Shalom Haverim! Two very special friends of Maryland asked me to deliver greetings to you from Israel: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres.
I just finished up meeting with the Prime Minister at his residence. He is so impressed with the work you are doing to make Maryland a leader among states, and a global leader in innovative healing, high-tech, science, security, and sustainability.
We talked about the strong relationship between our two peoples and the ways we can work together to make it even stronger. I told him about the choices you made to pass one of the nation’s toughest laws to divest from Iran, and about the work you are doing to build our country’s #1 best public schools and to earn the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s #1 ranking for innovation and entrepreneurship.
President Peres was also familiar – and duly impressed – with your work to establish Maryland as a leader in science and technology.
Shimon Peres is the last of Israel’s original founding fathers. He is a great man, a great friend of Maryland, and great champion of the global cause for peace. He talked about the strong relationship between our State and the Israeli people, and said that in Israel, admiration for America is absolute. He said that America is the only superpower in the history of the world that became great by giving and not by taking. He talked about how, in our changing world, science is the preeminent driver of economic growth. And he talked about something else as well,…
There are only two things in this life, that we can see with our eyes closed, he said. The first is love. The second is peace. Having enemies is expensive. It is only when we make peace that we can reach our fullest potential as citizens of a shrinking and ever changing planet.
After meeting with the President, I joined our delegation in Ashdod for a visit with senior leadership at Elta – who recently opened their North American office in Howard County. They design the radar that guide the life-saving Iron Dome (which intercepts and destroys incoming missiles before they can reach a school, hospital, shopping mall or other population center.)
After visiting Elta, I joined a team from our delegation at the Ministry of Defense, where we received a security briefing from Major General Amos Gilad, the Director of Policy and Military Affairs and Chair of Security Relations with Regional and Strategic Partners.
We opened the day with a meeting with Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor Nafatali Bennett. He proposed an exciting new cyber security partnership between Israel and Maryland – stay tuned for more information in the weeks to come!
Greetings from historic Amman, Jordan. Jordan is not only a critically important strategic ally of the United States and Israel, it also happens to be looking to innovation as a primary strategy for job creation. Innovation is also at the center of our Administration’s strategy to further economic growth – and therefore create jobs and expand opportunity in Maryland. One might say, it’s a match made in Amman.
Our delegation had a productive day here in Jordan. This morning, Secretary Dominic Murray of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, Maryland Secretary of State John McDonough and I met with Prince Faisal bin Al Hussein at one of the royal palaces. He updated us on the geopolitical climate in the region, and we talked about jobs, innovation, and the ways in which our two peoples can further our trade relationship.
Afterwards, we joined our full delegation for a meeting with Senator Aqel Biltaji for a larger discussion on innovation. He shared some thoughts about the future of the Jordanian economy, and how expanded trade with Maryland can benefit both our peoples.
One of the ways we plan to develop and strengthen this relationship is a through an exciting joint venture that Dr. Wallace Loh (President of the University of Maryland College Park) signed today with his counterparts at the University of Jordan. They also signed a forward-looking student exchange agreement, the first such agreement with any university in Jordan. This new exchange will not only enable more of Maryland’s students to gain a better perspective on the region, it will be instrumental in training more of our students to be tomorrow’s leaders on the global stage.
Later in the evening, the President of the University of Jordan joined us at the residence of a proud Terp: Stephanie Williams, Charge d affairs at U.S. Embassy in Amman. She spoke with us about the vast potential for greater economic growth and partnership between our two peoples – especially now that our two universities will be moving forward together.
Thanks for reading – I look forward to updating tomorrow!
When you’re very young, maybe there are arts and crafts, moon bounces and games with classmates and neighbors. When you get a bit older, perhaps you see a concert, do a little shopping or enjoy wine-tasting with friends of many years.
No matter what, you celebrate the mark of another year in the books.
This year, the Baltimore Israel Coalition invites you to celebrate Israel’s 65th birthday on June 2, beginning at noon, with an extravaganza at the Owings Mills Jewish Community Center.
So why Israel? And why now? According to Baltimore Israel Coalition staff member, Chana Siff, Israel has contributed so much to the world as a whole, from democracy to innovation to understanding. It is the democratic, national, historical and biblical home of the Jewish people – a people who can now be found all over the world, but are connected to this common home. The Baltimore Israel Coalition, a consortium of organizations in the greater Baltimore area working to support Israel through education, advocacy and community building, offers this opportunity for us all to come together and celebrate 65 years of love and support for this great state.
Everyone is invited! Teens, young adults, families, seniors – if you are looking for a fun afternoon with the entire community, this is the event for you.
For kids, this day brings Israeli games, arts and crafts, face-painting, henna, an obstacle course and even a moon bounce!
For young adults, teens and music lovers, this harmonious day features Matisyahu, a Jewish-American reggae and alternative rock musician, known all over the world for his ground-breaking sound and performances. Teens even have the chance for a special meet-and-greet before the show.
The community can enjoy Israeli vendors and food, interactive hands-on exhibits, captivating speakers and most importantly, a beautiful opportunity to appreciate the positive things coming out of Israel.
We sat on logs facing a field of trees and tall grass at Neot Kedumim, a nature reserve that recreates Biblical landscapes. Two dozen young adults in their mid-20’s listened attentively as Doron, our Israeli guide, taught us the Hebrew word for responsibility - achrayut. Doron explained that achrayut is a special word. It begins with aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and ends with tav, the last letter. The first letter, aleph, is also the first letter of the word ani, meaning I. Responsibility starts with ourselves. We must take responsibility for ourselves before we can take responsibility for others. The first two letters of the word, aleph and het, spell ach – brother. Responsibility begins with ourselves and then extends to those closest to us - our family and friends. When we add the third letter, we spell acher (other). We cannot live in a bubble, caring only about those in our small circle – we must also recognize that the lives of others are connected to ours in ways that have profound effects on our communities. When we add another letter, we spell the word, acharai (follow me). As leaders, we must be willing to say, “Follow me.” We must be willing to take risks and try new approaches. Doron’s list continued – add another letter, the vav, and we have acharav (after him). We must also be willing to listen and to step back. Sometimes leadership entails putting others’ needs before our own interests. Finally, we add tav, the final letter of the aleph-bet. Responsibility is the sum of all these components. Leadership is inextricably linked to responsibility.
The participants in this conversation were among 400 young adults selected to take part in an intensive week of social activism and community-organizing training at the Masa Israel Leadership Summit in Israel. These emerging leaders were selected from 10,000 of their peers who have chosen to spend five months or more in Israel on a Masa Israel Journey program. I had the privilege of tagging along for some of their workshops and discussions as a participant in the first-ever Masa Israel Community Mission. I was joined by colleagues and lay leaders from Jewish Federations in Chicago, Cleveland, Columbus, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Washington, D.C. and New York. Together we observed the myriad opportunities for young adults to spend time in Israel and spoke with the incredible participants who decide to make this commitment. From study-abroad programs to intensive dance and art practicums, internships, volunteer work, teaching and environmental fellowships, Jewish learning – the possibilities are endless for young adults who want to spend a more substantial amount of time in Israel. Many Masa participants have traveled to Israel with Taglit-Birthright Israel and want to gain a deeper understanding of the issues, culture and people. A smaller number are in Israel for the first time or have come previously with their families. Masa Israel Journey enriches their experience – providing not only financial assistance but also requiring that each program under their umbrella meet minimum standards, ensuring that participants have a serious experience with ulpan (Hebrew instruction), tiyulim (trips) to see the country and mifgashim (encounters) with Israelis.
As the group of young adults continued their conversation about responsibility, one participant raised his hand. He had been selected as the group leader in an earlier activity involving archery. He wanted to apologize to his peers for attempting to win the game by asking them to shoot arrows at a very close range to ensure greater accuracy rather than to challenge themselves by shooting from further away. In his reflection, he noted that leadership isn’t always about winning – it’s about inspiring others to perform at their top potential. As we made our way to lunch with the sun at its peak, that potential seemed especially bright.
By Suzy Liebman
Committee member, Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership and Israel and Overseas
Just a few weeks ago, my husband, David, and I traveled with the Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership mission to Ashkelon. We had some amazing experiences: learned traditional Ethiopian dancing at an Ethiopian English class funded through the Partnership, worked with teen volunteers who address pressing social needs in Ashkelon, enjoyed home hospitality dinner with our friends in Ashkelon and participated in many other great experiences.
It is amazing to see the growth and connections developed over the past 10 years of the Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership. When we started visiting potential Partnership communities in Israel 10 years ago, Ashkelon was the fourth city we visited. It had all the components we were looking for. There were opportunities to engage people of all ages, create personal friendships and develop volunteerism in both Ashkelon and Baltimore. The best word to describe our first time in Ashkelon was “comfortable.”
We had a goal of this Partnership to grow a long solid friendship among the two communities and strengthen Jewish peoplehood. This past mission solidified the fruition of this goal. On this most recent mission the joint Partnership committee came together to make allocations decisions face-to-face. When we visited the Ethiopian English class, we were excited to see how many students’ lives have been enriched by this program and decided to continue to support this wonderful initiative.
The delegation also visited some amazing projects supported by THE ASSOCIATED, such as the inspiring “Wings of Krembo” program, a youth movement for children with special needs, led by teen volunteers involved with the Amen program. Through this program, the Partnership has instilled a culture of civic duty, leadership and volunteering.
I can sum up this Partnership in one phrase, “K’lal Yisrael.” We are all one people. Through this Partnership, we have been able to connect Jews across the world. We have been able to exponentially grow teen volunteerism in Ashkelon, support one another through challenging times and connect individuals, families and organizations in Baltimore and Ashkelon for a lifetime of friendship and connection.
For more information on the Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership, visit baltimoreashkelon.org.
Being Jewish was always something I appreciated because it set me apart from other people. It made me unique and even in my younger years was something that I thought made me special. From history to culture to music, Judaism has always been a strong part of the way I see myself.
Of course, in a city like Baltimore, it could be easy for someone to take her Judaism for granted. There are so many of us here. At the same time, having the resources of a large Jewish community has been one of the greatest things about growing up and living in Baltimore.
Still, I wanted to learn more about my heritage. After college, I was determined to go on Taglit-Birthright Israel, having heard about it from so many of my friends who had traveled with their college Hillel or on other Birthright “adventure” trips. I wanted to see the Holy Land and Birthright was the perfect opportunity.
I did some research and found out about Mayanot’s arts and entertainment trip. As a writer and arts reporter, it was a great chance to meet like-minded Jewish young adults from all over the country. Even the American chaperones and Israeli soldiers and guides were involved in the arts. We were accompanied by a student studying at the music conservatory in Tel Aviv, and soldiers who were in the Army Band and Theater Troupe.
Being in Israel made me feel even prouder to be Jewish and I was welcomed into Israel with cries of “welcome home.” I enjoyed Shabbos with people that soon felt like family, and I didn’t want to leave the streets of Tel Aviv or the beautiful hills of the Golan Heights. Still, I knew Baltimore was my home. I couldn’t wait to share my experiences with everyone I knew in the States.
Last winter, I found out about Beyond Birthright’s kickoff event at MICA, which held a showcase of Israeli art from the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem and a film screening of Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir. My sister had just recently come back from her Birthright trip and we went to the event together.
Since that first event, Beyond Birthright has been a great way to meet new people and give back to the community that I have been a part of for so long. As a member of the Beyond Birthright Leadership Council, I’ve also had the opportunity to help connect other Birthright alumni with a network of Jewish young professionals. Together, we can celebrate our Jewish heritage and bond through local experiences.
Over the past year, we’ve organized a trip to Camden Yards for a baseball game, volunteered at the Pearlstone Center Farm, celebrated Shabbat and holidays, tasted Israeli wine, baked challah and hamantaschen and engaged in many meaningful discussions and conversations. There’s plenty more to come, including our screening of “Israel Inside” later this month, which will bring together both Israeli and American Baltimoreans to discuss life in Israel and the cultural landscape of the country.
I feel privileged and lucky to have found a special place to explore my identity as a leader for the growing Jewish young adult population in Baltimore and give back to the place I call home. It has been exciting and incredibly rewarding to see our events bring people together from all backgrounds, and I look forward to continuing to learn, lead and connect others with these experiences and with our community.
To get involved in Beyond Birthright, visit associated.org/beyondbirthright. You can also follow us on Facebook at facebook.com/beyondbirthright.
1/2/2012: So much has happened in the last 48 hours and our group is thoughtful, cooperative and having a wonderful time together. Israel has experienced significant rainfall this winter which was badly needed and thankfully we have experienced none of it since our arrival. In the north we experienced balmy weather that allowed us to put our bare feet in the water at Caesarea. Our group got to know each other with fun games and a moving quote from Ben Gurion. We met our eight soldiers and started to build lasting relationships with them. The group was pretty exhausted by the time they got to the kibbutz, but a few lasted to midnight for the New Year’s eve celebration.
Tuesday began with a great jeep ride through the Golan Heights to learn about geography, landscape and political borders. From there, we saw the beautiful Banyas waterfalls and learned about how water flows through them to the Sea of Galilee. For lunch, students ate at café Aroma and had great coffee, sandwiches and salads. Muki, our guide, taught about the history of the Yom Kippur War on the way to Mt. Bental. From Mt. Bental, we could see Syria and the group grappled with Israel’s realities with her neighbors.
The group was happy to get back to the hotel after a long day. They took showers, ate dinner and engaged in a conversation about Jewish memory. Throughout the trip, we explore four different topics on four evenings. Our Hopkins students engage in these conversations with tremendous depth and thoughtfulness. In the conversation about Jewish memory students talked about their Passover seders, Bnai Mitzvah and an Israeli soldier talked about what it means to serve in the army.
Today, the group woke up early and went straight to Sefad, a beautiful city on a hill that is the birth place of Jewish mysticism. We explored the ancient and diverse synagogues in Sefad, the candle factory and met with an Israeli mystical artist. After lunch, we visited Kibbutz Degania. We went to the chocolate factory and tasted the best ice cream in Israel straight from their creameries. We saw Levi Eshkol ,the former Prime Minister’s house, and played soccer with Israeli kids. Our guide, Muki talked about his own experience of growing up on a kibbutz. Our students couldn’t believe how small and modest the house of Israel’s Prime Minister was.
Students enjoyed the two hour drive from the north to Jerusalem. Upon arriving in Jerusalem, we started on Mt. Scopus with a great overlook of the city. We took in the great view and celebrated the moment of seeing Jerusalem for the first time.
We settled into our Jerusalem hotel and had a great conversation about Judaism and choseness. Students grappled with being both special and at times singled out as Jews. Once again, our students were amazing.
Dinner was not the best meal and right now the pizza that we ordered for the group arrived! Everyone is hanging out in the lobby enjoying pizza. We are blessed with amazing students. Tomorrow a dynamic and popular Hebrew University professor will be speaking with us about the election and then we will spend the day in Jerusalem. Everyone is healthy and happy and we are excited to explore Jerusalem. I will write again after Shabbat with a full report about Jerusalem.
On Sunday morning we will be going straight to Massada, so please email us your letter to your student if you haven’t done so already.
Towson, Goucher and UMBC Hillels
1/2/2012: If you read our post yesterday, you know that there was some consensus that the fresh orange juice machine at our Kibbutz Hotel at Nof Ginosar might have been the best thing since sliced Challah. But this morning, not only was the orange juice machine back in its place, but a mere two meters away was a steaming tray of mushroom-stuffed tortellini on the buffet. To the pasta fans among, the hotel had outdone itself!
