Where Should I Study?

While some students, who have  traveled to Israel through Birthright or school, opt out of a study-abroad experience in Israel, others find the Jewish state culturally diverse  and the right choice. (Provided)

While some students, who have
traveled to Israel through Birthright or school, opt out of a study-abroad experience in Israel, others find the Jewish state culturally diverseand the right choice. (Provided)

In today’s internationally connected world, college students are well aware that in order to be globally competitive, an overseas cultural and academic experience, whether it’s for six weeks, a semester or an entire year, is imperative.

For many Jewish students who have visited Israel, whether on a gap year or a 10-day trip, the question is, “Should I study here again?”

New York University is one of the institutions leading this transformation of students into global professionals — a hot commodity, even during these bumpy economic times.

Chris Nicolussi, senior director for students in the Office of Global Programs at NYU, defined the goal of studying abroad as “giving students the opportunity to expand outside of their academic department and to expose them to other cultures.”

While cultural immersion is clearly evident on teen tours to Israel and Taglit Birthright, education may not be the top factor when it comes to choosing a study-abroad site.

Nicolussi said, “A lot of students choose locations based on what they see on television and in the movies.”

And Israel is not portrayed in the media as a cultural giant.

Take Diana Peisach and Eli Kahn.

Both said they consider themselves to have strong ties to Israel, but they opted out of using their study-abroad experience to be in the Jewish state.

Peisach, who recently graduated from the University of Maryland, had been in Israel for two months in 2011 and “felt like that was my study-abroad experience.” While some may view a nonacademic two-month Israel experience as only a glimpse of what would be in store for students living and studying in Israel for an entire semester, Peisach said she “had an incredible and comparable two-month experience in Israel on my own.”

Kahn, who recently graduated from Davidson College, opted to study in Granada,  southern Spain and was attracted to this location because of his major — Spanish — and because he “liked the idea of studying somewhere in Europe, where I had the opportunity to travel almost every weekend.”

While students studying in Israel have an opportunity to travel from the Golan to the Negev, Kahn admitted that when considering where to study abroad, “Israel really never came on my radar” because of the minimal opportunity for regional travel.

However, as pointed out by Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, executive director at NYU’s Bronfman Center for Jewish Life, the experience of studying in Israel “is very different from a summer teen tour because students atIsraeli universities will likely not find themselves in a homogenous group of students.”

Being around Israelis with various religions, cultures and ethnicities affords students an opportunity likely not given on the typical high school teen tour, Birthright or even on a gap-year program. The diversity at Israeli universities is one of the reasons a long-term stay in Israel will always trump a 10-day or month-long Israel trip, Rabbi Sarna said.

“Israel is such a rich, complex and multifaceted country, and in order to appreciate its depth, one must challenge oneself to look at Israel in many different contexts,” Rabbi Sarna said.

Nicolussi said that he thinks studying abroad marries the cultural and academic experience and that students should consider that before making their decision. He also said parents should let their children select where they go on their own.

“Studying abroad,” said Nicolussi, “is a very personal decision.”

Justin Hayet is a former JT intern.

Worth Its Salt

(Photo Provided)

(Photo Provided)

One of the most common stops on a first tour of Israel is the Dead Sea, in Hebrew Yam HaMelach. It’s the place where visitors can change into their bathing suits, saunter to the water’s edge and float — literally unable to immerse in the water due to its high concentration of salt.

After the traditional photograph is taken — Mom or Dad holding a newspaper (perfectly dry) while floating on top of the water — family members lather themselves top to bottom with the deep black and strikingly curative mud from the Dead Sea. The mineral-rich mud body mask has high cleansing properties that improve skin texture and tone — and through companies like the popular Ahava, people worldwide have experienced the Dead Sea’s wonder.

Now, it is time for Dead Sea foods … well, salts.

Meet Ari Fruchter, 42, a self-proclaimed Dead Sea evangelist, and his new product Naked Sea Salt, a line of gourmet Dead Sea salt in all sorts of bold and exotic flavors, such as sweet orange and chili, green seaweed, mint, sun-dried tomato and aromatic rosemary. The company launched a Kickstarter campaign in late July to raise funds to manufacture and produce its product; in just two days it reached it first-level goal of $10,000. Now, with less than two weeks to go (the campaign ends the day before Rosh Hashanah), Naked Sea Salt is on its way to hitting the $50,000, $100,000 or $250,000 marks. Hitting stretch goals will enable it to roll out up to five new “secret uber premium” flavors, said Fruchter, pull together leading chefs to create a Naked Sea Salt cookbook and roll out a line in commemorative containers.

