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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

‘Inspiration of the Lamed Vav’ puts Parkinson’s in focus

March 14, 2017

It could be him.
It could be her.
It could be you.
The Talmud says there are 36 righteous ones hidden in the world. Who are they? Where are they?
The story of the Lamed Vav inspires the paintings of Peter Leventhal, who is coming to The Temple-Tifereth Israel in Beachwood at 1 p.m. April 2 for a free seminar called “The Inspiration of the Lamed Vav: Art – Medicine – Creativity” on Parkinson's disease, creativity and the Jewish genetic connection to Parkinson's.
Dr. Karen Jaffe met him two years ago in Mexico. Both she and the artist share a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. When they met, Peter had little information on the disease and was getting medicine from a friend of a friend in Canada.
Back then, his right arm shook so badly he used his left arm to steady it as he painted. The brain is an amazing organ. Peter can now paint with his left arm. His right arm taught it how.
Karen introduced him to a doctor in New York who has helped improve his life. Karen is the reason he and his doctor are coming to Cleveland.
Karen was diagnosed with Parkinson’s at 48. She kept it a secret for three years. She was still working as a gynecologist and a mohel.
“It was a painful secret to keep,” she said. “Every time someone asks, ‘How are you doing?’ You’re lying.”
Once she went public, she became the voice for others with Parkinson’s. She wants to break the stigma that someone with Parkinson’s is a drooling old person with shaking hands and a shuffling gait who is unable to do much of anything.
Karen turns 58 in April. She and her husband, Marc, have raised nearly $1 million for The Michael J. Fox Foundation through their nonprofit foundation, Shaking With Laughter.
They also created InMotion, a nonprofit center in Warrensville Heights that provides community through art workshops, support groups, education, music and exercise programs like boxing, cycling, dance and tai chi, all for free. InMotion is supported by foundation and individual donors.
“People here don’t feel they have Parkinson’s. We leave the stigma at the door,” Karen said.
She retired from her medical practice but is busier than ever.
“I was not put on this Earth to just have Parkinson’s,” she said.
Neither was Peter.
In a beautiful video she filmed that will be shown at the event in April, Peter talks about his art and his disease. He was diagnosed in 2004 and spent nearly four years denying it.
“In some ways it seems that Parkinson’s has saved my life,” he said. “It is such a tangible expression to see the shaking and the symptoms. It is anything but noble, but it seems to have opened my conceptual life to another degree.”
His hands tremble as he strolls down the street talking about his life. He was born in Brooklyn in 1939, where his Jewish parents gave him “a foundation for his relationship with the world.”
Peter describes his art as “a form of expressionism.”
His art is currently on display at The Temple Museum of Jewish Art, Religion and Culture Center until May 15. Museum director Sue Koletsky described his paintings as a “beautiful combination of figurative work, since he works from models, and also narrative work, since he is conveying the stories of his ‘lamadvavnicks.” She called his portraiture “extremely painterly, with an intense color palette and bold brush strokes.”
Movement disorder specialist, Jori Pollack Fleisher, who is Peter’s doctor and an assistant professor of neurology at the NYU School of Medicine, will talk about creativity at the April seminar. Hubert H. Fernandez, director of the Center for Neuro-Restoration at the Cleveland Clinic Neurological Institute will discuss whether or not to test for the disease.
The free event is supported by the Michael J. Fox Foundation. There will be a dessert reception after the discussion. To register for the seminar, contact Koletsky at
If you go, you just might meet one of the Lamed Vav.
One never knows.
“They are hidden even until themselves. If even one disappeared, the world would come to an end,” Peter explained in the video.
“The idea of the 36 righteous people has a beautiful implication. Since their special gift is hidden from one another and themselves, anyone you meet could be one of them, and each person encountered needs to be treated as though they were a Lamed Vav.”
What a great way to approach all of humanity.

Read Regina Brett online at Connect with her on Facebook at ReginaBrettFans and on Twitter @ReginaBrett.

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