After our lovely breakfast , we packed up the bus and then took an hour to walk around the kibbutz itself. We saw some of the houses, plantations, some of the industrial areas, the main dining hall, and the historic children’s house (where children lived when they were raised collectively back before privatization of kibbutzim began). We saw some beautiful artwork—mosaics and sculptures—made by children as part of a coexistence project at Ginosar for both Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel and then, at the shores of the Kinneret, learned about the life stories of two of Israel’s great poets, Naomi Shemer and Rachel. Dean volunteered to read some poetry to us, and then we sang together the poem “Lu Yehi,” – “let it be,” both to an original Israeli melody and then to the tunes of the Beatles’ “Let It Be.”
We walked back to our bus and progressed to Tzfat (sometimes written “Safed” in English characters) to the north and to the west. Tzfat is considered one of the four historic Jewish holy cities in the land of Israel and is particularly known for Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism. We began with a view across the way to Mount Meron, the highest peak in pre-1967 Israel and the pilgrimage site of the grave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who is traditionally credited with the authorship of the Zohar, the quintessential work of Jewish mysticism. We talked about the place of Tzfat during the War of Independence, and then walked up the hill where Lana gave our students an introduction to Jewish mysticism and some Kabbalistic ideas about creation and redemption. Sam reminded the group that for those who are familiar with some traditional Jewish observance, there is a great deal of influence of the mystical tradition, not the least of which is imagining that the Jewish people and Shabbat—the Sabbath—are married and remarried to each other every week and greeting our beloved Shabbat around sunset on Fridays by singing “Lecha Dodi,” a poem written by Shlomo HaLevi Alkabetz in Tzfat around 450 years ago. We sang the opening words several times over to a rousing melody. We visited the Isaac Luria synagogue and learned about its architecture and art, its history, and its association with Jewish mysticism and seemingly miraculous events for hundreds of years.
We had some free time for shopping in Tzfat’s artist colony and for lunch. Aaron R. Tried shawarma on pita and Michael C. marveled at the price of turquoise. When we reconvened back on the bus and left Tzfat, Jason spoke a bit about Tefillin, the Jewish ritual object made of scrolls of verses inside leather boxes and held to the arm and to the head with soft leather straps that several participants had seen for the first time today, demonstrated how they are worn, and spoke of their role in as ritual objects in prayer.
We stopped at Kibbutz Amiad, where there is a boutique winery and students sampled a bit of artisanal liqueur from local fruit from the region of the Galilee and the Golan Heights. There happened to be detailed maps of the North available there too, so when we returned to the bus, we were able to map out some of the geographical details of our journey together the past two days.
In order to avoid traffic in Tiberias, we took the long way around the Kinneret (we seem to favor the clockwise direction, the “inner loop” on a much more narrow road than a Baltimore or Washington Beltway). After crossing the Jordan River, we head south on Route 90 on our way to Jerusalem. As we drove through the Jordan Valley with a view of Jordan to our left, Lana taught us about Israel’s peace with Jordan and how different this border area is now than it was before the mid-90’s. Since Route 90 is a road that is shared by Israeli and Palestinian vehicles and lies within the occupied territories, we began speaking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Oslo accords, and what a two-state solution might look like. We hope to return to some of these ideas and talk more about the people—Israelis and Palestinians—who have been and are most impacted by the conflict in the days ahead.
With the northwest tip of the Dead Sea very close, we rounded the corner near Jericho and began climbing up the Jericho road toward Jerusalem. Lana told the story of how the song “Yerushalayim shel Zahav,” Jerusalem of God, was written and named in 1967 shortly before the Six-Day War, and then we played and sang the song together. We asked the participants to close their eyes after we entered into the tunnels that lead into the City toward Mount Scopus, to take a breath and some silence before we opened our eyes again to gaze upon the city skyline of Jerusalem.
After entering the City, we stopped on Mount Scopus to take it all in with a ceremonial welcome. Just as King David greeted his guests enthusiastically with bread and wine, so we were welcomed to Jerusalem with grape juice and challah, with song and with dance. Isabel led us in the traditional Jewish blessing over the grape juice, and we recited “shehecheyanu,” a blessing of thankfulness for life and sustenance. Among a couple of others, Chelsea and Lena each spoke for a couple of minutes about what this moment was feeling like and meant for them and then Jason told a midrashic story about how the Temple Mount—right in front of us—came to be where it is. The lesson of the story is the biblical verse, Hiney ma tov u’ma na’im shevet achim gam yachad, how good and lovely it is for siblings to dwell together.
And here we are at our hotel; a few hours after “dinner number one,” we’ve ordered in some local pizza for “dinner number two.” We are hoping people turn in early since tomorrow will be a long day and we expect to have a little more time out on the tune.
Every year, Baltimore sends a few bus loads of college students from Hopkins University, UMBC and Towson University on a Birthright trip. Read a recap of the first few days below:
Hopkins Hillel: by Debbie Pine, Executive Director
We have arrived safely and our trip is off to a fabulous start. We breezed through security in Newark and started our 10 hour flight to Tel Aviv. Most of the group slept and the plane was full with four different birthright groups. We had fun schmoozing and connecting with one another on the flight. We landed in Tel Aviv to warm sunshine and palm trees. Everyone was exhausted and excited to finally be here. We met our tour educator Mooky and got free Birthright t-shirts. We changed money, got cell phones, met our eight Israeli soldiers and began our trek up north. The first stop today is Caesarea to see an ancient Aqueduct and then to see the beautiful Mosaics at Zippori. Our bus will then head north to the Sea of Galilee to check into our hotel. A low key New Year’s eve celebration is planned for our group and three other busses who will be together. It’s hard to imagine that we will last till midnight! Tomorrow will be a great day with a broad tour of the north including a jeep ride. I’ll write more on Wednesday with our group’s reactions to the north.
We had great conversations on the plane about the diversity of the Jewish community. On every El Al flight there are Chasidim, American, secular Israelis and almost every type of Jew imaginable. It was exciting to see our students see and grapple with the complexity of the Jewish people and how they see themselves fitting it. I look forward to continuing these conversations especially after some sleep and showers! Know that everyone is happy and healthy and geared up for a great adventure. All the best to you and your families in 2013 and I’ll write more on Wednesday. Happy New Year.
UMBC and Towson: Sam Konig & Rabbi Jason Klein, Towson and UMBC Hillel Directors
Shalom from Israel!
We are Sam Konig, director of Towson Hillel and Rabbi Jason Klein, director of UMBC Hillel and our plan is to reach out a few times over the next 9 days to keep you posted about Taglit-Birthright Israel: Hillel Trip’s bus 1046—mostly Goucher, Towson, and UMBC students with a few Baltimorean CCBC, College Park, and American University students as well.
This morning before 7 a.m., we arrived in Israel on an airplane with three other groups of students going on trips.
We cleared passport control, picked up our luggage, and then met our tour educator Lana. Lana is originally from Moscow, came to Israel as an eight-year-old, where she lived in Netanya, moved to Jerusalem to study at the Hebrew University, and has been in the Nachla’ot neighborhood (near the Shuk if you know the area) for the past five years. We also met our bus driver Uri and our guard Dor.
Our 39 Baltimore students were joined by seven peers from our sister city—the other half of THE ASSOCIATED’s Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership: Ashkelon, of course! Their names are Shelly, Dor, Dudi, Hadar (who used to work in Baltimore during her year of national service), Daria, Nir, and Karin. We picked up our cell phones, changed money, drank lots of water, and boarded our bus to catch our first glimpses of Israel on the way to Caesarea.
We stopped for an hour on the shores of the Mediterranean next to the Roman aqueduct that is still there, dipped our feet in the water, and the stood in a circle and told stories about each of our names in order to break the ice. Speaking of the ice, it was a balmy 70 degrees with bright sun on this New Year’s eve on the Sea. But what’s even brighter is the high energy and positive vibe that we feel among the group so far. People are chatting with one another and watching out for another, and we could not be happier!
After Caesaria, We headed north, and then inland toward Tzipori. We learned about different cultural traditions for Jews and for Arabs about house-building in Israel; Jewish homes tend to have sloped permanent roofs, while Arab homes tend to have more temporary flat roofs so that new layers can be built for children and their families.
After a stop for lunch at a local mall, we entered the national park in Tzipori, the site of two thousand year-old synagogues amidst a Roman City. Sitting around the mosaics of the ancient synagogue, our tour educator Lana led us in a short text study of various passages from Pirkey Avot, ethics of the fathers, from the Mishnah, to connect that text—codified in 220 of the Common Era, with the place at which it coalesced. We also viewed an ancient Roman style home and an extraordinary watersystem that directed water from the hills of Nazareth to Tzipori.
We headed toward Tiberias and preceded clockwise a bit around the Kineret—the Sea of Galilee—and checked into our hotel at Kibbutz Ginosar, where we will join together for dinner in a bit, get to know each other a more, and say good night. After a long flight and a long day, I am not sure how many people expect to be awake to celebrate the secular new year, but we send you our best for a happy and healthy and hope you are doing wonderfully!
After being inspired by Jewish Volunteer Connection’s annual Mitzvah Day, volunteers in Ashkelon began Christmas by participating in their own mitzvah projects. Einav Koren, a volunteer coordinator in Ashkelon, recaps the day below.
Our Mitzvah Day’s had one objective - to collect as much hair as possible. Organized in collaboration with Zichron Menachem - The Israeli Association for the Support of Children with Cancer and their Families, each donor came prepared to donate a portion of their hair after receiving a professional haircut by Il Makiage. Every donation raised money (and hair) to provide wigs for children and teenagers suffering from cancer. During the six-hour event, 71 braids were collected. The youngest donor was five years old and the oldest was 53 years old.The longest braid was half a meter long. We definitely met our goals - to increase awareness of the good work the Association of Zichron Menchem does and to collect large amounts of braids to weave quality wigs for children.
I recently had the pleasure of coming to Baltimore for a week, to learn about THE ASSOCIATED, its agencies, and how the organization betters the Jewish community. It was an amazing opportunity for me to garner ideas that I will share with the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) in Israel, where I have worked for 12 years.
I came here as a Kolker Fellow, a professional exchange program funded by the Kolker-Saxon-Hallock Foundation. The purpose of this exchange was so that I could increase my knowledge of JDC and THE ASSOCIATED.
A little background about myself. In Israel, I manage program development for children at risk between the ages of six to 12, including literacy, transition to school, after school and therapeutic community-based programs for children. I develop programs for those children placed in out-of-home care and their families.
While in Baltimore, I visited several agencies and attended several events. I was impressed to see how the lay leadership and volunteers were able to engage constituents at the grass-roots level. Much of what I learned will benefit the programs I do with the children.
Even more inspiring, was how you incorporate Israel and your overseas partners in a lot of what you do. What is so impressive is the way you stand with us—not only through financial support—but also as full partners. Now I truly understand that together we have one goal – to build a strong, solid and sustainable Jewish society for the next generation.
Ultimately, my time not only deepened my knowledge about Baltimore, but also about the global Jewish community we live in.I’m going back to Israel with a feeling of togetherness and new found knowledge that I will share with my community. I feel that I have made new friends that will last a lifetime as well as important professional connections.
Sam Rosenfeld, a recent graduate of Beth Tfiloh, tells us about his volunteer experience in Ashkelon. He read about the Baltimore Ashkelon Partnership in the Jewish Times and felt compelled to visit Baltimore’s sister city during Sukkot.
After graduating from Beth Tfiloh in 2011, I went to Israel for a year to study in Yeshiva, and I enjoyed it so much that I am still in Israel, spending another year studying in Yeshiva, before college. I spent this past summer in Baltimore and I read a letter to the editor in the Jewish Times which promoted the Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership so I decided to visit baltimoreashkelon.org to check it out. A few emails later, I was set up to visit Ashkelon during the last few days of my Sukkot break.
When I first arrived in Ashkelon, I was picked up at the train station by Einav, a nice native-Ashkelonian who works for the Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership. She gave me a short tour of Ashkelon. Our first stop was the beach which is one of the nicest beaches in all of Israel. The water is a much clearer than the beach in Tel-Aviv, and it is less crowded. We then visited the Baltimore-Ashkelon park. The Baltimore-Ashkelon park is a beautiful park which was built by Baltimoreans a few years ago. It features an outdoor gym, “floor-games” such as hopscotch and chess, and a lot of statues of various marine animals.
Before long it was time for that day’s volunteering: Neta Project. Neta Project is an after-school program in Israel that teaches highs school students from low income neighborhoods enough about computers to get a degree which can be very helpful for getting into a good unit in the army. I was working with a 10th grade class that was learning about computer networks. Being one of the first classes of the year, the class was more theoretical than hands-on, but the concepts being taught were taught through creative activities. For example, when discussing the difference between various forms of media such as radio, telephone and internet, the class played pictionary and charades.
The next morning, I volunteered in 5th and 6th grade English classes. At the beginning of each class, the teacher would introduce me to the students and then tell them that a few of them could go to the library with me to practice their English. In all four of the classes, I worked with all of the students enthusiastically raised their hands to practice their English with me. The students really enjoyed the challenge of trying to have a conversation in English, and they helped me improve my Hebrew.
Going to Ashkelon was the highlight of my Sukkot break. Ashkelon is a beautiful city, the people there are genuinely warm and welcoming, and I felt like I made a little difference in these kids’ educations. At the end of all four of the classes, the students asked me if I would be back the next day and it was sad to have to tell them that my next break was not until March. They reminded me of when I was learning French at Wellwood, and how helpful it was when we had visitors from France speak with us in French. And I only took part in two of the many different volunteer opportunities available in Ashkelon. I strongly encourage anyone who will be visiting Israel to visit Ashkelon and personally experience its wonderful community.
‘In Our Own Backyard’ welcomes an eclectic group of Israeli entrepreneurs
Nearly 150 people from the Baltimore-Washington corridor turned out for the Maryland/Israel Development Center’s (MIDC) premiere corporate networking program last week. ‘In Our Own Backyard: A Showcase of Israeli Companies in Maryland and Washington, D.C.’, held on October 18 at the Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center at Howard County Community College, showcased Israeli companies that have decided to plant roots in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C. areas. Company focuses ranged from information and medical technology to development in the defense technology field.
Among the companies was Pango, which developed a high-tech pay-by-phone parking management system. NowForce demonstrated its innovative platform of standard mobile phones transformed into life-saving networks. Through deployment on this technology, emergency response teams are able to overcome the ‘Last Mile” problem. Integrated Systems Research Corporation (ISR) offered a look at its breakthrough technology of mapping and tracking. ISR installed custom fleet management systems for government and commercial customers worldwide. Also showcased were EL AL, Israel’s national airline and the Mamilla, David Citadel and Carlton Hotels.
“The world is in need of tremendous innovations coming out of Israel and we’re lucky to be surrounded by companies that find business value in our area. This was a terrific opportunity for investors to get in on the ground floor of the powerhouse that is Israeli innovation,” said Rob Frier, In Our Own Backyard chair.
The program also included presentations from Lior Shilat, Embassy of Israel’s Director of Investments and Roni Einav, author of From Nordau to Nasdaq and mega-entrepreneur of Israeli high-tech companies.
“Roni is one of the first and most successful entrepreneurs of the Israeli high-tech industry and Lior knows everything there is to know about what makes Israel the ‘start-up nation’ – it was a great pair,” said Abba David Poliakoff, MIDC Chairman of the Board.
