himself be the joke” as part of the Rat Pack — a loose ensemble of performers that included Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Peter Lawford — that “really angered a lot of African Americans who saw him more as performing for white audiences than for Black audiences.”

He formally converted with Britt shortly before their wedding in 1960. She was as serious about it as he was, making sure, even after they were divorced, that their children went to Hebrew school and that their son was bar mitzvahed.

Disinvited from JFK’s inauguration

But their marriage also resulted in one of the most painful episodes of his life, when he was disinvited from John F. Kennedy’s presidential inauguration. The Democratic coalition that elected JFK included Southern white Democrats, and they did not want a Black man married to a white woman performing at the celebration. “They forced Davis out,” Rebecca Davis said. “He was so stung by that. Here he was on stage and on film with Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra and the biggest stars of the day, and they all got to go to the inauguration, but he didn’t.”

That rejection helps explain Davis’ subsequent embrace of Richard Nixon. “Nixon, who was politically very devious, figured he could use Sammy Davis as a token African American supporter by overdoing it and inviting him to sleep in the Lincoln bedroom,” Rebecca Davis said. That made him the first Black man to spend the night as a guest in the White House.

Some African Americans saw Davis’ alignment with Nixon and the Republicans as a betrayal. Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier stopped returning his phone calls, Rebecca Davis wrote, and a year or two after he performed at the 1972 Republican National Convention, he was booed at an event organized by Jesse Jackson.

He responded to the boos by saying, “I get it. I understand. But I need you to know, I always did it my way. It’s the only way I’ve got,” Rebecca Davis said. “Then he sang ‘I’ve Gotta Be Me,’ and they gave him a standing ovation.”

A steadfast Jew until the end

His third wife, Altovise, was a churchgoer, but Sammy Davis remained a steadfast Jew until the day he died. Everything he said about Judaism “was said with the utmost sincerity,” Rebecca Davis said. “He never once looked back and said, ‘Oh, that was just a phase I was going through.’ And he never talked about it in terms of his career. He only talked about it as something that spoke to him on a deep level.”

Davis died of throat cancer in 1990 at age 64. Sinatra, Berle, Liza Minnelli, Stevie Wonder, Dionne Warwick and many other celebrities were among thousands of mourners who backed up traffic for 8 miles en route to the funeral at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in LA. Rabbi Allen Freehling presided at the service, but the eulogy was given by Jesse Jackson. 

“To love Sammy was to love Black and white, Black and Jew,” he said, “and to embrace the human family.”

The service also included one last standing ovation for Davis, when they played a recording of – what else? – “I’ve Gotta Be Me.”

Beth Harpaz is a reporter for the Forward. She previously worked for The Associated Press, first covering breaking news and politics, then as AP Travel editor. Email: harpaz@forward.com.

