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February 15, 2013     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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February 15, 2013

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PAGE 12A By Chavie Lieber NEW YORK (JTA)--Who knew the man behind the Brooklyn homecomings of Jay-Z and Barbra Streisand had a thing for heimische melodies? Bruce Ratner, the devel- oper and majority owner of the Barclays Center arena in Brooklyn, which opened last September with a Jay-Z show and hosted borough native Streisand a month later, holds a special place in his heart for cantorial music. "My parents are both from Eastern European descent, so that type of Jewish music is in my blood," Ratner told JTA. "I grew up going to my Conservative synagogue in Cleveland, where they had an amazing cantor who I absolutely loved to listen to. And as I got older, I was always buying cantor CDs. The music is just so refined." Ratner, the chairman and chief executive of the real estate development firm Forest City Ratner Com- panies, is taking personal pride in having spearheaded efforts to put on the first Jewish event at the venue: a Feb. 28 concert featuring the renowned Israeli-born violinist Itzhak Perlman sharing the stage with Can- tor Yitzchak Meir Helfgot. The Barclays performance comes on the heels of the pair's recent collabora- tion, "Eternal Echoes: Songs HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, FEBRUARY 15, 2013 Brooklyn cantorial concert is milestone for new Barclays Center and Dances for the Soul," an album of Jewish music released in August. In an age where klezmer music has gained a following in the downtown jazz scene and Yiddish culture has experienced something of a revival, Ratner is optimistic that between Brooklyn's hipsters and Chasidim, the show will find an audience. "I know not everyone listens to cantorial music today, but if they really listen, they'll find such a his- tory behind it," said Ratner, who became acquainted with Perlman 30 years ago when their daughters attended private school together in Manhattan. "Growing up, cantors used to be treated like rock stars, and I think kids today unfamiliar with it will really find this concert enjoyable." A century ago, it was hardly uncommon for Jew- ish cantors to perform at venues like Barclays. Can- tors such as Yossele Rosenb- latt and Zeidel Rovener were mainstream stars, recording popular records and gracing the stages of Madison Square Garden and Carnegie Hall. Only about a third of Bar- clays' 19,000 seats are going to be made available for the Perlman-Helfgot show, but it's still likely to be one of the largest cantorial concerts in the United States in nearly a century. "I can't think of anything as big as Madison Square Garden after Rosenblatt or Rovner in the '20s," said Nell Levin, the artistic director of the Milken Archive of Jewish Music in Los Angeles. Fans have long been taken with Perlman, who as a boy was crippled by polio, yet became one of the premier classical musicians of his generation, straddling clas- sical and pop in a way that many of his classical peers can only envy. Perlman ap- peared at the first inaugura- tion of President Obama and on the soundtrack of the Oscar-winning 1993 film "Schindler's List," not to mention on "Sesame Street." Perlman recalls the first time he heard Helfgot's voice--at a concert in Israel. "I thought, 'That would sound excellent with a violin!" he told JTA. "I later approached him backstage and said, 'We must make some music together.' " With barely a month until the show, Perlman said he and Helfgot have not yet decided what they will play, but it probably will include a mix of new material and old favorites--and certainly the classic crowd pleaser "My Yiddishe Mama." Their show is the first concert being self-promoted by the Barclays Center, but Ratner says he plans to host more Jewish events. "Making more events for the Jewish community is OAK NTE AT LAKE MARY The Wait Is Over... Now featuring the Cordova! Brand New Assisted Living and Memory Care Community Opening April 2013 Oakmonte Village provides a quality lifestyle as a beautiful luxury senior living community in the heart of prestigious Lake Mary. Our campus includes Independent Living apartments, Tuscany influenced villa homes, assisted living and memory care. Oakmonte Village 407-732-5800 1021 Royal Gardens Circle Lake Mary, FL 32746 really important to me," Ratner said. "It's something that I've always wanted to do, since the Brooklyn market is so big, and I'm going to treat these events a little more differently." Barclays will designate certain sections for gender- segregated seating in an effort to draw Orthodox patrons and is bringing in kosher food purveyors. Some of the proceeds will go to the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty as well as the Perlman Music Program, a school for gifted musicians in Manhattan. "The whole thing is very exciting," Perlman said. "I just hope things go well. One time, an audience member got sick during my perfor- mance and I couldn't help but think he was placed there as a critic." Lisa-Marie Mazzucco Israel-born American violinist Itzhak Perlman, left, will perform with Manhattan's Cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgot at Brooklyn's Barclays Center on Feb. 28 at the arena's first Jewish event. By Hillel Kuttler BALTIMORE (JTA)--Even as he sits on the Cleveland Cavaliers bench, watching yet another game proceed without him, Omri Casspi is working to improve. He studies his