Archive for October, 2013

Talking With…An Animal Lover and Educator

October 31, 2013

This interview was first published in JWeekly.

Name: Blair Bazdarich
Age: 26
City: San Francisco
Position: K-12 outreach coordinator at Aquarium of the Bay, San Francisco

Blair Bazdarich holding a baby American alligator

Blair Bazdarich holding a baby American alligator

J.: What animals do you find most interest kids?

Blair Bazdarich: I specifically love talking to kids about animals and conservation because you can really get a bug in their ear about what makes wildlife so great and how we can help it. I always like to bring out animals that were at one point so endangered that they were almost extinct, but have made a comeback, like the American alligator. I bring out a baby one, which the kids find amazing.

I also like to bring out snakes, because if a kid who is afraid of snakes can touch one, that’s really great. I also love to bring animals that kids have never heard of before, like armadillos.

J.: Have you always been interested in animals and wildlife conservation?

BB: I was born and raised in the Sunset District, and I started going to the San Francisco Zoo when my mother was pregnant with me. I began volunteering at the zoo when I was 13, then had an internship at the zoo the summer after high school. While I was at Sonoma State getting a degree in biology with a concentration in zoology, I worked at the zoo’s summer camps, and on weekends during the school year as a guide for its overnight programs.

J.: How have you tuned your passion for wildlife into a career?

BB: After college, I went to work at the San Francisco Zoo doing its zoo-mobile program, and I was also a zookeeper for a couple of years. This past July, I took the position of K-12 outreach coordinator at the Aquarium of the Bay. I felt I needed to get back into doing education, which I feel is my calling and my cause. I put down the poop shovel, as it were, to go back to my roots.

J.: How did you land an internship at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo last year? And was it your first time in Israel?

BB: It was my second time in Israel. I went on a Birthright Israel trip the year before. My mom is Jewish and my dad is Catholic. I have been very close to my mother’s family, especially my grandmother, my bubbe, and I went on the trip as a dedication to her. She passed away a few years ago, and I didn’t get to tap in to her about Jewish faith and history as much as I would have liked to, so I went on the trip to learn.

I came back and all I could think about all day, every day was Israel. Then someone from Real Life Israel [an internship program] called me and told me they could get me an internship at the Jerusalem Zoo. That very day I decided I would go to Israel for six months.

Click here to read the rest of the interview.

© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

Not Your Usual Kashrut Supervisors

October 31, 2013

This piece was first published as “Girls are to thank for new kosher sushi at Palo Alto JCC” in JWeekly.

Students Chana Crystal (left) and Sarah Spiro affix Meira Academy kosher certification labels to the sushi. photos/courtesy meira academy

Students Chana Crystal (left) and Sarah Spiro affix Meira Academy kosher certification labels to the sushi. photos/courtesy meira academy

Of all the things teenage girls are into, being a kosher supervisor isn’t one of them. Unless you’re a student at Meira Academy, an all-girls Orthodox high school housed at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto.

Recently, the café at the JCC began serving kosher sushi — and it’s the girls of Meira Academy who are behind it.

No, they haven’t become sushi chefs. However, they have become experts in kosher supervision and are overseeing the preparation of the sushi by a professional sushi chef. The girls’ job is to make sure the Japanese fare meets strict kashrut standards.

And how did this come about? In large part, it’s because the students at 2-year-old Meira Academy had never been able to eat lunch at the JCC’s non-kosher café.

“It really bothered me that the girls couldn’t buy lunch, that they couldn’t feel completely at home on their school’s campus,” said Rabbi Joey Felsen, executive director of the Jewish Study Network and founding president of the school.

This summer, it occurred to Felsen that having the school partner with the JCC would accomplish several things at once: bringing a kosher option to the Café on the Square, educating the girls about the laws of kashrut and serving the local Jewish community.

“This really turns Meira Academy from renters to part of the community,” noted Randi Brenowitz, the JCC’s chief human resources officer. “And what’s great for the girls, is it integrates their learning with their doing.”

Click here to read more.

© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.


Third Generation is New Focus of Partisan Education

October 30, 2013

This article was first published in The Times of Israel.

Aron Bell, the last surviving Bielski brother, with fellow partisan Leah Johnson and her grandson Rabbi Zev Johnson. (photo credit: Renee Ghert-Zand)

Aron Bell, the last surviving Bielski brother, with fellow partisan Leah Johnson and her grandson Rabbi Zev Johnson. (photo credit: Renee Ghert-Zand)

NEW YORK — Four hundred people gathered in New York on Monday to honor the legendary Bielski brothers, the partisan leaders who saved more than 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust.

The four brothers, Tuvia, Asael, Zus and Aron, were feted, along with all the partisans of the Bielski Brigade, at the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation’s annual gala dinner.

Some 150 descendants of theBielski partisans, including many of the their grandchildren, attended the dinner.

Eighty-seven-year-old Aron Bell, the youngest and last surviving of the four Bielski brothers, minced no words in instructing the third generation.

“They should be good Jews. That means they should go to the synagogue and support Israel. Supporting Israel is the most important,” he said. “If they don’t, some day they will pay for it.”

The event was not only a celebration of the WWII-era Jewish fighters, but also a chance to recognize members of the third generation who are perpetuating their grandparents’ legacy.

WCBS-TV senior news anchor Dana Tyler was mistress of ceremonies, Professor Alan M. Dershowitz gave the evening’s keynote speech, and “Defiance” actor Liev Schreiber narrated a short film about the partisans. But it was the surviving Bielski brigade members and their grandchildren who were the true stars of the evening.

Click here to read more and watch the trailer for the movie “Defiance,” about the Bielski partisans.

© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.