IsraAID’s Work in Puerto Rico

This year Israel is the only fully-participating foreign country in the annual SOMOS conference for Hispanic leaders of New York.

As part of the conference, Israel’s Consulate General in New York has organized for over 60 participants to tour two specific IsraAID projects in Puerto Rico, as the island continues to recover from Hurricane Maria: the new gravitational sand water filtration system in Barrio Real, and the donation of medical supplies at a school in Caguas.

One year after Hurricane Maria swept across the Caribbean, the Israeli humanitarian aid organization IsraAID, which was one of the earliest international responders to the disaster, has renewed its commitment to the region. In Puerto Rico, where the official number of fatalities was recently raised from 64 to 2,975, IsraAID’s team is working with local partners to provide safe water and develop community resilience. Many of the island’s residents are still without electricity or safe water.

IsraAID’s emergency response team touched down in Puerto Rico in September 2017, only a few days after Hurricane Maria made landfall. The NGO has had a team on the island ever since, providing WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) solutions, emergency medical care, and mental health support. During the initial emergency response phase, IsraAID distributed water filters for 6,000 people in six remote communities, operated six mobile medical clinics, treating hundreds of people from some of Puerto Rico’s most deprived communities in nine different areas, provided direct mental health support in six shelters, and trained the staff of two hospitals in using expressive arts techniques to respond to trauma. Since the initial emergency response phase, IsraAID’s team on-the-ground has focused on developing long-term programs to help accompany Puerto Ricans on the journey towards recovery and a sustainable future.

In early October 2018, IsraAID and the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico will complete construction of a new gravitational sand water filtration system in Barrio Real, a small, rural community, which is not served by the island’s water system. After Hurricane Maria destroyed the community’s main water source, Barrio Real’s residents were left with no access to safe water. It took seven days for bottled water to reach the remote mountain village, during which time only unsafe river water was available. IsraAID distributed temporary household water filters in the initial weeks after the hurricane.

A year later, the residents of Barrio Real are still without a permanent, communal supply of safe water. The new filtration system does not require electricity, ensuring that it can continue to provide a sustainable source of safe water for future generations. Volunteers from San Juan’s Jewish community have been trained by IsraAID to provide door-to-door workshops on safe water and hygiene to the residents of Barrio Real, ensuring that the new water system will be fully utilized. Every currently occupied household has been reached.

The psychological and social effects of the hurricane are still being felt across the island. The recently announced increase in Maria’s death toll is a stark reminder of the disaster’s long-term impact. Since arriving in Puerto Rico, IsraAID’s team has utilized the organization’s long-held expertise in mental health and psychological support to strengthen the island’s capacity to cope with the crisis. As part of its long-term programming, IsraAID’s has partnered with ASPIRA, a local organization providing alternative schooling for 3,400 at-risk young people across the island. IsraAID’s psychosocial support specialists are training ASPIRA’s teachers in how to build their students’ resilience and provide post-trauma support as they recover from the devastation of Hurricane Maria.

This Election and the Jews of America

— by Deanne Comer

The horrific, anti-Semitic act of violence that befell members of the Tree of Life synagogue of Pittsburgh brought to the forefront issues of divisiveness in our society and among American Jews.

Like many, I am fearful now for the future of my country that gave me security, opportunity and pride in its democratic principles and just societal values. Jews who are concerned and insecure will question the idea that America is our homeland in fact, and look to Israel as the authentic homeland likely to guarantee our survival as a people.

On Election Day, Jews might have voted for Republican candidates, believing fallaciously that the present Administration has supported Israel more than any other, and negating the reality that all US past administrations have reaffirmed Israel’s legitimacy.

We need to demonstrate our faith in the precepts of an America that absorbed us into its sumptuous landscape and gave us the boundless opportunity to translate the Judaic principles of Tikun Olam (to repair the world) into social action.

Reject the party that immorally urges persecution against “the other,” demonstrates inhumane border policies, urges verbal attacks on political opponents and our free press, spews hateful rhetoric, supports “good people” at white supremacist rallies, and lets political funding blind it to the need for gun control laws.

Say “Enough is enough” by voting for Democratic candidates who are committed to the premise that this undercurrent of hate and overt violence must… and can be stopped!