Said Fruchter: “We’re not just hoping to put together a product line, but a community.”

The Story Behind The Salt

How did a Gen-X  corporate high-tech guy turn into an environmental activist? Fruchter said it all started two year ago when he brought his friend, American photographer Spencer Tunick, to Israel to do one of the large-scale nude shoots that have gained international acclaim. The event brought 1,200 Israelis to the Dead Sea, to bare it all for the photographs. Fruchter used the hype — the project reached more than 500 million people — to raise awareness about the environmental plight of the Dead Sea.

The Dead Sea is disappearing, dying because the waters that used to feed the Dead Sea — the Jordan River — are no longer flowing. The Dead Sea is dropping at a rate of 5 feet per year; one third has already dried up. This happened because Israel, Jordan and Syria have all been diverting it for water to drink and to irrigate desert crops. This has left a widening landscape of sinkholes and mudflats.

Fruchter and Tunick’s project, said Fruchter, became known as one of the leading efforts done for the Dead Sea from an environmental perspective.

“I wanted to continue that in a way that would be meaningful,” said Fruchter.

While working on the photo shoot, Fruchter came across a mom-and-pop Palestinian company, West Bank Salt Works, run by Hussam Hallak, which has been harvesting Dead Sea salt since 1964 — when the area was still under Jordanian rule. Fruchter tasted the salt, harvested using methods that have been around for centuries, and was blown away by its taste. He then brought in an NGO to do an environmental assessment of the salt company. The NGO reported the company “environmentally green, not doing any damage [to the Dead Sea],” Fruchter said, noting that Naked Sea Salt will have no significant impact on the Dead Sea’s water levels or the surrounding environment.

So a shidduch was made — and then another one with Alon Lior, a Haifa-based foodie. West Bank Salt Works supplies Lior with the salt, and he then blends it with other spices and herbs to create the multicolored and multiflavored seasonings of Naked Sea Salt.

“The best way to be good neighbors is to break bread — to be in business together,” said Fruchter.

“[Hassan and his family] have been doing all of this work by hand,” said Ari Gottesmann, founder and CEO of Nomadigo, who is handling Naked Sea Salt marketing. “For the first time, someone is appreciating the quality of the work he is doing and putting it on the shelf.”

Well, on the virtual shelf …Fruchter is likewise partnering with Abe’s Market, an e-commerce company with more than 12,000 natural, organic, health and wellness products.

“A mutual friend introduced me to Ari,” said Abe’s Market co-owner and founder Jon Polin, who is originally from Chicago (where the company’s American branch is located) but lives in Jerusalem. “Ari told me, ‘We are building this from scratch, and we want to do it direct to consumer, not through brick-and-mortar [businesses].’”

Abe’s Market offers Naked Sea Salt a unique platform because of its more sophisticated consumer. It vets all of its companies and products and selects to sell items that tell a story — that better the world and people’s lives, explained Polin.

“We are largely hoping to create the platform and give a voice to the Naked Sea Salt guys. … The product has many compelling angles,” Polin said, who noted that the salt is kosher certified, too.

And he’s right. There’s the Middle East peace side (a successful Israeli-Palestinian collaboration), the environmental component (Naked Sea Salt has committed to donate a portion of its profits to the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies to fund Dead Sea environmental protection programs, such as the efforts to promote the rehabilitation of the Jordan River and Dead Sea in its Center for Tran-boundary Water Management; Arava was unable to comment at this time) and the health angle (salt from the Dead Sea contains 32 different minerals, 21 of which are concentrated in higher levels than in any other).

“People love it,” said Fruchter. “It’s very unique — very special.”


Benefits of Naked Sea Salt

Naked Sea Salt is the very first gourmet cooking salt from the Dead Sea, and it has the richest mineral content of any salt in existence, according to the company’s Kickstarter page.


