Limmud FSU: An Exercise in Idenity for US Russian Jewry

Participants at the first Limmud FSU conference in the U.S. dance at the conference’s May 12 gala in Princeton, NJ. Credit: Puder PR.

PRINCETON, NJ – A gap remains between young Russian Jews and the larger American Jewish community, even as organizations like Limmud FSU and others work to build bridges between them.

Sandy Cahn, co-founder of Limmud FSU, suggests that the only way to ultimately bring these two communities together is to continue, at least for now, having separate organizations and events for Russian Jews. “There is something very special about Russian culture where they have an affinity of wanting to be together,” she says. “Having their own Limmud empowers them to be stronger and encourages them to enter in a more impactful and empowered way on the American Jewish scene.”

More after the jump.

From right to left, Sandy Cahn, Chaim Chesler, Matthew Bronfman and Alexander Levin at the Limmud FSU conference in Princeton, NJ. Credit: Puder PR.

Alexander Levin, the president of the World Forum of Russian Jewry, agrees, emphasizing the necessity of ultimately uniting American and Russian Jews. “Today the epidemic assimilation rates don’t leave us a choice but to find the ways to join forces and to share our common values of being Jewish and especially for us, Soviet-grown Jews, to keep a strong Israel!”

Limmud FSU-which held its first U.S. conference May 11-13 in Princeton, NJ-takes its name from the volunteer-driven Jewish learning experience that started over 30 years ago in Great Britain and shares the parent organization’s values of diversity, learning, community and volunteerism. It was founded in 2006 to restore the tradition of lifelong Jewish learning and to strengthen Jewish identity in Russian Jewish communities in and from the former Soviet Union. So far, it has reached 25,000 young Jews in six countries and its goal, says Cahn, is “to have them identify in any way they want to with being Jewish through informal Jewish education.”

The Princeton conference’s 650-plus participants-largely secular but also including a group of observant Jews-came to experience the solidarity and comfort of being with cultural compatriots and to learn a little about Judaism in an open, welcoming environment.

The sense of alienation that many young Russians continue to feel toward the American Jewish community has developed for a number of reasons, all growing from the decades their families spent under a Soviet rule that quashed observance of all religions.

Julia Kotlyar of New York, co-chair of the conference’s recruitment and public relations committee, moved with her parents to Ann Arbor, Mich., when she was 5 and a half. She says her own consciousness was shaped both by her parents’ difficulties trying to fit into American society and their experience of oppression in Kiev-for example, her straight-A’s mother Alina, now a biochemist at the University of Michigan, could not attend a first-class university because she was a Jew. “That immigrant experience seeped into my childhood,” says Ms. Kotlyar. “I saw my parents struggle with jobs and friends, and I sat in the back of their ESL classroom. That is an experience that I don’t share with American Jews.”

Genia Kovelman, a Jewish educator trained at the International Solomon University in Kiev, is now working with 18 to 35 year old Russian Jews in Chicago to help them learn about their Jewish roots, to feel a sense of belonging, and to feel part of the Jewish community. The young Russian Jews she sees in her work also carry with them a suspicion and mistrust of institutions, an inheritance from life under Stalinism and Communism. “For Russian Jews, even if they came when they were very little, if there’s something structured and organized and with requirements of membership and belonging, they stay away,” she explains, adding, “If I, with all my study and work for the Jewish community, can’t affiliate, what about those with none?”

From right to left, Chaim Chesler, Matthew Bronfman, Diane Wohl, a Limmud FSU sponsor, Sandy Cahn, and former president of Hebrew University Hanoch Gutfreund at the Limmud FSU conference in Princeton, NJ.

Most Limmud FSU participants interviewed did emphasize their strong Jewish identities, but described them as “cultural” rather than “religious”-an almost the mirror image of strongly identified American Jews. Musing about the source of Russian Jews’ strong ethnic identity, Kovelman concludes that the connection is almost tribal. “The Jews bonded together in the face of anti-Semitism,” she says, noting how Jews helped each other traverse Soviet society.

