Jewish Agency Launches Online Sukkot Contest

A decorated sukkah.

— by Josh Berkman

With the holiday of Sukkot approaching, The Jewish Agency for Israel has launched Sukkathon 2013, an online contest to “identify the world’s most beautiful and innovative sukkah.”

For Sukkathon 2013, the Agency encourages Jews around the world to send pictures of their sukkahs to the address [email protected] or tweet it to @Jewishagency with the hashtag #number1sukkah. All submissions must be received by 11 a.m. ET on Sept. 23. Winners will be announced on Wednesday, Sept. 25.

“Sukkot celebrates the warmth felt by members of the Jewish community as they gather for meals in these intimate settings,” said Tali Aronsky, The Jewish Agency’s director of communications in North America. “We look forward to showcasing the artistry and creativity that exists within the global Jewish family and invite Jews who are proud of their sukkahs to show them off.”

More after the jump.
The Agency has assembled a judging panel that includes an internationally recognized architect, an art critic and an artist. The judges are:

  • Pam Davidson, who was a principle architect in Cape Town before making Aliyah. She helped design the FIFA World Cup Stadium and the South African Heritage Storage Museum, as well as residential and municipality projects in Israel. She also blogs about architecture and Israel.
  • Julia Weiner, who has been the Jewish Chronicle’s art critic since 1993. She also works as a lecturer in art history at Regent’s University London, on the education staff at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and advises the London Jewish Cultural Centre on their exhibition programs.
  • Betina Schnaid, who emigrated to Israel from Brazil in 2011. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts and a Master’s Degree in Graphic Design, and represented Israel at the first “London Art Biennale” in 2013.

1st Children’s Aliyah Flight Arrives: Record 106 Children Aboard

— by Rebecca (Langer) Modell

Gilad Shalit accompanied the 231 North American Olima board this summer’s first charter Aliyah flight including Nefesh b’Nefesh’s 35,000th Oleh

El-Al flight 3004 landed Monday morning at Ben Gurion Airport with 231 new Israeli citizens aboard. Even before they took off, the passengers knew not to expect getting any sleep, as close to 50% of the occupants were children. This is a new record of children arriving on a Nefesh B’Nefesh flight in cooperation with The Jewish Agency for Israel. The 106 young Olim are joining a whopping 989 children who will be making Aliyah throughout 2013 with Nefesh B’Nefesh in cooperation with the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, The Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Kayemeth L’Israel and JNF. This is an increase of 20%, compared to 822 children that made Aliyah in 2012.

In anticipation of the arrival, Nefesh B’Nefesh prepared reinforcements to help the parents watch over their children and keep them occupied during the long flight and at the arrival ceremony. Amongst the activities that awaited the children were Aliyah coloring books, games and custom-made t-shirts. Former Israeli IDF captive, Gilad Shalit, also joined the flight as a show of support and appreciation for the thousands of North American Olim who are fulfilling their dream to return to Israel and their contribution to the State of Israel.

Also on board were 41 families, including the 106 children as well as 54 singles — 13 of whom will be joining the IDF. Also of note were the 41 Olim moving to Israel’s periphery as part of the Nefesh B’Nefesh and Keren Kayemeth L’Israel Go North and Go South programs.

Kindertransport 1938-1940

The Children’s Aliyah Flight reminds us for the story of the Kindertransport which saved “some ten thousand Jewish children out of Nazi Germany, Austria, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and the free city of Danzig nine month prior to the outbreak of World War II. For the most part, the children were placed in British foster homes, hostels, and farms. One of those children, fourteen-year-old Viennese native Renee Perl, was destined to become the mother of congressional representative Allyson Schwartz, Democrat of Pennsylvania.”
(Source:The Jews of Capitol Hill: A Compendium of Jewish Congressional Members)

The Co-Founder and Chairman of Nefesh B’Nefesh, Tony Gelbart said:

As we welcome our 35,000th Oleh, it is exciting to see so many children amongst the Zionistic modern day pioneers who are helping to build and secure the future of the State of Israel. This new generation is joining young adults volunteering for the IDF and Olim moving to Israel’s North and South to help strengthen the periphery, to infuse the country with renewed passion and idealism.