Here are a few other benefits:
• All-natural
• Low sodium
• Harvested using traditional, sustainable methods
• Free of chemical processing, additives and refinement
• Blended with herbs and spices in 15 different flavors

New Super-Size Kitchen Awaits Jewish Pilgrims To Uman

Jewish volunteers have finished building a kitchen the size of a basketball court in Uman, Ukraine, where they plan to prepare 105,000 meals to serve to pilgrims next month.

The new kitchen, donated by philanthropist and entrepreneur Steve Bogomilsky of Florida, replaced a smaller setup used in previous years by volunteers and employees of Uman’s Hachnasat Orchim project: a giant dining hall with 15,000 seats, where Jewish pilgrims come to eat before and during Rosh Hashanah.

Some 25,000 pilgrims, many of them from the Breslov Hasidic movement, converge in Uman each year ahead of the Jewish New Year to pray near the grave of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, who founded the Breslover movement.

Meshulom (Charles) Rubinfeld, who is heading the project in Uman, said the kitchen’s 37 ovens and 17 burners will be used to cook 18 tons of meat, 13 tons of chicken and 105,000 pieces of fish, along with 250,000 challah rolls.

The cattle and poultry were slaughtered in Ukraine by butchers from the Badatz, Israeli’s most stringent kosher authority, who flew in from Israel. Other ingredients, all Badatz supervised, were shipped in from Israel in four containers.

Rubinfeld said the food will be served in seven meals, 15,000 plates per meal, before and during Rosh Hashanah, which begins Sept. 4.

All leftover food will go to Jewish and non-Jewish charities in Ukraine, said Rubinfeld, who is holding weekly meetings with local officials to increase cooperation and minimize friction between Uman residents and the Jewish pilgrims.

Journey to Uman

Jews make their way back to Israel from Uman, where they celebrated the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah last year. (Yaakov Nahumi/Flash90)

Jews make their way back to Israel from Uman, where they celebrated the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah last year.
(Yaakov Nahumi/Flash90)

Each Rosh Hashanah, thousands of Jews travel to Uman, a small town in Ukraine, where the plumbing is outdated, the environment is hostile and the main attraction is overcrowded. Many stay in tents in close quarters with one another.

But kvetching is kept to a minimum. Why? They’re all there to visit the grave of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, a major figure in the Hassidic movement who brought the teachings of Torah and Kallabah together.

“You get to the inner consciousness where you get to meet God, and he becomes a real part of your life,” said Dovid Mark, an Israeli who traveled to Uman four years ago. “That happens there.”

Rebbe Nachman spent the latter part of his life living in Uman, which he felt was a sacred place for the Jewish people.

“The biggest sanctification of God’s name in Jewish history happened in Uman, where a very large group of Jewish people gave up their lives in order to not bow down to a certain idol,” said Yissachar Schneiderman, a Baltimore resident who visited Uman in 2011 and 2012. “Because of that, Rebbe Nachman said that place is a very special place.”

On his death bed, Rebbe Nachman said he would protect anyone in their afterlife who visited and prayed by his grave.

“He would be their heavenly defense attorney,” Schneiderman said.

The journey to Uman is not the easiest, and the town not exactly the most welcoming. While Schneiderman says anti-Semitism appears to be strong in Uman, the locals recognize the value the Jewish travelers bring into town. He said you often have to bribe your way through Uman, including to get out of the airport and the police for security.

“You’re well aware that these people are [around] you, they don’t really like you, but they understand they’re making a year’s income in a week,” he said. “They accept your money through grinding teeth. You get the feeling their ancestors probably gave up some of your ancestors.”

In June, a Rebbe Nachman follower was hospitalized after being beaten by a group of drunks who shouted anti-Semitic sayings and did Nazi salutes, according to Israeli news source Arutz Sheva. The man was trying to pray at a synagogue next to Rebbe Nachman’s grave.

Despite the risks and somewhat dismal conditions, Schneiderman said he’d go back again. While
he called the camping experience “manstock” and “Jewstock,” he said the cramped conditions give travelers more chances to love their fellow Jews.

For Schneiderman, Rebbe Nachman’s teachings got him back on the path after a rough patch in his life.

“So much of what he said is true,” he said. “You go back and think about all the things that seemed so tragic in your life and thought you’d never get out of and somehow, someway you grew out of it.”

