Three years ago, just after Teaneck surgeon Lou Flancbaum informed family and friends that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, neighbors started bringing the Flancbaums dinner. Rabbi Elliot Schoenberg, a friend and fellow Cong. Beth Sholom worshipper, brought a golf club.
Though both gestures were appreciated by Flancbaum and his wife, Debby, the club proved to be the gift that kept on giving. Flancbaum, now 56, was told by his physician that exercise – yoga, Tai Chi, Pilates, dancing, and activities such as golf – can keep the progressive neurological condition from causing debilitating stiffness and loss of balance. “I had him enrolled in so many classes, he said he felt like an over-programmed 12-year-old,” said his wife.
But it was golf that particularly caught his fancy. So it was only natural to combine his love of golf with the quest for a cure for Parkinson’s, one of the most common disorders in people over 50. The Flancbaums and a committee of volunteers, recruited partly through the Yahoo group Teaneckshuls, will co-chair a June 11 fundraiser at Lochmoor Golf Course in Loch Sheldrake, N.Y., next to Vacation Village. The donation of $180 per player, to benefit the Michael J. Fox Foundation, will include the cost of two kosher meals.
|Members of the Pars for Parkinson’s committee include, from left, back row, Phil Rhodes, Ira Goetz, Debby Flancbaum, Dr. Lou Flancbaum, Brian Blitz, and Dr. Les Glubo; middle row, Mindy Silverstein, Ricki Kudowitz, and Avi Goldin; and foreground, Marlene Rhodes. Not pictured are Cindy Blitz, Tova Flancbaum, L’via Weisinger, and Alex and Vicki Wulwick.|
“We chose the Fox Foundation because, outside of the [federal] National Institutes of Health, it is the only one really focusing on cutting-edge research likely to lead to new frontiers in the search for a cure,” said Flancbaum. “Its goal is to find a cure and then put a lock on the door.”
Meeting each Sunday for the past six months, the “Pars for Parkinson’s” committee – whose members hail from diverse Jewish communities in Teaneck, River Edge, Fair Lawn, and Englewood – has been recruiting players for the event under the auspices of the foundation’s Team Fox (see details at www.teamfox.org/2010/parsforparkinsons). Members include L’via Weisinger, Les Glubo, Marlene and Phil Rhodes, Cindy and Brian Blitz, Ricki Kudowitz, Orna Zack, Avi Goldin, Tova Flancbaum (Lou Flancbaum’s daughter), Ira Goetz, and Vicki and Alex Wulwick.
“We thought we’d raise $5,000, but have raised about $20,000,” said Debby Flancbaum more than a month before the outing. “I think ultimately we’ll see between $25,000 and $30,000, which is amazing. We’ve even gotten checks from total strangers.”
Thanks to the committee’s efforts, the only non-donated expense is the rental of the facility, a Sullivan County golf course where Lou Flancbaum takes lessons with resident pro Mike Deaver. “It’s an easy course, so it makes middle-aged Jewish guys feel good about themselves,” joked his wife. The former surgeon now shoots a respectable 94 or 95 on average.
Before his condition forced him into early retirement, Flancbaum was not a stereotypical golfer doctor. “Golfing passes a lot of time and is very enjoyable, which I think in my former life I never would have liked,” he said. “If you want to do it correctly, it poses motor challenges that are beneficial for my Parkinson’s. The right golf swing is complicated, which is why even Tiger Woods has a full-time coach.”
Flancbaum explained that intellectual and physical neurological challenges are considered at least as important as the Israeli-developed medication he takes to slow the disorder’s progression. “People used to think that once a nerve cell was injured, it was lost. But we are starting to understand that cells, and even organs, have ways of opening new pathways to weasel around injury…. The more you challenge yourself, the more you can recruit new cells and neurons to maintain function.”
He added that a possible link has recently been discovered between Parkinson’s and a form of Gaucher’s disease, a neurological condition prevalent in Ashkenazi Jews. Parkinson’s is not always hereditary, but this link may lead to its classification as a “Jewish disease,” Flancbaum said.
Sponsorship of Pars for Parkinson’s is solidly Jewish. Breakfast will be donated by Fusion Caterers, which caters lunch at New Milford’s Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County. The Flancbaums got to know owner Jay Marcus while volunteering at Schechter, where their granddaughter, Aleeza Reich, is a student.
Clark Lofman of Fish of the Cs in Teaneck is donating lunch; cakes are contributed by Zadie’s Kosher Bakery in Fair Lawn. Golf shirts are courtesy of Jonathan Speiser of Dougies BBQ in Teaneck. Five Star Caterers, also based in Teaneck, is throwing in the golf balls – three per player. In addition, Hoerr’s is sending potato chips and ShopRite of Liberty is providing soft drinks.
Cigars and beer, traditional to golfing culture, will be available as well. Debby Flancbaum said that nicotine in controlled doses has been found to ease the symptoms of Parkinson’s, “although I wouldn’t encourage people to start smoking.”
M&M Auto Group of Liberty is contributing the hole-in-one prize: a three-year lease on a 2010 Ford Fusion. “Usually, you have to buy insurance for a donated car, but they are covering that, too,” said Debby Flancbaum. “We’ve just been very lucky that the community has rallied around this idea.”
Committee member Avi Goldin said, “This is a cause that is of particular interest to me and my wife, Rena. We are familiar with the Michael J. Fox Foundation and participated in a previous event in New York City. My wife saw one of the original posts about the tournament [on teaneckshuls] and I responded that I would like to bring a foursome of golfers. Lou thanked me and asked if I would be willing to help them plan the event, and I agreed.”
The Flancbaums hope to get close to the maximum capacity of 72 golfers, and if the event is successful, plan to make it an annual outing.