Pelosi Addresses AIPAC Policy Conference

Minority Leader of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) addressed the crowd on the last day of the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington. In her speech, she covered a lot of ground, from her family’s longtime commitment to Israel — referring to her father as a “Shabbat goy” — to her support, and that of many of her colleagues, for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She mentioned anti-Semitism and the desecration of Jewish cemeteries, the Iranian challenge and her abiding respect for the late President Shimon Peres. She also described the creation of the state of Israel as “the greatest political achievement of the 20th century.”

The transcript of Rep. Pelosi’s speech, as provided on the AIPAC Policy Conference website, appears below. [Read more…]

U.N. Israel Apartheid Report Condemned

Israeli flag at U.N. Photo: AP,

Israeli flag at U.N. Photo: AP,

The Jewish Labor Committee condemns the United Nations Economic Commission for Western Asia’s report that asserts that “Israel has established an apartheid regime.” It is not surprising that the Commission, comprised entirely of 18 Arab states, most of which do not recognize Israel, would issue a report that appears to be the first time that “apartheid” has been used in document with the United Nations stamp to criticize Israel. [Read more…]

Over $4 Million Raised for Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Dr. Stuart and Lelaine Nemser; Dr. Robert and Marla Zipkin.

Dr. Stuart and Lelaine Nemser; Dr. Robert and Marla Zipkin.

The Mid-Atlantic Region of the American Associates, Ben-Gurion University (AABGU) held its largest and most important event of the year at the Fairmount Park Horticultural Center: the community tribute event, which raised over $4 million. [Read more…]

20 Lone Soldiers Make Aliyah, Fulfilling a Modern-Day Story of Hanukkah

Group of olim. Photo credit: Ben Kelmer, courtesy of Nefesh B'Nefesh.

Group of olim.
Photo credit: Ben Kelmer, courtesy of Nefesh B’Nefesh.

Seventy-two new immigrants (olim) from North America landed in Israel on December 28, including 20 soon-to-be IDF (Israel Defense Forces) lone soldiers. Lone soldiers serve in the Israeli army without family support in Israel. [Read more…]

Here There It’s That Time of Year

Ist candleIt was almost imperceptible as a lone snowflake lazily fell to the ground and vanished. Soon a smattering, then a flurry of like-minded flakes blanketed the countryside in a glistening quilt of white.

That was there but now I’m here.

It’s different here; where it’s not about snow it’s about oil, wax and paraffin. The first of many lights will soon appear bathing the landscape in an ever increasing glow of flickering lights.

 

The first strains of familiar seasonal songs arrive too soon; they are a harbinger of the coming of the familiar time honored perennial winter chorus.

That was there but now I’m here.

It’s different here; where every town, village and hamlet sprouts their own eight branched lights of freedom and the sound of Rock of Ages is still a week away.

 

Trees shorn at their bases, tied down atop cars heading for their final resting places soon to be laced in tinsel and adorned in strings of multi-colored bulbs.

That was there but now I’m here.

It’s different here; where trees are planted, nurtured and protected to celebrate the rededication of the land and its people, their history and their future.

 

A rather emaciated looking man with a white beard sporting a red suit and hat trimmed in white ermine sauntered down the aisle of a toy store. It was quite early for him to be out and about; perhaps he should have taken more time to fatten up.

That was there but now I’m here.

It’s different here; where men in black attire with starched white shirts hurry and scurry here and there, their destination is not of this world but of the world to come.

 

Drummer boys in splendid uniforms march in perfect cadence while merry greetings of joy fill the air.

That was there but now I’m here.

It’s different here; where boy scouts in the square are hawking their wares like seasoned professionals. Candles and oil for sale; the innocence of youth coupled with unabashed enthusiasm are their marketing tools.

 

Whether here there or anywhere it is that time of the year to renew that part within each of us that finds peace through respect for those with whom we differ.

How ironic that during the darkest days of the year invoking time honored traditions enables us, with light, song and hope, to dispel despair.

 

 

 

From the Black Sea to the Red Sea

Photo by Henrik Sendelbach

Photo by Henrik Sendelbach

Limmud FSU (former Soviet Union) will mark a decade of educational work with young Russian-speaking Jews with a three-day Jewish festival of learning in Israel’s southernmost city, Eilat. The dynamic and pluralistic event will gather more than 2,000 participants and will run through Saturday night.

440px-avigdor_lieberman_-_2011The ninth Limmud FSU Israel conference will feature hundreds of lectures, workshops, presentations and discussions by leading figures including Israel’s minister of defense, Avigdor Lieberman; Israel’s minister of social equality, Gila Gamliel; Members of Knesset Yehiel Bar, Oded Forer, Zahava Gal-On, Tzipi Livni, Ayelet Nahmias- Verbin, Ofer Shelah, and Ksenia Svetlova; Eilat Mayor Meir Yitzhak Halevi; Jewish National Fund World Chairman Danny Atar; American businessman and philanthropist Matthew Bronfman, who is chairman of Limmud FSU’s international steering committee; and Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky.

Over the past decade, Limmud FSU has gathered more than 45,000 Russian-speaking Jews, most of whom were aged between 24 and 40, for educational and cultural festivals, conferences and other events in 12 countries around the world.

“Over the past decade, we have made a huge impact in Russian-Jewish communities around the world,” said Limmud FSU Founder Chaim Chesler. “There’s no place we’d rather celebrate our 10th anniversary – with leaders of the Russian-speaking community such as the minister of defense, absorption minister, and the chairman of the Jewish Agency – at one of the world’s most beautiful resort cities.”

