Are You a Risk-taker?
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Are You a Risk-taker?

The Roving Reporter introduces you to community members who enjoy taking chances from rappelling off skyscrapers and bridge jumping to surviving air raids during the Yom Kippur War

Chana Shapiro is an educator, writer, editor and illustrator whose work has appeared in journals, newspapers and magazines. She is a regular contributor to the AJT.

Chana Shapiro, Atlanta Jewish Times' Roving Reporter.
Chana Shapiro, Atlanta Jewish Times' Roving Reporter.
Rick Rosenthal has thrived on unusual and extreme challenges.

Rick Rosenthal

Santa Rick

Intrepid risk-taker

There’s a difference between risk-taker and entrepreneur; I am both. I have never been afraid to try something new. I was the national sales distributor for Taser when it was introduced, and for nearly 20 years I owned the largest window cleaning company in the Southeast. I often joined workers on scaffolding and occasionally rappelled off the skyscrapers. I now own the second-largest Santa school in the U.S. and internationally, and I also own an agency for Santas, Mrs. Clauses, elves and live reindeer.   

I risked personal danger while preventing someone from committing suicide. I helped create and physically build the original Neighborhood Playhouse, which is now in Decatur. I went snow skiing on black diamond trails in very high mountains, where I tried an advanced run and was miraculously saved by a protective net as I went over the cliff. I faced a shark in 93 feet of water while scuba diving.  I scaled an aluminum ladder on top of The Westin Peachtree Plaza hotel during a lightning storm to work on the antenna for a cable television station.  I am a beekeeper.  And as Santa, I allow anyone to sit on my knee and tell me anything they want, even if they might be sick or need a bathroom.   

At the age of 68, I’m still attracted to taking chances, but I have family and friends I truly love and want to grow old with. I may take financial risks, but not life-threatening ones because life is precious, and I am not invincible.

Netania Cortell

Executive assistant

Youthful risk-taker

My daring parents moved from Daytona Beach, Fla., to Atlanta when I was

Netania Cortell’s family modeled courage for their children.

1 year old, so their children could receive an Orthodox Jewish education. They knew no one here, but they weren’t frightened, and they encouraged my siblings and me to be bold.

As a teen, my friends and I often went on crazy road trips and had fun jumping into water from random bridges. In my early 20s, I blithely left home and moved to New York without a job.  I made my way among unknown people and risky places, entirely on my own.

I have always taken chances, some good, some not so good. I spent 12 exciting years as an executive assistant in the film industry, where I had to fearlessly solve sudden problems and make immediate decisions every day, even hour-by-hour. These included handling impromptu travel, unexpected visits by film bigwigs, and addressing unpredictable needs and emergencies of industry personalities and their families. 

I recently returned to Atlanta to change gears toward a more meaningful and purposeful life. I am instinctively a person on the move. Now, with COVID-19 I’m in a challenge I didn’t seek, learning to enjoy stillness, appreciating the God-given life I am grateful to have, and clarifying what is important: meeting a Jewish gentleman to share my life.

Saul Sloman boldly countered a stranger’s antagonism.

Saul Sloman

Sales representative

Situation-based risk-taker

My parents, Holocaust survivors, came to Atlanta in 1951, and my two brothers and I grew up in the “Golden Ghetto,” in a 90 percent Jewish Peachtree Battle area.

We lived in Netanya, Israel for five years, starting in March 1973. I had to learn a new culture and a language I hardly knew after many miserable years of Hebrew School. Now I speak Hebrew fluently.

Risks were real during the Yom Kippur War, and we did our best for the war effort.  We “Anglos” erected a kiosk on the Haifa-Tel Aviv expressway, serving coffee, sandwiches and cake to soldiers catching buses or hitching rides at the Netanya interchange. Many soldiers were on short leave and Dad, of blessed memory, often drove them home.  They called my mother, “Hadoda me Netanya,” which means “the aunt from Netanya.”

At the first air raid sound, our building rushed to the miklat (bomb shelter).  At the all-clear, everyone gathered in the lobby. We were shell-shocked. Mom suddenly hugged me with an anguish I’d never experienced. I asked her what was wrong (aside from the obvious). She cried that she was my age when the Germans came to Lithuania.

I occasionally perform stand-up comedy, where I take calculated risks. I call my act Neo-Borscht Belt Humor.  Like Jewish history, my act is typically bittersweet.

Years ago, in a jacuzzi on a cruise, a snide fellow, spotting my Magen David, brashly asked, “Where’d you get that necklace?”  I answered, “In Israel.”  He said, “I didn’t know this boat goes to Israel.”  I explained that it was from another trip. He persisted, “You Jewish?”  Everyone around was listening.  He then said, “You know what I’ve never understood about the Jews?”  I replied, “Pray tell.”  He smirked, “Why are the Jews such funny people?  The best comedians and comedic actors are Jewish. Why do you suppose that is?”

With dead silence in the jacuzzi, (except for the bubbles), I countered, “Because miserable characters like you have embittered our lives for centuries, we HAD to have a sense of humor.”  The other bathers reacted with resounding applause, while the hapless inquisitor and his unfortunate wife exited.  I never saw them again, and I believe they jumped off the ship and still wander in the misty fjords.

Roza Burmenko

Structural engineer

Consistent risk-taker

I believe that only optimists can take a real risk. That’s because risk

Roza Burmenko’s chancy coin-flip brought her family to Atlanta.

doesn’t frighten us; we optimists really believe that everything will work out all right in the end.

When I was 5 years old, my 16-year-old brother and his friends risked my life by trying  to perform acrobatic stunts with me. I was scared, but I got away. From that I learned that I could prevail in risky situations with bravery and determination.   

My next major risk was when I met my future husband. I trusted my instincts, and after a month of dating, we applied for a marriage license, and in another month, we were married. Ten months later, we had our son Alex, all this in one year. I know that my late husband was the best husband in the world. And I’m sure I have the best son.

In 1978, when I decided to leave the USSR in hopes of a better life for my family, I didn’t know much outside of the Iron Curtain. While we were in Italy waiting for a visa, we applied to two countries for an interview: the USA and Denmark (where we had relatives). Two visas opened for us on the same day, Copenhagen and Atlanta. We had to make a decision, but how?  We resolved it by flipping a coin, and we arrived in Atlanta in 1979.

In Atlanta I had a good job, but office politics are NOT my type of game. I opened my own business to provide design and drafting services for structural engineers. And, at the same time, I opened a computer school to train students in AutoCAD, photoshop, and 3D Studio Max.

Taking a risk is a normal way of life for me. I’m a confirmed optimist, definitely still not afraid to take risks.

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