Although many young Russian Jews do retain a shred of a connection to traditional Judaism, via grandparents who spoke Yiddish or shared stories with them, most have no real knowledge of the Jewish tradition. An almost apocryphal story shared during the conference was that after Rabbi Michael Paley taught a learning session about the Joseph story in the Bible, an audience member questioned him about who Joseph was, asking, “Was he a friend of yours?”

The obvious solution was to begin to create educational organizations wherein Russian Jews and their children, who are usually very successful professionals, can learn about Judaism and the Jewish community without feeling embarrassed, ashamed, or inadequate. Kovelman suggests a tailored approach, with lots of explanation. At her organization’s yearly Russian Shabbaton retreat, she explains everything-the meaning of Shabbat, why we light candles, why we sing songs-to the 100 participants that the event draws. “For many, they are celebrating Shabbat for the first time in their lives,” she says.

Educating Russian Jews, suggests Rabbi Aryeh Katzin, who teaches for the Russian American Jewish Experience (RAJE), is a mission to restore what the Communists took away. “Every time I enter a class, it is a battlefield with Stalin and Hitler,” he says. “Our job is to give this heritage back to this people.”

With the influence and support of the “Russians only” organizations, things may be starting to change. Cahn notes that more Russians in New York are joining the leadership in the Federation and in other organizations. And Kovelman feels that many Russian Jews are looking for spirituality. Additionally, as the younger Russians are having their own children, they are seeing them become more integrated in ways that they themselves couldn’t be. One woman says that her children, who are in day school, are learning at a young age how the Jewish community functions. “Their friends’ parents are on the boards of organizations,” she says. “My mother worked all the time.”

Leonard Petlakh, who teaches an undergraduate class in Russian and Soviet history at Hunter College and co-led a session on Russian Jews and the American Jewish community with Rabbi Robert Kaplan, remembers having to sleep without a mattress when his family first arrived in New York-despite the fact that his father had scoured the neighborhood and requested mattresses from both liberal Jews and Haredim. In the same line, Rabbi Kaplan added that even though thousands of students used to show up at Save Soviet Jewry conferences, only 20 came to a conference he ran whose purpose was to work with Soviet Jews in the U.S.

In response Russian Jews created their own organizations, which are likely to continue providing for their different needs at least into the next decade. But Petlakh and others view this separateness as part of a process toward unity. He says organizations like Limmud FSU and RAJE provide “a means to an ultimate goal-to be part of the American Jewish community. You cannot be a Jew in a vacuum, just with your Russian friends.”

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 Power of Pacemaker Donations

The good news for developing nations is that many are beginning to get some of the infectious diseases that have long plagued their populations under control.  Unfortunately, the burden of disease is shifting to chronic diseases.  Of particular concern is cardiovascular disease.  From 1990 to 2020, it is expected to increase by 137%.  It is impacting people in developing countries at younger ages than here which affects their economic productivity and therefore the well being of their families.  

In the United States, when someone develops a heart condition, pacemakers and defibrillators (ICDs) provide fairly easy remedies.  In developing nations these devices are not an option when they cost upwards of $8,000 and the average wage is between $50 and $100 a month.  It is estimated that 1 to 2 million lives could be saved or enhanced with a pacemaker or defibrillator.  

“How can we get these people pacemakers?”  you may be asking yourself.  Well, there is something we can do to help.  People may opt to donate their pacemakers.  A study conducted by the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center found that 90% of their participants would be willing to donate their device to be sent overseas, but few knew that the option existed or how to go about doing so.  If a person is receiving a device upgrade (i.e. from a pacemaker to a defibrillator) and the device has enough battery life left, a patient can request to have the device and donate it to charity.

More after the jump.
Just as people having wills and advanced directives, they can have living wills for pacemakers with directions on how to handle the device post-mortem.  These living wills are unofficial documents through which a person can designate what she wants done with her device after death, including donating it to charity.  Furthermore, it is not infrequent for funeral homes to have devices sitting around which they have removed prior to cremation since the device will explode when heated to high degrees and damage the crematorium.  Funeral home directors may also ask families if they would be willing to donate the pacemaker of a loved one to send overseas.  