StandWithUs Israeli Soldiers Tour

By Ferne Hassan
Associate Director
StandWithUs/Mid-Atlantic Region

On October 14 two reservists will reveal their personal experiences in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). They will be in Philadelphia as part of StandWithUs “Israeli Soldiers Tour” (IST). These veterans will share stories from the front lines, not from the headlines. Ilan and Yuval (last names withheld for security purposes) will also share their backgrounds, life in Israel and answer any tough questions members from the audience wish to pose to them.

Ilan was born in Venezuela and moved to Israel in 2010. Ilan’s father is a Christian Venezuelan and his mother is the daughter of a Holocaust refugee. His home, education, and life have always exemplified multiculturalism and coexistence. Ilan served in the Humanitarian and Civil Affairs Unit in the IDF, also known as COGAT, working with Palestinian civilians and representatives in projects focused on improving the lives of Palestinian families. Ilan lives in Ramat Gan, Tel Aviv.

Yuval, 25, studies Law at the College of Management Academic Studies, in Rishon LeZion. At age 17 Yuval’s dance group won first place in a competition in Barcelona. At age 18, Yuval entered mandatory military service in the Israeli Air Force, administering tests both written and in a flight simulator to candidates for an Elite Pilots Course. After service, Yuval traveled by herself through Central and South America. Last year, she volunteered to be part of a humanitarian delegation to Tanzania helping renovate a school and taught children English and Mathematics. Yuval now lives in Kibbutz Palmachim.

Ilan and Yuval will speak at the Lower Merion Area Hebrew High School, Congregation Beth Or in Ambler, and the University of Pennsylvania Hillel.