The Minister of Immigrant Absorption Sofa Landver said:

I am happy to welcome over 100 children who are making Aliyah today through Nefesh B’Nefesh and joining us here in Israel. Aliyah from North America is extremely important and makes us stronger as a nation.

The Chairman of The Jewish Agency for Israel, Natan Sharansky said:

The Jewish Agency, which brings tens of thousands of Olim from across the globe sees Nefesh B’Nefesh as a dedicated partner in this important work.  The children and their parents who are arriving on this Olim flight from North America represent the future of Israel and every one of them strengthens Israeli society.

Hundreds of families and friends as well as Israeli dignitaries gathered at Ben Gurion Airport to welcome the country’s newest citizens at the arrival ceremony.

Those present included:

  • Minister of Immigrant Absorption Sofa Landver;
  • Member of the Committee for Immigration, Absorption & Diaspora Affairs MK Dov Lipman;
  • Chairman of the Jewish Agency Natan Sharansky;
  • World Chairman of KKL-JNF, Effie Stenzler;
  • Vice President Global Sales of El Al, Offer Gat;
  • Vice Chairman of Nefesh B’Nefesh Erez Halfon and
  • Co-Founders of Nefesh B’Nefesh Rabbi Yehoshua Fass & Tony Gelbart.

Photo credit: Shafar Azran and Peter Hamalgyi.

About Nefesh B’Nefesh: Founded in 2002, Nefesh B’Nefesh in cooperation with the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency for Israel, is dedicated to revitalizing Aliyah from North America and the UK by removing or minimizing the financial, professional, logistical and social obstacles of Aliyah. The support and comprehensive social services provided by Nefesh B’Nefesh to its over 35,000 newcomers, has ensured that 97% of its Olim have remained in Israel.  

Young American Jew Attempts Nine-Day, North-to-South Israel Run

— by Josh Berkman

Marc Hendel, a south Florida native and recent graduate of Washington University in St. Louis, is currently attempting to become the first American to run the full length of Israel — from Rosh HaNikra, near the Lebanon border, to Eilat, the Red Sea port at Israel’s southernmost tip, in nine days. Hendel is running to raise money and awareness for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri and for Youth Futures, a Jewish Agency for Israel-sponsored mentorship program that assists at-risk children throughout the Jewish state.

More after the jump.
The 23-year-old has began his nine-day, 470-kilometer Strengthening Bonds Run on Tuesday, March 12. He currently lives in Israel as a volunteer on Project Otzma, a 10-month community service program sponsored by MASA Israel Journey, a joint-venture of The Jewish Agency for Israel and the Israeli government.

Over the course of his Otzma volunteer year, Hendel worked as an English teacher in an elementary school in Karmiel, a socio-economically disadvantaged town in Israel’s North. While in Karmiel, Hendel formed a running club to promote diversity among the city’s immigrant population. Hendel then went to Netivot, near the Gaza border, to volunteer with the Youth Futures mentorship program.

While in Netivot, a sister city of Philadelphia’s Jewish community through The Jewish Agency‘s Partership2Gether initiative, Hendel built on his Karmiel success and organized the Run Together for Netivot 5K race to raise money for local, grassroots programs.

Not satisfied with local exposure, Hendel decided to go big — to run the length of Israel and generate excitement, buzz and donations along the way.

“My goals for this run are two-fold,” Hendel said.

First, I want to strengthen bonds between Israel and American Jews and also to strengthen bonds between children and their mentors. Both of these mentor organizations are near and dear to my heart. I am also running to highlight Partnership2Gether and the 45 partnerships between Jewish communities around the world and Israeli towns. We are one global family, and these partnerships are essential to a secure future for the Jewish people.