There are a few options for people wishing to contribute to the cause.  Currently the Penn Bioethics Society is collaborating with Dr. James Kirkpatrick in collecting devices, analyzing their battery life and handing them to doctors who go overseas and will implant the devices directly.  Project My Heart Your Heart of the University of Michigan is also collecting devices in a project for the study of these devices overseas.

If you are individual who wishes to donate your pacemaker, be sure to include it in your living will and tell your family members your wishes.  If you are a Funeral Home interested in participating in the collection, we would be happy to send a representative to pick up the devices.  Please contact Chelsea Ott with any questions.  

JEVS Helping Hands Program

Penny Kardon, Director of Career Strategies for the Jewish Employment and Vocational Service (JEVS) in Philadelphia, explains the Helping Hands program as “a program for underemployed or unemployed Jewish individuals up to the age of 65. They are given intense vocational assessment, ongoing career counseling, and opportunities for us to pay for training programs. There’s a free computer program, workshops, lots and lots of support with job placement, (and) it’s a one-year program, it’s of no cost to the participants, and it’s completely funded by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.”

More after the jump.

The whole goal of Helping Hands, says Kardon, “is to make you more self-sufficient and it’s been working, it’s a wonderful opportunity if you qualify.”

Helping Hands, adds Kardon, helps fifty clients each year, and, she adds, “In general, we’ve (All of JEVS) been very busy.” The poor state of the economy, she adds, “has added clients to us, with Unemployment running out and a tight job market.”

Rhonda Cohen, Coordinator of Community Relations for JEVS Career Strategies, adds, “Our services are not just specifically for Jewish clients, we also take those who are not Jewish into our department, and that’s on a sliding fee scale.”

Helping Hands, says Kardon, is “primarily a career counseling service, we help you do your resume,  and counsel you, but if you want job placement, we have a full-time job developer, and out of those people who wanted job development, we have placed close to seventy percent of those individuals last year, and the year before. So we are placing people, even with the tough market.”  

Words Can Kill!

Hearts have their own natural biological pacemaker that allows them to beat on their own accord even when the brain dies.

— Robby Berman

People don’t like to talk about death. But I can’t help it. It’s my job. I encourage Jews to donate organs upon death to the general public. It is a difficult profession and journalists are constantly making my job even tougher. Recently a four-month-old Israeli baby boy died. Some Israeli media reported he died on Friday while others reported he died on Sunday. Why were they confused? Because his brain died on Friday and his heart died on Sunday.

More after the jump.

Hearts, yours and mine, have their own natural biological pacemaker that allows them to beat on their own accord even when the brain dies. (Go to YouTube and type in the words “dead frog beating heart” and see for yourself.) The heart is not connected to the brain in any meaningful way, and as long as it is artificially receiving oxygen from a ventilator it can take a licking and keep on ticking for a few more days before it, too, dies.

So which is it? Did the baby die on Friday, when his brain died, or did he die on Sunday, when his heart died? The Israeli Medical Association, Israeli legislation, the Ministry of Health, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, the Medical Association of almost every country in the world all understand that when a person’s brain dies death has occurred. In other words the organism is dead but its organs can remain alive for a few more days.

Why? Because they are artificially — and incidentally — being given oxygen by a ventilator.

Well, if it is resoundingly clear that brain death is death then why did some Israeli media organs get it wrong? Why did IBA English TV News and The Jerusalem Post, among others, report the baby had died on Sunday when his heart stopped beating? Why didn’t they say he died on Friday when his brain died? The answer is not a good one. It is because it would have felt weird to say on Friday that a baby that is warm to the touch — whose heart is still beating — is dead, and it would have felt weird to say on Sunday that a dead baby had been lying in the hospital with a beating heart for two days.

Not only is describing the functional reality of brain death difficult to put into words, it’s hard to decide how to refer to the baby himself. What do you call him? If you accept brain death as death, should the baby be called a braindead patient? The word “patient” implies he is alive. Should he be called a brain-dead corpse? If he is a corpse, why is he being kept in a hospital bed attached to a ventilator? And if he is dead, why are we calling him brain dead? He should just be referred to as dead. He should be called the deceased, not the brain-dead deceased.