The MIDC is a non-profit membership organization that promotes trade and investment between Maryland and Israeli companies. It is a partnership of the Baltimore Department of Business and Economic Development, Israel’s Ministry of Industry and Trade and THE ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. MIDC is supported by several leading government and private companies in the Rockville and D.C. area, including the Montgomery County Department of Business and Economic Development. The Jewish Federation of Howard County and the Howard County Economic Development Authority partnered with the MIDC and played a large role in working with Howard County Community College.
Executive Director, Barry Bogage said MIDC uses ‘In Our Own Backyard’ as a platform to fulfill its mission of fostering bilateral economic development between Israel and Maryland. He said MIDC’s Board of Directors, members and staff actively assist Israeli businesses in successfully accessing Maryland and other U.S. market opportunities, concurrently identifying appropriate business prospects for Maryland companies in Israel. This is the second year MIDC has held ‘In Our Own Backyard.’
For a full list of MIDC preferred providers, to learn more about the organization, membership and its upcoming events, visit http://www.MarylandIsrael.org.
“Pleasantly surprised” is a phrase not usually associated with journeys to the Former Soviet Union. However, in the month that I have been living and studying in Odessa I can say that the city and the Jewish community have completely exceeded my expectations. Despite the fact that my research is a full-time commitment, I still have yet to visit all the major Jewish organizations in the city. Julia Ioffe, The New Republic’s Russia correspondent, recently wrote a column about her impressions of Moscow after living there as a reporter and lamented that there were few options for the city’s nearly 150,000 Jews outside of the traditional and religious community. I was shocked to read her article because in Odessa, a city of around 35,000 Jews, there are so many ways to be Jewish. In the time I have been here, I have seen toddlers strum on a balalaika (a folk instrument) in a Rosh Hashanah concert at a Jewish pre-school and I have davened Kol Nidre in the women’s section of the main Odessa synagogue, a congregation run by Litovsk Orthodox Jews. I have sat in on meetings at the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) as they outline their plans for supporting Jewish organizations throughout all of Southern Ukraine and I lit Shabbat candles at Chabad. I have sat in the dining rooms of elderly Jewish women as they tell me their life stories, I’ve danced to the music of a DJ on a party bus at an event sponsored by a Jewish youth group and I helped roll the Torah at the Odessa Progressive Synagogue on Simchat Torah. There are countless other stories I could tell, but the gist of why I find myself pleasantly surprised is because I find the community so varied and vibrant. There truly are options for everyone. In fact, just like Baltimore, Odessa has two Jewish Community Centers. Unlike Baltimore, however, Odessa has fewer Jews and resources.
Another surprise I encountered was how many people in Odessa have come to depend on the Jewish community for necessary services. While life was hard in the Soviet Union, people had a safety net in the form of free healthcare and a pension. Today, the average pension in Odessa is about $120 a month and serves as the only money many senior citizens have for necessities and healthcare. Jewish charities, such as Chesed, support these senior citizens through monetary contributions, health care and meal deliveries. I spoke with Anatoly, the director of Chesed in Southern Ukraine and he told me that no matter how isolated and rural the village is, if there is a Jew living there in need, Chesed will go there. According to Anatoly, seniors receiving help from Chesed live on average 15 years longer than others. In a country with an average male life expectancy of 63, this makes an important difference.
Yet, the most surprising thing is how warm and welcoming the community has been. Jews of all ages have welcomed me into their homes and into their lives and continue to look out for me as I build a life here. I couldn’t be more grateful. In some part, this hospitality is due to the fact that people here are excited that I have chosen to study the Russian language and the culture and community of Odessa. However, an even more important factor is the clout that the city of Baltimore has here in Odessa. In the United States, when I tell people I am from Baltimore, I usually get these responses: “Oh, I love The Wire!” or “That’s basically a suburb of D.C., right?” or “It’s terrible you keep kosher and can’t eat crab!” Yet, here in Odessa, people talk about our sister-city relationship with pride. Leaders of Jewish organizations speak fondly of the exchanges between our cities of ideas, visitors, funding and Jewish cultural engagement. I hope that some of you reading my blog will be inspired to take on some of this cultural engagement yourselves and be as pleasantly surprised as I am.
Growing up in Baltimore, I had always been impressed by the diverse and impressive initiatives run by the THE ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. Yet, it was not until I went on the Diller leadership and service trip to Israel in the summer of 2007 that I realized how far-reaching the work of The Associated truly is. As a Diller Teen Fellow, I was amazed that The Associated could be simultaneously running an after school program at a middle school in Mt. Washington and recording oral histories of Ethiopian refugees at a center in Ashkelon.
The Diller Program taught me a great deal of lessons, but the one that has impacted me most strongly was that as challenging as it is to push yourself out of your comfort zone, those experiences become the ones that are the most worthwhile. When I began my freshman year at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York I signed up for Russian 101. I had always been drawn to the culture, especially considering the large Russian community in Pikesville, but knew little about it. That first Russian language course led to another and another until I decided to major in Russian Studies, with a focus on the history of the Jewish communities of the former Russian Empire and Soviet Union.
During the spring of 2011, I studied abroad in St. Petersburg, Russia. I received a grant from Colgate to research the effects of emigration on the Jewish community of St. Petersburg. I was expecting to find an aging community with few organizations and little hope. Instead, I found a community that was diverse and vibrant, a mix of local organizations designed and run by Petersburgers and those funded and staffed by American and Israeli organizations. As I researched the community, I remembered that The Associated’s efforts also reached the Former Soviet Union, specifically in Baltimore’s sister city of Odessa, Ukraine.
Tal Bouhnik lived in Baltimore between 2008 and 2009 as a shinshin, one of our community’s first ‘young emissaries’ from Israel. Upon completing his year of volunteer service, he enlisted in the Israel Defense Forces where he currently serves in an intelligence unit. Tal was also in the first cohort of the Baltimore-Ashkelon Diller Teen Fellowship. Read as he recaps his recent Birthright experience:
People say that in the army it is the people with whom you serve that makes your experience so unique and meaningful, not necessarily the job or the role you are in. The same is true about Taglit-Birthright Israel.
I knew it would be fun to get time off from the army for ten days and travel the country. I had no idea that the people I would meet would make my trip so special.
We met at Ben Gurion airport, a group of 40 Americans, eight Israelis and three staff members. The Americans were all college students, mostly from Baltimore but also from all across the United States. Out of the eight Israelis, seven were soldiers (myself included) and one national service member. All of the Israelis were from Ashkelon, Baltimore’s sister city.
We traveled Israel from the Golan Heights up north, though the Kinneret, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, the desert and of course, Ashkelon.
Being together for every hour for 10 days allowed us to talk about everything. I learned about college life, what it is like being a Jew in America, as well as American politics and the connection that young adults have with the State of Israel. I shared my thoughts about serving in the Israeli Defense Forces, the current situation in the Gaza Strip and what it is like living in a city that gets bombed every month. And that is just a sample of our conversations.
For most of the Americans, it was their first time in Israel, so every place or site we visited was new. It was amazing for me to walk with them through the streets of Jerusalem or the streets of Akko…places I usually take for granted.
While most of the trip we spent visiting archaeology sites and touring, on the last day we went to my home city of Ashkelon. This was the first time that the group had the chance to meet the people of Israel. We volunteered at an elementary school making mosaics with the fourth through sixth graders. With the language barrier it was fascinating to see the Israeli kids and the Americans communicate simply through eye contact and smiles.
The Birthright trip was a great opportunity for me to do something different and break my routine of army life. I am so grateful to have had the chance to spend 10 days with people who I know I will be friends with for life.
In the heart of Odessa, an elderly Jewish couple awaits a food package that will keep them from going hungry. A teen connects with her Jewish identity at a summer camp program. A Jewish child receives a state-of-the-art education in a new, modern classroom. Jewish Federation leaders will see how Federation dollars impact these lives and others next week during The Jewish Federations of North America’s Campaign Chairs and Directors (CCD) Mission.
The annual mission, taking place July 9-15, will this year visit Odessa and Israel. More than 100 lay leaders and professionals from 32 communities will take part in the mission, which showcases programs and organizations supported by Jewish Federations and our partner agencies.
The CCD Mission kicks off Jewish Federations’ Annual Campaign to care for Jews in need at home, in Israel and in more than 70 countries around the world. Annual Campaign dollars support programs that feed, clothe, shelter, counsel and rescue people in need, and nurture and sustain the Jewish community today and for future generations. The Annual Campaign is the most trusted Jewish fundraising vehicle in the world, raising nearly $1 billion every year to provide the basic infrastructure that supports the global Jewish community.
Leading the mission are National Campaign Chair Susan K. Stern of New York, National Women’s Philanthropy Chair Gail Norry of Philadelphia and Mission Co-Chairs Yair Szlak of Montreal and Beth Goldsmith of Baltimore.
“The CCD mission creates an opportunity to serve as a witness to the work we make happen overseas, to meet those we help, to hear their stories and to appreciate the impact we make on their lives,” said Stern, who this year will mark her seventh CCD Mission. “It also gives us an opportunity to better understand and appreciate the work of our overseas partners, who really do create miracles everyday.”
Norry, who is participating in her sixth mission this year, calls the CCD Mission “the ultimate experience” in learning about the impact Federation dollars can make. “Once you see the needs, you are inspired to raise the necessary dollars to fund them. You look into the eyes of the recipients and you never want to let them down.”
In Odessa, the group will experience the critical work of Federation partners including the Jewish Agency for Israel, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and World ORT. The agenda includes meetings with homebound elderly, and visits to a school and summer camp. The group will also tour historic synagogues and landmarks, visit the city’s Holocaust memorial and meet with notable Jewish thought leaders.
The mission will then travel to Israel, where the agenda includes visits to Jewish Federation partner agency programs, and conversations with Israeli leaders about political, economic and social issues. The group will also attend a Taglit-Birthright Mega Event, where they will interact with young Jews from around the world whose lives have been changed by a trip to Israel. Other highlights include meetings with Israeli President Shimon Peres, MK Shlomo Mula and Brig. General Doron Gavish, head of the Israel Defense Forces aerial defense unit.
Goldsmith, who attended the CCD Mission to Moscow last year as THE ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore’s campaign chair, will this year travel as the Federation’s Israel and Overseas Committee chair. “On my first home visit in Moscow, I felt one with a poor, old woman in a fifth-story walk-up. I was just so struck by the connection,” she said. “I thought I was bringing my passion and inspiration to the mission, but the passion and the inspiration I gained truly exceeded my own.”
Throughout the mission, campaign chairs and directors will receive valuable information and training to enable them to communicate the Federation message within their communities.
“Part of my personal journey during the CCD Mission is to better understand the global positioning of Jewish Federations and our responsibility in Israel and overseas,” said Szlak, who serves as campaign director for Federation CJA of Montreal. “But this is also an opportunity for campaign directors to bond with our campaign chairs and network with our counterparts across North America.”
Aside from campaign training and skills workshops, Stern believes the personal stories provide the greatest inspiration for Federation leaders when they return home. “The people I have met on these missions stay with me forever,” she said. “You remember their faces and their voices saying ‘Please, do not forget me.’ They are our families, the ones who went east when our families came to the west.”
I’m writing to you with an update related to our plans in Ashkelon.
After carefully considering the security situation, the government of Israel gave Taglit- Birthright Israel and its organizers clearance to do our planned trip in Ashkelon this morning after all. We are looking forward to the opportunity to see our Israeli participants’ community and meeting their families.
I want to assure you that safety concerns are the first priority of our trip organizers. The fact that the government and Taglit- Birthright Israel have deemed this to be a safe time to visit Ashkelon is significant.
Ashkelon is Baltimore’s sister city in Israel and the home city of most of our Israeli participants. We feel very lucky to be able to take advantage of this opportunity to visit Ashkelon. While in Ashkelon, we will be working on a Mosaic in the style of Shalom Moskowitz with children at a school, as well as getting a tour of the city from the soldiers on our trip.
We will be spending the morning there and in the afternoon will be going to Tel Aviv, where we will be for the rest of our time here in Israel. We fly out tomorrow morning at 5:00 a.m.
If you have any urgent needs, Amazing Israel’s Emergency Hotline can be reached at any time at 800-860-0525.
Here’s another selection of responses to particular experiences that we’ve had on the trip:
Golan Winery Really cool to listen to how wine is fermented, aged and processed. The tasting was also pretty great! -Josh G.
Yad VaShem (Holocaust museum) For me it was the third time at the museum, but it was the first time in an army uniform of the Israeli Air Force. Great experience - Addie (an Israeli participant)
Western Wall I never really understood the phenomenon of the Western Wall. All I’d ever seen was a wall behind smiling faces or bowed heads, torn pages filling the cracks of old stones. I was pretty sure that not much would change after seeing it in person. Yet there’s some sort of still energy that draws you in after touching the warm stone, and it’s almost like you can feel the past and the prayers surrounding you. I’m not incredibly religious, but I’ll never forget that feeling. - Maring E
Thanks for being with us, in so many ways!
American Trip Leaders,
Jacob and Yona
One of Eastern Europe’s hidden gems is Baltimore’s sister city, Odessa, says Brett Cohen, the new Baltimore-Odessa Partnership co-chair. Working with Andrew Razumovsky, the team says they plan to bring the vibrancy of Odessa culture and Jewish life to Baltimore – and vice versa.
Razumovsky, whose grandfather was born in Odessa, first visited our sister city in 1977. He said a lot has changed since then. What was then a small, dying community is today a dynamic Jewish hub. “You see the young generation in Odessa growing into real community leaders,” he says.
Cohen got involved because of his passion for the Israel and Overseas agenda of THE ASSOCIATED in general. He thinks the organization has done a terrific job educating our youth about Israel, but that the vivid Jewish past of our people in Eastern Europe – prior to the Holocaust – is oft forgotten. He plans to revitalize that education and play a key role in making what for over 20 years has been a “hands-off” or more monetary partnership into a hands-on experience.
“I want to bring Odessa culture here and focus on awareness, marketing, PR,” says Cohen. “I really hope to get other young adults involved.”
Cohen describes Odessa, which he visited last year, as vibrant, hungry for Jewish learning and full of Jewish pride. He sees the youth as an excellent starting point not only for the Baltimore-Odessa Partnership, but a three-way partnership between Baltimore, Ashkelon and Odessa. He suggests putting young adults from the three communities on Taglit-Birthright Israel buses together.
“That is low-hanging fruit to make those personal connections,” he says.
Cohen also suggests finding a way to incorporate the Odessa teens into the Diller Teen Fellows program.
Notes Razumovsky: “We are all part of a global Jewish community.”
The first of a series of updates from Baltimore’s Taglit-Birthright Israel Summer Trips
So far, we:
>>visited Rosh HaNikra Grottos in the Northwest corner of the country,
>>completed a demanding hike at Nachal Kziv and demonstrated our ability to support each other through challenging terrain
>>swam in the Mediterranean Sea at a beach in Nahariyya
>>visited the old city of Akko as well as the open-air market there,
>>and we began to explore and deepen our relationships with Jewishness.
Of our North American participants, half of the bus hails from Baltimore, Maryland, while the other half comes from many other parts of the United States. We have eight Israeli participants for the duration of the trip from Baltimore’s sister city, Ashkelon.
Here are some excerpts from an on-the-bus journal that we thought you might appreciate.
We asked: What have you noticed, around you and internally? Some people said:
“After a long day of travelling we finally made it! Looking out the window I can’t help but wonder to myself what events took place on the landscape that I’m looking at. It’s really exciting to be here, in a land so rich with history. I can’t wait for the trip to actually begin, so that I can finally explore! and hopefully make some new friends.”