teammates and his opponents, focusing on the player he'd likely be defending if he were on the court. Casspi uses the time to prepare for whenever he is summoned to participate--now or the next game or the one after. For Casspi, the first Israeli to play in the NBA, his fourth season in the elite league for pro hoopsters has been the most try- ing. The 6-foot, 9-inch forward doesn't play much--and he's not sure why. Casspi believes he's practicing as hard, working as diligently and is as devoted to his sport as when the Sacramento Kings drafted him in the first round in 2009. And the Cavs' front office doesn't disagree. Last month, when Casspi rarely left the bench, Yahoo! Sports reported that Casspi's agents had requested a trade from the Cavs. But in an inter- view with JTA, Casspi said he had never made such a request. "It's not anything that has to do with me, so I have no com- ment," said Casspi, a native of Yavne, a city in central Israel of some 33,000 people. At 16-35 following a loss on Saturday night, the Cavs own the fourth-worst record in the National BasketballAssociation. But after a disastrous start they have stabilized, going 11-12 in their last 23 games. Beginning in late January, they even won four of six, including a victory Feb. 2 over the Oklahoma City Thunder, which had the second- best record in the league and reached the NBA finals last season. But Casspi contributed little to the Cavs' improvement, play- ing just 16 minutes and totaling two points in home wins over Boston and Milwaukee. And he didn't leave the bench against the Thunder or in the Cava- liers' thrilling Jan. 26 victory at Toronto on guard Kyrie Irving's longthree-pointerwithseconds remaining. "Last time I sawyou, Iwas fly- ing," Casspi, 24, told a reporter, referring to an interview in November. That was when Casspi played in 14 consecutive games, av- eraging nearly 16 minutes per appearance. He even scored 15 points in Cleveland's two-point road loss against the defending champion Miami Heat. But the Cavs lost 11 of the next 14, and Casspisoon foundhimselfagain planted firmly on the bench, which is where he had been early in the season. It was an unusual spot for a player who entered the league with such fanfare, Jewish fans turning out en masse at many games carrying Israeli flags and cheering his name. In two seasons with Sacra- mento, Casspi had started 58 of the 148 games in which he played and averaged 9.5 points per game. He was traded to Cleveland for the 2011-12 sea- son, switching one last-place team for another. But some numbers told another story. Casspi's average minutes per game--a good indicator of a player's promi- nence in a team's rotation--was declining steadily. Over his first three years, his average minutes dropped from 25.1 to 24.0 to 20.6. And his points per game dropped, too, from 10.3 to 8.6 to 7.1. This year, the bottom fell out. Casspi, the NBA's lone Jewish player, has played in just 29 of Cleveland's games, started only one and averaged 11.4 minutes and 4.0 points. A Cavs official said that Casspi's inactivity speaks to the success of Coach Byron Scott's current rotation of players. "It's not so much anything Omri has done. Boobie Gibson isn't in the rotation, either," the official said of Daniel Gibson, a guard. Scott, the official said, expects backups to prepare even harder, both before and after practice. "Omri certainly has done that, without question," the of- ficial said."Omri's routinely one of the last guys off the court." His status now is"stuffI can't control,"Casspi explained. "That being said, I'm working for an opportunity. When I got an op- portunity, I played--and played well. It's the coach's decision and I have to live with it." One Cavalier who's done just fine is Irving, and Casspi revels in his teammate's rise. Last year's NBA Rookie of the Year, Irving was selected recently to the Eastern Division squad that will play in the All-Star Game on Feb. 17 in Houston. With a recent injury to Boston guard Rajon Rondo, Casspi said, Irving should be elevated to All-Star starter. "Kyrie's a special player and an up-and-coming superstar, no doubt about it," Casspi said. "The kid is special." Coming out of Israel, Casspi was considered special. He had a strong outside shot, especially from three-point range, and played tough defense. His coach in Sacramento, Paul Westphal, said Casspi added a spark to the team with his committed play. To broadcast his Jewish identity, he took uniform No. 18 (the numerical equivalent of the Hebrew word"chai,"or life) with Sacramento. In Cleveland, that number was worn by Anthony Parker, who had played profes- sionally in Israel. So Casspi took No. 36 (similarly symbolic, as a multiple of 18) and still wears it, even following Parker's de- parture last year. As he watched the snow fall- ing heavily outside his window last Friday afternoon, Casspi spoke about the positive attitude he maintains despite his travails. "It's a privilege to be part of the league. I thank God every morning," Casspi said. Every morning for the last two or three years, both at home and on the road, "I put on tefillin, say Shema Yisrael and I talk to God," he said. "I like to pray when things go good, not only when things go bad. People tend to pray only when things go bad," he said. Then Casspi bid a caller good- bye to shower before departing for the arena, less than a mile from his Cleveland apartment. The Cavs would defeat Or- lando that night. Casspi would have 48 more minutes to watch and analyze from the bench. Cavs' Omri Casspi courting his opportunity to contribute