This is not simply an exercise in semantics. This is an important issue that all responsible citizens have to wrap their heads around.

The words chosen by family members, doctors and journalists can lead to life or death decisions.

Israel has one of the lowest organ donor registration rates in the world. So the words chosen by the chosen people will have an impact on how family members and the public perceive a brain-dead corpse (hear how weird this term sounds?).

Is he a living patient or is he a corpse whose heart doesn’t know enough to stop beating because it has an artificial supply of oxygen? Your answer will influence your decision whether or not to donate organs. If he is alive, then understandably you will not donate his organs. But if he is dead, you will consider it. And since one organ donor can save eight lives the stakes are high – especially if you are one of the 100 Israelis that will die this year waiting for an organ that will not be donated.

Another dangerously inaccurate and misleading term that is the darling of doctors and journalists is “life support.” Sometimes a living patient needs help to breathe and so he is put on a ventilator. His life is indeed being supported by the ventilator. But if a brain-dead corpse (whose heart is still beating) is on a vent, his life is not being supported because he is already dead. And to say he is “on life support” implies he is alive, again inhibiting donation of his organs.

If I am being asked to remove life support I am killing my loved one.

It would be just as inappropriate to use this term if I were to attach a football to a ventilator (which could easily be done) and see it reported in The Jerusalem Post that I put a football on a life-support machine. The ventilator simply vents air in and out of the thing it is attached to. A vent is a vent is a vent and nothing more. The word ventilator is accurate as it is neutral and should always be used.

Israeli medical and Israeli media professionals have an obligation to the public to use exact terms and to be consistent in their reporting. If a health reporter insists that the baby died on Sunday when his heart stopped beating then she should also, for the sake of consistency, report that doctors are murdering patients every time they remove organs from a brain-dead donor because the heart is still beating.

Consistency is the bedrock of clarity and currently Israeli medical reporting is rolling around on shifting sands. An Israeli journalist who reports that a brain-dead baby died upon cessation of heartbeat contradicts the understanding of the medical community in practically every country in the world, as well as contradicting the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, the Knesset of Israel and the Ministry of Health of Israel. A journalist who uses the term “life-support,” when she should have written ventilator, contributes to people’s decisions not to donate organs resulting in the needless deaths of more than 100 Israelis every year. Choosing our words carefully is good advice for conversation as well as for journalism.

The writer has an MPA from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He is a freelance writer and the founder and director of the Halachic Organ Donor Society.

Jewish Day School Grants and Scholarship Now Available For All Ages

The Kohelet Foundations’s Jewish Day School Collaborative will award a limited number of tuition grants and scholarships Jewish day school students in nursery, elementary, middle and high school for September 2012.

These grants and scholarships ensure that more children realize the dream of an education rich in Jewish values and responsibility, where they achieve academically, while connecting to the world through a Jewish lens. Engaged, passionate and committed, they are tomorrow’s leaders.

Each student will receive up to 33% of tuition at day schools throughout Greater Philadelphia and South Jersey, up to $5,000 for lower and middle school and up to $8,500 for high school.

These grants and scholarships are multi-year and are offered to new and existing day school students of all denominations. Qualifications and details vary based on grade level.

Don’t wait another minute to give your child a Jewish day school education.

A limited number of grants and scholarships available at all day schools in Greater Philadelphia/South Jersey:

JRAid helps people in need

— by John O. Mason

JRAid is a new program of the Jewish Relief Agency (JRA), the food distribution program founded by Rabbi Menachem Schmidt, of the Chabad Hasidim.

JRA Director Amy Krulik describes JRAid as

A brand new program…launched on September 18, 2011. The goal of the program is for our JRA volunteers to provide additional assistance and support to people in the community. It’s a way to go beyond just providing food support, but to help people with everyday tasks, (such as) changing light bulbs, doing minor home repairs, providing rides to the doctor, (making) friendly phone calls or friendly visits to home bound seniors, really trying to fill in the pieces, primarily for people who don’t have family or support networks in the area.

