Politicon at the Barrack Hebrew Academy

barrackThe eighth quadrennial Politicon afforded Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy students a unique opportunity to shape and challenge their views on key issues impacting the 2016 U.S. Presidential Primaries. Politicon is a bipartisan political conference involving not just students and teachers, but also members of the local political establishment. The day included workshops, a keynote address and a mock election.

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Representing the Republican Party candidates are (from left); Tali Glickman, senior as Carly Fiorina; sophomore Mati Zeff as Ben Carson; Aaron Bernstein, senior, as Donald Trump; Ben Rothstein, sophomore, as Ted Cruz; Michael Montague, senior, as Jeb Bush and Elliot Bernstein, senior, as Marco Rubio.

Mock election have been held since 1988 at Barrack (then known as the Akiba Hebrew Academy), when history teacher Sharon Levin brought the tradition she had begun with her from a previous school. As has been the case with the elections, including 2008 and 2012, the school always represents the party out of Presidential power.

This year the school held a mock Republican Primary. Students playing Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, and Jeb Bush campaigned, held a debate a week prior to the event, and then gave their stump speeches at the end of Politicon.

The entire student body then voted. The results of the mock election were as follows:

  • Marco Rubio, 196 votes (Winner), played by JBHA senior, Elliot Bernstein,
  • Jeb Bush, 90 votes, played by JBHA senior, Michael Montague,
  • Donald Trump, 40 votes, played by JBHA senior, Aaron Bernstein,
  • Ben Carson, 15 votes, played by JBHA sophomore Mati Zeff,
  • Ted Cruz, 10 votes, played by JBHA sophomore Ben Rothstein,
  • Carly Fiorina, 1 vote by JBHA senior Tali Glickman, and
  • 7 write-in votes for other candidates

“The whole idea is to make students aware and active citizens, which at a school like Barrack is part of its mission statement,” explains Mrs. Levin. She sees this type of “experimental learning” as the perfect vehicle to involve the student body and, for some, to act as an initiation into futures of political activism.

Via workshops, students developed and challenged their views on: the death penalty; gun control legislation; discrimination in the workplace; immigration; the upcoming U.S. presidential election; and the media’s role in politics.

The keynote address was given by Republican Congressman Patrick Meehan (PA-7) who represents the school’s district in Congress.

Politicon Group Photo
From left to right:
Front row: Marcel Groen, Chairman, PA Democratic Party and Judge Risa Vetri Ferman, former Montgomery County District Attorney.
Middle row: Robert J. DeSousa, State Director for Senator Pat Toomey and his assistant, District Attorney Mark Bookman; Rena Shapiro, representing BuzzFeed; Sharon P. Levin, JBHA Head of School; Andrea Johnson; Dveera Segal, Professor of Law & Director of the Civil Justice Clinic, Villanova University; Ron Eisenberg, Deputy District Attorney of Philadelphia; Michele S. Levin, President, JBHA Board of Directors; and Jennifer Groen, Director of Admission & Strategic Engagement of JBHA.
Back row: Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro; Chester County Republican Party Commissioner Val DiGiorgio; Gary Kaplan, a market researcher; Bradley Bridge, Assistant Defender, Defender Association of Philadelphia; and United States Congressman Patrick Meehan.

Interactive Map Connects Young Adults to High Holiday Opportunities

— by Jason Edelstein

To help Birthright Israel alumni and their friends connect to communities and create their own meaningful experiences during the High Holidays, NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation today launched its 2013 High Holidays Initiative. With an interactive online map of High Holiday services and events around the country, along with the first-time offering of resources and small subsidies to host Rosh Hashanah meals and Yom Kippur break-the-fasts, the initiative empowers young Jewish adults to form communities of meaning with one another, and to celebrate the High Holidays in ways that are accessible and authentic.

More after the jump.
According to NEXT’s CEO Morlie Levin:

Taglit-Birthright participants have returned from their summer trips – joining the hundreds of thousands of alumni from past years – with a personal connection to Judaism, Israel, and the Jewish people. Now is the time to build on that connection and help make Jewish opportunities and communities more accessible. We’ve found that Birthright Israel alumni are particularly interested in celebrating holidays with their friends, and the High Holidays Initiative offers them the opportunity to both create these experiences themselves and connect to community events they find meaningful.

More than 250 services and events in 145 U.S. cities were represented on the interactive map when it launched on August 5, with an increase expected in the coming weeks. Users can easily find events in their city and browse event details, including whether discounted or free tickets are offered. A new feature this year will enable users to filter events based on their preferences for things like egalitarian services, LGBT-friendly events, and more. This is the third year NEXT is offering this online tool.

The resources and subsidies for Birthright Israel alumni to create their own High Holiday experiences are being offered for the first time after the success of NEXT’s Passover Seder initiative. On NEXT’s website, alumni will be able to access traditional and modern insights on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Tools that will help them host High Holiday meals-including Pinterest boards featuring recipes, table setting ideas, and fun High Holiday themes-will also be available. NEXT will additionally offer small subsidies to cover the cost of food for these meals.

