‘We Want To Hear From You’

GA co-chair Susie Gelman says the general assembly will reinvigorate federation leadership. (Jewish Federations of North America)

GA co-chair Susie Gelman says the general assembly will reinvigorate federation leadership. (Jewish Federations of North America)

Ten years ago, when Michael and Susie Gelman chaired the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North American in Israel, the focus was on security and solidarity. Susie Gelman remembers that it was during the second Intifada, a time of terror attacks, and many American Jews were staying away from Israel. The GA brought them back.

“We had an amazing turnout. Thousands of people came,” she said. “The highlight was a nighttime walk from Binyanei HaUma through Machane Yehuda to Kikar Tzion in downtown Jerusalem. We were all carrying signs and singing songs as we marched. The shopkeepers were applauding, handing out candy and hugging us. They were so grateful to see the shuk full of life once more. It was an unforgettable moment for all who experienced it. “

Fast forward to 2013, and the Gelmans are once again the chairs of the GA — in Israel. However, the conference, which takes place in the Jewish state every five years, will look different than it did in 2003. Scheduled to take place between Nov. 10 and Nov. 12, in a year when Israel is immersed in quiet peace talks with the Palestinians, the GA will focus on dialogue and debate, on sessions surrounding the challenges and successes of a more mature Israel.

“The agenda was developed in the context of Israel no longer being a developing country,” said Michael Gelman, “but a mature democracy and with all of the challenges and successes that entails.”

There will be a session examining the aftermath of the 2011 Israeli social justice protests, a series of ongoing demonstrations in Israel involving hundreds of thousands of protesters from a variety of socioeconomic and religious backgrounds opposing the continuing rise in the cost of living (particularly housing) and the deterioration of public services such as health and education. Another one, moderated by Susie Gelman, will focus on civil marriage in Israel, which does not currently exist. Due to the ultra-Orthodox Rabbinate’s authority over all matters of personal status, including marriage and divorce, 20 percent of Israelis opt to get married overseas. Other talks will feature Israeli politics, philanthropy, spirituality, women’s issues and economic issues.

But the list of dozens of plenaries and sessions, skewed heavily to a dialogue about the Jewish state, begs the question: This is the JFNA GA, so why are we talking more about Israel than our own domestic affairs?

JFNA chair of the board Michael D. Siegal said he, the GA chairs and the robust committee that has been planning this program for upward of one year, felt it was important to seize the opportunity to access Israeli thought leaders and share in a debate about the future of Diaspora-Israel relations, about what tikkun olam means in Israel and in America.

“We want to hear from you [the Israelis] about your issues and problems and understand how we can best help and how you can lead us. We can use your wonderful narrative to strengthen our community at home,” explained Siegal.

A recent Pew Survey will factor into the conversation, of course, with talks on Jewish innovation, relevancy and renewal. In a first-ever format for the GA, there will be Fed Talks, a play on the popular Ted Talks, as well as a Pitch Your Idea session, where select individuals will have two minutes to share the essence of their programming ideas; it’s almost like speed dating for Jewish communal professionals.

“With these different modalities, we are trying to give the GA a freshness that perhaps it has not had previously,” said Susie Gelman.

Michael Siegal, chair of the board of the Jewish Federations of North America, says this year’s GA will focus on Diaspora-Israeli relations. (Jewish Federations of North America)

Michael Siegal, chair of the board of the Jewish Federations of North America, says this year’s GA will focus on Diaspora-Israeli relations. (Jewish Federations of North America)

The speakers will provide a “wow” factor, too. Attendees will hear from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, Mayor Nir Barkat, Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Minister of the Economy Naftali Bennett, among dozens of others.

Siegal and Susie Gelman said it was challenging to balance the scheduling, but recruiting speakers was not hard. Said Gelman: “Politicians and other public figures in Israel understand the importance of participating in the GA … that this is the pre-eminent conference of Diaspora communal leadership. I don’t think anyone has to be convinced of coming to the GA.”

JFNA represents half of the world’s Jews, with 154 federations and 300 network communities throughout North America.

And what makes it especially promising is that not only are the names big, but they are diverse. They come from all perspective of Israeli political and social life, offering people a chance to be educated, informed and to come to their own conclusions through interactive dialogue.

The Greater Washington area is sending the largest contingency of participants this year. Baltimore is also sending a hearty group, including many who will be receiving awards from JFNA. Jakir Manela, for example, will receive the JCSA Young Professional Award. Katie Applefeld will get the Harry Greenstein Young Leadership Award.