“Year after year, Limmud FSU succeeds in igniting the spark of being Jewish, and this is the ninth time we’ll be doing so in Israel,” said Limmud FSU Co-Founder Sandra F. Cahn.

History Is Now: Youth Rescue in Israel Continues

-Carol Goodman Kaufman

The story of Youth Aliyah is one of adventure, Jewish and world history, and good versus evil, with a few heroes — and even a few miracles — thrown in for good measure.

On January 30, 1933, the very day that Adolph Hitler was named chancellor in Germany, educator and musician Recha Freier anticipated that things were going to get very bad for the Jews. Believing that it was critical to get children out of harm’s way, she founded Youth Aliyah, hoping to convince parents to send their children to relative safety in Palestine.

The Jewish Agency adopted this project and chose as its leader the inestimable Henrietta Szold, the founder of Hadassah. Even though she was already in her 70s, Szold traveled to Nazi-occupied Europe to rescue children, and she made it a point to be on the dock to meet every ship that made it to Palestine. While Szold never married and had children of her own, the thousands of children she saved called her “Ima,” the Hebrew word for mother.

Virtually none of these children ever saw their families again. But because of the care they received, they grew up to become outstanding citizens of the new nation of Israel. Among the prominent Israelis who spent time in youth villages are the late national leader Shimon Peres and the famed artist Mordechai Rosenstein. Actor and author Gila Almagor wrote of her experiences in Youth Aliyah in “Under the Domim Tree,” a novel that was made into a movie of the same name.

youth-aliyah-kids-w-goat_conv2016

Youth Aliyah Students

The job of saving children didn’t stop with the war’s end. Far from it. Since 1934, over 300,000 young people from 80 different countries have graduated from Youth Aliyah.

As difficult as it is to accept, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, almost 800,000 Israeli children, which is about 30%, lived below the poverty line in 2014. The Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute reports that as of January 2015, almost 400,000 at-risk children and youth, up to age 17, in Israel were registered with municipal social services. They suffer from physical and sexual abuse, neglect, substance abuse and the effects of prostitution. These youth engage in high-risk behaviors, have low educational achievements and suffer from emotional or social problems.

Almost from its inception, Youth Aliyah has received significant support from Hadassah. The three villages sponsored by Hadassah — Meir Shfeyah, Ramat Hadassah Szold and Hadassah Neurim — accept the neediest and most difficult students, ages 12 to 18.

Some children come because their parents can’t or won’t take care of them, whether because of poverty or extreme dysfunction.

Some students come on their own initiative, trying to break free of hopelessness. Eli Mentason, one of nine children of Ethiopian immigrant parents, had to drop out of school at the age of 8 in order to help support his family. After working in the Netanya open-air market for several years, he decided that he wanted a future, so he found his way to the Meir Shfeyah youth village. Eli is now a criminal defense attorney, a husband (married to a fellow student from the village) and a father. He has been “paying forward” his good fortune by finding other lost boys and bringing them to Youth Aliyah.

And then there are the “Na’ale” (“we will go up”) kids. Parents are sending their beloved children to Israel — alone — because of the increasingly difficult life for Jews in places like Russia, Ukraine and Estonia. A full 30% of our student population is made up of children from the former Soviet Union.

In addition, hundreds of day students want to study at our village schools. The parents of upper middle class Zichron Ya’akov petitioned the Ministry of Education to allow their children to attend the excellent, award-winning high school at Meir Shfeyah. These students and the boarding students both benefit from the mix of culture and social class.

Not all of our students are Jewish. Our villages also serve Arab, Bedouin and even Eritrean refugee children.

In our villages, students receive not just shelter and food, but also education, vocational training, counseling and other support services that help them develop the life skills they need to become productive members of Israeli society. The work is challenging. With some of our students, we have to teach basic life skills, ranging from personal hygiene to self-discipline and teamwork. In addition, almost 85% of the children come to us with some level of learning disability, so small classes and one-on-one tutoring are necessary.

youth-aliyah-girl-harvesting

Youth Aliyah student harvesting grapes for wine at Meir Shfeyah

The vocational training curriculum includes courses in the culinary arts, high-tech precision tool-making and high-tech motor vehicle maintenance. From the beginning, agricultural work has also been a major part of the vocational training in the villages. The village of Meir Shfeyah, for example, has a winery under the direction of a renowned vintner. The village produces 5,000 bottles of wine a year, with the students doing everything, from tending the vines, harvesting the grapes and making the wine to designing the labels and helping with the marketing.

Finally, a huge portion of our population comes to us knowing nothing of Judaism or Jewish history. Our Joy of Judaism program addresses this enormous vacuum through small group discussions and hands-on activities that bring the richness of Jewish heritage into our students’ lives. In the 11th and 12th grades, our students, like all Israeli high schoolers, participate in a heritage mission to Poland that includes visits to the Warsaw Ghetto and several concentration camps. When they return to Israel, these children have a newly developed understanding of their place in Jewish history, and pride in their identity as Jews and Israelis.

The work of Youth Aliyah is critical. Failure is not an option. Israel needs physically and emotionally healthy adults to ensure a safe and secure future for all within her borders. By following in the inspiring footsteps of Recha Freier and Henrietta Szold, we can make real the Zionist dream.

For more information, please contact Carol Goodman Kaufman, the national chair of Youth Aliyah for Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America.

The Israel Peace Paradox

Dome of the Rock above Western Wall.

Dome of the Rock above Western Wall.

Since its re-establishment in 1948, Israel has sought to live in peace with both its Arab citizens and its Arab neighbors. Yet, there are several biblical injunctions that are seemingly in conflict with each other regarding Israel’s responsibilities to promote and seek peace, and protect itself from its enemies. [Read more…]