The High Holidays Initiative is part of NEXT’s year-round efforts to create opportunities for Birthright Israel alumni and their peers to engage in experiences that deepen their connection to Judaism, Jewish communities, the Jewish people, and Israel. NEXT also consults with local communities and individuals on the most effective strategies for young Jewish adult engagement.

Levin adds:

We have an incredible opportunity to help young Jewish adults turn a ten day trip into a lifelong Jewish journey. Whether by empowering Birthright Israel alumni to find or create meaningful Jewish experiences, or collaborating with local communities and engagement professionals on best strategies to engage this demographic, NEXT is intent on helping young Jewish adults explore deeper Jewish living and learning, as well as their connection to the Jewish people.

NEXT’s other “do-it-yourself” offerings similarly aim to make Jewish experiences more accessible to Birthright Israel alumni. NEXT’s flagship initiative, NEXT Shabbat, has helped more than 7,000 Birthright Israel alumni host more than 16,800 Shabbat experiences for their friends, creating Jewish opportunities that have drawn a total attendance of over 235,000 young adults.

Maccabiah: U.S. Wins Five Basketball Medals

MaccabiUSA: Basketball Open Men's &emdash; BASOMBasketball Open Mens

— by Amir Shoam

The U.S. won five medals — four golds and one silver — in the Maccabiah basketball tournaments last week. The open men’s team won the gold after beating Argentina 87-76. Daniel Robin scored 25 points for the winners, and Philadelphia-born Bryan Cohen added 14. The win marked a great year for Head Coach and Former Philadelphia 76ers General Manager Brad Greenberg, who also won the Israeli championship this year with Maccabi Haifa, and will coach Hapoel Jerusalem in the coming season. “It was an outstanding tournament, and our U.S. open team was really special,” he said to the Philadelphia Jewish Voice.

It was an honor to coach some of the finest young men I have ever been around: hard working, unselfish, intelligent and emotionally mature. Lasting friendships were formed, and a love for Israel was enhanced. Next year in Jerusalem — for me it’s true!

More after the jump.

MaccabiUSA: Basketball Open Women's &emdash; BASOWBasketball Open Womens

In the open women’s tournament final, the U.S. defeated Israel 72-56. Jacqui Kalin finished with 22 points, including 6 three-pointers, 7 assists and 6 rebounds. Alyssa Baron contributed 16 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists. Next year, Kalin will play professionally in Israel with S.A. Ramat Hasharon. Head Coach Jamie Shadian said:

The Games as a whole were a once in a lifetime experience. I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to coach players who are unbelievable people as well as talented athletes. Sharing such an emotional and inspirational month with this team will remain one of the most special experiences of my life.

The under-18 men’s team also beat Israel in the game for the gold medal, 78-62. The two standouts of the final game were Spencer Weisz (19 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists) and Anthony Firkser (19 points, 7 rebounds, 5 steals). Head Coach Jamie Chadwin said:

The trip was tremendous. Not only for the basketball competition but for the cultural, emotional connection we all felt. The young men on the Youth Team were special in the way the competed, learned, and represented their country.

The under-18 women’s team cruised to the gold medal, beating Canada 77-26 (!) in the final game. Tournament MVP Drew Edelman, who will play for the University of Southern California in the coming season, scored 30 points and added 14 rebounds. Shelby Zucker finished with 13 points and 6 rebounds. “I could not be more proud of the team,” said Head Coach Sherry Levin.

Our dominant performance was a product of their hard work, dedication and unselfish team work. On the court it, was amazing to see them come together and execute the game plan against Australia, Canada and Israel. Off the court, we all experienced the wonders of Israel along with the meaningful connections to our heritage, which made the Maccabiah Games a lifetime experience to remember.

MaccabiUSA: Basketball Juniors Boy's &emdash; BASJBasketball Juniors Boys

The under-16 boys team won the silver medal after losing to Israel in the final. The team was led in scoring throughout the tournament by Spencer Freedman, Corey Sherman and, specifically in the final game, Jacob Orender. Jordan Baum led a long list of assist providers. Sam Fieldman and Michael Hayon were the team’s top rebounders. Orender was also the team’s best defensive player.

“It was an awesome and surreal opportunity to participate in the 19th Maccabiah,” said Head Coach Barry Kleiman. “The opportunity for my wife and me to visit Israel for the first time while representing the USA as a coach was beyond a life’s dream.”

As a competitor, one can never be “happy” with a silver medal, but as a coach of many years and games, one learns that there is always a team at the end of a game with fewer points than the other, and in this case that was our team.

I commend the Israeli team for their fabulous effort and great sportsmanship; their win had nothing to do with luck. I commend our team for refusing to give in and continuing to compete until the final buzzer.

Michael Jordan once said, “I’ve never lost a game, I just ran out of time.” We simply ran out of time that day, and remain grateful for the opportunity we had to compete.