Hendel and his support team have launched a website, where visitors can make donations to Youth Futures or Big Brothers Big Sisters in Hendel’s honor. Hendel and his crew will be updating the site daily with photos, blog posts and videos and will map his progress southward. This will be Hendel’s first ultra-marathon, but he remains confident.

“With the support of my fellow Otzma volunteers, I am sure I’ll complete the run,” Hendel said. “Also, when people donate, I get an extra boost, knowing that every step I take helps these wonderful children get the mentors they deserve.”

First Snow for New Ethiopian Immigrants in Israel

— by the staff of The Jewish Agency

Hundreds of Ethiopian Olim (Immigrants), who are living in The Jewish Agency for Israel absorption centers in Safed, experienced snow yesterday for the first time. The children pictured headed outside to play in the snow and feel the natural marvel with their own hands at the start of the snow storm, which has blanketed the city.

More after the jump.
Three Jewish Agency absorption centers are located in Safed which house 2,000 immigrants from Ethiopia, who The Jewish Agency brought to Israel in recent months. The olim arrived as a part of Operation Dove’s Wings, which will bring the Ethiopian Aliyah to a close.

The immigrants in Safed, who come from southern Ethiopia, had never seen snow before. Since the early morning hours, the olim worked with The Jewish Agency’s professional staff to prepare for the cold: school was cancelled, Jewish Agency educators are running enrichment programming for the children, a ‘movie club’ was opened for teenagers and in the apartments of the olim heaters were turned on, and hot, steaming soup was prepared.

Israeli, Diaspora Jews Volunteer Together in Developing Countries

New Tikkun Empowerment Network (Project TEN) Provides Young Jews the Opportunity to Serve and Learn Together While Discovering Common Ground and Building Lasting Friendships

New York, NY; August 20, 2012 — A group of 11 young Jewish adults from Israel and the Diaspora have arrived in Hyderabad, India where, in partnership with B’Tzedek, The Jewish Agency has opened a volunteer center as part of its new Project T.E.N. (Tikkun Empowerment Network)-a global Tikkun Olam initiative that brings together Jewish young adults from around the world to spend three months working and learning together in impoverished communities worldwide.

More after the jump.
In Hyderabad, groups of two to four volunteers will be working on numerous projects simultaneously. The projects focus on helping different populations confront social challenges at the grassroots level. Projects are expected to include: teaching at a children’s group home during school hours, or running after-school activities; providing professional training to youth and adults to help them gain valuable employment skills; planning activities for the elderly poor; helping sports coaches weave interpersonal and intrapersonal skills into their instruction to disadvantaged children; teaching English to staff members of NGOs so they can function more fully; and organizing small-scale social entrepreneur projects. In addition, volunteers will attend meetings with staff of leading international corporations to learn about corporate social responsibility initiatives and will also meet with Indian university students who are interested in social change.

The group now in Hyderabad is the first Project T.E.N. cohort at the center. But there is currently a group of volunteers stationed in Gondar, Ethiopia-also the first cohort there-where they have been earning the widespread praise of local leaders for their work with community members of all ages, including advocating to community officials for resources so locals could repair homes and public centers, assisting at a medical clinic for the critically ill and opening a day camp for orphans in a local school.

“I’m very excited about what Project T.E.N. is doing in Gondar,” said Mtzlal, a native Ethiopian, who is one of the Project T.E.N. coordinators and an NGO worker in the Gojo-the neighborhood where most of the global Tikkun Olam projects in Gondar are operating.

“We are really turning around things that have stagnated for years,” Mtzlal added. “For the first time in years, I’m putting together a report on the situation in the neighborhood-number of aids patients, their age and treatment status, clothes distribution that is crucial at this time of year (rainy season)-we also dug a drainage canal for the neighborhood, where there is often flooding, which causes dirty water to flow into huts…

“They thought (T.E.N.) is just another organization that buys some stuff for the people and then leaves, but now they understand that we’re really here for the long run. But it’s not just the Gojo project that has started moving, but also the other projects. The next step is to help people learn how to do things for themselves and earn money.”