Alon Tovim, an Israeli who went to Uman three years ago, had a very different experience. While he enjoyed the experience and got to see other parts of Ukraine, he thought thousands of Jews visiting Rebbe Nachman’s grave was too much for the small town to handle.

He thought about World War II and Jews fleeing from Germany to Ukraine, but as an Israeli, he felt very much like a minority in a Christian country.

He also didn’t experience the same spiritual connection that others spoke of by praying at the grave.

“Many people, it’s hard for them to pray, so they need to see something,” Tovim said. “I don’t believe that. I don’t think that if you want to pray you need to go to the Ukraine. Above all, we need to have a good relationship with the people over there so I don’t think all the people traveling there is a contribution for something.”

He likened the experience to going to Mount Meron near Tzvat, where every year Jews gather at the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the author of Zohar. He prefers the scenic mountain and the more welcoming environment to Uman.

But for others, the experience in Uman is one of a kind, where world Jewry comes together.

“Everybody’s squished together, and nobody is yelling,” Mark said. “[There’s] every Jew from every type of background, every single kind of Jew.”

Schneiderman hopes to make a yearly trip and is interested in figuring out a way to sponsor trips to Uman much like Birthright Israel. For him, the experience got him closer to Rebbe Nachman.

“I feel very connected to the rebbe, and I feel like I did what he told me to do,” Schneiderman said. “Hopefully, he’s got my back for more than just that year.”]

Marc Shapiro is a JT staff reporter mshapiro@jewishtimes.com

Pioneering Program

A new program at the University of Haifa (pictured) will focus on American Jewish studies. Michael Privorotsky via Wikimedia Commons

A new program at the University of Haifa (pictured) will focus on American Jewish studies.
Michael Privorotsky via Wikimedia Commons

Jay Ruderman has observed for years that when American Jewish leaders visit Israel or when Israeli leaders visit the United States, the conversation is “always about Israel” and how the Jewish state relates to Iran, Syria and the Palestinians, among others.

What’s happening in the American Jewish community and how those events impact future support for Israel never seem to enter the conversation, according to Ruderman, who worked for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in both New England and Jerusalem and is now president of the Ruderman Family Foundation.

The Ruderman Foundation, which prioritizes Israel-diaspora relations, has already tackled this issue by sponsoring U.S. trips for two delegations of Israeli members of Knesset and by launching a caucus designed to improve Knes-set members’ understanding of the American Jewish community. Now, the foundation is further addressing knowledge gaps in the next generation of Israeli leaders through its funding of the new Ruderman Program for American Jewish Studies at the University of Haifa. This will be the first of its kind program in Israel.

Amos Shapira, president of the University  of Haifa, says the new Ruderman Program  “will create a new generation of educated  and engaged citizens who share a deeper  understanding of the American relationship.” University of Haifa Communications and Media Relations

Amos Shapira, president of the University
of Haifa, says the new Ruderman Program
“will create a new generation of educated
and engaged citizens who share a deeper
understanding of the American relationship.”
University of Haifa Communications and Media Relations

“Israeli universities have all sorts of programs studying Asia, Africa and the Arab world, but no one is studying the American Jewish community, which is probably the most important community affecting the future of Israel,” Ruderman said. “The idea is that over the course of time you have a cadre of Israelis who’ve gotten a master’s in the American Jewish community and that they will help Israel shape this relationship.”

Headquartered in Israel and Boston — which has a sister-city partnership with Haifa — the Ruderman Foundation made an initial $1 million contribution to the new program, an amount that was matched by the University of Haifa. Starting this fall, a class of 21 graduate students will embark on the one-year, seven-course program, which will survey Jewish American immigration history, modern foreign policy and governmental structures, as well as gender issues and the religious makeup of U.S. Jewish communities.

“The key to understanding American Jewry is first to understand American society,” Gur Alroey, chair of the School of History at the University of Haifa and director of the new program, said.

A highlight of the curriculum will be a 10-day trip to the United States. Students will attend lectures, tour Ellis Island and explore the Tenement Museum in lower Manhattan. The group also will visit Philadelphia’s National Museum of American Jewish History, which houses a comprehensive exhibit detailing Jewish immigration to America from Colonial times through the present.