Applefeld told the JT, “I am psyched and excited. … I am traveling with an incredible group from Baltimore, and there will be just incredible programming and a chance to see our overseas partners up close and in person. There is nothing like being with a group of committed leaders from around the country, celebrating the work of the federation, while in Israel.”

Washington also has two young leadership award recipients. Mike Plostock and Josh Stevens have won the Jerome J. Dick Young Leadership Award. The Greater Washington federation is also bringing home an honor in the form of the Sapir Award for Outstanding Annual Campaigns. This award is given to local federations that exemplify the highest standard in campaign achievement.

“We are honored to receive the prestigious Sapir Award for Annual Campaign Excellence from JFNA. It’s a testament to the dedication and hard work of outstanding volunteers and professionals, working in partnership to build a strong Jewish community at home and abroad,” said Steve Rakkit, executive director of the Greater Washington Federation.

Surrounding the GA are federation mini-missions. The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington is offering its travelers three tracks as part of its Israel Your Way mission — business, arts and culture and a first-timers mission.

Robert Zahler is on the first-timers mission. Active in the federation for decades, Zahler has traveled around the world but never to Israel. For now, he told the JT, “I am very excited for it.”

What will be the result of two-and-a-half days immersed in thoughtful dialogue with 3,000 Jewish leaders? That’s different for everyone, said Siegal, but he hopes that the conference will help to convey the message of JFNA to the younger generation, that it will reinvigorate leaders to do more locally and will spawn a dialogue that continues throughout the 2014 campaign year.

“The most exciting thing for a Jew is to be in a room with 3,000 other Jews like you,” said Siegal. “I think it is really exciting to be with people who want to explore how to bring joy into Judaism.”

Added Susie Gelman: The GA will breathe some extra energy into federation leaders, so that we will return to our home communities, redouble our efforts and deepen the dialogue between Diaspora Jews and Israelis.”

The Baltimore Jewish Times will be covering the GA from Israel. To read daily updates, visit jewishtimes.com/GA2013.

Maayan Jaffe is JT editor-in-chief

Hundreds Gather At Peaceful Women Of The Wall Service Marking 25th Anniversary

In a display of the changes the group has experienced this year, Women of the Wall held a peaceful prayer service under police protection at the Western Wall to mark the group’s 25th anniversary.

Women of the Wall wear prayer shawls and pray at the Western Wall. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Women of the Wall wear prayer shawls and pray at the Western Wall.
(Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Absent from Monday’s service, which the group said drew at least 800 worshipers, were large crowds of Orthodox girls who at the behest of their rabbis and activists had blocked the wall’s women’s section in previous months.

For the first time in recent memory, Women of the Wall occupied the majority of the section, with a crowd of male supporters stretching back into the plaza.

The group has met for a women’s prayer service at the wall at the beginning of each Jewish month for the past quarter-century, but has seen rapid change in its status during the past six months.

Until April, women in the group who donned prayer shawls or sang too loudly often would be detained by police. But that month, a Jerusalem district court judge ruled that the group’s practices did not violate any of the wall’s regulations, and since then the police are protecting the women rather than arresting them.

“We’ve come a long way, baby,” Women of the Wall Chairwoman Anat Hoffman told JTA during the service. “It shouldn’t have taken 25 years. It should have taken two weeks. But we’re now where we should be.”

The court ruling sparked a backlash from the haredi Orthodox community. A new group formed to oppose Women of the Wall, called Women for the Wall, persuaded leading haredi rabbis to send the community’s girls to the wall en masse to pray silently during Women of the Wall’s services.

In May, a haredi crowd including thousands of men packed the plaza in a protest that turned violent.

Since then, however, the haredi demonstrations have waned. Several dozen haredi men came to protest on Monday, some yelling epithets at teenagers who had come to support Women of the Wall. But aside from a few token disturbances — screams and whistles — the service continued uninterrupted.

“It’s a big success because the traditional community has an outlet to show its stance and doesn’t have to resort to violence,” Women for the Wall co-founder Leah Aharoni told JTA of the group’s prayerful protest. “Some months are better, some months are worse. The interest is definitely not dying out.”

The past half-year also has seen the Israeli government intensify its focus on the conflict at the wall, soliciting a compromise solution from Jewish Agency for Israel Chairman Natan Sharansky. An outline Sharansky released in April called for a significant expansion of an area to the south of the plaza called Robinson’s Arch that is now used for non-Orthodox prayer.

After backing away from the plan, Women of the Wall endorsed it last month, agreeing to move to the new section should a list of conditions be fulfilled.