Added Olemiu, Education and Health Coordinator at the Yenege Tesfa Organization, which runs the group home for children: “I can see an amazing effort that is born of the volunteers’ devotion and determination. Even when some of them feel fatigued, since they are not used to the conditions here, they get up anew and continue with our project (summer camp for the Yenege Tesfa orphans), and they help the children increase their self confidence and think differently about themselves-become more aware of the importance of school, and how to protect themselves from abuse. It is an honor to work with these volunteers.”

Ben-Ari Boukai is a volunteer originally from Indianapolis. In Gondar, he has helped run the day camp for orphans. He said that not only does he feel that his working will make a lasting impact on the community of Gojo, but also on his own life.

“The work is significant,” Boukai said. “At the Yenge Tesfe, there is no structure over the summer without the camp we created, and the kids either work or get bored. The camp is a tool, a tool for reaching them. I feel that, even five years from now, they’ll be using what they gain here. The kids don’t have families, but we can be role models for them. The (local staff) in the Project T.E.N. center is really supportive, and that’s what makes this program special-the support and the enrichment from the educational program and from the community.”  

Tal Cantor, originally from Montreal, said that volunteering at the Mother Teresa Health Clinic-where the gravely ill receive care-has taught her the importance of leaving her comfort zone.

“It’s unbelievable how quickly our projects started to make a difference,” Cantor said. “There is a sense of pioneering… At first it was hard for me to even enter the health clinic, let alone talk to the patients. The condition of most of these people is hard to see. But now it’s natural for me to talk to them, to laugh, touch them and show them love.”

The program is planning to open 12 centers in all. By the spring of 2013, there will be global Tikkun Olam centers operating in localities such as Israel’s Galilee, Brazil, Thailand and Equador. Once they open, global Tikkun Olam centers will simultaneously host groups year-round that are a mix of young Jewish adults from around the globe. As groups rotate in, others will rotate out. The second Gondar cohort will be on September 10, a second Hyderabad cohort will be arriving on November 6, the first groups for Israel and Brazil will be arriving the first week of December, and a third Gondar group will be arriving on December 10.

“Nowhere in the Jewish world is a there a service-learning program of a similar scope that brings Jews from all corners of the globe together to make a difference,” said Nir Lahav, Director of Jewish Service Learning for The Jewish Agency. “By spending three months working and learning together to help empower the poor and vulnerable, young Jewish adults from different backgrounds-and with a range of different life experiences-will find common ground as they build partnerships with one another. These partnerships will turn into lifelong friendships, the sorts of connections critical to a secure, global Jewish future.”

Jewish Federations, Agency Provide Assist Burgas Victims

The Jewish Agency for Israel’s Fund for the Victims of Terror will provide financial assistance to Israelis wounded in the attack in Bulgaria and to the families of those killed.  The assistance, made possible by a contribution from The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), is meant to help those affected by the attack address supplemental needs not covered by Israeli government bodies.  Any family that experienced the loss or injury of a loved one in the attack may request assistance from the fund.

Jewish Agency Chairman of the Executive Natan Sharansky said that the assistance provided by The Jewish Federations of North America demonstrates the solidarity of Jews around the world with the terrible pain of those Israelis wounded in the attack and with the deep mourning of the families of those killed.

The Jewish Agency‘s Fund for the Victims of Terror, established in 2002, provides financial assistance to victims of terror in Israel.  Since its establishment, the fund-which is sustained by contributions from Jewish federations, philanthropic foundations, and donors around the world-has enabled The Jewish Agency to provide thousands of terror victims and their families with assistance at a scope of more than NIS 100 million.

Response from World Jewish Congress, Isareli Consulate, B’nai Brith, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Susan Rice, Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Shelley Berkley, Howard Berman, Jan Schakowsky, Sherrod Brown, Jerrold Nadler, Ted Deutsch, Eliot Engel, Alcee Hastings, Charles Rangel and Joe Crowley follow the jump.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

I was deeply saddened and angered to learn of today’s terrorist attack against Israeli tourists in Bulgaria…. The United States stands ready to offer any assistance necessary, and we will work with our partners in Bulgaria, Israel and elsewhere so that the perpetrators can be apprehended swiftly and brought to justice for this appalling crime.

