High School Internship from StandWithUs and Gratz College

StandWithUs and Gratz College have partnered to offer the StandWithUs High School Interns college credit for successful completion of the Internship. The StandWithUs High School Internship is a year-long leadership program which prepares high school juniors and seniors for the challenges they may face regarding Israel in college and in their communities. The Gratz College course will appear in the Gratz course library as, “Israel: The Socio-Political History of a Modern State.” Participating students may apply the three college credits they receive to their future universities.

Dr. Paul Finkelman, the president of Gratz College noted that “for 125 years, part of the mission of the College had been to support and develop new programs in Jewish education.” He observed that “this partnership brings together two leading innovators in Jewish education: Gratz College and StandWithUs. Both strive to prepare the next generation of Jewish leaders to meet the challenges of the 21st century. The teenagers selected to participate in the StandWithUs High School Internship program are precisely the kind of students that Gratz seeks to work with: bright, articulate, caring, and motivated. We look forward to watching them develop through this program and beyond. We believe this new partnership will benefit StandWithUs, Gratz, and our larger communities through our joint efforts and through the leaders we help educate and inspire.”

Miri Kornfeld, StandWithUs Executive Director of High School Affairs, who holds an MA in Jewish Education, will oversee the program. She stated, “We are always seeking to provide our students with the best possible educational and leadership opportunities. Collaborating with Gratz College, a prestigious Jewish university, allows our students to be rewarded for their incredible effort and educational achievements during the course of their internship. We are thrilled that Gratz recognized the hard work that our students do every single year and are honored to to offer this game-changing opportunity to our students who truly are game-changers themselves in so many different ways.”

The IDF Now Faces the Invisible Enemy

Former Friends of the Israel Defense Forces National Director, Maj. General (Res) Yitzhak (Jerry) Gershon, currently serving as a General in the reserves in the IDF, shared his perspective on the IDF duties during this time, with Tzvia Wexler, FIDF Executive Director on the Pennsylvania/Southern New Jersey region.

Maj. General Gershon’s career in the IDF involved coordinating numerous IDF operations, including the first Lebanon War, ‘Defensive Shield’ during the second Intifada, and leading the Home Front Command in the second Lebanon war. He lived in the U.S. for six years while heading the national FIDF organization, and is now back in Israel with his eyes and ears on the ground.

The State of Israel celebrates 72 years of existence this month, and despite its independence, this young country is still in the midst of a historic nation-building process.

Wexler asked Maj. General Gershon about the upcoming national Israeli holidays and about how the IDF, and Israeli society, are managing the Covid-19 crisis.

(TW) We are just days before Israel’s Memorial Day and Independence Day celebrations. One of the strengths of the IDF is maintaining close ties with commanders, soldiers, and bereaved families, after losing their loved ones while serving. This year, it will look different. As a commander who lost soldiers during an IDF operation, what are your thoughts?

(JG) Memorial Day and Independence Day constitute the foundation upon which we are able to continue to live, grow, and develop. We could not have existed without the sacrifice of the commanders and fighters before the establishment of the state up to this day. Bereaved families do not need a remembrance day, as the empty space that has been created in their lives is a painful reminder that they face every day. Memorial Day is meant for all people to unite and to remember that those who lost their lives commanded us to live. As someone who has lost fighters on the battlefields, I am a bereaved commander who does not the ability to be with families in this special moment of the year, to shake their hands, hug them and be with them to remember together. As commanders, we are an important part of the memory of their loved one. Our presence has an effect on the lives of the bereaved. This year so as not to jeopardize anyone, we will remotely remember our lost soldiers and commanders through a phone call or the use of other technological means.

(TW) Last week marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. How did the IDF integrate themselves into the events?

(JG) The army and its commanders and fighters constitute the protective wall of the Jewish people and the State of Israel, with those in uniform ‘quietly shouting Never Again’ during the heroic ceremonies. It is customary on this day for young paratroopers in red berets to commemorate the Yom Ha’Shoah as the message goes out to the nation and the whole world that Israel is capable of protecting itself on its own.

(TW) What has been the role of the IDF in fighting the pandemic which presents a different kind of war?

(JG) The IDF and the Israeli security system have joined forces to stabilize actions to help save lives, fight the virus and defeat it. As always, when Israeli society is threatened, they unite and do everything possible to successfully meet the challenge. For example, the Israeli institution considered the best intelligence organization in the world, initiated and led the development of a protective app that lets you know in real time if you are close to a patient and what needs to be done. A plan was systemized to ensure that Israel would have the equipment needed to save lives. The Home Front Command and other IDF forces initiated and organized treatments at various locations where the virus broke out and the Ministry of Defense converted hotels to isolation sites for those infected. As always, the security system is mobilizing to meet national goals that are not necessarily linked to external military threats. This is part of Israel’s history. In the first few decades, the army helped establish settlements. In later years, the IDF brought in Ethiopian immigrants, rescued the kidnappers from Entebbe, and much more.