Brandishing the Western Wall regulation that forbids the group from bringing a Torah scroll to its services, Hoffman told JTA that Women of the Wall has yet to reach all its goals. She said, though, that given the relative calm at the wall, the group will now be turning its attention to negotiations with the government about the Robinson’s Arch plan.

“We’re not scared of jail and arrests — we’re scared of negotiations,” Hoffman joked. “Can we get the maximum? We won’t be suckers.”

See related story, Leading The Way>> 

Leading The Way

Women on a mission: 32 women (including two staff) traveled together. The result, they said, was greater inspiration for and understanding of Israel. (Photo by Esta Schein)

Women on a mission: 32 women (including two staff) traveled together. The result, they said, was greater inspiration for and understanding of Israel.
(Photo by Esta Schein)

One more step.

Seize every moment.

There is a famous poem by Israeli author Yehuda Amichai in which he describes the visits of tourists.

“Visits of condolence is all we get from them. They squat at the Holocaust Memorial, they put on grave faces at the Wailing Wall, and they laugh behind the heavy curtains in their hotels,” wrote Amichai. “Once I sat on the steps by a gate at David’s Tower. I placed my two heavy baskets at my side. A group of tourists was standing around their guide, and I became their target marker. ‘You see that man with the baskets? Just right of his head there’s an arch from the Roman period. Just right of his head.’ … I said to myself: ‘Redemption will come only if their guide tells them, ‘You see that arch from the Roman period? It’s not important. But next to it, left down and a bit, there sits a man who’s bought fruit and vegetables for his family.’”

Ironic, but with this man is where the journey of 32 women started last month. On a mission titled Women On A Mission, they read this poem and started a trip focused on the new paths that women are taking in Israel to build a more equal and sustainable Jewish state.

The experience, run by Beth El Congregation and planned by Rabbi Dana Saroken and Director of Development Ailene Sher, took 30 congregants from Tel Aviv to Beer Sheva to Jerusalem to experience the people of Israel in a way that most of them said they had never experienced it before. The mission was 10 powerful days of education and elucidation, of getting behind the scenes of Israel’s women forces, people who are transforming society.

According to participant Jane Zweig, for example, who had traveled to Israel many, many times, the “women dug deep into what Israel is all about.”

She termed it “amazing, sababa, chaval al hazman” and about sisterhood.

“I have been to Israel 28 times and this time has impacted me far more than the others,” she said.


“Each Israeli woman who we met refused to accept the status quo in Israel. They were willing to take risks to bring about change,” said Beverly Penn. “They all had hope. They all look forward to a better world.”

But the Baltimore women were not offered sugar-coated successes, but windows into the reality on the ground. They touched the impact of Israel’s security situation on the land, heard of the resistance by the Rabbinate and other Ultra-Orthodox leaders to make changes that some see as affording equal rights to people who choose not to adhere to an Orthodox viewpoint and witnessed the petrifying financial situation — poverty — of Israeli minorities and especially minority women.

“I knew there were issues in Israel,” noted Sher. “But I did not realize there are so many powerful women out there working with these different organizations to right the situation. The trip opened up everyone’s eyes to what the possibilities are. And we learned, it only takes one person to make a difference.”

The women learn about Israel’s fashion industry and take a look at some of its up-and-coming designers. Photo by Esta Schein)

The women learn about Israel’s fashion industry and take a look at some of its up-and-coming designers.
(Photo by Esta Schein)

On their second day, the women enjoyed a fashion tour with TLVStyle, a boutique company founded by Galit Reisman that specializes in discovering Tel Aviv’s unique and leading designers. Reisman noted that it is difficult to find success in Israel’s fashion arena — there is such a limited market. But TLVStyle helps women designers connect with one another and leverage group buys, and it trains them how to market their designs outside of Israel, through Etsy, for example, and into Europe.

The women participated in a special tasting tour at Shuk Levinsky, where they walked with Inbal Baum, the owner of Delicious Israel, which arranges experiences to showcase and celebrate Israeli food and wine. The women learned about the foods of Israel, where the melting pot meets the cooking pot, and the contributions of Israel to the culinary industry.

The shopping was good. The people were inspiring.

‘She Perseveres’
Take Dr. Chana Kehat who singlehandedly founded the Israeli Orthodox feminist movement and the organization Kolech (Her Voice), which promotes the rights and status of women through a consensual process of change from within Orthodoxy. Kehat is an Israeli trailblazer in a movement previously dominated by Americans but now spreading to a wider range of Israeli women, including Orthodox Ashkenazi and Sephardi.