A Granddaughter’s Holocaust Remembrance

By Rutie Eckdish

Gurs internment camp

Every morning, I get up, walk to my bathroom, turn on the hot water and stand under the shower to get my 60+ year old bones to work, and I think of my grandmother. No, I don’t think of the fake showers of the concentration camps, as you probably thought. When my grandmother, Flora Lotte Paradies, nee Loëwenstein was 60+, she was, indeed, taken from her home, along with most of the Jews of southern Germany, and sent west to one of the many German “holding camps” on the Spanish-French border, known generically as Gurs.
I am now about the same age she was when she was taken away from her home. When she was my age, Flora Lotte had no shower, no hot water, no running water, no food, no paper to write on, no band aid to put on a sore finger, no cream to put on her face. She had no towel, no toilet paper, no toilet to speak of. And in those conditions, she lived for over 4 years.
When she was my age, my grandmother was put on a train with her husband, Julius Paradies, taller than she was by 2 feet and 2 years younger, and sent west to the unknown. The trip took several days, and if she had a place to sit, she probably shared it with him, or with other people. They each had a suitcase, probably, packed with the things you take when going to the unknown. Toiletry? Towels? Toilet paper? Books? What do you take when you don’t know where you are going to nor for how long or what to expect? Do you take slippers? Shoes, I was told by others, was the first thing you lost as you stepped off the train and set foot in the muddy soil of the Pyrenees mountains. Do you take your address book with you? Your favorite fountain pen or a pencil? And what do you do when you ran out of ink? How many clothes can you stuff into one small suitcase, and what happened to the coat you took off in the suffocating, stuffy, airless train ride?
When the train stopped, Omi and Julius and the others on that train arrived in Gurs, or in Récébédou, or in Nexon, or in one of the other satellite camp in the PyreneesMountains. The camps were originally erected as interim housing for 15-20 thousand Spanish refugees after the Spanish civil war by the French government. The Germans took it over in 1940 and housed, by some accounts, over 120,000 people, most of them Jewish, with no upgrades: no baths, no showers, no running water, no food, no shelter from the rain other than leaking roofs, no shelter from the scorching heat other than tar-covers roofs in the long summers, no shelter from the howling winds other than drafty walls in the awful long winters. No place to hide your few valuables you brought along to barter or bribe or maybe save. No where to place your spoon if you brought one or if you found one. No place to hang your towel, if you had one. No closet, no shelf, no cover, no pillow. No safe place to put your glasses when you take them off at night. No soap, once the piece you were smart enough to bring with you was gone, or maybe fell into the mud and you lost it when you walked for the first time to the make-shift sink.
No place of your own.
For over 4 years.
When I was little, I had various nicknames. My favorite was ‘the Little Paradies’, because, so I was told, I looked like her. I could never see it, of course. I recall being about 8 or 10, standing next to her and asking her if I will ever be as tall as she was. In no time, she answered me, though I could not see it. Just a few years later I towered over her 4’-10”, and she reminded me of that conversation. She was protective and she loved me, and she laughed with me. She was all that a grandma should be: loving without reservations, generous, smiling, and above all imbuing in me the sense of worth of my own importance as a person.
I have pictures of my Omi and me as I grew up, and as I age I see the family resemblance. I have pictures at home all around me of both my grandfathers whom I never met and of my Eckdish grandmother who was deported and died in the Piaski Camp, in the east. I have since lost my father, and my mother who died 34 years after him. I come from a line of longevity: My Omi died peacefully at her home in Israel near me and with my mother (her daughter) present, at the age of 92 of heart failure due to old age.
As I grow older, I become more aware of my parents and grandparents. I am less angry at what was not said or not shared; and I understand that much better how they lived, loved, interpreted their realities, what they learned and what they taught me. And what I learned from each. The older I get, the closer I get to the visceral and existential survival of the daily horrors. I get up every morning, gingerly and safely walk to my bathroom, turn on the hot water to the right heat and stand under the shower to rinse my eyes and start the day – and I think of my Omi. I can’t help it: I feel guilty for having the luxuries she was denied for over four year. And I cannot shake the sense that I would not have survived her ordeal. My Omi was not a hero, and I am not a coward. She came out of this imprisonment without ever calling it hardship, imprisonment, captivity, or denial. She put it behind her and never talked about it. My sister and I never asked, fearing of awakening in her nightmares she probably had and never shared. My Omi never told us about it in fear of awakening in us nightmares.
So I have my day-mares.
I feel guilty when I pick up my glasses off the shelf, take out clean underwear from the drawer, pick out another clean shirt I did not wear yesterday, lace my shoes up, and sit down to have a breakfast of champions. Every morning, as I get up and walk to my bathroom, turn on the hot water and stand under the shower to get my 60+ year old bones to work, I think of my warmly smiling grandmother who would probably have the right words to say to sooth my pain of guilt and inadequacy.
Few books were written about the endurance of the concentration camps that were not the crematoria or did not have death march, did not have the horrible factories, the hundreds of camps that were not freed by the Allies, the thousand of people who endured day after day for years in camps that no movie were made for. So, I carry the guilt of mundane forgetfulness, too.
One of my 7th grade students came back from a trip to Europe and asked to share his experience with his the class. No special occasion, no Holocaust day. Steven brought to class 6 x 8 pictures and passed them around. The pictures showed the long benches of the concentration camps, the mounds of shoes and glasses, and the likes. I have to admit I was unmoved by seeing it again. Then, Steven showed a picture of a niche with a bucket and said: this was the bathroom. There were some uncomfortable giggles, and then the questions: where is the door, or a curtain? Water? Sink? And then the giggles became very uncomfortable, when the realization set in: this was not about 6 million, or about the endless rows of torture. This is about the daily humanity stripped. And this bathroom – so to speak – is a universal value, it seems.
The Holocaust is indeed the attempt not only to annihilate the existence of Jewish people, it was an attempt to strip individuals of their humanity and human values. Among the few things Flora Lotte Paradies brought with her from the camp is a piece of brown paper with some colored drawing, a thank-you note from one of her colleagues for the piece of bread she shared on her friend’s birthday. And that is what I think of as I step out of my warm shower into my day.

Rutie Eckdish is currently a full time freelance Hebrew – English court and conference interpreter as well as medical and legal translator. She is a veteran Hebrew teacher and now teaches adults in private setting.

Sen. John Sidney McCain III (1936-2018)


The Last Stop on the Maverick Express

— by Michael Bihovsky

If the past is any indication, some of my fellow liberals will take issue with the nice things I’m about to say about Senator John McCain, but today we lost a hero in an age where heroes are so very hard to find…especially, let’s be frank, on the Right.

But John McCain was a hero. For starters, he risked his life time and again to defend our country, and was tortured beyond most of our comprehension for doing so. I honor him for that.

In an age of nearly unanimous hate and vitriol, McCain called for civility and respect in our discourse. I honor him for that as well.

