Tikkun Olam Top Ten

ANDI MINKOFF

By Shannon Levitt

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the word “testing” has generally called to mind a painful nasal swab, fears of a positive result and possible quarantine. But long before COVID, Andi Minkoff and her late husband, Sherman, realized what a very different kind of testing could offer their Jewish community and made an impassioned case for genetic testing — something that could benefit Ashkenazi Jews, a community susceptible to a number of deadly genetic diseases.

When the human genome was mapped two decades ago, the couple recognized that a new field of prevention and care had suddenly opened, and they proposed to their havurah that members educate the Jewish community about testing to avoid the crushing reality of having a child with a genetic disorder

Still, people hesitated and the Minkoffs decided to act on their own to educate and encourage people to get tested. They began by creating informational packets for rabbis and physicians with a small grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Phoenix.

That was the extent of their work until they discovered the prohibitive expense of the tests, often costing thousands of dollars. They realized they had created a scary situation for people who now knew what could happen but didn’t have the means to test.

So, the Minkoffs took the next logical step and created a path to provide the testing. They worked with Jewish Family & Children’s Service, the Council for Jews with Special Needs (now Gesher Disability Resources) and Dr. Kirk Aleck, a local geneticist. They started raising money.

What started at the Minkoff’s kitchen table soon became the Jewish Genetic Diseases Center of Greater Phoenix. In 2019, it became Minkoff Center for Jewish Genetics. The center began testing for only four diseases: Tay-Sachs, Canavan, cystic fibrosis and familial dysautonomia. It now screens for more than 100.

Andi Minkoff and her husband made a perfect team. Sherman was a cardiologist and could develop the medical side of the program while Andi had the organizational and fundraising background. She was so practiced at fundraising she even taught seminars on the topic. Both were also deeply involved in Greater Phoenix’s Jewish community for decades.

When the couple started down the genetic testing road all those years ago, they had already had their children and had no close personal relationship with anyone who had a Jewish genetic disease. But they saw their community missing an opportunity, and instead of waiting for someone else to act, they took the responsibility upon themselves. They decided if they could reduce suffering, heartbreak and loss, there was no time to lose.

Shannon Levitt is a freelance writer in Greater Phoenix.

 

CLAIRE NAIMAN

By David Graizbord

Claire Naiman, a native of Tucson, graduated summa cum laude from Arizona State University in 2020 with a B.A. in International studies and a Certificate in Hebrew Studies.  Along the way, she participated in the University of Arizona’s study abroad program, “Arizona in Israel,” where she completed two courses in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Afula with academic distinction: “Human Rights in Israel,” taught by Prof. Leonard Hammer, and “Jewish Civilization,” taught by Prof. David Graizbord.  For the latter course, Claire researched and delivered an outstanding oral presentation on the socioeconomic and cultural challenges facing Jews of Ethiopian extraction in Israeli society.

Today, Claire is back home in Tucson. She is the Springboard Fellow at the University of Arizona’s Hillel Foundation, where she designs and executes student-centered programming that highlights and promotes Jewish cultural diversity and inclusion.  Recently, Claire took part in Judaic Studies’ Sally and Ralph Duchin Campus Lecture Series when she interviewed Rabbi Micha Odenheimer, the founder and director of the Israeli human rights organization, Tevel be-Tzedek (World in Justice). Stay tuned for the posting of the video of that interview in the UA/Judaic Studies website.

David Graizbord is Associate Professor and Acting Director of the Arizona Center for Judaic Studies. He is a historian of Jewish Identity in Late Medieval, Early Modern, and Modern times. His last book, The New Zionists: Young American Jews, Jewish National Identity, and Israel, was issued in paperback by Rowman & Littlefield in November of 2021.