“The trip will be the equivalent of Birthright for Israelis, only the experience will be academic rather than primarily cultural,” Alroey said.

Ronit Tirosh, a former Knesset member for the Kadima party and the first chair of the Ruderman Foundation’s Knesset caucus on relations between Israel and the American Jewish community, introduced Alroey to Jay Ruderman, ultimately leading to the new program’s formation.

Alroey spent two years guest lecturing in the U.S. at both New York University and Rutgers University. Hasia Diner — a scholar in American Jewish history at NYU who next summer in New York will teach 10-day course on the American Jewish past and present for students of the new Ruderman program — said she has been “very impressed” with Alroey’s scholarship over the years.

“I consider his move to create this program a brilliant academic intervention and look forward to working with him,” Diner said.

During his stay in the U.S., Alroey became increasingly aware of the att-itudes commonly shown by Israelis toward their most important ally.

“The reality is that our treatment of the Jewish American community in Israel has been superficial at best,” Alroey said. “How can it be that numerous programs exist at Israeli universities for Asian, African and European studies, yet there is not a single program dedicated to the study of the American Jewish Community?”

Ruderman, who has lived in Israel since 2005, said that while American Jews “probably look at themselves as both American and Jewish,” Israelis may look at them and say, “Well, their real identity is Jewish, and they should be living in Israel, but because it’s more comfortable, or for whatever reason, they’re in America.” But that is “not a correct and honest way” to look at American Jews, Ruderman said.

From Alroey’s perspective, this problem stems from Israel’s founding as a Jewish state and as the declared gathering place for diaspora Jews.

“Throughout the ’50s and ’60s, Israeli society was very nationalist and ideologically driven,” Alroey said. “Therefore, it was problematic to say that Jews had two good immigration options, the United States and Israel.”

Such ideological complexities prevented the development of academic programs and curricula in Israel that address the American Jewish experience. Beyond requiring Israeli students to learn English, there is no infrastructure in place to teach American studies and to encourage its presentation in grade school and study at the university level. There is also a lack of related source materials available in Hebrew.

Consequently, Israeli students and citizens are susceptible to adopting negative stereotypes about Americans. At the same time, some Israelis may take for granted the generous financial contributions American Jews make regularly to Israel, foreign aid that is crucial to ensure Israel’s security and survival in a hostile neighborhood.

“In general, Israelis and Israeli scholars know little about American Jewry,” Diner said. “Historically, they have expected the Jews of the United States to provide money and political support, particularly vis-a-vis the U.S. government, but they have no idea as to how Jews in the United States have gone about the process of both integrating into American life and building their own communities. They do not understand the ways in which living in this particular multireligious, multiethnic society [of America] has shaped Jewish options and expectations and how those have changed over time.”

Amos Shapira, president of the University of Haifa, said he sees the university “first and foremost as a center for research and advanced instruction in critical fields and also as a tool for strengthening the Jewish state.”

“One of the primary strategic iss-ues in Israel is the connection with the United States, and throughout the past three decades I believe this bond has weakened,” Shapira said. “The program initiated by professor Alroey will create a new generation of educated and engaged citizens who share a deeper understanding of the American relationship.”

There is high demand for the pioneering Ruderman program. When the university posted an advertisement soliciting applications for the inaugural class, the school was inundated with nearly 100 responses in less than three weeks. Interviews were soon held to select a diverse group of students consisting of high school teachers, businessmen and women and former emissaries of the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Taglit-Birthright program.

“The program is ideal for students who have already had significant encounters with Americans but who now desire an academic perspective,” Alroey said. “Excellent English is a must.”

A cornerstone of the program will be the initiative to conduct new res-earch on Jewish-American topics. Each year students will assist in translating one important American text into Hebrew. Additionally, guest professors from the United States and officials involved with political, social and religious aspects of Israeli-American relations will be invited to share their perspectives.

Course offerings will include: American Jews and the American Pol-itical System; American Jews: From Melting Pot to Minority Group; The American Zionist Leadership: Jewish Culture in America; American Jewry and the Jewish World; Immigrants, Revolutionaries, Intellectuals; American Jewry Between Culture and Politics; and New York-Tel Aviv: A Comparative Study of East European Immigrant Societies.