Kehat was born into a Haredi family. A mother of six, she has a Ph.D. in Jewish philosophy and was awarded the President’s Volunteer Award. Her organization has made headlines for advancing issues such as gender equality (with a curriculum for schools), fighting on behalf of agunot [“chained” women] and those who suffer from sexual abuse and addressing sexual harassment in the Orthodox community.

“She said life was hard. …. What she didn’t say was that [because of her work], her husband lost his job, her kids were being attacked for what she is doing,” said participant Marlene Siegel. “But she was so upbeat. She was amazing. She perseveres.”

And she is slowly having impact.

In 2009, in response to Kehat’s work, Rabbi Yoel Bin-Nun of the Gush Etzion yeshiva spoke in favor of transferring more authority to female spiritual leaders. Rabbi Benny Lau, then head of the Center for Judaism and Society and the Institute for Social Justice at Beit Morasha, talked about how gender segregation and messages in traditional Jewish texts were not explained properly and that he felt they had a negative impact on men’s perception of women.

Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, a Haredi rabbi, said in response to a conference Kolech held, “If women’s motivation is truly pure, then they should be encouraged to learn Halacha and be able to answer questions that come up.”

There was also a visit Vivian Silver, who made aliyah to Israel 40 years ago from Canada. Silver is the co-executive director of Arab Jewish Center for Equality, Empowerment and Cooperation-Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development. She accompanied trip participants into a Bedouin village, where her organization is transforming the lives of the local women.

Silver told the JT that her organization prides itself on its ability to accurately assess the needs, abilities and available resources in the field and to adjust programming to meet real-time needs while leveraging existing resources. She explained that Bedouin are the lowest socioeconomic rung in Israel and that you cannot work with them as you do with poor Israelis, as the starting points are unequal.

Through the Arab Jewish Center for Equality, Empowerment and Cooperation-Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development, Bedouin women are working, learning new skills and improving their lives. (Photo by Jane Zweig)

Through the Arab Jewish Center for Equality, Empowerment and Cooperation-Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development, Bedouin women are working, learning new skills and improving their lives.
(Photo by Jane Zweig)

“The highest unemployment rate in Israel is among the Bedouins. With Bedouin women, it is so much more,” she said, noting that Bedouin culture dictates that women should not work outside of their villages. AJEEC-NISPED runs training programs for these women, which combine assertiveness training with entrepreneurship and vocational training. It helps them get loans to start their own businesses and also starts businesses in which to employ Bedouin women.

One of the organization’s greatest successes is its hot lunch program in Hura. There, 17 women make 6,000 hot lunches per day.

“Every person has some capabilities,” said Silver. “Cooking is a capability of these women, without any formal education.”

Israeli law dictated that hot lunches had to be served at Israeli schools. Instead of bringing in a Jewish contractor to serve the lunches, AJEEC-NISPED trained the women to operate a very professional kitchen — in their own village for their own people.

“It is a life-changing experience,” said Silver.

In another instance, her group worked with women from across several Bedouin villages to train them to be photographers and videographers in the women’s tents during celebrations such as weddings. It also trained DJs and hairdressers.

“The wedding season is a very intense season for six months of the year. These women have very intense employment for those six months,” she said.

To get started, the organization had to get buy-ins from the women’s fathers, husbands, uncles, etc. — and the program was met with resistance. However, she said once the families started seeing paychecks, their attitudes changed.

“Equality is still a long way away,” she said, “although there have been steps forward.”

She added: “I think most women want change. They want a change to what is culturally acceptable, they want an education, they want opportunities, they want a little more freedom of movement — and slowly, it is happening.”

Banking On A Woman

After months of indecision and several scandals, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yair Lapid decided last week to appoint Dr. Karnit Flug as governor of the Bank of Israel. The Knesset approved the decision this week.

Netanyahu and Lapid said in a statement, “We have been impressed by Dr. Flug’s performance as acting governor in recent months, and we are certain that she will continue to assist us in moving the Israeli economy to additional achievements in the face of the global economic upheaval.”

Like America’s Janet Yellen, President Barack Obama’s nominee to be the first woman to chair the Federal Reserve, Flug is the first woman to serve as governor of the BOI. In Israel, the media is terming the selection “courageous.”

According to Simon Morris, an analyst with Citigroup Israel, Flug has similar economic views to American economist Stanley Fischer, who recently stepped down as governor of the BOI and who recommended Flug for the job. Morris said he expects Flug to be a “dovish” head, which means there is at least a 50 percent chance she will cut interest rates or keep them the same.