“Right at this very moment we are getting to know our Israeli counterparts. They look and seem so different but really aren’t that different from us at all. Most of them are the same age as us (19 - 21). We met up with them after landing in Tel Aviv. The plane rides were long and tiring, however they gave us plenty of time to mix and mingle. After arriving in Tel Aviv, we gathered on the bus and began our trek to the north. The ride offered great opportunities to see the countryside and learn about the different areas within Israel.”
“Its gorgeous, hot, and lovely. There are lots of pretty very old buildings. My stomach is full of amazing Israeli food.”
“I am a city girl, so being in nature and especially doing outdoor activities in nature is not something I have much experience with. So, of course, I have noticed how incredibly beautiful the land is. I would like to learn more, however, about both the history of the land and the disputes over it. We have passed some Arab cities but have not had in-depth discussions on how all the different peoples of this land have come to live in their separate (and sometimes not separate) areas. I become very curious every time it is mentioned. I also have noticed how diverse the people of Israel look, at least appearance wise. I find this interesting and plan to keep looking out and eventually asking questions and hoping they are answered.”
“I can speak my mind without fearing that I offended somebody like I do in the United States.”
“Everyone is awesome.”
“The sea is beautiful (and cooling on a hot day)! The food is amazing, the scenery is beautiful, and the people are awesome!”
A new Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership (BAP)-funded project is up and running on Monday evenings at Havatzelet Ethiopian Community center. The project is called “Teaching English to Ethiopian Israelis at Havatzelet.”
Havatzelet Ethiopian Community Center is a small building in the center of Shimshon neighborhood, a neighborhood of “shikunim:” high-density, low-cost housing - rows of 4-story bare concrete buildings, of small overcrowded apartments, with no air-conditioning and no elevators. Many Ethiopian families live in this neighborhood and their kids spend most of their time outdoors. Havatzelet has a small staff of young Ethiopian Israelis who work hard within the bounds of a limited budget trying to provide a framework to keep these kids off the streets.
During the three years that Havatzelet Community Center hosted a previous BAP project (LEAP – Ladies Ethiopian Art Project), we became aware that many of the staff at Havatzelet have a common problem – they need to improve their English. They turned to BAP for help, and BAP has now given them funding for this new pilot project.
Lay leader Suzie Eigenstein, Head of English at Ashkelon Academic College, oversees the pedagogic side of things, and senior English lecturer, Nomi Sklowin, is the teacher. On registration day we discovered that our students include not only Havatzelet staff but also an Ethiopian Kes (high priest) and an Ethiopian minibus driver eager to communicate better with his tourist customers. Shai Damtew, Head of Havatzelet Community Center, said, “I have passed all my courses for my BA but I have not been able to pass the English exam. These English classes are saving my life”.
To help address the need for English lessons at different levels, we recruited teacher aides – a group of highly motivated volunteers from ESOA – the English Speakers Organization of Ashkelon. June Narunsky, former South African and Director of ESOA, said, “We are very happy to have this opportunity to join forces with the Partnership to work closely with the Ethiopian community.”
Mostly pensioners, our volunteers take direction from our teacher and tutor the students, consolidating class material and helping with conversation practice.
We hope that volunteers from Baltimore will join us over the summer, for a lesson, or two, or more. This is an invaluable opportunity to get to know this fascinating community, and our Ethiopian students are eager to speak to Americans and improve their conversation skills. The advanced class has shared their stories on the BAP website, hoping to find penpals in Baltimore. You are invited to write to them on the “Letter from Ashkelon” forum at http://www.qmarkets1.org/live/baltimore/subdomain/letters/end/home.
The neighborhood children have gotten wind of the English-speaking visitors at Havatzelet on Mondays, and are keen to be included. Thirsty for attention these kids are like sponges, eager to soak up any English phrases they can glean from the volunteers. The volunteers are busy teaching the adults English, but Gary, one of our volunteers, took a line of little boys out to the adjacent school’s basketball court to practice shooting hoops. His height and dunking ability convinced them he was nothing less than an ex-NBA star and he kept them out of mischief for two hours. Havatzelet is desperately seeking funding to start after-school English lessons for these kids.
The Baltimore-Ashkelon partnership is a wonderful opportunity for both communities to develop new projects that touch different populations. This is how the Partnership grows, expands and touches more and more individuals.
The twenty-fourth annual Ashkelon Race took place recently in our sister city. For the last two years, the race has been run in remembrance of Sargent Lior Mor. The sargent fell while on duty. More than 1,000 runners took part in the race, running one of three distances: 1.5 kilometers. 2.1 kilometers or 10 kilometers. The race took place throughout the city, starting and ending at Delilah Beach. A festive raffle took place during the race. Proceeds benefited the city of Ashkelon and Mor’s family.
The winner of the 10k race was Asaf Dimro, with a time of 34:36.
Look at these incredible pictures!
The Khazars are one of the most mysterious populations of the Old World whose abrupt disappearance from the history pages has tantalized scientists for years. Who were these Eurasian warriors who ruled a quarter of the Old World for over seven centuries? Were they Giants, Amazons, Turks, or Mongols? Were they all Jews or just their rulers? What happened to them and where are they now? This Khazar DNA Project aims to trace the descendents of the Khazars by searching for their particular DNA signature in the genomes of 500 worldwide populations. Sounds like searching for a needle in a sack of hay? It’s somewhat similar, but imagine that you have a magnet!
How can we trace the Khazars? Our DNA is like a history encyclopedia. It tells us the stories of our forbearers from the first human who walked on the earth to… well, YOU. DNA regions can tell us whether your ancestors interbred with Neanderthals or which path they took out of Africa. We intend to scan the DNA in search for the Khazarian genomic signature.
Why Khazars? Why now? Unlike the famous Greek, Roman, and Persian Empires, the history of the Khazar’s Empire remained a mystery, known only to very few people. The main reason is that the study of Khazaria was forbidden in the Soviet Union, where the major sites reside. Only now are Russian scholars free to explore the Khazar culture, and they are doing a tremendous job. The Itil excavations, for example, sponsored by the Russian-Jewish Congress, recently revealed one of the three Khazar capital cities. While archeologists and historians are making their contribution to our knowledge of the Khazars, so should geneticists. Using genetic data we can unravel some of the mystery around these people who built their Empire of the basis of harmony and peace and later on joined the Jewish faith and perhaps largely contributed to Eastern European Jewish culture.
Our knowledge of the ancient Khazars is based almost entirely on the writings of educated, wealthy, elite men who often contradicted one another. The Soviet Union did its share of spreading fear and prejudice about the Khazars that still prevails among many people. It’s time to change our approach to Khazar history by harnessing genetics and combining it with archeological and historical knowledge.
What’s this new project about? Our previous study showed an enrichment of the Caucasus genetic signature in European Jewish population. This is not surprising, because Caucasus populations remained isolated in their mountain terrain for centuries and over time they became genetically distinct from other populations. The only population who mass-migrated from the Caucasus were the Khazars when they fled from the Rus (Russians) in the 13th century. The Khazar DNA Project aims to survey the genomes of 500 populations worldwide and look for this Caucasus signature in hope to trace the Khazar live descendents. Because the Khazars were Jews, we hypothesize that Jewish populations, mostly around ancient Khazaria, will exhibit a large fraction of this signature compared to other populations. While other genetic projects measure the percentage of Neanderthal interbreeding or Jewish ancestry in DNA data, no project attempts to identify Khazarian ancestry. We are excited to reveal the genetic background of these mysterious people through our genetic data.
How can I participate or help? Genetic Archeology of ancient Khazars is a new research area, currently unsupported by any funds. The Khazar DNA Project is the first large-scale DNA survey of Khazar descendents. In May 2012, the Khazar DNA Project will participate in its first crowd-funding effort, seeking to raise $6,000. Donors will be able to follow the project’s progress through Facebook and blog feeds unavailable to the general public, getting real-time updates and learning the DNA results along with us. Donors can also submit their DNA for testing and learn whether they carry the Khazarian DNA signature. Please join our Facebook group to get updates about the project.
THE ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore recognizes its obligation to help Jews in need in Baltimore, Israel and around the world. Learn more about our overseas efforts at www.associated.org/globalimpact.
The Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership is turning 10 next year! Over the last decade, THE ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore has placed meaningful connections between Baltimore and Ashkelon as a priority. Whether you are looking to join a committee or simply to share an experience with one of our brothers and sisters in Ashkelon – in person or over the Internet (or both!), you can be a part of our sister city relationship.
The Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership opens doors to establishing meaningful and lasting global friendships, partnerships and connections with our brothers and sisters in Israel. Personal relationships not only enhance our lives, but represent our best hope to reconnect Jewish young adults and children with the homeland and to ensure we have a vibrant, global Jewish future. The sister city initiative raises awareness of Israeli issues, promotes greater participation in international dialogue and exchanges and, by doing so, builds and strengthens bridges of mutual understanding and respect.
In addition, this weekend, join the Baltimore Israel Coalition to celebrate Ashkelon and all of Israel at the community-wide Israel Independence Day extravaganza. The event takes place from 12:00-4:00 at Towson University’s West Village Commons (click for directions). There will be face painting, a balloon artist, spectacular Israeli vendors and a special viewing of “Israel Inside,” a documentary highlighting how a small nation can make a big difference.
The Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership is turning 10 next year! Over the last decade, THE ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore has placed meaningful connections between Baltimore and Ashkelon as a priority. Whether you are looking to join a committee or simply to share an experience with one of our brothers and sisters in Ashkelon – in person or over the Internet (or both!), you can be a part of our sister city relationship.
The Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership opens doors to establishing meaningful and lasting global friendships, partnerships and connections with our brothers and sisters in Israel. Personal relationships not only enhance our lives, but represent our best hope to reconnect Jewish young adults and children with the homeland and to ensure we have a vibrant, global Jewish future. The sister city initiative raises awareness of Israeli issues, promotes greater participation in international dialogue and exchanges and, by doing so, builds and strengthens bridges of mutual understanding and respect.
In addition, this weekend, join the Baltimore Israel Coalition to celebrate Ashkelon and all of Israel at the community-wide Israel Independence Day extravaganza. The event takes place from 12:00-4:00 at Towson University’s West Village Commons (click for directions). There will be face painting, a balloon artist, spectacular Israeli vendors and a special viewing of “Israel Inside,” a documentary highlighting how a small nation can make a big difference.
By Fran Sonnenschein
Baltimore Zionist District (BZD)
In a couple of weeks, the Baltimore community will have the honor of celebrating the 64th anniversary of the creation of the State of Israel. Living some 6,000 miles away, we witness the tremendous progress and growth Israel has undergone during its wondrous history. The blossoming of a desert into a flourishing land - truly a land of “milk and honey.” Israel has become the world’s center for irrigation and agricultural growth, medical innovations and technology, putting Israel at the leader-board. With all the apparent obstacles in its way, the perseverance in preserving the Zionist dream has given her strength to continue, to grow and to flourish. We have so much to be proud of!
At BZD, we pride ourselves on developing and building a personal relationship with the State of Israel, its people and the land. For decades, BZD has sent teens to Israel to forge that bond, that connection. These are our future leaders. This year, BZD is proud to say that our teen trip is filled to maximum capacity. We know these teens’ summer experience in Israel will bring them back energized, enthusiastic and connected to Israel and the Jewish people.
BZD’s Shaliach, Roey Tshuva, is in the midst of planning missions to Israel for this upcoming year for adults. Create and strengthen your connection! Witness Israel first-hand and have a meaningful experience by going to Israel this year! Learn more on our website, www.bzdisrael.org.
Until then, get involved on Israel’s birthday! On Sunday, April 29, The Baltimore Israel Coalition, with the involvement of local organizations, schools and synagogues will host a community celebration so we experience a bit of Israel in Baltimore.
Sunday, April 29, 2012
West Village Commons
Raffle for two free tickets to Israel! | Comedian Benji Lovitt | Baltimore premiere of “Israel Inside”
On Sunday evening, April 4, representatives from 40 volunteer organizations and N.G.O’s gathered at The Ashkelon Volunteer Center for a traditional toast before Pesach.
Hagit Kutaru, director of the Ashkelon Volunteer Center, emphasized the importance the city places on its volunteers and voluntary organizations, especially in the area of support services for the needy.
MarketReach America 2012 welcomes eclectic group of Israeli entrepreneurs By Maayan Jaffe
Nearly 150 people from the Baltimore-Washington corridor turned out for the Maryland/Israel Development Center’s premiere corporate partnering program last week, on March 29. The event, this year held at Baltimore’s Constellation Energy headquarters, showcased the newest Israeli innovations coming out of two Israel incubators – Mofet and Misgav venture accelerators. Technologies ranged from information technology and med-tech to green-tech and agri-tech.
The Maryland show was part of a week-long trade show, run by Trendlines, MIDC’s Israeli partner. Trendlines also oversees the Mofet and Misgav venture accelerators, creating and developing businesses to improve the human condition. The Israelis travelled to five cities in five days, hoping to find potential investors and collaborators. Using a speed-dating-type presentation (five minutes for each company) the start-up heads demonstrated their products and research.
“The world is in need of the tremendous innovations coming out of Israel. The fuel that turns the innovation engine is capital,” said Trendlines Chairman and CEO Steve Rhodes.
Among the companies was NovoSpeech, which developed an automatic speech recognition device or ASR, with extraordinary accuracy rates – even in real-life, noisy environments. Organis demonstrated its innovative platform of insect repellent products derived from the edible turmeric plant. The active ingredients form the basis of a diverse family of solutions for the agricultural, industrial, hospitality, urban, and home environments. Sol Chip offered a look at its breakthrough technology addressing the needs of remote or mobile devices that operate autonomously, prolonging battery life, reducing environmental hazard, and improving battery-charging technology. Sol Chip’s Solar Battery harvests light energy to power billions of individual appliances.
“This was a terrific opportunity for seed- and early-stage investors to get in on the ground floor of the powerhouse that is Israeli innovation,” said Abba David Polliakoff, MIDC Chair of the Board.
The MIDC is a non-profit membership organization that promotes trade and investment between Maryland and Israeli companies. It is a partnership of the Baltimore Department of Business and Economic Development, Israel’s Ministry of Industry and Trade and THE ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. MIDC is supported by several leading government and private companies in the Rockville and D.C. area, including the Montgomery County Department of Business and Economic Development and EpsteinBeckerGreen.
Executive Director Barry Bogage said MIDC uses MarketReach as a platform to fulfill its mission of fostering bilateral economic development between Israel and Maryland. He said MIDC’s Board of Directors, members and staff, actively assist Israeli businesses in successfully accessing Maryland and other U.S. market opportunities, concurrently identifying appropriate business prospects for Maryland companies in Israel. MarketReach is the organization’s largest annual event.
It doesn’t take more then five minutes of reading a newspaper to read about the threat Iran presents to the United States and Israel. In turn, radicalism in Egypt and Syria, threats from Hezbollah and Hamas, as well as strained relationships arising out the Arab Spring, remain continuing problems.
Israel will deal with all her “obstacles” and come out a stronger country, but we need to stand behind her and support her through this difficult time.
Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, is a day to celebrate Israel’s independence and all the previous struggles that she overcame. It is a day to celebrate her accomplishments and to let the world know that we stand behind her.