The immediate goals of the program are exploratory, but long-term expectations of graduates are high.

“Today’s students are tomorrow’s teachers, activists and Knesset members,” Shapira said. “We hope students will use what they learn to prompt a larger dialogue among Israelis and to inspire improved U.S.-Israel relations.”

“The Ruderman Program for American Jewish Studies will be one of a kind and an important development in Israeli academia,” said Alroey. “We expect other Israeli universities to dev-elop similar programs soon, helping to build the informed infrastructure we need and desire.”

Ruderman, meanwhile, looks forward to an improved discourse among Israelis regarding the American Jewish community.

Before, Ruderman was accustomed to hearing American Jewish leaders “whisper to me or to themselves on the side that ‘hey, I just talked to the [Israeli] foreign ministry, and they don’t understand what’s going on with us,’ or ‘I went to the Knesset and they didn’t know the difference between AIPAC and ADL (Anti-Defamation League).’”

As a result of the program, however, Ruderman hopes American Jewish leaders will witness a change in Israeli attitudes instead be able to say, “Hey, Israel has woken up, they get it. They’re people who really get this issue [of the American Jewish community].”

Ruderman said the initial $2 million combined investment from the foundation and the university is expected to sustain the program for five years.

“Scholarship is an investment in the future,” he said. “You never know, when you support scholarship, where someone is going to end up.”

Brussels Refuses To Register Baby Name Jerusalem

The city of Brussels refused to register the name of a locally born Israeli baby because Jerusalem does not appear on a list of approved names for children born in the country.

Hagar and Alinadav Hyman, Israelis who have lived and worked in Brussels for the last three years, decided to name their first-born Alma Jerusalem.

“We are both Jerusalemites, we grew up in Jerusalem, we met in Jerusalem and we very much miss the city, so we decided to call our first child Jerusalem,” Alinadav Hyman told JSSNews.

The Brussels City Hall clerk offered to compromise, telling the couple that if it obtained an official letter from the Israeli embassy confirming that Jerusalem is a valid name, then it would issue a Belgian birth certificate for the baby.

Hagar told JSSNews that the clerk told him the name Bethlehem appeared on the list of approved names. He also said a Finnish man in line next to him gave his child a name in his local tongue that was 25 letters long.


Israel Warns On High Holidays Travel

The Israeli government has advised Israelis and all Jews to avoid travel to several countries, including Egypt and Turkey, during the High Holidays, a popular time for leisure travel.

An advisory from the Prime Minister Office’s counterterrorism bureau warned that terrorists and terror groups such as al-Qaida might try to attack Jewish and Israeli targets during the holidays and also on Sept. 11, the anniversary of the al-Qaida attack on New York’s World Trade Center.

The warning stressed that Iran is still planning to avenge the death of Hezbollah terror chief Imad Mughniyeh, who was killed in a car bombing attack in Damascus in 2008, as well as the deaths of several of its nuclear scientists. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied involvement in these incidents.

Israeli businessmen and ex-government officials are considered prime targets for kidnapping or killing, according to the bureau.

The bureau called on Israelis and Jews to avoid travel to Egypt and Jordan, and called on any Israelis now in the Sinai Peninsula to leave immediately. Israelis also were told to avoid travel to Turkey, as well as Azerbaijan, Nigeria and Kenya.

Tens of thousands of Israelis have visited Turkey during August, despite the threat, according to reports.

The bureau also advises Israelis and Jews to leave Afghanistan, Algeria, Burkina Faso and Djibouti, Indonesia, the Ivory Coast, Libya, Malaysia, Mali, Mauritania, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Togo and Tunisia, and not to travel to Bahrain, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and the UAE.

The travel warnings are not binding.


Anti-Semitic Attacks In Belgium Highest Since 2009

The number of anti-Semitic attacks reported last year in Belgium reached its highest level since 2009, according to an annual report.

Anti-racism volunteers registered 80 anti-Semitic incidents throughout Belgium in 2012, according to a report released this month by the Antisemitsm.Be watchdog group. The figure represents a 23 percent increase over 2011.

The 80 attacks was the most recorded by the group since 2000 with the exception of some 100 attacks in 2009, when an Israeli military campaign against Hamas triggered a massive leap in anti-Semitic attacks worldwide.