This article was originally published on the Forward

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Features

The Fraught Future of Jewish Studies

By Henry Srebrnik Between 1969, when the Association for Jewish Studies (AJS) was founded by forty-seven scholars in Boston, and now, the field of Jewish studies has enjoyed a meteoric expansion. The association, as David Biale, Professor Emeritus of Jewish History at the University of California, Davis, has noted in the winter 2024 issue of the Jewish Review of Books (JRB), it has some 1,800 members, and programs or individual positions exist at virtually every major North American university.
Benefiting from the postwar diminishment of antisemitism and the assimilation of Jews to American society, the scholarly study of the Jews found homes in university departments such as history, religious studies, and comparative literature.
Could that golden age have come to an end on October 7, 2023? “The sudden explosion of anti-Israelism, with its close cousin, antisemitism, has rendered the position of Jewish studies precarious.” It is too soon to know for sure, he states, “but it is hard to avoid the suspicion that something fundamental shifted on that Black Sabbath and its aftermath, not only in Israel but here in America.”
Jewish Studies programs at American (and Canadian) universities, with seed money provided by Jewish philanthropists, sprang up after the 1967 Six-Day War. And at first its faculty were “pro-Israel.” But Jewish communities never had control of these programs. And as the initial cohort of academics retired, their replacements were different – because the hiring process was, of course, largely in the hands of non-Jewish faculty in the humanities. So the successful candidates were more in line with the new zeitgeist of “interrogating” the “Zionist narrative” and giving prominence to non- or anti-Zionist perspectives among American Jews.
This was inevitable. Even the AJS has moved in this direction. (I am a member and have given papers at AJS conferences.) These programs and departments are, in the final analysis, at best “neutral” and agnostic on the Middle East and Israel.
Daniel B. Schwartz is a professor of history and Judaic studies at George Washington University in Washington, DC. In that same issue of the JRB, he recounted that on Oct. 9, a statement from the Executive Committee of the AJS arrived in his inbox. The heading of the email read simply, “Statement from the AJS Executive Committee.”
The statement was about the events of the previous weekend, but the email’s content-free subject line turned out to be symptomatic of what followed. “The members of the AJS Executive Committee,” it said, “express deep sorrow for the loss of life and destruction caused by the horrific violence in Israel over the weekend. We send comfort to our members there and our members with families and friends in the region who are suffering.” In a statement by the AJS, why word “Jews” was nowhere to be found.
“That we have come to the point where the AJS has to resort to such anodyne language,” he asserted, “is truly mind-boggling to me, and frankly shameful.” Why did the half-dozen distinguished scholars who form the Executive Committee of the AJS “feel obligated to obfuscate about the terrible events to which they were ostensibly responding?”
No wonder then, as Mikhal Dekel, Professor of English and the director of the Rifkind Center for the Humanities and Arts at the City College of New York, remarked, “For some of my Jewish colleagues, Israel and Israelis have crossed a threshold to become objects of hatred and disgust that mountains of intellectualized and reasoned essays cannot conceal. These emotions were on display on the very day of October 7, even before a single Israeli soldier entered Gaza.” Decades of BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) and other anti-Israel activism “around me hadn’t prepared me for that.”
Certainly the place of Jewish and Israeli-related courses in the wider world of the humanities will decline dramatically, as “anti-Zionism” takes hold across higher education. For example, Cary Nelson, Jubilee Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, told us in the February issue of Fathom, a British publication, that “after nearly two decades of trying, the Modern Language Association’s annual meeting finally succeeded in putting this academic group on record opposing Israel.”
The MLA represents about twenty thousand North American literature and foreign language faculty and graduate students. “This time they were riding a wave of anti-Zionist hostility that has swept the academy since Hamas wantonly slaughtered over 1,200 Israelis and foreign visitors in the largest antisemitic murder spree since the Holocaust.”
Nelson reported that at one MLA meeting, “when a member from Haifa referenced Hamas’s sexual violence there was reportedly audible hissing among the anti-Zionist members attending. Was it unacceptable to impugn the character of Hamas terrorists? Were some MLA members on board with Hamas denials?”
A recent trend has seen Jewish academics in Jewish Studies programs at universities like Berkely, Brown, Dartmouth, Emory, Harvard and elsewhere publish widely noticed books that are, at best, “non-Zionist” and in fact sympathetic to the naqba narrative of Arab-Jewish relations during and after the formation of Israel. But why should we be surprised? They are embedded in institutions where the “woke” Diversity-Equity-Inclusion ideology now prevails.
The new book by historian Geoffrey Levin, assistant professor of Middle Eastern and Jewish studies at Emory University in Atlanta, “Our Palestine Question: Israel and American Jewish Dissent, 1948-1978,” is one such work. He writes sympathetically about an early, formative era before American Jewish institutions had unequivocally embraced Zionism.
“The No-State Solution: A Jewish Manifesto” by Daniel Boyarin, the Taubman Professor of Talmudic Culture and rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley, aims to drive a wedge between the “nation” and the “state,” and “recover a robust sense of nationalism that does not involve sovereignty.”
“The Necessity of Exile: Essays from a Distance” by Shaul Magid, the Distinguished Fellow in Jewish Studies at Dartmouth, calls for “recentering” Judaism over nationalism and “challenges us to consider the price of diminishing or even erasing the exilic character of Jewish life.”
Derek Penslar, an historian at Harvard, last year published “Zionism: An Emotional State,” which described the situation in the West Bank as apartheid, even though over 90 per cent of Palestinians there are governed not by Israel but by the Palestinian Authority. The point of calling Israel an apartheid regime is to suggest that it must go the way of white-led South Africa.
They are among a spate of books dealing with the history of Jewish dissent over Israel and Zionism, including “The Threshold of Dissent: A History of American Jewish Critics of Zionism” by Marjorie N. Feld, and “Unsettled: American Jews and the Movement for Justice in Palestine” by Oren Kroll-Zeldin.
A cold khamsim is blowing across Jewish Studies in academia.
Henry Srebrnik is a professor of political science at the University of Prince Edward Island in Charlottetown, PEI.
 

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