What I Know About Barack Obama and Israel

Dear Friend,

This is the first letter I’ve ever written in the hope that the “social media” winds take it not just to people I know, but also to people I’ve never met and to places I’ll never see.

I do so because I’m deeply troubled by how the Jewish community is being flooded with inaccurate and sometimes inflammatory attacks on President Obama, claiming that he is not a strong supporter of Israel.

I do so because as a Jewish senator and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I feel a responsibility to share what I have personally seen and what I know about Barack Obama and Israel.

As I write this, U.S. and Israeli forces are engaged in a large joint military exercise. We hold these exercises regularly. But this is the largest joint exercise we have held with Israel, involving over 3,500 U.S. troops, about 1/3 of them deployed to Israel for 3 weeks.

This exercise comes at a critical moment for putting massive pressure on Iran to end any quest for a nuclear weapon.

The joint exercise will dramatize our joint military capability to defend against an Iranian missile attack. The exercise combines U.S. Patriot batteries and Aegis ship radar with Israel’s Arrow, Iron Dome and David’s Sling missile defenses. These Israeli missile defenses received significant funding by the U.S. and have been strongly supported by President Obama.

As Iran decides whether to try to build a nuclear weapon, Iranian leaders will now have to factor in more than ever that they will not be able to deter a strike against a nuclear weapon facility by threatening to retaliate with their missiles. Iran’s leaders can’t do so because a retaliatory threat by them or by their allies Hezbollah or Hamas has been degraded by Israel’s and our combined missile defenses, as demonstrated by the current joint exercise.

I have seen up close how President Obama has acted in many other ways to strengthen Israel’s military capability.

Ehud Barak, Israel’s current Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, recently put it this way:

I should tell you honestly that this Administration, under President Obama, is dong in regard to our security more than anything I can remember in the past. (July 11, 2012)

Prime Minister Netanyahu himself told the AIPAC Conference in May of this year:

Our security cooperation is unprecedented. And President Obama has backed his words with deeds.

President Obama has also made clear that he will not permit Iran to get a nuclear weapon. For instance:

“It’s my firm belief that an Iran with a nuclear weapon would pose a security threat not only to the region but also to the United States.” (November 14, 2011)

“My policy here is not going to be one of containment. My policy is prevention of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons. And as I indicated yesterday in my speech, when I say all options are at the table, I mean it.” (March 5, 2012)

Iran must know from the record of President Obama, including his use of force in Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia, that he doesn’t bluff or bluster.

He is a serious man.

He speaks carefully.

He doesn’t flip flop around.

He doesn’t throw words around carelessly.

Iran has seen him act — his warnings aren’t idle threats.

President Obama has succeeded in unifying the world against Iran with biting sanctions. Those sanctions have done major damage to Iran’s oil revenues (they are down by 60% over the last year) and to its currency (the value of which is down by 80% over the last year).

In part because of the respect in which he is held around the world, he has also succeeded in the challenging environment at the UN in preventing unfair damage to Israel at a number of crucial moments, including stopping a UN condemnation of Israel when it prevented a flotilla of ships from forcing itself through its blockade of Gaza.

President Reagan is rightly remembered as a strong friend of Israel, although he led the world’s condemnation of Israel at the UN when Israel knocked out Iraq’s threatening nuclear facility. I’m amazed how some in our community judge President Obama, who has prevented unfair condemnation of Israel at the UN, by a different standard.

I have seen President Obama act forcefully to protect Israeli citizens at Israel’s embassy in Cairo when a violent mob recently came within minutes of reaching and attacking them. Here is what Prime Minister Netanyahu said about President Obama’s actions:

I requested President Obama’s assistance at a decisive — I would even say fateful — moment. He said he would do everything possible, and this is what he did. He activated all of United States’ means and influence — which are certainly considerable. I believe we owe him a special debt of gratitude.

By any standard, fairly and consistently applied, President Obama has been a proven friend of Israel.

Support for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship has been bipartisan, and it is essential it remain so for our security and for Israel’s security. It is harmful to that relationship and to Israel for some in our community to attempt to drive a wedge between the Obama administration and Israel.

I won’t comment here on the many other reasons I support President Obama. My goal is to simply express my abhorrence at blatantly unfair, inaccurate and sometimes inflammatory claims that President Obama is not a strong supporter of the U.S. — Israel relationship, when that relationship is important to U.S. security and to the goal of Middle East peace.

I hope that this effort will succeed in utilizing the internet’s ability to have one’s thoughts shared broadly. If you believe they are worthy or interesting, please share them with your friends.

Thanks.

Carl Levin

Film Chat: One of the Lamed Vav

— by Hannah Lee

With much difficulty and the necessity of a personal courier to hunt for it in Israel, my shul, Lower Merion Synagogue, was able to screen the documentary film, One of the Lamed Vav, about the life of Rav Aryeh Levin, whose biography was titled, A Tzaddik In Our Time. (Lamed Vav refers to the 36 righteous people hidden in our midst, according to mystical lore.) Our Rabbi Emeritus, Abraham Levene, then spoke about his esteemed grandfather to an audience of seniors. I took privilege in attending, although I was not a member of the target audience.  

