Being Jewish and American on 9/11

www.flickr.com/photos/vosherov/ Second Tower on Fire, 9/11 Vladimir Osherov

Twin Towers burning, view from Queens. Credit: Vladimir Osherov

by Lou Balcher

With the High Holidays around the corner, remembrance and reflection are part of our Jewish DNA. So what is the significance of 9/11 for us as American Jews?

Prominently placed on my suit jacket lapel is a 9/11 pin that is worn while speaking about Israel at community events. It always is a conversation starter. After the talk, unfailingly someone asks, “Why the 9/11 pin?” My answer is that on 9/11, our Christian neighbors and friends finally began to understand what it means to be Jewish and supportive of Israel. [Read more…]

New Fellowships for Philadelphia Teens to Study Abroad in Israel

– by Donna Breitbart

A group of ten Greater Philadelphia high school sophomores and juniors will now have the opportunity to embark on a spiritual journey and connect with their Jewish identities by attending the Jewish National Fund’s Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI-JNF). The selected students will travel to Israel as fellows of the 2017 Hans and Gloria Schott Impact Fund. [Read more…]

Lure Your Bashert with Roasted Grapes

640px-PikiWiki_Israel_3078_Ein_HahoreshSince the days of the Temple in Jerusalem, single women celebrated the beginning of the grape harvest by wearing white dresses and dancing in the vineyards. They were hoping to attract the attention of potential husbands. If pleasing the eye did not prove to be enough, some of them could try to reach their man’s heart through his stomach. An easy and delicious dish that was prepared during the grape harvest in Ancient Israel was freshly picked grapes, sprinkled with whatever herbs were growing in the vicinity, and roasted over an open fire. This was a savory treat, enjoyed with freshly baked flatbread. Its heady aroma could attract the men that may have been oblivious to the beauty of the Israelite women.

This tradition continues — in a more modernized form — in Israel today. When the sun sets this year on August 18, it will mark the beginning of the holiday of Tu b’Av, the Jewish celebration of love. Men and women dress in white and participate in various community events in the hopes of meeting their bashert (soulmate).

A fun activity you can try is to visit a farm that will let you pick your own grapes. If that is not possible, visit a farmer’s market, and buy the freshest grapes you can find. Roast them on your barbecue grill or in your oven.

Photo credit: F Delventhal

Photo credit: F Delventhal


Roasted Grapes

  • 1 cup fresh grapes
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. vinegar
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 °F.
  2. Mix all the ingredients.
  3. Place in an oven-safe dish.
  4. Roast for 15 minutes.
  5. Serve with fresh pita bread, Israeli goat cheese and olives.

Adapted from The View from Great Island

J Street Marks a Turning Point

Peter Beinart, J Street Panel Discussion.

Peter Beinart, J Street Panel Discussion.

Under the heading “Evolving Politics of the Jewish Community,” J Street presented a panel discussion about Jewish politics and, in addition, about how the perception of J Street has changed. The panelists were David Axelrod, Peter Beinart, Rep. Yvette Clarke (D – Brooklyn) and Jim Gerstein. The speakers set out some of the important shifts in the beliefs and values of the American Jewish community. [Read more…]

Thou Shalt Not Remain Indifferent

Rabbi Marks, left. Elie Wiesel, center.

Rabbi Marks, left. Elie Wiesel, center.

Elie Wiesel was not an Israeli citizen. Nevertheless, the news in Israel refers to him as “one of our own.” In a country whose establishment is inextricably tied to the Holocaust, the messages conveyed by his words, both written and spoken, articulate both the lessons of the Holocaust and, in a powerful way, the importance of the State of Israel. Israel, of course, provides the place to which Jews may escape and find safe haven when the forces of anti-Semitism imperil their lives. Today, the influx of Jews from France provides but one example of how important this aspect of Israel remains. But Wiesel’s message went beyond anti-Semitism, challenging Israel to be more than a place for Jews, but a place illuminated by Jewish values. Wiesel loved Israel. Had there been an Israel prior to WWII, one can only imagine how many Jews could have been saved. But Wiesel loved Israel not only because it was a place for Jews, but because it was the only place in this world where Judaism, Hebrew and Torah could gain full expression.