The Baltimore Israel Coalition, a new Baltimore initiative, is an informal group of 22 local organizations joining together to support and promote Israel. The coalition and other local organizations, synagogues, and schools have joined together to prepare a community celebration for Yom Ha’atzmaut on April 29 from 12:00-4:00 p.m., at Towson University. A poignant film, school and synagogue choirs, interactive activities, a comedian, Israeli vendors and food are just some of the exciting programing scheduled for the day.
The Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation Merrick School of Business University of Baltimore is hosting Dan Senor, renowned author and foreign attaché. Mr. Senor is coming to to speak on his best selling book, “Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle.” The keynote will be followed by a panel discussion featuring Tom Loveland, Rob Rosenbaum, David Lingelbach and the Maryland/Israel Development Center’s Barry Bogage.
Seats are limited. Tickets available on a first-come, first-serve basis.
By Ariela Lerman
Macks Center for Jewish Education
Every year in Baltimore, we get the chance to see the power of relationships between Baltimore and Ashkelon, and specifically with students in both cities. The opportunity to create a personal connection with each other is undeniably impactful in the lives of our youth. Take for example, one of the past Yeshivat Rambam students who was connected with a student at the Madaim school in Ashkelon. They worked on a project during one year of school and continued the connection as they grew older. This student then graduated and went to study in Israel for the year. He made a special trip to Ashkelon to finally meet his partner face-to-face and spent Shabbat at his house. This is the true meaning of partnership.
Each year, through the Gesher Chai program, we connect hundreds of students in Baltimore and Ashkelon through relationship-building projects. Not only do these students learn about their partner schools and cities, but they also learn about each other and how similar they truly are. There are also three schools that take trips to Ashkelon each year and the students meet their partners and form long-standing friendships. We even have Israelis that come to work in Baltimore for a year that are products of the Gesher Chai relationships.
Recently, due to the events happening in the south of Israel, students in Baltimore have reached out to their partners in Ashkelon, not only to talk about what their likes and dislikes are but also to express their heartfelt hopes that the rockets will stop falling on Ashkelon. Krieger Schechter Middle School students made videos for their partner school Makif Dalet and Beth Tfiloh Gan Aleph class raised funds to provide some fun activities for their partner school while they had to stay in the bomb shelters.
It is not only during a time of crisis that we want to connect and work with our partners in Ashkelon, yet it makes a huge difference when there is a personal connection involved. We are able to support each other through the good times and the bad and know that there is bond created between students on both sides of the ocean.
In the Israel Education sphere, one of the main things that makes Israel come alive are relationships with Israelis. This is something that is truly transformative to forming an opinion and connection to Israel.
In a month, we will celebrate Yom Ha’Atzmaut in Baltimore at Towson University. This event is a great way to start your connection with Israel, learn more, and even interact with our young Israeli Shinshinim from Ashkelon. There is nothing quite like Israel, but there is absolutely nothing better than learning about Israel first hand from an Israeli.
Sunday, April 29, 2012
West Village Commons
We’d like to think that our work through the Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership has had an impact on this trend, too ... at least in our sister city!
TEL AVIV (JTA)—Capitalism in pursuit of social justice.
The notion is becoming more common in Israel as a new generation of entrepreneurs and innovators in the fields of high-tech, industry and real estate is delving into philanthropy.
“The culture of venture capital and the startup nation also transfers into innovation in the field of philanthropy,” Andres Spokoiny, president of the Jewish Funders Network, said in a telephone interview ahead of the Jewish Funders Network International Conference that was held here last week. “One of the goals of the conference is to foster networking among highly empowered, highly independent individuals.”
The Diller Teen Fellows from Ashkelon, our sister city, are in town. Last night, they and their Baltimore counterparts, spoke about their experiene thus far:
“Through playing basketball, singing together, discussing serious topics, maagals and just hanging out, the Baltimore group and the Ashkelon group have come together to form Ashkemore. It’s crazy to think that the Ashkemore teens have only been together for a couple of days because it seems like we have been long-time friends. Now we are at laser tag and after a weekend full of interesting discussions and activities, it is now game time!” —Reid Danels, Diller Baltimore Teen Fellow
“So we are here in America and it’s unbelievable! At the first meeting, we were so excited because we’ve been waiting for it for so long. We just came to Baltimore and met everyone and it feels like we have known each other for years. Every hour that passes by, we get the chance to know more about the Americans’ life, and we understand that we have a lot in common. It’s so weird because our lives are based on a different cultures and this is what makes this program so special. I can’t wait for the summer to come, it’s going to be crazy!” —Moran Mazal, Diller Ashkelon Fellow
By Bobbie Luterman, Melissa Lebowitz & Brenda Schuman
Beth Tfiloh Preschool
Remember our last blog when we described the unbelievable community project called the “Theatre Curtain”? Well, it gets better!
We mentioned the theatre curtain because it was a perfect example of the value that the city places on their children within the community. Asking the children to be the creators of the very curtain that would hang in their beautiful theatre was a big honor and a statement about what they believed about the abilities of their children, they are truly considered citizens of this community.
So.. over the last couple of days we made many new connections that have deepened this experience even further. We realized that the values that we hold as Jewish people are synonymous with the values that the Reggio community and their educators hold for their children. The connections are astounding.
As Jews we believe that children were created in the image of G-d or Betzelem Elokim. Children should be respected for who they are now rather than treated as someone who needs to grow into a person. They have everything they need from the moment they are conceived and we should help them figure out who they already are rather than try to shape them into who we think they should be.
Well… as we were sitting and listening we heard the same message from the people of Reggio Emilia.
Loris Malaguzzi, the visionary behind this approach once said…. This is a value based approach…. he said that the image of a child is a solid one from the beginning and that all children are intelligent and that every child at all times is competent.
The Reggio approach also involves constant study, commentary, interpretation, and reflection for the sake of children and their work- sounds familiar huh?? That just screamed out Judiasm. All three of us were so moved by these connections and so were the 70ish members of our study group. In fact, we all cheered as these comparisons were made by fellow group members. The last huge connection that we made today was also important. The Reggio approach is based on the respect and value that we place on our environment.
The Reggio community expresses this through their in-depth studies of nature with children. They closely study the details of natural materials and phenomena like water, light, weather and seasonal color changes. They also use almost entirely recycled materials for art and for play. They focus very intently on the importance of the world. This is such a strong connection to our own concept of Tikkun Olam.
The amazing thing is that we could go all night on this topic!! Anyway, we know this is deep, but it doesn’t even scrape the surface compared to what we have experienced this week. We laugh when we think of the times that we have called this approach a curriculum. That word DOES not even come close! This is a way of life, actually- it’s OUR way of life and it’s exactly what our children deserve.
Anyway, we really need to go to bed-our brains need a break!!!
Ciao for Now! Shalom!
Brenda, Bobbie and Melissa
March 22, 2012
“The place where theory and practice touch is like the magic moment when night becomes day.”
This quote, by Loris Malaguzzi, the founder of the Reggio Emilia approach, represents how I felt as I watched the interactions of a teacher and his children yesterday. I doubt my interpretation of the experience could even begin to represent the powerful feelings I had as I watched a four-year-old figure out how to represent the game “Ring Around the Rosie” on paper.
In a nutshell (and you must know, I can tell this story much better than type it because the gestures and enthusiasm really helps), goes something like this:
Matteo, the atelerista, wanted to know how the children would represent the game on paper. Ateleristas are not typically teachers, they are usually artists who work in these schools. Matteo took five children up to the atelier (studio), and they all played the Ring around the Rosie over and over—loudly, soft, silly, etc. He then asked them to please draw the game on paper. He offered white paper of varying sizes for them to use, plus black pencils and chalk that was erasable. He reminded them how to use the erasers. (If you remember that everything in Reggio is intentional, you will understand why only white paper and black pencil for this.)
Once the children finished, he asked them further, “Does that represent what you were thinking?”
He asked this question in several different ways, making sure the children were satisfied with their drawings. One child was not sure. The teacher suggested they all do the stance to get ready for the game, holding hands. Once they did that, the children reevaluated their drawings, some making the people they drew hold hands. Now the teacher continued to probe their thinking.
“Does the drawing show the entire games? All of the games?”
I watched a little guy look intently at his drawing, shake his head “no, its not.”
“What does it need?” asked the teacher? The child turned his paper over and said, Tto be a circle it must also be on the back.”
The discussion, drawing, reviewing and assessing continued as the children drew. (Because of time constraints here, I’ll write more about the teacher’s approach when I return to the states). However, you have to know that a little girl, very enthusiastically, dancing while speaking, told the group that the picture needed to be round and round, and her friend took his picture, began to cut the excess paper around the drawing, and then looped the paper into a ring, making the drawing three-dimensional.
I gasped, and the teacher looked up and smiled at me. It was absolutely overwhelming for me to see the process.
After years and years of study, to see what was only in my mind represented in an authentic manner. This has been the most satisfying and validating experience.
Caio for now.
This is the first time I have had the chance to sit with a computer keyboard, at a computer that is going to be connected to the internet (hopefully!). I have been writing my thoughts - pages of them - but will try to give you a more concise update.
You should know that the keyboards here have some keys I have never seen. Where we have the shift key to capitalize something, they have the “< key,” and my pinky finger is drawn to that. Also, the @ key is next to the letter l, but first you have to hit a key labelled “alt gr.” Know where I found the quotation marks? Where the @ key is on our home computers! At least the ! is in the right place, so I can still still easily be exuberant! A piece of advice if you are going to use an Italian keyboard: never, ever trust their spell check!
So much for a concise message ... This last paragraph took over 10 minutes to type. I have to join the others for breakfast as we are headed to a preschool.
The Louise D. and Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education has taken a group of educators to Reggio, Italy to experience firsthand a teaching model they have been learning about for the past several months. Named after the town in Italy where it was developed soon after World War II, Reggio Emilia has become a curriculum model of excellence that has attracted worldwide attention. It is a pre school curriculum that promotes the creative expression of ... and the role of the environment in education.
Last night, a lot of people from Asheklon participated in a wedding at the Tel Aviv port; the daughter of one of Ashkelon’s Municiaplity’s Deputy Mayor. Lots of ministers, Knesset members, city council members, the mayor, other deputies, municipal spokespeople ...
On the way, we heard that three Grad rockets were launched at Beer Sheva . One was intercepted, one fell in an open field, one hit the ground. A few minutes later it was annonnced, “No school in Beer Sheva tomorrow.” After a few more minutes, most of the south region mayors joined this decision…
After five days of rocket fire from Gaza into Southern Israel, the attacks have begun to subside and Israelis expect to return to normal life in the coming days. Since Friday, when Israel Defense Forces assassinated two major terrorists, more than 200 rockets have been fired into Israel’s south, threatening more than 1 million people.
“When we heard news of the killing of two mega terrorists, everyone in Israel knew we needed to get ready for a reaction. When something like this happens, we are facing rockets attacking our cities,” said Sigal Ariely, Ashkelon resident and JFNA’s director of the Ashkelon-Baltimore Partnership. “Luckily, this was only a very short period of tension. I hope that it ends, and we won’t have to feel that again in the next few days.”
On day four of the current escalation, with continuing rocket assaults in the South, it remains unclear to both politicians and analysts how long this violence will continue and at what level.
One million Israelis are living under threat and taking refuge in shelters, safe rooms and along roadsides each time an alert is sounded. Not unexpectedly, Israel’s crisis hot lines are seeing a spike in calls from worried residents seeking to be reassured.
Since Friday, dozens of people have been treated for trauma and four Israelis have been injured, one severely. For many, the high security situation takes them back to the trauma they suffered from previous attacks. Nati Haktz’or, 24, from Beer Sheva, lost his right leg six months ago in a Grad missile strike. Since the start of these attacks, he has stopped sleeping in his bed, in order to shorten the distance to the reinforced shelter. “Each alarm sends me right back to the day I lost my leg,” he says.
Since earlier this afternoon we had many sirens, three in the past hour-and-a-half. We have this routine: You hear the siren, run to hide under the staircase, and wait, listen . One boom - the Iron Dome is being launched at the rocket. A second boom, almost immediately after the first one - a successful hit. ... Crazy how you get used to craziness…
It was going to be just another routine Purim .. but as we know our reality is never “routine.” The weather this Purim was going to be gorgeous, after a few rainy winter days, everyone waited for the sun to rise and the kids to dress up in their costumes and give out mishloach manot.
My youngest, Gily, was a cute Minnie Mouse this time. They had a Purim carival at school and she came home with a basket full of candies. The next morning we woke up at 5:15 a.m. and joined the Youth Council bus going to Mt. Hermon to enjoy the snow!!
(Sorry Baltimore , while you had no snow this year, Mt. Hermon has tons of snow, the bigest amount in years. We got there at 10:00 a.m. - the fourth bus in the parking lot ... no traffic, no crowds, just FUN FUN FUN !!!)
The next day, we all went to watch or march in the Adloyada ,the theme this year was “colors,” and it was indeed very colorful.
This pretty much ended the fun for Purim. The following day IDF killed a mega terorist in Gaza who was in the proccess of executing a PIGUA (terror attack) in Israel, similar to one that he operated last August near Eilat. Once we heard about this killing, we knew it was just a matter of time before rockets would be launced in our direction. Since Friday afternoon, over 120 rockets were launched in the south…
When I first got involved with IMPACT, THE ASSOCIATED’s young adult division, I never believed that one day I would be with a group of 19 amazing professionals and lay leaders visiting programs and agencies halfway across the world in Odessa, Ukraine. It all started six and half years ago when I attended my first IMPACT event. Like most people, I was invited by a friend who thought that this would be a good group in which to get involved. For the next two years or so, I stayed involved, but on a pretty superficial level. I would attend social events, I even sat on the events committee for a year, and made my minimum donation. I felt that THE ASSOCIATED did great work but, not to sound selfish, I was not so sure what was in it for me.
When I was approached to participate in the Young Leadership Council (YLC) I figured I would give it a shot. At worst, it would be a couple evenings I would be giving up. At best, I would find that meaningful connection that I could use moving forward. What I got in the end was better than I could have expected. One evening we heard a speaker talk about the Israel and Overseas efforts and how THE ASSOCIATED and its agencies were involved. While I cannot recall the exact details of what was discussed, I will never forget the feelings with which I left. I felt energized, hopeful, and excited about what I could do, along with IMPACT and THE ASSOCIATED, to help Jewish communities in the Baltimore area, Israel and elsewhere overseas.
First thing the next morning I emailed staff members at THE ASSOCIATED and asked how to get more involved. They connected me with the right people who provided information about possible mission trips in which I could participate. A year and a half after I first expressed an interest in this area, I was standing in line at Dulles International Airport waiting to board the plane to Odessa for my first mission trip. I could say before the plane even took off, I knew that this was going to be a life-changing experience. The level of excitement and energy that was coming from the members of this trip was so inspiring. While Odessa is one of Baltimore’s two sister cities, along with Ashkelon, Israel, it had been about four years since Baltimore had visited the city.
Once we arrived, and after a quick stop at the hotel to freshen up, we were on our way to visit JCC Beit Grand, one of two Jewish Community Center buildings in Odessa that had only been built since the last time Baltimoreans had visited. It was amazing to see how vibrant the Jewish culture was in this city. What was even more amazing, was the excitement they had from meeting us, their “family” from across the world. This enthusiasm did not let up for the next four days of this trip. Every site visit we had and every individual that we came in contact with had such exhilaration with the involvement we had in their community.