“It is clear she errs on the side of caution,” said Morris. “With currently mixed economic data, a strong [New Israeli Shekel] impacting exports, budgetary cutbacks and tax rises to deal with the budget deficit, she is taking over at a precarious time.”

But he said the finance community has confidence.

Until now, Flug has been the deputy governor of the Bank of Israel (since July 2011). She was appointed interim governor in July 2013 after Fischer concluded his second term. Flug has a master’s degree from the Hebrew University and a Ph.D. from Columbia University in economics. She has been a longtime member of the BOI research department, and in June 2001, she was appointed director of the research department and a member of the BOI’s senior managing staff. She has served on Israeli and international committees and is an expert on topics related to the labor market, the balance of payments and macroeconomic policies.

“[She is] in good stead,” Morris said.

While in the United States there is much focus on Yellen as the first female for her position, Morris said there is less focus on this in Israel. He told the JT there are numerous women in finance in Israel, such as the Rakefet Russak-Aminoach, president and CEO of Bank Leumi, one of Israel’s largest banks. Additionally, Smadar Barber-Tsadik has been the chief executive officer of First International Bank of Israel, Ltd., and last month Lilach Asher-Topilsky was announced as head of Discount Bank.

In politics, Shelly Yachimovich serves as head of the Labor Party and Tzipi Livni as justice minister.

“So while it is important to have another woman role model, and there can certainly be improvement in the women’s role across the country, they do often have prominent roles [in Israel],” said Morris. “Golda Meir was the world’s third female country leader as early as 1969. The army, as well, is internationally renowned for its female role across all areas, including combat.”

Still, noted Morris, “We can always get better.”

Maayan Jaffe is JT editor-in-chief — mjaffe@jewishtimes.com

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Revolution in Bedouin Women’s Education

110113_Revolution-in-Bedouin-Womens-EducationEman Abu Ammar, 24, is studying language and literature at Ben-Gurion University. Unlike many Bedouin girls her age, she’s in no rush to get married.

“Bedouin usually get married young,” she said. “People ask me, ‘Why aren’t you married, don’t you have anybody?’ It does pressure me, but I plan to choose a partner who will allow me to keep studying.”

Abu Ammar covers her hair with a bright blue head scarf, or hijab. She said she wears it both as a religious statement and a Bedouin custom, which begins at age 12. The youngest of eight children, she was encouraged by her parents to study at the university but to continue living at home. She said that she does talk to fellow male students at the university but would not meet them outside of class.

“The Bedouin society is still very traditional,” she said. “I can be friends with men in the context of school but not more than that.”

Her friend Reem Al-Amrany, who is married and working on her master’s degree, said it has become not only acceptable, but an advantage for women to go to university. She is the oldest of seven children, and her mother is illiterate. Her parents have encouraged her education, as has her husband.

“Today, when a man wants to marry, he looks for a working woman because of the hard life and the economic situation,” she said. “He needs someone to help him make a living.”

Her husband graduated from high school but never went to the university. He works as an electrician, which gives her the luxury to continue her studies. What’s hardest for her, she said, is finding the work-life balance.

“My biggest challenge is the balance between studying, working, my home, my husband and my daughter,” Al-Amrany said, echoing the problem of many Western women.

At Ben-Gurion University, there are an estimated 350 female Bedouin students, as well as 150 men from that community. There are dozens of others in other institutions of higher education. Many of these students receive generous scholarships to the university.

These young women speak Arabic at home and in school and often need special tutoring before they can take classes in Hebrew. The university has worked hard to integrate Bedouin students, said university President Rivka Carmi.

“Ben-Gurion University is helping hundreds of Bedouin students realize their potential,” Carmi said. “The university is able to offer counseling, tutoring and scholarship support that has enabled hundreds of students to benefit from higher education.”

There are an estimated 250,000 Bedouin in Israel, most of them living in the area around Beersheva. Tens of thousands live in “unrecognized villages,” meaning their claims to land are not recognized by the Israeli government. They do not receive basic services, such as water. However, the Israeli Supreme Court has ruled they must be given education and medical care.

Most of them don’t have computers at home or even electricity for studying at night. At the same time, it is unacceptable for women to be out at night without a male family member, so most of the women continue to live at home during their studies.

Jamal Al-Kinawi’s job is to help integrate the Bedouin students into the university. When public transportation is not available, the university offers special buses to make sure the women get home before dark.

“There are economic challenges and social challenges,” he said. “We try to help them get accustomed to the Western academic climate, and we have other Bedouin students help them as well.”