 

JAY BYCER

By Rabbi Jeffrey Schesnol

Jay Bycer is a complete personal and professional Jew. He and his family are totally immersed in synagogue life and Jay has served on the boards of a dozen Jewish organizations. Over the years that Jay and his wife, Karen, have been involved in Jewish communal life, the community has grown from about 40,000 Jews to approximately 100,000. The growth experiences they have been integral in supporting has enabled their service that includes extensive fundraising, founding new organizations, partnering with groups encompassing local, national, and international associations engaging in Jewish education, culture, music, and commitment to supporting Israel.

Jay served on AFMDA’s National Board of Directors for several years, where he traveled the country to help other chapters create similar programs for their communities as he had helped lead in Arizona such as Partners for Life (Federation’s Belle Latchman Award) and the Judaic Cultural Orchestra. (Jay is being honored for his work with AFMDA on Jan. 30; see American Friends of Magen David Adom Celebrates 20 Years of Leadership in Phoenix on page ??? for more information.)

Jay has indicated it has been effortless to commit to Arizona Jewish communal life because it is not as steeped in multi-generational establishment affiliations as older traditional communities such as the one he left in Philadelphia. In addition, Arizona afforded the Bycers welcoming access for volunteerism not as accessible in institutionalized societies in Eastern establishments.

Professionally, Jay was the founder of Market Solutions Group, a national marketing research and consulting firm, and Bycer Management Group.  His career brought him and his family to Arizona in the late 1970s from Philadelphia, living in the Phoenix area for almost 40 years, with his wife Karen and their two grown boys and three grandchildren.  He has worked in key marketing positions in the financial, real estate and publishing industries. He is a member of congregations Beth El, Or Tzion, and Temple B’rith Shalom in Prescott.

Jay has endeavored tirelessly to overcome serious illnesses that have affected himself and many of his relatives. Yet, he never complains and optimistically accepts the responsibilities of family caregiver while continuing his commitments to Jewish communal life like the true mensch he is.

Rabbi Jeffrey Schesnol is the ceremonial and spiritual leader of Or Adam Congregation for Humanistic Judaism and associate director of the Arizona Jewish Historical Society.

 

LENI REISS

By Vicki Cabot

Everyone needs an editor.

And Leni Reiss was mine.

She was my first editor at Jewish News, who became a trusted mentor, a treasured friend.

She has a nose for news, a way with words, the uncanny ability to sniff out a good story and make it come alive. She generously took me under her wing, helping me hone my skills, deftly editing my copy, making it better.

Leni’s a proud native New Yorker who arrived in Phoenix in the dead of summer 1961 with a husband and new baby. The lonely stay-at-home mom found her way to the Jewish community, where its warm welcome made Phoenix home. Her communal work led her to Jewish News in 1976, where then owners Cecil and Pearl Newmark hired her as a part-time reporter.

It was a dream come true, a fantasy, as she tells it in an Arizona Jewish Historical Society oral history. It was the start of an immensely satisfying career in Jewish journalism, that led to her serving as JN managing editor and her byline appearing in a host of other publications, including this one. (In fact, when Arizona Jewish Life started, Leni immediately reached out and offered her assistance to the “new kids on the block.”)

Her accomplishments are impressive, the award-winning stories, the professional accolades,

the budding journalists and young leaders she has mentored, and the vast circle of admiring colleagues, friends, family, a few who generously shared a few words with me.

Anecdotes flooded my inbox, Leni reporting from Beirut during the 1982 Lebanon war, wrangling an interview with Sammy Davis Jr. en route on El Al; the mad dash to the White House to meet President George H. W. Bush, when her flight was delayed, luggage lost.

Adoring adjectives flashed on my screen: intrepid, upbeat, adventurous, ebullient, wise, witty, charming, smart, thoughtful, kind, generous, grateful, loyal, loving. My favorite is from her husband of more than 60 years: best.

She’s a dreamer but also a doer, with a deep commitment to Jewish life and a conviction that keeping her readers informed and engaged is key to its continuity. Her hard work is more than a job; it’s a calling, infused by her sense of wonder and gratitude for the opportunity to make the world a little better place.