On the third day of the trip, I, along with a couple other people from the trip, had the opportunity to visit Mischa, an 11-year-old boy living in a small one bedroom apartment with his mother, Anjela. From the moment we entered their home, it was clear that this home was in need of repairs. The kitchen walls were wallpapered with advertisements from magazines, the furniture was scarce and old, but beyond this were Mischa and his mother, both with huge smiles on their faces, waiting to welcome us into their home. We spent some time visiting with Mischa and his mother and hearing about their lives. We learned that Mischa’s father had died seven months ago after being misdiagnosed with pneumonia, and that his grandfather had just died of cancer. We also learned that Mischa excelled in school, and especially enjoyed his technology classes. Anjela shared with us that Mischa had stayed home from school on this day in anticipation of our short visit, a fact that really illustrated how meaningful and impactful our presence was there. We gave them some small gifts that we had each brought from home, among them a pair of gloves for Anjela and some dreidels and an Israeli flag for Mischa. While these gifts may seem insignificant to some of us, it was clear how appreciated they were. On a monthly income of only $90, Anjela rarely has enough money for things like this.
Mischa and Anjela were just two of the many individuals that the participants of this mission trip got the chance to interact with. The countless stories that we heard and experienced ourselves were nothing short of life-altering. Even after leaving Odessa and spending a couple of days in Vienna before heading back to Baltimore, we could not stop sharing stories from our time in Odessa and setting goals for how we can make the Baltimore-Odessa Partnership even stronger. Now, almost three months after having returned from the trip, this excitement has still not diminished. As a group we have reconnected a few times since returning to continue moving forward with the goals we set. As an individual, I am looking forward to continued involvement with the Israel and Overseas committee and hopefully, fingers crossed, more opportunities to visit these wonderful programs and cities that we are supporting oceans away.
View these photos:
THE ASSOCIATED held the community’s first Birthright Alumni event last night at the Maryland Institute College of Art. The college is hosting an exhibit from the Bezalel Art School in Israel. More than 30 alumni were in attendance to network, meet (and reunite). Most stayed for the showing of “Waltz with Bashir,” which was held after the event.
It is only a few days since we received this letter from a JDC colleague, Asher Ostrin, writing from the frigid FSU. It brings into sharp focus the importance of THE ASSOCIATED Annual Campaign as a critical partner in reaching every Jew in need, wherever they are—even in the most remote, isolated regions of the world.
Have a good week,
From: Ostrin Asher
Subject: Field Briefing February 10, 2012
There has been a great deal in the media over the last two weeks about the cold snap in Europe. Michael Geller in our NY office put out a wonderful press release about the JDC response in places like Bulgaria and Ukraine. Unquestionably, lives are being saved.
During this time I was in St Petersburg, Moscow, and Minsk. On my return to Israel, people who heard I was there stopped me in the street and ask what it’s like to be in that kind of cold. They hear about the temperatures of minus 18 (Fahrenheit) and shake their heads in wonder. They comment how they are personally dealing with the unseasonably low (!) temperatures in Israel during this period, and then ask what it’s like to be in places where it is colder than that, to an unfathomable extent. I was uncomfortable describing it, but was not sure why. After much thought, I think that I now understand, and I would like to share it here.
Simply put, in order to really understand what it means to experience this cold, and the importance of the JDC response, even as spelled out in the press release, one must understand the general conditions in which many of these people live. The bitter cold was difficult to cope with for me: at -18 degrees, no amount of insulation keeps you warm, because part of your body is directly exposed to the elements. At a minimum your eyes burn. It is difficult to walk on the sheets of ice that cover all outdoor surfaces. The transition from a warm building or car to the outside shocks your system. It creates some perspiration, which freezes on contact with the air outside the moment you step out the door. Ice forms on your face. When you speak outdoors your teeth literally feel the piercing cold, exacerbated by the wind. The cold is, in a word, unpleasant.
But for the elderly in the FSU, and elsewhere in the JDC world, the circumstances in which they live make this cold spell not simply unpleasant, but life threatening. When we read about the JDC response, we need to factor in the following:
1. In the FSU, an estimated 15% of our 160,000 clients live in what we call the “periphery”. By that, we mean primitive conditions in villages that are from a different era. Many of these people do not have indoor plumbing. Not only do they have outhouses, but a not insignificant few draw drinking water from wells. Once hardy, these now fragile people need to brave the elements to address their basic human needs several times a day.
2. Eligibility for welfare assistance from the Hesed generally has two factors that are considered: physical mobility, and pension income. The condition of their physical dwelling is not taken into account. Needless to say, windows are not properly sealed in most apartments, even in large urban settings; roofs that have gone years without repair have holes in them that let in cold air and dampness; ancient heating elements often break down; any of these will generally not make one eligible for assistance. Efforts are made to provide assistance to these Jews who are not clients, but are not in a position to address these issues. Lives are at stake but budgets are limited. Hasadim that barely have the resources to support those already on their caseload, need to do outreach during these emergency conditions.
3. Pipes freeze and frequently burst in these temperatures. There are emergency numbers for plumbers in some large cities, at prices with which we are all familiar. Not outside of these cities. If your pipes go, there is simply no recourse.
4. Ill during a weather emergency? No house calls. And no way to get to a doctor.
5. In smaller towns, let alone villages, power outages in these circumstances are frequent. An elderly woman, who is not well, is housebound due to the extreme weather conditions, in a cold setting with leaks from improperly sealed windows and doors, who is then plunged into the dark when her power goes. And there is no way to contact anyone on the outside. This is not an isolated example - there are literally hundreds of people who are serviced by Hasadim for whom this nightmare is a reality.
6. When we discuss the needs of our clients, we talk about food and medicine, and some other issues. Clothing is not generally mentioned. And so as their clothing becomes increasingly tattered and worn with age, it is rarely replaced. Putting on that extra layer to protect against the cold inside is often far less effective than one would expect given the state of their clothing.
7. Often supplies into these villages are cut off when the weather becomes extreme. So even people who normally rely on a neighbor to bring a loaf of bread or some potatoes to address their hunger, find it impossible under these conditions. Other villagers buy stocks for the winter before the weather turns bad. If you are always living on the edge, and barely can support yourself each month, you don’t have access to funds to prepare yourself for the difficult times ahead.
So yes, I found it very cold in the FSU this week and last. But we need to be aware of how this is a relative condition. In the same temperature, my cold was not theirs.
Our field offices have sent in reports over the last few days about conditions, and what select Hasadim are doing to provide support. There are numerous individual stories, each presenting its own kind of challenge, and descriptions of the ingenuity, creativity, and commitment of Hesed and JDC staff to ensure that these folks are safe and cared for. In some instances the challenges are so daunting as to make one wonder how they manage, but they do. I do want to share with you one story that perhaps sums it all up- how there are no limits to the ways in which help can be proffered. But before doing that, one more thought that came to mind as I monitored the development of the problem and the Hesed response.
Anyone who follows JDC knows of the Hesed system. It is the platform for providing support for needy Jewish elderly in the FSU.
What is not always so clear is the nature of the Hesed. It isn’t a welfare program. It’s not simply an organization that reaches across the expanse of the FSU. It is an institution. And that is very significant.
What I mean by that is that it is stable, is not dependent on any given individual for its wellbeing, has a well-defined mission, has people committed to its functioning and existence (both professionals and volunteers). It has a capacity to plan, to respond to changing conditions, and has broad support within the community in which it functions. If JDC were to leave the FSU tomorrow, Hesed would remain as a pillar of community life. Its budget and its modus operandi would be changed, but it would continue to function, and indeed flourish.
It is important to note this here, because I believe that this current emergency shows Hesed for what it is. What is striking in the reports from the field is that there is no panic. Many Hasadim report that plans were in place for just such a situation. Some wrote of doing assessments already last spring to identify the vulnerable based on the previous winter’s events. Teams were sent out to provide support that could be given in anticipation of repeated weather problems. Where they knew of problems, volunteers were organized to seal windows during the summer and fall. Emergency communication lines were set up for clients who were in hard to reach areas for just such an exigency. Elderly were provided with emergency phone numbers should they be stranded at home. Extra food was purchased and stored for delivery in the event that transportation became impossible. Local Jewish suppliers were approached to donate hats and coats, where possible. Hasadim purchased extra coal and wood, to be available in the event that regular heating broke down. Lists were made of elderly to be contacted should extreme weather hit. Staff members and volunteers were assigned responsibility for certain functions if an emergency was declared. In many instances, contact was made with municipalities and the Hesed lobbied for our clients to be included in emergency preparations.
The response has been magnificent. But the preparations for this are no less newsworthy. And, I am proud to say, this system wide response was, in most instances, done without any JDC prodding or involvement. Hesed is an institution worthy of its name- literally kindness, mercy, love. And it is here to stay as an integral part of the Jewish landscape of the FSU, and a building block of its community life.
Now for the story: You will see how this one attempt at meeting the needs of two elderly Jews in Ukraine serves as a fitting example of Hesed operations these last two weeks.
Bronislav and Tatiana have been married for some 40 years. Both are physically challenged. He walks with a severe limp since childhood, and she lost both of her legs in a car accident as a teenager. They have no family.
Shortly after they were married they moved from Kiev to Shestaki, on a farm in the Chernigov region in north central Ukraine. It is quite remote.
The couple has no source of income save a very meager pension. Tania is their homecare worker, who basically spends up to 6 hours a day in their home. They have extensive medical needs and cannot fend for themselves. She is incredibly devoted to them, and is their lifeline.
Two weeks ago the temperature reached -27 degrees Fahrenheit. Snow and ice made it virtually impossible to reach them by conventional means. (This is not the land of SUVs and 4 wheel drive). Tania was beside herself with worry.
Until she found a way to reach them.
She borrowed the horse of one neighbor and the sleigh of another, and travels to them, a trip that takes 1.5 hours each way. SHE HAS NOT MISSED A DAY since the onset of the horrible weather. The sleigh is filled with food and other supplies, plus hay and blankets to keep the horse warm while waiting for her to finish her work with the couple. On the way each day Tania stops to fill up jugs of water as the couple normally gets their water from a well, which is now frozen solid.
In an incredible postscript, the Hesed welfare coordinator wrote that Tania also does the couple’s laundry. Near the house there is a spring that does not freeze. She wears two pairs of woolen gloves, and covers them with a pair of rubber gloves, and washes the clothes in the natural spring, outdoors, in this harsh weather!
All the best,
A short plane ride between Ethiopia and Israel became the journey of a lifetime earlier this month, as more than 80 Ethiopian Jews made aliyah to Israel during The Jewish Federations of North America’s dramatic “Completing the Journey” mission.
The mission, which took place Jan. 29 to Feb. 2, enabled 60 participants from 15 communities to witness a part of the conclusion of more than three decades of Ethiopian-Jewish aliyah, which began in the 1980s and 1990s with Operations Moses and Solomon. The mission was part of an effort to complete the rescue of the remaining ancient Ethiopian Jewish community.
At the behest of the Government of Israel, Jewish Federations are spearheading the effort to raise $5.5 million on behalf of the Jewish Agency for Israel to take care of the remaining approximately 6,000 “Falas Mura” community members in Gondar and facilitate their aliyah to Israel.
“As Jews, we have a responsibility to repair the world – Tikkun Olam. Twenty years after Operation Solomon, the second of the mass airlifts of Ethiopian Jews to Israel, we are in the final stages of this modern-day exodus,” said Jeffrey Distenfeld of Washington, D.C., who chaired the mission with his wife Yvonne. “In a four-hour plane ride, we took them forward in time two thousand years.”
During their two days in Northern Ethiopia, mission participants visited schools, clinics and community centers run by Jewish Federation partner agencies, the Jewish Agency and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). The group met with Ethiopian Jews in their Gondar homes, attended synagogue and learned about the life that so many had created to sustain their Jewish identity while in Ethiopia.
John Ruskay, executive vice president and CEO of UJA Federation of New York, first traveled to Ethiopia to see the Falas Mura in 2003, and returned again during this “Completing the Journey” mission. “In a synagogue in Gondar, we joined hundreds adorned in tallitim and tefillin for morning prayers that concluded with ‘Am Yisrael Chai’ and ‘Od Avinu Chai’ sung with a poignancy and passion that none of us will soon forget,” he said.
On their final day in Ethiopia, the mission traveled with the Falas Mura as they prepared for aliyah, then accompanied them on a flight to Israel, and stood by as they took the final steps in their momentous journey. Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency, greeted the group at the Jewish Agency absorption center in Kiryat Gat.
“It was such a moving experience to watch the sun set over the Israeli Embassy in Addis Ababa and see the Olim families walk down the hill to the transit center, carrying all of their possessions to board the buses to the airport,” said Yvonne Distenfeld. “The symbolism of the sun setting, just as they were leaving their lives in Ethiopia behind to realize their lifelong dream of going to Jerusalem, was reminiscent of the exodus from Egypt. It was truly stunning.”
Ruskay added, “To see the clinics created by JDC, Hebrew language classes and aliyah preparation led by the Jewish Agency, and head start and job training programs in Israel, is to see yet again what it means to actualize global Jewish responsibility in every part of the world. That’s what Federations and our campaigns make possible.” (Read John Ruskay’s full remarks about the Mission.)
Avital Ingber, chief development officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, also journeyed alongside the Ethiopian Jews during the mission. “On the Completing the Journey Mission, the journey is really just beginning for these Ethiopians,” she said. “Life may be difficult when they arrive in Israel, but for today, it is a dream. A true miracle!”
Last week, a sudden wave of dangerous winter weather gripped Eastern Europe and parts of the former Soviet Union. The death toll continued to rise as rescue crews evacuated dozens of people from snowblocked villages in Serbia and Bosnia. In towns across Bulgaria, temperatures plunged to their lowest since records started 100 years ago. It was so cold in the capital Sofia that ATM cash machines froze up, according to Trud newspaper.
JDC immediately activated its emergency winter response system to supplement the critical care it already gives to tens of thousands of Jewish elderly and needy children across the region. JDC
mobilizes quickly and efficiently under extreme conditions such as those caused by this deep freeze because an emergency protocol is inherent to its winter relief program throughout Central and Eastern
Europe and the former Soviet Union.
Especially in the hardest-hit areas of the Balkans and Ukraine, JDC from last week until today is:
• Furnishing heating fuel, blankets, warm jackets, clothes, and boots
• Providing extra food and heating supplies to those who cannot leave home
• Checking in on those who need additional medical care
Among those helped by JDC is Sophie, who lives in Sofia, Bulgaria. She was found by her JDC social worker in her kitchen—the only room in her small apartment with heating— bundled in a winter hat, a heavy sweater, and gloves.
JDC provided Sophie with two electric heaters and will cover her electricity bills for January and February—costs that would consume 60 percent of her meager monthly pension and be unaffordable. This emergency assistance supplements the daily hot meal and medicines Sophie regularly receives from JDC.
Thank you, Jewish Baltimore!! Your support enables THE ASSOCIATED and JDC to respond quickly and effectively to bring relief to Jews in dire need.
I just returned from a 10-day visit to Ashkelon, our sister city in Israel. In addition to traveling with the Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership Mission, I spent several days visiting public-sector organizations and meeting with social-change activists in Israel. As I reflected on these site visits and meetings, and previous conversations with volunteers and professionals in the Jewish community, it occurred to me that the act of volunteering is actually quite complex, perhaps even more so when it includes a cross-cultural encounter.