I had the privilege of hearing Elie Wiesel speak on numerous occasions. Most memorable was his visit to our congregation, some twelve years ago, arranged for by our member, my dear friend and friend of Wiesel, David Pincus, z”l. Each time I heard Elie Wiesel speak, the power and poetry of his words touched me deeply. But it was not just the stories of the Holocaust which stirred him. As distance from the Holocaust grew, his message to those who would listen focused powerfully and forcefully on today’s world. Whether speaking to the UN about the growth of anti-Semitism or identifying today’s tyrants who orchestrate the mass murder of their own citizens, Wiesel was tireless, fearless and unwavering.

While mourning Wiesel’s death, we were reminded of the urgency and timeliness of the message of his life. Over the course of the 24 hours before or after his death, we learned of a spate of brutal, gruesome and senseless attacks. In a cafe in Bangladesh gunmen entered and executed 20 people. In Baghdad a suicide bomber drove his van into an area crowded with people celebrating the end of Ramadan, killing more than 140. ISIS has claimed responsibility for these attacks, as well as the attack in the airport in Istanbul. Here in Israel, during that same 24 hour period, we learned of the stabbing of a 13 year-old girl by a terrorist who broke into her house and stabbed her while she slept in her bed.

And then there was the random attack on a rabbi and his family coming home to prepare for Shabbat.

Rabbi Marks, left, looks on as Elie Wiesel attaches mezuza.

Rabbi Marks, left, looks on as Elie Wiesel attaches mezuza.

Rabbi Miki Marks, the Head Rabbi/Rosh Yeshiva of the Yeshiva in the town of Otniel, had a reputation for being open and kind, a rare Rabbi who wanted to find ways to live and co-exist with his Palestinian neighbors. It was because of this reputation that Elie Wiesel agreed to come to that Yeshiva some years ago as the Yeshiva’s new building was being dedicated. In a photograph being circulated today, Wiesel and Rabbi Marks are seen smiling and clapping hands as the mezuza was affixed to the doorpost at the entrance to the building by Elie Wiesel. It is ironic that the Rabbi was killed just before Shabbat, less than 24 hours before Wiesel died.

Israelis, secular and religious alike, have been stunned by the senseless attack on the Rabbi of Otniel and the attack on a girl sleeping in her bed. Meanwhile, the world is shocked once again, by the murderous rampages of an unrestrained and unrepentant Radical Islam. (Israelis cannot comprehend how the world can be stunned by the terrorism perpetrated by ISIS around the world while remaining indifferent to attacks in Israel. But that discussion is for another time.) Even Wiesel’s powerful voice was unable to shake the world’s conscience in order to generate a global call for justice for Israel. But Wiesel never stopped trying.

I don’t know what Israel or humanity can do to fight the evil which seems to fill our world. Elie Wiesel charged us with the responsibility to bear witness. He implored us never to forget. In response to a lifetime of pleas by Elie Wiesel, in response to the terrorism which is inflicted daily upon Israelis, in response to a world which seems permeated with hatred, we must never stop trying. What then shall we do? That is a question we must each answer for ourselves. But this much I know: in response to a hate-filled and violence-crazed world, in solidarity with Israel and as an homage to the life and work of Elie Wiesel, z”l, we cannot forget, we cannot ignore, we must never become indifferent.

A High School Student goes to Israel

Editor’s Note: The NFTY-EIE High School in Israel is an accredited semester or summer-long program for Reform Jewish high school students in grades 10-12. EIE offers an opportunity to be immersed in the richness of the land, culture, people and history of Israel, while earning high school and college credit. Part of the Union for Reform Judaism family of camps and programs in North America and Israel, NFTY-EIE is based at Kibbutz Tzuba, approximately 15 minutes outside of Jerusalem. With very small class sizes, students take advanced Jewish History and Hebrew classes and their regular general studies courses to fulfill their home high schools’ requirements. There are numerous week-long trips, including a trip to Poland to study the Holocaust and a week in Gadna (a simulated Israeli army training experience).