President Barack Obama

I strongly condemn today’s barbaric terrorist attack on Israelis in Bulgaria. My thoughts and prayers are with the families of those killed and injured, and with the people of Israel … As Israel has tragically once more been a target of terrorism, the United States reaffirms our unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security, and our deep friendship and solidarity with the Israeli people.

World Jewish Congress:

World Jewish Congress (WJC) President Ronald S. Lauder has condemned the murderous terror attack in which six Israeli tourists and the Bulgarian bus driver were killed when one of three buses carrying mostly Israeli men, women and children was blown up outside the airport of Burgas, Bulgaria.

“It is no coincidence that this assault comes 18 years to the day since the Iranian regime sponsored attack against the AMIA  Jewish community center in Buenos Aires took the lives of 85 innocent victims”, Lauder said. The current Iranian Defense Minister, Ahmed Vahidi, was indicted by Argentinianauthorities, and is currently sought by Interpol.

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments regarding the Iranian regime’s involvement in this deadly attack reminds the world of the role Iran, and the terrorist groups it supports, play in global terrorism,” Lauder said.

The World Jewish Congress also salutes Israeli businessman Nochi Dankner for immediately dispatching a private plane with doctors and medical supplies to Burgas to treat the victims of this murderous assault.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice:

We extend our condolences to the families of the victims of this heinous act and stand with the people of Israel & Bulgaria.

The terrorist attack against Israeli tourists in Bulgaria today is outrageous, an act of supreme cowardice.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi:

Our thoughts and prayers rest with the families, friends, and loved ones of those killed and injured in today’s terrorist attack.

Whether within Israel’s borders or around the world, attacks against innocent Israeli men, women, and children are reprehensible and outrageous. All Members of Congress and the American people must stand together to condemn this bombing in the strongest terms possible.

Falling 18 years after the bombing against the AMIA Jewish Center in Buenos Aires, today’s attack is a clear reminder that we must redouble our efforts to bring terrorists to justice; we must maintain and strengthen our commitment to the security of the Jewish state; and we will always stand firm on side of the safety of the Israeli people.

B’nai B’rith International:

B’nai B’rith International condemns in the strongest terms possible the July 18 terrorist attack on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria. Early reports indicate at least five Israelis have been killed and almost 30 people have been rushed to the hospital, some in critical condition. The situation is still unfolding.

The bombing occurred on a tour bus near the Sarafovo Airport in Burgas, a Bulgarian city on the Black Sea. While it is unclear who the perpetrators are, Israeli leaders are suggesting Iran and Hezbollah may be behind the attacks.

B’nai B’rith urges Bulgarian and international agencies to work together to determine who was responsible for this attack that targeted Israelis.  

The attack occurred on the 18th anniversary of the terrorist attack on the Argentine-Israelite Mutual Association Jewish center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people and wounded 300.

This attack on Israelis, coming on the AMIA anniversary, is a chilling reminder that anti-Israel sentiment is alive and well worldwide. Our hearts and prayers go out to the victims and their families.

House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer:

Today’s attack is a tragic reminder of the threat of terrorism Israelis face at home and abroad.  Those who planned, carried out, and sponsored this attack will surely be identified and face justice for their actions and involvement.

The murder of innocent tourists is a shameful act of cowardice that should give all Americans pause.  My thoughts and prayers are with the victims’ families, with Israelis and Bulgarians wounded in today’s attack, and with those in Jewish communities throughout the world for whom it has brought a terrible moment of uncertainty and heightened vigilance.  Let there be no uncertainty, though, that the people of the United States stand side-by-side with the people of Israel in their quest for security and the peace all nations deserve.