Generally, we think of volunteering as giving without expecting something in return. The volunteer is the one who donates his or her time or skills or resources to help someone else in need. However, I think that by expanding our perception of volunteering to include a mutually beneficial relationship – with both parties giving and receiving - we might better serve the people and communities we are seeking to help. Two experiences in Ashkelon highlighted this for me. The first was during a site visit to a Moadonit, an after-school program for disadvantaged youth between the ages of six and 13. While the objective of this visit was not specifically to volunteer but rather to see the types of opportunities available for volunteers who travel to Ashkelon from Baltimore, we were welcomed with great fanfare when we arrived. One of the girls, who seemed to be around the age of 10, grabbed my hand and took me to the chalkboard. There, she began to recite and write the English alphabet. I corrected her when she drew an O instead of a C. Upon completion she smiled and took me to a shelf where she showed me all of the center’s board games and pointed out her favorites. It was difficult to drag myself away and when we said goodbye, I couldn’t help feeling sorry that we didn’t have more time to get know one another. Even so, I walked away with a smile on my face. Somehow, this brief encounter had created a positive energy that was now washing over me. Afterwards, my colleague told me that one of the counselors in the Moadonit had observed that this girl was starved for loving attention. Although we probably spent 15 minutes together, I think that both of us benefitted from that interaction. It would be strange to call this girl a “volunteer” - and in all likelihood, my listening to her recite her ABC’s once will not create a tangible change in her life circumstances. But she left me with a lasting impression, a gift that I will not soon forget. I hope she won’t either.
The second experience in Ashkelon occurred during a visit to Meitar, an organization for at-risk teenagers. Meitar is usually the last attempt to intervene before these youth end up in jail or on the street. We visited there as the sun was setting and an energetic young participant asked if she could give us the tour (she wanted to practice her English). Watching her pride and excitement as she shared a piece of her life was quite powerful. Again, I hadn’t come to Meitar to volunteer, but I think that by being there, I empowered this young woman and in return received a bit of hope and a reminder about the potential we all have to create change and to build community in the smallest of interactions.
Of course, we have the potential to do more harm than good when we enter someone else’s culture with preconceived notions or overly ambitious plans to “change” their lives. But these two interactions reaffirmed for me the importance of short-term volunteerism, when done properly. Volunteering allows for the possibility of improvement – but we must also be open to our own improvement and growth. While our intention may be to give without expectation of receiving something in return, my expanded definition of volunteering includes a give-and-take relationship – an encounter that strengthens our own identity and potential to “do good” in the world. Perhaps this is why the Hebrew to volunteer – l’hitnadev - is a reflexive verb. We don’t just give - we give of ourselves and receive in return. In doing so, we become more complete.
Are you interesting in learning more about travelling to Israel with THE ASSOCIATED? Click here
Want to volunteer in Ashkelon? Fill out this form
Shabbat in Marrakech was relaxing we davened and ate at the one local synagogue. Erev Shabbat we were waiting to be bused to the Shul, when ten horse pulled carriages rolled up to the curb. We traveled in style through the city, waving at the passing cars. Our carriage was the first, and it was quite a sight to turn around and see the convey of kivunim kids in their carriages behind us. Dinner and lunch were both cooked by the rabbis wife, and served in an outdoor tent in the chatzer of the Shul. It fascinated me when I looked at the top of the tent and noticed that the poll to which the tent was strung had a crescent moon on top of it- a symbol of Islam. I suppose that in a Muslim country one cannot escape the influence of Islam on Judaism. They are so similar and one is forced to admit that they each helped shape and mold the other.
Risa Kelemer is on a Masa program called Kivunim and is spending time in Israel - and all around the world! You can read her blogs at the site above. From time to time, we will also share them with you here on THE ASSOCIATED’s Global Impact blog.
“Blessed are you, G-d ruler of the universe, who is good and does good.”
One of the great things about Judaism is that we say the blessing above whenever it rains. Something we might consider a normal, natural occurrence, yet being in Israel reminds us of just how precious rain is amidst all of Israel’s water conservation challenges. We have been blessed this week to witness three or four distinct rainstorms and yesterday evening we even had the pleasure of running through the rain to get to our bus. It is a privilege to be present in the holyland while such a precious natural resource falls down upon the land from the heavens. Could it be that the rain has fallen on our merit? Probably not, but as we head toward Shabbat and finish our work here on the Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership Mission perhaps we can believe that the merit of our partnership is what brings the rains down.
Together we have seen amazing projects that serve women and families, Ethiopians and Russians and visited community gardens. We have made tough decisions about where this partnership will go in the future.
I have not been in Israel for 12 years, since my first experience at the age of 17 on a month-long adventure tour. My life was transformed by the inspirational experience of discovering Israel for the first time. Now I am back and so grateful to witness a much different, deeper part of the American-Israeli relations. I would never trade in my experience as a 17-year-old for anything in the world, and in the same token I would never trade in this immensely valuable part of what it means to be part of the Jewish people.
I hope to take many lessons back with me to Kayam Farm, Pearlstone, Baltimore and America. There are so many ways we can collaborate with Ashkelon on Jewish agricultural and environmental education, community gardening and more. I look forward to this Shabbat as the time when our two communities become one with shared values and a shared vision for the future. As the rain continues to fall in Ashkelon I feel great faith and blessings descending on all of us, just as the blessing says. Because Israel is such an arid climate, rain is seen as a great blessing in Judaism, so we thank G-d by saying that He or She is good and does good whenever it rains.
This Shabbat I think we can all say the blessing not only over the rain but over our Partnership as well.
A group of dedicated Baltimore volunteers and professionals left for Ashkelon earlier this week. Follow their experience through Israel and our sister city as they learn and grow…
By Diane Weiner
My return visit to Israel and to Jerusalem is especially meaningful because I am sharing it with my husband Jeremy.
Avi Melamed’s discussion of Israel’s security concerns, while being here and actually seeing the areas in question, deepened my appreciation of all the complexities and dilemmas Israel faces.
Yoram, our guide, took us through the Old City sharing information and insight about the unique significance of Jerusalem, which is shared by Jews, Christians and Muslims. It is important to note that Israel respects and protects access to the sites for all faiths.
We ended our tour at the Kotel, which was as moving for me as it was on my first visit a year ago. We ended our very long day enjoying wine, conversation and a delicious dinner at Darna with our new friends from the Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership.
Says Jeremy, “The closeness and juxtaposition of the Israeli and Arab neighborhoods is not understood by most people in the world…” Read Jeremy’s full blog~
In our Israeli sister city of Ashkelon, the folks are celebrating the spirit of Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership volunteerism. In the city’s most recent community newspaper, a quarter-page article ran about some of the most meaningful recent visits:
“Many Baltimore families who came to Israel within the last several months requested private volunteer experiences in Ashkelon with the goal of giving back to their sister city.
Einav Koren, the Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership Volunteer Coordinator works to find each family an appropriate opportunity. ...
Dr. Jim and Dorothy Wolff visited Ashkelon recently. While there, they volunteered at a home for kids at risk. The children gave them a warm welcome…”
Although this was perhaps the most physically demanding day of our journey through the holy land thus far, I can honestly say that I felt as if I had accomplished something special by the time I had laid my head down to sleep in the evening. Our adventure began in the morning as we made our way to a yoga studio in Mitzpe Ramon. While I am a fitness enthusiast, I quickly realized that balance and overall flexibility are areas in which I need plenty if work. Still, like many of my classmates, I came to appreciate the calming effect that yoga can ultimately have on the mind and soul. I would be lying if I said I am not giving serious consideration to incorporating yoga into my regular exercise regimen.
We continued on our adventure, making our way towards Ein Gedi where we would have the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the Dead Sea. As we drove through the Negev desert, I took a moment to gaze into the wilderness and take in the hills, the valleys, the mountains and everything in between. It was probably the first time I stopped and began to wonder just how Moshe and the Hebrews wandered through this terrain for 40 years. Absolutely remarkable.
When we finally arrived in Ein Gedi, many of us immediately went to get changed and headed right for the salty body of water. The lowest point on earth, the Dead Sea is truly something at which to marvel—you just cannot sink! Laying there, floating and soaking in the absolutely gorgeous weather with the others is an experience truly unlike any other. If only we had something like it back in the U.S.!
Our final stop for the day was easily the most climactic—the climb up the mountain fortress of Masada. We were given two options to reach the top: either take the cable car or hike up the snake path, an estimated one-hour journey. While some students elected to ride the cable car to the top, many of my classmates and I accepted the challenge before us and began our hike to the top of the ancient fortress. On our way up, it was important to me to stop and make sure that everyone was doing alright and physically able to continue. After all, that is how the Jewish community remains so strong—through its commitment to helping one another and providing the support and encouragement to those who find themselves in challenging situations. THIS is why we succeed.
After we all had successfully hiked to the top, I took a minute to look out over the desert and realize just how far we had come. It was simply incredible and I know I would do it again in a heartbeat. We began to explore King Herod’s former mountain fortress, learning about how it came to be and the history behind the story of Masada.
Though I knew the basic details of the Masada story, it was not until I heard the complete version that I really began to understand why Israeli soldiers come to the mountain to swear allegiance to Israel. In a brief nutshell, the Jews had begun to rebel against the Romans following the death of King Herod. Ultimately, Masada was one of the last places that Jews were left (after the Romans had essentially quelled the rebellion). After several Roman attempts to reach the Jews on Masada, they eventually had the Jews in a situation in which there was no escape. The Jews faced the tough decision of either submitting to the Romans and perhaps become slaves or making the ultimate sacrifice and taking their one lives as free Jews, maintaining their identity and dignity. In a tragic ending to the story, the Jews chose the latter, drawing lots to decide who would kill everyone and then eventually taking their own lives.
By swearing allegiance to Israel and that Masada will never happen again, Israeli soldiers mean to say that they will do everything in their power to ensure that we, the Jewish people, will never have to face such a decision that the Jews of old had to face during that fateful day at the top of Masada. It is amazing that this story has had such a deep impact on the Jewish people, especially those living in the land of Israel. However, when you really think about it, it makes perfect sense. We are a people so committed to our faith and the livelihood of Judaism. Despite the level of commitment to the religion itself, we all can acknowledge that there is a common bond that is shared. This has been particularly evident on this trip; we have students of varying commitments to the religion itself, yet we all have a passion for the future and security of the Jewish community. It is this type of heart and soul that will, G-d willing, ensure that Masada will never happen again.
The Baltimore Hebrew Institute students are on their way back from Israel. You can read all of their previous blog entries and be a part of their journey here, on THE ASSOCIATED’s Global Impact blog.
The western side of the Judean Hills are green. Terraced and farmed for thousands of years. You continue past Jerusalem and head east, the climate turns arid and you enter the Judean Desert. Too sparse to cultivate, you now think of nomadic life. This is where Abraham grazed his flocks. This is where David ran away to hide from Saul.
The hills meet in folds and you see sparse vegetation where the water collects and trickles into gulleys and gulleys into river beds. The direction of flow of this rain would be east towards Jordan and the Dead Sea if there happened to be enough water.
Here, halfway between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea, some social visionaries decided to try a new social model. In 1982 the ‘yishuv’ (village) of Alon (oak) was established with the goal of having religious and non-religious families live side-by-side in harmony. In general, in Israel, some neighborhoods are more or less homogeneous due to people wanting to live with folks with similar values. This has the effect of segregation over time and now modern Israelis are experimenting with pluralism, tolerance, mutual respect and understanding. Alon has 150 families, 50 percent are religious and 50 percent non-religious and they live in understanding and accommodation. They celebrate holidays together, invite non-religious people to give lectures on their understanding of Jewish texts and send their kids to school together.
The person who told us about the yishuv was “Abraham” at Genesis Land, which is a brief camel ride back in time to Abrahams tent to discuss hospitality, monotheism and history. He told us about how when his young daughter was asked if she was religious or not, she thought about it and replied that she wanted to be a good person. Beautiful!
By Shifrah Hill
MAJE graduate student
Baltimore Hebrew Institute
A few days ago, we visited a non-profit organization called Yad Lakashish (“Lifeline for the Old”), which provides work and financial assistance to aging immigrants in Jerusalem. In a variety of specialty workshops, including painting, ceramics and metal work, they create Judaica items such as chanukiot and challah covers, as well as items of general interest such as stuffed animals, paintings and cards.
This work provides them with a sense of purpose and self-confidence. Though the workers are not professional artists, the staff are masters of their trade and design items people will be interested in purchasing. Production is broken down into tasks that can be easily accomplished by the workers.
I was surprised to learn that Israel is mostly a “young” country, which does not always have a way to integrate immigrants who arrive at an older age. Yad Lakashish offers immigrants from Russia, Ethiopia and South Africa an opportunity to participate in Israeli society in a meaningful way. In return, the organization provides them with many social and economic benefits such as a bus pass, a stipend and a daily hot meal and morning snack.
In addition, the organization encourages intergenerational connections. For example, local schools and yeshivot send their old books to the Yad Lakashish book bindery where they are repaired to look like new. It is important for child in Israel to have this experience not only because of the intergenerational benefits. It also reinforces a positive reflection of immigration.
Touring this organization was a wonderful addition to our trip, not only for their admirable mission but for the quality of the Judaica and crafts produced there. Everyone who worked there was so friendly and greeted us warmly. In the gift shop, I bought beautiful home blessings and items for my sister’s baby and I was able to get more than I could have afforded otherwise because they were having a buy one, get one free sale in their store! I am grateful to support such an amazing cause. The best part was knowing that the items were made by Jews who understand and care about their meaning, not by a factory worker in China who may not actually think about how the item will be used and valued.
Our tour guide charged us with being ambassadors for Yad Lakashish, hoping we would share their amazing work with others in order to continue the operation of the workshops. Not only can you visit them on your next trip to Israel, you can go online and order lovely gifts from their website. If you are in the market for handcrafted Judaica, please consider spending your money on a great cause!
Saturday was the last day of 2011. It was also Shabbat. Over the past few days our group has been here in Israel, learning about social services and touring Israel. We took a break for Shabbat.
On Friday evening, Mickey Rubin and I led a Shabbat service for the rest of the members of our trip, and we were able to enjoy a spiritual moment and reflect on all we had seen. It was amazing to reflect on the children’s home, Bet Elizrakai, and the community for adults with special needs, K’far Idud. It was equally special to share the feelings we had experienced at Yad Vashem, and how it felt to be in Jerusalem. Our community from Baltimore had the opportunity to come together in a holy way in a holy place.
On Saturday Morning, many of us went to the old city of Jerusalem. We shopped in the market and explored the city and went to pray at the Western Wall. We chose to skip a day of rest for the opportunity to find something important to us as individuals. For some it was the market, for others it was modern Jerusalem, and for me it was the Wall. As a Jew in the Diaspora, I belong to a synagogue community that I love and the Greater Baltimore Jewish community, for which I work, as well. I feel a special connection Jerusalem and the Western Wall, and was ecstatic to be able to celebrate Shabbat in a very different way than I am accustomed to. On that Saturday night, after we did Havdalah, we celebrated the New Year (and then celebrated it again at 7 a.m. with our friends in the U.S.).
Our Shabbat experience in Israel was special for many reasons. It was a chance to relax, and a chance to explore. A chance to celebrate, and a chance to pray. Although we are sad to see Shabbat leave, there is so much more to this incredible land that we still have to see. If you will allow me to practice my Hebrew, “l’hitraot!”
Students from Baltimore Hebrew Institute are in Israel on a leadership mission. You can follow their experience right here, on THE ASSOCIATED’s Global Impact blog.
