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Why your synagogue, and mine, needs a pickleball court



(JTA) — The weekday minyan at my synagogue has been moved from the sanctuary to its airy social hall. And whenever I attend I have the same lofty thought: This would make a great pickleball court.

Pickleball, the subject of countless breathless articles calling it the fastest growing sport in America, is essentially tennis for people with terrible knees. Players use hard paddles to knock a wiffle ball across a net, on a court about a third as big as a tennis court. It’s weirdly addictive, and because the usual game is doubles and the court is so small, it’s pleasantly social. I play on a local court (I won’t say where, because it’s hard enough to get playing time), where a nice little society has formed among the regulars. 

“A nice little society among the regulars” is also how I might describe a synagogue. Or at least that’s the argument I fantasize making before my synagogue board, in a “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”-style speech that will convince them to let me set up a net in the social hall so I can play in the dead of winter. I dream of doing for synagogues and pickleball what Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, did for shuls and pools: He popularized the notion of “synagogue-centers” that would include prayer services as well as adult ed, Hebrew schools, theater, athletics and, yes, swimming pools. 

I might even quote David Kaufman, who wrote a history of the synagogue-center movement called “Shul With a Pool”: “Kaplan was the first to insist that the synagogue remain the hub from which other communal functions derive. Only then might the synagogue fulfill its true purpose: the fostering of Jewish community.” 

Alas, the title “Mordecai Kaplan of Pickleball” may have to go to Rabbi Alex Lazarus-Klein of Congregation Shir Shalom, a combined Reform and Reconstructionist synagogue near Buffalo, New York — which knows from winter. Last week he sent me a charming essay saying that his synagogue has begun twice-weekly pickleball nights in its social hall. About 40 members showed up on its first night in November, and it’s been steady ever since.

“When my synagogue president presented the idea during High Holy Day services, many of our members rolled their eyes,” Lazarus-Klein, 49, wrote. But the rabbi counters by citing Kaplan and paraphrasing one of his forebears, Rabbi Henry Berkowitz, a 19th-century Reform rabbi who encouraged synagogues in the 1880s “to create programming related to physical training, education, culture, and entertainment to help better compete with social clubs. Over the years, synagogues have experimented with all types of sports activities including bowling, basketball, and, more recently, Gaga. Why not pickleball as well?”

Lazarus-Klein also told me in an interview that his synagogue doesn’t do catering, so the “social hall just sits empty except for High Holidays or bigger events.”

“Our buildings were built for just a few times a year. It’s a shame,” he said. “We have tried as a congregation to get our building more use. We rent to a preschool, we have canasta groups, we have adult education. But for large swaths [of time], especially the social hall is just completely empty.”

Lazarus-Klein wrote that the pickleball sessions have attracted regular synagogue-goers, as well as “many others who had never been to any other synagogue event outside of High Holy Days.”

The players also cross generations, including the rabbi’s 9- and 12-year- old sons and congregants as old as 70. “With a little ingenuity and a few hundred dollars, our empty social hall is suddenly filled several nights a week.” 

I offered the rabbi two other arguments for in-shul pickling. First, hosting pickleball honors the spirit of any synagogue that has “Shalom” in its name: By bringing the court under its roof, the synagogue avoids the turf battles between tennis players and picklers that are playing out, sometimes violently, in places across the country.

And I shared with Lazarus-Klein my obsession with the synagogue as a “third place”sociologist Ray Oldenburg’s idea of public places “that host the regular, voluntary, informal and happily anticipated gatherings of individuals beyond the realms of home and work.”

“That’s a great way of thinking of it,” said Lazarus-Klein. “I think our membership does kind of use it that way. It’s another base, not where they’re working and not where their home is, where they can feel at home.”

The “shul with a pool” has long been derided by traditionalists who say the extracurriculars detract from the religious function of synagogues. Kaufman quotes Israel Goldstein, the rabbi of B’nai Jeshurun in New York, who in 1928 complained that “whereas the hope of the Synagogue Center was to Synagogize the tone of the secular activities of the family, the effect has been the secularization of the place of the Synagogue…. [I]t has been at the expense of the sacred.”

Lazarus-Klein, who was ordained by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. argues that there is sacred in the secular, and vice versa. 

“I think a synagogue is a community,” he told me. “A community is a place that supports each other and it’s certainly not just about Jewish ritual, right? It’s about being together in all different ways. And the pickleball just really expands what we’re able to offer and who we’re able to reach.”

Kaplan, I think, deserves the last word: The synagogue, he wrote in 1915, “should become a social centre where the Jews of the neighborhood may find every possible opportunity to give expression to their social and play instincts. It must become the Jew’s second home. It must become [their] club, [their] theatre and [their] forum.”

It must become, I know he would agree, a place for pickleball.

The post Why your synagogue, and mine, needs a pickleball court appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.

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Local News

Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary



By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre

Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)

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Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station



This is a developing story.

(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.

An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.

Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.

The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.

The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to  transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.

Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.

The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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