More after the jump.

Krulik adds:

The cool thing about JRAid is that it’s an online marketplace (for volunteers). As a volunteer, you register as a volunteer with JRAid, you tell us what you’re interested in doing, when and where you’re available to do it, and you sit back and wait for the system to come to you. You don’t have to search through endless lists of volunteer opportunities, our system does all the work for you. When a volunteer opportunity that matches your preference comes into the hopper, we send you an e-mail or a phone call, ‘It’s a match,’ and you can see whether or not you’re available to take advantage of the volunteer opportunity.

JRAid has on its list a number of families, adds Krulik, who have been struggling financially;

We’ve worked with a few organizations, and directly with some families, for us to get volunteers, and we’ve mostly brought gifts for the holidays for those families, (such as) winter coats, hats and gloves and pajamas, games and DVDs, things to help the families be able to celebrate the holidays in a meaningful way with each other.

Krulik says that JRAid also has a “snow patrol,” meaning, “There are people who are psyched up to go out to somebody’s house and help them clear their sidewalks and steps.”  

Shalom TV Live Premiers Today Throughout North America

— by Alan Oirich

Barack Obama, Glenn Beck, Ed Koch and Ehud Barak will headline the premiere of Shalom TV Live

Jews throughout North America will have a new channel available for viewing beginning today, February 1, 2012, as “Shalom TV Live” premieres with a wide array of programming.

Shalom TV Live can be viewed online on any computer or mobile device by visiting the Shalom TV Web site. The channel will also be premiering in New York City and in Miami on Hotwire Communications and will soon be carried on cable systems throughout the country.

The new television channel will compliment Shalom TV’s extremely successful Free Video On Demand programming which is currently available in more than 40 million homes on virtually every cable system in the United State and on Rogers Cable in Canada.

A Jewish “PBS-style” channel in the breadth of its programming, the first week of Shalom TV Live features:

  • the annual dinner of the Zionist Organization of America in NY and the addresses of ZOA President Morton Klein and keynote speaker Glenn Beck;
  • the Union For Reform Judaism’s Biennial in Washington, DC, with President Barack Obama, Israel Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Jewish Agency Chair Natan Sharansky, and outgoing URJ President Rabbi Eric Yoffie,
  • an interview with former New York City Mayor Ed Koch
  • an interview with the recent past chairman of the Presidents Conference, Alan Solow, a longtime friend of President Obama.
  • And viewers will share in the fiftieth anniversary of the Foundation For Jewish Culture as its CEO, Elise Bernhardt, presents Jewish Cultural Achievement Awards to individuals who have made major cultural contributions, including Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt.

In addition, Shalom TV Live will feature a daily newscast from Israel, children’s programming every morning and afternoon, a series profiling the hottest Israeli musical artists (“Muzika”), and an “HBO-like” series following Jewish singles in their search for that special someone (“From Date To Mate”).

More after the jump.
Shalom TV Live will also provide viewers with a front-row seat to the outstanding programs presented at The 92nd Street Y in New York; and the channel’s Jewish Studies programming will enable one to learn to read and understand Hebrew (“From The Aleph Bet”), study a page of Talmud (“Dimensions of the Daf”), sit with rabbis from the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem (“Rethinking Judaism”), and be introduced to the mysteries of Kabbalah (“Kabbalah Revealed”). Shalom TV also plans on telecasting live Friday Night Services preceded by a D’var Torah on the week’s Torah reading by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin.

Shalom TV, a nonprofit network, is free of charge as both a VOD service and a live channel. Network president Mark S. Golub explains that the launch of the Shalom TV Live will do nothing to the Video On Demand programming which will remain available on all cable systems.

“There is something very exciting about doing live television,” Golub explains. “In addition to news from Israel, Shalom TV will now be able to cover breaking stories as they occur and our guests will be able to interact with our audience via telephone. And with a live channel, many Jews and non-Jews will find it especially easy to access Shalom TV and share in the information, education, and entertainment Shalom TV provides the entire community.”