And for most of his career, McCain acted – and voted – like a true moderate. Moderation has become a toxic word on both sides of the aisle, but not to me. Life, and government, is often about compromise – and although McCain recently voted with Trump on a lot more issues than I’d care for, he never did so out of cowardice or to fall into his party line. He voted what was, to him, his conscience – and even if I disagree with the specifics, I respect the integrity.

Which leads me to the main issue I will remember and praise John McCain for: he – along with Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski – defeated the repeal of the the Affordable Care Act, which has literally saved the lives of so many people I know and love. Why? Because his fellow Republicans had provided no alternative, and because it had been pushed through without any Democratic consultation (let alone support). Therefore, according to McCain, supporting the repeal would be utter negligence and hypocrisy, and since it would lead to tens of millions of people losing health insurance, he voted no. If he had voted yes, a lot of people who are alive right now would not be.

I think that I, even more than most Republicans, long to see a day when the Republican Party is restored to some semblance of honor, conscience, and integrity. To me, John McCain represented those admirable traits. Was he perfect? Far from it. But I will take an imperfect official doing his best over someone who is perfectly corrupt and self-interested any day.

Thank you for your service, Senator McCain, and for your example. Rest in peace.

The post Rest In Peace, John McCain. And Thank You. appeared first on Michael Bihovsky’s Blog.

What’s Happening in Philly’s Jewish Young Professional Scene

Rachel Abramowitz. Photo: Tribe 12.

By Rachel Abramowitz

In a person’s life, the longest time between Jewish rituals is the duration from bar/bat mitzvah to marriage. For Millenials today, that gap is only getting wider.

So what does Judaism look like for young professionals when there isn’t a ritual in sight to connect them? What does Jewish community look like outside the bounds of traditional rituals? As the engagement associate for Tribe 12, a non-profit that connects 20s/30s in Philadelphia to the Jewish community, it’s my job to “mind this gap” of the young professional experience. In this interim of milestones, I create programming that not only fosters community, but also connects 20s/30s with all the  Jewish Philly happenings and opportunities.

[Read more…]

CHOP Pediatric Oncologist Honored as Citizen Diplomat

Dr. Stephan Grupp. Photo: Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Thirteen-year-old Emily Whitehead, who six years ago was suffering from an aggressive form of leukemia, is alive and well and in remission, thanks to the pioneering work in immunotherapy by Dr. Stephan Grupp, M.D., Ph.D., at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). Grupp has since traveled throughout the world to teach doctors in other countries about using this therapy to treat children and young adults with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. As a result, Citizen Diplomacy International, an organization that seeks to foster connections between Philadelphia and the global community, honored Grupp this month at its second annual “Citizens Soiree: A Dinner for Diplomacy” at the National Museum of American Jewish History. [Read more…]

A New Approach For Personalizing Learning In Jewish Day Schools

A laptop. Photo: Raimond Spekking

By Andrea Helling

San Francisco-based education technology company, AltSchool, is kicking off a nationwide search to partner with innovative Jewish day schools. Thanks to a grant from Philadelphia-based Kohelet Foundation, select day schools will have the opportunity to join the growing network of schools and districts using AltSchool’s personalized learning platform, which includes access to Judaic Studies milestones built into the technology. In addition to comprehensive training and services for teachers, schools also get the unique chance to collaborate with the Pengineers and designers to help shape the tools. Longtime Jewish day school education leader, Bryna Leider, has joined AltSchool to spearhead the initiative and support day schools in the network.

“Educators know that technology alone cannot improve learning,” said Leider, AltSchool’s Head of Partnerships for Jewish Education. “That’s why teachers using the AltSchool platform play an essential role in the design of the tools being developed to empower a learner-centric education. This marks the first time a coalition of teachers from day schools around the country will be able to work alongside Silicon Valley engineers and product designers to improve Jewish day school education broadly.”

[Read more…]

Sharing Stories Across Generations

By Rosie Gertzman

This spring, students from the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy Holocaust Education and Reflection Club (HEAR Club) loaded up a bus and headed to Wesley Enhanced Living (WEL) in Media, a senior living facility previously known as Martins Run. The eighth- through 11th-grade students embarked on a day of sharing, learning and growing with the WEL residents. It was a day filled with laughter, tears and thought-provoking questions. [Read more…]