Democratic National Committee Chair Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz :

I am saddened and outraged by this horrific and brutal attack against Israeli tourists in Bulgaria. On this 18th anniversary of the deadly bombing of the AMIA Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires, Argentina, today’s tragic and senseless attack serves as a constant reminder of the deplorable violence and anti-Semitism that still exists in our world. The United States stands strong with our ally Israel in condemning this atrocity and supporting the unshakable U.S.-Israel relationship. My thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Israel and Bulgaria, and the families of the victims of today’s unforgivable attack.

Representative Shelley Berkley:

Our hearts are with the families of those killed in the horrific Bulgarian bus bombing and our thoughts and prayers for a full recovery are with those injured in this terrorist attack.  Those responsible for this bloodshed and for targeting innocent Israeli tourists in a brutal massacre cannot go unpunished and they must be brought to justice.  No justification ever exists for bombing a bus loaded with innocent men, women and children, and we are once again reminded of the dangers that Israelis face on a daily basis both at home and when traveling abroad.  Americans stand shoulder to shoulder with our special ally Israel at this time of mourning and we share the grief that has been unleashed by this latest terrorist tragedy.

Representative Howard Berman:

I offer my heartfelt condolences to the victims of the terrorist attack against innocent Israeli tourists in Bulgaria and their loved ones.

Representative Jan Schakowsky:

I am deeply saddened by today’s despicable terrorist attack against Israeli tourists in Bulgaria that killed and injured innocent men, women, and children. My thoughts and prayers are with the families, friends and loved ones of those who were senselessly massacred.

These anti-Semitic, anti-Israel attacks anywhere in the world must be strongly condemned. The President has said that the United States has an unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security and I expect a robust effort to find out who is responsible for this act of terrorism.

Senator Sherrod Brown:

With the 40th anniversary of the 1972 Munich Massacre on the horizon, we are once again reminded that Israel and her allies are still targets of worldwide terrorism. The Israeli victims of this vicious terrorist attack in Burgas,  Bulgaria will not be forgotten and I stand with our allies who want to see the perpetrators brought to justice. Terrorism, in any form, cannot be allowed to stand. I am fully committed to supporting Israel’s right to defend herself. My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims.

May peace and solace find them in their time of grief.

Representative Jerrold Nadler:

Disgusted by the cowardly attack on Israelis in ‪#Bulgaria. My thoughts are with the families of the victims and the Israeli people.

Representative Ted Deutch:

The terrorist attack against innocent Israeli tourists in Bulgaria was horrific. We mourn the loss of life & stand w Israel in solidarity.

Representative Eliot Engel:

The United States and the rest of the civilized world must stand with the Israel against terrorism. Until terrorism ceases against Israeli citizens there will not be peace in the Middle East.   The violence must stop, and must stop now.  I find it more than coincidental that on the 18th anniversary of the bombing of the AMIA Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires, an Israeli target was attacked, this time in Europe.   We must stand up to the terrorists, wherever and whenever they strike.  The United States should provide whatever assistance Bulgaria requires to bring the perpetrators to justice. Should Iran or another nation be found responsible, it must be held accountable.

Let us keep all these victims and their families in our thoughts and prayers.

Representative Alcee Hastings:

I was deeply saddened to learn of today’s unconscionable attack on Israeli and Bulgarian tourists.  This kind of senseless violence is an act of cowardice and hatred.  It is yet another unnecessary reminder of the threats Israelis face both at home and abroad.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the victims during this most difficult time.  I stand with my friends in Israel and the Jewish community in praying for peace around the world.  This tragic event reminds us all that there are still people who choose hate and intolerance over understanding and compassion. We must continue to stand side-by-side with Israel as it pursues a safe and secure future, and we must work together across all racial, religious, gender, and cultural lines and not allow these senseless acts to continue.”

Representative Charles Rangel:

These attacks against innocent people are horrifying and reprehensible. Such violence targeting people for their ethnicity, nationality or religion has absolutely no place in our world.  I join my Colleagues in Congress and the American people in condemning such acts of terrorism.

Today’s horrendous attack reminds us that our Jewish friends are not any safer than they were 18 years ago, when the AMIA Jewish Center in Buenos Aires was bombed. The Israeli people still live under real threat every day. The United States will stand strongly with our Allies to protect the security of the Israeli people.