To watch Shalom TV Live and to see the week’s program schedule; to access archived programs; and to find how to access Shalom TV’s Video On Demand network on your cable system, visit the Shalom TV Web site and click on “Find Us.” Everyone is also encouraged to call their cable provider and ask them to add Shalom TV Live to their channel lineup.

Shalom TV, America’s national Jewish television network, is available for free on virtually every cable system in America. It can be found in the free Video On Demand section on Comcast, Time Warner, Cablevision, Verizon FiOS, Antietam, Cox Communications, RCN, Bright House, Armstrong, Service Electric Cablevision, Service Electric Cable TV, Buckeye CableSystem, MetroCast, Blue Ridge Communications, Frontier, WOW!, Click!, GCI, and Rogers Cable (Canada).

Friends of the IDF befriends Lone Soldiers

Last week, the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces began a new tradition here in Philadelphia with their first annual Gala. Everyone enjoyed the music under the direction of Udi Bar as well as the drinks and fine food.  

However, the real reason everyone came out was to show their support for the soldiers of the IDF.  Their jobs is to look after Israel, and it is the job for the Friends of the IDF to look after them.

Keynote speaker former Governor Ed Rendell explained that he and his brother Robert were not raised in a religious home, but his father told them to remember that they are Jews, to remember how Jews have been treated over the years, and to support Jewish causes like FIDF whenever they could.

Although Rendell has had many titles: Governor of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Mayor of Philadelphia and Philadelphia District Attorney, he said the title of which he is most proud is that of 2nd Lieutenant from his service in the reserve from 1968 to 1974.

The Friends of the IDF supports Israeli soldiers in many ways:

  • The IMPACT! program grants full scholarships to soldiers who come from a disadvantaged socioeconomic background and seek a higher education. Each scholarship recipient is required to complete 130 hours of community service annually. IMPACT! Student Maru Gete, an Ethiopian Jewish immigrant, came to tell us how the FIDF allowed him to realize his dream of going to medical school.
  • The Legacy Program supports thousands of widows, orphans and other family members who have suffered the devastating loss of a loved-one fallen during military service. Galit Cochva was on hand to speak courageous of her husband Ron who  died when his helicopter crashed in Lebanon.
  • The Lone Soldier Program supports the 2,800 determined young men and women from all over the world who choose to leave the comfort of their homes and families to travel to Israel, become proud IDF soldiers and make Israel their home. Friends of the IDF is a family to Lone Soldiers who have no family of their own in Israel.

Wynnewood native Shoval Dorani returned to Philadlephia to tell us about her life as a lone soldier and the support she received from the Friends of the IDF.

Here is what she had to say:

Good evening. My name is Shoval Dorani and for the past year I have been serving as a proud lone soldier in Oketz, the independent canine special forces unit of the Israel defense force.

I was born in North Miami Beach, Florida and raised in beautiful Wynnewood, Pennsylvania along with my brother Omri and my sister Liat. I had the privilege of receiving a Jewish Day School education and was raised in a home where the state of Israel was constantly in our hearts and in our minds. My father was born in Israel and my mother has always considered Israel her second home, so we traveled to Israel often. Each time I stepped onto Israel soil, I felt a sense of belonging. I was home.

The remainder of Shoval’s remarks follow the jump.

The summer of 2006, the summer that Gilad Shalit was taken into captivity became a critical turning point in my life. I was a 14 year old attending an all girls summer camp when the Israel Lebanon war broke out. It was that moment that the course of my life would change forever. As the girls were playing in tennis tournaments or having fun on the soccer field, all I could think about was the war and how I wished to be alongside those brave soldiers of the IDF. It was then that I realized upon high school graduation, that I would enlist in the Israel defense forces. My friends could not understand my passion, but it was my dream, one that turned into a reality.

In the summer of 2010, my journey began, one that continues to challenge me both physically and mentally in ways I never thought possible. And while my friends were leaving for college full of dreams and excitement, I chose to leave my family and the comforts of home to travel to Israel and enlist in the Israeli army.