(TW) Since the founding of the State of Israel, IDF soldiers have been imbued with a strong sense of national identity to protect the nation’s independence and security of its citizens. Can they continue in the midst of the pandemic?

(JG) All countries around us, including Iran, are heavily preoccupied with the virus, but their targets against Israel have not changed. IDF soldiers, today as always, are on the brink, practicing vigorously to prevent war, and if it comes, to defeat it as quickly as possible. IDF commanders cannot afford to forget their main mission for one moment. The IDF is dealing with the epidemic and maintaining the military’s operational competence both at the same time.

(TW) As a commander, what is the connection you have observed between the IDF and Diaspora Jews?

(JG) The IDF commanders and their fighters are known as a defense army for Israel – defenders of the entire nation of Israel, and every Jew everywhere across the globe. Know that the State of Israel will be there for them. Every Jew knows that Israel and the Israel Defense Forces are the insurance certificates that allow them to live anywhere, develop, create, and influence in any good ways that they choose for all of humanity.

What message would you like to share at the close of this interview?

(JG) The virus that pervades the world and has largely stopped the world from turning, allows us to think about the moment after the virus is defeated and we go back to our daily routines: The world probably won’t return to exactly where it used to be, but it may well be a better world if we learn the good that we discover and leave behind the less good. Take care of the globe since it is our home. Be more humble and family oriented. Understand one another and always try to see the glass half full.

Hilary Levine Named Associate Director of AJC Philadelphia/Southern NJ

AJC Philadelphia/Southern NJ is pleased to announce that Hilary Levine has been promoted to Associate Director. In this new role, Levine will continue to manage AJC Philadelphia’s ever-growing advocacy, interreligious/intergroup, and programmatic initiatives throughout the region (which covers Pennsylvania, Southern NJ, and Delaware). She will also take on a role with donor cultivation and fundraising outreach.

Levine previously served as AJC Philadelphia’s Assistant Regional Director since December 2014. During this time, she is noted for helping to grow the regional office’s advocacy and interfaith work and enhancing AJC’s presence in the community. Achievements included receiving the prestigious AJC Staff Excellence Award at the 2016 AJC Global Forum in Washington, D.C. and representing AJC on the 2018 Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs Diplomatic Seminar for Young Jewish Leaders. Additionally, Levine was a Fellow at the Hertog Foundation in Washington, D.C. in 2016 and is a graduate of the FBI Philadelphia Citizens Academy, class of 2019.

“AJC is delighted to offer Hilary this opportunity for advancement in her career,” stated Marcia Bronstein, Regional Director. “She is an asset to the field of Jewish Communal Service and a strong leader among her peers.”

Prior to joining AJC, Levine served as Associate for the Community Relations Committee (CRC) of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ where she planned and implemented Israel advocacy programs and educational opportunities and managed the Israel and World Affairs portfolio for the Federation, while supporting the CRC’s government affairs and other issue-based work. Levine graduated summa cum laude from Elmira College, where she studied international relations and history, and undertook graduate studies in international affairs, concentrating in diplomacy and foreign policy, at The City College of the City University of New York. Levine hails from North Caldwell, NJ and currently resides in Philadelphia.

“My combined interests in and passion for advocacy, policy, international affairs, interfaith relations, Israel, and the Jewish people make AJC the perfect place for me,” noted Levine. “It has been an honor to play a role in the growth of AJC in this region, and I look forward to what the future holds.”

Photo credit: Christopher Brown.

Israel Update from Jerusalem

Avital Leibovich is the director of the American Jewish Committee’s Jerusalem office. Ms. Leibovich established the Interactive Media Branch of the IDF Spokesperson’s unit before joining AJC. She was the face of the IDF during the Cast Lead and Pillar of Defense operations. I had an opportunity to interview her. We discussed the challenges Israel is facing, and what they mean for the Jews in the diaspora.

According to Avital Leibovich, there are difficult regional challenges for Israel. It is hard for many Americans to understand the reality of what is occurring from what they see and hear in the media. Israel is facing strategic challenges along its borders. Iran is trying to infiltrate Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon (via Hezbollah).