My thoughts and prayers are with today’s victims and their families and friends. May those who are injured recover soon and the families and friends of the deceased find peace.

Representative Joe Crowley:

I am deeply saddened and troubled by the heinous attack against innocent civilians, including children, in Bulgaria today. There is absolutely no place in any society for this type of cowardly act. Today’s tragedy serves as a painful reminder of the fact that Israel and her people remain under a constant threat of violence. My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims and those injured as a result of this senseless attack.

Jewish Agency to Provide Emergency Aid to Greek Jewish Community

— by Joshua Berkman

The Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel, comprised of leaders and representatives of Jewish communities around the world and meeting this week in Jerusalem, voted to grant emergency aid to the Jewish community of Greece in order to address immediate needs in the wake of the crippling financial crisis in the country.

Jewish Agency Chairman of the Executive Natan Sharansky convened an urgent meeting of the organization’s leadership, which decided to provide some $1 million over two years to help the Greek Jewish community weather one of the worst crises it has faced in living memory. The funds will enable communal institutions to continue their operations, including programs to strengthen the community’s ties with Israel and the development of unique aliyah (immigration) tracks for those members of the community who wish to immigrate to Israel.  

More after the jump.
The aid package will be funded by the Jewish Agency and by its partners, Keren Hayesod-United Israel Appeal (UIA) and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.

The Jewish Agency leadership, including the leaders of Keren Hayesod-UIA and the Jewish Federations of North America, also announced a special fundraising campaign for the Jews of Greece and the Jewish Agency decided to dispatch Hebrew teachers to local schools and summer camps in Greece, within the coming months, in order to preserve Hebrew instruction in the community.

Some 5,000 Jews live in Greece, of whom some 3,500 reside in Athens and an additional 1,000 in Thessaloniki.  The Jewish community operates synagogues, a Jewish school, a museum, and a soup kitchen.  According to community leaders, the majority of Jewish communal institutions in the country are on the verge of closure due to the financial crisis gripping the country, which has led to a dramatic decline in donations, the collapse of income from communal assets, and a series of new taxes imposed on the communal institutions themselves.  Many members of the Jewish community are now unemployed and falling below the poverty line. Some 70 elderly members of the community require financial support to pay for basic necessities such as food and shelter.

Jewish Agency Chairman of the Executive Natan Sharansky said,

The Jews of Greece are known for their tremendous generosity toward their needy brethren in Israel and around the Jewish world.  They have contributed some $20 million to Keren Hayesod-UIA over the past decade, a huge per capita sum that has helped support the disadvantaged in Israel and elsewhere.  Today, this wonderful community needs us, and it would be unthinkable for us not to come to their aid in their time of need.

North American Olim Light Up Israel in Time for Chanukah

Seventy-six new Olim from North America are infusing Israel with the light of Zionism by celebrating the first night of Chanukah as new Israeli citizens.  The newcomers arrived on December 20 at Ben Gurion Airport on a Nefesh B’Nefesh group Aliyah flight organized in conjunction with the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption and the Jewish Agency.

More after the jump.

Upon making Aliyah, Eden, Mia and Hila proudly display their hand made menoras from their local Jewish day schools in the United States.
Right to left: Eden Barshishat – 4 years old from NY, Mia Barshishat – 2 years old from NY, Hila Lieber – 4.5 years old from NY.
Credit: Yonit Schiller courtesy of Nefesh B’Nefesh.

One man brought two special menorahs on Aliyah with him explaining that they “have been in my family for generations and I inherited them from my parents when they passed away. Each one of these menorahs, in a way, represents the light they still shine on me from above. Tonight I will have the privilege of lighting my first Chanukah candle as an Israeli citizen.”

According to Erez Halfon, Vice Chairman of Nefesh B’Nefesh, “It is very special that these Olim are arriving just in time to celebrate Chanukah in Israel. We are confident that the spark and passion they bring with them will add to the light of Zionism and infuse the State of Israel with renewed idealism and positive energy.”