Gary Rosenblatt, her esteemed colleague and dear friend, observes that that is what Jewish journalism is all about, “transmitting the story of a people — one that goes back thousands of years and will carry us to the future.

“We’re blessed,” he writes,” to have had Leni telling that story.”

 

BOBBY LIEB

By Mala Blomquist

Bobby Lieb has been a familiar face in Phoenix for decades. He and his wife, MaryAnn Ortiz Lieb, have been married for 35 years and met at the Jockey Club where he was the owner’s son, and she was the disc jockey. They are a force.

Although Bobby and I didn’t meet until I worked with MaryAnn at Raising Arizona Kids magazine, Bobby and I knew many of the same people. My father (and I, starting as a gift wrapper and working up to sales) worked at Leonard’s Luggage, a business owned by Malcolm Straus, who worked with Herb Lieb (Bobby’s dad) to open another Jockey Club at Central and Camelback.

After the Jockey Club closed, Bobby decided to try his hand at real estate, and as the saying goes, the rest is history. Although he has been the top-selling Realtor in North Central Phoenix since 2001 and ranked as HomeSmart’s #1 Top Performing Realtor every year since he joined them in 2011, he still answers his phone for his clients – day or night.

In 2014, after hearing that a HomeSmart agent’s wife had been involved in an attempted carjacking incident and was in critical condition in the hospital with head trauma, Bobby played a prominent role in creating the HomeSmart We Care for Others charity. This charity helps HomeSmart’s real estate agents in times of illness, injuries, or other medical setbacks they’ve suffered. Bobby has raised more than $65,000 for this cause.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, Bobby implemented safety protocols for working with his clients. Having been in the business, Bobby wanted to help struggling restaurants, so he donated more than $20,000 from HomeSmart Charities to Bobby-Q, Miracle Mile Deli and a local Subway franchise. And after hearing that thousands of people in the state are suffering from homelessness, Bobby began contributing $50 to the Arizona Housing Fund for every home he sells.

Even with his success, Bobby still lives by the advice given to him by his father … “at the end of the day, family is the most important thing.”

Bobby checks in daily with his adult children, Sean and Juliann, who live in Phoenix. Bobby and MaryAnn took in another kid, Jesse Milleson, more than 10 years ago, and he currently lives in New York.

Although I’m not related by blood, and I don’t talk to them daily, I know that they will pick up the phone anytime I call.

 

NATHAN MINTZ

By Allison Mintz

At the beginning of Covid two years ago, Nathan felt a great loss at no longer being in school in person. Like many young people, he struggled to make sense of his new “normal”, and he had to figure out his purpose in life. While he was already dedicated to working with different philanthropic organizations, something was still missing. One day Nathan reached out to a local Rabbi to discuss how he could explore and become active with his Jewish faith. Up until this point, Nathan was not active in Judaism. On his own, Nathan started attending synagogue and ultimately became a leader with C-Teen. He suddenly found new opportunities and connections that he never knew were there. There were no Jewish organizations on his high school campus, so he started to think of ways he could fill this void. With a mission to bring diversity to his school, and to bring opportunities to other Jewish students, Nathan set out to create a Kosher Food Club on campus. The purpose of this club, is to bring Jewish and non-Jewish students together to learn about the food and culture of Jewish Heritage. After recruiting a teacher to sponsor the club, Nathan created a proposal which he submitted to the Glendale Union High School District. Within just a few weeks, the district approved the club.

Rabbi Tzvi of Chabad said, “Nathan is Responsible, and well thought out, he exemplifies true Leadership qualities and has helped his peers learn more about their Judaism. Most teenagers are concerned about how many likes they got on their Instagram post. But Nathan is worried about representing Judaism at his public high school.”