More after the jump.
I’d read the 1976 biography A Tzaddik In Our Time but the new documentary filled in for me the early years of Rav Aryeh’s life and how he became known as the “Tzaddik of Jerusalem” and one of modern Israel’s most beloved icons, known for his great acts of chesed (loving kindness) for prisoners, lepers, and the poor. He died in 1969, but people still tell stories about Rav Aryeh.  Israel used his image on postage stamps in 1982.

Aryeh Levin was born on March 22, 1885 near the village of Urla, near Bialystok, in northern Lithuania. He was tutored by local teachers until the age of 12, and then left home to attend the great yeshivas of Eastern Europe in Slonim, Slutsk, and Volozhin.  His passion for Eretz Yisrael led him to study with Abraham Isaac Kook, later the Chief Rabbi of Palestine.

In one of his most renown roles, Rav Aryeh was the unofficial chaplain (he refused to be paid) for the Jewish political prisoners– members of the Palmach, Haganah, Irgun or Lehi who were fighting for Israeli independence– held during the British Mandate in the 1930’s. As these individuals dared not implicate their families, they had no means of communication with their loved ones. Walking long distances, Rav Aryeh would walk from his home in the Nachlaot neighborhood to the Central Prison in the Russian compound, then deliver messages to the prisoners’ families all over Jerusalem, offering words of comfort and hope. The former prisoners who were interviewed for the documentary were effusive in their praise of a man who was so gentle and loving; he inspired them all to become better people with his mere presence and kind words.

The documentary film, One of the Lamed Vav, has interviews with two grandsons, Rabbi David Levin and his cousin, Rabbi Benjamin (Benji) Levene as well as others, both in prominent positions as well as elderly folks interviewed on the streets. The two grandsons spoke about how their grandfather helped them find their niche in life– the former as chaplain in the Israeli Defense Forces, the latter for work bridging secular and religious Jews through his work with Gesher– as well as a continued source of inspiration and chizuk (strength), such as managing one’s anger in the face of verbal attacks.

Simcha Raz, the author of A Tzaddik In Our Time, was interviewed on the documentary and he recalled that on one of his last visits with Rav Aryeh, he asked if Rav Aryeh thought of himself as one of the Lamed Vavniks.  Sometimes, said the latter, because it’s not a permanent role and one could fulfill a necessary task and revert to being an ordinary person.  How inspiring is that for all of us?  We, too, could have our moment of divine mission and rise to the occasion!

Spiritual leader of Lower Merion Synagogue for 40 years, Rabbi Avraham Levene told me how his family’s name got changed: They were visiting his maternal grandparents in England when World War II broke out. He was traveling on his mother’s visa (being so young) and her name was spelled Levene.  His father’s name was Anglicized Lewen (in Hebrew, Lamed Vav or Lev), so to avoid the confusion of multiple names, his family adopted the spelling of Levene. After the war, they moved to the United States where his father had a pulpit position and there they stayed until the father retired back in his beloved Israel. Abraham Yitzhak was 15 when he traveled by himself to visit his grandfather, Rav Aryeh, who cried when they met– Abraham Yitzhak being the eldest grandchild of his eldest surviving son. The stories that my Rabbi Levene tell are of the time spent living with his grandfather, in a simple one-room home, where love and faith were the guiding principles.

Rabbi Benji Levene, younger brother of my Rabbi, has published a story about their grandfather, “The Escort,” in the 2011 book Mitzvah Stories: Seeds for Inspiration and Learning, edited by Philadelphia Jewish Voice Religion Editor, Rabbi Goldie Milgram and Ellen Frankel with Peninnah Schram.

The biography of Rav Aryeh Levin, A Tzaddik In Our Time, by Simcha Raz is now out-of-print but it can still be ordered through Amazon; the DVD is not yet available for distribution in the United States.

Jewish American Heritage Month Reception at White House

President Barack Obama hosted the annual Jewish American Heritage Month celebration at the White House to honor and celebrate the Jewish community’s contributions to America. Obama welcomed everyone to the celebration by remarking upon the Jewish community’s long and important history of civic involvement. 400 Jewish leaders from across the nation attended. A partial guest list follows the jump below.

Remarks by President Barack Obama
White House, East Room, May 30, 2012

This year, we celebrate Jewish Heritage Month — Jewish American Heritage Month, and we’re also commemorating an important anniversary.  One hundred-fifty years ago, General Ulysses Grant issued an order — known as General Orders Number 11 — that would have expelled Jews, “as a class,” from what was then known as the military department of the Tennessee.  It was wrong.  Even if it was 1862, even if official acts of anti-Semitism were all too common around the world, it was wrong and indicative of an ugly strain of thought.

But what happened next could have only taken place in America. Groups of American Jews protested General Grant’s decision.  A Jewish merchant from Kentucky traveled here, to the White House, and met with President Lincoln in person.  After their meeting, President Lincoln revoked the order — one more reason why we like President Lincoln.  (Laughter and applause.)