— by Amber Soffer, EIE participant 2016

Amber Soffer (on the right) with two friends from Philly.

Amber Soffer (on the right) with two friends from Philly.

I came to EIE with my own thoughts, ideas, and values, and I had never thought to question them. However, the main thing I learned on EIE is to question everything. Nothing is as simple as we think. This goes for something as intense as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to something as simple as ripping toilet paper on Shabbat. One of the main focuses of our Jewish history class is talking about the meaning of Am Yisrael (people of Israel). This is quite a loaded topic, because there are so many different ways to be Jewish. For example, some people consider one to only be Jewish if one’s mother is Jewish. As a Reform Jew, I do not believe that. I’m still trying to figure out what makes one a Jew: something I had never thought to question before EIE.

Along with many of the cool aspects of the program, one of the best is learning something in the exact place where it happened.For example, if we were learning about the Bar Kochba revolts, we explored the tunnels in which they hid. Being immersed in Israeli culture and society allowed me to absorb so much of it. I picked up Hebrew phrases, and am now able to follow conversations in Hebrew: something I had never thought possible.

I learned that in Israeli society, it is customary to only know how to be aggressive. On the first day of Jewish history class our teacher told us, “There is no passive-aggressive in Israel, only aggressive.” But, even after the Israelis are done yelling at each other, they just go back to normal conversation.

On a personal growth level, I learned how to live away from home, advocate for myself, and be a part of a most amazing community. All of these skills and experiences will stay with me for the rest of my life.

Amber at the Sataf in the Judean Hills

Amber at the Sataf in the Judean Hills

It is almost impossible to pick just one experience that was my favorite. There are so many different categories to “favorite”. There is favorite in the sense I learned the most, had the most fun, and the most important experience to me. My favorite thing that I learned was Hebrew. I had the most fun trying to use my Hebrew to bargain with shop owners, order pizza, and ask for directions. It was the most exciting feel that I not only could say what I want, but understand their reply, too. On EIE, the fun basically never stops because you are always surrounded by your best friends. But, if I had to pick only one favorite experience, it would be Yam L’Yam. This was our Sea to Sea hike (from the Sea of Galilee to the Mediterranean Sea). This was filled with new experiences for me and finishing the five day hike was so satisfying. My favorite aspects of Yam L’Yam were sleeping under the stars, adventuring through the different terrains of Israel, and taking in the amazing views and scenery that were around every corner. My most important experience was our trip to Poland. Although it was very sad, it compares to the Muslim obligation to have to go to Mecca once in their life. I feel as though every Jewish person should go to Poland and see the horrible sights in remembrance of WW2. Each concentration camp, ghetto, and other place where the Jewish people were oppressed provided a sense of reality for the entirety of the Holocaust.

Amber on an archaeological dig

Amber on an archaeological dig

As much as people say that you will change over this experience, I feel like it is hard to see it in yourself, especially while you are still in Israel. Once home, I am sure that I will be aware of the little differences in myself more. However, one of the things I outright is the way I view my Judaism. In Israel, it is so easy to lead a Jewish life, because you are always surrounded by the little things. But, back in America these little things will cease to surround me at all times. I want to keep the little things around me, so being Jewish is not a conscious choice I sometimes make, but always envelops me.  Also, I feel as though I am way more of an independent person, and I can tackle almost any challenge after being here. I know at home I will not struggle with the trivial issues, like too much homework anymore, because here I had double as long of a day with the same amount of homework; yet, I learned to successfully deal with it here. Since being here, I feel as though when I return home it will be my duty to correctly be able to answer people’s question about Israel. And when they see something in the news and ask me about it because they know I am Jewish, I will be able to explain to them what happened and why. I hope this ends up turning into Israel advocacy, and help people be more educated about Israel. The biggest change I will make is adapt myself to fit the Israeli style of living by making the most of each moment.  Israelis definitely know how to live life to the fullest, and I hope to bring that change home with me as well.

For more information about NFTY-EIE, please to go its website, www.nftyeie.org