Minister of Immigrant Absorption, MK Sofa Landver added, “The arrival of new Olim is always a wonderful thing, especially during holiday season in general and during Chanukah in particular. In the spirit of this holiday, my office will do all he can to ensure that their arrival will be full of warmth and light and that they will have an optimal integration in Israel”.

Founded in 2002, Nefesh B’Nefesh in cooperation with the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency for Israel, is dedicated to revitalizing Aliyah from North America and the UK by removing or minimizing the financial, professional, logistical and social obstacles of Aliyah. The support and comprehensive social services provided by Nefesh B’Nefesh to its 29,000 newcomers, has ensured that 97% of its Olim have remained in Israel.

A Different Kind of Summer Camp

— by Sasha Ben-Ari

The summer of 2011 marks twenty years since the fall of the Soviet Union and the beginning of a new era for Russian Jewry.  For pain-filled decades, this was a population discriminated against, both in the practice of their religion and in pursuing educational and professional opportunities.  

Two decades later, the situation has changed dramatically. No longer hindered by the constraints of communism and a regime, Russian Jews today, alongside with their compatriots in post-Soviet countries, enjoy most of the liberties previously associated with the West.

Despite this transformation in the society, the challenge of openly displaying Jewish pride in Russia and other former Soviet republics remains a very complex one.  On the one hand, Russian Jews are free to observe their faith and enjoy freedom of expression. In reality, however, many stigmas envelope public displays of observance which is a reflex rooted in decades of anti-religious attitude from the communist era. Sentiments of this kind continue to pervade Russian society.  

In recent years, communal leaders recognized that we were literally losing the battle to sustain Jewish souls and sought to design an innovative solution to focus on youth from Russian speaking families and countries and address this specific challenge. The answer came in the form of one of childhood’s most beloved institutions – summer camp.

More after the jump.

One prime example of turning the tide is Project Rimon, an initiative of the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Genesis Philanthropy Group, which for the past three years has been gathering campers together in locations around the world and provided a common ground for Russian speaking Jewish youth who are united by this unique cultural challenge. Participants in the Israel program include Russian speaking teens from former Soviet countries, new immigrants who have come to Israel over the last few years as well as Israeli born children of the great Russian aliya in the early nineties. These children often consider themselves more Israeli than of Russian origin.

In Israel, the population is more of a mosaic than a melting pot. Those with strong identities that deviate from the standard Israeli one can often feel alienated. The Rimon camp organizers realize that while the campers do not have to “feel” Russian, they can uncover the other ways they are one cohesive group – their Jewish heritage.

As is the case with many of Jewish Agency programs, the magical panacea crystallized in focusing on Israel as the source of Jewish pride and inspiration.  Over a two week time frame, these children, many of whom viewed their Judaism as only a fact of their ethnic heritage but never a fundamental, defining aspect of who they were, begin to discover that their Jewish identity could become a central facet of their lives.

By developing leadership and creative skills and having dialogue about Judaism and Israel, the campers begin to change their outlook on what it means to be a Jew and how to incorporate their Judaism into their daily life.
For example, on a day trip to Hasmonean Village in Central Israel, campers discovered their personal and family connections to the land and people of Israel through the language, the food and the dress of various local attractions. Actually seeing the how they are part of the history and heritage of the Jewish people is an important part of the Rimon educational program and one that has the most powerful impact on its participants.

The camp never tries to distance the child from his or her cultural identity – the opposite actually – and we firmly believe that this must remain an integral part of how the camper views themselves.  The many questions campers have of their “dueling identities” between being culturally Russian and Jewish is addressed with compassion and knowledge and children begin to recognize that their strength and uniqueness lies in the very complexity of their cultural heritage, with the connection to Israel at the core.

The author moved to Israel from Moscow in 1990 at age 8. She most recently served as a staff counselor at Project Rimon’s summer camp in Israel. She currently resides in Jerusalem.