The issues of the Middle East have implications beyond the Middle East. What happens in the Middle East doesn’t stay in the Middle East. One example is the situation with the Kurds in Syria. The Kurds were guarding prisoners who were members of ISIS in Syria. The United States decided to pull out of the Kurdish area of Syria. Turkey invaded Northeastern Syria in order to be able to send Syrian refugees back from Turkey to Syria. Now the ISIS prisoners held by the Kurds have been freed by Turkey. They are at liberty to go to Europe and other places to commit acts of terror there.

Ms. Leibovich told me that there is a gap between Jews in Israel and the United States. She shared the results of AJC’s 2019 Survey of American Jewish Opinion here: https://www.ajc.org/news/survey2019, and of AJC’s 2019 Survey of Israeli Jewish Opinion here: https://www.ajc.org/news/survey2019/Israel. Avital Leibovich thinks that we must work together to foster greater unity between Israeli Jews and Jews in the United States. Israel is a glue to Judaism. If this glue melts away, so does Judaism. Many Jews in the diaspora don’t know how liberal Israelis are, or how many values they have in common with US Jews. Young people are not reading, and they are not educating themselves. 50% of American Jews have never visited Israel. Yet there is a record number of tourists to Israel from all over the world.

The Jewish community and Israel must work together for the sake of the younger generation. At the end of the day, Israel is the country of the Jews, and it is imperative for Jews in the diaspora to find a way to connect with it.

Avital Leibovich will be in Philadelphia at the end of October. She is scheduled to speak to a small, invitation-only gathering of leaders of the Philadelphia Jewish community. Ms. Leibovich will update them on such topics as the recent Israeli elections, the security situation, and relations with the Arab world. To find out more contact Andrew Demchick at the AJC office, [email protected] or call 215.665.2300

25 Years Without Justice: AJC’s AMIA Commemoration

Twenty-five years ago, on July 18, 1994, a suicide bomber drove a van loaded with over 600 pounds of nitrate fertilizer and explosives into the AMIA (Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina) building – the central meeting place of the Jewish community in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The explosion and resultant building collapse killed 85 people. The youngest was a 5 year old boy named Sebastian Barreiro, and the oldest was a 73 year old man named Faiwel “Pablo” Dyjament. An additional 300 people were injured.

Argentina has the world’s sixth largest Jewish community, numbering about 230,000. The AMIA bombing was the deadliest terrorist attack that has ever happened in Argentina. Initially, local Argentinian antisemites were suspected of planning this attack. They were found to be not guilty of any involvement.

Alberto Nisman and Marcelo Martinez Burgos, two Argentine prosecutors, were charged with conducting an investigation into the bombing. In 2006 they presented their formal accusation that the government of Iran directed the attack, and that Hezbollah, Iran’s military proxy in Lebanon, executed it.

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, the president of Argentina from 2007 to 2015, was accused of covering up Iran’s involvement in the terrorist operation. Alberto Nisman was scheduled to testify against her in court. He was murdered in his home before he had the opportunity to reveal what he had discovered. Mrs. Kirchner is scheduled to be tried for her role in the coverup and abuse of power. No suspects have ever been convicted for the planning and execution of this terrorist attack.

Philadelphia’s Latino-Jewish Coalition of the American Jewish Committee presented a special program commemorating the 25th anniversary of the AMIA bombing. The keynote address was delivered by Jason Isaacson, AJC’s Chief Policy and Political Affairs Officer. Mr. Isaacson reflected on both his personal experiences being in Argentina two days after the bombing, and AJC’s continuing efforts to bring the alleged perpetrators, Including Iran and Hezbollah, to justice. The event concluded with a special candle-lighting ceremony where the victims’ names were read by several dignitaries, including Alicia Falkowski, Argentina’s consul in Philadelphia.

Children and Siblings of Fallen Israeli Soldiers Celebrate Bnei Mitzvah in Bala Cynwyd

Thanks to a generous grant from the Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces, a diverse group of 36 youngsters enjoyed a visit to the United States and a Mitzvah celebration. The group, that included Jewish, Bedouin, and Druze children, attended a summer camp in Pennsylvania.

As part of the FIDF’s Legacy summer program, they were given a unique opportunity to bond with other children from the United States who have also experienced loss and can relate to their struggles. One of the most memorable days was an adventure in Hershey Park.

Their visit concluded with a festive communal celebration at the Jewish Family and Children’s Service in Bala Cynwyd. The children shared the stories of their families’ losses in Hebrew, Arabic, and English. The participants honored Mrs. Barbara Brodsky for her support of the FIDF, which made this experience possible for them. One of the guests was so moved by what they had been through that he was inspired to give generously on the spot. Mr. Israel Roizman pledged to donate $36,000 so that more bereaved children will be able to have the opportunity to experience this summer getaway.