Nathan is also an active member with boys team charity (btc) North Valley. This organizations mission is to give back to the community through philanthropic work. Through btc, Nathan has volunteered with many amazing non profit organizations including Home Fur Good, Packages from Home, St. Vincent de Paul,  and the Jaydie Lynn King Foundation. For the Class of 2022 senior project, as President Nathan was instrumental in selecting the project, creating a proposal for the philanthropy and getting the class members to complete the project. For this years project, Home Fur Good was selected as the philanthropy and the members created a sensory garden, painted and replaced the fencing, and created an agility course. This project had great meaning for Nathan as he has a great love for animals and always enjoyed volunteering with this organization.

 

RICHARD BELKIN

By Shannon Levitt

Tucson resident Richard “Dick” Belkin can’t be pinned down to just one career. Over the years, he has made his claim to fame in the entertainment industry with both his business acumen and his creative chops.

For his multiple talents and his service to Tucson’s Jewish community, Belkin was honored by Tucson Hebrew Academy (THA) during its 2021 Tikkun Olam Celebration in November. Though not from Tucson, Belkin has more than made his mark there having served as board chair of the Tucson Jewish Community Center, board chair of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, board president for THA and as a board trustee for Tucson’s Jewish Community Foundation.

Belkin began his long and storied career after earning a master’s degree in television and radio broadcasting from Syracuse University. But before he could really get his feet wet in entertainment, he was drafted into the U.S. Army in his 20s.

That was where he got his start as a writer and entertainer, first as a journalist with the Army newspaper and then as a comedy writer and performer who would go on to tour Europe entertaining the troops.

Following his Army service days, Belkin spent 40 years immersed in entertainment, where he was comfortable wearing many hats. He did everything from directing and producing to performing. Before turning to advertising and leadership roles, he played Captain Six on a children’s television program in Schenectady, New York. Later, he became vice president of Lee Enterprises, which owned television stations from West Virginia to Hawaii.

Still, Belkin never lost his creative edge. In the last few years he has written and published four children’s books. His second, “Coronado Dog Surfing Olympics,” was inspired by an actual bulldog he witnessed atop a surfboard in Coronado, California, where he and his wife, Sherry, spend part of every year.  He knew instinctively that it would be a perfect plot for a children’s book. He waited two years to put pen to paper, but once he did, it only took him an hour or so to write it, he told the Coronado Eagle & Journal in 2016.

Belkin became an investor in “Come From Away,” a Tony award-winning musical about the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks. Belkin had a business operating the observation tower at the World Trade Center in New York until that fateful day.

Belkin and his wife are also celebrated fundraisers.

Shannon Levitt is a freelance writer in Greater Phoenix.

 

STEVE AND ELLEN ROSENBAUM

By Leni Reiss

New York’s loss was Arizona’s gain – big time – when Steve and Ellen Rosenbaum packed up and headed west just before the millennium. Granted, they were leaving their first-born, Andrew (single at the time and embarking on a career as a veterinarian), but they would now be close to daughter Ruth (Plotkin), son-in-law, Ed, and their growing family.

The Rosenbaums, both retired educators in the New York City school system and ardent Zionists, settled into their Scottsdale home and within a short period of time did what they wanted to but never had time for – volunteer on behalf of Israel. They had, however, taken their then school-aged kids to Israel for Steve’s year-long sabbatical leave of absence, and the four Rosenbaums spent a spectacular and inspiring year in the Jewish state.

Eitan Ben Ami, at the time the Israeli shaliach (emissary) here, met the couple shortly after they arrived in the Valley. They bonded immediately and Eitan set them on the path, beginning with their leadership of the Israel Independence Day celebrations attended by thousands each year.

They also took on chairmanships of events benefitting American Friends of Magen David Adom and headed the volunteer committee for the Phoenix-based 2006 Maccabi Games.

Longtime supporters of Gesher Disability Resources (formerly Council for Jews with Special Needs), they co-chaired “Best of Broadway/West of Broadway,” one of the organization’s most successful fundraisers.