And to General Grant’s credit, he recognized that he had made a serious mistake.  So later in his life, he apologized for this order, and as President, he went out of his way to appoint Jews to public office and to condemn the persecution of Jews in Eastern Europe.

Today, we have a few documents on display — maybe some of you saw them when you walked in.  There are two letters of protest from Jewish organizations to President Lincoln.  There is President Lincoln’s handwritten reply, saying that he had taken action.  And there is a receipt for the donation that President Grant made to the Adas Israel Synagogue here in Washington, when he attended a service there in 1876.

So together, these papers tell a story, a fundamentally American story.  Like so many groups, Jews have had to fight for their piece of the American dream.  But this country holds a special promise:  that if we stand up for the traditions we believe in and in the values we share, then our wrongs can be made right; our union can be made more perfect and our world can be repaired.

Today, it’s our turn, our generation’s turn.  And you guys, your generation’s turn.  You’re younger than us.  (Laughter.)  We got some later generations here in the front.  We’re the ones who have to stand up for our shared values.   Here at home, we have to rebuild an America where everybody gets a fair shot, and everybody is doing their fair share, and everybody is playing by the same rules.

Beyond our borders, we have to stand alongside our friends who share our commitment to freedom and democracy and universal rights; and that includes, of course, our unwavering commitment to the State of Israel and its security and the pursuit of a just and lasting peace.  (Applause.)

It’s no secret that we’ve got a lot of work to do.  But as your traditions teach us, while we are not obligated to finish the work, neither are we free to desist from that work.

So today, we don’t just celebrate all that American Jews have done for our country; we also look toward the future.  And as we do, I know that those of you in this room, but folks all across this country will continue to help perfect our union; and for that, I am extraordinarily grateful.

God bless you.  God bless America.  (Applause.)

Guest list follows the jump.
More after the jump.
Partial Guest List

  • Rabbi Andrea Merow of Beth Sholom Congregation in Elkins Park
  • Rabbi Eric Yanoff of Adath Israel in Merion Station
  • Rabbi David Ackerman of Beth Am Israel in Penn Valley
  • Representative Allyson Schwartz (D-PA)
  • NJDC Chair Marc R. Stanley
  • NJDC President and CEO David A. Harris
  • Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren
  • Democratic National Committee Chair Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL)
  • Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD)
  • Representative Shelley Berkley (D-NV)
  • Representative Howard Berman (D-CA)
  • Representative David Cicilline (D-RI)
  • Representative Steve Cohen (D-TN)
  • Representative Susan Davis (D-CA)
  • Representative Ted Deutch (D-FL)
  • Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY)
  • Representative Sander Levin (D-MI)
  • Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY)
  • Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY)
  • Representative Jarrod Polis (D-CO)
  • Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL)
  • Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA)
  • Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA)

Local Film Shown in Israel & Across US for Yom Hazikaron

A Green Kippah, a film directed and produced by Philadelphia’s Sally Mitlas, was aired numerous times throughout Yom HaZikron on Israel’s Channel 10.

This moving documentary, originally created for Philadelphia’s 2011 Yom HaZikron ceremony, chronicles the lives and tragic death of three Pennsylvania Jews: David Solomonov (z”l), Rita Levine (z”l) and Michael Levin (z”l).

All three heroes died in the prime of their lives — through an act of terror, a sniper’s bullet and defending Israel’s border — reminding us that when Israel loses a son or daughter, it is felt by every Jew around the world.

Following the Channel 10 screenings, Sally received a flood of emails from Israelis who were moved by the documentary. One said

I have just finished watching the movie Green Kippah on Israeli television. I would like to thank you for sharing these stories with us. It is because of families like you, who have a deep love for Israel, that all of us can have quiet peaceful lives. My heart and love is with you…

A Green Kippah was screened at many memorial ceremonies and educational programs across our region (and in the U.S.) including locally at Drexel University, Kohelet Yeshiva High School, and Politz Hebrew Academy.  

A Philadelphia Hero: Michael Levin 1984-2006

A Voice Called: Stories of Jewish Heroism
Editor’s Note: On the eve of Yom Ha’atzmaut — Israel Independence Day — Jews throughout the world mark Yom Hazikaron — Israel’s Memorial Day — to remember the soldiers who gave their lives. Israel needed heroes like these to win its independence and facing existential threats around it, Israel continues to need heroes like these to safeguard its independence.

I just read A Voice Called: Stories of Jewish Heroism by Yossi Katz. I heartily recommend this collection of articles about some of the great Jewish heroes of modern times. The stories are written to shed light on Jewish history and to inspire the reader to live in the present with pride and dignity and to help build a better future.

The Philadelphia Jewish Community can be proud to count among its ranks one of these heros: Michael Levin. We thank Yossi Katz and Gefen Publishing for permission to reprint his story. (All rights reserved by Gefen Publishing.)

You can't fulfill you dreams unless you dare to risk it all.
Michael Levin: Acharai!