I am currently serving as a lochemet (combat soldier) in the Oketz unit which specializes in training dogs for military purposes. These dogs are highly trained to attack, sniff out hidden explosives or different chemicals as well as being used in search and rescue efforts resulting from earthquakes or other disasters.

I have a beautiful Belgian shepherd named Gula. She is highly trained to sniff out suspicious cars, objects and buildings for weapons and chemicals in order to prevent terrorism from entering the state of Israel.

It was two weeks after my enlistment into Karakal, a combat unit where men and women serve together to protect the southern border of Israel, that we had our gibush. Before joining the army, I knew that my dream was to be a soldier in Oketz. The only way for girls to join Oketz was to pass a ‘gibush,’ a physical and mental test lasting two days. It all began with a hapkatza, the sudden wake up call in the middle of the night. The next eight hours was the physical part of the gibush, where every run, crawl, and jump would determine the next three years of my army service. I gave it my all. During that gibush, I remember asking myself how I was able to continue, but I never gave up, determined to overcome this difficult challenge.

Two long days passed after the Oketz gibush, with every girl as anxious and nervous as I was to hear which girls had made it into this elite unit. After eating our breakfast of white bread, whole avocados, half a banana, and white cheese, all without plates or utensils, we were  told that the girls who did the gibush should stand in a “chet to hear who made it. Some girls began shaking and crying from nerves. As 100 girls stood  silently, one of the commanders stood in the middle of the chet. “I will read the list of 16 girls who made it into Oketz, I do not want to hear any reactions. Stay quiet.” As the names were called, my heart was pounding. I felt a bead of sweat on my forehead, although my entire body was numb from the winter air of the desert. Names were being called, mine not among them, when suddenly, “Dorani, Shoval.” Tears instantly ran down my cheeks. I could not believe what I had heard. MY name!? I made it?! Never before had I felt so accomplished and proud. My dream came true right then and there. My journey as an IDF soldier had just begun.

After six grueling and challenging months of basic training, my beloved Oketz team and I would end our service in Karakal, and begin a new adventure in Oketz. This had been our dream for the past six months, and it was finally here. Getting ready for the ‘masa aliya,’ was an entirely new feeling for us. We had many masaot before, but this masa would bring us to Oketz, our final destination. Our excitement was unavoidable. With all of our equipment on our backs, our weapons tight around our bodies, and our faces fully covered in paint, we were more than ready to begin this journey of 15 kilometers.

Basic training was full of many challenging masaot. One of them in order to receive my tag, another for a diskit cover, a pin for my coomta, and a case for my machsanit. All of these masaot were meaningful and extremely important to me, however the masa aliya to yechidat oketz meant more to me than anything. With much rabak, we all took our places in two lines. Our commander took the lead and we followed.

During the masa, sweating and sleep deprived, I along with the others were determined to succeed. This was my family now and when one was down, we all lent a hand. We had begun this journey together…we would end this journey together.

One cold night during basic training in Karakal, the hour had finally come where we could shower, speak on the phone, and go to sleep in our tents. I quickly ran to organize my things for the shower when I saw a package waiting for me on my bed. My first reaction was that it was probably a mistake and meant for one of the girls in my tent. As one of only two lone soldiers in my unit, it was sometimes difficult to see the Israeli girls getting packages almost every day. They received anything from food, clothes, bedding, and shampoo from their families and friends living in Israel. I was happy to see that the package read my name and inside I found winter socks, a hat, long underwear, a long sleeved shirt, pajama shorts, and a neck warmer. The package included an envelope full of letters from people from all over the world thanking me for leaving my life and my family and friends behind to serve as a lone soldier in the IDF. There was a letter from a woman that especially touched me.

Dear Shoval,

How are you? We hope that you’re not having too hard a time of it. After all, what would we do without you? Because of you, and only you, we are able to live and sleep in peace.

Our dear soldier, please take care of yourself so you can soon be home to your eema and abba. You are our strength. We are proud of you, look up to you, love you.

So take care of yourself and enjoy this package!

With love,

Nancy from Washington, D.C

No words could ever have been more beautiful, more important. I was not alone.