The party ended on a high note with a delicious cake, hora dancing, and incredible singing by Mrs. Tzvia Wexler. Mrs. Wexler, the executive director of the FIDF in Pennsylvania, sang in an IDF troupe during her military service. The party concluded with a gift of a t-shirt for each participant with Philadelphia’s “Love” sign from a Lower Merion teenager who just celebrated her bat mitzvah in Israel.

Jews and Latinos: Natural Allies

This week the American Jewish Committee honored Sally Bleznak, the founder of the AJC Latino – Jewish Coalition, with its Human Relations Award. Ms. Bleznak understood that Jews and Latinos have similar values and aspirations. She created a framework in which they could work together to help each other.

Mr. Juan Dircie, an assistant director at AJC, explained that many Hispanic immigrants come to the United States as refugees. Who better than the Jewish community to understand what that is like?

Family is central for Latin American immigrants. Many of them send a portion of their earnings to support the relatives they have left behind. When the whole family lives in the United States, the adults sacrifice to create better opportunities for their children. Like the Jews, the Latin American immigrants come here to work hard and fulfill the American Dream.

Some of the Latin Americans who immigrate to the United States are also Jews. They form a natural bridge between the American Jewish community and the Latino community.

According to Mr. Dircie, the majority of immigrants from all countries have legal status in the United States. There are 11 million undocumented immigrants, the majority of them Latin American. Almost all of these undocumented immigrants are making a positive contribution to American society.

The AJC advocates for a fair immigration system that will ensure the security of the United States. The Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States when they were minors, are of special interest. AJC advocates to provide them with an opportunity to become full members of society.

In order to successfully work together, AJC united the two communities by forming the Latino – Jewish Congressional Caucus. This is a bipartisan group that has worked on immigration reform and global anti-Semitism.

One of the highlights of the year for the AJC Latino – Jewish Coalition is a model Passover Seder held in Miami. Hispanic leaders are invited to enjoy a service held in Hebrew, English, Spanish, and Ladino. Along with the Haggadah, there are texts that highlight diversity, immigration, and acceptance. Most of the Latino guests, whose families came to the United States to escape persecution, had no idea that Jews celebrate freedom too. Many of them are surprised that the Seder ends with the words, “Next year in Jerusalem.” They remain attached to their countries of origin, and appreciate that all Jews have a 3,000-year old relationship with Israel.

The Latino community makes up 18.1% of the population of the United States, and it is growing. By focusing on common issues and shared values, Latinos and Jews can pave the way for a stronger collaboration.

10th Annual Yom HaAtzmaut Barbeque for Lone Soldiers

The Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levine celebrated Israel’s 71st Independence Day with their 10th annual BBQ for lone soldiers, those without immediate family in the country. Over 500 pre-draft, currently serving, and post-service lone soldiers enjoyed a fully loaded barbeque, beer on tap, mechanical bull riding, gladiator Knockout, food trucks, and a live DJ.

The Parents of Michael Levin also attended the event. “This is our biggest event. And then it is Thanksgiving,” chuckled Mark Levine. “With both joy and pride, Mark and I were thrilled to attend this year’s annual Yom HaAtzmaut Lone Soldier Bbq. As they continue to put their lives on the line defending the nation of Israel, we will continue to support them in every way possible,” added Harriet Levin.

Amar’e Stoudemire, former NBA player and current American-Israeli professional basketball player, joined the celebration. Tzvi Maller, the proprietor of Crave Restaurant, served 165 pounds of beef,185 pounds of brisket,110 pounds of chicken wings,and 8 pounds of lamb bacon.This delicious feast was paired with unlimited home baked side dishes, salads, and desserts by the incredible communities of Chashmonaim, Beit Shemesh and Ramat Beit Shemesh.

“All these kids that are here alone. It cannot be easy. It just can’t be. Anything that can make it a little easier for somebody is what I want to do. There are over 7,000 lone soldiers, so if local volunteers can be a little bit of a help, we are honored to be associated with these guys,” said Tzvi Maller.

Speaking Out for the Voiceless

The Honorable Irwin Cotler was the Keynote Speaker at the American Jewish Committees’s Murray Friedman annual lecture. Murray Friedman was a passionate advocate for human rights and this program honored his memory. Professor Cotler is the Chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, an Emeritus Professor of Law at McGill University, former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada and longtime Member of Parliament, and an international human rights lawyer.