  • Born in Philadelphia 1984 — Made Aliyah to Israel in 2003
  • Joined Israeli Paratroops, fulfilling a personal dream
  • Rushed back to Israel to rejoin fellow soldiers in battle when Israel attacked
  • Fell in battle against Hizbullah terrorists on August 1, 2006

“You can’t fulfill your dreams unless you dare risk it all”

Yossi Katz— by Yossi Katz

Michael Levin grew up like most American-Jewish kids. Born on February 17, 1984 and raised in Philadelphia, he graduated from Council Rock High School in 2002. Michael’s maternal grandparents were survivors of the Holocaust and passed on to him a legacy of pride and strength in his Jewish heritage. As a teenager Michael was active in the HaGesher Region of United Synagogue Youth (USY) and attended Camp Ramah in the Poconos. He loved sports and was an avid fan of Philly teams especially the Philadelphia Phillies.

In February 2001, Michael came to Israel for two months to study the 4000-year history of the Jewish people at the Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI). While in Israel Michael expressed his desire to make Aliyah (move to Israel and become an Israeli citizen) and serve in ZAHAL-the Israel Defense Forces. Michael proved to be an outstanding student at AMHSI and was especially moved by the stories of Jewish heroes like Judah the Maccabee, Shimon Bar Kochba, Rabbi Akiba, Hannah Senesh, Eli Cohen, Avigdor Kahalani and Yonaton “Yoni” Netanyahu. The most moving moment at AMHSI for Michael was on the last day of the program when his class visited the grave of Yoni Netanyahu, hero of the 1976 Entebbe rescue mission, at Mt. Herzl in Jerusalem. Michael looked up to Yoni as a role model and a hero and was touched by Yoni’s words from a 1975 letter:

By ‘past’ I mean not only my own past, but the way in which I see myself as an inseparable part, a link in the chain of our existence and Israel’s independence.

Like Yoni, Michael also saw himself as a link in the chain of Jewish history and felt an obligation to defend his people and dreamed of serving in the Israel Defense Forces.

After graduating high school, Michael attended “Nativ” — USY’s Year Course in Israel and in his “Nativ” yearbook wrote the words that would become his motto:

“You can’t fulfill your dreams unless you dare risk it all”

Michael was neither a daredevil, nor a gambling man. He was a sweet, funny, humble, kind, loving human being who loved life and lived it to the fullest. He simply believed that life wasn’t worth living unless there was some ideal
you loved so much that you’d be willing to sacrifice your life for it. For Michael — that ideal was Israel.

In 2003 Michael made Aliyah to Israel and began studying Hebrew at an Ulpan (intensive course in speaking Hebrew) on Kibbutz Yavne. Like all Israelis, Michael was drafted into the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and reported to the Army Induction Center at Tel Hashomer. As he was being processed, the officer in charge noticed his papers had not been finalized due to his new status in the country. The officer told him that he couldn’t ben drafted at this time. Undeterred, Michael went outside the Army Induction Center and climbed up a trash dumpster and snuck into the 2nd floor of the building. When the officer discovered him, he hollered at Michael and said, “No one can get thru the front door here without papers” to which Michael smiled and replied, “What makes you think I came thru the front door?!!” The officer pulled some strings and arranged for Michael to be processed as an Israeli soldier. He later remarked, “I’ve been here at the army induction center for 20 years and some kids don’t want to be here and look for ways to get out but Michael was the first kid I ever met who ‘broke in’ to be inducted into ZAHAL!”

Once in ZAHAL, Michael volunteered for the IDF’s finest combat unit, the red-bereted Paratroops. During his basic training Michael learned to parachute. Small in size, 5’6″ and weighing only 118 lbs, Michael was blown off course on his first jump. Afterwards his officers had to tie weights to his parachute to keep him from drifting. Despite his small size, Mike was a fierce fighter with a lion’s heart. At the end of their basic training the Paratroops go on a 90-kilometer march to Jerusalem where they receive their red berets at Ammunition Hill, a famous battle site from the 1967 Six Day War. In 2001, while at AMHSI, Michael had learned about the heroism of the Paratroops in
that battle from one of the surviving veterans who spoke to his class. Now he was receiving his red beret on that hallowed ground. Michael described that day as one of the happiest in his life!

Mike was not only a brave soldier but he remained a loving son and brother. He once said, “I’m not worried about dying! I’m just worried about what
it would do to my family.” Michael held a special status in ZAHAL called Chayal Boded, given to lone Israeli soldiers whose parents do not live in the
country. Military service is tough enough for most young Israelis but they are comforted knowing they will come home on their Shabbat leaves to a warm and loving family. Michael had none in Israel, making his service that much tougher.

In June 2006, Mike received a 30-day leave from the IDF to visit his family back in Philadelphia. Michael, who had a great sense of humor, wanted
to surprise his mom and dad and worked out a cute prank with his older sister, Elisa. When he arrived in Philadelphia that summer he had Elisa put a gigantic cardboard box with real Fed-Ex markings on the front steps of their home. Michael got into the box and had his sister tape it up and ring his parents’ doorbell. When Mrs. Levin saw the package, she tried to carry it into the house, but it was too heavy. Suddenly Michael jumped out of the box and screamed, “Surprise!!” This story is indicative of Michael’s loving heart and playful spirit.