I want to thank each and every one of you in this room for coming tonight in support of the Friends of the Israel Defense Force. You have provided soldiers like me with certain comforts we would not otherwise be receiving. Packages, trips to water parks, and flights to travel and reunite with our families, are just to name a few. My journey has not been an easy one and there have been times of sadness and lonliness, but I made a decision to become a member of the IDF, a decision I will continue to love and be proud of.

Thank you.

Don’t Be Embarrassed to Meet Online

— by Steve Hofstetter

It’s not embarrassing to meet a girl online. It’s embarrassing to meet a girl at a bar. Imagine knowing the only reason you have a girlfriend is because you met her when she was drunk and now she feels trapped. Tell that story to your 8-year-old son one day.

“How did you and mommy meet?”

“Well son, it was dollar shot night. Your mother looked so beautiful as the neon “Pabst Blue Ribbon” sign hit her while she was dancing on the bar. I got her to come down with a few shots of Jack Daniels, we went back to her place, one thing led to another, and that’s why your name is Jack.”

More after the jump.
“Where do babies come from?”

“Spring break.”

A friend of mine said that dating on-line stopped being lame the first time a guy scored, because a guy can justify anything if it leads to women. But despite that and a study that says 17% of all couples meet online, there’s still a stigma attached to internet love. That same study only lists “work/school” and “friend or family member” as greater hook up potential. And many of the people who said one of those two were probably lying and really met online.

Whenever I hear a non-specific origin story about a couple, I assume they’re hiding an online love affair. Couples that meet through a friend will almost always volunteer the friend’s name. Couples that say “oh, friend of a friend” – well that friend’s name is probably Mark Zuckerberg.

I’m not just defending online dating because I met my wife on JDate — I had been using the internet to meet women since I was 15. As a high school kid tired of being ignored, I turned to Compuserve chat rooms to meet girls. I met one of my first “girlfriends” that way. And by “girlfriend” I mean “someone who I talked to on the phone for a month and never kissed.”

Compuserve was a few bucks per minute and existed before you could choose your own email address, so mine was twice as long as my phone number. But the principle that got 15-year-old me past (and to spend hundreds of dollars of my parents’ money) is also what drew me to JDate.

“But mom, I didn’t realize it was still connected!”

Simply put, I wanted to meet someone who could skip past the superficial and actually get to know me. Of course, I wanted that person to be hot, too.

“Captain irony, your table is ready.”

Hot and not superficial are rare characteristics for one person to share, but they were both on my checklist. I wanted a match to have many, many characteristics, some of which I couldn’t discover if I was just approaching people in the offline world. Part of why people get so excited when they meet someone they think could be the one is the astronomical odds of doing so. Even if you meet someone at a bar, and even if you hit it off with that person, and even if you’re slick enough to get to the point in the conversation where you exchange numbers, there are still dozens of levels of compatibility that you haven’t even broached.

Online dating has tons of advantages over in-person meeting. First, everyone there is there for the same reason you are – to meet someone. A LOT of people at a bar are married and out with friends, just got out of serious relationships, or aren’t even interested in people of your gender. More importantly, you’re able to narrow down your matches before even speaking to any of them online, which you don’t have time to do at a bar. Online dating is much more methodical and scientific than offline.

And that’s where the stigma comes from – because there’s no cool factor. Online, you’ll never have a crazy origin of how you just bumped into each other, or how animal magnetism forced you to say hi. There’s just no story involving anyone who would eventually be played in a terrible romantic comedy by Kathryn Heigl and Hugh Grant.

I prefer using a more intelligent method to meet people, so I have never found anything wrong with using the web. But for anyone still worried that meeting their soul mate on a website might somehow reflect poorly on them, I offer this metaphor.

Let’s say you were offered a choice – a hundred million dollars to be an exec at Facebook or $5 an hour plus tips to work at a bar. Wouldn’t you happily tell everyone you made your millions online?

Me too.

Steve Hofstetter is an internationally touring comedian who has been on VH1, ESPN, Comedy Central, and many more. To book him at your next event, visit This column was originally published on