Learning From the Past to Change the Future

By Laurel Fairworth

16107464_1852348398343930_3795405131184417547_oIn light of recent developments it is more important than ever to remind people about what can happen when anti-Semitism is left unchecked. Recently, cemetery stones have been overturned, bomb threats made against synagogues and we have seen a dramatic rise in hate crimes against Jews. To combat that a new pilot program called Eitanim (which means the strong or steadfast ones), is encouraging teenagers to use technology in a novel way to share what happened in the past to deepen connection to Israel in the future. [Read more…]

Nostalgic for Last Week’s America?

oathSo much of the America I had taken for granted as recently as last week has disappeared.

President Donald Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” feels increasingly appropriate, leading many Americans wonder if Trump will really remain President for four years of will one of the many scandals swirling around him lead to his impeachment, or if Trump’s erratic behavior and plummeting popularity will lead his cabinet to invoke Section 4 of the 25th Amendment.
[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.

 

 

 

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.

PJFF Closing Night: Women In Shorts

For its closing night, the Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival presents four short Israeli films made by and about women:

  • In Women in Sink, winner of multiple international film awards, director Iris Zaki chats about living in what she sees as a divided country with Arab and Jewish women getting their hair done at a small, neighborhood hair salon in the heart of Haifa.
  • In Operator, a single mom, who works as a drone operator, finds a parallel universe at home, with her son playing video games, similarly pressing buttons to determine one’s fate in a virtual world.
  • In The Fine Line, winner of the Special Mention Award at the 2015 Jerusalem Film Festival, a young aspiring actress must compromise her personal boundaries while filming a love scene.
  • Winner of Best Independent Short Film at the Haifa International Film Festival and the opening film at the International Student Film Festival in Tel Aviv, Hounds is a bizarrely comic allegory exploring a day in the life of an all female unit of security guards working in an Israeli contemporary art museum.

Guest Speakers: Iris Drechsler (moderator), PJFF artistic chair; Gil Sima, producer of “Hounds”; Omer Tobi, director of “Hounds”; and Iris Zaki, director of “Women in Sink”

Special Event: Film followed by closing night party with food, libations and music

Film trailers available on closing night webpage.

Buy tickets here.

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…]

Jewish Organizations Respond to the Election of Donald Trump

In a letter to the president-elect on behalf of B’nai B’rith International (BBI), the organization’s president, Gary P. Saltzman, and its executive vice president, Daniel S. Mariaschin, congratulate Donald Trump on his “historic victory in the presidential election” and promise their “active support.” The letter continues, “We warmly welcome your election night pledge to help the country ‘bind the wounds of division’ and ‘come together as one people.’”

Donald_Trump_August_19,_2015_(cropped)After enumerating a litany of issues that the president-elect will confront when he assumes the office of president, Saltzman and Mariaschin direct their attention to Israel:

B’nai B’rith applauds your stated commitment to Israel’s security and your pledge to do everything in your power to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. We recognize that American leadership — and America’s crucial partnership with its democratic ally Israel — are essential to our shared goal of a peaceful and stable Middle East. It greatly reassures us, therefore, to know that Israel, the Middle East’s only democracy and a country that has battled terror and aggression since its independence, will have a staunch ally in the president of the United States.

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) also congratulates Donald Trump on his victory, but urges reconciliation for this divided nation.

“We wish President-elect Trump well moving forward,” says David Bernstein, JCPA’s president and CEO. “We commend him on the message of unity he conveyed in his acceptance speech, and urge him to continue to work toward bringing the country together.”

“The American people have spoken,” says Cheryl Fishbein, board chair of JCPA. “And as our great democratic tradition dictates, it’s time for a peaceful transition of power.”

“We call upon the president-elect to continue to assure the nation, particularly constituencies feeling most vulnerable, that the country will live up to its highest ideals and respect the rights of all people,” says Bernstein.

“Zionism: The Birth and Transformation of an Ideal,” by Milton Viorst

Zionism: The Birth and Transformation of an Ideal,” is ambitious in its scope, and original in its format. The history follows chapters on critical figures including Theodor Herzl, Chaim Weizmann, Vladimir Jabotinsky, David Ben-Gurion, Rav Abraham Isaac Kook and Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, Menachem Begin, and a final chapter “Arriving at Netanyahu.” But it is clear from the outset that this will not be a fair and balanced history. [Read more…]