But Arizona Friends of Israeli Scouts (Tzofim) is the organization that they simply loved. For many years, Steve and Ellen and their committee arranged for the local scheduling, care and feeding of some dozen young Israelis and their guides on goodwill missions, singing and dancing their way into the hearts of audiences throughout the United States. This responsibility involved arranging for housing and transportation, booking and attending all performances, fundraising and generally being available for surrogate parenting as well as any and all issues that arose. Due in good part to their efforts, Phoenix/Scottsdale was often the highlight of the tour for the Israeli contingent, several of whom have remained in touch through the years.

On a personal note, my husband Barry and I are the proud owners of an autographed copy of A Brooklyn Life, written by Steve and “Dedicated to my wife, Ellen, my great love, my rock, my best friend and my partner in my journey through life.” We take pride in our close relationship with the Rosenbaums, a special pair who are well deserving of this honor and recognition.

 

RYAN SUAREZ

By David Graizbord

Ryan Suarez, from Sierra Vista, AZ, graduated with academic distinction from the University of Arizona with a B.A. in Judaic Studies Studies in December of 2021.  During his years at the UofA, Ryan richly earned his reputation a “a gem” (to quote one of our Hebrew instructors) because of his highly developed and unfailing derech eretz, his intellectual curiosity, his articulateness, and his sheer intelligence. These attributes motivated the Judaic Studies faculty to unanimously nominate Ryan for campus-wide recognition, and to award to him the Department’s Irving Silverman Prize for Academic Excellence in Judaic Studies. Ryan understands that in order to “mend the world” one must first examine and understand it; so too, that for him and his fellow Jews, knowing Jewish civilization well from within is a prerequisite for action in and beyond the Jewish community.

David Graizbord is Associate Professor and Acting Director of the Arizona Center for Judaic Studies. He is a historian of Jewish Identity in Late Medieval, Early Modern, and Modern times. His last book, The New Zionists: Young American Jews, Jewish National Identity, and Israel, was issued in paperback by Rowman & Littlefield in November of 2021.

 

SANDY ADLER

By Michelle Adler

Family is the core of Sandy’s personal compass – and it’s this passion for connectivity that fuel’s her embrace of the Jewish community in Greater Phoenix. Daughter, mom, grandma and businesswoman extraordinaire, Sandy Adler does it all. In between those moments, she gives her all to her clients via her real estate team, THE ADLERS at Arizona Best Real Estate. Home buyers and sellers, as well as investors, all turn to Sandy for her professionalism and personal touch. The PHOENIX 50 Top Agents recently listed Sandy as a Top Agent 2021.

Sandy is passionate about her local community and invested her time as a proud member of Scottsdale Leadership XXVI. There she made wonderful connections and learned about many of Scottsdale’s unique elements and surprise details.

It is Sandy’s love for the Jewish community, her chosen family, that has solidified her commitment to tikkun olam. From being a founding member of the  Valley of the Sun Jewish Book and Cultural Arts Fair, to her volunteering with Smile on Seniors (S.O.S), Sandy’s pride and belief in the collaborative efforts of our community  are clearly evident. Sandy has also brought Limmud AZ to life in the Valley and continues to be a part of its leadership team. Alongside her dear friends Suzanne Swift and Rabbi Elana Kanter, she has worked nonstop to provide top-notch creative programming for our Jewish community. When the pandemic halted life as we knew it, Sandy and the Limmud AZ leadership team reimagined the experience and continued producing a wonderful educative journey for participants.

In her spare time, you can find Sandy laughing while playing canasta with her friends, enjoying a good glass of wine, vacationing with her family, attending concerts, theatre, and the Arizona Speaker Series, and most importantly, playing with her grandchildren Edison, Cassidy and Shiloh. Sandy’s kids, Robert and Michelle, Jeffrey, and Dayna, are all very proud of her accomplishments and look forward to her future endeavors. So when you see her, please stop and say “Hi!” – she’ll greet you like family.

Michelle Adler is Sandy’s daughter-in-law and works alongside her in real estate.

 

 

 

 

 

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