Michael spent quality time with his family and visited friends at Camp Ramah in the Poconos. When some friends expressed their worries to Michael about his safety in an elite combat unit of the Israeli army, he responded philosophically, “I’m doing exactly what I want to do and going exactly where I want to be, and if God should decide to call me home, I’m fine with that.” During his visit to Philadelphia, Michael told his parents that if anything ever happened to him, he wanted to be buried on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. On July 12, 2006 the Lebanese terrorist organization, Hizbullah attacked Israel and kidnapped two Israeli soldiers — Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. The Hizbullah, dedicated to Israel’s destruction and armed by Iran, began shelling Israel’s northern cities. Michael heard that his unit was sent into battle and he promptly told his family that he had to cut his visit short to rejoin his comrades at arms. He rushed back to Israel and rejoined his unit —  the 890th battalion of the Israeli Paratroops, then fighting inside Lebanon. Michael’s unit was on a mission in the Lebanese village of Ayta al Shab, a Hizbullah stronghold, when they came under heavy missile — gunfire. Held up in a house, Michael fought bravely but on August 1, 2006 he was tragically killed by a Hizbullah sniper. His fellow soldier and friend, Shlomi Singer,
described Michael’s last moments:

I heard a round of gunfire and saw Michael lying on his stomach. I knew in my heart he was dead. I lifted him to one of the houses where I tried to revive him, but there was no chance. I said quietly in English, “I love you Michael and I am so sorry.” He was wearing a big green kippah and before we went into Lebanon, I put his kippah on my head and said the Shema… praying that we all come back safely. After Michael was killed we placed his body on a stretcher and carried him for several kilometers between the cliffs and rocks to bring his body to safety. It was the final honor and respect that we could give him.

Michael’s family was notified in Philadelphia of his death in battle and they immediately flew to Israel for his funeral. One of their biggest worries was if they’d be able to find a minyan (a quorum of 10 necessary for communal
prayer) for the ceremony, as they had no family in the country. They arrived at Ben Gurion Airport on August 3, 2006 and drove right from the airport to the National Military Cemetery on Mount Herzl. When the car arrived at the cemetery, the Levins saw thousands of people gathered there. Michael’s father was confused by the large crowd and thought there were 10 or 15 other funerals taking place at the same time. The soldiers escorting the family told them that Michael’s was the only funeral being held at this time and all the thousands of people in attendance, most of whom who had not known Michael, were there to honor their fallen son. Immersed in their shock and grief but embraced by a loving and grateful nation, the Levins buried their son on the hills of Jerusalem, the city he loved with all his heart… just a few yards from the grave of his hero — Yoni Netanyahu.

Michael’s mother, Harriet, at first had wanted her fallen son buried near her home in Philadelphia but her Rabbi convinced her that it was Michael’s last wish to be buried in the land he loved. She said that when she and her husband, Mark, saw all the people who had come to honor Michael; they knew they had made the right decision.

Harriet said that about a month after the funeral, a friend of hers from Philadelphia went to visit Michael’s grave on Mount Herzl. When the friend reached the burial site, she was shocked to see there was an Israeli soldier sitting on the grave drinking a cup of coffee with a small gas burner and finjan (coffee pot) next to him. Thinking he was acting improperly in the cemetery, the woman asked him what he was doing there. The young warrior answered softly, “Michael was my best friend in the army and every Friday afternoon just before Shabbat, we’d sit down and drink a cup of coffee together and shmooze about life. Now, just like before, I come visit Michael every week just before Shabbat and drink a cup a coffee and chat with my best friend.”

Harriet Levin said that if Michael had been buried in Philadelphia, probably only a handful of family would visit his grave but at rest at home in Israel, hundreds come every week to pay their respects to the young hero from Philly with the contagious smile and the heart of a lion.

Michael was buried on the afternoon of Tisha b’Av on August 3, 2006. Tisha b’Av is a fast day where we commemorate the many tragedies that have befallen our people on this black date in our history: the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, the fall of Betar during the Bar Kochba revolt, the expulsion of the Jews of Spain in 1492 and the transportation of over 300,000 of Warsaw’s Jews to the gas chambers in Treblinka in July 1942. As a sign of mourning we do not wear Tefillin during the morning service on Tisha b’Av but we do put on Tefillin during the afternoon service that day as a sign that life must continue and we must move on from destruction and mourning to comfort and rebirth. It is fitting that Michael was buried on the afternoon of Tisha b’Av and not in the morning. His death was a tragedy that tore into the hearts and souls of all who loved him but Michael’s legacy to us is one of hope and commitment. As he smiles down on us from above, his memory will best be honored not by remembering so much how he died but more importantly how he lived. The motto of the Israeli Paratroops is “Achari!” (“Follow Me!”) Michael set a dugma isheet — a personal example of how to live a life as a committed Jew with passion and pride dedicated to the Jewish People, to the Torah and to Israel. His legacy commands us all — “Achari!”