The authors of the report wrote that the number of incidents reported last year constitute a 34 percent increase from the per annum average of the past 12 years.

The increase, the authors wrote, owes to a noticeable spike in attacks following  the murder of four Jews by a Muslim extremist in Toulouse, France, in March 2012.

Five of the incidents involved physical attacks, three of which occurred in Antwerp. Thirteen incidents were acts of vandalism against Jewish institutions, and 30 incidents involved threats made online.

In neighboring Holland, the Anne Frank Foundation released a report last month that said one in every three teachers in higher education has witnessed anti-Semitic incidents in the past year. The report was based on the answers of 973 teachers to a survey conducted this year.

Many incidents are soccer-related, the report indicated. Anti-Semitic acts in connection with Israel and Holocaust denial also were common, the report said.

Last May, the Hague-based Center for Information and Documentation on Israel, or CIDI, reported a significant rise in reports of soccer-related anti-Semitism.

In February, CIDI urged the Dutch education ministry to research anti-Semitism in high schools.

Big Plans

In a formerly dilapidated area of Beersheva, trendy restaurants  are becoming the norm, and a 12,000-seat amphitheater (below) is scheduled to open in October. (Photos Ben Sales/JTA)

In a formerly dilapidated area of Beersheva, trendy restaurants
are becoming the norm, and a 12,000-seat amphitheater (below) is scheduled to open in October. (Photos Ben Sales/JTA)

In four years, it’s slated to be bigger than New York’s Central Park and consist of open fields, a sports complex and a lake and river filled with recycled water.

Now, though, Beersheva River Park looks like much of the area surrounding the desert city of Beersheva: a panorama of sand and dirt with a bit of trash and, on a good day, some dirty water trickling through a gorge.

In one patch of empty space, workers in hard hats walk up and down rows of stadium seats covered in plastic. At the bottom is a round stage with the foundations of a back wall that is scheduled to open in October as a 12,000-seat amphitheater — Israel’s largest. The cost is $16 million.

Alongside the park, Beersheva looks like one large construction zone. Cranes towering above rising skyscrapers dot the sky. Museums and restaurants are popping up near a formerly dilapidated central district. Ten new upscale suburbs are in the works north of the city. The Israeli Defense Forces is building a massive training complex with seven bases next door.

On Sunday, the Israeli government announced a five-year initiative to invest nearly $140 million into bringing new residents and businesses to the Negev Desert.

“The city is waking up,” said Natan Jibli, CEO of Israel’s Negev Development Authority. “There’s culture and things to do and students and artists.”

Israelis long have viewed Beersheva as the country’s largest “development town,” the first and sometimes only stop for immigrants from Morocco, Ethiopia, India and Russia. Squat brown public housing known simply as “residences” crowd neighborhoods devoid of names and identified only by a series of letters.

In its outer districts, though, Beersheva features rolling green hills — even in July — single-family homes and traffic circles anchored by central fountains.

In its Old City, which dates back to 19th-century Turkish rule, dilapidated buildings are now buffeted by sleek apartments and trendy restaurants opening on the ground levels of many peeling residences. Some of the apartments house students at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, a bustling campus in northern Beersheva with smooth concrete buildings.

More than 100 of the students live in apartments subsidized by the school, and in return they give eight hours per week to their community in the form of volunteer programs. University officials hope to engage the students in the city — and keep them there after they graduate.

“The university was created with a mandate to bring development to the region,” said Faye Bittker, director of the university’s department of publications and media relations. “We want to build an ecosystem. You have academia, the army, high-tech and a hospital.”

081613_big_plans3The university boasts a well-regarded computer engineering program and is pinning its hopes on a new high-tech park next door. The first of the park’s 20 planned buildings opened this month and houses seven companies along with two incubators for early-stage startups. When completed, the park will house up to 60 companies, bringing 10,000 jobs to the area.

“The park is big technology news for Beersheva and the Negev,” said Sima Kachlon, general manager of the city’s Proactive Center for Business Promotion. “You finish an engineering degree and you have somewhere to join.”

The center also hopes to attract large communications and electric companies to Beersheva and create a commercial district in the Old City. Kachlon laments that chain clothing stores and cafes have been reluctant to open in a city some still regard as backwater.