By Rich Dinetz
Student, Baltimore Hebrew Institute
On our drive to Haifa around 8:30 a.m. this morning, December 28, the windows on the left side of the bus were filled with a sparkling blue aura as we drove north up Israel’s coast along the Mediterranean Sea. Once we arrived in Haifa, we walked through Baha’i Gardens, a gorgeous shrine belonging to the Baha’i, who are people of a religion that believes in all religions of the world. They believe in full equality among genders. Their library includes texts that analyze all religions of the world. This garden is not part of the state system of Israel. It is a separate entity. Learning about the Baha’i was fascinating and this sight is just one of many incredible places in Israel that are gorgeous beyond description.
After visiting the gardens, we traveled to east Haifa to Yemin Orde, which is a youth village for troubled youth from Israel, Russia, Ukraine, Ethiopia and South America, a village partially funded by THE ASSOCIATED Israel and Overseas allocation. We had the honor of meeting with Dr. Haim Perry, the emeritus of the organization. He explained that Yemin Orde is a world-renowned organization that takes children from orphanages and unfit homes and provides them with family-like living accommodations and a quality education. We had the great opportunity to meet with several students and staff of Yemin Orde who were from Israeli, Russian and Ethiopian descent, which was truly a treat to be able to see how each culture affected each individual’s experiences prior to and currently in the organization. The beautiful campus was also a recognition of multiple cultures as we were able to enter a real-life model of an Ethiopian synagogue.
Prior to returning to our hotel in Netanya, we stopped in the ancient Roman city of Cesaria. The ancient runes, destructed columns, and remnants of the famous Hippodrome and Ampitheater was just another reminder how old and rich in history Israel really is. After a 10-minute video on the history of the former Israeli capital and an exhilarating walking tour, we boarded our bus and returned to our hotel by the sea.
Students from the Baltimore Hebrew Institute are travelling through Israel now on a leadership mission. You will be able to follow their experiences here, on THE ASSOCIATED’s Global Impact Blog.
This year’s Community Mitzvah Day spread a little extra light than in year’s prior. Towards the close of the morning, Baltimore volunteers at Ashkelon teens participating in the Net@ program shared a candle-lighting experience ... via Skpe! The Net@ program, a collaboration of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Cisco Systems, Inc., United Israel Appeal, and Appleseeds Academy, and supported in Ashkelon by THE ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, uses a holistic approach to empower youth from Israel’s geographic and socio-economic peripheries with advanced technology education, social values, and leadership skills. On December 25, however, it was more about the jelly doughnuts!
Check out these pictures:
Last week, I had a surreal experience. I went to see my brother-in-law’s brother run the Jerusalem Night 10K (ריצת לילה בירושלים). It was a crisp night with a completely clear sky. I could not help but marvel at the spectacle of this historic location combined with such a modern day occurrence. The full moon was bright and it shined magnificently against the Jerusalem stonewalls of the Old City and the Jaffa Gate as a thousand runners from ages 13 to 80 stood ready and waited for the race to start. As music pumped loudly in the background, I could not help but stare at the magnificent site in front of me. It was one of those moments when you realize just how special Jerusalem is and can be.
In Jerusalem, layers of stone and history backdrop every ordinary moment. In the daily hustle and bustle of life, you can forget why this place transfixes and mesmerizes visitors and locals of every age. However, every now and again you have a moment that reminds you of the magnitude of this place: the historical power and magnificence that lies within the walls of the Old City and the cobblestone streets. It is amazing how one city can be so graceful and commanding all at once. Some people call it holy, others call it awe-inspiring, for me, it is simply breathtaking and I revel in the privilege to get to live here and experience these moments.
Unfortunately, I did not have my camera with me, thats the frustrating part about these moments they just sort of sneak up on you, so the pictures that I do have are all from a cell phone. However, I think they still get the point across. Enjoy the pictures below, and mazel tov to Jamie Metzl who won a pillow for coming in first in his age group!!!
More than one dozen top-level members of the Israeli Knesset, including ministerial advisers, government officials and Israeli journalists, were in in Baltimore last Wednesday. The visit, arranged through the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), was meant to foster increased understanding by the delegation of communities in North America. This is the second mission of its kind in the last two years.
In Baltimore, the delegation met with executives from THE ASSOCIATED and some of its key agencies, including those from Jewish Community Services, Baltimore Jewish Council and the Louise D. and Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education. They also took a tour and met with students at the Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School.
While taking a “break” at the Jewish Community Services building, THE ASSOCIATED caught up with a couple of members of the delegation: Albert Sachrovitz, Chief of Staff for Yuli Edelstein, Minister of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs and Irit Levi, Senior Advisor to Sofa Lander, Minister of Immigrant Absorption. The pair talked about their roles, their opinions about Israel-U.S. relations and politics.
ASSOCIATED: At our recent Keynote Event, two political commentators offered their take on relations between the current American president and U.S. President Obama. Comments were made that Obama has treated Benjamin Netanyahu disrespectfully. How are the personal relations between the two leaders? Sachrovitz: It is no secret that there is a feeling that Obama is less pro-Israel than those before him. We all know about what happened with Obama and the French President. [The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, described the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, as a ‘liar’ in a private exchange with Barack Obama that was inadvertently broadcast to journalists.] But no one thinks Obama is anti-Israel; he has just made a lot of mistakes. I think everyone in Israel still believes that America is our strongest ally. We know there is no one closer to us than the U.S. and that this won’t change no matter who the holds the role of President or Prime Minister.
Netanyahu is the first PM in decades to hold his office till term. Why do you think that is? Sachrovitz: He has had many successes. Most recently, of course, was the release of Gilad Shalit. Next is economics. Israel made it past the economic tsunami, so to speak, and Netanyahu has always known his economics. Then there is security. I live in Ashdod, so it has not been as quiet for me, but for most of the country, security is good and our people feel secure. When people feel good, they don’t want a change.
Would he likely be re-elected?
Sachrovitz: Right now, Kadima is a weak party … Labor is divided. … In general, the Nationalist parties are leading and will most likely succeed over the left. It would be dramatic if Likud was not re-elected.
Does Netanyahu put Diaspora relations on his list of priorities?
Sachrovitz: Netanyahu is the first Prime Minister to open an entire office dedicated to public diplomacy/Diaspora relations. He has spent a lot of money on this position because he understands how important the larger Jewish world is to Israel.
Let’s talk about aliya [Jews moving to Israel]. Can you talk about the challenges and benefits of aliya for Jews from North America?
Levi: I work with the Minister of Absorption and I want the maximum number of Jews to return to Israel. I don’t look at any disadvantages; any Jew that will come will add to the country and we will be there to help them adjust.
Is aliya increasing? Levi: There were 40,000 new immigrants last year. Since we started the campaign for Israelis to return to Israel, a campaign that had a strong reaction, we had over 150,000 visitors to our immigration website. [In an effort to remind Israeli emigrants of the unique qualities of their homeland, the Ministry launched a series of television and billboard ads meant to remind Israeli expatriates that no matter where they currently reside, there’s no place like home.] We don’t know for sure was sparks aliya, but we do know that today we have a lot of successful people here in the States, people with good finances, that are coming and that there is a rise in aliya.
Do you think every Jew should live in Israel?
Levi: Eight million residents of Israel wanted to bring Gilad Shalit, one person, home. How could we not want for every other Jew to return home, too. Israel is the natural home of the Jewish people.
If one is not planning to move, what can one do in Baltimore to show support of Israel?
Sachrovitz: Go out and vote. The citizens of Israel would like someone else elected. It is not that Obama is bad it is just that we believe that someone else could be better.
You have been to the States a handful of times, but never to Baltimore. What are your impressions?
Sachrovitz: At [Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School] it was the first time I had ever really met with the people, with lay leaders, not officials, or seen a Jewish day school. It was very interesting. You heard some of the other members saying things like, “OK, I am coming here, too!”
Levi: The school was amazing. I would love to send my kids to learn in a school like that. But it is also very expensive – more than $1,000 a month. In Israel, that could be one person’s salary. The question I had is what happens to those who don’t attend a Jewish day school?
What were your impressions of the local Federation?
Levi: They give of their time and their money and all of their heart for Israel and the Jewish people.
Do you think the delegation has accomplished its goals?
Sachrovitz: I think so, because the delegation is meant to help us understand what is going on in America firsthand. I see how important it is for both sides to do this, to come and see and meet each other. There are very important people on this delegation and it is important they have these communications and remember that the U.S. is and must always be our natural partners. When we are here, we also feel good; we feel we are not alone.
I know in Baltimore you talk a lot about people-to-people relations. In Israel, we don’t understand what it is like in America. Many of us would think that all Jews in America or rich or whatever stereotypes there are. But when we are here, we see that is not the case. There are struggles in America, too.
And we can bring you Israel beyond the conflict. This is very important, too.
For more information about how you can get involved with Israel (while still living in Baltimore!) visit our Global Impact website at www.baltglobalimpact.org.
Take Action: Join the Baltimore Israel Coalition for a conference call to understand the Iran Certification Act and see what you can do. Visit www.baltglobalimpact.org/israelcall.
The six of us walked down the long cobble-stoned alley toward the Warm Home on our last morning in Odessa. We were greeted by the Jewish Ukrainian woman who owned the house where eight Jewish seniors come once a week to congregate, talk and find much-needed companionship.
The Warm Home program was developed by the Joint Distribution Committee in the Ukraine to alleviate the loneliness that plagues the elderly. Seniors often lose a sense of belonging to a community as spouses and friends die and the seniors find themselves alone. This program provides them with a place a get together and enjoy each other’s company.
Gathered around the table at the Warm Home were eight seniors in their eighties. Three was visually impaired but despite that they were all engaged and eager to talk with us. They wanted to discuss Ukrainian and U.S. politics, President Obama, and the upcoming U.S. election, but they were mostly interested in talking about Israel. They were verbal, passionate and anxious to share their stories with us. When asked what they did each time they got together, Dora said that they sang and and she actually sang a spirited multi-versed song in Yiddish. When asked what else they did, they answered with a laugh that they just talked - about everything going on in their lives. That was enough.
One of the group, Markus, a retired engineer, spoke English. Although he was blind and hard of hearing, he was the most animated of the group. He stood up to talk about the meeting of the American and Russian soldiers at the end of WWII at the Elbe River. He was there at that meeting while serving in the Soviet army and still remembers trading Vodka for whiskey and celebrating the American GIs.
The seniors all receive social services from Hesed including medications, food, and home health services as needed. These 80-year-olds are living 15-20 years longer than the Ukrainian average with the support of the JDC and the Associated.
We were impressed by the Warm Homes program because it enriches the lives of seniors with a minimal financial investment and provides the participants with intellectual stimulation and companionship.
The hardest part about moving to a new country besides the different language, converting from metric to imperial, and generally navigating in a city where all of the streets crisscross in a completely unidentifiable pattern is establishing a routine and finding friends. As I am currently spending my days looking for a job, I have to find ways to fill the time that is not spent writing emails, making phone calls or going on meetings and interviews. Its genetic: if I do not go out of the house get away from the computer I tend to go a little crazy.
It was in one such crazy moment that I decided it was acceptable to post an ad on JANGLO. (JANGLO is an online website designed to help connect Jerusalem’s English speaking community. They post apartment listings, job listings – hence why I spend the majority of my time here - events, and have message boards covering just about every topic one could imagine.) You see, I have joined a gym and started Ulpan (Hebrew language classes, the stories from which could each fill a blog post of their own), but I was still looking for a way to make friends and find things outside to do outside of my hobbit home.
Immediately after posting the message I felt ridiculous. It sounded like a dating ad – “fun and athletic individual new to the Jerusalem area looking for fun things to do.” I immediately wanted to take it down and hide under the covers from the embarrassment. However, I left the post up, after all what was the worst that can happen? Two days later I got my answer…
I was speaking with a potential new friend that I had made in my Ulpan and she looked at me and smiled. “I found your ad,” she said to me. I was completely mortified; my head was spinning with possible answers and excuses. However, just as I was about to give a self-deprecating response which I hoped could keep this person I barely knew from judging me, she said, “I have wanted to do that forever.” We then spent the rest of the break talking, commiserating and bonding over the chaos and hilarity of living and looking for work in a foreign country (and of course other peoples responses to my original post).
Not bad for my first foray into the online friend finding world (but I think from now on I will rely on my in-person people skills).
By Stephanie Rosenau
Walking into the synagogue in the Jewish section of Vienna, I noticed the beautiful blue vaulted ceiling, the dark wood that lined the walls and the sea of kippot in the men’s section below. It felt familiar, and it felt good to be in shul after an emotional week on a mission in Odessa, Ukraine with THE ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. My siddur was in German and Hebrew and I tried to compare the two languages to help me understand my bubbie’s first language, Yiddish. We chanted the morning service, listened to the Torah and enjoyed the barber shop-like quartet that complimented the chazan. In all, seven people from this mission participated in the service.
One of the highlights of the service was when Rabbi Steven Fink of Oheb Shalom of Baltimore was given an aliyah. He shook the hands of all the men on the bima and participated in a minhag (tradition) of the shul. After each aliyah, the Rabbi asked the person who just completed the aliyah to share the names of the individuals who was in need of a mishaberach (pray for the healing of the sick). It was a joy to see a member of the Baltimore community participate in a tradition unique to a community 5,000 miles away.
In the past, I have participated in Shabbat services outside of the United States. It has always been amazing to me to be able to walk into a shul anywhere in the world and take part in a service that marks the day of rest and unites the Jewish people. This service was even more special because I was able to connect to the Jewish community around the world while still being a part of our extraordinary Jewish community in Baltimore.
By Amian Kelemer
The Louise D. & Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education Amian is on a week-long trip to Odessa with THE ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.
Odessa is Baltimore’s sister city in Ukraine. There are two JCCs - Migdal and Beit Grand - that are pulsing with life. Mothers in high boots and fur jackets come in at 7:00 p.m. to pick up their children from day care. Young adults are serious in their focus as they try to best their buddies in Jewish jeopardy. Teens are circling across the dance floor led by a red-bearded kippah-wearing Israeli dance instructor. There is a Chabad shul, Litvish synagogue and a Reform Temple. There are Jewish schools and foster care centers and even two kosher restauraunts.
There is also deep political corruption - no social services, serious environmental concerns and incredibly poor people. There are many people teetering on the brink of decision: “Do we stay here and take care of our parents and build a Jewish community here or do we move to America or Israel and ensure the future of our children in a well-established Jewish community?” Here, the growing infrastructure, in part funded by THE ASSOCIATED and implemented by the Jewish Agency and the American Joint Distribution Committee, embraces Jews as defined by the Law of Return: at least one Jewish grandparent. Intermarriage is the common place.
Our host at the evening meal decided to have his brit milah at age 23. His formative Jewish experiences came from attending youth programming at the JCC. He helps his young wife and parents see the beauty in a rich and committed Jewish existnace. The young facilitator at our team-building activity attended the World ORT school and the Mezuda Young leadership training program. She shared her knowledge of Shabbat customs with her parents who are now embracing their culture more openly. We had dinner with young Jewish ambassadors whose parents first told them that they were Jewish when they were teenagers. They attended Jewish camps and Taglit-Birthright Israel trips and grew in their commitment.
This is Odessa in the post- assimilationist era. Even the great grandparents of this generation hid their Judaism, but now the great grandchildren are rediscovering their culture and religion. The last verses of the book of Malachi “V’haishiv lev avot al banim, vlev banim al avotam” (the hearts of the parents turn to the children and the hearts of the children to the parents) are the most important words that we can use to describe Odessa. We are witness to an incredible fulfillment of this prophesy. Here in Odessa the children are reawakening to the Jewish future and reminding their parents that they have a Jewish past.