Postscript: Michael Levin’s mother, Harriet Levin, once told this author that Michael was a normal American-Jewish kid. She said he was just like you and me and added,” You know he wasn’t always an angel… at times he made mistakes and could get into trouble.” In many ways though, that makes Michael even more inspiring. He wasn’t a “Superhero”! He was just the kid from down the block, but when his people and Israel needed him- he was there!

A moving documentary film by Sally Mitlas has been made about Michael Levin called A Hero in Heaven. For more information on the film go to www.aheroinheaven.com/.

Seder Held For 400 Seniors In The Greater Philadelphia Area


Over 400 guests enjoyed this year’s Golden Slipper Club Seder.

The Golden Slipper Club of Philadelphia‘s tradition of holding a Passover Seder for the senior Jewish community continued in 2012. This year’s Seder took place at Har Zion Temple in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania on Monday, March 19, a short time before this year’s actual Passover holiday on April 6-12, 2012. Passover is a holiday in which Jews celebrate their liberation from slavery to freedom.

This year’s Seder committee members, along with events coordinator, Ann Hilferty and executive director, Paul Geller, worked hard coordinating the various entities to make the Seder run smoothly. The 2012 committee includes co-chair Jackie Gilberg and Michael Simon, as well as members Chuck Barsh, David Biloon, Jeffrey Brenner, Robin Cohen, Bob Gilberg, Jessica Gomel, Charlie Hoffmann, Roy Kardon, Howard Levin, Linda Ostach, Barry Sacks, Dan Singer, Shelby Simmons, Lee Tabas, and Scott Wechsler. Stephen H. Frishberg is Club president.

More after the jump.


Golden Slipper Club President Stephen H. Frishberg addresses the Seder guests. (L-R) Golden Slipper Club member Cantor Sherman Leis, Frishberg, Club member Rabbi Fred Kazan, and guest Cantor Lisa Litman.

The Golden Slipper Seder may be the only one that these appreciative guests attend each year. The seniors look forward to seeing friends from other centers, dancing to the music of Hal Martin, singing with Lisa Litman and Sherman Leis, hearing prayers, enjoying stories by Rabbi Kazan’s and, of course, a delicious meal provided by Betty the Caterer. Over 400 seniors enjoyed the Seder, as thousands of others have over Golden Slipper’s 90 year history.

Each year, approximately 40 Golden Slipper members volunteer and/or attend the Seder. They organize
transportation of the seniors from various centers including the Golden Slipper Center for Seniors, Klein JCC, Tabas House, and Ner Zedek-Ezreth in Northeast Philadelphia and as far away as Saltzman-Dubin House in New Jersey. They ride buses with the guests, escort them from their buses to the tables, set up, clean up, and generously sponsor tables and donate goods and services. Golden Slipper Club extends is thanks to all those who volunteered or donated services.



Golden Slipper Club & Charities, celebrating 90 years in 2012, has taken a hands-on approach to support programs and services for the Greater Philadelphia area’s youth, needy and elderly, with some 600 active men and women who volunteer their time to serve people in need. Golden Slipper’s motto is charity, good fellowship and loyalty, first and foremost, in all its endeavors. It provides charitable services to those in need in the community. Golden Slipper Camp sends approximately 600 children to overnight camp in the beautiful Pocono Mountains. Golden Slipper Center for Seniors provides a daytime activities facility which offers social and recreational activities and meals for over 300 senior citizens. Other programs offered to help the community include HUNAS (Human Needs and Services) which gives emergency grants to those in need and the Slipper Scholarship Program, which provides college scholarships to deserving and promising young students.

The Final Day At AIPAC

Today is the final day of the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference. Defense Sec. Leon Panetta and three of the four top GOP candidates addressed the conference’s 13,000 supporters. Presidential candidate Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) (right) appeared in person while Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) and Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) appeared via satellite.

Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and American’s Ambassador to the United Nations made remarks to the group and addressed the current state of the Israel and Iran.

On Sunday, Israeli President Shimon Peres and US President Barack Obama addressed the conference hall. Obama said his policy toward Iran is not one of containment but of preventing the nation from developing a nuclear weapon.  He also defended his policies toward Israel and stated the U.S. commitment to preserve Israel’s security.

In a side conversation, President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu met Monday morning to discuss the status of the U.S.-Israel alliance.  The president reiterated that the U.S. did not want the possibility of nuclear weapons “falling into terrorist’s hands” and said there is a still a window that allows some negotiation. Pres. Obama also said he continues to reserve all options in dealing with Iran.

Other speakers included:

The policy conference is the largest gathering for America’s leading pro-Israel lobby, which works with both major parties to secure public policy that strengthens the U.S.-Israel relationship.

AIPAC has announced that up to 14,000 people are attending this year’s three-day conference, a crowd nearly twice the usual size.