For many of the Bedouin students, their time at the university is their first encounter with Jewish Israelis. Sarab Abu Rabia, a sociologist and the first Bedouin woman to receive a Ph.D., says it is not always an easy meeting.

“Because of the geographical separation between Jews and Arabs in Israel, and the separate education systems, the campus is their first encounter,” she said. “This encounter also creates gaps where the women can feel like they are immigrants in their own country.”

Bedouin villages are organized around tribes, and marriages are usually either within tribes or among different tribes. Abu Rabia said that not only do Bedouin students meet Israeli Jews at Ben-Gurion, they also interact with peers from other tribes.

“In villages most meetings are with close family or extended family,” she said. “Meeting people from other tribes also creates romantic relationships. This could threaten a taboo code that prevents marriages between different kinds of tribes such as upper-class and lower-class tribes.”

Her husband is from a different tribe, and she had to fight hard to get her parents to agree to the match. Today, she has three sons, and she said that when they grow up, they can marry whomever they want.

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Aim For The Stars

Hagit Yaso, winner of the 2011 “Kochav Nolad” competition, is a role model for young Ethiopian girls.

Hagit Yaso, winner of the 2011 “Kochav Nolad” competition, is a role model for young Ethiopian girls.
(Photo by David Stuck)

Hagit Yaso is an Israeli icon. She won the ninth season of “Kochav Nolad,” Israel’s version of “American Idol,” in 2011. And at only 24 years old, she is considered a role model for young Ethiopian girls.

Yaso, who was in town earlier this week for performances through Jewish National Fund at the University of Maryland, Towson University, the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, the Urban Pathways Charter School and Carnegie Mellon University, told the JT that when she comes to perform in the United States she feels right at home — especially when singing for other Jews.

“It feels warm,” she said. “I like that they know the songs.”

In Israel, Yaso was the first Ethiopian woman to win a “Kochav Nolad” competition, and she said as she was going through the rounds of the contest, her peers — and really Ethiopians across the country — were saying, “Good job! Continue! Now we have someone who is from Ethiopia who is going to be a role model.”

Yaso, shortly after her win, embarked on a speaking tour to schools throughout Israel. At those, she spoke about her journey to stardom and the challenges she had — the times she fell and how she got up and continued.

“It has been hard to get to where I am, I tell them,” said Yaso. “I connect with the youth and tell them to continue [working hard].”

Yaso said that while there have been improvements in the lives of the Ethiopian population in Israel, racism still exists in Israel.

“Whenever I think it is behind us, there is an article or an incident — something happens, and we take steps back,” she said, noting that she was fortunate to grow up in a mixed neighbor, one filled with immigrants from all across the world, so she personally had little experience with racism.

It has been a pioneering couple of years for Ethiopian-born Israelis. In 2013, Israel elected its first Ethiopian-born Miss Israel, Yityish Aynaw. Last year, Israel appointed its first Ethiopian-born ambassador. And this year, Israel elected its first Ethiopian-born woman to parliament.

This is the third concert series Yaso has performed on behalf of JNF, an organization she said she feels is “developing the State of Israel.” She told the JT that she became acquainted with JNF in 2008 while in the army; JNF had donated a rec room in Sderot, and she had gone there to sing for the children of Sderot. She was blown away by the warmth of the JNF professionals and connected with them via social media. When she won “Kochav Nolad,” JNF staff in Israel invited her to perform benefit concerts on its behalf. Yaso called JNF her extended family.

How does the young Yaso handle the status she has achieved?

“It’s fun,” she said. “I want to sing for all the Jews here [in the United States] and in Israel and all over the world. I want to have concerts and make people happy and fulfilled.”

Maayan Jaffe is JT editor-in-chief — mjaffe@jewishtimes.com

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Breaking The Cycle

Photos from the field: Meir Panim feeds hundreds of thousands of  impoverished Israelis. (Photos provided)

Photos from the field: Meir Panim feeds hundreds of thousands of
impoverished Israelis. (Photos provided)

When Americans think about Israel, what generally comes to mind is the Western Wall, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict andthe Iranian nuclear threat. What many people are not aware of is that 1.8 million Israelis live below the poverty line — 860,000 of whom are children.

Nonprofit organization Meir Panim is working not only to feed hungry Israelis, but also to do it in dignified ways. At the same time, it is taking steps to break the poverty cycle through creative programming.

“There is — just like in America — a tremendous divide in the well-off and the not well-off,” said Deborah Brown, project director at American Friends of Meir Panim, the organization’s American counterpart. “There is a large segment of the population, almost 25 percent, that is living below the poverty line, and people are shocked when they find out.”