For upper- and middle-class Israelis still wary of Beersheva, the government has planned 10 new suburbs to the city’s north — affordable, quiet bedroom communities for people working in Beersheva or even Tel Aviv, which is about one hour, 15 minutes away by car and an hour by train.

The Jewish National Fund in the past 10 years has invested $40 million into attracting half a million Israelis here within two decades, working alongside the Or Movement, which shares that goal. The Israeli immigration organization Nefesh B’Nefesh also has offered incentives to families who move to Israel’s South.

In past decades, “the state took initiative, but now, as we see on Facebook, innovation comes from the people and the young generation,” said Roni Flamer, CEO of the Or Movement. “If you know how to create a good model, the state will see it.”

To attract residents to Beersheva, the government is improving its connections to Tel Aviv. A new train track will carry passengers between the cities in 50 minutes, and the Negev Development Authority is pushing to build Israel’s second international airport in the area, even though Beersheva has few hotels.

Like Beersheva River Park, some of the planned communities still leave much to the imagination.

One planned town, Karmit, has one structure, the synagogue — it was paid for by American donors. JNF envisions the town with 2,500 families, half religious and half secular, and is counting on existing infrastructure such as the synagogue to attract prospective buyers. Karmit’s first lots won’t be populated until 2016.

The 10-suburb plan has its critics. Ronit Ze’evi, Beersheva’s district manager for the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, said she’d prefer that neighborhoods be added instead to nearby depressed towns. The new suburbs, she said, will separate the upper and lower classes while costing the government more money in infrastructure development.

“They’ll hurt the existing towns,” Ze’evi said. “If you have communities of villas, the well-off population will leave the city and go to these villas. It’s less socially equitable.”

Fifty families — a progressive Orthodox community equal parts immigrant and native-born Israeli — have settled in the heart of Beersheva. Since arriving in 2010, they’ve tried to boost the district socially and religiously, volunteering in immigrant absorption centers, hosting lectures and social events and founding a liberal Orthodox prayer group.

081613_big_plans2“What makes us different is being a progressive religious community,” said Ravit Greenberg, former chairwoman of the community’s board. “When you go into a school and say pluralism matters to us, you’re doing something important.”

Beersheva’s biggest boost may come from the new IDF training base complex, which is set to arrive by 2015, along with the army’s computer unit. The army estimates that this will streamline its operations and create 10,000 jobs.

Ben-Gurion University plans to collaborate with the army on research and courses and will encourage soldiers to find jobs here after their discharge.

As with many projects, Beersheva residents will have to wait and see what happens. But for Flamer, who noted that the Negev Desert covers most of Israel, a new and improved city is just on the horizon.

“We’re talking about the state’s biggest dream,” Flamer said, “to affect the whole population, to take 60 percent of Israel and make it 100 percent of its future.”

Ben Sales writes for JTA Wire Service.

17 Yemeni Jews Secretly Airlifted To Israel

 Seventeen Yemeni Jews were airlifted to Israel in a covert operation.


Photo credit: Moshuk brin

Photo credit: Moshuk brin

Four of the Jews were flown directly from Yemen to Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport on Wednesday, Haaretz reported. The rest were taken clandestinely from Buenos Aires after being smuggled to the Argentinian capital by a group of Satmar hasidim in August 2011, living in the Satmar community there. The Satmars have been involved in smuggling Jews out of Yemen for several years, according to Haaretz.

Several of the Yemenis reunited with family members in Israel.

The operation — a coordinated effort among the Jewish Agency and the Israeli ministries for the interior, foreign affairs and immigration absorption — was prompted by growing concern for the safety of the Jews in Yemen, according to the Jewish Agency. Anti-Semitic violence has been a growing problem since the 2011 ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The airlift brings to 45 the number of Yemeni Jews who have been brought to Israel this year and 151 since 2009.

Fewer than 90 Jews remain in Yemen, with about half of them living in a guarded structure in the capital, Sa’ana, Haaretz reported.

The 17 Yemeni Jews will be housed in Jewish Agency immigration absorption centers in southern Israel.

Some 49,000 Yemeni Jews were brought to the nascent State of Israel in Operation Magic Carpet in 1949-50.