Mr. Cotler is passionate about the struggle for human rights of minorites all over the world. He has worked tirelessly for the protection of human rights internationally. His mission is to give a voice to the voiceless. Mr. Cotler discussed the human rights abuses occurring in Venezuela, Iran, China, and Saudi Arabia. He decried the world’s indifference to the suffering of political prisoners and genocides of persecuted minorities.

Mr. Cotler described the laundering of the delegitimization of Israel under the guise of human rights. He described the selective use of words and images to present Israel as a human rights abusing nation that should not exist. According to Mr. Cotler, the United Nations’ Human Rights Council is populated by human rights violators. There is a culture of impunity, in which only Israel is condemned internationally, while other countries are ignored. With the passage of time, this condemnation becomes internalized, accepted, and adopted by journalists, academics, and politicians around the world.

What is to be done? Mr. Cotler believes that it is our individual and collective responsibility to speak on behalf of the voiceless. We cannot allow ourselves the luxury of indifference to suffering just because it is occurring far away from us.

Photo credit: Christopher Brown.

FIDF Poland Trip for Holocaust Survivors

More than forty Friends of the Israel Defense Forces(FIDF) supporters from across the country will join Holocaust survivors on a mission to Poland and Israel from May 2nd to May 10th. They will be accompanied by forty five soldiers and officers representing all branches of the Israel Defense Forces(IDF.

Joining the delegation will be Holocaust survivor Sophie Tajch Klisman, 89, of Detroit. Klisman, along with her sister Felicia, survived the Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, and Salzwedel concentration camps. The youngest of four children, she was only 10 years old when Nazi Germany occupied Lodz, forcing the family into the Lodz ghetto of 68,000 Jews. Both sisters were liberated from Salzwedel in April 1945, and immigrated to the U.S. in 1949, settling in the Detroit area. The remainder of their family perished.

“If I look at the rest of the family, they were already adults and grown-ups and here was this child; that was just a miracle that I survived; it was meant for me to survive,” Klisman said. “I just hope in conclusion, that nobody, nobody should have to live through such terrors, such horrible conditions at such a young age, or at any age. It was a horrible experience, but I’m glad that I finally was able to tell it.”

Also joining will be Holocaust survivor Gizella “Gita” Mann, 89, of Israel. Mann’s community in Hungary was forced into a ghetto and later brought to Auschwitz, where she and her sister were separated from their family. Gita was later separated from her sister and sent to Germany, where she worked for most of the war. After narrowly escaping death, she was taken to Sweden and stayed there until 1946. She returned to Hungary after the war and reunited with her sister and three brothers. In 1948, she moved with her then-fiancé to Israel, where she stayed until emigrating to the U.S. in 1964, and finally returning to Israel five years ago. Mann has two children who live in New Jersey, and she currently lives in Jerusalem.

Led by FIDF National President Bobby Cohen and FIDF National Director and CEO Maj. Gen. (Res.) Meir Klifi-Amir, the nine-day “From Holocaust to Independence” mission will span Jewish history, from its darkest moments to its most triumphant. Israeli soldiers and Holocaust survivors will accompany the FIDF supporters on a trip across Poland, starting in Krakow, once home to more than 60,000 Jews, and tracing the community’s steps from the city’s ghetto to the Buczyna forest, where the Nazis executed more than 800 children, and then to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camps.

The entire delegation will then fly to Israel on an Israeli Air Force (IAF) airplane, after the IDF Chief of the General Staff granted the FIDF delegation exclusive access, and land at an IAF base. The group will visit IDF bases and meet soldiers serving on Israel’s front lines, commemorate Yom HaZikaron – Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror – and celebrate Israel’s 71st Independence Day.

“This historic mission will survey Jewish modern history through the eyes of those who survived the horrors of the Holocaust and those who risk their lives to defend the Jewish homeland,” said Klifi-Amir. “We’ll celebrate our story of heroism – from near annihilation, to the triumph of establishing the state of Israel. When we march tall and proud through the gates of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camps, together with Holocaust survivors, FIDF supporters, and 45 Israeli officers in uniform, gratefully flying the Israeli flag, we will send a clear message: that we are here, we will never forget, and we will do whatever we must do to protect our country and our people to guarantee – Never Again.”

“This mission serves as one of the last opportunities for survivors to return to Auschwitz and share its dreadful stories,” said Cohen. “We will walk through the gates of hell, where countless Jews suffered and perished at the hands of the Nazis. We will ensure the stories of survivors live on, safeguarded by those brave soldiers who defend and protect the state of Israel, and Jewish people around the world.”