Leslie Goldberg, Maryland regional director for American Friends of Meir Panim, said immigrants from Ethiopia, Russia and other countries aren’t always given the help they need when they move to Israel, contributing to the country’s poverty rate.

“They just don’t have the financial resources, and they often live in impoverished communities,” she said.

To raise awareness and money for the organization, American Friends of Meir Panim is holding three events in Baltimore, the first of which is Vocaltrition on Sunday, Nov. 10. The name is a mash-up of vocal — the concert will feature Jewish and cantorial music — and nutrition, for the multimillion-dollar nutrition center under construction in Israel.

The 100,000-square-foot Mortimer Zuckerman and Abigail Zuckerman Israel Nutrition Center will be the largest food production center in Israel and will be able to prepare 30,000 meals a day for Meir Panim’s free restaurants, Meals on Wheels and after-school programs. It will also employ 200 people.

110113_Breaking-The-Cycle2“We’ll be able to deliver to our restaurants and to homebound people and children in need,” said David Roth, president of American Friends of Meir Panim.

Cantor Emanuel Perlman of Chizuk Amuno first put a concert together for Meir Panim in 2004 with the help of several other Baltimore-area cantors, including Beth Tfiloh’s Avi Albrecht, who will also be performing at Vocaltrition.

“We wanted to raise three-quarters-of-a-million dollars, and that’s exactly what we did with area cantors,” Perlman said.

He first heard about Meir Panim, which helps Jews and non-Jews alike, from Albrecht and was appalled at the figures he heard. Having worked in many charitable capacities over the years, Perlman had to get involved.

“We are living in a time where you can’t wait for somebody else to do it. … That’s not the way [of the] cantors,” he said. “We are messengers for God, so I guess now we are feeding people.”

The concert also features Temple Oheb Shalom’s Cantor Emeritus Melvin Luterman and special guest cantor, Yitzchok Meir Helfgot. Two other “American Idol”-style events in December and March will also raise money for Meir Panim.

Meir Panim advocates emphasize that the organization doesn’t just feed hungry Israelis, it feeds them with dignity.

Instead of soup kitchens, Meir Panim holds “free restaurants” for its clients.

“People can sit down and be served like a mentsch and not stand in line with a plate waiting for bread,” Brown said.

Through Israel’s welfare department, the organization distributes food cards to clients, which can be used to buy groceries. Again, to maintain dignity for the clients, the cards look and work just like regular debit cards. Clients cannot buy alcohol or tobacco with the cards.

The organization also gives vocational training and runs after-school programs. The children are given one-on-one tutoring, computer classes, other enrichment activities and a meal before they head home. Parents are engaged by coming to some of the kids’ activities and are also taught home budgeting, parenting skills and language skills, if they need them.

“We’re really trying to not just meet the immediate need, which is food and hunger, but [we are trying to] put them in a position where they won’t need this in the future,” Brown said. “They could go on to break themselves out of the cycle of poverty, and they won’t need the free meal tomorrow and their children won’t need that free meal.”

Roth echoed Brown’s sentiment.

“Meir Panim’s goal actually is to get out of business,” he said. “But our mission is, as long as there’s a hungry person in Israel, we will feed them.”

For more information and tickets to Vocaltrition, visit helfgotconcert.com. Meir Panim will be collecting donations of travel-size toiletries at the concert. For information on the Voices concerts, which include a female-exclusive event, visit voicecompetition.com.

Marc Shapiro is a JT staff reporter

Prisoner Release Agonizing For Terror Victim Families


David and Yaron Friedman, holding a picture of Guy, a relative that was murdered by Palestinian terrorists. Source: Tazpit News Agency

David and Yaron Friedman, holding a picture of Guy, a relative that was murdered by Palestinian terrorists.
Source: Hillel Meir/Tazpit News Agency

Outside Ofer prison, near Ramallah on Monday night, thousands of demonstrators gathered to protest the release of 26 Palestinian prisoners – all convicted of murdering Israelis – in the second stage of confidence-building measures led by Washington for the current Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

At least 3,000 people demonstrated, chanting “Jewish blood is not cheap.” Also present were families of victims who were murdered in terror attacks perpetrated by some of the Palestinians terrorists scheduled to be freed on Tuesday.

The father and brother of IDF soldier, Guy Friedman, who was murdered in 1992 by four Israeli Arabs who used axes and pitchforks to hack Friedman and two other IDF soldiers to death at an army base spoke with Tazpit News Agency. According to the brother, Yaron, all four of his brother’s murderers will be released in this stage of the peace talks. “All four, who were Israeli citizens, received three life sentences for their brutality,” he noted.

“In our worst nightmares, we did not imagine that Guy’s murderers would ever be freed,” Friedman’s father, David, painfully explained to Tazpit News Agency.

Photos of the terror victims were on display at a protest by Israeli families against the release of Palestinian prisoners. Source: Tazpit News Agency

Photos of the terror victims were on display at a protest by Israeli families against the release of Palestinian prisoners.
Source: Hillel Meir/Tazpit News Agency

The father and son traveled from their home in Zichron Yaakov to the Ofer prison on Monday night, to join the protestors, holding photos of Guy. “People ask, what is the point of these demonstrations?” Yaron said. “For us, we hope to save families of future terror victims from this terrible of experience.”

“Maybe the Knesset can pass a law against the release of murderers of our children for peace,” added the father. “We can only hope.”

For Gila Molho, the current prisoner release has brought a new wave of pain to the family. Gila is the sister of South-African-born Ian Feinberg, a lawyer and peace activist who was murdered in 1993 by Masoud Issa Rajeb Amer, a member of the PFLP, along with two other terrorists. During a meeting in a European Union building in Gaza, at the offices of a European-funded NGO that sought to bring economic development to Palestinians which Feinberg was active in – Amer, a guard in the building, and fellow terrorists burst into the office and killed Feinberg with a hatchet.

Gila spoke to the demonstrators in tears, saying that the first murderer of her brother had been released during the Gilad Shalit deal, the second murderer during the first stage of freeing prisoners back in August, and now Amer, the last of the murderers who will be released on Tuesday.

“We do not want to be some political gesture,” said Molho in a trembling voice. “It cannot be that Israeli and Jewish blood is sold as a gesture. Benyamin Netanyahu needs to wake up and understand that our youth is getting a terrible message – that Jewish blood is no longer sacred,” Molho said in English to the audience of thousands including members of the international press.

“It is our duty and obligation to protest this prisoner exchange. There is no excuse in the world for this to happen,” Ronen Shoval, the director of Im Tirzu – one of the organizations, along with the My Israel, as well as Likud and Jewish Home activists, officials of the Yesha Council, and others who helped organize the event – told Tazpit News Agency.

“These terrorist don’t even have to sign a form renouncing their ways or promising not to commit any future terror acts – what kind of step to peace is that?” Shoval asked.

IAF Attacks In Gaza Following Rockets Fired On Southern Israel

After rockets and mortars were fired at Israel by Palestinian terrorists early this morning, the Israel Air Force (IAF) attacked two concealed rocket launchers in the Northern Gaza Strip. Direct hits were confirmed, an IDF spokesman announced.

Earlier this morning, rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip towards Israel. One rocket was intercepted by the Iron Dome Missile Defense System above the city of Ashkelon. IDF forces are searching the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council for the additional projectile. Yesterday, a mortar shell fired from the Gaza Strip landed in Israel near the security fence in the Southern Gaza Strip.

IDF Spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner stated: “This targeted strike, based on IDF intelligence and advanced air force capabilities, is an immediate response to the terrorist aggression and its infrastructure in Gaza. Hamas must take responsibility for these actions or pay the price for inaction. We will continue to safeguard the civilians of the State of Israel, and prevent future attempts of terrorism formulating in the Gaza Strip.”

Following these attacks Israeli farmers with fields adjacent to the Gaza Strip security fence were ordered by the IDF to stay out of their fields until further notice, Ronit Minaker, the spokesperson for the Eshkol Regional Council told Tazpit News Agency. She added that such an order from the IDF has not been given in a long time. All other facets of life continue as normal.


Haredi Leader Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman Attacked In Bnei Brak Home

Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, the leader of the non-hasidic Lithuanian Ashkenazi community, was attacked at his home in Israel.

Shteinman, 99, suffered a bruise on his chest but was unhurt otherwise during the attack in Bnei Brak early Wednesday morning, The Jerusalem Post reported. His attacker — a haredi Orthodox man in his 20s — was arrested after being restrained by associates and followers of the rabbi until police arrived. The attacker shook and yelled at the rabbi.

The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ordered the attacker to be held over until Thursday and sent for a psychiatric evaluation.

Witnesses told police that the man said he was hearing voices telling him to attack Shteinman, The Jerusalem Post reported. The haredi news website Kikar Hashabat reported that the attack was related to Tuesday’s elections in which Shteinman’s Degel Hatorah party won eight seats on the Jerusalem Municipal Council, even though Moshe Lion, his endorsed candidate for mayor, lost.